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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Reading Slate’s coverage of the R. Kelly trials fills me with that self-loathing that comes from being entertained by morally toxic junk culture.  Levin’s style is funny and slick, but there’s a dead hole in the place where any analysis or bigger picture might be sketched in.  The hardest part about the piece is the undercurrent of class disdain that hangs over the diaries, when people named Sparkle argue with an an attorney they are “doing the dozens” as opposed to just having a nasty exchange on the stand.  That tittering “it’s like the ghetto version of The Hills”  starts to sink in your stomach when you realize that the man on trial may in fact be a prolific, serial child molester who, in this case, decided to film himself urinating on the face of a little girl.  The only people who seem more repellant are Kelly’s Manson girl courtroom fans vying for his attention between all this boring sexual abuse.  Aren’t there any single serial killers that need pen pals?


Of course, the age old question here is whether or not you should try to separate art from the artists, especially since talent is an indiscriminate whore who would just as soon make Jeffrey Dahmer a figure skater as Kristina Yamaguchi.  But it’s a principle that in practice comes with little consistency or coherence.  At some level you have to forgive artists for their ugly humanity, but at what point does the art implicate the viewer in something sinister.  I cringe when I first read that Johnny Deep purchased some paintings of pedophile/serial killer John Wayne Gacy precisely because this is a no brainer on the artist/art distinction.  It’s Gacy’s sickening crimes which produce the market for his art and not great art that just so happens to be a product of a sickening mind.  With R. Kelly, the problem will not be so severe, in part because he’s just not so seriously talented that his music needs to be framed in any ethically grand conflict.  But still, one does have to wonder if he’s convicted if that changes the probable sexual object of his infinite number of lamely metaphored sex jams.  Will it still be easy to bump along to “Ignition” if you know that key is destined for a thirteen year old?  Listening to R. Kelly obviously wouldn’t make you a child molester, but in all cases like this, the question becomes how much the artist pollutes your experience of their art by obscuring its virtues with their vices.


Tagged as: r. kelly
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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I try as much as possible to avoid overtly political commentary in this blog, because it’s not usually germane to discussions of music.  Sadly, this is primarily because politically oriented music is almost as anachronistic as phrases like “artistic values”.  I couldn’t help but comment on a recent National Review post that suggested that Barack Obama’s 75,000 person rally in Oregon was due in large part to The Decemberists opening with a free show.  I’m hardly uncritical of Obama and his followers, but doesn’t this claim smacks of tone deaf desperation. 


Do the Portland, faux Brit Oregonians really have that level of mass magnetism?  This is what happens when your clueless stepdad tries to politicize pop culture in order to denigrate an opponent at all costs.  Would the same undercutting claim be made if Toby Keith opened for John McCain?  Clearly, the Decemberists were not the draw all the Obama rally and nothing nefarious is going on by giving a free concert before a political rally a tradition as old as driving people to the polls and the far more questionable practice of “walking around money”.  God knows, “My Mother Was A Chinese Trapeze Artist” is certainly as frenzy-inducing as “We Will Rock You”.  But the worst part of the post are the unsubtle McCarthyite gestures suggesting that The Decemberists are a bunch of communist radicals purely based on selected lyrics from “Sixteen Military Lives”.  I mean, they make negative gestures about the flag pin in their video.  Clearly, The Decemberists are terrorists.  Surely, Obama deserved to be smeared for associating with a Molotov-tosssing librarian like Colin Meloy.  Next thing you know he’ll be drawing a crowd of a 100,000 by getting the Jesus Lizard to open for him.


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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I’ve always loved this song even if Dwight Twilley was probably the poor man’s Cheap Trick with many more misses than he ever had hits.  Even though this is more properly categorized as power pop, I love tamped down glam aspects of the song, particularly the flirtatious mouth movements, batted eyelashes and scrawny boy hip swivel. Not to mention Susan Cowsill barely breaking a sweat in her shades as she blasts out “Free, Free, Free” like Queen singing songs from “Hair”.  Even though they were contemporaries of T. Rex, they’re clearly avoiding the tarted up look that would soon overtake and eventually undermine glam rock.  Nothing says we’re power pop like your mom’s sweat shirt.  Still, the song has some absolutely soaring moments even if you can’t tell if it’s a straight-up come on or an insult wrapped in a come on.  Essentially, it’s a riotously harmonized chorus telling the object of his affection that she/he doesn’t have a love, so, well, why not?  And, if I’m not mistaken he also seems to suggest that he couldn’t wait to be single, but now he’s “on fire”.  Of course, this pre-dates the hair band days where everyone’s eyes were suddenly “on fire” and the metaphor became duly limp.


