Monday, November 5, 2018

there's no shitness like show shitness

I knew there were good reasons why I hated the movie, I just didn't know there were so many

From a Bright Lights Film Journal essay by Richard A. Voeltz, titled “The Joke’s on History”: Retro-Reality, Twee, and Mediated Nostalgia in La La Land (2016):

"La La Land is more of a composite remake; even better, an archive, where Chazelle cleverly uses a combination of parody, homage, and nostalgia to continue, remake, and reimagine nostalgic themes or franchises established in earlier times that places it in the epistemological category of the nostalgic remake as defined by Lizardi that blocks engagement with the past or present.... “La La Land ultimately feels bloated by its references, by the mad rush to imitate all Chazelle’s inspirations,” writes Christos Tsiolkas. 

"The movie opens with the old CinemaScope logo in a similar way that Quentin Tarantino pays homage to the movies that he is imitating. The shooting of the film in CinemaScope is important because “the technique represented a groundbreaking new widescreen process that revolutionized filmmaking in the 1950s,” which explains why aesthetically the film manages to look like a classic movie-musical even when it’s just panning across a modern-day traffic jam at the beginning of the film.25 This is a film that draws on classic musicals and films that most people would only know from watching TCM religiously: Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Top Hat (1935), Shall We Dance (1937), The Band Wagon (1953), Broadway Melody (1936), An American in Paris (1951), An Affair to Remember (1957), West Side Story (1961), Bogie Nights (1997), Funny Face (1957), Moulin Rouge (2001), and Sweet Charity (1969) among many others. Sara Preciado has, in fact, compiled a YouTube video comparing scenes from La La Land with ones from these famous musicals.26 Rebel Without a Cause (1955) also plays a significant role in the film. Even Annie Hall (1977), Pulp Fiction (1994), and 8 ½ (1963) make the list. But none resonate as much as Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and his lesser-known The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967). Demy’s Umbrellas provides not only inspiration for the plot, ending, along with the 1927 silent film 7th Heaven, and music of La La Land, but also for Chazelle’s use of vibrant colors of blue, red, green, and yellow in the cinematography."


"Sebastian drives a 1982 Buick Riviera convertible and listens to music on a tape deck. He plays vinyl jazz records at home. And the needle-scraping ending of such records figures prominently as a metaphor for his relationship with Mia winding down as well. Early in the movie, a dinner conversation between Mia’s then boyfriend Greg, his brother, and his wife deals with the subject of “nowadays theatres … they’re so dirty – and they’re either too hot or too cold – always people talking.” When Mia and Sebastian meet at the vintage Rialtotheatre in Pasadena, later shown as closed (Chazelle loved the old red velvet seats), to see Rebel Without a Cause, the celluloid film during the scene of the drive up to the Griffith Park Observatory melts in the projector. This is a retro-intertextual reminder of when the film burns in the middle of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966)"

Yeah it's just pure pastiche puke from start to finish... meta upon meta...  and these quotes are just a fraction of Voeltz's inventory of the ways in which La La sucks

But the other thing, though - the real failing is on a much more basic level. It harks back to a golden age of song and dance movies, but the dancing is not very good and the songs aren't much cop either.  If you're going to resurrect the lost golden age then you have to compete with Singin' in the RainHigh Society and West Side Story, on the toon and tap front... 

 * that Rialto Theatre  is just up the road from us in South Pas..  was where a crucial scene from The Player was filmed (so that layers even more retro-referentialism)...  was a ghost cinema for a long while...  has recently been refurbished, but not to show pictures: on Sundays it hosts the "hipster church" Mosaic

Thursday, November 1, 2018

mourning a godstar

here's a piece I wrote for Stanford Live about the passing of David Bowie and the challenge of writing an honest eulogy - is their room in the obituary for some bitchery?

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

"real and famous"

"Still be real and famous" - the impossible dream of hip hop captured in five words by Migos's Quavo

Not one of their great songs, or great videos, mind

This though

Feel like Migos and the young Bryan Ferry could have found a connection - pools, cars, scantily clad young women, and all things deluxe and delightful

Thursday, July 12, 2018

the splendor of appearances

Someone I should've included in Aftershocks as glam inheritor - the real unreal thing. 

This 2012 piece I did on Lana Del Rey (and our atemporal times) for Spin is overtly oriented around the retro-as-entropy / vintage aesthetics angle (it was the lead story of a special themed issue on Retro Activity) but looking at it again, leitmotifs to do with glamour, illusion, fame, the artifice of persona, and a chronic hyper-visuality stick out as strongly. (Retropastiche is itself a subset of glam, of course, something it arguably pioneered)

Watch out Adele! There’s another soul lady coming up behind you and her name is Lana Del Rey.” So said a Top 40 radio deejay last month, transitioning between “Rolling In the Deep”  and “Video Games”. This piece of patter wasn’t just a smart way to introduce an unfamiliar, relatively edgy song to mainstream listeners, it was a rather astute bit of music criticism. Think about it: Adele and Lana Del Rey are young women who’ve had their hearts broken and who sing about it in musical idioms that are overtly non-contemporary:  Etta James-style Sixties soul, with Adele, and in Lana Del Rey’s case, something less tightly anchored to specific sources but equally old-timey in its evocations of the Fifties and early Sixties.  The question both singers raise is “why do these otherwise thoroughly modern women express first-hand feeling s in such second-hand imagery? Why coat something raw and real in this vintage veneer?”

