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Archive for March, 2009

WFMU

I quite fancy this radio station and would like to share their likes with you.  The chef’s recommendations this evening come from the “Most Recent Archives,” a veritable buffet of choice musical meat for your commercial-free enjoyment.

http://wfmu.org/

Freshness abounds.

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I am inspired by Marion to admit that every now and then I notice I am a target.  We who consume a certain amount of media (that amount being quite a bit), especially of the electronic variety, end up with those concentric circles on our backs.  The periodical-addicted, another population that counts me in its number, may sometimes notice the plethora of crosshairs woven into their shirts.  Live in an advertising-drenched market, like, say, the town that told Mad Men what to call itself—you’ll notice the bullseye all the more often.

I refer, less cleverly than I’d like, I’m sure, to that the cross-platform, multi-media, several stage marketing campaign that seems to find you everywhere you go, from the morning’s stumble to the bathroom, to the evening’s quiet repose. Somehow, some algorithm-armed marketer fed all the raw numbers into the machine and it spit out a picture of you.  And so, everywhere you go, you are pitched the new product, told it will go great with whatever it is you already consume, that it is what people like you are forking over good money for these days.

To be clear, I don’t mean one of those carpet-bomb campaigns that hit everyone.  (I’m looking at you, Watchmen.)  I’m talking about the product that isn’t being pushed on most people more than once or twice, but, because of your particular predilections, it’s being waved in your face, from multiple angles, multiple times a day.

This plague befalls me a few times a year.  For a few weeks, I’m inundated with the same ad again and again.  And then, Keyzer Soze-like, the ad is gone.  I’m not sure what the last one was, but I remember Pom.  You know Pom.  It’s that insanely-expensive pomegranate drink that, in some vague way, is more healthy for you than, for instance, falling downstairs into an open box just filled up at the needle exchange.  Antioxidants or something.  When the Good Lord saw fit to bless this earth with bottles of this stuff, the Pom people had their sights on me.  The ads fluttered out of my magazines with the subscriptions cards when I went to my mailbox.  They obscured the articles I tried to read online with pop-up, pop-over graffiti.  They interrupted the rebroadcasts of the Daily Show I used to avoid reality.  People I know—people I liked—told me they had tried it.  I felt like the over-sexed wolf in one of those Tex Avery cartoons.   I could put Pom in a safe, jam it into the cargo hold of an Antarctic-bound plane, take a cab to the world’s tallest building, ride the express elevator to the top floor, lock several doors behind me and turn around… to find Pom, Droopy Dog-like, right behind me.

You’re wondering, perhaps, if I tried Pom.  Of course I did.  I’m not made of stone.  And it was terrible.  Or, if not terrible, significantly disappointing.  I knew it would be.  We all did.  But in the face of so much effort to get the bottle to my lips, I was unable to escape the coordinates locked on me.  I did as I was told.  I poured the intravenous blood-colored stuff down my throat, almost gagging on my own shameful weakness.  You have done this too.  I know it.  You have been made curious.  You have been seduced into believing Pandora’s better treasures are inside that new box of, what is that stuff?, cereal?!   It looks like the stuff I sweep up from under my couch once a year!  How could you eat that?  Ugh.  ….What?…um, yeah…no, I did see that ad during Friday Night Lights…yeah, with that talking bird, yeah….uh, okay…sure, I’ll try a bite.

I write all of this as preamble to the following promise: I will not try the Kindle.

Bezos wants me to have one.  He wants it so bad.  Bezos, I get a strong sense, is staying up nights calculating how he can bump into me on the street and send both of our accoutrement sailing, papers dancing in the wind, so that in all the confusion to get my beloved paper back in the right order, he can slip one into my bag, like a gray, mute stowaway who will become a charmingly fish-out-of-water/beloved companion and win me over, all the while secretly trying to destroy the very way of life all that I hold dear and the livelihoods of professional lumberjacks the world over.

Bezos has gone on the Daily Show to tell me about the Kindle.  He has convinced my friend Jonny to tell me about the one he got as a present.  Bezos has convinced talented comedic writers to insert the word Kindle in the dialog of characters I hold very dear.  Today, he even blackmailed (for that is the only possible explanation) Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, a 21st Century sage if e’er there was one, to start an ongoing conversation—ongoing!—about the merits of the Kindle.

