Friday, December 26, 2008

My Top Ten Songs of 2008 (Note: No real relation to 2008)

I love year-end "Best Of" lists, but the music that's important to me in a given year is rarely from that year. I become really involved with a few songs per month, listening to them over and over again. My relationship with music I love hasn't changed fundamentally since I was 13 or so - I become immersed in things very quickly and want them around me always. These are the songs that have held special meaning for me this year. They're organized in a vaguely chronological, vaguely hierarchical fashion - which is to say, not really by any rhyme or reason.

10. Kate Bush - "Suspended in Gaffa"

My mother is an old-school Kate Bush fan. For the last few years she has been attempting to get me into Bush's oeuvre, but beyond a general admiration for its cover I was relatively nonplussed by The Kick Inside, Bush's first album. Until this past January, that is, when I acquired her entire discography after hearing the song "The Man With The Child In His Eyes" on the soundtrack of the middling James McAvoy vehicle Starter For One. I listened to the one-two punch of "Moving" and "The Saxophone Song" while trying to peck out stories in my study late at night; watched the bizarre video for "Wuthering Heights" and its weird YouTube responses; and fell asleep to the sexy three-song progression at the end of the album: "James and the Gold Gun," "Feel It," and "Oh To Be In Love." As my interest in Bush grew, so did my affection for her work, and I came to be as engaged by Hounds of Love, The Dreaming, and Bush's last album, Aerial. I listened to "Suspended in Gaffa" (from The Dreaming) more than any other song, captivated by its evocation of the line between ecstasy and depression.

9. Ladytron - "Ghosts"

I first heard Ladytron during my first year of college, in 2003, when a junior in high school sent me two mix CDs and a twenty-two page handwritten letter explaining the meaning of each song. "Seventeen" was one of the only songs I liked, and Ladytron became one of my favorite bands. On Halloween 2006 I saw them play at Webster Hall with CSS, a show so killer that I purchased tickets to a September 2007 McCarren Pool Chemical Brothers concert just because Ladytron was opening. Unfortunately, not even the arctic cool of this Scottish quintet could save the ultimate lameness of a Chemical Brothers concert. This song, on the other hand, captures what the band does best: glacial statements of emotional entanglement set against a killer beat.

8. CSS - "Believe Achieve"

I bought Cansei de Ser Sexy's 2006 debut after the aforementioned awesome Webster Hall concert. Like a lot of the things I venerate on this blog, CSS's sound has the appropriate quotient of grime to sex. I bought their sophomore effort, Donkey, in August and quickly singled this song out as my favorite. I burnt it onto a CD containing most of the tracks on this list and listened to it as I drove around my hometown, singing along.

7. Dawn Landes - "I'm In Love With The Night"

This beautiful song, for which I could find no corresponding YouTube, was introduced to me indrectly by Chris Onstad, author of Achewood, who linked Landes's song "Twilight" on his character Molly's blog. At the time I was living at a villa in Florence, where I would spend long afternoons writing on an old leather couch in the lobby. After I'd exhausted what the internet could offer me of Landes's songs, I broke down and bought her album Fireproof on iTunes. The entire thing is flawless. The ache in her voice sounds hopeful to me. Also awesome: her cover of Peter, Bjorn and John's "Young Folks":

6. Radiohead - "Lucky"

Although they're probably the most acclaimed band of my lifetime, it wasn't until this year that I "got into" Radiohead. My awakening took place during my time in Florence, when three friends and I went to Milan to see the band play a Roman amphitheater. Unsurprisingly, the band was killer live, especially their rendition of this song.

5. M83 - "Skin of the Night"

I bought M83's album Saturdays = Youth after the A.V. Club noted that "It's hard to imagine finding much to fault in an album that professes a serious devotion to the likes of the Thompson Twins and Kate Bush." Score! The album's spoken word interludes are sometimes embarrassing, but then again, the band is French. They probably think English sounds cool just the way we think French does. This endless unwinding song is as long as a prom night spent waiting for the sun to rise.