Lana Del Rey arrived on the scene too recently to make it into my book Retromania, but—like Adele—she is an absolute gift when it comes to talking it up: “look, see,  that ’s what I’m  on about!” . That said, they  represent different kinds of retro-pop.  Adele’s is unselfconscious, just an artist who’s embraced a decidedly old-fashioned style and reiterates it without adding much to it. Escort, the New York disco troupe featured in this special issue of Spin, are another example. The hallmark of unselfconscious retro is not dressing the part, not looking like you’ve time-travelled from the era  in which the music is sourced.

Lana Del Rey is much closer to the hyper-conscious retro that’s endemic in indie/ underground music, where clothes and artwork reference a bygone era, while the lyrics and the music itself often teem with crafty allusions.  Frankie Rose & the Outs, also featured in this issue, are prime exponents,  from their  Sixties girl group sound to songs like “Thee Only One” (the “thee” probably nodding to various bands led by Sixties-revivalism-pioneer Billy Childish, but traceable even further back to a fad among Sixties garage bands like Thee Midnighters) to the cover of the 7-inch single version of that song, which Rose wanted to “look like a cross between a Blue Note album cover and an old French pop 45.”

Retro of this kind, where a group’s sound-and-visuals incorporate citations and where spotting them is an integral part of the fan’s enjoyment, is not a new thing. It’s been part of indie almost from the beginning  (The Smiths’s iconographic record-sleeves, Jesus & Mary Chain or Butthole Surfers “sampling” riffs or backing vocal refrains from Sixties and Seventies rock legends). It can be traced back further still, through glam rock’s Fifties echoes to The Beatles’s Chuck Berry pastiche “Back In the U.S.S.R.” and Zappa’s doowop album (both 1968). At the same time,  there’s no doubt that this kind of conscious retro-activity has intensified in the 21st Century, partly as a result of just how extensive the archive of pop history is now (five or six decades) and partly because the broadband era has made accessing that history so damn easy. YouTube, in particular, is a vast, evergrowing repository of promo and music-on-TV clips along with every other kind of pop (and unpop) culture.  And YouTube is as much as audio library as a video archive. You can school yourself there, free of charge.

Which brings us back to Lana Del Rey. Her rocket-like ascent was propelled by videos she put on YouTube made out of footage she’d found on Youtube.  “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans” put History in shuffle mode:  a miasma of Americana that drifts back and forth across the decades  but  is unified by its sustained elegiac mood of not-now-ness.  Amid the appropriated home movie footage of swimming pools and skateboarders and kids on mopeds,  specific allusions pop up: the Hollywood sign, Chateau Marmont, Lana in Lolita sunglasses from Kubrick’s movie, Lana in a racing driver jacket that suggests Evil Knievel or maybe the  70s road movie Two-Lane Blacktop, Lana in a white leather fringe jacket that echoes Easy Rider or maybe Elvis in Las Vegas. 

According to Del Rey, though, the recurrent invocations of places like Vegas and LA in her videos (and also her lyrics) aren’t really references so much as mood-tints.  “The thing that fascinates me about all of them is the colors of the places,” she says on the phone, in transit to another mythic-Americana landscape she adores, Coney Island.  “The muted blues and greens in California, the bright lights of Vegas...  People ask me about what the Fifties imagery from California represents to me, but actually I’m mainly just a visual person.   Sometimes when my producer and I talk about songs, we talk about them in terms of colors. In a way the  album was visually driven. “

Part of the nostalgia effect of the found footage in  Del Rey’s videos derives from the properties of the different kinds of film stock, including the specific way that it ages and decays.  The bleached and blotchy textures trigger a poignant sense of time’s passage, an inkling that even your most halcyon memories will fade to nothingness.  “Blue Jeans” explicitly forefronts the idea of “dead media” and antiquated formats with its opening footage of a hand grabbing a pack of Eastman Ektrachrome Super 8 film.

Lana Del Rey may, in fact, be about to become the first Hipstamatic pop star.  Photo apps like Hipstamatic, Instagram, and ShakeIt!, or Fuuvi’s new faux-Super8 device the Bee, offer a digital simulation of an analogue past. Something similar is going on with Lana Del Rey’s music : old-timey instruments like mandolins, strings, harps and twangy surf guitar make up much of its texture, but there’s also  unidentifiable sounds flying about that are clearly sampled and processed, while the beats on Born To Die are boombastic,  hip hop in impact if not actual feel.  The result:  the RZA meets Lee Hazelwood. Factor in Del Rey’s choices in clothes, hair, accessories and make-up, and it’s clear she’s the perfect pop star for the era of vintage chic. Not that she’s only artist around with sound-and-visuals that are pre-faded and artificially distressed. Take Perfume Genius, also featured in this issue: there’s a similar “warm”,  softened-by-age sound, and a video, for “Lookout, Lookout”, set in a quaint motel, complete with rotary phone. 