Well, Bezos, if you’re listening—and I know you are—listen to this: No.  Not no thanks.  No.  No Kindle.  No glorified etch-a-sketch.  No fake book that smells like what I can only assume is not a book.   No safe harbor for trees doomed to become the novels I buy and read half of.  I will chop down that tree, pulp it up, print words upon it, bring it to St. Marks Books, pay for it with my credit card and then read half of it all by myself if I have to!  No more wire hangers!  I mean Kindles.

Sometimes you have to take a stand.  Like Mel Gibson at the end of Braveheart.  Or that other time, when he was drunk and said all that Anti-Semitic stuff.  I take my stand here, on the Internet, less racistly, sure, but with no less conviction, and with that same crazed look in my eye.  Because just as Gibson was raised as some sort of Catholic who apparently thinks he is persecuted by Jews even though he’s been paid millions of dollars often by Jewish people to have strange things done to his hair, I was raised a book-lover who will not forsake his Luddite fetishization of printed matter, even if, hypocritically, I declares so here, in the pixelated world of words that do not sit reassuringly on the shelf but instead slip a bit farther down the page every day.  They, Bezos and the Pom people, they’re out to get us, they’ve targeted us, me and Mel.  And we won’t go quietly.

….What’s that?  Rehab?  …Tell you what…you give me a month in that nice one where Mel went, and I’ll give the Kindle a shot.

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A Short Thought

 

This is my on-stage dress.

This is my on-stage dress.

 

 

I just got back from two and a half weeks on the road with Hermit Thrushes.

We went to Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, etc.  The best part about traveling is seeing great music communities and meeting interesting, thoughtful people from all over the place.  There were moments when I’d be sitting in the bus thinking, “Wow, this country really is beautiful.”  Actually I had a lot of those moments.  I saw cows and fields, things that I don’t usually get around Philly.

 

This is the band

This is the band

 

 

On stage, we each wear a color of the rainbow and we have cloud and rainbow amp covers.  Nick and I wear dresses.  I say this because in Dallas, Texas someone came up to me and asked if we were radical fairies.  I said, “Is that a queer thing?”  She said yes.  I replied, “Well, not really, but yes.”  The next night, the sound guy asked if we were a pride thing.  A few nights later, in Asheville, North Carolina, a guy said our music was “fairytale punk.”  

 

Taken in Dallas, Texas before Gater (red hair) said goodbye to us forever

Taken in Austin, Texas before Gater (red hair) said goodbye to us forever

 

 

So cheers to getting out of the city for a bit and realizing this country is great.  Until next week!

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PBQ’s First Ever Story Slam

When: Tue, April 14, 7:30pm – 10:00pm
Where: Bubble House, 3404 Sansom Street, Philadelphia (map)
Description: Painted Bride Quarterly hosts its first ever anti-poetry month Story Slam on Tuesday, April 14, 7:30 p.m. at Bubble House 3404 Sansom Street. Our story slam is an interactive improv writing experience: Think “Whose line is it anyway?” crossed with Henry Rollins. Compete for prizes and cash. Go home with a free mini notebook! Admission is free and open to the public, though competition requires betting on yourself (don’t worry; you’ll see). Contact pbq@drexel.edu for more information. But we’re not going to tell you everything.

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I taught a course in advertising history last summer and we spent a lot of time discussing the way “the culture industries” try to train us to see the world. In the 20s, for example, when PR and advertising were new professions, when mass production demanded mass consumption, advertisers tended to celebrate modernity: what’s new is good! They hailed the consumer with a promise of aid: we will help you navigate all this newness!

 

That soon morphed into a promise of magic: use this product and you will get that job or find that man; drink this beer and that woman’s boobs are within reach! Raymond Williams famously described this “magic system” when he unpacked the way advertising, fundamentally, produced consumers.

 

I can’t help but think of this history when I watch a film like, say, Hancock— Will Smith’s little super-hero ditty, the one who’s denouement amounted to Hancock making an offer of gratitude and friendship to his estranged mate and her new husband by turning the moon into a billboard.

 

(I had literally just shown my students a dated documentary – on VHS!—whose dystopian view of the future (it was called, for pete’s sake, Advertising and the End of the World) included a warning about the looming possibility of space-aged, rocket launched billboards. They laughed in class. Then they went to see Hancock).

