Monday, February 28, 2005
Exhibit A: Tim McGraw's unbelievable song "Red Rag Top." I've only heard this song on the radio once, in the car this fall, driving through Rock Creek Parkway on the way from one job to another, and I almost had to pull over in the parking lot because I was sobbing so hard. This is the single best pop artifact I've ever heard about abortion (take that, Ani DiFranco), and it's even more amazing given the strident and uncompromising language that usually characterizes the pro-choice/pro-life debate. In brief: the narrator of the song recounts how he was a teenager and got his girlfriend pregnant. As he puts it,
I was out of a job and she was in school
Life was fast and the world was cruel
We were young and wild, we decided not to have a child.
And that's how it goes. They don't descend to a fiery hell-pit. They aren't even consumed with horrible regret every moment of their lives. They are very young and take one of the options available to them. And it's a really hard choice. And their relationship doesn't survive it. From everything I know personally about teenage couples who choose abortion, this seems pretty damn accurate. Best decision in a hard place? Maybe. Gonna mess with your emotions? Let's hope so. This is pretty much the same position taken by Hillary Clinton in her January speech, which, btw, was lauded as revolutionary. It's now being echoed by Andrew Sullivan. And Tim McGraw said it first. (I also have a long and fairly boring thesis involving a close reading of the visual imagery in the title, doing my best imitation of a New Critic, but this post is too long already. Basic point = this song is genius.)
And now that we see what complex heights Mr. McGraw is capable of, I bring you to Exhibit B: "Back When," his current hit song (played about 100 times a day on the local station) a dismal piece of pap that snuggles up way to closely to racism for its popularity to make me comfortable. The general gist of "Back When?" Well, it's that the narrator misses a simpler way of life, before life got so "complicated." So far, so understandable, if a little boring, given the surge in this kind of nostalgia in country these days. And then we get to the chorus:
Back when a hoe was a hoe
Coke was a coke
And crack's what you were doing
When you were cracking jokes
Back when a screw was a screw
The wind was all that blew
And when you said I'm down with that
Well it meant you had the flu
I miss back when
Let's parse a little, shall we? What, exactly, bothers this narrator? A series of double-entendre slang words, most of which come from and/or pertain to what we now like to call "urban" communities. Is crack really a problem for you, sir? Crystal meth, I'll believe, but crack? I doubt it. And ho's? Well, did you object "back when" they were called hookers? Finally, come on, "I'm down with that" -- at best you're a curmudgeon, Narrator-Man, and at worst you're pining for a world in which your vernacular (and, by extension, your worldview) was white, white, white. It's not too far a mosey from "I miss back when" to Trent Lott's infamous remarks about Strom Thurmond. Why can't we just avoid the problems we're having now, McGraw's song asks, why can't we go back to that simpler place in time (when, you know, segregation was legal)?
In conclusion: Do I think all Southerners/ country music fans are racist? Hell no. And I'll hurt the face of anyone who says so. Do I think Tim McGraw is racist? I highly doubt it, and not just because of his hypnotizingly repetitive duet with Nelly. Which is exactly what pisses me off about this song -- it's pandering to a base, in the worst way. Selling one thing by tacit inclusion of another, especially for someone who's as capable of complex emotion as I'd like to believe Tim McGraw is . . . well, it's a big, stinkin' cop out. The wind is not all that blows, sir. Your song does, too.
It's been going on most of the day, and I think it's supposed to continue into the morning. No matter many years it's been since I had a real, for-real snow day (8 I think), I still get excited by the thought that snow automatically brings the promise of undeserved escape, a last-minute pardon by a celestial governor because, well, he felt like it. Although now that I teach a couple days a week, I can still get out of going to school, if not work. The Montgomery County annoucement goes up at 5am tomorrow -- I don't think I'll be checking it that early.
Had a really good yesterday. Except for the skipping out on church part, I actually did all of the things I think you're supposed to do on Sunday. Like, the ideal Monday involves a really good breakfast, and the ideal Friday involves doing something crazy with friends, the ideal Sunday would be my yesterday . . . well, there wasn't a newspaper. Okay, with a newspaper and minus the UNBELIEVABLE INSANE TOOTH AND CLAW PANDEMONIUM THAT WAS THE LAUNDROMAT, the ideal Sunday would be my yesterday.
Today, not bad, not great. Work was totally fine -- snow seems to make things less urgent, if not less necessary. But then I got my first rejection letter tonight from a grad school, and I'm still sort of processing it. I knew this would happen -- I had certainly prepared to be rejected from some if not all of the schools I applied to. But still. Ouch.