It’s not just the stylized form of Lana Del Ray’s songs that feels out-of-time, it’s the emotional content too:  a language of romantic excess that harks back to Roy Orbison’s most over-the-top ballads or Skeeter Davis’s “The End of the World”. Love as malady and madness, delirium and delusion...  and at the ultimate degree, death. “Dark Paradise” is a song of morbid fidelity, an abandoned or bereaved lover who prefers to keep the company of ghosts: “There’s no remedy for memory...  I wish I was dead.” Elsewhere, Lana sings “I’m not afraid to say that I’d die without him.”

“I don’t really condone relying on another person to the point where you’re going to die without them,” says Del Rey.  “Something I never really expected was to have gotten into a relationship that ended up being very tumultuous.  But I had met someone who was so magnetic and made me feel differently from the way that I felt for so long, which was sort of confused and bored...  and because in the end we couldn’t be together, it ended up having a  do-or-die element to it.  That was an experience that struck me and I kept on falling back to that place in terms of inspiration for the songs.” 

Born To Die goes beyond retro-romance, though, to retro-sexuality, retro-gender.  All those yielding, doe-eyed ballads of abject devotion...  seem to look back in languor to a time when men were men and women were thankful. A pre-feminist world, or more precisely, America before Betty Friedman’s The Feminine Mystique  was published (1963).  So in “Without You”, Del Rey coos “I can be your china doll if you want to see me fall”, while “This Is What Makes Us Girls” seems to define femininity as being a fool for love:  “We all look for heaven and we put love first/Don’t you know we’d die for it?/ It’s a curse.”  At the other extreme, there are songs about women who uses wiles to get what they want. “Off to The Races” recalls Ginger, the Casino character played by Sharon Stone, except if Ginger actually enjoyed being a kept woman and was as docile and adoring as DeNiro’s Sam Rothstein hoped.  She’s a moll, wasting a rich man’s money (“give me them coins”), breaking into a Betty Boo squeak for the lines “I’m your little harlot, starlet” and purring “Tell me you own me”.

 “I’m an interesting mix of person,” says Del Rey defensively, with just a hint of annoyance.  “I am a modern day woman.  I’m self-supporting. I went to college. I studied philosophy. I write my own music. But at the same I also very appreciate being in the arms of a man and finding support that way.  That feeling influences the kind of melodies I choose and how romantic I make the song. Maybe it ends up giving it a slightly unbalanced feeling.”  Asked about the references in other songs on Born To Die about good-girls-gone-bad  (“degenerate beauty queens” is one memorable lyric), she points to David Lynch’s movie Wild At Heart as not so much an inspiration as a parallel with phases in her life. “The way I  ended up having relationships and living life, it sometimes mimics those more wild relationships.  Wild At Heart was an influence – in terms of the way it was shot, but also the love story.”

Right from the off,  commentators have talked of Lana Del Rey in terms of  David Lynch’s dark dreamworlds. They’ve also mentioned singers linked to his work such as  Chris “Wicked Game” Isaak and Julee “Falling” Cruise, whose songs  evoke a bygone era when the brokenhearted died inside but did it in style.  The Lynch connection highlights a curious quality of Lana Del Rey’s whole shtick: not only does it hark back to the Fifties and early Sixties, it inevitably also recalls the Eighties’s own echoes of that time. Movies  like Lynch’s  Blue Velvet, Jarmusch’s Strangers in Paradise and Mystery Train, the S.E. Hinton adaptations Rumblefish and The Outsiders. Musicians as various as Tom Waits,  Alan Vega, Mazzy Star. 

This Sixties-via-Eighties syndrome isn’t  unique to del Rey  by any means. As much as R&B originals like Etta, Adele recalls forgotten Brit soul revivalists like Alison Moyet, Carmel and  Mari Wilson. The scene that Frankie Rose belongs to—Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls—reaches Spector’s wall of sound and the Sixties girl group’s via Jesus and Mary Chain and the “C86” movement of bands like The Shop Assistants. Then there’s The Men, as featured in this issue, who draw from the harder side of mid-Eighties British psych-revivalism. On their song “( )” they filch not just the riff from Spacemen 3’s “Revolution” but a chunk of the lyric (“And I suggest to you/That it takes/Just five seconds”) along with lines from another Spacemen song “Take Me To the Other Side”.

If retro culture has reached the point where we’re seeing revivals of revivals, citations of citations (Spacemen 3 remade Stooges songs while “Revolution” itself is an already-somewhat-hokey homage to MC5), what are the implications for music going forward? As time goes on, signs are becoming more and more detached from their historical referents, hollowed out.  All these sounds, gestures, time-honored phrases, are entering into a freefloating half-life, or afterlife, where all they are is pure style.

