Miley Cyrus VMAs

Is this what our culture has come to?

Miley Cyrus VMAsMiley Cyrus is a Girl Scout compared to Wendy O. Williams, whose performances were getting her arrested for lewd conduct 30 years ago.

Three faculty colleagues and I spoke informally last week at a lunchtime program for people who work at the university but don’t teach. They invited us to talk about what it’s like to host a weekly show on the university’s student-run radio station.

One of the speakers is in his early ’70s, I would guess. He’s a good guy: cordial and well traveled, with deep knowledge about a wide range of topics. He began by saying he had seen a clip from an MTV music awards special that showed Miley Cyrus being her faux outrageous, self-promoting self.

“Is this what our culture has come to?” he asked earnestly. Continue reading


The best Halloween movie you’ve never seen

Herk Harvey’s cult classic Carnival of Souls is full of creepy, atmospheric goodness – just right for a Halloween movie fest…

Press book cover art for Carnival of Souls (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Given that it’s Halloween, time to take note of a cult classic that in its atmospheric creepiness ranks as high as Romero’s original Zombie classic or anything dreamed up by David Lynch, Brian de Palma, or any of the other more  recent masters of what Count Floyd would call “scary stuff.”  In fact, this is a film that both Lynch and Romero have cited repeatedly as influential on their work.

The film is Carnival of Souls, and it was made by a highly successful industrial/educational film director. Harold “Herk”Harvey spent most of his career making films for Lawrence, Kansas, based Centron Films (later subsumed under Coronet Films, an even more well known ed/industry film company) with titles such as Health: Your Posture, Shake Hands With Danger, and Manners in Public. On the road driving back to Kansas after having worked on a film in California, he passed an abandoned amusement park outside Salt Lake City that creeped him out – and which inspired Carnival of Souls.

The film concerns a young woman who is involved in a horrific car accident (the car she’s riding in plunges off a bridge into a swollen river). As rescuers are dragging the river trying to recover the car, she emerges from the water, having somehow survived the catastrophe. Perhaps. Continue reading

John and Sean…

Both John Lennon and his youngest son Sean share the same birthday. Imagine that….

Today is Sean Lennon’s birthday. He’s 40. That’s an eerily special birthday to Sean, I’m guessing, given that his dad John celebrated his 40th birthday exactly 35 years ago – and was dead two month later, murdered by the madman who shall not be named here. I also suspect that he’s doing his best to enjoy his day and find what peace he can in his likely fuzzy (he was only five when his father was killed) memories of John.

I’ve written plenty about John Lennon over the years which you can read here and here. I’ve also written about Sean and his half-brother Julian. Their lives have been like the lives of many children of famous people: not particularly happy despite their wealth and fame.

So let’s remember the good times on this special day in the Lennon family. Continue reading

Great new music for fall: Saturday Video Roundup

Chvrches, Metric, Meg Myers and IAMX lead the charge into autumn

No major theme today – just some cool new discoveries. Let’s start with the latest from Chvrches – folks, end to end this is one of the absolute best pop CDs I have ever heard. “Leave a Trace” is the lead single and it’s the earworm from hell, but I’m not sure it’s one of the five best songs on the disc.

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When a capella met metal: Saturday Video Roundup

So, I wake up this morning to find that Frank Balsinger has uncovered an a capella take on Rammstein’s “Du Hast.” Because of course somebody would have to do that, and of course Frank would find it. So for SVR today, let’s enjoy some a capella abomination. I guess that would be a bomination, huh?

First, Viva Vox, and if you don’t get why this is so great, by all means click the link above and review the original.

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Nathaniel Rateliff & the NightSweats: CD of the Year candidate

Okay, the verdict is in. I’ve spun the eponymous Nathaniel Rateliff & the Nightsweats at least 20 times now and it’s a legit CD of the year candidate. I’m hearing influences ranging from Sam Cooke to Van Morrison to old Appalachian gospel. Let’s check a couple vids, shall we? Here’s the one people seem to be raving about, “SOB.”

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Music and Popular Culture

Paul McCartney: boy in a band to man on the run…

Tom Doyle’s excellent book on Paul McCartney during the Wings years reveals a Paul most don’t know very well: a conflicted, sometimes lost, boy/man trying to carry on as a musician while also trying to be husband/father and rock star/cultural agitator at the same time – until traumas of very different types made him settle into adulthood and, ultimately, self-acceptance.

Sir Paul McCartney, my favorite Beatle (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Much of what the average rock aficionado knows about the break up of the Beatles comes from either Jann Wenner’s interviews with John Lennon or from casual attention during those years to news reports about the legal hassles the Fabs endured while extricating themselves from their partnership in Apple. Like any break up, personal or professional, (and this was both the severing of an indescribably successful musical collaboration and the splintering of friends who’d been almost inseparable since childhood), the Beatles’ demise was messy and hurtful for all involved.

Tom Doyle’s superb book Man on the Run: Paul McCartney in the 1970’s fell into my hands as a birthday present from my beloved sister a few days ago and I dropped my usual reading to devour it, both because I wanted to make sure my sister knew I appreciated her thoughtfulness and because I will read anything written with something approaching competence about The Beatles generally and Paul McCartney specifically. Hell, I even read the incompetent stuff.

