Don’t open your eyes you won’t like what you see: the best of Trent Reznor

In 1990 when I discovered Consolidated and Meat Beat Manifesto, Nine Inch Nails didn’t come up. Melodic, entranced by rock star poses, Trent Reznor had no patience for the happiness-in-slavery submission to beats and noise of industrial, which marked him as a star from the beginning — NIN, not Consolidated, were asked to headline Lollapalooza in 1991. I’m not a fan — this kind of hysteria makes me question the idea of sex itself, for if you’re heaving and shouting and lisping and drooling so strenuously, you must be more desperate than I need at the moment. But I can’t deny Reznor’s manipulation of self-destructive zones that stop just short of demilitarized zones. His most sustained recording is Broken, when he figured out the connections between Adam Ant and Adam and Eve. I wish I had seen his 1995 tour with David Bowie, with whom he formed a poignant bond: a tour that didn’t deserve its slings, according to the clips I’ve watched

1. Happiness in Slavery
2. March of the Pigs
3. Hurt
4. Head Like a Hole
5. Only
6. The Perfect Drug
7. The Day the World Went Away
8. David Bowie – I’m Afraid of Americans
9. Down On It
10. Kinda I Want To
11. Mr. Self-Destruct
12. Eraser
13. Wish
14. We’re In This Together.
15. Physical

For the Spotify playlist, check out the Dowsers.

Trump: ‘a pustule of ego’

Besides reminding me that Pushkin retold a story I had loved as a child but whose authorship I never knew, Rebecca Solnit accurately diagnoses the Trumpian pathology in an aphoristic manner I’m a sucker for:

Equality keeps us honest. Our peers tell us who we are and how we are doing, providing that service in personal life that a free press does in a functioning society. Inequality creates liars and delusion. The powerless need to dissemble—that’s how slaves, servants, and women got the reputation of being liars—and the powerful grow stupid on the lies they require from their subordinates and on the lack of need to know about others who are nobody, who don’t count, who’ve been silenced or trained to please. This is why I always pair privilege with obliviousness; obliviousness is privilege’s form of deprivation. When you don’t hear others, you don’t imagine them, they become unreal, and you are left in the wasteland of a world with only yourself in it, and that surely makes you starving, though you know not for what, if you have ceased to imagine others exist in any true deep way that matters. This is about a need for which we hardly have language or at least not a familiar conversation…

…A man who wished to become the most powerful man in the world, and by happenstance and intervention and a series of disasters was granted his wish. Surely he must have imagined that more power meant more flattery, a grander image, a greater hall of mirrors reflecting back his magnificence. But he misunderstood power and prominence. This man had bullied friends and acquaintances, wives and servants, and he bullied facts and truths, insistent that he was more than they were, than it is, that it too must yield to his will. It did not, but the people he bullied pretended that it did. Or perhaps it was that he was a salesman, throwing out one pitch after another, abandoning each one as soon as it left his mouth. A hungry ghost always wants the next thing, not the last thing.

Although a synthesis of laugh lines and op eds composed since June 2015 and occasionally just too fussy, this essay aims for posterity. When the first contemporaneous histories about this White House get written, “The Loneliness of Donald Trump” will get cited.

Till your kiss helped me name it: the best of Carole King & Gerry Goffin

As the list shows, I was interested in the best performances of Goffin-King songs, together and apart. Two artists appeared twice for definitive performances of Goffin-King’s material; one artist appeared performing two different songs. Lacking familiarity with King’s later solo work, I included a couple of obvious favorites that to my ears demonstrate why the NYC native’s plainsong was as revolutionary as Lou Reed’s. Thinking through fraught emotional states — Goffin-King’s best songs captured this phenomenon. And no one before punk wrote as well about a woman’s sexual awakening.

