Beat This Way: Queerdom, Conformity, and Suburbia

Ned:

I’ve found myself growing less, not more, conservative with time, less patient and less willing to tolerate certain things while eager to take in more outside of the preset path you’re supposed to follow, however implicitly. Perhaps that’s just age and experience — you get tired of the dumb-blowtorch-of-youth moves that you yourself happily tolerated or participated in when you were that age. (With me, I’m not too sure I ever tolerated them, but how much of that is rose-colored-glasses activity at work I’m not sure.) But if I’ve moved beyond ‘wow this is new to me completely and I’m just amazed!’ towards ‘this is the same goddamn thing AGAIN’ then it’s not because I’m irritated at those who use the old tools and approaches to plunge headlong into their own space, but at the cowards who can never fully check themselves and their own assumptions and who react to anything non-normative in their narrow scope of privilege with fear. Just FUCK THAT.

Well, “the space” Ned mentions has to interest me, otherwise we must pat intentions on the back (which I don’t think Ned means). As I age movies like Silver Linings Playbook and albums like The Suburbs aggravate me more than the usual rubbish precisely because their good intentions and workaday craftsmanship are a matter of course. Arcade Fire’s depiction of kids who find subdivisions repressive and anathema to febrile imaginations is to me a representation of a still point that means shit as we get older. The constriction of the music and the literalism of the words leave no room for a dialectic. If suburbia is so damn awful, then how did these guys once produce as fantastic(al) a song as “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”? Why are The Suburbs a boredom that needs transcending? Need you be so damn obvious? Funeral boasted a handful of songs as complex as “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),” their fascination in part resting in the confusion in which Rush’s Signals and Power Windows trafficked: these lawns and pre-fab houses are a grim, soul-crushing, beautiful place. Rush’s confusion, borne out in the material, was honest. Meanwhile Silver Linings Playbook is just risible: how many more times will male directors gratify the men — straight and gay — who get off on crazy-beautiful cliches about women? It is, as Ned said, the same goddamn thing AGAIN.

A DJ Sprinkles interview set us both off. One remark slayed me:

Personally, I found myself distanced from direct action groups because the terms of identification they cultivated out of strategic necessity so often folded back into essentialisms that excluded me on a personal level. So I was always advocating for the recognition and acceptance of something other than myself (like the way “born this way” ideologies take over discussions of LGBT rights… I consider myself more “beat this way,” my queer identity being primarily informed by material ostracism and harassment than by some mythological self-actualization and pride).

I’m a welter of contradictory impulses. My queerdom rests as much in my love of books as it does on sexuality. I live openly without fear of reprisal (or my ability to respond to reprisal) and would wince at the thought of living next to every guy being gay like me. Few things induce shuddering like “gay icon” (my adoration of Madonna doesn’t code as gay). Dialectics come easy to me because of these and other quasi-paradoxes I won’t mention. When Sprinkles said, “Explicitness can also be about closets,” she addressed my adoration, to borrow film critic Manny Farber’s phrase, of termite art: works that are quietly queer. Tennant-Lowe, John Ford, Wallace Stevens. If you suspect things are going too easy, stop for a moment.

I’m pollin’ DOWN: The best of Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen 1 Aug 1985Bruce Springsteen has voodoo — look at the number of critics who included 2012’s Wrecking Ball in their lists of the year’s best. I’m not immune: my favorite single of 2012, Eric Church’s “Springsteen,” used the guy’s name as a peg on which to hang a summer’s worth of memories and untold longings, signified by the whoa-whoa-whoa-oh-oh-ohs punctuating the chorus when it comes ’round. As for the rest, I’m a dilettante. Once I owned Born to Run. Noting the appearance of Nebraska and half of Darkness on the Edge of Town in my collection is like remembering to take my Vitamin C pill with my oatmeal. Every album since reconvening the E Street Band in 2007 chases after a mythos which he once grasped and clenched without strain (Magic‘s “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” is sleazo lust a la “Simply Irresistable” but twice as long).