This appears to be the ghosty place where Lana Del Ray comes from.  In “Without You”, she sings “but burned into my brain all these stolen images”  and I can’t help thinking of Blade Runner and the android replicants who are given transplanted memories.  Her lyrics are full of sampled clichés (“ walk on the wild side”, “white lightning”, “feet don’t fail me”) or references to iconic brand-names (“white Pontiac heaven”,  “Bugatti Veyron”).  But she says that the Pontiac allusion isn’t for its pop-cultural associations (Two Lane Blacktop and other 70s movies, songs by Tom Waits and Jan & Dean) so much as “just the sound” of the word. Likewise, the name “Lana Del Rey” was chosen for its lilting loveliness, rather than its rippling resonances (a Hollywood movie idol with platinum blonde hair and a turbulent private life, a California beach town, a make of 1950s Chevrolet). It was “a big risk” renaming herself, she says, “but my music was always beautiful and I wanted a name that was beautiful too.”

“Beautiful” is a word that crops up repeatedly in Del Rey’s conversation, as it does in her lyrics. She seems to be intensely susceptible to the splendor of appearances, to the point of vulnerability. “You look like a million dollar man/ so why is my heart broke?”, she beseeches plaintively in “Million Dollar Man”.  In “National Anthem”, she sings about “blurring the lines between real and the fake.”  The gap between image and reality is an obsession. So is fame, portrayed as the dangerous desire to lose oneself by merging into a glamorous facade. “I even think I found god in the flashbulbs of your pretty cameras,” she sings in “Without You”, while the words “Movie Star Without a Cause” flash up in the video for “Blue Jeans”.

Then there’s “Carmen”, seemingly a song about a 17-year-old starlet who’s dying inside and only comes alive when “the camera’s on”, but really more like a perturbing self-portrait. “‘Carmen’ is probably the song closest to my heart,” says Del Rey, who seems vaguely put-out that I’ve heard it. “’Famous and dumb in an early age’—that’s fame in a different way, in different circles, for different reasons. Not really for being a pop star. It’s sort of like, my life”. Once again, you have to wonder about an artistic imagination so colonized by old movies and old songs that it can only express things that really happened in a real life through this “cinematic” prism.  Is this a distancing mechanism, a buffer to manage the emotion? Or was the actual love affair itself contaminated by fantasy and role-play?


What we have with Lana Del Rey is the problem of the undeniable talent who is also a throwback, and who therefore sets back the cause of musical modernism. (See also: The White Stripes).  She’s not a  straightforward revivalist: the music and the presentation are diversely sourced and the end result is a sophisticated concoction (in that respect, she’s closer to The White Stripes than Adele). But it still falls, ultimately, within the domain of pastiche, memorably defined as “speech in a dead language”.  Given her passive persona, it’s tempting to say that the ghosts of pop culture’s collective unconscious speak through her.    

Born To Die, haunted by lost lovers, the spectre of Spector stalking indie-land... it’s all somewhat gloomy and airless. Are there upsides to the contemporary condition that some call “atemporality”, where past, present and future are blurred and the entire history of music is at your clicking fingertips?  

Definitely. You can travel to time-zones that no one else has, as Destroyer did with Kaputt, on which he visited regions of  1980s pop  (Prefab Sprout, Blue Nile)  that neither synthpoppers like La Roux nor chillwavers like Neon Indian cared to. You can create “superhybrids” that draw on disparate sources from far-flung eras and locations, as artists as wildly dissimilar as Vampire Weekend, Grimes, and Rustie have done.  You can become mesmerized by “lost futures”  of  70s synth music and attempt to start again where they left off, as with Emeralds, that  band’s spun-off solo careers such as Steve Hauchildt and his brilliant Tragedy & Geometry LP, and  the group’s allies on the Spectrum Spools label.  Or with the similar moves made off the back of 80s electro-funk and New Age made by Oneohtrix Point Never and Ford & Lopatin. 

The archive can be a radical resource, so long as the immense array of musical precedents it contains are used as launching pads into the unknown, rather than touchstones to recreate. 

The challenge is daunting but not impossible: to make music that doesn’t remind you of X or Y, but prominds you of something yet to come.


further reading on Lana Del Rey from Lucas Fagen at Hyperallergic

Monday, July 9, 2018

glam in theory

I agreed with our dear departed Mark Fisher on many things...  we fought shoulder to shoulder in joint campaigns like H-ology and Nuum-Wars and so forth... but we weren't in lockstep by any means, even squabbled (respectfully and amiably!) now and then. And there are quite few things where I don't see or hear what Mark saw or heard in something (I'm sure there were many, many vice versas - Arctics and Vampire W immediately spring to mind!)

One thing that always puzzled me was the K-punk enthusiasm for Roisin Murphy and Moloko as a modern manifestation of glam....  Roisin as the true daughter of Roxy

I just didn't see it, couldn't hear it

a sub-Leigh Bowery costume do not necessarily maketh the glam-diva monster

To me they / she seem an archetypal example of that (mostly Brit, but not always) syndrome where all the right moves are made - in terms of presentation, rhetorical pitch, packaging, references, sound and influence palette etc  - but something is missing

That syndrome / lineage would include Goldfrapp,  Janelle Monae (where the checklist includes a whole set of political boxes being ticked), in an earlier era / taste-episteme Curve, and various others

The lack is precisely presence -  the X Factor that makes a person magnetic, as opposed to merely attractive or easy on the eye.