1. The Drifters – Some Kind of Wonderful
2. Bryan Ferry – Will You Love Me Tomorrow
3. Dusty Springfield – No Easy Way Down
4. Aretha Franklin – (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman
5. The Monkees – Pleasant Valley Sunday
6. The Crystals – He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)
7. Skeeter Davis – I Can’t Stay Mad at You
8. Little Eva – The Loco-Motion
9. The Chiffons – One Fine Day
10. Carole King – You’ve Got a Friend
11. Martika – I Feel the Earth Move
12. Dusty Springfield – Don’t Forget About Me
13. Bobby Vee – Take Good Care of My Baby
14. Carole King – Smackwater Jack
15. Freddie Scott – Hey Girl
16. James Taylor – You’ve Got a Friend
17. Carole King – It’s Too Late
18. Gene Pitney – Every Breath You Take
19. The Shirelles – Will You Love Me Tomorrow
20. The Crickets – Don’t Ever Change

The satisfaction of aloneness

The immersive blandness of a Target on the Sunday morning of a long weekend – my church. The sheer acreage of the average store is enough to stagger me, although so long as I can find the frozen blueberries and a V-necked Mossimo tee I’m satisfied. Usually these grocery visits happen on Saturdays, followed by a movie, lunch, pool time now that it’s summer, and a restorative visit to the coffee shop around the corner, where I’ll punch away at a review of that morning’s film, work on a draft of an actual assignment, grade papers, read, or jot down that evening’s list. Often I will have made plans with friends for drinks and dinner in a couple of hours. Sometimes I won’t. Despite my age and habits, I still carry like the genetic code for diabetes or alcoholism the traces of my high school obsession with going out every Friday and Saturday; if I didn’t, I was a loser doomed to lose out on something I wasn’t told about. My students don’t give a damn, even the ones twenty-one and older, I’ve noticed. To make a broad generational claim, these young adults, brought up on video games and smartphones, lack the urge for going; the social imperative is tinged with ambivalence. I admire them.

The new queerness is bachelorhood. Over lunch yesterday a friend I haven’t seen since the Clinton years admitted she liked going to dinner alone. On its face this admission isn’t controversial. As I drove home, I reminded myself that the two of us, products of Cuban-born parents (two-parent homes, I must add, a rarity) grew up under the assumption if not the directive to emulate the example in front of us. A homosexual who came out rather late and having read enough about homosexuality to critique my moves and responses once I discovered that kissing men meant dealing with hair, I hooked up with lots of guys while only occasionally succumbing to that phenomenon, heady if you let it, whereby the guy with whom I’ve had a marvelous time might be the most marvelous guy I’ll ever meet. “I craved relationships that matched the tension and ardor in my favorite novels and poem,” I wrote last year. Often he politely backed away. More often I did. A handful of times the tryst deepened, hammered into A Relationship. Always in me, though, the instinct to recede. I’d think about the short story I wanted to finish or the couscous I had to buy, with the thought of the solitude or the drive to the store transforming into desires as acute as lust itself. I won’t share statistics, but I ended almost every relationship.

In a post-Obergefell landscape of routinized courtship, I’m slightly out of step with the times but reveling in the new liberty: how easier in 2017 to be the queer man or woman you want to be. Years of denial and familial contempt turn coupling – in every sense – into expiatory acts. I admire the rhetoric of Galway Kinnell’s “When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone,” his poetic account of how a person steps out of the shadows. We’re making up for lost time, compensating for the loneliness of the teen years – I understand.

Yet for me the aloneness is the expiation. Before I realized my sexual leanings, I accepted the essential fact of the aloneness. I know men and women older than I who can’t have a meal by themselves. A triumph for me then, an inessential one. Choices have consequences, though: being needed sometimes baffles me, and my central mainframe will malfunction around children; and old age in this country is cruel without savings or relatives. Aloneness isn’t hermitude, for I still require constant refreshment from friends whom I regard as extensions of myself (“Friends are fables of our loneliness,” J.D. McClatchy observed in his poem “An Essay on Friendship”). Besides, a network of bartenders depend on me.

