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Thursday, Apr 20, 2006

Last night I went to 21, a restaurant in New York known for being expensive and for clinging to the old ways of pre-1960s culture, before television, etc, made youth culture the guiding light for everyone. It’s the kind of place where you’re expected to wear a jacket and tie—if you aren’t, apparel will be discreetly provided for you—and where there’s an attendant in the washroom to squeeze soap in your hand and make uncomfortable small talk while you urinate (breaking in my opinion what is a cardinal men’s room rule of silence). The waiters all have vaguely international accents and are overly assiduous; the lighting is dim but not dark (and the awful dining techno music never plays); cocktails are in their natural habitat. It’s basically an indulgence in anachronism, as much a fantasy world as Medieval Times, only catering to a different crowd. You get to pretend that adult night life still exists in Stork Club form, that the world so alluring and tangible in ‘50s films like The Sweet Smell of Success can still be accessed, even though the necessary social conditions have all fallen away. Sure, no slice of apple pie is worth $10.50, but we’re not paying for food, of course, we are paying for nostalgia made material, paying for the rare moment when we can get that dream out of our heads and into the world with enough verisimilitude that it seems—with enough martinis in us—plausible, normal, coextensive with the dreary particulars of our real lives and redeeming them.

That’s the theory anyway. In practice I felt conspicuous and bereft of the social capital I take for granted—the knowledge that lets me comfortably navigate an exchange with a waiter and a trip to the bathroom. Going to 21 stripped that away from me by transporting me back to a time when the rules were different. Nostalgia makes us think the rules are better, more traditional, more in tune with some golden age of adult propriety and pleasure—but I think the mores are probably just different, not superior or more genteel.

Anyway I think that physical places like 21 or Longwood Gardens—another place I’ve recently visited, where people indulge a fancy for Victoriana—have their online equivalent, oddly enough, in those role-playing worlds where one can exist socially by an entirely different set of rules—with interaction simplified in line with an idealized version of a scenario (life in the middle ages or in Middle Earth). A fantasy for existing in a different time, in a different way is given a space where it can occur and be mutually supported. I don’t know if the growth of the online spaces threatens the survival of the real spaces—it may strengthen their appeal, as it becomes more commonplace an expectation to be able to indulge yourself according to alternative codes of conduct.

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Thursday, Apr 20, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

The Gossip
“Standing in the Way of Control” [MP3]
“Ain’t It the Truth” [MP3]
“Fire Sign” [MP3]
“Sweet Baby” [MP3]
multiple songs: [MySpace]

The first thing that strikes you is the rhythm. The Gossip have been making punks dance since they debuted five years ago, long before dance punk existed.

The Raconteurs
“Steady, As She Goes” [windows]
“Store Bought Bones” [windows]

The Fiery Furnaces
“Benton Harbor Blues” [MP3]
“Nevers” [MP3]
“Waiting to Know You” [MP3]

Peter Walker
“What Do I Know” [MP3]

“Everybody Loves a Loser - Cassettes Won’t Listen Remix ” [MP3]

“A Theme” [MP3]

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Wednesday, Apr 19, 2006

When someone shares your loathing, it can be even more satisfying then when someone shares one of your interests. I feel less alone in the world.

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Wednesday, Apr 19, 2006

Art critic Dave Hickey is an extremely eloquent writer, and in Air Guitar (which has the worst book cover ever, an argument about democratic taste in itself I suppose) he almost has me believing his genial anti-elitist love-for-the common-people perspective—the sort of thing David Brooks turns into partisan shtick. Hickey anticipates the logic that I stumbled into in my post about Foreigner a few days ago and articulates it far more mellifluously. What he argues for Norman Rockwell, I wanted to claim for Foreigner: “Rockwell’s painting ... has no special venue. It lives in the quotidian world with us amidst a million other things, so it must define itself as we experience it, embody itself and be remembered in order to survive. So it must rhyme, must live in pattern, which is the mother of remembering.” Rhyme is a metaphor for Hickey, and a felicitous one, but it masks a bit what he’s really talking about, which is nostalgia. Rockwell’s paintings, Foreigner’s music lives on not because institutions like art schools or rock critics tout them and indoctrinate students in their complexities, but because people associate them with simpler times and straightforward hopes when they recall them. This is how they rhyme, with naive aspirations and plainer attitudes, reminding us of when we took the world for granted at face value, and didn’t worry about how it pleased us, just luxuriated in the fact that it did.

Hickey would have us forget that there are institutions behind Rockwell just as there are behind the minimalist painters who set out to make camp with the avant garde. Hickey believes the forces that support Rockwell want things (to make money, satisfy the broadest audience) that are inherently democratic and the forces that prop up, say, Barnett Newman are out to manufacture cultural capital and erect bogus strata among the populace. But those people consuming Rockwell aren’t exempted from the games of status and display, and their affection for Rockwell is not somehow natural and authentic while the other interests are intellectualized and phony. The reason why the stuffed-shirt academics that Hickey scorns reject middlebrow taste is because that taste plays the same status game as Barnett Newman but for much broader stakes, rationalizing a limited set of values and tastes on a much larger scale and leaving audiences with no choice but to find the idiosyncratic nuance in universalized blandness. It is to their credit that all members of any standardized audience is capable of this, but that doesn’t necessarily redeem the objects themselves. These ubiquitous objects function like fast-food restaurants, masking the diverse choices that truly exist by forcing them off the main roads.

Throughout many of Air Guitar‘s tour de force essays, Hickey marshals his considerable powers of rhetoric trying to convince us (and himself?) that pop culture is always an expression of democracy rather than the often puerile effluvia of the apparatus required to stultefy the masses (seen Jim Belushi’s sitcom, for example? Or any of the lurid crime dramas that inadvertently glamorize violent abnormality as the last vestige of spontaneity in culture, the necessary prerequisite for something to be able to hold our interests?). To Hickey academic scrutiny is always elitist, always a pretense for self-aggrandizement (rather than a potential attempt to create something new via analysis) while instinctual surrender and acceptance of what culture-industry products are popular is always a sign of vitality and freedom, of community—accepting a film like Armageddon is a proxy for accepting the regular Joes who share our everyday lives on their own terms, at face value. No negative dialetics here. Hickey is the sort of critic who thinks optimism is bravery and believes that nattering nabobs of negativism are responsible for undermining a popular enthusiasm that is eager to well up and embrace everyone in their god-given individuality.

He admits that his view of community, of social justice, of “successful human society”, is sentimental, but couched as it often is in childhood memories, it is more than that; it is nostalgic, only present with any clarity in memory, always retrospective. Nostalgia obliterates the tensions between different interest groups that make democracy not some joyous community of happy people sharing but a battle to the death for limited resources among people with a theoretical, constitutionally guaranteed equal right to them. Functioning democracy, Hickey’s joyous co-op marketplace of ideas, is always in the past, and he has his all-purpose straw man in the “institutional” academic who hates freedom (like the terrorists) to explain why that glorious democracy no longer exists today.

But Democracy is an endless struggle to build coalitions, but in Hickey’s memories, in his idealizations of popular culture, these coalitions occur spontaneously, out of our shared joy for neat stuff. It’s too his credit that it almost seems true. Would that it were so.

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Wednesday, Apr 19, 2006

When I heard the news that the new management at the Village Voice didn’t want Chuck Eddy around, I bawled like a kid.  Honestly.  I don’t want to make it sound like he’s deceased but I was really sad because he was definitely one of the best editors that I’ve ever worked with and I knew that I’d miss working with him.

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