Archives for category: Reviews

Here’s a review of Walter Salles’ adaptation of ‘On the Road’ I wrote for Modern Vestiture.

Modern Vestiture

 
It takes some balls to attempt an adaption of a beloved book from any decade. It takes even more balls to adapt a novel that defines an era and a generation. Walter Salles proves himself to have a decent pair with the recent release of his adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.
 
{Aside: just quickly, the whole argument about whether the film is as good as the book, or vice-versa, won’t be discussed here. Film and literature are different mediums of expression, so it’s a little unfair to compare them. Apples and oranges, people. Also, there will be minimal spoilers.]
 
If you haven’t seen it or read the book—it’s strongly recommended that you do—I’ll give a quick run down. Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) is a writer living in New York who yearns to travel across the country to the fabled West. Through some mutual friends, he…

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Over at The New Inquiry, Rob Horning posted an article concerning selflessness and self-absorption in eighteenth century art, and how it applies to social media. He draws on arguments from the 1980 book by art historian Michael Fried, Absorption and Theatricality. This work reveals how French artists in the late eighteenth century “started to paint people who are totally absorbed in the moment — engrossed in what they are doing and oblivious to the possibility that they could be observed.”

Horning proceeds to compare two artists, Chardin and Jean-Baptiste Greuze, to illustrate how this idea of capturing a subject in complete self-absorption was problematic. Capitalism enabled “the emergence of a socially mobile middle class,” who “made ritualized emotional displays suddenly suspect.” Being seen in public, partaking in activities usually reserved for the aristocracy, was now fair game for the rising bourgeoise and, therefore, considered suspicious. Chardin captured subjects who were entirely lost in the moment, so self-absorbed and genuine that they are oblivious to the painter and the audience of viewers. Whereas, Greuze’s works tended to appear more conscious of the viewer by negating them (“…the painting effaces us so we can experience the bliss of self-forgetting…”) whilst invoking certain emotions, which, as Horning argues, can be related to the rise of the novel. Greuze’s paintings find a way to make us forget our own situation and become engrossed in the situation on the canvas and Chardin’s provoke a certain quietude in the viewer. The former can be considered forced emotions, whereas the latter provokes them through its authenticity.

So, where is all this going and how does it relate to social media? I hear you ask.

Well, Horning’s argues that social media requires something similar to what happens with Greuze’s art, an emotional reciprocation. The thought that someone would post something to, say, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, with no want of response has become something of a past dream. Like Chardin’s art. Displaying a message or photo on a social media platform for the sake of oneself, not wanting any kind of reply, is impossible. It would defeat the purpose of social media and the idea of putting anything on the Internet. That’s what your diary/journal/a piece of paper is for. And Horning is right. Social media is more akin to what occurs in Greuze’s art, only on a far more personal level because the artist can respond in turn. But within this want of response, it is possible to see a divide: a want of emotional reciprocation and a want of intellectual/academic response. To illustrate, I’ll use some lenient examples from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Facebook. If one of my friends—let’s call them ‘A’—posted a status update outlining how horrible their day was. Chances are they want to elicit a response out of someone. ‘A’ has posted it to gain some kind of sympathy, for reasons unknown. And what occurs more often than not is some other person—’B’— will comment on it with phrases like ‘you’ll be OK babe’ or ‘love you’, and most certainly ‘xxx’ (OK, I’m being a little ignorant. Obviously some people won’t respond this way; their grammar could be better or they could say something with more meaning). ‘B’ has willingly read the status of ‘A’ and that status—along with other variables, such as their mood, the level of friendship, etc.—has forced them to place themselves in the shoes of ‘A’, allowing them to respond with sympathy. Just like in Greuze’s art where the viewer is effaced and experiences self-forgetting.

Instagram. Essentially, we take photos, put a vintage-esque filter on it, artificially adjust the aperture and post the photo for our followers to see. This is far closer to the idea behind Greuze’s art, given the photographer is in the photo or is at least photographing the situation they’re in. Instagram is extremely self-indulgent and works, in terms of wanting emotional reciprocation, especially when it comes to ‘selfies’. But it can extend into a want of intellectual/academic  response. It isn’t uncommon among the people I follow to post photos of books of passages from books, or perhaps even the title of a movie. Some of the time—not always—when someone posts a photo like this, a discussion about it ensues. It’s an odd platform for this to happen but, thankfully, it does happen.

Twitter. When Twitter first made its way into the social media spotlight, I thought it was just a platform for putting up status updates in merely 140 characters. And that’s what it was, for a while. Then the creation of URL shortening sites allowed for people to post lengthy web site addresses in their tweets, linking their followers to pages they might find interesting or educational. Many people, such as celebrities, use Twitter as a way of keeping their fans informed of their day-to-day lives, which is cool, if you’re into that. The idea of wanting an emotional response is still quite likely when some people tweet but, in my experience, Twitter has become a vehicle for eliciting intellectual/academic responses. I follow many web sites and people who centre their writing around academia, literature, film, philosophy, ethics, etc., and if they’re not tweeting something interesting from their own mind, it’s likely they’re linking to an article or essay that’s worth reading and subsequently discussing. And the fact that your response to this can only be 140 characters means one must be extremely succinct, which is always a good thing.

[Aside: the intellectual/academic response idea can apply to Facebook but, in my opinion, it’s harder to cultivate this with so much other information constantly cascading down the page. There’s more room to respond—compared with Twitter—but it’s easier to lose track of conversation threads.]