This book is as good as any I’ve ever read on these subjects. Kudos to Tom Doyle and to my sister Janis. Continue reading

The National’s enigmatic darkness: Saturday Video Roundup

I was listening Sunday night to The National’s most recent album, Trouble Will Find Me. As I lay there with headphones on and the first song playing, I thought, “I don’t know why I don’t listen to these guys more often.” Minutes later, I remembered: Regret, sadness, and a failure to connect with people permeate The National’s songs. Sometimes we need to be reminded we’re not the only people in the world whom trouble has found. Other times, we don’t need to be reminded. The National often belongs in the “other times” category. Continue reading

Saturday Video Roundup: Wherefore art all the protest songs?

And now for something slightly different

Shadowproof posted Let us never ask where the protest music has gone ever again.

Kevin Gosztola, a Firedoglake alumnus, raises a cultural dilemma and proposes his own solution.

There is a recurring story media organizations like to publish. The story typically asks where all the protest music has gone or something like that. Or, the writers ask, who is this generation’s Bob Dylan?

This perspective has seeped into the consciousness of Americans. One thread on Reddit asked:

With all the racial and class tension in the past year or two, I’m really surprised that there hasn’t been much in the way of protest songs. At least not that I’ve heard. My generation had Rage Against the Machine (whose lyrics seem even more relevant today). What artist is carrying their torch today?

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The night Reg Dwight stopped by

I was sitting in the living room one night watching wrestling on TV when someone knocked at the front door. When I opened it, I didn’t recognize the guy at first. But when he said, “Hello again, Pat,” I realized it was a guy from long ago—a high school classmate, Reggie Dwight.

I hadn’t seen him in decades. It took a couple of seconds for my brain to mesh with the moment. “Hey, Reg!” I said. “Great to see you! It’s been—jeez, how long has it been?”

Reggie stood under the porch light, hanging his head, barely making eye contact. After a pause that verged on awkward, I said, “C’mon in! Sit down. Want a beer?”

He said “no beer,” took a few lethargic steps and sank into an overstuffed recliner near the door. Continue reading

The Arts

Art as production for use turned into art as production for profit

The art world can’t help but be pleased with the efforts of its victims — there’s money to be made, after all. But there are those of us who watch these developments with increasing alarm, wondering if the art world will ever wake up. The saving grace is that art’s machinations generally have little effect on the rest of the globe. That may be the reason that art — especially today’s art — “is the only human activity that does not lead to killing.” Contemporary art has made itself so meaningless that nobody can be bothered to pull the trigger over it. – Alex Melamid

On Kawara (image courtesy Wikimedia)

I am almost finished with Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman, but rather than rush through the novel’s ending and write hurriedly about it, I wanted a few days to ponder it since I feel it deserves thoughtful consideration. I’ll write about it in my next essay over the weekend.

That, of course, leaves me with the need to find a topic for this essay. I have two, and after careful consideration (that sound you hear is the coin landing on the table), I’ve decided to write about an interesting piece from Huffington Post that is yet another complaint about the problems facing contemporary art. The piece focuses on visual art, but I think the same is true for literature and music, so much of what the author says applies to art in the broad sense of the term’s usage.

That problem is, perhaps explained by using terms that will set of alarm bells for all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons: “production for use” and “production for profit.”

But first a few words about On Kawara who is sort of a poster child for what the title of this essay is on about….

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CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature

A question of what matters: hyperrealism and the literature of detachment….

Complete detachment or complete engagement – as Billy Joel observed, it all depends upon your appetite….

Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner (image courtesy Goodreads)

I am still making my way, rather too leisurely probably, through Walker Percy’s marvelous novel The Last Gentleman (about which I will have much to say, since I corresponded with Mr. Percy while completing my first book, a novel, The New Southern Gentleman). I’m also awaiting delivery of my copy of about which I’ll write some more once I’ve read it and digested its what promises to be awesomely hyped mediocrity.

That left me casting about for something to write about for this essay, and I found it by stumbling upon an essay in The Nation about the latest trend (counter trend might be another way of viewing it) in literary fiction: novels composed of the musings of completely detached narrators rambling on in some sort of Onionesque version of the literary equivalent of a “nattering nabob of negativitsm” that the vice-crook of the Nixon administration once was on about.

I think this trend says something (interesting? troubling? useful? useless?) about American culture – particularly the culture of creative writing programs and the sorts of literature they produce. It is also important to note why the trend in European literature has been for an almost diametrically opposed trend in litfic from across the Atlantic. Finally, and this is mighty important to remember, as Bullwinkle would say, none of this may be anything but footnotes in the great narrative where The Dude abides and one should know the first rule of Fight Club. Continue reading

What bands do you miss? (It’s a fastidious and precise Saturday Video Roundup, bitches.)

Sometimes bands we love break up. Or someone dies. Or … maybe they just slide from relevance. If you’re like me, there are a lot of acts who fit this description. I miss Space Team Electra so bad it hurts, for instance. REM faded away more or less gracefully, but still I long for 1984.

Here are some bands and solo artists I miss. Feel free to chime in with your own in the comments.

First, Lush.

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