4. Cat Power - "Metal Heart"

Really any of the first three tracks on Cat Power's 2008 disc, Jukebox, could have made this list; "New York" and "Ramblin' (Woman)" are just as excellent as "Metal Heart." But the latter is a rerecorded song, originally a track from Moon Pix, so brilliantly reimagined that I didn't recognize it the first few times I heard it.

3. The B-52's - "Dancing Now"

I've always loved The B-52's, probably because I was six years old the summer that "Love Shack" came out. Their sound triggers a Pavlovian response in my brain forcing me to have a good time. I liked all of the songs on Funplex, but I listened to this one more than any other on that leather couch in Florence, dancing very subtly in my seat.

2. Crystal Castles - "Courtship Dating"

I feel like anything intelligent I try to write about Crystal Castles comes out kind of muted, so maybe I'll just be honest. I fucking love Crystal Castles. Their music is the only thing that makes me feel the way all music on Q101 did when I was 12 years old, like I'm riding on top of a train and the wind is in my face and anything is possible. I goddamn love this song. I can't explain how much I fucking love it. This band makes me want to punch somebody in the face and then make out with them.

1. The New Pornographers - "Centre for Holy Wars"

I am horrified that I can't find a YouTube link for this song. The best I can do is a kind of suspect link. It's a shame, because I've listened to this track (from Mass Romantic, the band's 2000 debut) more than any other song this year. I listen to it when I'm getting ready to go out, slipping across the wood floor of my apartment in my socks, and I listen to it when I'm hopping around in my sweats and glasses, hyping myself up to go running. I listen to it when I'm happy and when I'm sad. Maybe the New Pornographers are old news, but this year they - and especially this song - were big news to me. Something about this track has made me unflappably happy. Maybe it was the chorus, the soaring words "exactly where we are" - a sort of mantra about self-acceptance, if you will - that put "Centre for Holy Wars" at the top of my list.

Friday, December 19, 2008

"Dreams are poems, not stories"

"In Dreams" from Blue Velvet

Anna Domino - "Land of My Dreams"

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Masters, Legends

In the current Rolling Stone, there's an article (not online yet) about Orlando-based real life superhero Master Legend. ML is one of what the article calls "a growing network of similarly homespun caped crusaders emerg[ing] across the country," a tiny group of men and women who, taking inspiration from Golden- and Silver-Age comic books, dress up in bright colors to fight evildoers. I am not intimately familiar with this movement, despite being a devoted comics reader, but I feel that the article does these guys a disservice. Author Joshuah (nice spelling, bro) Bearman takes the easy way out, writing the profile in a tone that vacillates between mild derision and charmed amusement. According to Bearman, it's nice that these losers want to help people, but not terribly effective. Master Legend and both of his sidekicks - the Ace, and then his replacement Ace Gauge - are given the usual "fun weirdo" treatment. The article takes it as a given that their do-gooding is cute but ultimately useless, the machinations of men rendered impotent by poverty, abuse, and casual alcoholism.

I found the article's condescending tone tiresome, particularly the following passage:
Real Life Superheroes have a conflicted relationship with law enforcement. The hardcore types have a somewhat dated, Death Wish-era worldview, as if the cities are overrun by chain-saw-wielding clown gangs and the cops just can't control the streets anymore. The more civic-minded superheroes imagine themselves as informal police adjuncts, a secret society of costumed McGruffs. One of Master Legend's most prized possessions is a framed certificate of commendation from the Orange County Sheriff's Department, for the time he and the Disabler snapped into action after Hurricane Charley, helping to clear the roads and rescue people from the wreckage. "We were on the news and everything," Master Legend says. "The police recognized everything we did."

Since then, Master Legend claims that he has developed a police contact on the inside, his "very own Comissioner Gordon." To prove it, he gives me a phone number. I immediately call and leave a message; I've tried to confirm tales from other superheroes, only to discover that the police have never heard of them.

"I have friends in high places," Master Legend promises. "When they see the silver and black, they know who's coming."