When we look at social media the way Horning has, using the 17th century art of Chardin and Grueze as a lens, it’s possible to see that using social media in the same way Chardin created his art, is impossible. Users of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are more akin to Greuze’s art, in that users post things to elicit a response from their intended audience. Depending on the platform, the user will want a response in an emotional capacity, or, perhaps, an intellectual/academic response, possibly sparking debate or discussion. Personally, I don’t enjoy reading posts that require an emotional response, but when posts force me to think about an issue or an idea or read something interesting, I become one happy guy. And I’m not implying that one response is more important than the other. It’s all subjective. Yet I believe using social media to prompt an intellectual/academic response sits somewhere between the selflessness and self-absorption that Horning talks about, which is a really good place to be.

SDH

The Beginning: Food and Wine

Thursday night consisted of wine and the Moroccan Soup Kitchen (I think that’s the name). Waiting 75 minutes for a table seemed like a downer but the bar next-door more than compensated.

Once the rosé vanished, a table awaited us. The food was just that good, like nothing I’ve tried before. I couldn’t even tell you what was in any of the dishes, save chickpeas. All three mains were just a culmination of deliciously clandestine ingredients. The baklava and Turkish coffee was the coup de grâce.

Afterwards, a food coma was lurking in the shadows, ready to lull me into a state of lumbering lethargy. I called its bluff and walked it off. And then everything that happened after the walk will stay in my head. Yes, it will.

OK, so, Friday night.

M83: Life Completed? Yep.

The 55 and 8 trams kindly saw me all the way to my friend’s house in South Yarra, where we drank and smoked and didn’t really stop talking about how much that night was going to blow our minds.

And it did.

We arrived at Prince Bandroom almost late and M83 came onstage whilst I was relieving myself. Not a great start. We ran out, had some loverly Agwa and pushed as far forward as possible, which wasn’t far at all but being 6’1 meant I could see the elevated stage from pretty much anywhere. My friend struggled, given she’s a foot shorter than me.

[Aside: M83 have six albums. The first five follow a similar formula in terms of style and feel. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming doesn’t even come close to this. So, obviously, there were many fans there that might’ve only experienced his sixth album. This seemed like a real possibility. And that’s a shame because after hearing a boatload of tracks not from Hurry Up, they’re going to pissed they didn’t delve into his discography more; or, alternatively, they’ll be really happy that there’s five albums waiting for them to experience.]

He opened with ‘Intro’, off Hurry Up, which worked real well. I even thought it was Zola Jesus singing and playing keys but I was wrong. It was Morgan Kibby. She did a knockout job on every song requiring her vocal prowess.

Now I don’t remember the exact order of the set list because it all became a sort of blur. I was just that fucking happy. But here’s an incomplete list from memory:

‘Kim & Jessie’

‘Run Into Flowers’

‘Sitting’ (encore)

‘Skin of the Night’

‘Midnight City’

‘Reunion’

‘Teen Angst’

‘Couleurs’

But what made my night oh so complete was when the stage went dark and Morgan’s keys and voice floated over the crowd:

‘Secrets from the winds / Burnt stars crying’

I fucking lost it. The drums and synth roared in and I couldn’t have been happier. The only other cats I could see who loved ‘We Own the Sky’ nearly as much as me were standing to my right. Two guys and a girl. From that moment on everyone surrounding us retreated a few feet, giving us enough room to physically express ourselves. (Besides the behemoth behind me whom attempted to impose himself within the aforementioned personal space. He failed).

Now, from memory, which is understandably hazy, they left the stage and the encore was ‘Sitting’. It was fucking epic, and I use that word rarely. I held on to the vain hope that they’d come out for one more track but the house lights ensured me that my hope was indeed in vain.

I bought a tee and we bailed, heading home for relaxants and bed. I can’t say I’ve ever been to a better gig or had a better in my 24 years. If I had a bucket list, which I don’t, this would’ve been the only thing on it. Actually, that’s a lie. There would probably be others but this would be at the top.

St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival: Life More Complete? Yep.

Woke up late on Saturday and wandered down to Chapel for breakfast. Came back to the house and failed miserably at organising the day. Had a visit from a real top guy then, after admitting organisational failure, proceeded to walk and get a cab to Footscray. But as we were about to start some serious hailing, the phone rang and we returned to the house with the knowledge that our earlier attempts at festival organisation were not entirely futile.

I kind of wanted to be at Laneway by 1:40pm to catch The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Austra and Laura Marling. We got there at 4pm sans I.D. that hadn’t expired. Luckily, the security lady was switched on and let us in.

We wandered down to Twin Shadow and bought drinks and met up with friends then sat on the grass. Unfortunately, we forgot to mention to each other, prior to the day, the colour of the outfits we intended to wear. Because, you know, that’s a legit hurdle you have to jump before going to a festival. So, we ended up both wearing burgundy shirts and black shorts. We got some odd looks before joining the others and breaking up the two-toned outfit party we were having.

Compared with Laneway in RAdelaide, the setting and atmosphere was way better here, like you could actually breath without inhaling someone else’s exhalation. It’s more open and sizably bigger. And almost everyone was dressed reasonably well—aesthetically pleasing—and far more chilled; there wasn’t a sense of urgency about anyone, especially in neither those I was with nor myself. But the best part was knowing almost no one. Not having to have the same ‘catch up’ convo over and over was a godsend.

Sitting on the grass with friends and new friends, the good vibes of Laneway kicked in and time flew a little too quickly. Before we knew it, The Horrors were about to play, so we meandered up to that stage, hearing ‘Who Can Say’, or maybe ‘Still Life’, as we approached.

Standing around, talking shit and drinking, prevented me from realising just who was standing about seven metres behind me. (Warning: idiosyncratic celebrity infatuation story will begin…now). At first, I thought it was she; I was adamant. Red lips, distinctive tattoos, hot dress. All the hallmarks of whom I believed she was. I turned and made someone hold my drinks then turned again to make sure it was her. I was pretty sure it was her.

‘H—, give me your camera. I neeeeed a photo.’

‘Of who?’

‘Look, behind me. It’s Marieke Hardy.’ *swoon*

I know what y’all are thinking. It’s only Marieke Hardy, whatever. No, no, I’m infatuated. You try finding someone as witty, hot, smart, and funny as her. OK, found one? Now see if that person can write like her. No? Psshhhh, didn’t think so.

So, I grabbed the camera and took two steps before my courage fell through the asphalt and doubt barreled into my brain. ‘Maybe it isn’t her…’ I returned to the group, disheartened.

‘Did you get one?’

‘No, I don’t think it’s her.’

Then, from another friend, ‘Oh my god, Shane, wasn’t that Marieke Hardy?’

Wasn’t? What whaaa? It was her! I drained the cup and grabbed the camera again and turned only to find she had fled the scene. Fuck it, I needed a photo. So I stormed off in the only direction possible, scanning the crowd like a parent looking for a lost child at the Royal Show. It was about 7:57pm and M83 were on in half an hour.

Upon reaching the intersection leading down to the other stages, the sun-dappled cityscape captivated me and I struck up a convo with a guy called Viv, who was creating a digital memory of it, explaining to him the virtues of experiencing M83 over SBTRKT. This distraction proved to be a major thorn in the side of my Marieke search. I admitted defeat—the only regret of my two-and-a-half days—I walked back to my friends.

As more and more people rolled up to see M83, one particular person found their way to the general vicinity, which would make the set a real good time. And it was a real good time. Once I heard the crowd acknowledge Mr. Gonzalez’s arrival by screaming fucking loud, I grabbed her hand and bolted as far forward as possible.

This is the best my iPhone could get. Apologies.

The set was similar to Friday night. He played all the songs that’d suit a festival and, once again, it was outrageously perfect. The night air and the feel of Laneway added something to what was, in essence, exactly what I heard the night before. Perhaps, it was something about being outside or having more people I knew around me. Either way, it topped Friday night.

[Another aside: As much as I liked the crowd at M83, a whole bunch of them were evidently Triple J listeners. They mustn’t have heard the other five albums because as soon as ‘Midnight City’ finished, around 100 people bailed (I didn’t count them; the number just feels right). I don’t care, personally. It’s just a shame they didn’t hear the rest of the set. I wish, for their sake, they reconsidered. Being this much of a fanatic prevents objective reasoning from being a reality.]

Afterwards, I said my goodbyes to those I had to and waited out the front for H—. SBTRKT finished later than where I was and when she finally made her way out the gates I yelled out and we sat there for a bit.

There was something oddly calming about the night. It wasn’t cold and there was no wind. Something just felt really right. We thought it’d be cool if Melbourne was situated on the East Coast, so we could go to the beach and drink until the sun rose. Instead, we chose to head home, get some cider and more ciggies and sit in a park until we got tired.

We did get tired and went home when the sun was rising and I fell asleep with Morgan Kibby’s voice in my head, replaying ‘We Own the Sky’ again and again. I couldn’t have been any effing happier.

Merci, Monsieur Gonzalez. Merci beaucoup.

SDH

By Matt Hanson, reblogged from The Millions

Nostalgia is a funny thing. The idea of sentimentality attaching meaning to objects, places, and people is as natural as anything human can be, but ultimately the form it takes depends largely on context. Michael Chabon once poignantly suggested that, for teenagers, imagination is about all you have to work with, and that during his own adolescence “my imagination, the kingdom inside my skull, was my sole source of refuge, my fortress of solitude, at times my prison.” True indeed. After all the lunch table ressentiment, the zits, the homework, harried teachers, haranguing parents, and the general gauntlet of puberty as it is and was and always shall be, one can usually find escape and release in the secret world of your bedroom. The limits to this world are physically confined to the walls, bed, and window but, as Emily Dickinson insisted, the brain is wider than the sky.

When I was too young to take refuge anywhere else, my room was indeed my castle, which consisted of what alt-rock albums I knew best and could get my hands on — Smashing PumpkinsR.E.M., and Nirvana were definitely in the retinue. I wore R.E.M shirts and parted my hair like Billy Corgan. One of the really unfortunate facts of adolescence is that at the precise time when one’s passion and cultural curiosity are at their highest, when everything is so new and fascinating, the range of available options are limited to the reach of allowance money, the radio, and word of mouth. Don’t get me wrong — those were, and are, great records. It just took me some time to appreciate that there was a world apart from alternative radio programming and to discover the work of people like Lou ReedSon House, and Thelonious Monk. I didn’t look back for years. I still don’t. But when grunge and alt-rock were what I knew, oh how I listened! I remember sitting hunched over my black Sony boom box, listening to Alice In Chains, staring out the window at a bright spring day, and feeling like the birds in the trees just didn‘t get it. I wrote my favorite lyrics in notebooks, across the white borders of my walls, and in the snow on the backs of cars on my way home from school. Hearing that Nirvana’s Nevermind was 20 years old was kind of like seeing an old drinking buddy turn to Jesus in his autumn years. I was happy for him and everything, but I missed the old days when we shared the fortress of solitude.

coverIt’s past the point of cliché now to call Nirvana’s Nevermind a Watershed Moment In Rock History, the Voice of the Disaffected Youth, A Generational Moment, ad nauseam, oh well, whatever, nevermind. Whoever initially decided that Kurt Cobain was the voice of a generation has probably disappeared by now into tastemaker obscurity, paying the bills with commentary on a VH1 special or in the arts section at Newsweek.  Nevermind, as a cultural artifact, enjoys the same status that, say, Bringing It All Back HomeKind Of Blue, andSgt. Pepper’s have maintained for years. You might not ever listen to it, but you probably worshipped it at some point, and now you pretty much have to have a copy hanging around somewhere if you want to call yourself a respectable human being. The baby on the cover, a lad by the name ofSpencer Elden, was quoted a propos the anniversary that “Quite a few people in the world have seen my penis, so that’s kinda cool. I‘m just a normal kid living it up and doing the best I can while I‘m here.” Somewhere, the afro’d tyke on the cover of Ready To Die is laughing.

