Saturday, June 30, 2007

Moral Superiority is the Coin of My Realm

Today my head is all full of techno-snarls, and I feel very un-clever. Last night I stumbled onto a trivia contest at the Fake Irish Pub, though, and got to feel super-smart. In all categories except sports and geography: still haunted by my Trivial Pursuit Achilles heels. But c'mon, they were asking questions like "What character from Cheers appeared in The Empire Strikes Back?" And I was all like, please, they're not even trying. A real question would be like, "What cannibalism-themed motion picture did the same actor appear in?" And "What was the name of that character's rock band?"

(A: Motel Hell, and Ivan and the Terribles. Everybody knows that).

Of course, if we'd been playing, we could have won ... drumroll, please! A pitcher of beer. Which I don't drink. So it's a good thing that moral superiority is the coin of my realm!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Rock Snob Chicken and Egg

So the other day one of my co-workers made mention in passing of "those obscure bands you're always talking about." All I remember is that time he caught me cranking Steve Earle's The Revolution Starts Now, and there ain't nothing obscure about Steve. Between that and the Mpls rock scene book I'm reading, I realized that I don't talk much about music. My real critical calling is writing about horror movies, which I used to do long before I had any kind of forum for it. Maybe it's just because I'm not as immersed in the music world as I used to be. It had become obvious that, eventually, the day was going to come when I couldn't stay out all night and still hold down a job. And since there was no trust fund on its way...

It is true that when one listens to a lot of supposedly obscure music, one tends to also gather accusations of rock snobbery. I admit, when I first saw High Fidelity, I sunk in my seat just a little bit. Come on, you all know the chorus, "Oh, you hipsters. You only like things because nobody's ever heard of them." But that's not where the "because" belongs. Generally, nobody's ever heard of things I like because they're a little...well, odd, maybe. 

There'd be no point in denying that I like things that are odd. What I don't like is things that sound like everything else. "Generic" is about my dirtiest musical-critical word. Once a person owns a hundred punk rock records, then she has no need of a punk album that sounds like every other. She wants something original, different, in the sound, the lyrics, the attitude, the something. 

So even when I was more deeply immersed, my take on music was a little different. I kept trying, fruitlessly, to turn my friends onto Digital Underground, and made friends with people whose tastes were even more avant-garde than mine, and pillaged their collections. I remember being startled to discover that people in the outside world had suddenly heard of Soul Asylum, because I'd never had any interest in their existence. I rolled my eyes at Paul Westerberg's whole later career, especially when people started worshipping him openly. I know that's bitchy of me, but it's an honest response. 

Actually, that's how I first learned the perceived first rule of rock snobbery. Around the time of Let It Be, how I loved, loved, loved the Replacements. I put "Fuck School" and, especially, "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out" ("Rip rip, gonna rip 'em out now! Rip rip, gonna rip 'em out!") on mix tapes for everyone I'd ever met. The band had done four albums that were all different kinds of works of genius. When they signed with a major record label, I was nowhere near thinking "Sell-out!" This was good news to me. I felt a little how I imagine the cute naive kids did in the early grunge era, thinking that the mainstream was catching up with us. Maybe people were learning. Maybe we were going to start hearing good music on the radio! 

And then I bought Tim and listened to it. I tried to deny how much I was disappointed. I kept playing it, trying to find hidden virtues in it. But I really just didn't think it was very good. I just played it again yesterday, and I liked it even less. Whereas Hootenany has sounded better with every passing year. Of course, "Bastards of Young" and "Here Comes a Regular" are really good songs. But there are a lot of albums that are okay, with a few good songs on them. And there was just something wrong with the whole tone of the record, like the creativity had been sucked right out of them. Nothing stood out, nothing was that distinctive. In the oldest rock trap in the book, they'd been a lot better in their basement. You just can't win. 

Of course, that was only the beginning, and they went on to make actual hits out of songs that I couldn't care less about. And I saw plenty of other bands get signed to major labels and release watered-down versions of their sound, locally, nationally, all over the place. How does one deal with this conundrum? If you're the band, then it's really freakin' problematic. 

There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of rock memoirs and Rolling Stone articles about the labels messing with the sound, pressuring bands to deliver singles, to promote their product, and basically ruining them. So you can't blame the fans for being able to hear the difference!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Carrying a broadsword would certainly liven up the office

Just watched The Messengers, and not much to say about it but "eh." The cinematography was nice, I guess. And I was amused by the idea that there are apparently no cell phones in North Dakota, because "there's no reception out here." I'm sure plenty of people are going, "If only!" There's also a hilarious scene where the young heroine meets a boy shooting hoops with some buds. She asks what they do for fun around there, and he says, "You're looking at it." I piped in with, "And meth!"

But Red Sonja, now there's a movie that, for me, crosses the boundary into so-bad-its-good territory. Starring Brigitte Nielsen, not yet a parody of herself, and asking important questions like: Where do you buy great silver boots like that in the fake Middle Ages?

In the opening minutes, an evil lesbian queen...wait a minute, a what? Yup, played by Conan's Sandahl Bergman! Now, I've seen Conan many times, and I've never noticed anything about her speaking voice. But for some reason, with her face covered in a mask, I kept thinking she sounded just like Katey Segal. I'm not sure if I was more envisioning Peg Bundy or Leela under there. Anyway, she comes on to Brigitte, who rebuffs her, so the evil queen kills her family and then, decides to destroy the world or something. With what they call it a talisman, but it's really a big green globe. Must be a translation problem from the language of the (Hyperborean) Age.

Now, say you've gotten possession of a big glowy orby thing, and you're trying to harness its unfathomable power for your own nefarious purposes. The High Priests of Exposition explain that it gains its power by feeding off of light, and the more light there is, the more it supercharges. So....would your course of action be to take it back with you to the Kingdom of Perpetual Night? Where you'd put it in a cavern filled with candles in an attempt to jump-start it? Or would you walk out into the bright plentiful sunlight just outside?

No wonder these people can always be stopped by a couple of barbarians with broadswords.

I'm reading a souvenir "pictorial essay" about the town where I grew up, and was disturbed to find a picture of myself in the highly secret get-up (ha ha) worn in my capacity as a Job's Daughter. This is a Junior Masons for Girls organization, and the reason I get a huge kick out of Masonic conspiracy stories. The people who believe them must not know too many Masons personally.

I'm also flipping through an oddly disconcerting book by a girl I knew back in Mpls (well, we're both women now, but we were girls then) and having an unexpected conflict about it. On the one hand, I'm biting my tongue really a lot, and the marks are starting to show. On the other, although we certainly didn't know each other well, and I'm sure she doesn't remember me at all, she was always very nice to me on the occasions when we met. I'm experiencing an unexpected burst of tactfulness.

As Sleator-Kinney would say: call the doctor!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Well, Andy Warhol and I were both Bohemians

I grew up in a technologically primitive age...not the level of a sword and sorcery epic (I've been watching Red Sonja), but still, we lacked a lot of things that are taken for granted now. Ah, I still remember the heady moment when, on a school field trip, we saw our first photocopier. Of course, I also remember how disappointed I was when we saw the quality of the reproductions, and the more things change...Hard to believe when I'm wrestling with the machine at the work that I was ever impressed by one of these monsters.

My Dad was a schoolteacher, and he too was an early adopter of VCR technology. It stands to reason, as much as anything in this world, that people with enormous libraries and tendencies toward collecting would see the value of being able to copy things. We knew, mainly from tv, that "home movie" cameras existed, but they were expensive and cumbersome to use, and I never knew any of those lucky kids with Super 8s that I'd hear about much later.

The one really ubiquitous technology of this nature was the audio tape recorder: cheap enough that even kids could have a Panasonic and hold it up to the radio, but still enough of a novelty that I could totally understand why people like Nixon and Warhol went around taping everything. I mean, you could!

Which probably explains why, when I was little, one of my dreams was to ride around my hometown on my bicycle and somehow "record" my impressions for posterity, using a tape recorder. This would never have worked, for various reasons. Partly because all I'd have ended up with would be bumpy noise. But mainly because: what kind of impressions was I going to be able to make when I was, like, eleven? I couldn't even stand the words I wrote in my diary, because my reach was already so exceeding my grasp.

This was kind of a curious dream, but I've had curiouser. Anyway, this all came back to me because I'm going to try to get set up some kind of family history web site with the family photos and the obituaries and whatnot. And I've been very impressed with the site my friend Trishymouse does called St. Vincent Memories (at about thehistory of the area where she grew up. A large part of me has this very preservational tendency, that wants to photocopy the evidence and save the old crap on DVDs and, basically, walk around somehow tape recording the world.

But I'm afraid I have a bigger side that's all subjective, all the time. I don't know if I can collect information, and edit it and frame it and present it in a way that will be interesting to me, much less other people. And I always seem to keep intruding into my material. Whatever I'm talking about is a brawl I just have to get in the middle of.

But I guess it's good for me to try new things, new ways of expressing myself, or I'm going to go crazy and belatedly start a band. It's got to be easier to scan some photographs than it would be to build a psalmodikon...doesn't it?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I could say the word "funerary" all day

You out-o-towners might not be aware that it's done nothing but rain here for weeks, and the sky looks gloomy and overcast again this morning. We've had maybe two days of hot sunny annoying summer in a month...and my neighbors have got the heavy-duty sprinklers going. Although they mainly seem to be painting the driveway and the cement-block walls with water, turning them a darker shade of grey.

