Violens have delightfully mashed up the title track from the Very Best’s Warm Heart of Africa. Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig sings on the track and sounds as giddy as can be.
The Very Best
Warm Heart of Africa (Violens Remix) [MP3]
Perhaps no one cared because it was the sixth installment in an already waning franchise. It could be that director Joe Chapelle and writer Daniel Farrands weren’t as noted (or notorious) as cock rock star Rob Zombie. Maybe the notion of revisiting or a remake was more contentious that simply dragging a cash cow out of the cinematic stable for one more mostly unnecessary milking. Whatever it was, it’s amazing that there wasn’t more press generated over the completely cuckoo version of the monster myth generated by Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. Even today, few find fault with this avant-garde goof. Taking on all aspects of the origin story, from where “The Shape” got his urge to kill to the significantly surreal reasons behind the killings, we wind up with something more insane than anything everyone’s favorite fan whipping boy could come up with.
Of course, many genre lovers haven’t had the chance to see the alternative version of the film, otherwise known as “The Producers Cut”. An infamous bootleg among the scary movie faithful, it stands in significant contrast to the eventual edit, including a wholly different ending that would warp the mind of even the most objective Halloween buff. The film does try to bring the material full circle, giving us a pre-Apatow Paul Rudd as a grown-up (and slightly unhinged) Tommy Doyle - you know, the little boy who Laurie Strode was babysitting the night “he” came home - and the last in a long lineage of biological (and locational) relatives for Myers to pick off. There’s a final beat from the brilliant Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis, and a nice call back to the horrific house and town where it all started.
But the movie really goes bonkers in its attempts to explain Michael’s mania. Just as Zombie got vilified for turning FBI profiler (and later, amateur psychiatrist) in uncovering the mechanics behind a standard serial murderer’s dementia, Chapelle and Farrands dove directly into the deep end when plowing the path to their terror’s psychosis. For the most recent editions of The Shape, familial abuse, bullying, and blood-drenched fatalistic fantasies turned a sad little boy into a fiend. Later, visions of his dead mother, accented by the occasional white horse, brought the drifting adult Michael his continued rage. But in Halloween 6, Myers was none of these things. Instead, he was a pawn picked out by the Celtic pagans known as the Thorn Cult. Their ambiguous aims, which revolve around power, the protection of same, and the use of small boys as a means of achieving their aims, offers human sacrifice, indirect incest, and 180 degree reevaluation of everything we know about the history in Halloween. And no one cared.
For example, Smith’s Grove is no longer merely the place that housed Michael for all those years before his escape. It was Thorn Central. The Myers home was not only the scene of a horrific crime, but it becomes a central touchstone for both the coven and one of its senior members (who’s always scouting for a new ‘vessel’ to transform). Instead of a well-meaning man of science, Dr. Loomis comes across as a patsy, a blind and narrow-minded shrink who couldn’t see that the basement of the Sanatorium was being used for heretical ancient sacraments. And even worse, Michael himself is no longer the personification of pure evil, the brutish unstoppable fiend who finds purpose in killing. Instead, he is a supernatural sieve, brainwashed (so to speak) to do the cult’s bidding based on the use of runes and the magical manipulation of their various purposes. Toss in a few of the standard slice and dice murders that the slasher film expects, and you’ve got Zombie’s recent updates in an equally baffling nutshell.
So again, why no outcry? Why did fans fail to foam at the mouth when Chapelle and Farrand’s dumped all over the establish Myers mythos to move the series into a wholly weird and slightly wacked out area? After all, Rob Zombie kept things as realistic as possible when it came to death. His Halloween‘s are brutal in their believable, gore-drench fatality. The Curse of Michael Myers has many of its murders handled offscreen, MPAA guidelines demanding such a blood-less approach. And yet everyone dumps on the new films as being “untrue” and “blasphemous” to the original characters and creation. And the invocation of Celtic ritual, pagan symbols, and Rosemary’s Baby like bullspit aren’t? Imagine Jason Voorhees explained away as an extraterrestrial experiment gone awry, or Freddy Krueger as a military project forged to teach children respect. You get the idea.
In fact, one could argue that The Curse of Michael Myers is even worse than Zombie’s efforts when it comes to staying within the series well honed parameters. John Carpenter created the character as a manifestation of our darkest ‘70s fears, a suspense soaked horror that could come from anywhere and was almost impossible to stop. He carried that over into Halloween 2 before abandoning the idea for the thoroughly odd Season of the Witch. Though he didn’t direct the first two sequels, Carpenter proclaimed that he wanted the films to be reflective of the individuals behind the production. In essence, let the artist guide the gruesomeness. But when Part 3 was rejected outright by audiences, Michael was brought back and a whole new foundation was forged. After all, while still human, he was a villain who couldn’t be killed, who was shot, burned, hacked, slashed, entombed, and otherwise chopped up like mince meat. And yet he could always come back, sallow Shatner face intact. Then Part 6 came along and…huh?
It’s no surprise then that, just like Zombie and the recent announcement about Halloween 3D going forward without his participation, everything that The Curse of Michael Myers created was eventually cast aside. Three years later, Halloween H20: 20 Year Later brought things back to the family facets of the original, with Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her star-making turn as Laurie Strode (John Carpenter was also going to direct, but bailed when longtime franchise head Moustapha Akkad refused his asking price). When Halloween II‘s Rick Rosenthal came along to ruin the original’s memory once and for all with his “reality show” take on the material, Zombie’s zoned out update should have been viewed a literal godsend. Argue all you want over its artistic or source material faithfulness, but nothing fudged with the franchise more than Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. Even in a pimped out Producer’s Cut, this remains the installment that really turned the terror icon on his head. Why no one complained remains a macabre mystery that will probably never be solved.
Saturday night was about as cold and rainy as they come here in Washington D.C. but that didn’t stop a few hundred kids from packing into the Black Cat for an evening of ethereal, psych-tinged rock. First up were Atlanta’s Selmanaires, who did double duty, serving as both opening act and backing band for Bradford Cox. As the Selmanaires, they ably warmed up the crowd with a set of energetic, Talking Heads-indebted dance rock.
Though they easily could have headlined, Birmingham, England’s Broadcast hit the stage next, serving up one half-set of protracted, ambient experiments followed by another half-set of recognizable songs. Trish Keenan, fittingly outfitted in a white robe, hovered wraith-like over a table crammed full of blinking electronics, her long, dark hair obscuring her face. A series of brightly colored projections behind the band provided most of the visual stimulus, as Keenan and James Cargill did their best to remain hidden in the shadows. Though the first half of the band’s set was captivating in its own right, the audience seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief when the duo dusted off a few familiar numbers during the second half, including the obligatory “Black Cat.”
Last Wednesday, the ubiquitous Phoenix continued to make the rounds by appearing on Last Call with Carson Daly. The band pulled out the fan favorite “1901”, which was not only played on Conan and Craig Ferguson, but it’s also the background music for the newest Cadillac commercials.
This clip not only provides great live footage of the band at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, but it has a short documentary on the band, giving fans and new listeners background on Phoenix and their newest release, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
Rob Walker’s NYT Magazine article about Pandora, the online music-recommendation service, sets up an opposition between musical taste that is grounded in our social context (what our friends like and the siganling aspects of publicly liking certain genres and so forth) and taste that is presumed to be intrinsic to a particular piece’s qualities. Pandora’s business model relies on its ability to analyze and assign numbers to those taxonomized categories and use that to play music that will keep consumers listening.
Pandora’s approach more or less ignores the crowd. It is indifferent to the possibility that any given piece of music in its system might become a hit. The idea is to figure out what you like, not what a market might like. More interesting, the idea is that the taste of your cool friends, your peers, the traditional music critics, big-label talent scouts and the latest influential music blog are all equally irrelevant. That’s all cultural information, not musical information. And theoretically at least, Pandora’s approach distances music-liking from the cultural information that generally attaches to it.
