Longtime Boston-area power-popper Todd Thibaud is streaming half of his new album, Broken, on his MySpace page. No official release date has been set for the record, but Thibaud will be selling copies at live shows starting next week. The new material is a mix of quiet acoustic numbers and sturdy Americana, with a voice reminiscent of Peter Searcy (of Squirrel Bait) or Glen Phillips (of Toad the Wet Sprocket).
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I want to make this quick because know that I give B. and HOV a whole lotta grief. I want it to be clear that I am equally able to give the duo a whole lotta lovin, too. In the last hip-hop concert I attended, Jay-Z landed at Louisville Gardens where the predicable lot of players, pimps, prissies and punks all showed up in their Sunday best to come bounce and hop to the beats. Moreover, the last drag show I performed was to Beyoncé’s ‘Suga Mamma’. While I find B.’s lyrics wholly problematic- the eventual topic of this Valentine Day’s rant- I can not resist the unbridled energy she brings to her entertainment, which gets me real bodied each and every time. Sit back and watch as I drop to my knees, arch my back and shake it like an alley cat!
“Don’t you ever for a second get to thinking you’re irreplaceable”
One of the greatest criticism Gen-X folk have of video-game kids these days is their shortened attention span. An evening spent with a house full of college seniors during a recent visit to my alma mater reminded me of my age. Two of the four roomies competed on their large flat screen with the latest competing video game formats. Indeed, I am so lame that I cannot even remember the names of the two boxes with which I gave it a good ole college try, boxing and batting in front of a screen with some random wireless apparati. E-mail had just come into widespread play my senior year at the same school, yet here I stood dumbed by the access to technology that these kids enjoyed today. Yet on the same evening, an elder alum- a true gen-Xer, abruptly removed himself from the fun and games, muttering something about how these guys couldn’t pay attention long enough to have even a decent conversation.
‘You must not know ‘bout me/I could have another you in a minute/Matter of fact he’ll be here in a minute, baby’
Happy Valentine’s Day, B. Hopefully HOVA has managed to stuff your mouth with another diamond, like in the video ‘Upgrade You’. Upgrade? Indeed, B. said: Audemars Piguet watch/Dimples in ya necktie/Hermes briefcase/Cartier top clips/Silk lined blazers/Diamond creamed facials/VVS cuff links/six star pent suites.” There is an apparent ignorance in offering free advertisement to designer brands that do little more for her than feed spiritual emptiness, because one will never be satiated with these possessions. My criticism mirrors LL Cool J’s: “That seems to be enough to satisfy your needs, but there’s a deeper level; if you would follow, I’ll lead.” Beyoncé, Kelly Michelle, Fantasia, Rhianna and all those R&B, hip-hop chicks can’t get to any deeper level from the soldiers they beg for from hood boys in “wife beaters and jeans.” Has it ever occurred to these women why we use the term ‘wife beater’, or has the video-game generation stamped its ok on domestic abuse?
Behind L.L.’s smooth rap, in soft voices the R&B group Boyz to Men croon ‘This is more than a crush’. Together these brothers talk about fantasies, revealing a vulnerability unknown in this day and age of DMX thugs, Rick Ross Hustlers, and 50 Cent P.I.M.P.’s. These brothers don what radical feminist writer/professor bell hooks calls the ‘hard pose’. And it’s not that I believe that these brothers are incapable of feeling and expressing care. Yet, there is a clear conspiracy around regressive gender roles, where at best roles are reverse, and power is never challenged. In the Beyoncé Experience concert, she appears on stage in a sultry pose, smoking a cigarette and whispers: “Damn, that was so good, I wanna buy him a short set” What’s this? Oh, I love you baby, so let me buy you something. Is B. the new James Brown? Macking niggas and pimpin’ hoes!
A visiting artist in residence at my college once said that when she was a little girl, she saw a nasty word spray-painted on the wall of some uncared for public space in her neighborhood. She understood that the word was nasty when all of the grown folks made clear to her that she was never to say the word aloud because it was dirty, as were the people associated with it. As she grew, and learned more about ‘those’ folks and even more nasty words, she noticed an intrinsic link between that initial dirty word, and money. She saw that the compromises people would make for this dirty word were only paralleled by what folks would do for money. Even worse was what they would do for both, which was often tied to either giving or depriving someone of one or the other. However, the word was so dirty, like Voldemort that one only need insinuate its presence and someone would attempt to harness and control it. By the time she grew up, she only knew this nasty word to describe what she had between her legs, and the feeling she’d get when letting someone have some.