What’s strange, for me, is that I’m not entirely convinced that Nevermind wasn’t the voice of my generation, and yet when it was released in autumn of 1991 I was all of 10 years old. This makes my personal attachment to Generation X pretty tenuous, and I’m decidedly too old to be a millennial. I’m a member of what Doree Shafrir, writing in Slate, half-jokingly named “Generation Catalano.” I never watched My So-Called Life in its one-season heyday, but pretty much everyone else around me did. (I take umbrage at the name, too — I still get compared to Brian Krakow, but that’s neither here nor there). Nevertheless, I knew exactly what she meant when she referred to being “too young to claim Singles and Reality Bites and Slacker as our own (though that didn’t stop me from buying the soundtracks).” I also remember life without the Internet, as much as I remember innocently downloading songs from Napster, harvesting a handful of Nick Drake songs by the time the sun came up. My youngest sibling, 10 years my junior, says he remembers a time before the Internet but I still think he’s referring to dial-up.

coverBeing a sentimentalist at heart, I decided to investigate the contours of my Nirvana nostalgia. Where was that teen spirit, which once seemed to signify so much? Was it still around? Where did it go? Did it even matter? It became clear that the only proper way to do this was to go old school and resist the temptation to sit and download away and let my computer do all the work. I’m more sedentary now than I was back in the day, anyway, and after all I’ve always believed a good test of any music is whether or not you can take a walk with it. I went down to my local alternative record store (it’s still open, somehow) and picked up the newly released 20th Anniversary Edition, two discs packed with demos, live cuts, and rare tracks. I went next door for a shiny, metallic gray Discman — $30 at a CVS, the only one on the shelf — and some batteries. I clicked the lid shut, fired it up, adjusted the headphones, felt again the old excitement of the disc whirring to life in the palm of my hand, and began to cut a swath through my major urban metropolis.

Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be … About two-thirds of the way through the first disc I was wobbly, electric, ecstatic. I’d forgotten the sheer monolithic power that Nirvana’s verse-chorus-verse, loud-quiet-loud format really had. There’s fire, propulsion, and enough atavistic punk under the clarity of the mix (which Cobain always hated) to keep the nervous energy bubbling without drowning the hooks, the solos, and the unbearably tight rhythm section. Dave Grohl really was Nirvana’s secret weapon, and his drumming is Bonhamesque in its power and dexterity. I was churning, head down, at a steady clip, turning corners, on a plain, feeling stupid and contagious. I dodged a telephone pole or two. One lady I passed suddenly looked at me and began gesturing angrily at her coffee. I looked back at her, genuinely puzzled, shrugged it off, and turned around. I don’t wanna destroy passersby, but no one ever said rock was about sidewalk etiquette.

The opening chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” still buttonhole you, look wildly into your eyes, and burst into flames. The song is equal parts indignation and charisma (“It’s fun to lose/And to pretend … Here we are now/ENTERTAIN US!”), and yet melodically elegant, as more than one cover version has demonstrated. It’s just as immediate, anthemic, and vibrant as it ever was. The burbling, aquatic “Come As You Are” still mesmerizes. Cobain’s raggedly perfect pitch beckons the listener in, even as the chorus’ emphatic “When I swear that/I don’t have a gun” seems eerily less random in hindsight. The white noise of “Territorial Pissings” still pummels and wails Krist Novoselic’s sarcastic quotation of The Youngbloods’ “Get Together” is as funny as it was the first time. As for outtakes, both early demos and boom box rehearsal recordings are included, which give the set a multifaceted, complex, remix-friendly feel. You can enjoy their nifty cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Here She Comes Now,” as well as the harrowing “D-7” from a pre-Nevermind John Peel session.

“In Bloom” is, lyrically, one of Cobain’s finest efforts. The near-haiku of “Bruises on the fruit/tender age in bloom” registers even more compellingly when intoned between the rolling, raucous choruses. Assuming pop lyrics have an intuitive logic can be a path to madness, but there’s a sarcastic familiarity with which Cobain sings “he’s the one/who likes/all our pretty songs” that always made me wonder if he might be sizing up a certain kind of face in the crowd, the bubba who’s just there to slug brew and get his rocks off, waiting to yell for “Free Bird” during intermission. Cobain did, after all, grow up as the artsy kid in a logging town, which might have contributed a bit to his well-known aversion to fame. It must have been frustrating, to say the least, to have to write in your own liner notes that if any of their fans were in any way racist, sexist, or homophobic “please…leave us the fuck alone! Don’t buy our records and don’t come to our shows!” The grimly sympathetic “Polly” — a first-person rendering of a brutal crime and a gutsy imaginative leap for an avowedly feminist and pacifistic songwriter — became a grotesque illustration of the authorial fallacy. This fact is mentioned at the outraged end of the very same liner notes, which makes it a bit easier to see why Cobain’s professed alienation from his audience was more than just a pose.

