Dig if you will the list: the best of Prince

As y’all know, Prince died last year. Until now I never updated this ILM ballot sent six years ago. As usual I didn’t quite play along: just forty twenty Prince songs I liked without much thought and away it went. I’ll explain any one of my choices. By this point so familiar are we with this vast, endlessly permutating catalog that I’ll stand no grousing about my picks.

1. The Beautiful Ones
2. Private Joy
3. Mountains
4. 17 Days
5. When Doves Cry
6. Sister
7. I Could Never Take The Place of Ur Man
8. When U Were Mine
9. How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore
10. Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)
11. Tambourine
12. The Future
13. The Cross
14. Housequake
15. Chelsea Rodgers
16. Endorphinmachine
17. 7
18. Cream
19. Head
20. Erotic City
22. Controversy
23. Girls and Boys
24. I Wish U Heaven (Extended Remix)
25. Do Me, Baby
26. The Holy River
27. The Morning Papers
28. Money Don’t Matter 2 Nite
29. P Control
30. Black Sweat
31. Bambi
32. Strange Relationship
33. Dirty Mind
34. Sexuality
35. Joy In Repetition
36. Anotherloverholenyohead
37. Gotta Stop (Messin’ About)
38. Let’s Go Crazy
39. New Position
40. Thieves in the Temple

Farley Granger R.I.P.

Star of They Live By Night, Strangers on a Train, Rope, and Visconti’s Senso. Noted bisexual too: he not only counted Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents as lovers, but cowrote a memoir with his partner Robert Calhoun. Although far from a good actor, Granger projected queerness rather unambiguously; even in high school I didn’t have to know anything about homoeroticism and “subtext” to squirm with unspoken recognition at Granger’s performances in the Hitchcock twosome Rope and Strangers on a Train: two of the most convincing examples of homosexual panic in Hollywood film. I would love to have seen him opposite the late Elizabeth Taylor. He was pretty cute too.

Excellent interview with Jonathan Marlow at Greencine from 2007.

Naughty girls need love: Britney Spears’ “Femme Fatale”

Half of Femme Fatale lives up to its title: Britney Spears as the polymorphic essence of every disco dolly who’s so post-feminist/post-sexual/post-woman that to wonder whether she’s used or being used by the purported objects of lust she’s dancing/fucking is as beside the point as comparing “Libya” and “Iraq.” Unfortunately, because the half-life of self-reflexiveness expired in 2007, the album falters; she’s so much a part of the roboticized textures that when “Trouble For Me” and the will.i.am. collaboration go splat, she doesn’t project the personality necessary to reactivate them (the problem with “Inside Out” isn’t the “Hit Me One More Time” quote, it’s that it’s arranged like a forgotten album track from 1999). Never mind: the ooh-OOH-oohs of “Seal It With a Kiss,” the mecha-stuttered oh-oh-ohs of  “Till The World Ends,” and the sassy, self-mocking whistling on “I Wanna Go” thump and grind like she really believes in disco apocalypse, which, since this is Britney, bitch, I’ll forgive anyone for confusing with a personal one. More confident than anyone expected, Femme Fatale is the best we can expect from a performer who projects more confidence as a slattern than she did pretending to be a grown-up woman. The only way she can surprise us in the future is by getting herself into a nunnery.

PS: Dan Weiss wrote the review which most gets what she attempts.

Obama: Marxist and redistributor of wealth

Greenwald:

Since Obama was inaugurated, the Dow Jones has increased more than 50% — from 8,000 to more than 12,000; the wealthiest recieved a massive tax cut; the top marginal tax rate was three times less than during the Eisenhower years and substantially lower than during the Reagan years; income and wealth inequality are so vast and rising that it is easily at Third World levels; meanwhile, “the share of U.S. taxes paid by corporations has fallen from 30 percent of federal revenue in the 1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009.” During this same time period, the unemployment rate has increased from 7.7% to 8.9%; millions of Americans have had their homes foreclosed; and the number of Americans living below the poverty line increased by many millions, the largest number since the statistic has been recorded. Can you smell Obama’s radical egalitarianism and Marxist anti-business hatred yet?

…From the start, Obama’s economic policies were shaped by the Wall Street-revering neo-liberal Rubinites who did so much to serve corporate America during the Clinton years. Meanwhile, the President’s choice to head his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness — General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt — heads a corporation that “despite $14.2 billion in worldwide profits – including more than $5 billion from U.S. operations – did not owe taxes in 2010”: an appointment the White House still defends.

Singles Jukebox 3/25

To commemorate Nate Dogg, The Singles Jukebox dedicated the week to him. Edifying to say the least. I hadn’t heard Shade Sheist’s great would-be summer hit, and I’d been meaning to own my own copy of “Regulate” since I lost the cassingle in spring 1995.

I’m no fan of early Snoop-Dre; a post earlier this week addressed my cavils.

Warren G ft. Nate Dogg – Regulate (10)
Shade Sheist ft. Nate Dogg and Kurupt – Where I Wanna Be (8)
Ludacris ft. Nate Dogg – Area Codes (8)
Mos Def ft. Nate Dogg and Pharaohe Monche – Oh No (7)
Mark Ronson ft. Ghostface, Trife, and Nate Dogg – Ooh Wee (7)
Nate Dogg and Warren G – Nobody Does It Better (7)
Westside Connection ft. Nate Dogg – Gangsta Nation (5)
Nate Dogg ft. Snoop Dogg – Never Leave Me Alone (5)
Dr Dre ft. Nate Dogg, Snoop Dogg & Daz Dillinger – Deez Nuuts (3)
50 Cent ft. Nate Dogg – 21 Questions (3)
Snoop Dogg ft. Nate Dogg, Kurupt, and Warren G – Ain’t No Fun (2)

*Sigh*

For the what-else-is-new file: the Obama administration curtails Miranda rights for suspected domestic terror suspects:

New rules allow investigators to hold domestic-terror suspects longer than others without giving them a Miranda warning, significantly expanding exceptions to the instructions that have governed the handling of criminal suspects for more than four decades.

The move is one of the Obama administration’s most significant revisions to rules governing the investigation of terror suspects in the U.S. And it potentially opens a new political tussle over national security policy, as the administration marks another step back from pre-election criticism of unorthodox counterterror methods.

The Supreme Court’s 1966 Miranda ruling obligates law-enforcement officials to advise suspects of their rights to remain silent and to have an attorney present for questioning. A 1984 decision amended that by allowing the questioning of suspects for a limited time before issuing the warning in cases where public safety was at issue.

That exception was seen as a limited device to be used only in cases of an imminent safety threat, but the new rules give interrogators more latitude and flexibility to define what counts as an appropriate circumstance to waive Miranda rights.

A Federal Bureau of Investigation memorandum reviewed by The Wall Street Journal says the policy applies to “exceptional cases” where investigators “conclude that continued unwarned interrogation is necessary to collect valuable and timely intelligence not related to any immediate threat.” Such action would need prior approval from FBI supervisors and Justice Department lawyers, according to the memo, which was issued in December but not made public.

Reflections on a sensuous life: Elizabeth Taylor R.I.P.

I hope no obit calls her “classy” — no one as vulgar as Elizabeth Taylor could survive this slander.  Although the physical deterioration of the last twenty years was painful to behold, I found it apt and in keeping with the personality that Taylor projected in her movies. Vulgar, careening helplessly from one state of unrest to the other, possessing what I would politely call erratic judgment, often unwilling or unable to control this personality onscreen — that’s what I remember about her performances in “prestige projects” like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Raintree County, and Suddenly Last Summer (funny how Hollywood dealt with her fleshy nubility by casting her in Tennessee Williams adaptations). Even in A Place in the Sun, in which the shimmering sapphire blueness of her eyes remind Montgomery Clift of a social caste worth killing for to enter, this so-called “class” suggested soon-to-be-plumbed depths of sensual abandon.

Her work in Reflections in a Golden Eye and the uproarious X, Y And Zee — both of which built on the self-aware degeneracy of her Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf — made me wonder why the hell she didn’t star in more comedies (they were all she was capable of in the last quarter century of her life). But Taylor’s most moving work during this period was as an activist for continuing research into a disease whose gestation inspired shame and confusion in politicians of both political parties, not to mention Taylor’s fellow actors. Until now we’ve forgotten how — no other word for it — courageous Taylor’s stance was in the late eighties, standing up for AIDS funding and research and explicitly mentioning the plight of gay men. I’ve snarkily argued over the years that, well, of course she would: she was a gay man herself, a drag queen since the early seventies, or at best a fag hag, buddies with Rock Hudson and Montgomery Clift. But I was stupid and obtuse. Unlike Bette Davis, Taylor was too indebted to traditional feminity — in life and on camera — to project the image of a man imitating a woman. Study her in the infamous commercial for her White Diamonds perfume. Not once does she wink at the camera — she imbues even this ridiculous self-parody with a lived-in quality. Which is why she deserves the kudos. Dessicated grand dames don’t often gladly surrender to selflessness. Only Elizabeth Taylor, with her recklessness and knack for shoving through closed doors, could have cared so convincingly.

Herewith, an aggregated link to a few terrific obits.

Loleatta Holloway RIP

Surely it’s not blasphemous to claim the late Loleatta Holloway’s greatest contribution to music was as an astounding tremor-sized sample in house (Black Box’s “Ride On Time”) and kiddie house/hip-hop (Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s “Good Vibrations”). I prefer both tracks to 1980’s “Love Sensation,” penned by Dan Hartman (the man’s resume is astounding, by the way).

