music

a musical education #02: freedom

Every weekday I suffer through a snippet of easy listening '70s music in the bathroom at work (read the overly elaborate setup here). Why not turn a mild annoyance into an opportunity to educate myself, and yourself, by the transitive property, about the easy listening music of an earlier generation?

In the summer of 1986 I befriended a man named Brian who lived above my uncle's apartment just off the Danforth in Toronto. Brian seemed to spend all of his time hanging around on his balcony in track shorts, drinking Molson Export and smoking John Players Special Blend cigarettes. Brian was a man in gravity's merciless grip: Bags under his eyes, the product of way too many late nights, seemed to weigh his face down, his moustache crept over the corners of his mouth, and his tanned belly drooped over his waistband in a way that was somehow disarming. When evening came he would throw on a bathrobe with a Japanese print and continue to drink and smoke into the darkness.

After a couple of evenings of waving hello, he invited me up for a party, which mostly consisted of other men who sat around shotgunning beers, smoking hash and having long gossipy conversations laden with extravagant sexual innuendo and suggestive laughter. Brian spent the night getting high, trying very hard to get me high as well, and generally wandering around with a distracted look on his face, as if he couldn't remember where he left his lighter. Mostly he was preoccupied with trying to take advantage of a teenage boy with a mohawk, but not especially bummed out that it wasn't going to happen.

At some point during the party I was flipping through his record collection (all vinyl - this was 1986, after all) and I pulled out the following:

Brian lit a fresh cigarette off the one he was smoking. "Oh yeah," he said. "That's great faggot music". He offered to put the record on for me.

I was vaguely surprised, if only because I had no idea that there was such a thing as faggot music. I couldn't imagine what it would sound like, but I knew I didn't want to make night more awkward by listening to a record by some manic-looking guy with a giant afro and suspenders.

Of course, what Brian meant by "faggot music" was disco, and what Leo Sayer sounded like was this:


[Facebook readers: please visit my weblog In Palinode's Palace to view the video]

In the mid '80s disco was probably the dirtiest word in pop culture. Never mind that most pop music at the time was produced by people who had pioneered the explosion of disco music in the '70s. Never mind that the music being pushed out of studios at that point was just as insipid as anything disco had ever come up with (with the possible exception of Disco Duck). It was just part of a greater backlash against the pan-urban gay and non-white cultures of places like San Fransisco and New York, whose ebullient tumble into hedonism made it a flashpoint for conservative anger. I didn't know any of this when I was fifteen. I just knew that I didn't like disco, and to have taken disco music seriously would have made me a pariah anyway.

Instead I listened to serious music. Angry music. I liked Joy Division, and Black Flag, and The Smiths, all the depressed bastards screaming or barking or whining their way through the broken world. My music was like shoving broken glass in my ears and sleeping under sandpaper blankets. No moment of joy came without its nihilist brother sneaking up to shake your hand. I don't recall a single song from my teenage years as uninhibitedly happy and goofy as Sayer's little slice of ass-shake. Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough" comes close, which I didn't learn to enjoy until I was well out of adolescence.

because everyone else has written about michael jackson

According to a biographer - or maybe a parasite - Michael Jackson wore fake sideburns at his wedding to Debbie Rowe.

Think about that for a moment. Fake sideburns. Did you even know that such a thing existed? Reason tells me that they must, as pieces of theatrical gear. But not until now have I been forced to conceive of fake sideburns as real objects.

Once you start reading the news stories that have begun to flow from the wound of Jackson’s death, you run the risk of drowning in the endless, insane details. He wore wigs, he took 40 Vicodin per day, he spent sixty grand per month on prescription drugs, he fell in love with a restaurant waiter, he weighed 112 pounds at his time of death. He forbade his children, of whom he was not the biological father, from looking into mirrors. He threw away his childrens' toys every night. He was gay, he was straight, he liked to fuck little boys, he liked to fuck construction workers, he was repulsed by the thought of contact with human flesh. It goes on.

Here’s another crazy detail: the best man at Jackson’s second wedding was an eight year old boy named Anthony. Jackson called him his ‘nephew’. But it’s the fake sideburns that get me. It’s the unflagging commitment to artifice, to acting as the impresario to every detail of his life, to the transformation of that life into a perpetual costume drama. But even more than that, it’s the fact that he chose sideburns. A wedding is a mature, adult moment (even though children always seem to have the most fun at weddings), so Jackson must have thought sideburns were an appropriate piece of dress-up. Like cufflinks, or a decent tie clip. It was the zenith of the natural as artificial, as decoration. I’m certain that, had the technology been available, he would have popped on a nice wedding face.

I’ve been thinking about Michael Jackson over the last week, passing through the stages of reaction to his death, from the seismic strangeness of the news to some dutiful reflections on his talent, and finally to the recollection of who Jackson really was: a pedophilic drug-addicted freak with a monstrous face and a breathing mask, a living grotesque, a sport of choice rather than nature. He had vitiligo, lupus, schizophrenia, a damaged septum, a burnt scalp, an arrested emotional state and a high sweet voice.

I remember first seeing the album at a friend’s house, one of a pack of twelve year old boys. My friend somberly unfolded the cover and we beheld Jackson’s gauzy image in white. I was never a fan of Jackson – at that point I was only a year or two away from discovering The Smiths – but Thriller was impressive, with its long-form videos and inexhaustible supply of singles. I’m pretty sure they just released another single from that album last month.

Off The Wall was a good album. Thriller was a great album, a giant rock rising out of the rapids of pop culture. Everything after Thriller was just an embarrassment, a tacky quasi-religious musical played out in five-minute installments over the next two decades. I remember the horror of seeing Jackson perform “Earth Song” at the 1996 Brit Awards, extending his arms to suffer a crowd of shuffling children to come unto him like a space-age Jesus saving his pre-pubescent Elect. Given that Jackson performed his neo-Jesus act not long after the first allegations of sexual abuse were cropping up, Earth Song came off as a singularly tasteless piece of theatre that Jackson undoubtedly regarded as vindication. See? I’m rising on a column of light above a crowd of adoring children. I can’t be a child molester! I have staged a redemptive three-minute set piece on television that clearly exonerates me!

Check out this clip of Jarvis Cocker running up on stage during Jackson's 1996 performance and graphically miming his opinion of the whole affair.

I don't even know why Cocker bothered. This is from 1996. Kurt Cobain had pretty much smashed a Fender over the skull of this kind of bombastic fantasy-addled pseudo-rock five years before. But I'm betting that Jackson probably checked out of reality somewhere around 1985.

murakami on jazz

I don't remember exactly when I discovered Haruki Murakami, but I think it was some time in the early '90s, back when people enjoyed globalization and the Asian tigers had not collapsed under the abrupt venting of their economies (remember those grand days? Somewhere between 1990 and 1997? That was the dawning twenty-first century utopia we all imagined, and it was gone before most of us could really appreciate it). I was working at secondhand bookstore, and Alfred Birnbaum's translation of A Wild Sheep Chase ended up on the shelves. I stole it.

What I liked most about Murakami was the way he would attack weighty, even transcendent subjects with prose that could best be called whimsical, with a slightly detached tone, as if he were telling you an anecdote at breakfast about a strange, half-remembered dream from the night before, or maybe it was a couple of years ago, who knows. Passages dip into homespun sentiment or cliche, then suddenly leap into some startling and original place. It was a palette-cleansing change from the Cormac McCarthy and Richard Russo and the Don DeLillo I'd been reading.

Somewhere along the way I lost my interest in his work. I don't mean to say that I started to dislike it; it's just that I ceased running to the bookstore or library, depending on my finances, to pick up the latest work. News of new Murakami no longer made my stomach flip. Part of the reason is that I prefer Alfred Birnbaum as a translator to Jay Rubin or Philip Gabriel, and I think it's significant that my favourite Murakami works are all Birnbaum.

The most recent issue of The Believer contains a piece by Murakami called "Three Short Essays on Jazz," and there's a passage on Stan Getz that makes me think I should run back out to the bookstore or the library and start picking up Murakami again:

Of all Getz' works, my very favorite is the two-disc set recorded live at the Storyville jazz club in 1951. Getz truly surpasses himself in this performance - every facet of his art is superb. It may sound trite, but I find these records eternally nourishing. Try listening, for example, to the track entitled "Move". The rhythm section of Al Haig, Jimmy Raney, Teddy Kotick, and Tiny Khan is perfect: they come across straight and cool, yet their rhythm flows with the smoldering force of subterranean lava. Even so, Getz is far and away the best. Soaring like Pegasus, he sweeps away the clouds to reveal in a single, blinding movement the bright panoply of stars. The music crashes against us in vivid waves, transcending time. What explains this power? It is because his melodies mercilessly awaken the pack of starving wolves each of our souls holds within itself. The breath of these beasts sinks wordlessly into the snow, so thick and white and beautiful you feel you could almost cut it with a knife. It is this that Stan Getz' music allows us to contemplate, the fateful cruelty that lies shrouded in the deep forest of our souls.

This is virtuosic stuff with a blanket of purple prose thrown over it. Phrases like "far and away" and "it may sound trite" cover up the unexpected Pegasus image (a flying horse? WTF, Murakami?) and then the kicker, the sudden bounding of a pack of starving wolves. Suddenly you wonder what the Pegasus is leaping for, and what appetites are being sated by Getz' "eternally nourishing" music. And then the bewildering introduction of snow that "you feel you could almost cut ... with a knife," an image that makes no immediate sense, because cutting snow with a knife is an easy feat. What he means, I think, is that this imagined snow, this white ground of the soul that is evoked by the music, evoked to allow the wolves a grounds on which to hunt and track, is so perfect and beautiful that it resonates at nearly the same frequency as reality. You hold it in a space in your mind and send in your senses to investigate further, but they can't quite penetrate.

The essay also made me put on Stan Getz for the first time in a year, which I imagine would please Murakami to know.

music for good dreams

I could spend time talking about Will Oldham, aka Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, and how good his music is, and how his beard should win prizes (see second video for beard), but that would waste your time. So listen to these.

"Ohio River Boat Song" (no beard)

"I Gave You" (with beard)

a guide to cooking MCs like a pound of bacon

To the extreme I rock a mic like a vandal
Light up a stage and wax a chump like a candle
- Rob van Winkle

Pop culture is like a row of crackers or a bag of those cheesy chips. You scarf it down and forget about it the instant it's over. But at some point later in the day, you glance down and see that your shirt and lap are covered with crumbs. Most of the crumbs are small specks that can be dislodged with a brush of the hand, but a few get mashed into the fabric, and select larger crumbs - well damn, that's good eating, if nobody's looking.

One of the most stubborn crumbs, for some reason, is Vanilla Ice's debut stew of rhyming bluster Ice Ice Baby. David Bowie and Queen came up with that bass line, but after Vanilla Ice sampled it, that dum-dum-dum-da-da-dum-dum passed irrevocably from a pair of British rock gods to Rob van Winkle, that sad one-hit pretender. The song is mostly braggadocio, supplemented by an implausible account of Ice and his DJ pal Shay running away from a drive-by shooting. According to Ice the gunshots "rang out like a bell," suggesting to me that he's never heard actual gunshots, which are more bang than clang.

The most memorable lyric from the song - at least for me - is the smooth couplet "To the extreme I rock a mic like a vandal/ Light up a room, wax a chump like a candle". I have a feeling that, in the coming decades, as one by one we lose our minds to prions and Alzheimer's and zombie plagues, those lines will still be shifting around in a drawer in my brain, even as I forget my family, friends and Vanilla Ice himself. But what do those lines actually mean?

TO THE EXTREME

Let's look at the adverbial phrase that kicks it all off: To the extreme. Even though this will bring horrible memories of the early '90s for most of us, when goldfish crackers and skateboarders and CEOs alike were living on the edge, 'to the extreme' carries some degree of power and efficiency in the context of the lyrics. It handily modifies all of the actions cited by Mr. van Winkle: mic-rocking, stage-lighting and chump-waxing. The meaning of 'to the extreme' in this case can best be attributed to the sense of 'performing a task to the utmost degree of intensity,' which would scan relatively poorly. The OED also cites a musical form of 'extreme' as 'the distance between intervals,' but we can be confident that van Winkle did not have music in mind when he wrote the lyrics.

I ROCK A MIC

That's settled then. So what does it mean to 'rock a mic'? 'Mic' stands for microphone, I'm assuming, but I can't help but wonder what van Winkle means when he claims to 'rock' it. It may be that he likes to move microphones gently back and forth, but I doubt that he'd bother mentioning it in a song. I'm going to guess that he's laying claim to an unusual degree of proficiency with using a microphone - you know, something beyond knowing how to switch it on, avoid feedback, etcetera. It's likely that he can remove it from a stand and replace it without getting all tangled up in the cord and such, all while reciting his rhymes. To the extreme.

LIKE A VANDAL

I know what you're thinking - but Mr. Palinode, sir, he doesn't just use a microphone with proficiency, he does it like a vandal! Well played, reader. But as the old man said, it depends on what vandal means. There are a number of possible meanings, ranging from the streets of Rome in classical times to the boulevards of present day Los Angeles. The Vandals were an East Germanic tribe who mixed it up with the Roman Empire in the 5th century. They invaded North Africa, sacked Rome and ended up getting their vandalous butts kicked by the Byzantine Empire.

I have trouble imagining what a Vandal would do with a microphone. He would likely find it puzzling at first, assume it to be of some value and take it home to his North African villa as a souvenir. If the microphone were turned on, though, there's a chance that the Vandal might make a stray remark in its presence, only to have his words reverberating throughout the hall. The barbarian would probably assume that The Lord or some evil spirit was bellowing along with him, and would run screaming. Or maybe he'd bring a priest to exorcise/negotiate with the entity that mocked people with their own words. Hard to say.

It's more likely that Vanilla Ice is using one of the more modern senses of the word, such as the blanket term for people who destroy public property for the sake of destruction. Someone like that would likely 'rock a mic' by stealing or defacing it. A third possible use of vandal refers to anyone of African descent. A person of African descent would probably speak into the microphone. A small subset of the African diaspora would sing or rap into the mic, but most would probably be thanking a group of conventioneers or shareholders for showing up, and could they all hold on a moment while the tech guy works out an issue with the PowerPoint? Thanks.

Fucking PowerPoint.

LIGHT UP A STAGE

Let's review: so far, we've determined that Vanilla Ice is so good at using a microphone that he does it like a black person. Who would have thought he'd bring race into the equation? I'm pretty sure that he isn't worried about measuring up to other races when it comes to 'lighting up a stage,' though. This one seems pretty straightforward: he's letting us know that when he walks onstage, he makes sure to switch on a light. Of course, he does it 'to the extreme,' so it can be fairly assumed that he goes around switching on all the lights. He may even bring in extra lighting to really amp up the brightness in whatever area he chooses to enter. And of course, he'll put on a sequined outfit to reflect as much light as he can.

WAX A CHUMP

I'd say the best description for a chump is a 'punk-ass bitch' or 'loser'. Or really, anyone who'd stand still for a waxing. To be 'waxed' has a whole range of connotations, none of which are pleasant, but let's assume that Mr. Van Winkle is being literal in this case. That is, he has the will and ability to cover a loser in wax. Naturally he'd need to buy a lot of wax and have a heat source to melt it, so this looks like a boast about his finances. It may be that in the savage wasteland where van Winkle grew up (suburban Dallas), a man's worth was determined by his store of wax. A person rich enough to cover another in the substance would probably be the King of Carollton.

Or maybe Vanilla Ice is an esthetician by day. Imagine getting a Brazilian from that guy. He'd probably call it The Ice Waxxx.

LIKE A CANDLE

I'll be blunt: there is no formulation that permits this phrase to make sense. He covers people in wax in the same manner as he covers a candle in wax? Why would you put wax on a candle? It's already made of wax. Does he intend to say that he covers a chump in sufficient wax to to turn said chump into a candle? Is the body of the chump supposed to serve as a wick of some kind? Wait a minute - is this what Vanilla Ice means when he says that he lights up a room to the extreme? By burning a wax-coated unfortunate? That's disgusting.

From what I can tell, Vanilla Ice, the Wax King of Carollton, illuminates his mansion by the agonizing light of human sacrifice, all the while speaking into the microphone like someone with African roots. Looked at this way, Cool As Ice seems like an entirely different movie.

YouTube - Cool as Ice ending

No chumps were waxed in the making of this video.

I wonder about Henry Rollins

People know Henry Rollins these days as the kind of blockheaded-looking, kind of belligerent-acting but strangely charming and intelligent host of his own talk show. Lots of people know him as the man who broadcast an open letter to Ann Coulter in which he invited her to be his domestic slave ("Come on Ann, you fucking psycho - let's do this"). But I remember Henry Rollins as the guy who spent the 1980s screaming at me from the safety of my stereo.

Remember Black Flag? That was some good old California shoutin' hardcore, the kind of music you could, you know, shred to if you had a mind. Here's a few clips of Henry Rollins from now and way back when.

Letter to Carrot Top

TV Party

Rise Above & American Waste

America Is Under Attack

top 6 songs bands we thought were cool way back when

Now and again I write bits for publication. Here's something I tossed off this evening for the reading public's pleasure. Enjoy!

In the sixties and seventies, from twangy folk to angry punk, music mattered. In the nineties, grunge brought pop perilously close to relevance once more. What were adolescents to do in the eighties, when social relevance in pop was cordoned off into the occasional benefit concert or Christmas single? Like prisoners deprived of sensory input, we overreacted whenever pop singers seemed to be doing something daring. If you never listened to Brave New Waves, here are the top six bands we thought were cool in school:

1. CULTURE CLUB (1982)
OMG that guy is dressed up like a woman and playing smooth soul-pop ballads! Will the social order disintegrate? Will the pillars of society come crashing – no.

2. FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD (1983)
Once “Relax” started sneaking onto radio playlists, the gender-bending antics of Boy George seemed quaint. We were shocked that we could buy a single so clearly about sex. Many of us had yet to discover Frank Zappa's back catalogue.

3. W.A.S.P. (c.1984)
Did W.A.S.P. Stand for “We Are Sexual Perverts” or “We Are Satan's Preachers”? Whatever. When we went out and bought the 12” single “Animal(F**K Like A Beast)” we were badass and we knew it.

4. PAUL HARDCASTLE (1985)
"Nineteen" was an anti-Vietnam protest song delivered in samples and beats. It sounded cutting edge until you realized that Hardcastle was speaking out against a war from the previous decade.

5. NIGGAZ WITH ATTITUDE (1988)
When N.W.A. blasted outta Compton, a nation of suburban kids drove around their neighborhoods with “Fuck Tha Police” pounding out of their stereos. Only Charlton Heston cared.

Bonus '90s entry:
6. NINE INCH NAILS (1994)
Much like W.A.S.P., Trent Reznor tried to introduce the joys of fucking like an animal to the stereos of suburban teenagers. Unfortunately the Discovery Channel showed us all how sexy that was.

Well, domo arigato to you too

I have a few questions about a milestone of a cultural event from my childhood (which stretched from 1971 to five minutes ago, when I shaved for the first time). It's not Band Aid, Live Aid, Farm Aid, or AIDS Aid, or even the first time I heard Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction. No. I'm talking about Styx's brave diversion from synth-prog to New Wave with their best ever tune, Mr. Roboto. Nothing beats Roboto for early '80s techno-anxiety (unless you count the entire output of Devo), with its vision of a cyborg delivering a message of personal freedom to an exhausted dystopia. A cold hard look from twenty-five years down the time tunnel prompts me to wonder, though: Is Mr. Roboto a jaw-droppingly stupid song?

I did a bit of research and found out that the perplexing lyrics and Casio bombast of Mr. Roboto can be traced to a Styx rock opera called Kilroy Was Here, a chilling story of a rock-deprived future in which an imprisoned rock star named Robert Oren Charles Kilroy (R.O.C.K.) escapes from prison for Rock N Roll misfits in the disguise of a servant robot named Mr. Roboto. In the process he may or may not bring down the evil empire known as the Majority for Musical Morality (MMM).

The MMM is headed by the fiendish and tight-assed Dr. Everett Righteous, who no doubt never grooved to songs like "Plexiglass Toilet" or "Babe". In a truly shocking turn of events, Kilroy Was Here made people stay home and hide under their beds instead of paying money to watch yet another bunch of '70s rockers wail about Grand Concepts. You can read more about it on the Kilroy Was Here Wikipedia entry. There's an official site and a fan forum as well, but I'm going to leave those well enough alone. Also, I'm going to take the song on its own terms, just as I heard it back in 1983, when my shirts were velour and my acne was all a' tingling.

So let's take a walk through the lyrics:

Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto,
Mata ah-oo hima de
Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto,
Himitsu wo shiri tai

That's Japanese, dontcha know. And it translates as follows:

Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto
Until we meet again
Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto
I want to know your secret

Ah, so that's why they start off in Japanese. Because an English-speaking audience would rip out the eight-track and drag Dennis de Young by his perm into the sea (not to say that a Japanese audience wouldn't try the very same thing). But aside from that, what we have here is a classical chorus. In the equally hallowed forms of Greek tragedy and rock opera, this is a device for highlighting themes or commenting on the action. In a three-minute pop single, it's a strangely excessive and kind of self-serving way of building an audience into the song. Which is a bit odd.

Whoever this chorus is, we know that a) they're grateful for the actions of a man with a strange name, but b) they're prepared to retract their gratitude upon the next meeting, and c) despite their repeated gratitude, they're still imposing on him with pissy synth-washed demands that he reveal his 'secret'. I'm not sure how I feel about the chorus.

You're wondering who I am (secret secret, I've got a secret)

Well, no. I wasn't. I think you're referring to the passive-agressive chorus there. But the direct address, removed from the dramatic context, implicates me in the world of the song. So I'll bite. Who are you?

Machine or mann-a-cannnn (secret secret, I've got a secret)

If you're a mannequin (or mann-a-cannnn, as you prefer) then I'm out of here. I'm not interested in the secrets of mannequins. Unless it involves leaking bisphenol A from your plastic skin into the environment, I don't care. On the other hand, if you're a talking machine, that's pretty cool. But clearly it's not your secret. And why is the chorus singing the "I've got a secret" backup? Aren't you the one with the secret, Mr. Machine... or Mann-a-cannnn?

With parts made in Japan (secret secret, I've got a secret)

With a name like Roboto, I'm not surprised. This better be going somewhere, because this sounds like it was shoehorned in for the sake of a rhyme.

I am the Modren Man!

You're the what now? "Modren" man? What is "modren"? Maybe the singer is so modern that even the word modern is bending under the insane pressures of modrenity. Clearly we are dealing with a brave future, full of Japanese kitsch and metathesis.

I've a secret I've been hiding, under my skin

Yeah, we know. And ew.

My heart is human -

Good.

My blood is boiling -

Worrisome.

My brain IBM

What? They make brains now? You realize that, since this is 1983, your brain is likely the size of five football fields and needs its own nuclear reactor to function?

So if you see me acting strangely, don't be surprised

Ah, we're way past that now. You go smear yourself in strawberry jam and hoot for pancakes, I'll go listen to my Ultravox albums.

I'm just a man who needed someone, and somewhere to hide
To keep me alive - just keep me alive
Somewhere to hide to keep me alive

Then I recommend you hide in a hospital. They probably have just the thing for that whole 'boiling blood' problem. Are you hiding in a microwave, maybe? Or the cold vacuum of space?

I'm not a robot without emotions - I'm not what you see

You're not - what I see. Then you are - what I don't see? I'm thinking that you're introducing the medieval concepts of essence vs. accidents here. And it's too late in the song to introduce such a weighty idea. You need to include this in your thesis statement, taking into account the influence of medieval thought on crazy cyborgs moaning about identity crises.

I've come to help you with your problems, so we can be free

Ah-ha! You're a hero! A saviour!

I'm not a hero, I'm not a saviour, forget what you know

Oh. Never mind.

I'm just a man whose circumstances went beyond his control
Beyond my control - we all need control
I need control - we all need control

Congratulations Mr. Roboto, you've skeeved me out but good. What kind of message are you sending the children of America, with your creepy cryptofascist fetishization of authority?

I am the modren man, who hides behind a mask
So no one else can see my true identity

It's pretty clear that Mr. Roboto functions as an Everyman (or Erveyman), embodying certain universal traits that we may all recognize. Isn't it true that we all hide behind a 'mask' to keep others from seeing 'our true identity'? Could it be that we are 'not what you see' because of the submersion of identity beneath 'masks'? Hold on a second, it's chorus time!

Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto, domo...domo
Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto, domo...domo
Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto, domo...domo
Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto
For doing the jobs that nobody wants to
And thank you very much, Mr. Roboto
For helping me escape just when I needed to
Thank you-thank you, thank you
I want to thank you, please, thank you

I don't think so. I've already heard enough from the chorus to know that their thank-yous can turn into petty demands at any moment. Especially when you consider that they're thankful for the fact that he does jobs that nobody else wants. What does he do, pick garbage? Pick fruit? Supersize your shake? If there's one thing I learned during my years of labour and retail, it's that people are not grateful for your efforts. They're waiting to visit the petty humiliations of their days on you.

Curiously, the voices of the chorus blend into Roboto, who ends up thanking himself for helping him escape. If you're following the rock opera plot, you'll know that Rock N Roll prisoner Kilroy disguised himself as a robot to escape, so this line is a lot less confusing if you've seen the film and bought the album and kept the 3/4 sleeve t-shirt for the last 25 years. If not, then this bit makes no fucking sense.

The problem's plain to see: too much technology
Machines to save our lives. Machines dehumanize.

Here Mr. Roboto seriously throws his audience for a loop. Besides the fact that you can't have too much of an abstraction like 'technology' (maybe he's referring to an over-reliance on certain technological products?), isn't a bit strange for a singer who is either a machine or mann-a-cannnn to pinpoint technology as a problem? It's a bit like you or me coming out against kidneys or something.

The time has come at last

Three minutes in and the time has come? This is my kind of rock opera.

To throw away this mask

Whoah! That's what makes you modren!

So everyone can see
My true identity...
I'm Kilroy! Kilroy! Kilroy! Kilroy!

Um. Great. That's so unbelievably... UNDERFUCKINGWHELMING. You've already told us that you're some kind of whacked-out cyborg with superheated blood and a machine brain, that you represent the modern human condition, that you refuse the mantle of saviourhood... just to tell us that your name is Kilroy? Well, la-di-da. I'm Mickey the Tube Sock then. Doesn't that just rock your world?

*

Even though I didn't link to any of the Styx or Kilroy sites I found sprouting along the manicured paths of the internet, it's still possible that a devoted fan will find his or her way here. If you're one of those fans, and you're very upset, please take a moment to read the open letter below:

Dear Offended People:

You are right. I am jealous of Styx. I envy their success and their longevity and I have nothing better to do than sit in front of my computer all day and tear down other people's accomplishments. The members of Styx have all been through so much. Dennis de Young and Tommy Shaw and Lawrence Gowan are great musicians with impressive careers, and nothing I do could ever match their accomplishments, they are so talented. I could never write "Plexiglass Toilet" or carry it off with so much verve. Styx was a pioneering band and they continue to define the boundaries of great music and Gowan is so sexy, zOMG. Ha ha, I did not even know that de Young is no longer part of Styx, he had too many creative differences and a unique vision that did not fit with the other members of the band. And I am ignorant that Dennis de Young used Oberheim synthesizers, not Casios as I imply, and this is egregious because classic Styx is synonymous for many fans with the sound of Oberheim synthesizers! Mr. Roboto explores many different themes. It is a searing exploration of modern life. Anyway it's just a song, so the joke's on me for devoting so much time to it. Moreover, I am ugly and my ugliness has made my sexuality questionable.

ask palinode: tardy edition

Why does holiday muzak make me feel so upset inside? I like holidays, I like music, but the vile plonk oozing out of the gift shop at my place of employment fuels a growing rage that I fear I may not be able to contain until Xmas is over. Could it be some genetic flaw that doesn't allow me to appreciate the dulcet synthetic tones of the festive season? Is there some musical anti-nauseant I could be taking during this trying time to prevent my eventual psychotic break?

Aaron


Aaron, this is a seasonal question, like stockings and lights and Santa washcloths, and I have ridden to your question's rescue a month too late. Poor question, already dead, even as I dismount and sprint to its lifeless body. Consider this not a proper answer but artificial respiration for your curiosity.

Okay. If music be the food of love, then muzak is the offal of love scraped from the killing-room floor, separated, reprocessed and then sold back to us, all full of pthalates and prions and the bad. That's what infects your heart when you hear it oozing through the gift shop speakers. That's what unstops the joy plug and drains all your cheer onto the floor in a sad little puddle. That's what motivates people to buy the tchotchkes and gewgaw from the gift shop: once the superstructure of your soul has collapsed, the act of acquisition is the only option to reinflate that filmy fold within. Each time you buy, the capacity of your soul diminishes a bit.

Your musical nausea is actually a good sign. It's the soul's revolt against the musical pollution. Instead of trying to quell the feeling, hold it, store it, and mold it for later use. A shaped charge blasting through emptiness, an explosive force that creates instead of destroys. An anarchism of the spirit, damnit. I hate that muzak shit.

You want your question taken care of or what? Thought so. Ask Palinode! askpalinode @ gmail . com.

a friday night out with the folks

Some Friday evenings you stay in, watch repeats of CSI, threaten the cats and think about repainting the living room. Other Fridays you spit an entire mouthful of beer in your wife's hair and end up in a pointless conversation about combining polka with eighties goth music. I am here to tell you (hell, this may be the reason I was brought to Earth) that the latter makes for a better night.

Tonight we went out to the Queer City Cinema fundraiser (unused slogan: Queer City Cinema, For If'n You Want Your Films Gayed Up - I can't believe they tossed my suggestion) at The Exchange to see the finest in bent musical entertainment, Kelly and the Kelly Girls (warning: myspace music assault) and Intergalactic Virgin (warning: more of assault on you ear).* I didn't do any sketches of tonight's gig, but I did take some notes.

I often take impromptu cryptic notes to anchor little moments in my memory. When I looked tonight's notes over, though, I discovered that I'd written the following:

- Keynote speech for annual meeting for the Advancement of Progress of Robots - 2032?
- audience: Humans? Robots? Mixed? And is there a difference at that point?
- effects of peak oil on robot society
- Matrix viewed as romantic comedy?
Apparently I think there's still comedy to be dredged out of a movie franchise now three years in the past. Somebody come up with another turgid sci-fi trilogy quick. I guess this is what happens when you take notes in a darkened club. On the plus side, you can expect a really daft post about robots sometime soon. Here, by the way, is the first google image result for "robot progress".

Despite the bleak outlook for robot progress in this image - check out the dejected slouch as the ship in the background departs for the next robot-friendly planet - I really dig this picture. Although I'd like to know what a robot's doing in the country. Everyone knows that robots belong in gleaming art deco cities with vaults and arches of inhuman scale and unfathomable intent. Go visit http://penguinx.org and let the artist know that he's misplaced a robot in bucolic idyll.

Hey. Was I trying to talk about a night out with my wife and friend? And the spitting of beer into my wife's hair? I was, wasn't I? I had just funnelled a mouthful of Black Amber Ale into my mouth when the lead singer of The Kelly Girls made an offhand fart joke. The beer ejected from my mouth in arc that almost, but not quite, sailed just over my wife's head. She gave me an exasperated but kind look that said You are a total spaz, a specialized, gracious expression that acknowledged my unfitness for public display, forgave me completely and let the night proceed. I married well, as the busybodies in Jane Austen novels like to say.

*I'm really hoping that someone will come to my site by googling "assault on you ear".

the sketchy entry (my shady life)

NaBloPoMo, I hate you. When I agreed to post every day, I never thought I'd be scanning in lame-ass sketches from my notebook instead of going to bed. Where it's warm, and my wife is. Instead I'm in the 'office' (still can't think of a home space as an office) with my weblog. Argh. If you want an indication of my mood, look to the top right of my page. See me there? That's how I feel.

Enough of the volcano of the rage. Last night I went to Panurge and Memphis with Schmutzie and Friday. Schmutzie bailed early. Friday promised me that the opening band would start at eight, which meant that I could probably see both and be home by 10:30. Why did I think that a couple of out-of-town bands would follow the schedule my friend set out for me? If last night were a term paper, I'd be getting comments like "Did not think this through" in licorice red.

Panurge started around ten o' clock. They turned out to be one of those bands that constantly swapped instruments and microphone places. It made my intermittent ADD brand of drawing really difficult. Here are two quick sketches of them, made in darkness and drunkenness:


Forgive their excessive size and verticality. They actually played like that, all sideways and stacked on top of each other.

If I were some kind of rock critic, I'd say that Panurge blended Bauhaus-style vocals with surprisingly folky harmonies over propulsive rhythms, post-rock bass lines and cold keyboard sounds. But since I'm not nearly that much of a wanker, I'll just say that they were really good. The best part of the performance was the guy on keyboards, who looked like he was fixing and fine-tuning his gear instead of actually playing.

Memphis came on around twenty to twelve. By this time I could already see the shape of my coming workday, truncated at front and back by me sleeping in and leaving early. Too late to worry now; I was committed. The lead singer (Torquil Campbell of Stars fame) decided that the gig would be something between a campfire and a cuddle puddle, encouraging the mini-crowd of us to huddle close to the stage and lie on the floor. When the floor remained empty, he sat and sang, hunched up while the band played onstage.

During the next song, he came over and looked at my sketches as he sang. He smiled and nodded, I smiled and nodded, we all felt good about ourselves. Here's the rest of the band.

Matt Barber on bass:
Chris Dumont on guitar and a guy with glasses on the saxophone. Didn't catch his name. Unless by sheer coincidence his name really is Mr. Saxophone Guy.

Eventually the floor started filling up with bodies. Bodies sitting, bodies lying on the hardwood with their heads in people's laps, bodies kind of leaning gently into one another and swaying back and forth. If the gig had gone another half hour, the whole thing probably would have turned into a slow, absentminded orgy. Which is kind of what Memphis' music is intended to produce: like Stars and Broken Social Scene, their songs induce a pleasant, achy trance in the listener. It's a bit like being a teenager, alone in your bedroom with the lights off, playing one particular song over and over until the cassette starts to drag.

Lastly, here's a hairy headed hipster either staring at the starry dynamo of heaven or waiting for a beer. You can't really tell from the drawing. But you can tell I screwed up my first attempt.

memphis comes to us

Bonjour. In keeping with NaNoBloPo's tyrannical once-a-day posting policy, I am posting. Because I've been out all night out watching Memphis and Panurge. I had no camera, so I started sketching in my notebook. Tomorrow, when I'm not semi-pissed and hungover, I'll scan the sketches and post them here. Why? Because I'm betting on a healthy degree of masochism in my readership.

Good night all. Good night. Memphis is a great band.

ask palinode #11: clash of the tired hooers

Oooookay. Time for another installment of that, whatchacallit, thing, where people want to know stuff and I tell them. I forget what it's called. Hold on, I'm going to go stare at the cat until I remember.

Okay, got it now. Thanks, cat.

Palinode,

I have finger puppets of Sigmund Freud, Virginia Woolf, William Shakespeare and Charles Darwin, but they're not talking to each other right now. And they look kind of pissed off. I think they may have had a fight while I was gone. What do you think happened?

Savia

Saviabella, without a doubt those are the most miserable world-weary finger puppets I've ever seen - and you haven't even taken the tags off yet. I should report you for this, Ms. Savia. The cops will come and then, as Adrian Mole likes to say, you'll get done for sure. How'd you like them apples, Savia? To get done by a bunch of cops showing up at your door?

Don't answer that.

It's well-known that finger puppets, just like the rest of us, enjoy prog rock. Your puppets have slipped into a state of gloom because their prog rock needs are not being addresssed, which has resulted in a state of underprogment. Initial symptoms manifest as listlessness, which progresses to neuralgia, fraying, and a matted look, as if a cat had got ahold of them and dragged them under the chaise longue.

Just as different basement-dwelling teens from the seventies and eighties preferred different prog rock bands, so do different finger puppets. The trick is matching the puppet to the correct gang of long-haired coke-snorting four-chord-loving rock snobs that have made life so miserable for most of us.

Puppet #1: Charles Darwin

Capsule bio: A gentleman scientist from nineteenth century England. Sailed on a boat called the Beagle. Looked at big birds and scary lizards on rocky wastelands in the Pacific. Discovered that the path to atheism ran through the ovipositor of a wasp.

Best match: Mike Oldfield, Tubular Bells. This is the classiest piece of progressive rock out there, and to judge by by Darwin's white beard, kindly expression and elegant but well-worn coat, he likes his prog as a background air to the motions of his mind.

2nd choice: Yes, The Yes Album. Charles Darwin enjoys the complex harmonies, even if he finds Jon Anderson's high-pitched vocals a little disturbing. He also draws quiet inspiration from the first part of "Starship Trooper".

Puppet #2: William Shakespeare

Capsule bio: Led a life of wretched disappointment. Married a woman many years his senior who may have been his father's mistress. Son Hamnet died young, probably from silly name. Ground out an existence in the theatre, died respectably well-off and left his secondbest bed to his wife. Wrote some plays concerning kings, magicians, and a guy with a donkey's head.

Best match: Jethro Tull, Minstrel in the Gallery. Shakespeare likes his prog rock fried in the fat of folk, and Tull's folk influences and flutework glisten on Minstrel. Jethro Tull kind of seem like they come out of the sixteenth century. From under a pile of horse shit.