coverIn many ways, this was a part of what the “grunge” or “alternative” culture was all about. Alternative culture rejected the celebrity industry and preferred keeping the personalities of popular musicians away from theatricality. The lyrics were predominantly personal, symbolic, and seemed to come from a private world of dreams, in-jokes, and memories. There was a politics, certainly, but not much in the way of overt social critique. Quadrophenia and The Wall offered sociology (“Hey! Teacher! Leave those kids alone!“) along with their angst. Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, not so much. Of course, there was that perennial adolescent theme of adenoidal meathead vs. sensitive bohemian going on at the same time. Mötley Crüe put out two volumes of Music To Crash Your Car To, whileSoundgarden brooded about black hole suns and Chris Cornell implored the spoonman to save him.

coverI never quite bought into the ‘I-hate-being-famous’ credo, being far from the only music-addicted youngster to put on marathon air guitar concerts for the benefit of his wallpaper. It seemed too dour, too tragically hip, too affected when I heard it from people I would have given anything to see live and never did. When I eventually read Tennessee Williams’ essay “The Catastrophe of Success“ it began to make more sense. After the personal and professional triumph of The Glass Menagerie, Williams describes years of penury and creative frustration suddenly giving way to nightly room service, sycophantic fans, and alienated disaffection: “I was not aware of how much vital energy had gone into this struggle until the struggle was removed. I was out on a level plateau with my arms still thrashing and my lungs still grabbing at air that no longer resisted. This was security at last … I found myself becoming indifferent to people. A well of cynicism rose in me … I got so sick of hearing people say, ‘I loved your play!’ that I could not say thank you any more.”

This is precisely what Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder and Billy Corgan had been saying, and fighting against, for a long time. It might be a reason why virtually every American performer who gets to the top either begins to lose their grip (ElvisMarilyn) or become a monster (Michael Jackson,O.J.). The 1990’s media generation was always hyper-aware of the duplicity of pop stardom. One couldn’t open a magazine without seeing mannequin-blank anorexic models in pre-ripped jeans and vintage Clash shirts topped off with scarves that cost a month’s rent. The irony of commodification and the solipsistic pressures of mass consumption were enough to drive anyone to the brink. Don’t forget that “Fake Plastic Trees” came out in 1995. For Tennessee Williams, the means of survival lay in getting back to the art itself, cutting out from the glitz and glamour and finding a solitude in which to create: “It is only in his work that an artist can find reality and satisfaction, for the actual world is less intense than the world of his invention and consequently his life, without recourse to violent disorder, does not seem very substantial.” Using art as a survival technique is as old as the act of creation itself. It can inspire artists to transform themselves and make some of the greatest, most redemptive work of their professional lives. The downside is, of course, that some just don’t survive the transition.

For me, then as now, some of the most effective moments on Nevermind are the ones with few pyrotechnics; the songs that don’t kick and thrash around but instead slowly unfurl a spookily effective, surreal, totally unique sonic landscape. Apparently Kurt Cobain was a bit of an amateur installation artist. Friends of his would recall arriving at his apartment to find skeins of dark cloth, furniture akimbo, and various found objects (stuffed animals, plastic figurines, characters from a nativity scene) arranged like miniature sculpture. He‘d destroy them the next day. Some of his best work was like that. “Something in the Way,” recorded live in one studio take, with the phones unplugged and air conditioners silenced, was a devastating choice to close the record. It’s all in the vocal murmurs, the muddy acoustics, the narrator describing living beneath a dripping bridge, surviving on grass, and trapping animals for pets. The chorus has that devastatingly understated cello line, tolling like a church bell as the mournful backing vocals weave in and out of the melody like a winding sheet.

coverI think the mood Nirvana creates has to do with an almost Beckettianconcern for the empty, the absurd, the gleaming light above a void, which still resonates many years later. For all the hand-wringing hullabaloo in the 90’s about negativity in popular music totally bumming out our youth, I think the issue is more that Nirvana’s music reflected something dire about the human condition which other music didn’t quite grasp.  I’ve never forgotten the glimmering unreality of theUnplugged concert, the stage set (at Cobain’s suggestion) with stargazer lilies and funereal chandeliers, the way the odd covers and band repertoire are in total synch, and the look in Cobain’s eyes as he sings the last line of Lead Belly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” — he’s already gone. At that moment, whether he knew it or not, he had less than six months to live.

coverRecently, a beloved friend from my high school years and I got back in touch. One day, he called and suggested we go see The Smashing Pumpkins. I didn’t really listen to them any more, not since roughly 1999, when Billy Corgan shaved his head like Pink from The Wall and started looking and acting like an evil robot. I’d read little else of his poetry book but the title alone – Blinking With Fists — made me feel like responding in kind. I’d still never actually seen them live and it sounded like a fine idea. There I stood amid hundreds of bodies, stage lights flashing over us, a teenage dream fulfilled. There was that extra buzz of approval a crowd acquires when it likes what it’s hearing and wants more. Billy played everything electric that night, nothing acoustic, and I found myself doing something the teenage me would have never done. I sang along, word for word, to songs whose titles I hadn’t heard in years and couldn’t for the life of me remember.