Character building, right? Of course right.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
I was also blessed with the best spur-of-the-moment digs in all the boroughs, so thank you so muchly, o beautiful & inexpensive house in Brooklyn. If you must belong to someone who is not me, thank goodness you belong to someone who will let me sleep there.
Saw Boozy on Saturday night and was reminded of hours spent in improvised musicals about Chairman Mao. Too bad nostalgia's for suckers.
And, finally, experienced the famous Gates on Monday, which were there in all their no-of-course-it's-orange-and-not-saffron-for-Christ-sakes glory. This and this are way better takes on them than I can do, but suffice it to say, it's an amazing spectacle to see everyone out in the park, and each individual gate looks, well, pretty lame. Also my feet were soaking wet and freezing (as were Beloved Fiance's), so we had a less transcendent time than we would have in proper rain attire. We were also stuck in front of a very intense conversation about competitive dog shows.
In conclusion, Vamoose bus gets you there more or less on time and with hokey tearjerker movies. But you do get to buy your tickets from a guy with peyos, who shouts "Vamoose! Vamoose!" as you approach the bus. Oh, the big city.
Saturday, February 19, 2005
All right, I'm admitting from the beginning that I haven't seen the movie. And, usually, I have negative patience for dimwit nimrods who pontificate upon works of art they have not yet experienced. (For example, having strongly dismissive opinions of Jane Austen, based on only reading the Calvin Trillin criticism, as in Metropolitan. Or that guy in section. I hate that guy.) But, all the hooplah about Million Dollar Baby was making me many different kinds of angry, and I had to do something.
So I went into Borders and read the short story that the movie was based on. And now I will pontificate. Consider yourselves warned.
Pontificating point 1: O pundits, how easily ye be swayed by your punditry. Folks on the right (and handicapped activists) have been freaking out about the fact that the film ends with a paralyzed person being killed because she no longer wants to live. Rush Limbaugh calls it the "Million Dollar Euthanasia Movie" and decries its "liberal propaganda." Meanwhile, folks on the left are mystified as to why this could bother people and mock the outrage. Frank Rich puts it up there with the faux-outing of SpongeBob. Now, again, haven't seen the movie and maybe there is a big chorus of cheerleaders saying "Kill, kill, kill!" but, based on the book, I doubt it. To say it's "pro-euthansia," to the point of advocating that all handicapped people be killed seems like stretch. F.X. Toole, in the story, makes a point of mentioning that the other people in the facility where Maggie lives are "happy" and want to keep living. Just not her. On the other hand, would it destroy Frank Rich to say that, yes, killing is in fact wrong? Really wrong. Like, not okay it's so wrong. Cultural relativism, schmultural relativism -- killing people = wrong. If we're still arguing over this, we can call the 2008 election now.
Pontificating point 2: Have a practical system in place to back up your outrage. If you're an anti-euthanasia, pro-life Republican, what the fuck are you doing cutting the funding for social programs that will take care of the handicapped and children? Pro-life and anti-Head Start just makes my head spin. Likewise, pro-euthansia, pro-choice Dems, have some sympathy for the fact that not everyone who's worse off than you would rather be dead or not have been born at all. There's a pamphlet in the back of the church where I went for Ash Wednesday labeled "Planned Parenthood's campaign to kill black babies." Do I think it's true? Of course not. But I think focusing only on how oppressed the oppressed people are isn't working. And it's offensive.
Pontificating point 3: Has no one noticed they're all Irish Catholics? This is a religious movie! The writer, the girl boxer, her grizzled old trainer -- all Catholic. Clint Eastwood, with that name, somehow I doubt it. But the story has pretty explicit religious themes down to the point of having the trainer visit a priest to discuss his plan to kill Maggie. He goes to confession knowing he is about to commit a mortal sin. And then he commits it. Maybe I'm just a fruitcake, but this seems to be the simplest explanation of the fight that the pundits are having. Rush is saying "But killing people is wrong!" and Frank is saying "But he just made a choice and who are we to judge?" And the story says, simply, he sinned. And, as best as we can tell, he would do it again. Whether there's a heroism to sacricing your mortal soul to follow your friend's wishes is a debate I'm really not going to get into until I see the movie, but I think it's a hell of a lot more interesting than the debate that's going on.