Pink chaddis from The Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women
Saturday was St Valentine’s Day. In the recent past, conservative, ‘hard line’ Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists like the Sri Ram Sena here in India have advocated banning this holiday because ‘Love’ in their understanding, is sacrosanct with their understanding of religion, which apparently significantly less disparate than most believers profess. Leader Pramod Mutalik even said that Indian women have should not even go to bars. In Mangalore in January 2009, Sri Ram Sena fundamentalists chased down and beat women visiting a local pub simply for being there. Two years ago in Kahmir, a group of veiled women mobbed local shops, confiscated and burned alleged Valentine’s Day cards and trinkets. The adhoc vigilante group was lead by Asiya Andrabi who proudly boasted: “These Western gimmicks are corrupting our kids and taking them away from their roots.” Today blokes like Pramod Mutalik are receiving gifts of pink underwear to from activists ready to match their avid cynicism.
We live in a world were the love ethic is under attack from all sides, not lest of which is its commercialization and commodification, or even distillation down to the romanticized romantic view. Indeed, the significance of today is so convoluted that one can see how it would be easier to just buy something and be done with it.
My man and I are entering our seventh year, and there’s no itch. There is plenty of passion, understanding, and giving—all the sites of care seem to be covered. Care is all about expectations. Negotiating our expectations has been the name of the game, and therefore dialogue has allowed us to make it this far. For B. and much of the video game generation, lyrics like “I can have another you by tomorrow”, replace actual attempts at the necessary concerted patience and dialogue needed to sustain any relationship. Without the basic understanding that our relationship is irreplaceable, I can only suppose that we would have settled for purple labels, Hermès and Cartier fashion statements in lace of affection. I would be quite disenfranchised in this relationship. Yet, as Beyoncé points out elsewhere, ‘a little sweat never hurt nobody,” Indeed, “I ain’t worried doing me,” because the love that our patience is allowed to cultivate is worth more than all the cocoa and precious metals that Switzerland stole and coerces from the Gold Coast still today.
I am content that I stuck around even through the disagreements and sometimes all out fights. It’s fortunate, I suppose, that I am dissatisfied with the instant gratification like “that rock on ya finger is like a tumor/You can’t fit ya hand in ya new purse.” Tobacco offers a similar instant gratification and causes equally dangerous forms of cancer—tumors as large as fists! I saw one tumor so large that it would not even fit in a Birkin bag.
On this and past Valentine’s Days, I am sending sweet love to my first and truest Sweetheart, Ms. Alice. Since I can remember, she has brought me a box of chocolates, hugs and kisses. And my Granny never expected anything in return. Sometimes she would sit and watch as I ate the whole box all by myself, not even taking one for herself. In elementary school, we traded tiny cards and small chalky heart-shaped candies with cupid messages. Years later, Bex, another sweetheart and dear friend from college, continues to send me these tiny cards with cute brown smiling faces. Inside she inscribes a note to remind me that time and distance have not wrecked our bond. My Sweethearts’ consistency and sustainability have me all in a tussle. I am loved and much is expected of those in this predicament. There are no excuses for acting unloved, satiated with material possession. Neither of these sweethearts “ever for a second get to thinkin’” that my ambitions begin or end with pussy and money. Happy Valentine’s B., I hope your man bought you something you like.
Besides being known for their verbose band name, Dent May and crew will be touring with both A.C. Newman and Animal Collective in 2009. A new addition to the Paw Tracks roster, Dent May is a tad less experimental than his labelmates. But his folk songs use just enough texture to show a depth which is far beyond the twee aesthetic. Here is a track off his their new album The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele recorded in May’s double-wide trailer in Mississippi.
Dent May & his Magnificent Ukulele
“Meet Me in the Garden” [MP3]
John Gulager’s rise from wannabe filmmaker to creator of the fright-astic Feast series was only partially documented on the cinema-based reality series Project Greenlight. As part of the DVD release of his latest effort, Feast III: The Happy Finish (from Genius Products, The Weinstein Company, and their Dimension Extreme label) we are treated to a short PR piece which explains Gulager’s twenty year rise to ‘overnight sensation’ status. As the son of Hollywood staple Clu, the 50-something has seen his fortunes go from pretender to player, all thanks to the Matt Damon-Ben Affleck series. Oddly enough, for feeling so beneath the process, Gulager is probably one of the most success of the all the Greenlight alumni. Now, some four years after his initial achievement, he’s back with another installment of his monster movie series. While not bad, the third time here is definitely not the charm.