2nd choice: Rush, A Farewell to Kings. One word: madrigal.

Puppet #3: Virginia Woolf.

Capsule bio: Miserable depressed writer from the twentieth century who wrote a number of books, each one less accessible than the last. Despised the world and everyone in it, herself included. Had a fatal passion for collecting river rocks.

Best match: Emerson Lake & Palmer, Brain Salad Surgery. OMG. Any way you cut it, "Karn Evil 9" is a thirty-minute masterpiece of rock so prog that you'll need a medic afterwards. When Keith Emerson sings "Soon the gypsy queen in a glaze of vaseline/ Will perform on guillotine/ What a scene! what a scene!" halfway through "Karn Evil 9 (First Impressions)," you know you're in the presence of sheer. Genius. This is what Septimus Smith was singing when he leaped to his death.

2nd choice: King Crimson, In The Court of the Crimson King. No particular reason, but if Virginia Woolf were going to get into 1970s art-rock, she should start here.

Puppet #4: Sigmund Freud.

Capsule bio: Born Sigismund Schlomo Freud. Enjoyed cigars, maids, talking about sex with Viennese housewives. Thought about infant sexuality and personality formation for years until he realized that the human race carried within itself a deathward impulse. Smoked his jaw off.

Best match: Pink Floyd, The Wall. Don't tell me you didn't see this one a mile away. I think Freud contributed backup vocals on "Young Lust". His campaign against dark sarcasm in the classroom does not need to be explored here. He did, however, feel that children needed some education, even it amounted to thought control.

2nd choice: Kraftwerk, The Man-Machine. Although Freud was not interested in the cyborgian themes of the album, dismissing it as yet another example of the death drive in action, he loved the vocoder. Because at the end of his life, Freud's musical career was cut short by cancer in his jaw. He could have cut a few singles with a vocoder and some session musicians. I'm not saying it would have been an epic body of work, but it would have found its niche.

Ask Palinode #3: the sweetest taboo

Saviabella, she of the smartness and the purtyness, puts to me a tough question:

Dear Palinode, what is the sweetest taboo?

An informal survey of people at the bar returned a 100% result for anal sex.

That is nonsense. 'Sweetest' implies the introduction of sugar or some kind of sweetener - a beaker of Equal, a ramikin of Sugar Twin, a blenda' full of Splenda, a sack of saccharine, a dose of Sucralose, a concert hall full of Xylitol, all the secret names of Aspartame. What kind of freaky perverted anal sex are the kids having these days that they need a shaker of sugar or a bottle of high fructose corn syrup to get it on? I'm thinking that having anal sex is like reading Thomas Pynchon - everybody talks about it but precious few have actually done it. Do people talk about Thomas Pynchon anymore? Maybe there's a vogue now for claiming never to have picked up Gravity's Rainbow. I think it'll be a while before it becomes fashionable to claim not to have had anal sex. If that happens, maybe there'll be matching baseball caps and sweat shorts. You know, activewear.

[image of activewear with "I didn't have anal sex today!" slogan]

[not able to upload my sketches of anti-anal sex activewear from work computer]

[also unable to find appropriate anti-anal sex activewear on the internet]

[please imagine activewear here until I get home to my scanner]

Clearly the ol' butt boogaloo (Scronkin' Two: Butt Boogaloo) is not on the menu. I recommend that we go to the source to determine what this 'sweetest taboo' is.

In her song "The Sweetest Taboo," singer Sade refuses to specify what this taboo thing is. Obviously it's so taboo, this taboo, that even to mention the taboo is taboo. That's pretty taboo, people. Clearly we're dealing with interdiction on a grand scale. And yet this taboo - whatever it may be - causes Sade (is her name itself a clue?) to fall in love with its provider. Let's look closely at the lyrics to see what they reveal.

If I tell you, If I tell you now
Will you keep on, Will you keep on loving me
If I tell you, If I tell you how I feel
Will you keep bringing out the best in me

Note the hesitation in the speaker's voice, her compulsion to reformulate and restate her words. Her difficulty with language hints at the presence of the purely abject, a prohibition so implacable that language itself teeters over the abyss. In her forceful repetition, however, she realizes that cannot find better words or more suitable phrases - that if all language is useless in the face of the abject, then any language will do. I applaud the speaker's courage in pursuing discourse in the face of such nihilist odds.

I'm also curious about her anxiety over having 'the best brought out of her' - is she a drug mule? Perhaps she's rethinking the risks involved in the venture, but doesn't want to tell her partner about her misgivings. Because clearly he's got the laxatives.

You give me, you give me the sweetest taboo
You give me, you're giving me the sweetest taboo
Too good for me

The more I study these lines, the more I'm convinced that the speaker is a drug mule with a bellyful of heroin-filled condoms. The sweetness must refer to the laxatives, most likely chocolate ex-lax, or one of those more economical knock-off brands.

There's a quiet storm, and it never felt like this before
There's a quiet storm, that is you
There's a quiet storm, and it never felt this hot before
Giving me something that's taboo
(Sometimes I think you're just too good for me)

I'm starting to think that this drug mule-laxative motif may be a bit off the mark. The other person is a storm? Not to be harsh, but what the fuck? Is Sade some kind of hippie? She's singing to some clouds and wind or something? And if she is, why would the storm need to be told that it was a storm? Is the storm so desperate for validation? I expect better from a storm, especially one so unprecedentedly hot.

Nor do I buy into the implied philosophical argument in attributing The Good to a storm. I call bullshit, Sade.

I'd do anything for you, I'd stand out in the rain
Anything you want me to do, don't let it slip away

Here's a casual question for the folks at home: what do you look for in your average expression of devotion? I'll tell you what I look for - a promise to do more than hang around outside and get damp. Again, I don't want to be harsh, but I'm pretty underwhelmed here. If I give you the sweetest taboo, I expect a little more than some wet-weather outdoors action, if you catch my drift.

Of course, it's possible that the 'rain' she refers to is coming from the 'storm' above her, which suggests some kind of golden shower situation. That's assuming that the 'quiet storm' is actually a human being, which makes no sense at all, but we're talking about a hippie drug mule with a laxative addiction here, so who knows what kind of junk is bubbling around in her marijuana-destroyed brain?

You've got the biggest heart
Sometimes i think you're just too good for me

The biggest heart? We're expected to believe that a storm has a heart? Gross.

Every day is christmas, and every night is new year's eve
Will you keep on loving me
Will you keep on, will you keep on
Bringing out the best in me

Ah damn. I'm sorry folks. If I'd given the lyrics a careful once-over I could have cleared up this whole thing immediately. Sade and her lover are caught in an accelerated seven-day time loop, in which the space between December 25th and January 1st, a span of 168 hours, is experienced in only (presumably) twelve hours. I can't tell from the song how it came about, but I surmise that Sade and her lover are physicists who took a time travel experiment too far.

In theory, the lover could travel from point A (Christmas Day) to point B (an arbitrary point between Christmas and New Year's Eve), go on in regular linear time to point C (New Year's Eve) and then return to point A, where he is transformed into a kind of atomic 'storm cloud' by the terrible energies unleashed. When the lover lands at point B, he understands that the return trip will kill him, but he takes the trip anyway out of a stubborn belief that this time he can control the forces involved for a sucessful return. He never does, and is forced to repeat the experiment for all eternity.