But as Walker asks, “Is it really possible to separate musical taste from such social factors, online or off, and make it purely about the raw stuff of the music itself?” One possibility is that these two ways of conceiving musical taste are incommensurable, irreconcilable, what Žižek calls a parallax. It’s not that one explanation is an ideological cover-up for the other, real reason—these are two separate explanations that are perhaps operating simultaneously, and we oscillate between them in comprehending ourselves, forming our consciousness of what we want to appeal to us. In The Parallax View Žižek is very concerned about the gap between them, which he thinks captures the Lacanian “real” that can’t be articulated directly. Parallax structures, if I’m getting what he is saying, allow a socially constructed self co-exist within us with a uniquely particular, individual, biological self. It allows us to believe our taste is unique and personal while at the same time developing it consciously to achieve social goals. So we can persuade ourselves that we like Lightning Bolt and not Black-Eyed Peas and find this to be an absolutely authentic expression of who we “really are.”
Pandora’s founder, in Walker’s depiction, is stubbornly determined to reject the authenticity of socially mediated taste.
Westergren maintains “a personal aversion” to collaborative filtering or anything like it. “It’s still a popularity contest,” he complains, meaning that for any song to get recommended on a socially driven site, it has to be somewhat known already, by your friends or by other consumers. Westergren is similarly unimpressed by hipster blogs or other theoretically grass-roots influencers of musical taste, for their tendency to turn on artists who commit the crime of being too popular; in his view that’s just snobbery, based on social jockeying that has nothing to do with music. In various conversations, he defended Coldplay and Rob Thomas, among others, as victims of cool-taste prejudice.
I can relate to this attitude. It’s hard not to be cynical about musical taste and snobbery and hype if you have spent any extended period of time taking what the music press has to say seriously. It seems like the inevitable social concerns that spring up out of pop music aren’t inherent in it but are instead a barrier to our simply being in touch with our pleasures. I would think that if I could simply detach from the conversation about music, I would be able to enjoy it in a more sincere way. This took me toward older music (big-band music, 60s sunshine pop), into deliberately square music (Doris Day, the Fifth Dimension). But I was just involving myself in different conversations, even if they were only theoretical. I was still contriving a narrative about my tastes, even if I didn’t necessarily share it with anyone. Still it is a very seductive idea, that our taste is like a fingerprint, a snowflake, and that when we find out fully what it really is, we see at last, concretely, how ineffable our soul is. We listen to Pandora, click the thumbs up or down to approve songs, let the formulas work their magic, and continue to attenuate our authentic self in pure isolation.
That seems like ideological fiction; it fits too well with the romanticizing of individuality that is endemic in consumerism. (What seems parallax about taste may be ideological—there is no intrinsic taste, just the useful pretense of it.) It’s more plausible that our musical-taste acquisition is like language acquisition—inherently social from the get-go. Walker cites Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist who has written extensively about music.
Just as we’re hard-wired to learn a language, but not to speak English or French, our specific musical understanding, and thus taste, depends on context. If a piece of music sounds dissonant to you, it probably has to do with what sort of music you were exposed to growing up, because you were probably an “expert listener” in your culture’s music by about age 6, Levitin writes.
Walker ends by pointing out that Pandora is ultimately curated. Only certain songs are added, and this process is a bit arbitrary.
Westergren maintains that catalog size receded as a problem at around the 300,000-song mark. Since passing that, he says, the number of “missed” searches has declined markedly, so the great majority of people who come to the site and type in an artist or song name get a proper introduction to the Pandora system. But the more surprising part of Westergren’s response is his claim that he isn’t worried about compiling the biggest possible catalog. “This may seem counterintuitive,” he told me, “but we struggle more with making sure we’re adding really good stuff.” That sounds like a rather subjective, cultural judgment — shouldn’t the listener decide what’s good, based purely on the genome’s intrinsics-of-music guidance? Well, there’s no question that Westergren is a champion of the unheard music that gets marginalized by sociocultural judgments. But even he has standards.
So Pandora is revealed as an elaborate apparatus for masking with technology and mathematical mumbo jumbo the way tastes can be shaped from above and without. Pandora presents a limited set and invites us to see it as infinite. WHat we make of it is wholly are own and true.That’s not so different from the way our opportunities are in practice curtailed by social context while we are raised to believe that anything is possible if we tap into our innate ability.
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