Skip to the album’s second half and gasp: a synth bop on a Sleater-Kinney album? After years of extracting lurches, screeches, and divebombings from their guitars, the development feels gauche. On third listen, though, the track’s abrasions turn into charms, Corin Tucker’s iron-lunged vocal a reminder that discomfort has served as Sleater-Kinney’s non-oblique strategy since 1995. The track is One Beat’s “Prisstina,” about a pretty girl into science who inspires pity, admiration, and, after she discovers rock and roll, lust. Continue reading
So much of how listeners define the eighties Trevor Horn shaped: orchestras, sampled and live, treated as punctuative noise; the manipulation of artificial sound for rhythmic or melodic ends; understanding the Bowie/Ferry legacy of bombast as expression of genuine emotion. From Grace Jones to Rod Stewart, Horn has done favors for stars in need, and with ZZT Records and the help of NME journalist Paul Morley creating his own stars. In the case of prog stalwarts Yes, Horn recreated them like Unicron did the corpses of dead Decepticons; however, “Leave It” made the final cut, not “Owner of a Lonely Heart” — did Lindsey Buckingham listen to its Muppets vocals when recording “Caroline” and “Tango in the Night”? Also, he understood a particular kind of gay sleaze, an unusual virtue in a putatively straight producer.
1. ABC – Valentine’s Day
2. Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Two Tribes (Hibakusha)
3. Art of Noise – Moments in Love
4. Seal – Crazy
5. t.A.T.u. – All the Things You Said
6. Pet Shop Boys – Left to My Own Devices
7. Godley & Creme – Cry
8. Grace Jones – Slave to the Rhythm
9. Yes – Leave It
10. Dollar – Give Me Back My Heart
11. Rod Stewart -Rhythm of My Heart
12. Belle & Sebastien – Step into My Office, Baby
13. Paul McCartney – Figure of Eight
14. Spandau Ballet – Instinction
15. LeAnn Rimes – Can’t Fight the Moonlight
A few minutes after submitting to a request for online sodomy, I saw a buddy had logged into AOL Instant Messenger. The effect of the four beers had waned, but I was feeling bold. We chatted about the evening wed’d shared: the Ruby Tuesdays coworker he didn’t have the nerve to hit on, how badly his feet hurt, the aunt who was still awake and nagging him with the persistence of an insurrectionist. He had to work a double the next day. He hated his life. Continue reading
When I read that Kyle MacLachlan was cast as a gay dad in Giant Little Ones, I imagined him parodying his Dudley Do-Right rigidity and bland handsomeness — would Agent Dale Cooper and Jeffrey Beaumont play a circuit queen? Alas, he doesn’t. But in this Canadian film released last spring he scores a modest triumph regardless. As Ray, MacLachlan emanates the faint sorry of a man who has not lived up to his own expectations. After marrying Carly (Maria Bello), having two kids, and making enough money to live in a colorless — in every sense — Toronto suburb, a fellow he meets at work asks him out for coffee. He sys no, but he admits he couldn’t stop thinking about this fellow Brandon. Some time later he finds the nerve to ask Brandon out for coffee. This whirlwind romance prompts Ray to seek a divorce. Continue reading
A couple months ago at the MoPop Pop Conference, I presented a paper on the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub exactly three years ago today. A portion of the paper pivots around Elizabetn Bishop. I wrote:
As I’ve gotten older and my tolerance for many things broadens, a line from her valedictory villanelle “One Art” rattles around my head with the stubbornness of an Ariana Grande hook. “Then practice losing farther, losing faster.” An injunction. As imperative and weirdly transparent as David Byrne ordering listeners to “watch me work!” in 1978. Well, beginning in 1981, a gay community that had seen a remarkable acceleration of if not heterosexual respect then its mainstream visibility, saw the fallen around them: slowly at first, then they—we—lost farther, lost faster. Brothers who died at hospital furtively stuffed into garbage bags. The speed at which an ex we high-fived on Christopher Street on Tuesday was dead on Saturday. His parents wouldn’t take the call.