The voice was a tidal wave. My best friend of my high school and college years, intimidated, used to blast “Ride On Time” (he owned Black Box’s Dreamland on tape) and we used to pretend Holloway was a giant chicken, squawking the vocal. We even gobbled.

On the uses of offense

From an ILM thread, regarding how one responds to hateful subject matter in art:

Here’s another experiment: as a gay man most of the situations proffered in songs are alien to me. I have to either attempt to understand them on their own terms (not a problem; I’ve been doing it all my life) or rewrite them as gay narratives. I’m not at all suggesting that the process by which I grapple with unpleasant material is the same as this rewiring of gender, but it just points to how ambivalent our responses to music should be….

If anything, this grappling speaks to how strange it looks to me when somebody digs through songs for autobiographical parallels. If you listen that way, fine! But it’s alien to me — these songs are fictional, and I’m parsing a language which may not surrender its mixed motives, subtleties, and contradictions on first or hundredth listen.

Even as I wrote the above I shuffled in my seat. Members of oppressed minorities boast tripwires sensitive to any hint of offense. I oppose the discourse of grievance because art — pop music especially — necessarily makes choices about who and what it excludes. As listeners it’s axiomatic to wonder about who was omitted and why — for the purposes of understanding, sure, but for indictment and curiosity too. That’s how I answer a question I get asked often: why do I hold books, films, and albums to task for not doing what they were clearly designed not to do? Call it a lifelong habit of regarding no product as finished.

I post these remarks because at The Singles Jukebox this week, celebrating the legacy of the late Nate Dogg, I remembered how gross the Dre-Snoop stuff from The Chronic-era period was and remains. My objections don’t rest on content — the misogyny is often witless, expressed in lazy timbres and indifferent enjambments *. The backing tracks aren’t busy enough. As resourceful as Dre has shown to be in wringing unexpected permutations from a limited aural imagination, he’s projecting attitudes in these early recordings, on which he’s shown up by Nate Dogg and Snoop only some of the time. I’m in the minority.

But kudos to Zack Lyon,  for thinking this through:

When I listened to NPR’s audio obituary thing for Nate Dogg, I was originally just pissed to hear that so much of this less-than-three-minute tribute is dedicated to discussing how Nate’s singing made “hypersexual, misogynistic lyrics” sound listenable to a liberal audience, and making that his main hook — like, of course NPR would pull that shit in a tiny overview of a man’s entire life, making sure he’s whitewashed enough to properly mourn. It’s sad, because they’re close to getting to an actual, important point: Nate Dogg was not a soul or R&B singer, he was a hip-hop singer, and he sang lyrics you would only expect to hear rapped, and it does create this weird dissonance you won’t hear in an R. Kelly song.

* Ice Cube’s Death Certificate and Ice T’s O.G. Original Gangster are two examples of this shit done right.

Nowhere film: Nowhere Boy

Let’s assume you know nothing about John Lennon’s early years. Kristin Scott-Thomas’ Aunt Mimi, Lennon’s guardian for most of his life, is convincing from her first moment: cold, snappish, beholden to a lower-middle-class ethos to which she is furiously attached. Like Olivia Williams, Scott-Thomas projects the most empathy when she’s showing up a man without whipping herself into a self-righteous froth.

Nowhere Boy needs it though. According to this realization of Lennon’s Liverpool adolescence, Mimi spent a lot of time reading and smoking; but because Nowhere Boy encourages an audience of Beatlemaniacs to project its own memories of growing up with several decades’ worth of hagiographies and memoirs, we see broad strokes and tags (Lennon’s mum teaching John to play guitar on the banjo) instead of the smaller gestures of truth (what is Mimi reading, or what kind of books does this thoroughly conservative woman read?). As Lennon, poor Aaron Johnson, pudgy and tentative, can’t even compete with the hagiographies. Despite four or five scenes of Lennon and best friend Pete Shotton (Josh Bolt) sharing intense confidences over walks in the park, we get little sense of Lennon’s singularity: his ambition, penchant for verbal and physical violence, confidence, charm.

One performance is scarily true. When a dark-haired boy with a wary, guarded expression, carnation in his lapel, approaches a drunken John about joining the Quarrymen, we’re not just watching the meet-cute of the most famous rock songwriting team in history — we’re watching the origins of a restless schemer whose ambitions would eventually surpass Lennon’s yet hasn’t learned how to manipulate his looks for favors. It helps that, as Paul McCartney, Thomas Brodie Sangster is Billy Budd cute — the kind of boy molested by sailors. He finds his prey; he never takes his eyes off Lennon. Writer-director Sam Taylor-Wood, in his only display of imaginative elision, doesn’t emphasize McCartney’s role; he was one of three guitarists, both of whom are overshadowed by the arrival of Paul’s schoolfriend George Harrison (Sam Bell). Taylor-Wood denies us the chance to gloat when the Holy Trinity is assembled.