As it turns out, Master Legend's police contact later gets in touch with Bearman and confirms that ML has been helpful to him. I just don't think ML, gentle and slightly deluded dork that he might be, deserves the condescension RS heaps on him. His tasks - protecting endangered gopher tortoises, handing out toiletries and clothing to the homeless during a staph infection epidemic, and the aforementioned hurricane relief work - are pretty fucking honorable. Bearman never gets over the hilarity of the fact that ML and his cohorts take their task so seriously. Little jabs sprinkled throughout the text ( "This whole movement is more than just fat guys in spandex," insists Superhero, himself a brawny guy in head-to-toe spandex, yuk yuk) function as winks to the reader: don't worry, we don't think this stuff is any more valid than you do.

But aside from the general DIY lameness of the Real Life Superhero endeavor, I'm not sure these people deserve our ire. Certainly Master Legend and his ilk are illustrative of how incredibly less cool comics are when brought to life - the whole thing is kind of like a community theatre production of Watchmen Live! - but isn't that kind of awesome, too?

I've often been told - mainly by my male friends - that I'm not a real comic book fan because my life as a comics reader began with a grab-bag of EC Comics, Archie comics, and the aforementioned influx of Slave Labor Graphics titles.

(Cut to 13-year-old me, in the SLG IRC chatroom, talking to Lenore author Roman Dirge: Hi! I found out about Lenore the way most people do...
Roman Dirge: Oh? How's that?
Me: From reading JTHM!!!
Roman Dirge: Great.)

And it's true, I didn't grow up obsessively following most of the standard superhero characters, although I did read long runs of Spiderman and Uncanny X-Men, and collected X-Men trading cards. But I loved and love comic books for their unlimited potential. For me, words and pictures aren't about the possibility of super powers, they're about possibility, period; about the potential for everything from familial reconciliation through literature to out-Lynching David Lynch.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Reunited and it feels so good

What a sub sandwich eatin azz homo - m4m - 34- (I have to problems going to your job)

This is either an inside joke or the sole internet presence of a pod of Subway- and NSA-loving gay men. Either way, the words in the parentheses are my favorite thing ever.

:: Searching for his Little Gurl - m4t (Upper West Side)

I love the way this one is formatted like a job ad, complete with bullet points and summary-in-quotation-marks: "There is nothing more feminine then being Totally Dominated by a Tall Fat Master"
Edit: Oh god he added pictures.

Today's nominee for Terribly Uncasual Encounter is REAL LOYAL FRIENDS - w4w (TRISTATE)

i will like for you to be ride or die type of friend whos loyal and not pussy you have to be BETWEEN 18 - 30 you have to be GOING TO SCHOLL OR WORKING. U HAVE TO BE GETTIN MONEY. you CANT BE GRIMEY OR GREASY cause i have A THIRD NOSE FOR GREASY GIRLS THATS WHY I NEED NEW FRIENDS

Something tells me she typed this while yelling the same words at the rapidly retreating, sadly oily, soon-to-be-ex who never took notice of her "third nose."

farmboy in oregon for max and cindi - m4w - 52 (MIDTOWN)

The entire text of this ad is:

max and cindi i miss you both and please forgive me i was wrong scott

Reader, I hope your holiday is full of situations that require you to post mournfully specific apologies on Casual Encounters. God bless us everyone!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

On my knees for Nny

In January 1998 I was in seventh grade. Shortly after winter break, I came down with a terrible cold, the type of mucousy weeks-long ordeal that everyone falls into time and again, but I took it very personally. The previous summer, I had begun keeping a journal. One of the first entries, on June 6, 1997, read: "I got my period. A week ago. Not that it matters, anyway." The following entry was on the same page:
I have a new motto. IF YOU DON'T LIKE ME, SCREW YOU. And you know what? It works pretty well!

Seventh grade was marginally better than sixth, the hands-down winner of Worst School Year Ever, mainly because the universe took pity on me and moved a new girl into my suburb. I spotted her on the first day of school and zeroed right in, transfixed by the possibility that I might be able to nab her before she figured out how lame I was. On the first day of school I had a newly dyed-red bob and a cool black sweater with rainbow stripes across the chest. Executing a version of the awesome "sexy walk" I'd been working on, I hobbled over to her desk. "Hi," I said. "Are you new?"

That dear sweet girl later said that she looked up to see me "half-limping, half-humping" my way down the aisle towards her. And she forgave me that, as well as an endless list of other ills: the way, in ninth grade, that I zipped hoodies up to just under my rack and actually pushed the sweatshirt back behind my boobs, my raver-baby-goth vinyl nightmare wardrobe from 1999-2001, a habit of casual lying so strong that I once told her my dog was purple and held to it as the (white) dog walked into the room.

One of the reasons my cold pissed me off so much was because it necessarily postponed my first sleepover with my new friend. The catarrh I'd contracted managed to destroy any positive element of January, the most miserable month of the year. I holed up in my room with my favorite comic books, Jhonen Vasquez's Johnny The Homicidal Maniac series, and their natural soundtrack, the first Garbage album.

My father had brought me a few issues of Johnny The Homicidal Maniac (hereafter JTHM) the previous fall. By the middle of the winter I was hooked, having read and reread them until the bindings were wobbly. I was missing a few of the seven issues - #4 and #6, I think - but the storyline was comprehensible without them. The main character, who abbreviates Johnny to "Nny," is a psychotic shut-in with awesome boots who murders people in creative ways to generate a continuous supply of blood with which to cover a wall. If the wall doesn't stay covered in blood, "things" begin to push through from the other side. Nny is surrounded by a menagerie of goths, unhappy children, and inanimate objects - dead rabbits, sinister doughboys - who embody different elements of his internal monologue.

JTHM is a major pop culture lodestar for millennial goths, but I didn't know that when I started reading it. It was just something my dad brought back from the comic book store, and it aligned nicely with my nihilistic thirteen-year-old worldview. What I liked about JTHM and Marilyn Manson then is the same thing I now like about Crystal Castles: extreme violence transcendent in its exaggeration. I've never lost my appetite for media willing to grab my face and force me into something, even while I've maintained a simpatico for gentler music, literature, and film (see Sufjan Stevens, the work of Marilynne Robinson, Benny and Joon).

So I holed up in my room with the comics and the album, playing the song "My Lover's Box," over and over again. I was confused by the way I felt for Nny: deep sympathy, almost pity, a desire to take care of him (relationship problems here I come!). I knew, of course, that he wasn't real. For my purposes, however, he was about as accessible as the boys I had given up having crushes on at school and the whiny lead singer of my favorite band.

I decided to start a new website to suss out my feelings. I had played webmistress once before, in the winter of sixth grade, with an Angelfire page called "Faeri's Place" that featured a pretty boilerplate poem about the effects of social ostracization (not good). This time I drafted up a website using Geocities called "My Own Personal Dungeon: A Tribute to Nny." This website still exists. Here's a sample:
My opening spiel: The first time I picked up a JTHM, I was 13, fed up with life and utterly convinced that I was not only alone in my opinions and views, but that I would always be. Once I read JTHM #1, my entire perspective changed. I suddenly loved everything that Nny said and stood for and meant(as sick as it was). I didn't really care about the fact that he had caverns below his home filled with corpses--he had the same type of pain I did, the kind I was convinced that no one else could have. Unfortuantely, I somehow misplaced my JTHM #3-6, so all I have now are #s 1,2, and 7( and couple of equally delightful Squees). I never even got a chance to read the ones I lost, so I'm looking forward to buying the Trade Paperback Which I now have.

One major thing that clouds my life is my hatred for my school and the brats who attend it. They can't see that my differences, my individuality, make me a more interesting person, not a worse one. When I am done with middle school, when I go to high school and am liberated because my friends and I will have a place and actually make sense, I will look back on this and smile. But for now I frown.

From a page called "Learn more about MEEEEE!!": My interests include art, sculpture, books, and making teachers cry. One thing I really love to do is wear little black dresses and capes to dances and baffle the little sunny girls in pink while I dance with all the hot boys. That's fun. But anyway, I like a lot of music...some of its good and some of tis bad.. Most notably, Fiona Apple, Tori Amos, Emma Townshend, Veruca Salt, NIN, Sneaker Pimps, Eve 6, Green Day, Beck, and Everclear. Scuba diving is fun and I love the British Vrigin Islands. I worship his holiness Jhonen Vasquez. No, really, I;'m a wiccan, but I don't want to explain that right now. Maybe I;ll do it later. Anyway, here is the maor proof that I am on the right side of the thin line between genius and insanity(but what is the right side?):

I have a crush on Nny.

Yes. Its true. I'm not one of those freaks who ends up on the Jerry Spring show who likes criminals. I would rather that Nny did not kill people. But that doesn'y cloud my liking of him. The things he says are wonderful and beautiful. He makes so much sense with his wisdom:

"How is it you're so beautiful and so fucking ugly on the inside?"

"It's like every time I leave my house I give up my right to being treated like a person."

Sigghhhhh. Welll, I know I'm scaring you. I'm scaring myself. I hope I'm scaring the Christian Fundimentalists. Peace and out. Look at the rest of the sight.

All [sic], obviously. I must really trust the internet to unearth and repost this material here. Of course lot of the above was made up; dreamed of it though I may have, I never wore capes to school dances, and I don't know how to scuba dive. Thankfully, I was one of the more internet-savvy kids at my school; if anyone with an uncharitable soul had found this website, seventh and eighth grade might have been serious competitors for sixth grade's Worst Ever crown.

I was a silly kid who wanted bigger and darker things in my wonderful sheltered life. I had a bottle of nail polish, black with sparkles in it, called "Out All Night."

"Oh yeah, that sounds just like you," my new best friend said when I brought it over to her house for our sleepover the next weekend.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

This blog is only about vampires and personal ads

Most vampire stories are love stories, and any good love story has an element of impossibility. Vampire love is either the most or the least impossible, depending on how you look at it. The solution to falling in love with a vamp seems obvious. Undead bites living, and the two are together forever. But it's never that easy.

One would think that vampires would avoid all the attendant trouble of falling for their food, and stick instead to their own kind, as they are often hissingly encouraged to do in by old flames. Yet nearly every story of bloodsucking passion includes the weak logic that vampires, left alone with each other for eternity, are largely sick of each other. The exception is the evil pod of vampires that stalks through every story with a sympathetic vamp - an odd number, maybe five or three, often featuring only one woman, with the dark implication of an even more perverse sexuality, as if part of the dark arts are endless "Heavy Duty dicks for One Lucky Chick".

One of the marks of a "good" vampire is inexorable attraction to - and fated love for - a specific human. Dracula had Mina, and now in the film adaptation of Stephanie Meyer's incredibly successful Twilight series, Edward Cullen has Bella Swan. I've never read the Meyer books, but that's mostly because the first one was published long after my departure from the YA aisle at the bookstore. If I was eleven, I'd be all over this shit. The last few weeks have seen a hemorrhage of vampire media. I've seen both Twilight and Let The Right One In, a far superior Swedish film with a similar topic. I also finished the season of True Blood, a bit behind the rest of the American public.

In all of these stories, a vampire's mettle is tested by their desire for their human love, bloodlust and regular-lust conflated by proximity. True Blood's Bill Compton thinks he can control himself, and generally does, but neither Edward Cullen nor Eli, Let The Right One In's preteen vamp and the only girl of the trio, has such faith in the strength of their wills. Ultimately each of these narratives are about the concept of self-control, a neat trick especially for Twilight's convenient abstinence corollary. Of the three, Let The Right One In succeeds most fully, becoming the story of a friendship just a bit stranger than usual without resorting to the romance-novel histrionics of Twilight or self-satisfied TV tropes of True Blood.

