Monthly Archives: May 2013

Targets of scorn accorded their place

Carl Wilson:

In recent years, most people, and critics in particular, have become more live-and-let-live about one another’s varying musical tastes. Teen-pop, dance music, metal, and even Phil Collins, to name a few frequent targets of scorn, are all accorded their place. Dump on Kanye or Ke$ha or Justin Bieber and watch how quickly we critics will come back at you. This may represent a swing of the pendulum back to pop writing’s roots in questioning the divide between high art and supposed trash. Or it may be because of MP3s and YouTube exposing us all to more material, or something more socially complex.

Free stuff has a leveling effect on taste, I’ll grant, but Wilson’s second sentence does not prove the first. My generation now rules the rock-strewn, desolate land of rockcrit. We grew up not taking Phil Collins for granted. It does not mean, however, that Phil Collins, New Order, and Robbie Nevil are equal. If “poptimism” exists, it does not dispense value like fliers after church. Instead, it grapples with the implications of smashing together two words: it is optimistic about pop.

As for The National, I like them more than Wilson. My SPIN review of Trouble Will Fine Me.

Singles 5/31

I’ve gotten pretty good at ratings, so I’m embarrassed to admit I’d bump “Dirty Laundry” up to a 7 now: over the sparest, hookiest The-Dream arrangement in years, Rowland embraces the psychodrama like an middling actress instructed to keep her effects simple. She’s touching.

As for the rest, I haven’t seen such a run of average results since the post-Lincoln/pre-Teddy presidents.

Click on links for full reviews.

Beyoncé – Grown Woman (7)
David Bowie – The Next Day (7)
Gerardo Ortiz – Dámaso (6)
Naughty Boy ft. Sam Smith – La La La (6)
T-Ara N4 – Countryside Life (6)
Kelly Rowland – Dirty Laundry (5)
Busta Rhymes – Twerk It (5)
Solange ft. Kendrick Lamar – Looks Good With Trouble (5)
Mark Owen – Stars (5)
Dizzee Rascal ft. Robbie Williams – Goin’ Crazy (5)
Shiina Ringo – Irohanihoheto (5)
Nine Muses – Wild (5)
B*Witched – Love and Money (5)
Gold Panda – Brazil (5)
Bruno Mars – Treasure (4)
Kenny Chesney ft. The Wailers & Elan – Spread the Love (3)

Coitus terminus

In Frank Rich’s elegyto his deceased theater mentor – “the most intimate relationship I’d had with any nonparental adult,” he writes – a sense of triumph over How Far We’ve Come is indivisible from the sexual and social amnesia that has befogged young gay minds:

This history is not ancient. My own concern about its preservation comes not from some abstract sense of social justice but from my personal experience. I grew up in the Washington, D.C., of the sixties, where the impact of racism was visible everywhere, front and center in my political education. But gays—what gays? No one I knew ever saw them or mentioned them. Not until the eighties—when, like many Americans of that time, I was finally forced by the rampaging AIDS crisis to think seriously about gay people—did I fully recognize that a gay man had been my surrogate parent in high school, when I needed one most. Not that I ever thought to thank him for it.

For younger Americans, straight and gay, the old amnesia gene, the most durable in our national DNA, has already kicked in. Larry Kramer was driven to hand out flyers at the 2011 revival of The Normal Heart, his 1986 play about the AIDS epidemic, to remind theatergoers that everything onstage actually happened. Similar handbills may soon be required for The Laramie Project, the play about the 1998 murder of the gay college student Matthew Shepard. A new Broadway drama, The Nance, excavates an even older chapter in this chronicle: Nathan Lane plays a gay burlesque comic of 1937 who is hounded and imprisoned by Fiorello La Guardia’s vice cops. Douglas Carter Beane, its 53-year-old gay author, is flabbergasted by how many young gay theatergoers have no idea “it was ever that way.”

A member of the generation that watched AIDS metastasize from a gay plague to a heterosexual crisis in the late eighties, I watched attitudes change before my eyes. Before my first group of classroom students in 1998 I could not drop one hint about my personal life; in 2004, a student confessed in an essay – which he insisted on not sharing with the class – that he’d served as witness to a friend’s commitment ceremony to another boy. Last year, after being asked how he spent his weekend, a stocky laughing journalism major recounted without a moment’s discomfort a double date with his girlfriend, best friend, and the best friend’s boyfriend. The closet’s evil rests in allowing a homosexual to hide in plain sight; now, the move towards confession created the banality of sameness — what we’ve always wanted?

On my last couple of encounters the brazenness with which trysts dismiss the rudiments of safe sex astounded me. No flippant descriptions of the discomfort of wearing condoms (and what to do with them once used), or obligatory eye rolls at the interruption of a shall we say privileged moment – the guys were dumbfounded, as if I’d asked them if they spoke Finnish. One of those assignations ended early; let’s call it coitus terminus. Like the Spanish flu or Black Death, AIDS exists as a multiple choice answer in a social studies test. Millions of American teens will mature as citizens of a country whose landscape is altered thanks to the collaborations between their forebears and straight “allies.” But crimes will persist. Surrenders to causes with more money and political will behind them remain. In Miami the intersection of race, education, and masculinity produces bone-chilling statistics. When millions of Facebook subscribers switched profile photos into a Human Rights Campaign logo in March to celebrate “marriage equality,” I balked. We’re not post-gay. We’re not even gay yet.