It was in the middle of “Silverfuck” where the music stops, the bass throbs like a heartbeat, and Billy’s modulated voice sings “bang, bang you’re dead/hole in your head” repeatedly, with variations. At first the voice is quiet, tentative, then matter of fact, spelling out the syllables one by one and eventually rising on the third word to rest, at last, on the percussive thud of the last syllable. The entire audience (an older bunch, unsurprisingly) followed his melody to the letter, soaring and sinking along with him, until the bomb drop of the guitars came in and the whole crowd was on its feet, shouting and flailing along in unison with the frenzy of the coda and the thunderclap of each chord, up to and including Billy’s concluding upward swipe at the strings. As the sound faded I noticed the smirk on his face hadn’t left since the show began. Leaning back, he made guns with his hands and darted them back and forth. I wasn’t too keen on the gesture, but that was ok — I wasn’t thinking about the words by then, anyway.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

via TheMillions

Watching anything on free-to-air isn’t an activity I succumb to all that often. Sometimes I’ll watch ABC news or SBS, but I rarely find myself soaking in the *ahem* programs on the other channels (reality TV is the mind-numbing bane of our generation). Like so many other cats with their heads screwed on tight, I stream US and UK shows online—Mad Men, Breaking Bad, True Blood, et al—because Oz TV hasn’t realised these shows are decent (Showtime doesn’t count; it costs money, money better spent on better things).

But this, dear readers, is all about to change. Sort of. This Sunday (January 22) Channel Ten is embarking on a potentially fruitful endeavour. It’ll be airing this at maybe 8pm…

First of all, this guy—me—loves Zooey Deschanel as much as anyone can love someone they’ve never met. Maybe. I’ve watched her movies (yes, even Failure to Launch; it was painful, but I got there in the end), and love them. In essence, she’s the same slightly odd, charming, purdy, eccentric, knockout babe in all of them. You could even say she has the ‘weird chick’ niche etched out like no one has before. Actually, think Molly Ringwald, only better and weirder. And her indie-ness makes me happy.

[Aside: Her and one Ben Gibbard broke up. Or so I’ve heard. REJOICE! He’s a good guy, but sometimes things just don’t work out. Too bad, big guy. Lucky you have all those other things going on. You think you got enough free time for a new Postal Service record? Thanks.]

OK, so. New Girl–the product of Elizabeth Meriwether’s loverly imagination–is fun. Fun in ways most comedies on TV are not. The premise, which you’ll gain/have gained from watching this weekend, is that Jess (Zooey Deschanel) finds her boyfriend cheating on her, so she moves in with three single guys. Cue hilarity!

In the first episode, the trio of housemates consists of Nick (Jake Johnson), the recently dumped, sort of emotional, mature, kind-hearted bartender, who is a bit of a geek; Schmidt (Max Greenfield), a frat boy, corporate worker, who constantly takes his shirt off and talks as if here were proper gangster ( what whaaaaa? Playa playaaaaaaa), which forces him to pay many a fine into the ‘douchebag jar’; Coach (Damon Wayans Jr.), a personal trainer with a tendency to yell really loudly at people. In the second episode, Coach leaves and is replaced by Winston (Lamorne Morris). Winston has just returned from Latvia after playing professional basketball for a couple of years. He’s jobless, has no idea about how life works in a first world country and it takes a while to warm to him. But he’s OK in the end. Oh, and then there’s CC (Hannah Simone), Jess’ best friend, who is a model and is hot and is a model and makes Winston and Schmidt her playthings in one episode. Mwahahahaha, point and laugh and the boys!

As a comedy, New Girl is kind of like most other comedies on TV. It has laughter, a bit of romance, really awkward situations, etc., etc. But what makes it like the sort of cooler, alternative cousin of the normal friend you have, is the presence of Deschanel. She stars in it, sings it and produces some of it, and the character of Jess was surely written for her. She brings naïve innocence to the role that makes you wish you were more naïvely innocent. And there’s something about her that makes me—and surely everyone else—swoon when she’s on-screen. Maybe it’s her eyes and her hair, or perhaps her voice, or maybe just her as a human? Who knows. Add it to the list of Dionysian mysteries.

Meriwether writes so damn well for her too. She takes regular sitcom situations and puts them in a blender and makes them into a tastier pâté. For example, Jess is going on a date with a guy and has overalls on with heels, wanting to go for the whole farmer’s daughter look. CC makes her change into a bangin’ black dress and when she comes out into the living room, all three guys are like ‘woah, she’s hot under all that weird’. Then, obviously because this isn’t a regular comedy, Jess shatters the façade by krumping the shit out of the next five seconds. If you don’t love her after that then you’re a soulless harbinger of evil! (She destroys another similar moment with fake buck teeth. It’s great).

New Girl makes you happy that someone has come up with a show to pull the population out of the vice-like grip of reality TV. And considering the big bad dramas on HBO and ACM never really see the light of day here, it’s nice that Channel Ten have their priorities in order and have secured at least one show worth watching.

Just be prepared to have two things happen after you watch New Girl:

1. You will fall in love with her;

2. You’ll find yourself wandering around your life singing:

Hey girl, whatcha’ doin’?

Hey girl, where ya goin’?

Who’s that girl?

(Who’s that girl?)

Who’s that girl?

(Who’s that girl?)

It’s Jess!

It’s Jess! I say that so often. It’s as if they were some kind of magical TV words that make Jess appear in my house, where adventures would ensue and we’d be merry together. Ugh. Wrap it up, Horne. OK. New Girl is worth your time and will make Sunday nights cool again, like back when they had Sunday night movies. This is the best decision Ten has made since showing The O.C. back in 2002.

SDH

New Girl screens on Network 10 at 8pm this Sunday, January 22, and every other Sunday after that forever, or something.