After watching Honey Pie buy it in the middle of the street, and seeing both undersized heroes Thunder and Lightning fail in their quest to get the junkie out of the police station, the rest of the first Feast‘s survivors decide to take matters into their own grue-slicked hands. So what if the Bartender is still sporting a horrible neck wound or that car salesman Greg has a pipe sticking through his skull. Biker Queen, Tat Girl, Slasher, and Secrets are still going to try to get the guns, load up on ammunition, and blast their way out of town. Sadly, a couple of cockeyed action men - Shitkicker and Jean Claude Seagal - make such a simple idea quite complicated. Eventually, a handicapped prophet named Short Bus Gus comes along to show them the path to righteousness…and escape. He seems skilled at controlling the monsters. Unfortunately, his power doesn’t extend to the mutants living beneath the city.
To call Feast III a sequel to the whacked out wonders of the gore-drenched Feast II would be an intellectual exercise of limited results. In essence, if Gulager and crew had been able to make a two and a half hour epic out of the first revisit to the monsters on the rampage material, there would be no need for this clever continuation. The story picks up right as the last one ended, with some of the characters we saw die off then back to accent their blood soaked demise. As the players move from location to location, Gulager introduces us to some of the most unlucky heroes in the history of the genre. One minute they’re making some massive stand against the beasties. The next, an accident has their brains splashed all over the walls.
A lot of Feast III tries to be so unconventional. Gulager gets a lot of mileage out of dialogue that reeks with Scream style self-referentialism, and there’s irony in abundance during many of the shock showdowns. However, there’s little this time to match the merry mayhem of seeing a baby splattered by a group of horny Hellspawn. There’s no denying that, after a while, the story starts to waver as well. We grow tired of conversations that sound like band religious epiphanies - or on the other hand, sloppy pre-barroom brawling. The start/stop approach to the action is irritating and the long passages of crawling around lose their allure. By the time the remaining survivors head underground and start battling with some mutants, Gulager is resorting to strobe-light, stop motion cinematography to capture the clash.
It’s as if the entire Feast III series symbolically runs out of steam. We still enjoy the wrap-up (including the WTF ending involving an unseen “force”) and the Mexican troubadour singing over the credits is a hoot. But the first two Feasts were so fun, so anarchic and overloaded with arterial spray that too see it come to a somewhat sputtering halt feels unfulfilling. Of course, the splatter is still present, heads and torsos ripped apart and leaking their vital goodness, and no one can top Gulager in his Sam Raimi/Peter Jackson-inspired desire to push the limits of such sluice. There’s a memorable moment with a decapitated heroine, a hungry fiend, and a bout of bad gas that has to be scene to be believed. In many ways, this series is a geeky gorehound’s dream come true. This time around, it’s the story that suffers.
As part of the direct-to-DVD release, Gulager steps up to offer yet another clever commentary. He is joined by Producer Michael Leahy and writers Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. Together, this group gives the film a good going over, laughing at lapses in plot logic, goofball characterization, and their overall bizarre approach to the material. They lament the lack of sex this time around (only one individual gets buggered by the beasts) and the ending appears to be a combination of purposeful rebellion and a “what do we do now” dilemma. Along with the Gulager EPK and a series of trailers, the bonus features here are as much fun - and as much of a letdown - as this part of the Feast franchise.
Still, one has to admire Gulager for never giving up on his dreams. As the child of a Tinsel Town icon, he could have easily traded on his father’s fame to become one of many untalented leeches lunching on their family crest. Instead, Gulager held on to his passion for motion pictures and finally found the opportunity to achieve his dreams. The resulting horror spoof scored big with fans desperate for something thrilling, chilling, and filled with blood spilling. With Part III, we don’t really get the promised happy “finish” implied in the title - unless you’re talking about for Gulager and his career. Few filmmakers can create a successful film, let alone a series. While he may never be a Craven or Romero, this sunny survivor can make as much schlock as he likes, and as long as he keeps the same tone and temperament he showed with the Feast films, he’ll remain someone worth paying attention to.
I went to see Godard’s 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her last night and left fairly perplexed. His films are frustratingly discursive that they seem haphazard (and half-assed) to me while I’m watching, but then afterward, I usually find that there was something to it after all if I can force myself to think it through.
In 2 or 3 Things, as in many other of his 1960s films, Godard starts with the idea that being an attractive woman in the city is a very mysterious proposition. He can’t bring himself to then demystify femininity; instead he intensifies the mystery, revels in it, seems to honor it, which makes his films seem sexist. A specific type of young Parisian woman becomes the generalized Other that is longed for but impossible to apprehend. If I were a woman, this would probably irritate the hell out of me. But Godard, to his credit, seems interested in further questions the derive from this ideal he can’t quite relinquish: What if you are that Other? What is the other for the Other? Are women their own other, doomed to spiral into narcissism? Or do they withdraw into some deeply inaccessible inner space within urban modernity that can only be caught in oblique, accidental glimpses, in the interstices of everyday life.