That thing where you can't stop looking  - that place where Fetish (in the idol sense) meets Car Crash.

Presence not meaning vivacious, having nothing really to do with being a lively or sparky interviewee. But something borderline unwholesome, a charisma/need related ultimately to narcissistic personality disorder.

So with the glam-in-theory types, you get all this cleverness arranged around it, even a kind of "excess"  - but there's a fundamental modesty in terms of  what's at the heart of the confection.

A pleasing, able, but fundamentally small voice.  Even facially, a beauty that is too neat and regular

in the mold of Dani Siciliano rather than Marc Bolan

To put it another way, none of them are even Bjork or Kate Bush - let alone Grace Jones.

There isn't that force of self -  the drive to be spectacular - to command an audience.

Nor that slightly disgusting / disturbing desperation for attention, the ravenous lust for exposure, to drink up the gaze of the entire world

(So none of them are Amy Winehouse either)

These are craftily curated projects, art-pop exhibitions  - not exhibitionist art

This "good in theory" / "glam in theory" syndrome is one reason why certain seemingly obvious figures (self-conscious inheritors of glam - e.g. Scissor Sisters) are absent from the Aftershocks section of S+A where I hopscotch through various Eighties/Nineties/21st Century-so-far echoes of glam...   because they don't cut the mustard, whereas other seemingly less likely figures (Nicki Minaj, Kanye, et al) seemed to have the spirit in full fierce force - that despotic drive -  if not making the overt references and allusions, the neatly delineated lineage

And whatever you think of Lady Gaga, she blew the other glam-resurrectionists out of the water... she made the references and the quotations, yes, but she had also had the essentially vulgar voracity, that pushing of the self right in the centre of the world's attention, the sickness of the true star

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

the truth of pop



#3  and #3

or at least a truth - an industry of child labour, child exploitation, child abuse

there's no business like show business #4

there's no business like show business #3

like Drake she became a star by singing about stardom

now stars in the umpteenth remake of A Star Is Born

with the orrible Bradley Cooper, who at least appears in this character to be toning down his irrepressible male energy

there's no business like show business #2

from Circus, the follow-up to self-reflexive metapop digi-glam frightmare spectacular Blackout

but still discussing fame and its costs

this song apparently incorporates "glam-rave" elements

then she became the queen of Vegas, the world capital of show biz

her life is a cabaret

there's no business like show business #1

meta commentary about stardom and its costs by a group I once described as The Associates of emo (so therefore not without a glam tinge)

that was about and circa "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" - whose melodrama and overripe video I enjoyed

not so keen on their more recent stuff (less band-oriented, heavily infused with musical theater, ) but me and my daughter (big fan) are going to see Panic! At the Disco in a month and half


"What we have with digital culture now is a strange hyper-ordinariness. People done up to the nines but it isn't like Bowie where you're playing with abstract aestheticisation. It's a normative model: perfect teeth, skin tone. An utterly conservative artificiality... A normalisation of photoshopping & cosmetic surgery: a wash-back from digital, people's anxiety about their appearance is measured by the standards of a depressing normativity. Neuroses & dissatisfaction are highly productive & useful for capitalism: they can be sold to endlessly" - Mark Fisher

aka digital subglam - use of pixel-by-pixel control of the image in postproduction digital intermediate zone, to sand down skin into porcelain perfection, erase spots and blemishes, whiten teeth, supergloss hair

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

"cos he was trying to deglamorize himself"

from a film by the British Pop Artist Derek Boshier, the still features Alice Cooper, The Sweet, and, I think, Bowie

Boshier would later do the cover of Lodger, in collaboration with the photographer Duffy

his account of working with Bowie is about 33 minutes into this

Also here

Boshier also did artwork for Let's Dance, and stage sets (albeit unused) for the Serious Moonlight  tour - when Bowie I guess was trying to re-glamorize himself - or at least become a pop superstar again

The image says "I'm fit and working again" - ready to fight my way back to the toppermost of the poppermost

And here's more on Boshier's working relationship and friendship with Bowie

Thursday, April 12, 2018

glam pt 2 (pt 2)

she cuts a commanding figure

(but where oh where is the brassy sassy glitzy and gilded original video for this song?)