Gnod is the brain child of someone whose name I cannot find. But that doesn’t matter. Gnod is this really quite useful experiment in artificial intelligence. This is the official description:

“Gnod is my experiment in the field of artificial intelligence. It’s a self-adapting system, living on this server and ‘talking’ to everyone who comes along. Gnod’s intention is to learn about the outer world and to learn ‘understanding’ its visitors. This enables Gnod to share all its wisdom with you in an intuitive and efficient way. You might call it a search-engine to find things you don’t know about.”

You go to the site and select either Gnod Books, Gnod Music, and Gnod Movies. You type into the selected fields what author/bands/movies you like and Gnod will spit out some possible matches, based on what other people have liked.

For example, on Gnod Music, I entered M83, My Bloody Valentine and Portishead. This is what it gave me:

If your eyes can see, the one band it gave me was The Field. So, I listened to them. And I dug them. Gnod is winning! I’ve already heard a lot of the bands surrounding The Field in the map. Oh, the closer any band is to the centre band, the more you’ll allegedly like them. That works. I love M83.

OK, round two: books. My favourite author is Cormac McCarthy, so:

I’m getting a lot of Philip Roth, two of them actually. Ian McEwan is up there, along with Raymond Carver, and one Jim Harrison, who I long to read but cannot find anywhere! All these authors I’ve yet to feast upon and here is Gnod, telling me I’d dig them. Word up, Gnod.

I might as well hit up Gnod Movies, just for shits and gigs. Staying with the Cormac McCarthy theme, my favourite movie is, by an arm and a mile, No Country for Old Men:

This one’s a little harder to read. Gnod thinks there’s four films that I’d love just as much at NCFOM. There Will Be Blood, yes, I liked it; The Lives of Others, never seen it; Eastern Promises, never seen it; The Simpson’s Movie…..f’real? OK, so Gnod seems to have slipped up a little in this department. My choice was but one of thousands upon thousands of permutations you could create. It’s not going to be perfect. It could, however lead you to a book, author, band or film you might never have come across without it.

It did it today for me with music. Win.

SDH

P.S. It’s fucking windy today and the BoSox should have a new manager before nightfall. Word.

I have this one-of-a-kind friend. The type of guy where everything seems to fall into place without a shadow of hassle. I live 900km away and might not speak to him for months at a time but then, when I do, it’s like I only saw him yesterday.

I could sit here for hours and write about how much he has influenced me for the better; however, that’d be a bit too idiosyncratic for this post. What this is all about is his art—see below. I’ve written a post on one piece. He dug it, I was proud. And he just posted some more FB photos so I decided it was time to write another post with all the new business included.

Click on an image and scroll through the rest. Take your time, put on a record, maybe drink some Jameo, and enjoy.

SDH

M83 – Midnight City

M83 continues to be my gateway into shoegaze. When I first heard ‘Kim & Jessie’ on triple j back in 2008, I was hooked and the realm of shoegaze/dream pop, genres formerly unbeknownst to me, was favourably laid out before my ears. I haven’t looked back nor outside them since. From Saturdays = Youth I naturally worked my way backwards through M83’s discography and then backwards in time through the genres, experiencing the likes of Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, and My Bloody Valentine.

With the release of ‘Midnight City’, off Monsieur Gonzalez’s forthcoming album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, the shoegaze cycle I have been so completely engrossed in over the last three years seems to be coming full circle, but by no means to an end. Given ‘Midnight City’ and ‘Echoes’ are pretty damn fine indicators of what album #6 will about, then would you, dear reader, agree that we can expect a level of nostalgia throughout? ‘Echoes’ takes me on a transient journey reminiscent of M83’s oeuvre thus far; it sounds like what they’ve always done and so it’s awesome. But ‘Midnight City’ was straight out of possibly the greatest left field I can think of. It’s as if he’s chosen to channel the ’80s roots of shoegaze, but instead of replicating he’s captured the sound and feel of that synth happy time in music history, melding it with his distinct brand of shoegaze and spawning an epic and magnificent sound.

There is no shortage of synth in ‘Midnight City’ and it’s far from overkill. The song rises and falls between soft vocals and intense walls of sound that engross you. The sax solo. Well, just listen and make your own mind up (FFUUUUCCCCKKKKK YES!!). It’s big, a little spacey, awe-inspiring and drips nostalgia with every note. But saying it’s nostalgic is a little vague. This music reminds me of a age since past, like I’ve listened to it in a time before my time began. I won’t say it feels like home, but it does, in a sort of spiritual way. The song and the feeling fills me up, completely and utterly, in a metaphysical sense, like the song is my Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl, only she doesn’t disappear at the end of the film/song. Possibilities abound when the notes envelope my ears. I should stop before I fall into another world.

When Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is released, I’ll probably need time off work. When M83 come to Melbourne—fingers crossed for early 2012; fingers uncrossed for a BDO appearance—I’ll need to get time off Life, just so I can take it all in.

Joel and Ethan Coen

2007

Joel and Ethan Coen’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men is a violent, tense and downright disturbing cinematic experience, largely due to the calmly diabolical antagonist, Anton Chigurh (played with evil precision by Javier Bardem).

The film’s protagonist, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), stumbles upon a drug deal gone wrong in the desert and chooses to remove the briefcase of $2 million from the scene. Chigurh shortly picks up his trail and a deadly cat and mouse game begins. Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) brings up the rear of the story, always one step behind Chigurh and Moss, dealing predominantly with his own philosophical musings about the coming tide of evil, always feeling out matched. As the story progresses, the true nature of Chigurh becomes apparent and the futility of Moss’ decisions creates an overwhelming sense of despair.

The film’s atmosphere is expertly created through the Coen brothers’ use of sound. They create a sense of emptiness, reflecting the environment of the Tex-Mex border: there is no music save for a mariachi band playing momentarily in front of Moss and a peel of thunder. But what, to a degree, makes the film so unnerving is Chigurh. He is an unstoppable wave of evil. With red-rimmed eyes and Clockwork Orange-esque haircut, he mows down all in his path with tranquil precision and infallible logic (yes, he convinces one character that they must die!).

As their first attempt at an adaptation, the Coen brothers are extremely faithful to McCarthy’s text. In some parts they have just used entire chunks of dialogue from the book. Instead of cutting scenes, out of necessity, they have transformed them to fit within the medium of film, taking almost nothing away from the book.

No Country for Old Men will keep you tense and enraptured, it will challenge your thoughts on morality and logic, and it will show you there is someone as scary as Hannibal. Diabolically entertaining.

 

SDH

Lardner, Ring Jr., The Ecstasy of Owen Muir, 1954, Prometheus: New York, 1997

The more pre-1960s America literature I read, the more interested I become. It started with Kerouac, then Bukowski, then Toole. These authors depict a life I could’ve seen myself living (save for the flatulence of Mr. Reilly and his preference of flannel and cord), if I’d been conceived in the ’30s. Leading a semi-bohemian life, traveling from place to place, with no real cares save for penning what’s important to me and close friends.

But then, somehow, I stumbled upon a book by Ring Lardner Jr. called The Ecstasy of Owen Muir whilst reading an article, I think. Or it could’ve been somewhere on a website, or perhaps on some RSS feed; I’m really not quite sure. Nonetheless, what I read intrigued me enough to buy it, straying off my path of buying what I should read (something I need to give up).

Lardner was an acclaimed screenwriter throughout the ’40s, winning an Oscar for Woman of the Year (1947; later winning another for his film adaptation of M*A*S*H [1977]). He served time in jail as part of the Hollywood Ten during the McCarthy era. It was during his time in prison the he cultivated the idea for his comic novel.

Owen is a tale of Owen Muir, a pacifist who spends time in prison (just like Lardner) for refusing to serve in the army. He transforms from an overweight, insightful pacifist into a sturdy, athletic, muscular, insightful pacifist, thanks to the labour within the jailhouse (which leads to a slightly disturbing scene with his sibling upon release). After meeting April, his Catholic secretary, he falls in love and converts to Catholicism, overcoming the only obstacle on the path to marriage. Majority of the novel follows Owen’s search for justifying his newfound religion to himself and finding his place in the world. In the process Lardner comments on a myriad of ideas and institutions, such as business ethics, advertising, sex, philosophy, racism, and, rather comically, on the failings of the Church (a major reason for the novel being refused publication in America). One chapter sees Owen calculate his indulgences (an utterly ridiculous concept), which come to a grand total of 84 000 years!!!!!! HA! Anywho, I won’t spoil the ending, which is initially anticlimactic but upon meditation fits perfectly.

If you’re anti-Catholic, or an atheist or agnostic, or care not for religion at all, or are Catholic and would like to see the oddities of your beliefs presented to you, then this novel is well worth the read. It’s pretty standard in length (272 pages) and the prose is free-flowing and somewhat elegant. Although the content can get a little dense, particularly during the philosophical conversations. But even a relatively juvenile knowledge of the Church will allow you to follow these easily.

For a novel that’s counted in the ‘Literary Classics’ range, I’m intrigued as to why it’s not more popular (well, I suppose in Australia, what institution would actually assign it to a reading list? Probably book club material, at best). Not only is it a great story but, taken with a grain of salt, provides a valuable insight into a very tumultuous point in American history.

SDH

Self-labelling his art as ‘sarcastically iconoclastic psychedelia’ (2011), Jail Simmons is a burgeoning 24-year-old artist from the Lower Adelaide Hills, whose art is confronting, disturbing and thought provoking.  He pieces have been sold throughout Adelaide and a full exhibition planned for later this year.

In ‘I know karate, voodoo too’ (a line from Tom Waits’ “Goin’ Out West”), the themes running throughout Simmons’ portfolio are apparent. Feminine representation through the Mother Nature-like figurehead at the piece’s centre and its control of two headless roosters (cocks), serving as her arms, reinforces a recurring matriarchal view of society and woman’s control over man; the presence of blood and skulls signifies the ever-presence of death; and, the most common theme throughout his works, Satanism, is visible from the various pentagrams and the reversed cross at the front of the piece, portraying a strong discontent and opposition for religious sects and institutions.

Simmons’ use of earthly colours, the sandy yellow, stone grey, blood red, and scrub green, are used in unison with pale purples and dull electric blues, creating a seamless integration between the natural and the psychedelic.

There is a subtle arbitrariness of the content mixed with the symmetry of the layout shows an artist comfortable with his subject matter and confident in his skills. Admitting that most of his paintings come from ‘visions and dreams’, Simmons ability to portray these dreams on to canvas with acrylic is nothing short of impressive. Although it is very ‘I know karate, voodoo too’ is initially very confronting but it forced me to contemplate upon what I was seeing, which is something I appreciate, having to think beyond what is present.

To me, its defining aspect, as well as is with all of Simmons’ work, is how the unreal can be contained and portrayed in a realistic way. To get a real idea of what he is trying to accomplish as an artist just through this work would be a mistake. With viewing his entire portfolio comes clarity. His ability to exhibit himself on a canvas allows you to learn a lot from any one of his paintings, but as a whole, his collection will provide an insight into the mindset of an artist struggling with the real and unreal, with primal urges and civilised tendencies, and with society in general.

View his collection here (not sure if you have to be friends with him or not): http://www.facebook.com/media/set/fbx/?set=a.45056632886.59263.586032886

SDH

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