That idea warrants Godard’s strategy of just sort of following women around town rather than fashioning a plot. Of course, he’s adopting Brechtian techniques, eschewing tried-and-true methods for drawing viewers in (making us like characters and care about a suspenseful story) and instead making efforts to heighten our discomfort and our awareness of conventions. So 2 or 3 Things begins with the actress Marina Vlady introducing herself to the camera as herself, quoting Brecht on how to read dialogue as if it were being quoted, and then introducing herself again as the character she is supposed to be in the film. But she is never wholly one or the other; she is both playing herself and a role at all times, both the subject specified in the script (assuming there was one) and her objective self. So it is for women in cities generally. They are intensely objectified by the attention they attract in quotidian urban life and serve as fantasy objects, occasions for dreams of escape, akin ultimately to consumer goods, with which Godard juxtaposes them, especially in 2 or 3 Things. (The film closes with lights dimming on an array of branded products laid out in a kind of graveyard.) Living with that burden, women must at the same time fashion their own means of escape, in part to preserve their own subjectivity. So in the film, Vlady is often speaking out existential riddles and philosophical speculations in the midst of pursuing stereotypical female activities—washing dishes, shopping for a dress, putting on cosmetics, getting a haircut at the hairdresser’s, taking care of children, and so on. Frequently these question the role of language in framing desire and limiting our ability to know ourselves, as Godard cuts to advertisements, and other signs with words printed on them, cropped to be meaningless and without context. The language through which we know ourselves is being denatured, afflicted with unsettling meanings by its commercial use. And women, the implication seems to be, are acutely aware of being both signifier and signified, of being the subject and object of discourse, with their essential being strewn between these dichotomies, impossible to resolve.
Godard ups the ante considerably on this female subject/object problem by making the women in the film prostitutes (more sexism), seeming to suggest that all women are confronted with the issue of whether to exploit their objectified femininity. Through their scrutinizing gaze, men have turned women they see in the city, on the street or in the cafes (where someone is inevitably playing pinball), into consumer goods. To make the connections explicit Godard has the women sell sex, which seems to stand in for feminine mystery, and escape generally, for the men who purchase it. Godard memorably illustrates this in a ham-fisted (yet awesome) scene in 2 or 3 Things when a john (wearing an American flag T-shirt) has the women he’s hired wear airline-issued carry-on bags on their heads. In an earlier scene, the rooms of a brothel hotel all have cheery travel posters on the walls. Sex and travel are brought together in the commercial exchange for a woman’s time and attention, and thereby made into manifestations of the same male desire for novelty and mystery. (In one telling non sequitur, a man in a cafe—named Bouvard, one of the clownish autodidacts in Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet—calls out an order for mystery-flavored ice cream.)
If sex is the degree zero of desire in Godard films—the essence or representation of all the other forms desire takes—then prostitution is emblematic of the general corruption and exploitation of desire in general by social institutions, by capitalism as a system. It’s a somewhat hackneyed metaphor for what consumerism does to desire, how consumerism “solves” the problem of desire. It sells us inadequate substitutes for that fulfillment while convincing us we don’t want the entanglements that go along with pursuing true desire. Desire requires our full vitality and presence; consumerism tells us we can’t live up to that standard and it’s easier and just as well to have prostitutes, tourism, brand-name goods, etc., instead. It’s fun to visit jouissance, but you wouldn’t want to live there.
So the real subject of the film is how to preserve true desire and find it within the quotidian in modern city life. Women, he seems to suggest, have an inside track on this. But alongside that theme is some inchoate material about Vietnam and something about suburbanization—the film charts Vlady’s journey from the banlieu on the outskirts to Paris and back, and frequently the camera lingers on highway construction sites and brutalist apartment towers. The city as a technology for facilitating social exchange, a whispered voice-over tells us, is being replaced by new media—television, telephones. We would now add, the internet. But in these films, is the city the last hope for nurturing real desire—a place where spontaneous social interaction can be fruitful; where we are not stuck permanently in predetermined ruts that make desire beside the point—or is it one of the earliest first technologies for replacing desire with alienation and convenience, one that is now being supplanted and perfected in new media? Maybe I need to watch Weekend to get to the bottom of that.