The experiment creates a separate 'bubble' universe in which Sade and the lover are condemned to go through the holiday week repeatedly, with Sade declaring her love to a disembodied storm of atoms. For reasons that may have to do with its size or some other formative condition, this is a higher energy universe in which time moves at a rate fourteen times faster than our own. This would explain why Sade feels so hot, since the increased rate of time means faster molecular movement and therefore more waste heat thrown off. Unfortunately, there's a paradox between the closed temporal loop and the second law of thermodynamics, but let's not carried away with the science here.*

It would also explain why standing out in the rain becomes such a crucial measure of devotion. In Sade's closed universe, rain would fall fourteen times faster than ours. If the average non wind-driven raindrop falls between 7-18 miles an hour, then she would be exposing herself to beads of water traveling up to 252 miles per hour!** And that's not factoring in wind speed, which in a storm could be considerable. I'm no meteorologist, but I'm guessing that prolonged exposure to heated water at such speeds could well be fatal. It turns out that she's willing to die for her disembodied lover. I am humbled, people.

Mind you, I'm not so humbled when I consider that the time travel experiment was probably concocted as a means of smuggling those heroin-filled condoms into the future.

Also consider that we live in a cynical age in which open and uncomplicated displays of emotion are considered sentimental or laughable. In such an environment, it may be love itself which is the sweetest taboo.

Although it's probably anal sex.

*I understand that some of my readers may not be scientists. I would like to assure you that all the science in my weblog is unassailable and totally correct, and if you disagree with any of it, you are from Satan and no one will have sex with you.

**This figure is also completely correct and cannot be gainsayed by human minds. It will blow up your brain in your head to try and dispute it.

on the way to the chiropractor

Today, for the first time ever, I went to the chiropractor. And it was pretty much what I expected: a healthy, fit guy in casual clothes made me take off my shirt and then sat on me. Or something like that. I had my head turned to the side so I wasn't quite sure what he was doing, but if felt like he sat on me, punched my kidney repeatedly and then tried to pull my limbs off like I was a tasty pretzel. The whole thing felt a little Greco-Roman, if you know what I'm saying. But my God, I never knew how much I needed someone to sit on my back and punch me, until I stood up from that weird vinyl table and felt... normal.

I hadn't felt normal in weeks. Moving from one apartment to the next had twisted my body and set my entire torso at a strange angle to my hips. One leg felt shorter than the other, which gave me the orthopedics heebie-jeebies. In my experience, people fitted with orthopedics are condemned to walk up and down the concourse of the crappiest shopping mall in the city. They don't stop, unless it's to buy their sullen pimpled children fries from the A&W. They just walk the dead spaces, the clomp of their heel hard on the tile, living out some ghastly twilight existence in the shelter of retail outlets. So you can see why I wouldn't want an orthopedic shoe. I like to limp around horribly walk in the world, people! Here's what happened on the way.

In the Sears: I stopped to buy underwear at Sears. Why? I needed new ones.The ones I had on were not the freshest. The apartment move kind of interrupted the natural cycle of laundry, and there was no way I was going to the chiropractor without decent underwear. Plus they were old and looked they'd been in a gang fight. I felt like the grandmother from Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" who wore her nicest underwear for a car trip, just in case she died in an accident. Is this more than you need to know about my habits? I figured there was little chance that the chiropractor would want me to take my pants off, but in that unlikely event, I wanted some fine fresh underwear.

I also discovered, or rediscovered, that old people are bullies. I don't care if you've accomplished the remarkable feat of not dying for eighty years - stop butting in front of me in line. Yeah, I'm talking to you, lady. Oh, I see you're buying underwear as well. Visiting the chiropractor?

Passing by the windows of HMV: The posters for Johnny Cash's latest and likely not last album read: This Is The Music Johnny Wanted Us To Hear. That's a new tack - guilting the public into buying a dead guy's album and invoking a kind of mournful solidarity. There's always something a little ghoulish about the recording industry propping up the dead to sell product to the living, but this feels almost bullying. Hey Paulie, should we throw down money for the latest Rick Rubin album featuring the voice of Johnny Cash? You bet, Cindy - it's what Johnny would have wanted. But Paulie, we already spent that money we made selling methadone to those kids in the Durango. Damn, Cindy, time to go turn tricks again. One handjob should do it, hey? Plus there's that 'us'. Are we supposed to join in on the mourning with the people who are selling Johnny Cash to us? I don't think so.

In The Park: I'm not going to google this at work, but I'm pretty sure that the guy who passed me with a cell phone stuck against his ear was talking about a musician named MC Fecal Matter. Yeah, he's the guy who raps about shitting, he said, which didn't surprise me. He just raps about taking a shit. People on benches looked up from their private heat highs and swung their necks around, trying to locate the source of the shit talk. I couldn't imagine whom I'd phone, just to talk about some guy who talks about shit. That sounds kind of Carveresque: What We Talk About When We Shout About The Shit-Rapper On Our Cell Phones or something.

the dubious glory of jim


Today, for the price of absolutely nothing, I took home a scratched-up sleeveless piece of vinyl for the sake of its cover. And perhaps for the glory of Jim Records, the label of Jimmy Swaggart.


Praise be to Jimmy here of the cannibal grin and daffodil shirt. The title of the album is "Camp Meeting Piano". Would you walk into a camp with this guy at the piano?


Remember - this is the man who said that gay people should be called "queers, perverts or homosexuals, but not gay. Gay is a nice word". So let us only say nice things about this man.

Whatever you may think of Jimmy Swaggart, this album comes with the greatest recommendation I've ever read:


The unique style plus the anointing of the Holy Spirit? "Follow me into the bedroom suite, Mrs. Collins. I think you'll agree that the colour-coordinated valances plus the anointing of the Holy Spirit really sell the room". Awesome. But I think the blurb lets us down at the end. If I cut an album with the anointing of the Holy Spirit - hell, if cut a fart with the anointing of the Holy Spirit - I wouldn't finish off with some lame phrase like "an experience in recording". I'd go so far as to call it a good or even pleasant experience. And why is it an experience "in recording"? I think it would be wiser to play up the listening aspect, since the vast majority of people who own this record would not be the ones who recorded it.


I wonder what people raised outside the Christian tradition make of songs like track nunber five. Do they stop and say, "When I see the blood? What?" Do children tug at their mother's hands and whisper "Why is there blood, mommy?" And the mothers will have no answer, stroking the furrowed foreheads of their little children, quietly praying that the storm will pass over them without incident? Fear not, though: the chorus of the song reads "When I see the blood/I will pass over you," not "When I see the blood/I'll be just about done hitting you" or "When I see the blood/I'll stop and say Okay, I'm outta here".

Mind you, it's a little better than the third track on side two.


I think it's a bit sneaky to follow up soothing stuff like "The Healer" and "Leaning on the Everlasting Arm" with "He Was Nailed to the Cross for Me". It's like giving a dollar to a homeless guy and then telling him you're a buck short for your grandmother's operation. My brain wants to keep riffing on that title. "He was whacked with a hakapik for me". "He was run over by a zamboni for me". "He was vented into space for me". All of which would be unlikely ways for first-century guy to meet his end. Which makes me wonder if Jesus went around saying, "Did you know it's the first century now?"

That would get old pretty quick.

worst songs

In my ongoing effort to prove that sick days are good for something besides lying down and throwing up, I've been poking around the internet and looking at people's lists of the worst songs of all time. I confess: I love these kinds of things. It makes my heart glad to see people taking revenge on our culture. To those who believe that the haters should get up off their hatin' duffs and join the cultural production game, I say that a) the cultural production game is inherently corrupt and insipid, and b) maybe composing a long list of hated songs and movies is a bottom-up version of cultural production, a chance for basement dwellers to haul their hateful creations of spit and lint and mouse turds up the dumbwaiter.

