Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Annoying Drink of the Week

I've already confessed my love for Vitamin Water, the nouveau pseudo-juice from Glaceau. And the other week I tried the delicious mint-flavored Metromint. So I was feeling pretty adventurous as I perused the cold drink case at the market last night, and I decided that perhaps it was time to finally try Kombucha. Kombucha is a wonder-drink said to do all sorts of stuff, but I think most people drink it because it's said to help you lose weight. Anyway, since I was a little intimidated by the urine-like appearance of the original, ginger, and citrus flavors, I opted for the pink raspberry flavor.

BIG mistake.

It tasted like feet. Like salad dressing. I knew as soon as I unscrewed the cap. It's noxious fumes bloomed like vinegar. And still I took one sip. Two sips. Blech. I screwed the lid on and threw it in my bag, hoping that perhaps it would taste better later. The SB and I were off to an indie-rock show, and a drink always comes in handy.

Bigger mistake.

Twenty minutes later, I noticed an unpleasant odor coming from my bag. Sure enough, the Kombucha had leaked a little, and now my notebook, wallet, and all the annoying bits of paper that populate the bottom of my purse were soaked in the pink-piss. I discretely disposed of the Kombucha by putting it in a corner on the ground, intending to collect it on my way out so I could put it in the trash. But it wasn't long before a fellow show goer found it, and because he seemed to be a Kombucha fan, I offered it to him (I had only take a sip). Even he gagged on the stuff. I was then told I'd gotten the "wrong flavor." Whatever. I hardly believe that shit has a right flavor.

Oddly enough, the fact that it tasted like smelly socks has convinced me that Kombucha is probably really good for you. And as much as I feel like a big sucka for quaffing the other aforementioned overpriced elixirs, I've pretty much made peace with my fondness for the jewel-toned and fragrant silly waters. At least they taste good.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Wash Your Punk Down with some Hip-Hop?

Commercials freak me out. Especially the ones with little kids talking about juice. Yikes.

But two newish commercials aren't freaking me out as much as they seem to be signifying the ultimate de-fanging/crossover of two (historically or potentially) radical musical genres.*

The first one is the "Punky Chips Ahoy, Oi! Oi!." In this commercial, cherubic claymation punks (white kids with green liberty spikes and mohawks, combat boots, and cuffed jeans) and a giant, puffy-looking cookie cabaret kick their way down a London street as fisher-price sounding buzz-saw guitars churn their way through anemic Sex Pistols-style chords. They're singing all about "punky chips ahoy" until they're interrupted by a scowling bobby with a billy club who informs them -- "it's not PUNKY, it's CHUNKY." Oh, hilarious first-letter confusion!!!

Now, I feel compelled to tell you that the SB describes this commercial as "really cute." I also have a hunch that some of you will get a kick out of reading about how one singer was dubbed "too punky for cookie commercials." Interesting, since as the SB notes, this quality of "punkiness" is something -- in the corporate mind -- that is totally separate from the performance of punk. Moreover, the British version of punk sort of declared itself sold-out from the start, so the fact that it has taken 30 years to make it into a snack food commercial gestures towards a meta-meta cycle of corporate-capitalist culture.

There is another commercial I'd like to talk to you about, and this one is for Pepto-Bismol. This commercial involves hip-hoppers rapping about the virtues of Pepto. I wish I remembered this commercial better; I only saw it once and I can't find it on the web. But the fact that rap is being used to market an upset-stomach aid strikes me as a little novel. I already bemoaned the use of hip-hop in the AVIS commercials, which struck me as borderline offensive (white business men in ties rapping along to a song about "stacking cheese;" but when the boss calls it's all silence and "yes sirs." The grafting of gangsta-style rap onto corporate-lackeys in a rental care just sorta makes me sick). Anyway...pepto.

So I was trying to find evidence of the hip-hop pepto-bismol, and came across this bizarre pepto-bismol dance machine. I don't know if advertising has produced anything weirder than this. If you can think of something, please let me know. The person who offers their weirdest example gets an extra- special, fluffy dollar$ postcard with a personal message handcrafted by moi.

*I know neo-"punk" is full of "sell outs," and yes, I can see how "commercial" laffy-taffy style hip-hop isn't particularly, er, radical. But ya gotta admit, chips ahoy and pepto -- pretty toothless.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Notes from the Land of Hurt Feelings

1. Not really, but that is a new poem title of mine. I feel like my life has been buttered with more than the usual amount of misunderstandings these days. It's a weakness and a pet peeve: I hate being misunderstood. Who doesn't, right? But I really really really hate it. It makes me want to throw a discus or spin plates or take up archery or attempt pole vaulting.