For all his attraction to the tropes of adolescence like cars and girls and doing fast things with cars and fast girls, Springsteen’s adultness I never questioned either. When I bought Tunnel of Love on a whim in early ’95, a month before the release of Greatest Hits, its “adultness” impressed me. Twelve stately and rather beautiful tracks, meticulously programmed by Springsteen himself in most cases, depicted lusts, romances, failures, and redresses with which at twenty I was unacquainted but envied. I wanted to feel the narrator’s jealousy in “Brilliant Disguise” and “Two Faces” — then was old enough to rue it. It remains my favorite, enough for me to write a defense in 2007 for Stylus where none was needed.

I finally bought Born in the U.S.A. a year later – a first copy! A convert loving BITUSA in the nineties was as singular and weird a devotion as a Catholic boy venerating the Sacred Heart; this was the time when Bruce grew a goatee and hung hubcaps from his ears, released an acoustic album called The Ghost of Tom Joad, and had to accept feeble cool points from the likes of Rage Against The Machine’s hamfisted cover. But I still love it. Last year I sang the very, very unappreciated single “I’m Goin’ Down” at karaoke. About a quarter of 2002’s 9-11 we-shall-overcome The Rising transcends Brendan O’Brien’s terrible production; if you think Max Weinberg’s drums sound like Gatling guns in 1984, you might ask O’Brien what petroleum jelly he poured on the mixing board in 2002 that coats those drums and guitars. I’ll buy Born To Run again someday.

I don’t know what possessed me to create the ballot I submitted a couple weeks ago to ILM’s Springsteen poll. Look at all those slow ones. Look at “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” in the top three. But I endorse my album picks.

1. Downbound Train
2. Badlands
3. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
4. Tunnel of Love
5. Born in the USA
6. Out in the Streets
7. Wreck on the Highway
8. State Trooper
9. Born to Run
10. I’m Goin’ Down
11. Dancing in the Dark (Arthur Baker 12″ Blaster Mix)
12. One Step Up
13. Tougher Than the Rest
14. Because The Night
15. Valentine’s Day
16. Working on the Highway
17. My Hometown
18. Streets of Philadelphia
19. The Rising
20. Tenth Avenue Freeze Out
21. Cover Me
22. Atlantic City
23. Darkness on the Edge of Town
24. Brilliant Disguise
25. Prove It All Night
26. Two Faces
27. The Fuse
28. Sad Eyes
29. Shut Out the Light
30. The Ties That Bind
31. Wreck on the Highway
32. Roulette
33. Promised Land
34. Johnny 99
35. Radio Nowhere

C. Everett Koop and ACT-UP: In memoriam

Rectitude personified, projecting the full authority of the American federal government with epaulets and a Nebuchadnezzar beard, C. Everett Koop breathed life into the clay called the surgeon general. In a recounting of the grueling, forgotten confirmation battle, Michael Specter praises Koop for not viewing the truth and honesty as mutually exclusive:

Koop turned out to be a scientist who believed in data at least as deeply as he believed in God. And he proceeded to alienate nearly every supporter he had on the religious and political right. To fight the growing epidemic of AIDS, Koop recommended a program of compulsory sex education in schools, and argued that, by the time they reached third grade, children should be taught how to use condoms. He did not consider homosexuality morally acceptable—and he never changed his view about that. But he understood that viruses have no religion or sexual orientation and that H.I.V. was a virus. He campaigned vigorously against smoking in public spaces, saying that tobacco should be eliminated from American society by 2000. He was the first public official to state categorically that second-hand smoke causes cancer. Tobacco companies—and Jesse Helms, their biggest congressional ally—could hardly believe Koop’s treachery.

Jesse Helms appears early in How To Survive a Plague, David France’s 2012 documentary, musing on the Senate floor about stifling free speech if it “offends anyone.” This Academy Award-nominated documentary chronicles the success of ACT-UP lobbying for attention, money, open research, and availability, in that order, in the dark period between 1987 and 1995: a near-decade during which the bodies pile up (some, a a nurse relates, disposed of in black garbage bags) and a sense of profound moral turpitude paralyzes both a sitting president like George H.W. Bush, who in his inoffensive way, words falling like talcum powder on a table, advised AIDS victims during a 1992 debate to “change their behavior,” and a contender like Bill Clinton, revealed in spontaneous exchange with an ACT-UP leader as a spoiled, sinister narcissist.

If the Reagan and Bush administrations had had more men like C. Everett Koop, at war with his principles and upbringing but with a fealty to the grimness of certain facts, thousands more victims might have been saved. What’s important to remember is how my generation, reaching its sexual bloom at the dawn of protease inhibitors, and its successors have relegated ACT-UP to a footnote and Koop to “Bloom County” comic strips.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Sacrilege

Sex is a zero-sum game for Karen O — she and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs called It’s Blitz!‘s first single “Zero.” Over guitar ripples, the most basic drum pattern of Brian Chase’s career, and Karen’s voice beyond her natural range. the band raise a ruckus loud enough to put heaven on notice. But heaven has heard enough gospel choirs, even ones adulterated with a touch of distortion.

A pox on Bobby De Niro…

Herewith, my Oscar predictions:

PICTURE: Argo
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
ACTOR: Daniel Day-Lewis
ACTRESS: Jennifer Lawrence
SUPP ACTOR: Tommy Lee Jones
SUPP ACTRESS: Anne Hathaway
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Amour
ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Argo
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Robert Richardson
EDITING: Argo
FOREIGN: Amour
ANIMATED FEATURE: Brave
ANIMATED SHORT: Paperman
MAKEUP: The Hobbit
COSTUME DESIGN: Les Miserables
DOCUMENTARY: Searching For Sugar Man
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Life of Pi
COSTUME DESIGN: Anna Karenina
SOUND EDITING: Life of Pi
BEST SONG: “Skyfall”
SCORE: Life of Pi

Most wins: Life of Pi (3)

Singles 2/22

It’s with regret that I announce the release of Marsha Ambrosious’ first dud single. Eric Church and former Hootie Darius Rucker keep on truckin’. The trio Yelle record the best French pop song I’ve heard in years.

Click on links for full reviews.

Yelle – L’Amour Parfait (7)
Eric Church – Like Jesus Does (7)
Lil Wayne ft. Drake & Future – Bitches Love Me (6)
Marsha Ambrosius – Cold War (6)
Darius Rucker – Wagon Wheel (5)
Birds of Tokyo – Lanterns (5)
Dynasty ft. Talib Kweli – Stay Shinin’ (5)
P!nk ft. Nate Ruess – Just Give Me a Reason (5)
AKB48 – So Long! (4)
Hervé ft. Katie Stelmanis – Save Me (4)
A$AP Rocky ft. Skrillex & Birdy Nam Nam – Wild for the Night (3)
Muse – Supremacy (3)
Imagine Dragons – Radioactive (1)

Very Ferry

What I’ve heard of the agreeable, minor The Jazz Age is hilarious. Longtime collaborator Colin Good arranges Bryan Ferry’s Roxy and solo material – for some of which he ventured admirably far and deep – for an orchestra. As the title suggests, the tracks nod towards the flapper era, often in surprising ways. The melancholy of my favorite track “This Island Earth” gets a sinister vibe.

Scott Woods, Ned Raggett, and I add another chapter to the Roxy-Ferry magnum opus begun by Scott and me at the end of 2010. We wrung a lot from The Jazz Age and 2010’s Olympia.

