With a mix of journalistic curiosity and slight bewilderment, various American and international news sites have reported that a course called “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame” will be taught next spring at the University of South Carolina. Taught by Mathieu Deflem, a tenured sociologist, the course will use discussions of the pop star’s music and sartorial flare to build his students’ “empirical knowledge of some of the most important social dimensions of fame as exemplified by the case of Lady Gaga”. According to the course website, students will read academic studies that include fundamental works in the sociology of pop music by Simon Frith and others, Elizabeth Currid’s The Warhol Economy, and my forthcoming article in the Journal of Popular Culture, “Memory, Monsters, and Lady Gaga”. Although a University of Virginia writing course called “Gaga for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity” also garnered substantial media attention, Deflem will likely offer a unique perspective. He also manages the gagafrontrow.net website and even owns the studded cane and wheelchair used by Gaga during her blood-soaked 2009 MTV Video Music Awards performance.
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Since 1999, the Octopus Project has been forging a new hybrid known as indietronica by happily expanding upon the quintessential rock quartet to include modern techno gizmos and vintage experimental gadgetry. Rarely relying on vocals to explain the soundscape, each member plays all sorts of instruments—even switching to another mid-song. While at Moogfest in Ashville, North Carolina over Halloween weekend, the group was called upon to quickly learn a few Devo classics to play with Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerry Casale after Bob Mothersbaugh was injured. The very next day Toto Miranda plus married couple Josh and Yvonne Lambert sat down to catch their breath with PopMatters.
“Convenient Parking” (and its later sister song, “Trucker’s Atlas”) reveals The Lonesome Crowded West for what it is at its core: a driving album. The track’s repetitive lyrics, its constantly coiling tension, and its fixation on car culture place you behind the wheel on a long drive whether you’d like to be there or not. The song insistently threatens to explode into a caterwaul of unabashed rock, but it never does. It’s a sly play on Modest Mouse’s part, and it displays the attention to theme and cohesion they bring to every track on this record.
“Soon the chain reaction started in the parking lot”, Brock sings in an almost conversational tone, “Waiting to bleed onto the big streets / And bleed out onto the highways / And off to other cities / Built to store and sell these rocks / Well, weren’t you feeling real dirty sitting in your car, with nothing / Waiting to bleed onto the big streets…” And so goes the circular pattern of the verse, the type of lyrical looping that Brock often uses to great success. Fitting his lyrics into a groove, one that spins and spins on repeat, is just the right move when writing about the feeling of stagnation with which “Convenient Parking” concerns itself. Few lyricists pay such literary attention to how form reflects content, and Brock—for all his trucker sentiments—proves himself here to be a writer of real intellectualized merit.
Mendelsohn: I appreciate what Never Mind the Bollocks did for music in general. That’s probably the last nice thing I’m going to say about this album. How about you, Klinger? Do you have any nice things to say about the Sex Pistols?
Klinger: I went out of my way to really listen to Never Mind the Bollocks in preparation for this Counterbalance (unlike previous editions, where I just had my manservant give me the gist of the record). I had no idea what to expect. Like many impressionable teens, I picked up the disc in a fit of youthful rebellion then put it aside when the demands of maturity (you know, like finals and stuff) made it seem a little silly.
Now here I am, a 42-year-old man with a wife and kids and a mortgage, waiting to see what this disc has to offer me. And at first I was pretty pleased with the overall adrenaline rush of opener “Holidays in the Sun”. The guitars are crunchy, the tune clips along nicely, and overall it was quite pleasant. But after 35 minutes of being hectored by a barely coherent teenager, I was almost ready to dig out some old Yes albums and pretend punk never happened. Almost.
There’s not a lot of money to be made in music criticism these days. I don’t know that there ever really was, because I’ve seen where Lester Bangs’ last known residence was and it wasn’t exactly palatial. And these days, gosh knows, there just isn’t a ton of dough being thrown around the music industry, and what is ain’t exactly trickling down to us hacks.
So what compels us to slave over a hot keyboard, our spines twisting into cartoon question marks, our fingers bent and gnarled and cracked from contemplative overuse?
Is it the perks? I won’t lie, I do enjoy sometimes not having to pay for CDs, though I’m not sure anyone pays for CDs anymore, so what the fuck am I so happy about? And though I don’t take nearly enough advantage of it, tickets to shows aren’t that tough to come by. And I suppose I could—gasp!—meet the band, though Twitter has probably robbed the romance from the mystery and majesty of the rock star. Nothing is sacred or secret when you discover that the only difference between us lowlifes and those who trod the boards in the name of the holy rock and/or roll is access to better drugs.
// Notes from the Road
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