Most of the worst song lists are heavy with late 60s and mid 70s tunes such as "(You're) Having My Baby," a song that makes you want to shoot yourself with a high-caliber weapon, if only to drown out the sound of Paul Anka sounding so sincere about the joys of impregnation. The sentimental pop flare-out at the end of psychedelia allowed a lot of horrendous and misguided music into the world, but at least the artists appeared to believe that their songs had a certain worth, even if that resulted in Richard Harris bemoaning his lost cake recipe or Starland Vocal Band thinking that noontime nooky merited a single. The musical excesses of the 70s strike me as embarrassing but oddly sweet, even if most of the singles of the time were recorded in a benzodiazepine haze.

No, it's the eighties that really shoved pop music into the tiger cage and walked away whistling. The mutation of disco into machine-tooled soul combined with the merging of corporate interests to produce hour after hour of utterly forgettable crap. It was considered a good career move for a band to fill up a movie soundtrack, producing at least one tuneless single with the movie title shoehorned in somehow. Imagine composing and performing an entire song whose only purpose is to advertise an action film. Imagine doing that and then not overdosing on the bowl of Quaaludes in your dressing room. Can't do it, huh? When Reagan declared that it was morning in America, musicians from all over woke up and decided that it was time to make some money. Pop music started to feel like a theme-parked version of itself, with nobility replacing politics, titillation overtaking raunch, and record companies gulping songs down whole, all the better to regurgitate it in pre-digested form for the rest of us.

I've been ranting some. Here's my contribution to the hate - the worst songs of the 1980s.

Howard Jones - New Song
Not many people remember this tune from 1983. I'd forgotten it altogether until an internet radio station plugged this into its playlist last week. "New Song" combines everything that ever bugged me about the music of that decade into one three-minute package: canned boppy soul, unmemorable verses followed by slightly catchy chorus, and a vague inspirational message that translates to feel-good-fuck-all. The song plays like an extended dance remix of itself.

Bruce Hornsby - The Way it Is
Soft rock made softer by soft-spoken soft-headed singer.

Any Mr. Mister tune
Certainly "Broken Wings," but absolutely "Kyrie," with its pretentious title, processed guitar chords, and the sneaking suspicion that you've been made to listen to Christian rock without signing the consent forms.

Cutting Crew - I Just Died in Your Arms
If you're going to masquerade as Mr. Mister, it is a bad idea to give your band a name that sounds like a hair salon. But since Mr. Mister sounds like a discount men's clothing store, maybe it's not such a bad choice after all.

Don Johnson - Heatbeat
Was that the name of the tune? Who cares? It doesn't matter what Don Johnson sings, what he chooses to call the things that he sings, what he's saying when he sings them. When an eighties television personality - Johnson, Philip Michael-Thomas-Hall-Whatever, Jack Wagner - cut an album, the results weren't songs. They were Integrated Media Objects designed to consolidate revenue in the pockets of the people who drew up the contracts.

Foreigner - I Want to Know What Love Is
Agh. God! What the fuck was that? A bunch of stodgy seventies rockers with permed mullets trying on the ballad form? You can take a shower when someone throws dogshit at you, but how do you scrub your memory?

Beach Boys - Kokomo
Back in July 2004 I was sent to the Florida Keys to do some shooting and interview people about historic hurricane disasters. My employers put me up at the Holiday Isle resort on Islamorada, a slightly shabby hotel complex with more bars per square foot than anywhere else. Beach bar blended into raw bar spread into tiki bar tumbled into poolside bar overlooked beach bar again. Sunburned tourists ate and drank and swam themselves into a daze, their kids slowly turning pinker and crispier as the days went by. On the sand a team of wholesome tanned women with fake boobs set up a net and played beach volleyball in the afternoons. Despite the crowds, the complex looked as if it needed general repair, or at least a bit of paint. The tourists seemed to notice it too. The peeling walls turned their relaxation to agitated boredom, causing them to snap at their kids and chew on their po' boy sandwiches with a certain ferocity. On the second day I realized that the Kokomo bar was the very place that the Beach Boys had sung about, and not some Caribbean island as I had always assumed. I showed up one evening. The place was almost empty, with a few motivated drinkers at the bar and a couple of people at the tables. At a small stage someone was singing Jimmy Buffett tunes. An unconvincing tiki apparatus had been assembled to persuade customers that this place was the Polynesian paradise they'd always dreamed of getting shitfaced in. This was the place Mike Love wanted to take his girl to?

Tina Turner - We Don't Need Another Hero
Good songs do not have the word "thunderdome" in the chorus.

Starship - We Built This City on Rock and Roll, or maybe Sara
For a child born in the seventies and adolescing in the eighties, it was hard not to wonder where the hippies went. All I ever saw around me were a bunch of dull middle-class adults. But Starship cleared up the mystery for me.

David Bowie and Mick Jagger - Dancing in the Streets
I'd love to know the details on how this cover came to be. It seems like so many facets of our culture got caught up in this two-minute whirlwind of crap - it was like alien android replacements of rock musicians trying to get hip with the youth but getting the time frame fatally wrong. David Bowie appeared to have stolen Keith Haring's pyjamas for the video and thrown on a trenchcoat on the way to the video shoot.

Most of the post-Thriller Michael Jackson stuff - maybe Earth Song
Yeah, Earth Song is probably the nadir of the Michael Jackson bombast-a-thon, but I think that tune belongs to the nineties. Did you see Jackson's performance of Earth Song on the British Music Awards, where he appeared in white robes, sort of pretended to be a Christ figure and welcomed a stageful of solemn marching children into his arms? Apparently Jarvis Cocker ran up on stage and mooned him.

Quiet Riot - Mama Weer All Crazee Now
Once upon a time there were some guys who hung out in a basement, drank beer and jammed. One day they got a recording contract and released a Slade cover called "Cum On Feel the Noiz," which turned them into beer-bellied rock gods with tight pants, hairy chests and sweat that reeked of Jim Beam. They rode that single hard until it dropped. After they crawled out of a pit of groupies and meth, the band released another album. The single, "Mama Weer All Crazee Now," was another Slade cover, but this one did not have the benefit of a good hook or catchy tune. It could also not spell its own name, which was weird.

Eddie Murphy - Party All the Time
Another Integrated Media Object whose only purpose was to complete the colonization of eighties pop culture by Eddie Murphy. Fortunately the breakaway republic of Taste caught him in the mountain passes and harried his flanks until he was forced to retreat.

Europe - The Final Countdown
Making fun of this song seems unneccessary.

Michael Bolton
I don't remember a single tune that he sung, with the exception of the Otis Redding cover. I just remember the suits that looked too small and the button-up shirts. And the most dedicated mullet in the world.

Billy Ocean - Suddenly? Get Out of My Dreams? Caribbean/European/African Queen?
Didn't Billy Ocean seem somehow too old be a pop star? That was the creepiest thing about 80s pop - much of it came from people who seemed to debut in mid-career, if the receding hairlines and pastel suit jackets had anything to say about it.

John Cougar Mellencamp - Small Town
In one simple stroke, Mellencamp conquered the world's all time most difficult rhyme 'small town' by using it to end every line.

Sheena Easton - Sugar Walls
Yuck.

John Farnham - You're the Voice
Bagpipes? I'm sorry - bagpipes?

a cure for youthful longings

I'm listening to a copy of The Cure's old BBC sessions from 1979-1982. It contains all their moodiest, gloomiest, most introspective music. At the same time they kind of sound like a bunch of highschool kids banging away at guitars and keyboards in an auditorium somewhere, getting ready for a heavily chaperoned 'Talent Night'. Man, talk about glorious. Ever tried to imagine The Zit Remedy doing Seventeen Seconds?