Django, still chained

I don’t agree entirely with this exegesis — I’m steeped in enough film conventions to accept Django’s shooting prowess — but it underscores the degree to which Django Unchained relies on bad faith. The bounty hunter played by Christoph Waltz, Dr. King, makes louder reassuring noises about guilt than the former slave whose fate consists of saving the wife of German descent (Kerry Washington), while over the end credits Quentin Tarantino hints at no posse comitatus comprised of the, oh, entire state of Mississippi looking to avenge the annihilation of a white family. Jesse Williams reminds me of small irritations like:

In Django’s only real [non-imaginary] scene with his wife, Broomhilda, a flashback before they reunite, Django appears to save her from further whipping and escape to the woods with her. They finally begin to speak to each other; lovers communicating before us for the very first time until suddenly a contemporary singer’s voice is drowning out and distracting us from their [generic] dialogue. Why during the only definitive and incredibly vulnerable moment in the lives of Django and his wife, does the filmmaker literally construct an offscreen, off-century sound obstacle to detach us from the very characters whose story he claims to be telling? Guess who’s dialogue is never so irrelevant that it’s pitted against loud, off-century music? Dr. King, Calvin Candy or any other white person. It was our opportunity to align ourselves with our title character in his quest to get her back- it’s the only scene where they have a conversation in the entire film.

Other mendacities: Dr. King spends more time with Broomhilda than Django does, draws first blood against Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), and survives a bloodbath scored to a Tupac-James Brown mashup. Williams again:

The filmmaker is again “telling” the audience that Django is a bad ass, instead of taking the time to create a story wherein Django can actually BE a bad ass. And then, randomly, Tupac speaks over the track, “Expect me nigga. Expect me like you expect Jesus to come back. Expect me nigga.” What does that even mean? We’re now pretending this was Django’s master plan? Expect me nigga — expect me to abandon my wife then run out of bullets and then give my self up. GTFO.

Skyfall

The last Bond film I watched in the theatre was License to Kill, the last one I watched is the much-lauded On Her Majesty’s Secret Service two months ago. I ask nothing of Bond movies because I don’t ask for them. I wasn’t bored by Skyfall except for the shootout at the Scottish castle, but, my god, is this incoherent, as in “We have no idea what to do with Bardem as a bison-voiced catamite with a blond dye job, and Shanghaim and Julien Assanges, and Ralph Fiennes franchise shopping, and Macallan product placement, and this cool subway train.” Totally appropriate that Bond cares more about his car getting vaporized than the child sex slave (Bérénice Marlohe) he sexes in the shower. In a career full of accusations of misogyny, deserved and undeserved, this scene — and her fate — are the vilest and most sinister in the 007 filmography. It’s vile and sinister because director Sam Mendes and master cinematographer shoot this thing like it’s Serious Bond, thus the return to Bond-as-blackguard creates a fatal tonal imbalance. If it were Pierce Brosnan playing the scene, we’d shoot him ourselves. If it were Roger Moore, we’d be demanding his trial at The Hague. If it were Timothy Dalton we’d call his acting coach. If it were Sean Connery, he wouldn’t have played the scene.

As the whip cream on the key lime pie, Skyfall ends with the ’60s restored and reified: a sexually available Moneypenny and a male M.

About those Cosby sweaters

Heathcliff Huxtable’s sweaters were inseparable from the man: domesticated gaudiness. The story of Bill Cosby and his (in)famous sweaters:

Though writing the sweater phenomenon off as another meme-driven, nostalgic obsession doesn’t really hold up when you start watching reruns. The more episodes you’ve see, the more you realize that Cosby actually wore an insanely large collection of kaleidoscopic sweaters. What’s the deal?

In fact, Cosby adopted the fuzzy fashions out of necessity: Costume designer Sarah Lemire, who worked with Cosby from his sweater vest Jell-O ad days, says that intially, she had various suits made for Dr. Huxtable to wear. They quickly realized that Cosby, and by extension Dr. Huxtable, couldn’t really be at ease wearing a suit around the house. “Bill basically likes to be comfortable, and in his real life, he’s in his sweats or his PJs,” says Lemire.

I like this quote:

As for Mr. Cosby, does he still have any of his classic sweaters stashed away somewhere? “I have no idea what I have,” says Cosby. “I’m married 49 years, and all I know is I have one drawer left, and I don’t where the rest of my stuff is. I have a feeling, and some people say it sounds cruel, but I have a feeling upon my death, some 20 minutes after, eBay will explode.”

(h/t Andrew Sullivan)