"peek a boo" - the Sovereign Eye / I - there is a intense opticality, a fetishistic thrill in watching and being watched running through S+B's work, which is indivisibly audiovisual (as is all true and great pop)

icon in the fire of proto-Goth desire

showing their roots right from the almost-start with this very early B-side

"hall of mirrors", "through the looking glass" - sensing a theme

not really a Dylan cover so much as a Julie Driscoll - the It Girl of Sixties swinging England - cover

Sioux and her pretty boys - and half the cosmetics counter at Boots

more on the Banshees and the Creatures

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

not really glam (2 of ???)

despite desperate image ploy, pretty standard arena fare (produced Rick Derringer) and something like missing link between Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent

Thursday, March 29, 2018

glam versus glum

Two parts of a single 1974 documentary (made by TV for schools) called All That Glitters

the first half very glittery (The Sweet at the height of the success)

the second half very drab (prog Renia in the doldrums of struggle to make it)

and aptly enough the first bit is full-colour, the second is black-and-white

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Rockit Men

In the Aftershocks section of S+A, I have a little snippet on Def Leppard, focused on their Sweet fandom and aspirations to Wainman / Chinnichap-style overproduction / hysteria. With particular emphasis on "Pour Some Sugar on Me" - the third and by far the best single off Hysteria.

But I wish I had seen this video for this other single off Hysteria (the SEVENTH single would you believe!!). Because it is one long testament to the band's glamfandom and would have been perfect to mention in this little section on D.Leppard.

Indeed some of the images that crop up in the "Rocket" video -  UK music paper front covers and photo spreads and so forth - actually look like things I used or considered using as illustrations for S+A.

Beyond the overblown artifice and concocted excess of their sound - those shrill breath-blasts of  oddly centreless vocals, the puff-pastry layering of guitar overdubs  - another glammy thing about Leppard is a self-reflexive aspect. Not so much songs about being a rock star (although I daresay there's some, I haven't investigated that thoroughly to be honest). But more like a rocking-for-the-sake of rocking element.  (Admittedly that's quite a metal thing too).

By the next album Adrenalize, this thing of announcing their intention to rock the listener, of declaring that they're in the business of rocking - it was starting to feel a little threadbare.

You sense that The Darkness, and Andrew W.K., are not that far off.

Much later on - 2006 -  Def Leppard  explicitly return to the glam era with this really rather decent cover of Essex's "Rock On" (again, rock-about-rock).

Oh, well I never noticed that this was off an album - Yeah! - of cover tributes to favorite Leppard songs that with a few exceptions are all from the early Seventies - and that include such glam classics as  "20th Century Boy", "Hell Raiser",  "Street Life", "Drive-In Saturday", and "The Golden Age of Rock 'n' Roll", as well as the stompy proto-glitter John Kongos hit "He's Gonna Step on You Again."

Yeah!'s CD booklet has photos of Leppard each in a pose that recreates an iconic cover image from the glam-aligned early 70s: Rick Savage is Freddie Mercury from the album Queen II,
Vivian Campbell does Bolan off of T. Rex's Electric Warrior, Joe Elliott pretends to be Bowie from the back cover of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Rick Allen does Lou Reed off of Transformer, and Phil Collen poses ghastly a la Iggy on the front of Raw Power.

They also did one with the whole band imitating a Roxy inner gatefold

Oh, looky here - a recent thing in Rolling Stone where Joe Elliott talks about his favorite glam artists

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Magic Unrealism, or, The President of Ambrosia

The core of positive thinking - which is also the core of glam - is the power of Desire to override the Reality Principle.

The power of wish-speech (childish, magical, narcissistic) to reject reality as a facts-ist regime.

Hence, Billy Liar's opening line: "Lying in bed, I abandoned the facts again and was back in Ambrosia"

Hence, Trump's gainsaying of any element, however small, of consensus reality that is a blow to his own grandiose self-image. 

"Trump plainly views the act of lying, or making things up, or contradicting himself with relentless abandon, as an assertion of power — that is, the power to render reality irrelevant, the power to roll right over constraints normally imposed by expectations of consistency or fealty to basic norms of reasoned, factual inquiry.

As Jacob T. Levy has written, these “demonstrations of power undermine the existence of shared belief in truth and facts.” The whole point of them is to assert the power to say what the truth is, or what the truth should be, even when — or especially when — easily verifiable facts dictate the contrary. The brazenness of Trump’s lying is not a mere byproduct of his desire to mislead. It is absolutely central to the whole project of declaring the power to say what reality is.

Trump’s boast about making stuff up in his meeting with Trudeau comes close to an open admission of this. He lied, or made stuff up, because he could, yes, but also because what one wants to be true actually can be made true."

"Billy Liar - the boy whose imagination is larger than his life"

PR is a form of propaganda  - the StarSelf-as-miniState broadcasting how it would like to be seen by the general public

(cf Trump pretending to be his own publicist, variously known as John Miller and John Barron - later the name of his son, intriguingly - procreation as narcissistic duplication, plus he'd already reused Donald for his first-born

(oh yes he's the Great Pretender.... a pretense of Greatness)

The glam parallel supreme (although there are many - Alice "I love to tell lies" Cooper, Bowie) is Marc Bolan.

From an early draft of S+A:

"Right from the start of his career... Bolan told tall tales, offering journalists grossly inflated accounts of real events and circumstances, while promising that would never be delivered and that in most cases never got beyond being an idle fantasy:   TV cartoon series based around him and scripted by him, screenplays for “three European pictures... including one for Fellini”, several science fiction novels on the verge of UK publication. He boasted of having painted “enough for an exhibition” and having “five books finished which I`ve been sitting on for a long time”. Even on the downward slope of his career, he unfurled fantastical plans for a “new audio-visual art form”.