What was the first vampire movie I ever saw? My father was a fan of Dark Shadows, so we followed the 1991 remake. I also have a hazy memory of a night spent watching one of the Christopher Lee Dracula films when I was around seven years old, sitting on my parents' bed with my mother asleep beside me. I fell into a weird combination of unwitting lucid dreaming and sleep paralysis, quaking for what seemed like hours under the belief that Lee was coming in the window.

My maternal grandmother died suddenly on Halloween, 1998. She lived alone in New York City, so my family did not receive this news until the following Monday. A week passed in which my parents disappeared to settle her affairs and returned as pale, drawn versions of themselves. The next weekend we held a memorial service for her in our local church. I was mourning my grandmother, but I was also bored with the endless arrangements, and I missed my mom. When, the day before the service, she suggested we go downtown together, I leapt at the chance. I was in eighth grade.

We ate lunch at Foodlife, a restaurant in the Water Tower Place mall with a concept that seemed new then - a series of different stations with little kitchens individually preparing cuisines from many lands. For the first time I had a dish that would become one of my favorites, cold thick white noodles smothered in sweet peanut sauce and topped with cucumbers and scallions. Afterwards, she asked if I'd like to see a movie. I did. We went upstairs to the movie theatre to find that the only thing showing was John Carpenter's Vampires. "Let's see it," my mom said, surprising me.

The movie was no masterpiece, but I loved it. At the time, I found Thomas Ian Griffith's Jan Valek terribly appealing, although his allure, just like that of Johnny Rzeznik, has decreased considerably since 1998. I kind of had a thing for James Woods, too, who with this film taught me the word "polesmoker." And there was something undeniably hot about Laura Palmer receiving cunnilingus-reminiscent vampire bites.

My mom had shown me another vampire movie a few years earlier, Tony Scott's The Hunger. As I've mentioned earlier in this space, my parents were never incredibly censorious about what I watched, a trait I have long appreciated.The Hunger was a little exotic for my ten-year-old blood, however. My mother dozed off as we watched, and then woke up to find me staring at the Catherine Deneuve-Susan Sarandon sex scene that made the movie famous. "Maybe this isn't a good idea," she said, switching it off.

Four years later she sat beside me in the darkened theatre, having put the great weight of her grief aside to take me out for a night on the town. On the screen in front of us, heads were torn from bodies and stakes driven into hearts. But the movie was still a vampire story, so it required a love story. At the end, as Daniel Baldwin leaned over and kissed the soon-to-be-vamp Sheryl Lee, my mom reached for my hand and squeezed it in the dark.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Things that are not graduate applications

The Britney Spears Rolling Stone cover. How sad is this? I don't know what smacks of more desperation: the magazine turning whatever residual Obama excitement that exists into an endorsement of the most manufactured comeback since Coke the first triumphed over Coke II, or the fact that nobody is even pretending any more that "Britney's back!" means anything other than "Britney's skinny again!" Even the way they rolled her shirt up looks so haphazard but direct, like a madam's hasty attempt to prove that a hooker still has it. In this Jezebel post, the author notes that she saw Spears on television for the first time when she was 16, that Britney replaced Shirley Manson as the arbiter of hot. I was fourteen when I saw a weird infomercial for the first Spears album, and although I was a Garbage fan in the late Nineties I can't remember a time when Shirley Manson - or anyone like her - was considered mainstream hot. The high-porn standard of beauty has been the norm for almost as long as I can remember, and for just as long almost everyone has been complaining about it. The revolt against the Britney idea of beauty and music is as old as unambiguous appreciation of these things. I guess I'm supposed to ironically appreciate a song like "Womanizer," but like this cover it just bores me.

Law and Order alternate universe approximations. Unfortunately I don't have screenshots for any of this, but I sure love the almost-real stuff L&O comes up with for their ripped-from-the-headlines stories. Especially "," a stand-in for both MySpace and Facebook that is somehow also a real website. Somehow every attempt they make at approximating an element of the real world comes off as both a parody and a clueless imitation. I especially like it when the detectives rough up the nerdy head of He's no Nate Silver, that's for sure.