We lost farther, lost faster. It became, if not an art, then a craft. A practice.
In a new documentary about the plague years, the nurses at San Francisco General Hospital’s world-famous AIDS ward created by Cliff Morrison speak about themselves, colleagues, and patients without originality. Although a few have retired or moved on to other jobs, they project the modesty of men and women on whom the Angel of Death has left their mark. They don’t act for the camera. Laboring in twelve-hour shifts without quite adjusting to death rattles or Kaposi sarcoma, they offered macaroni, hugs, and smiles for patients whom parents and lovers had abandoned. The nurses’ spouses and lovers needed reassurances too. “We didn’t know we weren’t getting the disease,” a nurse reminds the audience, for they worked during the early years when even the most sophisticated hospitals hadn’t yet proscribed gloves and masks for casual contact — one of the many changes of law that the AIDS crisis wrought.
Devoted to the talking head in medium shot and the montage of file footage, Ward 5B is similarly unambitious, succeeding on the basis of doggedness and — this is important — a workaday empathy. Good people find pleasure in doing good, the film suggests, even when the good wears them down. David Denmark, nurse, says that he drowned the pain in alcohol every night. The patients in Ward 5B were sent there to die. (“A very, very unpleasant death,” nurse manager Alison Moed Paolercio says with characteristic understatement). You’re here to care for people, not cure people. To establish the sense of loss, directors Dan Krauss and Paul Haggis choose Blondie’s “Dreaming” as the soundtrack to archival film of bustling Castro Street in the late seventies. “This is our day, this is our day,” says an out-and-proud reveler surrounded by mustachioed hunks holding the hands of lovers.
As many times as I watch sequences like this over the years, I can’t shake a foreboding that often tastes like despair. The reckoning was coming. A conservative backlash accumulating clout, support, and mail-in funds since the Ike era would witness its greatest triumph in the election of Ronald Reagan. Ward 5B shows how the political trade winds blew much of that vitriol into the hospital. For Republican congressmen like William Dannemeyer the extra compassion the AIDS patients became — you guessed it — “special treatment.” Lorraine Day, one of the more sinister real life personages to appear in recent film, at first explains with an admirable lack of cant her reasons for testing for AIDS before surgery. Then she drops the phrase “political correctness.” Alarms should sound. Water finds its level: Day, a Holocaust denier who believes that Jews run a one world government, later married Dannemeyer (in 1989 the congressman read into the Congressional Record graphic descriptions of gay sex in what is surely the first time the term “rimming” entered a public document; Chaucerian mountebanks like Dannemeyer obsess over sex as much as they condemn it).
But the stories about Ward 5B don’t require enemies for focus. Caregiver Rita Rockett shares anecdotes about her hospital Sunday brunches, bringing burgers and pasta and soda. Hank Plante, one of the few openly gay reporters, shakes his head in admiration at the shrewdness with which the nurses insisted on getting the hugs and kisses with patients on film (she received hate mail for hugging one while pregnant). The banal horrors of precaution for once failed one nurse, called Jane Doe, who contracted HIV after a failed needlestick. She’s shown alive later in the film as if for suspense purposes, in one of the film’s lapses in judgment. Rudimentary framing also turns Day into a stock villain. Longtime Paul Haggis watchers will recognize these elements as typical of his bludgeoning kind of filmmaking, but for the most part he and Krauss defer to the intelligence of their subjects. “They did good things,” Paolercio says about her staff. Ward 5B ensures that their deeds will not be interred with their bones.
Here are some of the films I watched or re-watched in late May and early June: Continue reading
When Katherine Meizel invited me to write about the Pulse shootings for a MoPop Pop Conference panel called “Raise Your Voice: Music and Mass Violence,” I wanted nothing to do with it at at first. Not because of that anodyne excuse I’ve Moved On. Quite the opposite. I held on to the anger. I didn’t want to lose the anger. So I wrote a paper set a minute before the massacre began. I prefer it to my “Deadbeat Club” submission. Here it is: