Reviews

Natalie Hope McDonald

The benchmark of a 20th century lesbian feminist scholar who acknowledges the healing nature of narrative.


Naked in the Promised Land

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Length: 356
Price: $26 (US)
Author: Lillian Faderman
US publication date: 2003-02
Amazon

She admits that her life has been unusual. And that's an understatement. Anyone familiar with Lillian Faderman's previous works will associate her with lesbian feminist scholastics, ethnic history and literature. But in her first memoir, Faderman tells her own life story beginning with her illegitimate birth in 1940 New York to her obsessive compulsion for becoming a Hollywood child star to help escape the wounds of the Holocaust, which eventually led to her work in the pornography industry. The book comes full circle to her rise in academia, becoming a well-known scholar and university professor responsible for several groundbreaking books, including Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers and Surpassing the Love of Men.

In an interview, Faderman admitted, "Behind the scholar's eye and voice, I was always trying to situate myself." This book is very much about situating. She accomplishes it well with a combination of clarity and truthfulness about not only her strides, but also her judgments along the way. It begins with the author's retrospect about being born to an unwed immigrant mother which led to several brushes with unsavory men, thus creating a suspicion of the opposite sex, whether it was with her mother's misguided suitors or her own prepubescent boyfriends from "the other side of the tracks" with whom she most closely associated. It seems that Faderman knew who she was, but forever wanted to change this image. The first place she looked was to Hollywood.

The young Faderman portrays herself as both an astute and highly curious child who is determined to strike out for a career in the movies as a child star. But despite her serious attempts at taking dramatic lessons and moderate success in auditions, she finds that the world in which she hoped to escape is littered with more whores of Babylon than guardian angels. Under the auspices of finding work so as to spare her own mother, who suffers from what Faderman refers to as "spells," from working in sweat shops, she pursues a film career from New York to California, living with her mother in rented rooms. Probably the most poignant relationship in the book is between the author and her mother, both as a child, and later as an adult. It's through the author's own acknowledgements about her aging that readers are able to see the evolution that her perceptions about her mother take. In the process, a range of emotions are examined, many of which are not uncommon to the mother-daughter experience despite unique socio-economic conditions. She loves her mother, but then she wants to marry her off. She is ashamed of her mother's Yiddish tone, but she seems to want to please her by making a life in celluloid, where the mother and daughter seem to experience the most pleasure in formative years: by escaping.

The author's education in the fields of sociology and ethnic studies suits the groundwork well, as she is able to use integral literary devices to draw the picture of the era, the class struggles, and effects of the Holocaust climate at the time. She scarcely mentions her homosexuality in the first few chapters outright, but the reader will likely discern cues from her descriptions of the women in her life, including her mother, her aunt and the drama coach, who was among the first real "crushes" to which Faderman admits as a child. In contrast, her experiences with men are almost always negative. Her mother's boyfriends pawed her. Her own juvenile boyfriends treated her as a sexual device. And the men who hired her in the pornography industry used her. Even after she recognizes her lesbian impulses upon walking into her first gay bar as a teenager, it's not until many years later that she befriends anyone who isn't intent on victimizing her.

Despite many of these incidences, the book never takes on a martyr's tone. Instead, the author uses rationalization to point to the cause and effects of many of her most unhealthy decisions. She's also able to capture her mindset during each turning point. For instance, the child may not have known to label her mother's boyfriends child molesters, but the child knew there was something unsettling with the experiences. The woman may have thought she could use porn to ease into more legitimate performing, but the woman also didn't have the self-respect to recognize the damage being done.

The strength of the book also lies in its ability to remain structured without being cold. The author has obviously taken great pains to balance what amounts to a humanistic self-portrait that ties together critical junctions within the author's life. Throughout the rendering of the book, Faderman infuses the stories, which aptly capture each era in her life on the outside, with subtle psychological examinations that also portray the inner thoughts she experienced both as a child and as an adult. In some ways, one would think that the leap from disadvantaged child to the lure of prostitution to esteemed university professor is unrealistic. But Faderman is careful not to make leaps. Credibility is in the details, like the awe she held early on watching her mother apply makeup to the unbridled days she spent in a sexual relationship with her first female lover to the accomplishment of graduating from college after years of playing parts on the burlesque stage. In one of her most revealing passages, Faderman establishes herself as an emotive voyeur with a keen eye on women even as a child:

"Though I didn't understand most of what I saw, I learned to speak English without a Yiddish accent through the movies. And it was there that I came to understand female gorgeousness: women with glossy waved coifs, spider-leg eyelashes, and bold lipstick, elaborate drapes and . . . statuesque, well-corseted figures, shapely legs (but never as shapely as my mother's) in seamed nylons and high heels; women who were sophisticated, glamorous. My mother tried to copy them on the Saturday nights she went out with my father. I watch as she looks at her face in the speckled mirror. She burns a wooden match and the cooled tip becomes a brush that she draws across her lids once, twice, a third time. I hold my breath just as she does in her concentration. The smudges are uneven, and she rubs her fingers over them, smoothing them out. Now her eyelids look heavy over her eyes, which are luminous and large. Next she takes her tube of lipstick and pokes her pinkie finger over the top of the worn-down stick, then dabs the color on each cheek. She rubs, rubs, rubs, rubs with her finger, and her cheeks become rosy. I know those cheeks well because I have kissed them with loud, smacking kisses and with soft, butterfly kisses. I don't know if I like the new color, but I know from movie posters that glamorous women must have rosy cheeks. Her lips are next. She applies the blood red stick directly. I see she has not followed their lovely outline. The blood red laps over and makes her lips larger, like Joan Crawford's. For a moment I want their delicate pink back, the graceful shape I sometimes studied while she slept. But now they look like a movie star's lips, and she nods at them with satisfaction. "Hubba, hubba," I say in my best Bud Abbott voice. She smiles, but I'm not sure whether she is smiling at me or something she sees in the mirror. Next she combs her dark curls, then puts Pond's cold cream on her already creamy shoulders and neck. My eyes do not leave her for a second; but after she kisses my cheek and slips out, they well up with tears. Him I never see."

While Faderman fans may have trouble with the more personal elements of this work, especially the more hardcore lesbian scholars, the book transcends her previous works by being a memoir as opposed to a politically charged manifesto. It's doubtful that it would be quite as effective if the author used her personal experiences as a platform for social change and victim awareness. Instead, Faderman blends a prose awareness with a story worth telling in a systematic structure. It doesn't lose its focus, perhaps because it's so close to the author's heart. But this can often be a difficult hurdle to jump for writers accustomed to taking a step back and analyzing material, especially if the context is self. It's probable that Faderman's own work in academics made the transition succeed. "Naked in the Promised Land" could very well be the basis for an academic discussion just as much as it is non-fiction for the beach chair. Both types of audiences will absorb something important about a woman acutely aware of where she came from and how she got to where she is today, as well as the benchmark of a 20th century lesbian feminist scholar who acknowledges the healing nature of narrative.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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