Manuel Noriega: exit to Van Halen

In the early 2000s a colleague at the bookstore sealed a box with duct tape. “For Noriega,” she said. I waited for the punchline. It turns out that the former Panamanian dictator read the New York Times Book Review regularly, demanding care packages of the latest best sellers and the occasional work of political philosophy. One of the pieces of trivia I learned reading Glenn Garvin’s obit is the existence of Thought, Doctrine and Praxis Of Comandante Noriega, ” his attempt to imitate Mao Tse-Tung’s little red book of Marxist aphorisms.” Noriega wasn’t a Marxist nor much of an aphorist; he would not have clung to power in the eighties indulged by Washington had he been either. When he boasted that he had dirt on George H.W. Bush, I believed him: the former CIA chief claimed he was “out of the loop” when Ronald Reagan remembered he forgot to authorize the sale of missiles to Iran, the excess profits of which were funneled to the Contras. Moreover, American dealings with Noriega stretch back to the Johnson administration, during which, according to a New York Times story published a month after Bush’s election, “Mr. Noriega was a rising star in the Panamanian military and should be actively cultivated as a C.I.A. ‘asset.'” Later, Noriega, taking advantage of Sun King Reagan smiling benignly, sold thousands of Panamanian passports to the Cuban government, at five grand a piece.

Well. So goes another scion who takes his secrets about the George Bush with him.

What else your old heart can take: the best of Rosanne Cash

I’ve been writing about Rosanne Cash a long time. Like Nick Lowe, she continues recording albums that appeal to a fervent base of which I’m no longer a part. I don’t blame her for no longer wanting to rock, but to my ears the staid arrangements of the last couple albums don’t justice to a voice that had the bruises and crinkles of an ordinary person’s; her songs need more color and kinetics than she and collaborator/husband John Leventhal are prepared to offer in 2017. My karaoke version of “Seven Year Ache” adds color and kinetics, I hope.

The only album not represented on this list is 2003’s Rules of Travel, which I don’t own.

1. Hold On
2. Seven Year Ache
3. Runaway Train
4. Blue Moon with Heartache
5. Never Alone
6. Rosie Strikes Bback
7. Halfway House
8. I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me
9. Somewhere, Somehow
10. Only Human
11. The Real Me
12. Never Be You
13. The Way We Make a Broken Heart
14. Black Cadillac
15. Dance with the Tiger
16. Somewhere in the Stars
17. Hometown Blues
18. Sleeping in Paris
19. Dreams Are Not My Home
20. Girl from the North Country
21. When The Master Calls the Roll
22. If You Ever Change Your Mind
23. It’s Such a Small World (w/Rodney Crowell)
24. I Don’t Wanna Spoil the Party
25. I Want a Cure

Movie Love #3

Alien: Covenant, dir. Ridley Scott (2017).

Reviewed here.


Esteros, dir. Papu Curotto (2016).

Two childhood friends reunite and return to the rural Argentina farm where they had flirted with the idea of a sexual relationship. One friend has long bangs, the other closely cropped hair — guess which is an artist and openly gay? The denouement is as believable as the stubble.


* Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, dir. David Lynch (1992).

My introduction twenty-four years ago to a series I didn’t watch in its regular run shares awful, ungainly scenes with terrifying must-see ones, none so terrifying than David Bowie in Tin Machine flowered shirt dissolving before a glimpse of garbongozia. Less coherent than Mulholland Drive, Fire Walk with Me nevertheless is Lynch’s best film between Blue Velvet and The Straight Story: the most lurid teen-gone-bad film in history.


The Tree of Wooden Clogs, dir. Ermanno Olmi (1978).

Reissued in excellent Criterion-o-Scope, this Palme d’Or winner has an unnerving serenity: pigs get slaughtered, the seasons change. The best bits: the peasant father inching closer to picking up a dropped coin but ignores the socialist in the square calling for revolution; and a married couple that moves to Pisa register their mounting sexual anxiety.


* In a Year of 13 Moons, dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1978).


Singles 5/26

In one of 2017’s most competitive weeks, Brooklyn punk-pop band beats longtime punk-pop trio from Tennessee for the top slot while two superb K-pop singles (“Palette,” “Night Rather Than Day”) bask in the knowledge that next week I’ll prefer them. If you haven’t heard Charly Bliss, “Percolator” is a solid intro. If you’ve never heard LCD Soundsystem, “call the police” is not a solid intro.

Charly Bliss – Percolator (8)
Paramore – Told You So (8)
IU ft. G-Dragon – Palette (7)
EXID – Night Rather Than Day (7)
Winner – Really Really (7)
Tove Styrke – Say My Name (7)
Phoenix – J-Boy (6)
Miley Cyrus – Malibu (6)
LCD Soundsystem – call the police (4)
Royal Blood – Lights Out (4)
Logic ft. Alessia Cara & Khalid – 1-800-273-8255 (3)
Bibi H – How It Is (Wap Bap…) (0)

Best anti-war songs

“My idea has always been that if we could bring the mothers of the various nations together, then there would be no more war.” — Howards End

Mrs. Wilcox was correct, only substitute “awesome bangers” instead of “mothers.”

Also, Mrs. Wilcox was wrong.

1. Killer Mike – Reagan
2. John Prine – Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore
3. The Stooges – 1970
4. Metallica – Disposable Heroes
5. The Cure – One Hundred Years
6. XTC – Generals and Majors
7. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Fortunate Son
8. Culture Club – The War Song
9. Sinead O’Connor – Drink Before the War
10. Ice T – You Shoulda Killed Me Last Year
11. Kate Bush – Army Dreamers
12. Alan Jackson – Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)
13. New Order – Love Vigilantes
14. U2 – Seconds
15. PJ Harvey – The Words That Maketh Murder
16. Guns N’ Roses – Civil War
17. Kanye West- Jesus Walks
18. Prince and the Revolution – America
19. The Clash – Charlie Don’t Surf
20. Elvis Presley – If I Can Dream
21. Gang of Four – I Love a Man in a Uniform
22. Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Two Tribes
23. George Harrison – Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)
24. Huey Lewis and the News – Walking on a Thin Line
25. Merle Haggard – That’s the News
26. Bob Dylan – Masters of War
27. Outkast – B.O.B.
28. Drive-By Truckers – Home Front
29. Loretta Lynn – Dear Uncle Sam
30. The Isley Brothers – Harvest for the World
31. Edwin Starr – War
32. Lupe Fiasco – Words I Never Said
33. Sleater-Kinney – Step Aside
34. Mos Def – Mathematics
35. Mekons – Hate is the New Love

You’re so nice on drugs: the best of Nick Lowe

A pub rocker whose soul lay in country, Nick Lowe began as a smart ass who lost interest in jokes, hence his smarts. For a while, though, this punk fellow traveler released several of the funniest singles of the new wave era; it’s amazing that he got as high as #12 at the heart of the disco era with “Cruel to Be Kind.” My pick hit is a b-side that finds him riding on the “Foggy Notion” bass line through the heart of the city, looking for big kicks and plain scraps; my favorite album is the long out of print and soon to be re-released Nick the Knife, on which for the last time he balances the sweet and the sour. I’ve given those post-Party of One albums several chances, and, boy, the guy who wrote the wittiest Bowie send-up ever had reduced himself to coming up with titles like “You Stabbed Me in the Front.” My first Humanizing the Vacuum post was a review of 2007’s At My Age, still a bore.

1. Heart of the City
2. Cruel to Be Kind
3. (I Love the Sound of) Breaking Glass
4. Big Kick, Plain Scrap!
5. And So It Goes
6. Music For Money
7. Cracking Up
8. Marie Prevost
9. Nutted by Reality
10. Little Hitler
11. American Squirm
12. Let Me Kiss Ya
13. Ragin’ Eyes
14. Rocky Road
15. The Beast in Me
16. Too Many Teardrops
17. Indoor Fireworks
18 Born Fighter
19. Half a Boy and Half a Man
20. The Rose of England
21. Soulful Wind
22. Time Wounds All Heels
23. What’s Shakin’ on the Hill
24. True Love on a Gravel Road
25. Who Was That Man?

Covering the Kushner-Russia story

The New York Times and the Washington Post have outdone themselves uncovering the rot beneath every stone of the Trump administration, but it doesn’t mean the reporting hasn’t had flaws. Having each published stories about Trump son in law Jared Kushner’s secret communications with the Kremlin, the news organizations offered subtle shades:

n the New York Times’ innocuous version of events “the idea was to have Mr. Flynn speak directly with a senior military official in Moscow to discuss Syria and other security issues.” For the president-elect’s incoming National Security Advisor to conduct direct talks about ongoing military operations with a foreign government outside the auspices of the American government would be highly unorthodox but not necessarily indicative of anything more nefarious than Flynn’s deep distrust for an Obama administration national security team that, after all, fired him.

This explanation is, however, somewhat difficult to square with the key claim of the Washington Post’s report which is that Kushner not only asked Kislyak to set up a line of communication with Moscow, but specifically suggested “using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring” by the American government.

The idea of discussions between Russia and the incoming administration seems innocent enough on its own terms, but the apparent effort to set up a line of communications that would be concealed from the American government suggests something more sinister.

To watch the coverage last night and this morning is to note that the “innocuous” version has taken hold, or, more accurately, a mishmash of both stories

Why, as Yglesias, remarks, the administration would require access to Russia’s diplomatic communication channels to open secret talks with Syria is a question no one’s answered. As for Russia, “the prospect that he may have been jockeying for Chinese or Russian financiers to bail out him and his family from a potentially disastrous investment at 666 Fifth Avenue” looks like the straightest line, and it’s surprised me that few pundits have made this obvious point.

Queerture feature: ‘Alien: Covenant’

Fans who’ve dreamed of helping Michael Fassbender with a fingering should race to any theater showing Alien: Covenant. Playing the synthetic Walter and his less advanced but more erudite earlier model David, Fassbender has a scene in which the latter shows the former how to properly play a flute. Director Ridley Scott frames and lights the twins like Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore tonguing over pottery in Ghost. It’s Alien: Covenant‘s tenderest scene and one of the few moments of sexual tension in Scott’s work. The rest of Alien: Covenant is a competent trudge through worn tropes; Scott shows more craft than this series deserves at this point, and Fassbender gets his best showcase for his bitch-priss elegance in years but the last 50 minutes or so are a surrender into nonsense.

In this entry, set before events in the original trilogy, the MacGuffin is the two thousand colonists on board the Covenant headed towards Origae-6. James Franco plays the ship’s captain, fortunately killed within minutes by a neutrino explosion, a development that inspired more applause in the theater than anything we saw in the next two hours. Ranking officer Oram takes over, played by Billy Crudup in a performance designed to flaunt those genetic marvels called his cheekbones as slavishly as possible. After their ship picks up a transmission from a world whose surface schematics suggest an environment similar to Earth’s, Oram orders the ship to head for it. The deciding factor? The crew picks up a John Denver song, which any sensible sort would wait out until Boz Scaggs or Steely Dan get an airing; but the crew of the Covenant is not much smarter than their earlier/later incarnations and a good deal dumber. They haven’t been on the planet’s surface for more than two seconds before Oram is planning to build condos in wheat fields. Meanwhile members of his command crew disturb piles of what looks like horse puckey, breathing in a black film that turns their bodies into hosts for — well.

The rest of Alien: Covenant consists of good actors like Demián Bichir and Carmen Ejogo getting eviscerated or incinerated in the ruins of a fallen city where long-haired David, the last member of the previous film’s Prometheus, rules an empire of frozen embryos, discarded genetic experiments, and recitations of “Ozymandias.” Trying to impress Walter, he gets the poet wrong — a detail that the viewing audience’s only English major noticed and for which he rewarded himself with an extra fistful of popcorn. In dialogue scenes set amid the grey-hued tumult of the ion storms that rock the planet, Covenant recalls Blade Runner: indeed, David gets a couple of gaseous speeches about destiny and God and what-not that remind me of pickup lines I’ve heard chicken hawks use on less savvy twinks.

A master of clammy surfaces and interior space that invariably looks like contemporaneous sketches for hotel lobbies (Blade Runner anticipates the design of a Hilton in 1985), Scott keeps the film bumping, but he can’t transcend John Logan and Dante Harper’s script, which, as I already noted, asks audiences to accept bald-faced stupidities for the sake of a monster movie. Why the hell is every member of the command crew married? Since when does a seasoned officer place his whims above a mission? Why does the script provide hints of Oram’s Christian faith but throw them away (possible answer: Scott is among the least spiritual of filmmakers). Why hasn’t communication technology improved since Aliens? I know the James Cameron flick is set later, but my quibble demonstrates the redundancy of Covenant. We’ve seen the creatures sneak into ships before; we’ve seen young women fight these creatures with help from the android. Watch Alien: Covenant for Fassbender, a performer who’s never convinced me he’s little else than a straight man’s idea of a gay fantasy but with a forked tongue — a xenomorph after an afternoon at Gold’s Gym.