"Music journalists ate it up because it was good copy.  PR man Keith Altham compared him to Walter Mitty: “he knew that people always wanted something larger-than-life, so he always exaggerated. And sometimes he actually began to believe that himself”. Billy Liar is another parallel. The opening line of Keith Waterhouse’s novel is “Lying in bed, I abandoned the facts again and was back in Ambrosia”—the latter being Billy Fisher’s fantasy-land, where he rules as a benign dictator/generalissimo.  For Bolan as for Fisher, reality was a facts-ist regime from which he was determined to secede.  Both came from  humble, hard-graft backgrounds (lorry driver father, market stall-holder mum, in Bolan’s Case) amid prosaic, color-depleted surroundings (the East End of London, rather than the imaginary industrial-mercantile Northern town of Stradhoughton in Billy Liar).  Both escaped through make-believe and making things up."

Positive thinking is a form of self-hypnotism, the beaming into the unconscious of "mental photographs", power-poses, heroic self-images, self-actualisation maxims, affirmations etc - a form of internally introjected propaganda. 

In The Power of Positive Thinking Norman Vincent Peale (Trump's pastor as a young man) advises: "Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade. Your mind will seek to develop the picture ... Do not build up obstacles in your imagination."

Poz-thinking infected forms of religion (e.g. Joel Osteen's prosperity gospel) (although positive thinking is itself a religion, a perversion of Protestantism) explicitly encourage believers to avoid contact with viewpoints that contradict one's wishful thinking. Osteen sermonises about how one's seed-of-greatness will not flourish in a soil of negativity - it is imperative to surround yourself with positive people (i.e. people who will not discourage you with their more reality-based judgements and lowered expectations, fatalists of every stripe). Similar to the techniques of Scientology, where the organisation encourages / forces the convert to abandon friends and family members who are not down with the positivity program and to instead spend one's entire social life within the belief-reinforcing enclosure  of the community of believers.

Another way of doing this is to constantly reshuffle your cabinet to get rid of realists, people who give any credence to the expertise of the reality-based community. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Ninotchka + glam / anti-glam, or, Luxury Communism goes to Hollywood

Scene: a shared and spartan apartment in Moscow circa 1939. Ninotchka, a diplomatic envoy recently returned from Paris, is catching up with her flatmate Anna, a musician who plays in a symphony orchestra. 

ANNA (brandishing a chic silk undergarment Ninotchka brought back from Paris): When I passed through the laundry yard today I saw all the women huddled around this, so I brought it up here. Things like this create a bad feeling - first, they didn't know whose it was, and then they saw the Paris label, and did it start a commotion! Some said it's what we all ought to wear and others said it's like hanging foreign ideas on our clothes line, it undermines our whole cause.


ANNA: You know how it is today - all you have to do is wear a pair of silk stockings and they suspect you of counter-revolution.

NINOTCHKA: Thank you, Anna - I'll dry it up here when I wash it next. I should hate to see our country endangered by my underwear.


[Anna asks Ninotchka if she brought anything else  back from Paris and she explains that she left everything else she bought behind because she had to return to Moscow in a hurry; she just happened to be wearing the camisole when she left for the airport. She mentions that among all the garments  left behind, her favorite was a hat.]

NINOTCHKA: It was very silly. I would be ashamed to wear it here.

ANNA: As beautiful as that!


[Ninotchka mentions that she also bought an evening gown, which causes Anna to marvel at the extravagance of wearing different clothes for different times of day]

ANNA: You are exaggerating!

NINOTCHKA: No, it's true - that's how they live in the other world. Here we dress to cover up our bodies - to keep warm.

ANNA: And there?

NINOTCHKA: Sometimes they're not completely covered - but they don't freeze. 

[Anna strokes the exquisitely soft material the undergarment is made of, marveling that such luxuriant fabric is used for a piece of clothing that isn't even visible to other people's eyes. She asks Ninotchka if she can borrow if for her upcoming honeymoon, and Ninotchka says she can have it for keeps. An overjoyed and grateful Anna hurries off to work clutching her cello.  Ninotchka, finding herself alone, turns on the radio for solace, looking for music. But every Soviet station is broadcasting state propaganda - facts and figures about the economy, productivity soaring, etc]

NINOTCHKA (plaintively): No music!

Hollywood designers make Communist uniforms look chic!

digi-glam and tyranny 4 u

"'Everything here is fake. That’s what you have to realize,” [said my Paramount Studios tour guide]. She did not mean “fake” in any negative sense. In the 20th century, such fake material was confined to the entertainment industry, which in that earlier age of technology was clearly separate from the news industry. Now the scope of what constitutes fake is vaster. And I do not mean President Trump’s false claims of “fake news,” which is merely news he doesn’t like or agree with. I mean the world of digital and video technology that has allowed the Hollywood mind-set of manipulating reality to distort how we think about the great issues of the day.