2. Soon, really soon, I will need a job.

3. Apparently, K-Fed doesn't write his own songs (!)

4. I'm thinking of getting a digital camera. Any suggestions?

5. I'm brainstorming for a gender & food post. In texas there is this crazy burger king commercial for "man burgers," and mzn was just writing about jamba juice's "femme boost." Some of this "gendering" seems to happen due to the idea that men and women need different nutrients (Luna Bars, the new Tab Energy) -- in other words, the food as medicine trend. Other gendering seems to happen based on the more mainstream notions/constructions of masculinity and femininity ("man burgers"). I'm interested in how these two trends are related, and if one strategy is more effective with either men or women than the other.

6. I'm finally doing that Flickr thing. And for cute click here.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Color and the Kids

Is it a display of cowardice or maturity to wait until all of the evidence is in to contemplate the meaning of a hot button pseudoscandal? I don't know. Probably cowardice. But I am a big fan of cowardice! So I have waited until now to write about the latest fracas in blogville: allegations by a number of rock writers that Magnetic Fields frontman Stephen Merritt is a racist.

For those who are unfamiliar with this story, or with the world in which it has erupted, here is my understanding of the sitch. Stephen Merritt is a beloved singer/songwriter who has been making melancholy, witty, lyric-driven music for many years under a number of guises: The Magnetic Fields, Gothic Archies, Future Bible Heroes, etc. His music (which I have enjoyed for many years, and which also, along with shared admiration for the great Bethesda, Maryland motorik rockers Trans Am, provided the fodder for the first conversation between me and my beloved Femme Feral) draws on influences as varied as early 80s New Wave and synth-pop, Tin Pan Alley songcraft, and lo-fi college-rock confessionalism.

Strike one: a well-known rock writer, (a white fellow who went to the same fancy private high school as the Beastie Boys), and who has long written about black music for major publications suggested a while back that Merritt's fondness for "white" music and indifference to black music (demonstrated by a top 10 list or some such thing that he had written for a magazine) was prima facie evidence of a racist mindset.

Strike two: apparently, Merritt was on a panel at some sort of music conference and was heard to say that he had liked and/or continued to like the song "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" from the Disney musical Song of the South. As he noted immediately after revealing this factoid, Song of the South is a very racist piece of work, and "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" is modeled after the blackface "coon" song so popular in the early part of the century (and through much of the 19th century).

That's it. Two strikes. If I understand baseball correctly, one needs four strikes to be, as Heidi Klum says, "out." So... once all the dust settled, everyone agreed that there was only a very skimpy record on which to base claims of racism. The folks who needed to apologize have done so, and this should be the end of the story, yes?

Well, in one sense, sure. But in another, this story, like a few others that have circulated recently reveals something about anxiety vis-a-vis the racial politics of "indie" rock or whatever we want to call it. For example, a few months ago it was reported that members of the affluent Brooklyn indie music community, which seems to be a fairly caucasian scene, had been attendees at "Kill Whitey" parties. These are parties populated almost entirely by white people, at which hard-core hip hop music is played and the crowd burlesques urban "black" dancing styles in a hypersexual manner.

What these two stories have in common is that, on close analysis, they both require a pretty sophisticated hermeneutics to reach a coherent interpretation. It is not like anybody behaved badly towards a member of a racial minority group, used a racist slur, or made any offensive sweeping generalizations. Why such a fuss over two anecdotes that, if anything, seem to demonstrate so weakly that racism is a problem in indie rock culture?

Over many discussions, FF and I have pondered this mystery. We came to the conclusion that race is the hidden "repressed" of indie rock, a generic marker that often functions as code for "white rock music not released by major labels (but occasionally released on major labels, and more occassionally made by non-whites, but very seldom made by black people)" which then returns in strange, distorted forms such as Stephen Merritt racism-baiting and post-ironic, Williamsburg-style blackface mimesis.

Here is a short take on this hypothesis, taking the form of a structuralist analysis. Well, I should probably qualify that. In a nod to my favorite academic dis of all time, courtesy of Slavoj Zizek, I would call this approach "spaghetti structuralism" (Zizek aimed this term of derision at famed Italian semiotician and novelist Umberto Eco, whose work Zizek finds shoddy and simplistic... and which he compared to the low-budget "spaghetti Westerns" of Sergio Leone). But here I will try to rehabilitate "spaghetti structuralism" as a kind of folk knowledge, a term that describes the shorthand network of binary oppositions that many people draw upon when thinking about music and culture. The key here is that we are not pointing to "essential" characterstics, but to entirely "contingent" cultural stereotypes that are nonetheless highly meaningful to many people. In popular usage, "black" and "white" musical characteristics provide an excellent example of the reach of "spaghetti structuralism." In fact, we really can't make sense of popular music history without confronting the iron cage of vermicelli pasta.

Recall the episode of the Simpsons when Homer is watching a black comedian on late-night TV dipping into the hackneyed bag of vulgar race compare-and-contrast: mocking the relaxed swagger of black people versus the uptight posture of white people... Homer laughs and exclaims: "It's true! We're so lame!" Or the King of the Hill episode wherein Bobby becomes adept at this genre of comedic racial A/B-ing, and is then instructed by Chris Rock to find a more authentic mode of joke-telling... which leads Bobby to an unfortunate experiment with white-supremacist humor.

What do these examples tell us? Well, they remind us of the "hip/lame" distinction which provides the first split in popular understanding of race and music. If the forerunners of the rock counterculture were the Beats, then we need only look to Kerouac's racist celebration of black anti-authoritarianism, or Norman Mailer's odious but influential essay "The White Negro" to see how deep this foundational assumption runs.

I will not be the first person to suggest that the deliberate avoidance of syncopation in much of the canon of indie rock music contributes to its "white" quality. Nor would I be staking a very original claim by pointing to the "white" valences of affectless or self-consciously arch vocal tendencies favored by many indie rock singers. For those of us who grew up on classic rock, and made the transition to "indie" music after an apprenticeship in 1970s AOR, the links between "black" and "white" and "good" or "bad" are easy to recall. Playing "white" was slang for insufficient motivation, feeling, or expressive capacity in musicians. We understood that there was a reason that Led Zeppelin and the Stones ripped off delta blues records and the performance practices of R&B musicians when they wanted to access fantasies of exotic sexual power in their music, and if we thought about it later (especially in light of the new vogue in indie for British Isles folk music) we also put it together that these groups used white-coded UK folk music when they wished to tap into pastoral fantasies of a white past.

It is my guess that a lot of the musicians who created the first few waves of indie rock grew up in similar milieus, and that the creative decisions that went into the formation of the indie rock aesthetic included critical reflection on these "black"/"white" oppositions. I will further speculate that the decision to explore "unfunky" music-making was, in many cases, a way to avoid the uncomfortable aspects of racial mimesis that were so crucial to rock in its first decades. Thus, I think it is fair to say that, at once, the birth of American indie rock was both a moment of self-conscious reflection on the politics of race in pop music, and the crucible of a certain influential strain of "white" aesthetics. For whatever reason, as the genre came to be concretized this racial aspect came to be submerged and eventually hidden behind other aesthetic and thematic concerns, so that by now it is a fairly controversial move to even talk about race and indie rock...

Which leads me to my hesitant conclusion. I don't think Stephen Merritt is a racist. I don't think all or even most indie rock is racist, although I have met racists who make and listen to indie rock, and more who make the tacit assumption that "white" is not a racial construction, but just a synonym for "normal." But, in certain limited and contingent ways, I think that it is fair to say that Stephen Merritt, Superchunk, Unrest, Palace, etc. make music that "sounds white." I am not sure if this is a problem or not... but it certainly seems like something worth talking about. In fact, I think more frank and honest discussion of this topic might reduce the likelihood of further weird outbreaks of race anxiety in the form of libeling popular performers or attending tasteless rituals of racial simulation. Which, we can all agree, would be better.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

TWO memes in ONE DAY? WTF?

Two smart cookie bloggers you might like -- Sarah and Jessica -- did this meme, and well, I thought I'd do it to. Some of the questions are far out and self-indulgent, but such is the nature of questionnaires.

When did you last die?

-- The first of several far out questions. I'm going to say last night, when the SB and I saw what we now call "the suicidal tarantula." We noticed a giant hairy tarantula just cold chillin' in the middle of the road when we went out for our dusk-walk. We steered clear because we were a little afraid of its giant hairiness. When we came back s/he was smooshed -- obviously run over by a car. I felt bad that I didn't bother to move it when we saw it, because it did occur to me that it might get run over just hanging in the middle of the road like that.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?
-- Weekends: coffee, and if I've recently been to the store with the yummy apple-lemon-ginger juice, a.l.g. juice. Weekdays: the fear that I should be awake and taking care of something like answering e-mails, filing paperwork for my job...basic anxiety stuff. I hate it.

What became of your childhood dreams?
-- They're still there -- a little bruised, but intact nonetheless.

What sets you apart from everyone else?
-- Another far out question. I empathize with animals so much that it can become disruptive, though I am sure there are others who experience this.

What is missing from your life?
-- organization

Do you think that everyone can be an artist?
-- I think everyone is an artist. But the whole "artiste" label thing is problematic.

Where do you come from?
-- I was born in WISC but I spent my formative years in SC.

Do you find your lot an enviable one?
-- yeah. I'm hella lucky.

What have you given up?
-- shrinking

What do you do with your money?
-- most of it goes to bills and groceries. Also books and art supplies and lip gloss.

What household task gives you the most trouble?
-- all of them. I hate housework. But if I had to single out one it would be dishes.

What are your favorite pleasures?
-- walking and looking at plants and animals, looking at art, getting massages, making out, coffee

What would you like to receive for your birthday?
-- a desk with a thirty-fifty drawers and a HUGE workspace

Cite three living artists whom you detest.
-- See "annoying boys of the week"

What do you stick up for?
-- girls, boys, women, humans, animals

What are you capable of refusing?
-- "thrill seeking" activities, i.e. skydiving, bungee jumping, extreme physical challenges

What is the most fragile part of your body?
-- my eyes

What has love made you capable of doing?
-- hanging up the hang ups

What do other people reproach you for?
-- not calling often enough, not picking up after myself

What does art do for you?
-- Makes me feel hopeful, inspired, humble

Write your epitaph
-- be nice

In what form would you like to return?
-- a shih tzu or a barn swallow

and you?

Music Nerd Meme from N.H.

The question: If you were asked to curate All Tomorrow's Parties, who would you invite? (limit 15 bands).

Since this is a festival, my choices are shaped by who I think would be most fun to hear live...

Tribe Called Quest
Le Tigre
Missy Eliot
Lady Sovereign
Sonic Youth
Sleater Kinney
New Order
De La Soul

See N.H.'s answers at You're Nobunny Til Somebunny Lurves You

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Updates and Trivial Drivel

Hey Chickadees. Sorry for the low verbal output. All my creative energies have been occupied by poetry and fun new software, and I've been making poems that weeble-wobble and ripple and tipsy-turvy curve. Every letter and word should be spreadable. mmm...yummy. I want to make poems you can walk through -- letters suspended from the ceiling, the floor lit up with word-tiles
billie-jean styles. A disco letter ball that spins the alphabet round like a kaleido-whirl of glitter.

What's going on in the world of pop culture? Rihana has a cool song that remixes a bit of "tainted love," a song that -- when I was eleven years old -- seemed perfect for the tap numbers I choreographed in our garage (oddly, my mom couldn't stand the sound of the tapping in the house).

I really miss MC Lyte.

What the fuck was up with the Gilmore Girls finale? I think the Palladinos sabotaged that shit so it would look like whoever took over the show messed it up. Nice try Palladinos -- I'm on to you. I mean, why else would you mess up what was once an AMAZING show. I know I've talked about this a million times before, but every time I see a season one episode it opens the old wound. All I can say is thank jesus for Veronica Mars.

And Top Chef? Did anyone see that reunion. CRAZY. And the real housewives? Watching Bravo is practically like taking peyote this days. What a loop-to-loop. Which reminds me, if you are ever bored you should check out the comments on our long ago post about meet the barkers -- it's a kentucky fried biscuit.

My new tv girlfriends are four of the women from Big Love. I love Chloe Sevigny's Nikki (so sneaky!). Sullen teen daughter Sarah (Amanda Seyfried) is the bomb. VM never had enough of her. And creepy Roman's shrewd and calculating teen wife Rhonda (played by Deveigh Chase, aka that creepy girl from The Ring... known around here as i-pod girl 'cause she steals Sarah's i-pod) totally rocks. And Sarah's goody-good friend Heather (former tv girlfriend Tina Majorino, aka Mac from VM) brings the much needed lesbian undertones to her scenes with Sarah. The friendship b/w Sarah and Heather is one of the most accurate, subtle representations of teen girl friendship I've ever seen. Now, after all this gushing you probably think I love the show. Let the record show that I HATE BILL, and think he is SO BORING, and that his whole story is so trite and predictable. But (most of ) the WOMEN on this show are really interesting and make it well worth watching.

Here is a two sentence abstract of a post I never wrote that was going to be called "Against Achievement": Is anyone else, like, so over achievement? Who the fuck cares?

I'm a sucker for a very obviously overpriced product: Vitamin Water. The fruit punch flavor? Delish. The SB likes Formula 50.

We're moving to California!!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006