 

Product placement has so seamlessly become part of the cinematic ether we fail to see it. It’s there among The Truman Show’s faux ads (Dog Fancy is a real magazine); it’s there in Cloverfield’s rubble (“What are we gonna do?!” “Wait, let me lean against this wall emblazoned with the Sephora logo and let me catch my frantic breath.”)

 

But Hancock is a special beastie: it makes the viewer want to cheer the logic of advertising in its entirety. Three cheers for the special logic that makes the moon a billboard! And the audience is all warm and fuzzy because our grumpy hero has acquiesced to his calling, has returned to fulfill his destiny, and his sign of peace is to put his new pal’s logo on the moon. (Now, OK, granted it’s not a Nike swoosh. Instead it’s the logo for a non-profit human rights campaign a la Bono and Project Red. But it’s still an ad, sustainable capitalism or not.)

 

And Slumdog Millionaire is Hancock’s steroidal brother.

 

Slumdog is based on Q & A by Vikas Swarup, Swarup’s first novel. He worked as a career diplomat, wrote the book in his spare time, and it’s a picaresque, Dickensian romp. As it renders the social hierarchies, institutionalized racism, ethnic tensions, and daily exploitative violence of India, the book unfurls its own conservative slant, pinning the hope of a new/redeemed/culture on the spirit of good-hearted individuals. It leaves the systemic social forces and structures that limit the range of choices available to those individuals unscathed. It seems to argue, instead, that suffering is a function of biography.

 

But the film version takes this conservative view much further. What do I mean? Swarup’s narrative was far more complex than Boyle’s film: the game show host was a rapist; our hero gets on the show so that he could punish this villain; so, at book’s end, when our hero wins, the villain is punished and the show is destroyed. Slumdog Millionaire compresses multiple major female characters into one, and, more importantly, leaves the game show in tact.

 

Boyle’s film erases this part of the narrative and makes the film a more obvious love story. It fills us all with feel-good hope, and reassures us that all will be well if we put our trust in reality TV.

 

(In this way the film reminds me of Kubrick’s adaptation of King’s The Shining. In King’s novel, the Overlook is destroyed; in the film the house remains– Jack freezes to death in the hedge maze. The effect is deeply creepy and implies that the house lives on, its power in tact. A Kubrickian comment on the damage and danger of the nuclear family. But Boyle’s film is a seemingly hopeful reversal, though nonetheless creepy: the TV show remains in tact, fosters our hero’s reunion with his beloved, and gives them enough cash to rise above the social suffering, economic blight, and sex-slavery that threaten to do them in).

 

Three cheers for the global spread of reality TV!

 

Magic system indeed.

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I went in to my friend Alex’s Almira Studio last night to record a new song I wrote while I was in Houston.  I don’t write a whole lot of songs, but when I do I find it’s a lot of fun and very satisfying.

Houston is a very bayou-y, bluesy town, and the new song popped out after a few days of that bayou and those blues.

It’s a funny relationship between songwriting and poetry.  I tend toward free verse, which doesn’t always lend itself to songwriting, but limericks make great songs (as Johnny Cash or Ben Nichols from Lucero would tell you.)  Townes Van Zandt and whatever that guy’s name is from Deer Tick both write great songs that are kind of halfway between free verse and form — they rhyme a whole lot, but they don’t chain themselves to their rhyme schemes, and even though there are a bunch of rhymes, it comes out feeling like free verse.  An example of an entirely free-verse song is Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do,” which (studio impresario Alex Battles tells me) is actually just a poem written by some poet.  Sheryl’s producer found it, and they recorded the song more-or-less verbatim from the poem.

I just Wikied that bastard — Wyn Cooper’s the name of the poet, and the song earned a Grammy nomination for best lyrics.  Bravo.

The most musical of poetic forms is certainly the villanelle.  I think villanelles look silly on the page; when you read them aloud is when they really start to pop.  Alex has had some success creating songs from some villanelles written by Maureen Thorson and I, but villanelles don’t seem to translate directly into songs the way limericks do, and there were some of our villanelles that Alex wanted to make songs out of, but they just wouldn’t quite fit.

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