Yesterday I had a fairly grumpy day, and it was nice to get home, even late, to my own paradisical living room. Big orange cat on lap: check. Glass of nice red wine: check. Listening to the Desperate Teenage Lovedolls soundtrack whilst reading the Funerary Violin book: double check. I just saw a book the other day on Decorating with Books, which struck me funny, because it's certainly never been a strategy of mine. That would be sort of like Breathing as a Hobby. But I have to admit that, even when they're in the kind of messy stacks one finds in a place like my living room, the presence of books is in fact comforting. It's like, I've got books here, things can't be too bad.

Anway, for the Gothier of my readers, I highly recommend Rohan Kriwaczek's book, An Incomplete History of the Art of the Funerary Violin...and not just because it coins the word "Funerarianas," which makes me swoon with mental delight. It's as absolutely straight-faced and full of historical minutiae as that nonfiction book I just bought about the Gothic influence on American church architecture. Only, of course, there never was a practice of funerary violin (a traditional of a solo violinist playing for the dead) for there to be a history of, incomplete or otherwise. Or is that just the result of the supposedly fictional "funerary purges" that destroyed the evidence? The style is so convincing, that if you didn't know, I swear you wouldn't guess this was fiction.

"What kind of crazy person," I asked out loud, looking up from the tome, "would take on a project like this?"

And then answered my own question.

"My kind of crazy person."

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sepia just isn't scary enough. How about mauve?

Given the notorious excesses of Hollywood movies, it feels unfair to criticize one for being too understated, but that's very much the problem with the American remake of Dark Water.
Now, anyone who's ever rented should be able to relate to the disturbing premise of being haunted by terrible plumbing problems. In fact, the first time I tried to watch the Japanese original, I had a problem with my kitchen sink, and had to shut the DVD off after about fifteen minutes because it was freaking me out so much. I only managed to watch it after the plumber came.

With the American version, however, it's like they were trying to bore us on purpose so we'd take it seriously. I popped in the Hideo Nakata version just to see if I was being totally unfair, and, uh, nope. Just doing a random Chapter Forward brought me to some great eerie visuals from the original with no correspondence in the new one. the original was also fairly slow-moving, in an old-fashioned ghost story style, but tensely, not lethargically so. The new one is just: depressed woman in custody battle. For most of the running time, all they attempt to spook us with is the sepia color scheme.

While the idea of being haunted by a Hello Kitty bag is pretty amusing, you don't really get the idea she's being haunted by it. It just kinds of turns up. A little girl having an imaginary friend isn't spooky when it's removed from all context. When the Mom protests that having an imaginary friend is "normal," I was nodding and saying to myself, exactly. That's why this isn't scary! The Japanese version gave us some context and some reason to believe that this wasn't a normal imaginary friend but in fact a little dead girl. Even the all-important stain in the ceiling was the Japanese version, it drips onto the protagonist's face (ewww), all over her bed, really does some damage. It almost does seem like it has a life of its own. In the American version, all it really does is look bad. And I guess at one point Jennifer Connelly puts a bucket under it. But that has nowhere near the creep factor. Even the scene where hair comes out of the faucet into the drinking glass...and come on, that would be nasty!... hardly registers.

The scariest thing about the movie is the discovery that it's Tim Roth playing the lawyer. Unreal! I wouldn't have recognized him in a million years.

Then in the afternoon, for an oddball double feature, I went to the actual theater to see Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Not that I've seen Fantastic Four 1, or intend to, but friends were going, and it was air conditioned. Man, it's been a while since I've been to a PG-rated movie! The trailers were mostly for Disney films, which was really odd. I was like, where's that Hostel 2 trailer I see every time I go to a movie? Then there was a new trailer for the upcoming Die Hard sequel, and it still doesn't make me want to see it. And weirdest of all: a commercial for Chef Boyardee Ravioli. At least with the Pepsi commercials, they actually sell Pepsi at the theaters, so it doesn't seem totally insane.

Not much to say about the movie itself, and since I overheard people in the audience saying things like "awesome," I'm obviously not the target audience. But a few observations: I was distracted by Jessica Alba's series of Barbie doll hairdos (if the Bratz movie hits big, Alba can totally play Barbie!), and it was very cute how she put on a pair of glasses when she wanted to look smart. Like it was a movie from the 50s or something. When he wasn't uttering inane technobabble about the molecular level, I did notice that Ioan Gruffudd is actually pretty cute. Maybe I'll have to give that Horatio Hornblower show a chance.

I also thought that anyone getting married with that much pomp and fuss deserves to have their "big day" interrupted by mysterious cosmic attacks, and I'd like to see the trend followed on all the reality shows following people's over-the-top weddings and sweet 16 parties.

Mostly, though, I kept thinking about Michael Martone's hilarious story "The Sex Life of the Fantastic Four." If only he were as famous as Jessica Alba, it would be a better world. Not that I'd want to see him play a stripper, or flirt with Justin Timberlake, or any of the thing's you gotta do...