The state with the prettiest name, pt #2351

Better late than never, better toothless than gumless:

Florida drivers: Soon you’ll no longer be able to text and drive, but you and the guy in the next lane will be allowed to text if you’re stopped in traffic or at a red light.

A law signed Tuesday by Gov. Rick Scott bans manual texting and emailing while driving. The penalties are light, amounting to $30 plus court costs for a first offense and $60 for a second offense.

The ban goes into effect Oct. 1 and makes texting while driving a “secondary” offense, meaning a driver would have to be pulled over for some other violation, like careless driving, to get a texting ticket.

“It’s certainly not a cure-all, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction,” Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said. “It’s a hazardous, dangerous activity. Whether a vehicle’s going 60 or 65 mph on I-95 or 25 mph in a residential neighborhood, nobody wants a distracted driver behind the wheel.”

Unfortunately, Israel said, if law enforcement officers spot a driver who is texting and driving but not committing any other traffic violation, they still have no recourse.

“They have to see a primary offense or we’re going to let them continue,” Israel said. “And that’s the tough part about it, watching someone continue on their way.”

I’m a lengthy monologue: Iggy Pop’s New Values

220px-Iggy_Pop-New_Values_(album_cover)Phil Freeman, one of my favorite rock critics, reexamines Iggy Pop’s New Values, released in 1979 after Ig’s Bowie collaborations and on which he writes almost every song himself as if to prove he can do things himself. I bought it recently. The surprise was seeing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers sideman Scott Thurston playing many instruments, but after the tunes sank in it made sense: this is an album whose punk genes are exposed in Iggy’s contrapuntal, staccato vocals and the way in which he comes at rhythm sideways, not in the arrangements, which to my ears sound like Mott The Hoople wrestling with horn charts and percussion; the guitar on “I”m Bored” even sounds like a pretzeled Captain Beefheart bit from the same era straightened and desalted. Unlike Phil I like the chairman of the bored line and Iggy, who’s fancied himself a primitive since the Stooges days, gets away with “African Man.” We’d have August Darnell soon enough.

When he and Bowie reunited, they were worth a million in prizes, thanks to the success of Let’s Dance and Tonight and their Iggy copyrights. Blah Blah Blah, the album that Bowie produced and co-wrote and made in his words “commercial as hell,” is maligned these days but heard past the thudding drum machines, hamhanded power chords, and dinky DX-7 lines recasts New Values in eighties shoulder pads; it’s wacky and fun, preferable to Iggy’s “mature” 1990 Don Was collaboration Brick By Brick (with a John Hiatt cover!) and far better than Bowie’s own songs. Chris O’Leary explains BBB’s vices and virtues here.

Books #7: Ike’s Bluff

Another in the recent series of reexaminations of Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency, Ike’s Bluff uses Ike’s prodigious card skills as the prism through which to view a foreign policy that relied on feints and the threat of overwhelming force. Although loath to fight a nuclear war with China over Quemoy and Matsu, and resistant to French, British, and Israeli bleatings of despair over Egypt’s effrontery in taking control of the Suez, Eisenhower never once publicly ruled out the possibility of aiming thermonuclear weapons at threats, confident that world leaders would know he meant what he said. Evan Thomas, a solid writer who heretofore had subsumed historical narrative beneath glossy magazine narrative, eschews parallels between Ike’s time and ours; we learn no lessons about the presidency other than to at all times debate the merits and demerits of policy proposals, and, when possible, command the largest army in modern times. No president, Thomas argues, can emulate Eisenhower because none of them served as victorious Supreme Commander during World War II. None can say he knew Stalin, Chiang Kai-Shek, and De Gaulle. To no surprise when analyzing a book beholden to a thesis that its subject possessed wizardly powers of concealment, I balked at Thomas’ reluctance to reckon with the consequences of Ike’s infatuation with covert operations. Conceding in asides that his book does not concern itself with such things does not absolve the author of the responsibility of explaining how putting the shah’s fat ass on the Peacock Throne or destabilizing Guatemala at the behest of United Fruit Company burnished Eisenhower’s reputation for democratic statesmanship. The Bay of Pigs survives in Thomas’ account as an excuse to reprise the can-we-hope-it’s-apocryphal account of an anguished, sobbing JFK calling his Old Frontier predecessor to Camp David for tough love.

But Ike still emerges as the most impressive post-WWII president, canny about power, impatient about received wisdom, and ruthless about maintaining a public image of smiling banality; it’s impossible to believe that reporters thought this man the Reagan of his time unless they wanted to be deceived. He used the dyspeptic John Foster Dulles as a mouthpiece and could thus bask in his astonishing seventy percent approval rating, which held for most of his presidency (and remains unequaled by successors, even Saint Ronnie).