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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The new Gnarls Barkley video looks like a Saturday morning educational video invoking. The 1970s, tomorrow and beaded yesterdays still to be imagined. This video about a group of friends who find a portal to another dimension says that the future is mystical and not technological.  It says that the future happens in Africa, however vague that is.


But what starts out an exuberant celebration for many becomes a strenuous journey survived by few. For the leaders, or the “brave leader” and his fierce girlfriend, exuberance becomes fatigue and anxiety, whittled down to reverence by the time we get to the end. The two remaining heroes kneel like sprinters before the do or that they set up at the meeting between worlds. Their victory offers more questions than answers.


These two heroes a man and a woman, are lovers, and champions. Maybe we are meant to understand that these two heroes are Gnarls Barkley, an odd couple “going on” to another world that the rest of the music industry isn’t strong or brave enough to enter. 


The heroism of the final duo is complicated by the gender politics and love relationship that the song and the video present. I wonder about what levels of love are meant and residing there in words that seem to be spoken by the male hero. The video put the words into the mouth of the lead man, and projects them onto the sometimes smiling, sometimes pained, sometimes pensive face of the lead woman. I wonder if the words about there “being a place for you too” are for her? Who exactly is supposed to get left behind gender of us to be left behind while male explorers forge forward again?  What divides her from the “lead man” what connects her to him? Their movements are similar, the framing of the video makes it seem that a love relationship connects them, but the words to the song, which seem to be about leaving someone behind while also projecting that person into the future seem to divide the two characters.


Most explicitly the command “don’t follow me” made in words that seem to come out of the portal doorway after the man jumps could be meant for the woman who follows and jumps through the doorway, just as athletically anyway. If the words come to the viewing audience from both of the jumpers… why are they timed between the two jumps? Is the woman actor or audience in this video?


Either way… I’m going to keep watching.


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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Weezer have always had a knack for making great videos. Spike Jonze’s early work with the band on the low-key but clever “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and the innovative “Buddy Holly” video that featured the band inserted into Happy Days helped put him on the map. Then there were Marcos Siega’s clips for “Hash Pipe”, with the band in sumo suits, and the excellent “Keep Fishin’”, which had Weezer appearing as guests on The Muppet Show. On Friday, May 23, the band added “Pork and Beans” to their list of video triumphs. Premiering on YouTube, the video is three minutes and 15 seconds of references to internet pop culture, most of which became famous through YouTube in the first place.


The band assembled dozens of these internet celebs and tossed them all into the same video, having most of the lip sync to the lyrics of the songs. The main performance in the video shows Weezer in a field in lab coats, performing amidst an ever-increasing number of Diet Coke-and-Mentos fountains. The sheer amount of references is astonishing, and the video quickly becomes an entertaining checklist as the viewer tries to identify the various bits. I got about 80% of them on the first time through. My favorite moments- drummer Pat Wilson creepily hanging around the Numa Numa headphones guy and Rivers Cuomo awkwardly giving Chris “Leave Britney Alone!!” Crocker a hug.


Sure, Weezer isn’t the first to combine a pile of internet references in one place. South Park did it to hilarious effect a couple of months ago, and that’s just one example. And yes, it will probably seem dated six months from now—it won’t have the staying power of the “Buddy Holly” video, that’s for sure. But since videos are often basically band-approved commercials for the music, staying power isn’t the point. Right now, and for the rest of the summer, Weezer has a surefire YouTube hit on their hands that will go a long way towards keeping their name out there as they promote their new album. It’s both funny and a savvy marketing strategy, so kudos to them.


Tagged as: weezer
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