"Objective, professional journalism — which seeks balance among respectable points of view — flourished, we should remind ourselves, within the context of the print-and-typewriter age: a more benign technology much less given to forgery and alteration compared with that of our current era. The digital-video age may have begun in the latter part of the 20th century, but we saw its dramatic effect on politics during the 2016 election. It is common for there to be a lag time between technological innovation and political-military effect. Recall that although the Second Industrial Revolution began in the mid-19th century, we did not really see its effect on war until 1914.

"It is impossible to imagine Trump and his repeated big lies that go viral except in the digital-video age. It is impossible to imagine our present political polarization except in the age of the Internet, which drives people to sites of extreme views that validate their preexisting prejudices. And, in the spirit of Hollywood, it is impossible to imagine the degree and intensity of emotional and sensory manipulation, false rumors, exaggerations and character assassination that decay our public dialogue except in this new and terrifying age of technology which has only just begun.

"Digital-video technology, precisely because it is given to manipulation, is inherently controlling. Think of how the great film directors of the 20th century were able to take over your mind for a few hours: a new experience for audiences that previous generations had never known. Theater may be as old as the ancient Greeks, but the technology of film lent a new and powerful force to the theatrical experience. Moreover, it was contained within a limited time period, and afterward you came back to the real world....

"In the 21st century, dictators may have the capability to be the equivalent of film directors, and the show never stops. Indeed, Joseph Goebbels would undoubtedly thrive in today’s world. As for warfare itself, it will be increasingly about dividing and demoralizing enemy populations through disinformation campaigns whose techniques are still in their infancy....

"We will fight best by thinking tragically to avoid tragedy. This means learning to think like the tyrants who feed and prosper on misinformation so we can keep several steps ahead of them.... Constructive pessimism is called for. The innocent days when illusions were the province of movie stage sets are way behind us."

from "Everything here is fake" by Robert D. Kaplan Washington Post, March 2 2018

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

karma Camille-ion

"A further landmark in ]Prince and Michael Jackson's] uneasy rivalry came when [Quincy] Jones suggested to Jackson that Prince duet with him on the title track of his Bad album. "So we invited [Prince] over to Michael's house at Hayvenhurst. He came in and he had an overcoat on, and he had a big white box labeled camille. He called Michael 'Camille.' " Prince, it seems, had brought a gift for his host. "The box had all kinds of stuff—some cuff links with Tootsie Rolls on them. Michael was scared to death—he thought there was some voodoo in there. I wanted to take it, because I knew Michael was gonna throw it away."
- interview with Quincy Jones, GQ

"The conceptual and technical masterstroke of “Girlfriend” is the gender-morphing of Prince’s vocals... pitch-shifted to create the feminine alter-ego Camille....  Prince-watchers instantly grasped that this was the wholly logical, yet completely unexpected and surprising, extension of his androgyny, his compulsion to dissolve borderlines and barriers....  In another sense, the artificially high-pitched Camille voice was simply a technological expansion upon what Prince already did vocally: sing falsetto in the soul ‘n’ funk tradition of Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” where the “the sound of a woman coming from a man,” as critic Michael Freedburg wrote, served “to demonstrate to his intended lover that he understands her fears and desires as if he were female himself..... "... These forcibly etherealized vocal sounds generally connote the angelic, the extra-terrestrial, the cosmic and otherworldly. They can also be the sound of those who feel alienated from mundane normative existence, who feel like they are from some other place.

"Some Prince-ologists say that the singer chose the name “Camille” for his alter-ego after a 19th century French intersex person generally known by the name Alexina Barbin but who later called themself Camille. Barbin was brought up as a girl but was reclassified as male at the age of 22 and came to use “Camille”—in French, it can be both a female and male name—to describe the masculine phase of their short life.... Partially reproduced in a 19th century medical paper, Barbin’s memoirs were rediscovered and published in 1980. Philosopher Michel Foucault, who was gay, wrote an introduction celebrating Barbin as a sort of exemplar of the sexual misfit, whose biography spoke to and for all those “virile women” and “passive men” who live in a “happy limbo of nonidentity.” But Barbin’s story leaned more to the tragic: grappling externally with uncomprehending medical and religious institutions, and internally with persistent feelings of “vague sadness,” “inexpressible uneasiness,” and “strange perplexity,” culminating in lonely suicide at the age of 30. If it is in fact true that Prince’s “Camille” was inspired by Barbin’s tale, it’s possible that he didn’t get it from the republished memoir but from the 1985 movie Mystère Alexina.

"Prince originally intended to release a whole album of material using the Camille alter-ego and the pitch-shifted, feminized vocal sound. But the self-titled, eight-song LP Camille was scrapped, with most of the tunes resurfacing later as album tracks or B-sides..."

from my Pitchfork memorial to Prince.

The mystery deepens - was "Camille" really Michael Jackson, the androgyne king of pop, whom Prince admired, envied and wished to dethrone?  Would the Camille album have been his attempt at magical substitution, displacement, even incorporation, of his rival?

glam in the movies #1