Thursday, February 17, 2005
A pop music review in some copies on Monday about the Grammy Awards broadcast misstated the title of a song performed by Alicia Keys. It is "If I Ain't Got You," not "If I Can't Have You."
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Anyhow, I was weirdly cagey about buying Vol. 2 because way back in college, I had borrowed it from a then-boyfriend and held onto it in a weirdly talismanic way as we struggled through a pretty disastrous breakup. As I recall, I finally gave the CD back to him at the end of the year, as I was packing up my stuff for summer storage, but it still felt somehow like "his CD." Not that we had a whole montage of poignant relationship memories set to "Raspberry Beret" (we didn't) but that he had introduced me to the breadth of the Prince oeuvre and it felt like cheating somehow to hold onto that knowledge after our relationship was over. A little-discussed question in the etiquette of twentysomething break-ups is whether or not you get to keep your ex-boyfriend's taste in music. Unsure of what Carloyn Hax would say, I opted for no.
But there I was in the AltiTunes store and there Prince was in all his paisley glory. Maybe it was the fact that I'm getting married in 7 months. Maybe it was just generally growing older and having college fade into the background. Maybe it was the approach of Valentine's Day. Whatever the reason, it was suddenly okay to own the sweet, raunchy fabulousness of Prince.
So, Ex-Boyfriend, thank you for sharing Prince. Thank you for pointing out the song "Pope," knowing that it would appeal to me, as I do, indeed, want to be the pope. Thank you for letting me keep your CD until I was ready to say goodbye. And Happy Valentine's Day, wherever you are.
Saturday, February 12, 2005
The most amazing thing about being down here isn't the hospital though, or the doctors and nurses, or even the bizarre task of filling a day in a waiting room. It's the people who have come to take care of her. To put this in perspective, my grandparents moved to this town about 35 years ago, and I have been getting phone calls ever since we showed up from people offering to help. Folks have been coming by her room, visiting, and some family friends drove in this morning for a 24-hour visit from 2 states away. None of these people are family; none of them have any particular "obligation" to her, but yet here they are. One man called yesterday and said, "Your grandparents were so kind to us 30 years ago, and I just want to be able to help out." What?
I know this town isn't paradise, and if Alabama elects Roy Moore as governor it may cease to qualify as a democracy, but I can't help but be touched by people's kindness. Would I stick my neck out to help an old woman who once did me a favor decades ago? I don't know. Where do my boundaries of helpfulness end?
I guess the answer is to keep on doing people favors now and hope at least some of them remember.
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
The combination of some very good news (on a totally personal front) and some pretty bad news (grandmother in hospital, should come out fine, but still scary, esp. as she's in Alabama w/ no immediate family nearby) has left me quite woozy. Like I got drunk on emotion or something and now I'm left with the headache and regret.
You gotta love the Ash Wednesday reading, btw, if only because they tell you right up front to be guilty about what you're doing. Entire point of Gospel reading: "Don't go around parading the fact that you're doing good or that you're suffering. If you really want God to like you, deprive yourself in secret." Day's entire activity: "Get smudged by a priest so you can broadcast to everyone you bump into, 'Hey, I'm a practicing Catholic and I'm repenting today! Dig it!'" Absolutely unreconcilable. Especially on a half-empty stomach, that I'm actually not even supposed to be talking about.
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Now, to her credit, poor old Natalie is on the defensive. Raising your kid to be an atheist in this day and age has got to be difficult at times, even in Takoma Park. But in order to bolster her point that you can raise a great, atheist kid, she quotes her own 8-yr-old daughter on subjects like death and God. Here's a sample:
First I asked her if she believed in god. She crinkled up her nose at me like I had mentioned something distasteful, like spinach and liver, or kissing a boy, and said, No! I asked her if she was sorry she’d been raised as an atheist, and she said no, she liked it. I asked why. First, she said, you don’t have to waste Sundays going to pray. Also I’d rather do things myself than have somebody else do them for me. If somebody gets sick, I wouldn’t just pray to god he or she gets better, I would try to buy some medicine for them, to help them get better.
Cool. Great. Totally logical. Have we mentioned that the girl is eight years old? Eight year olds believe in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus (if they're raised to) and the totemic power of Hillary Duff (even if they're raised not to.) The fact that your 8-yr-old thinks God is like spinach proves exactly NOTHING about the benefits of raising an atheist child as compared to a religious one. Certainly not, as Angier argues, that "raising a child as an atheist, or a committed secularist, is the right thing to do." Not "a right thing to do," mind you, but "the right thing to do." Slow down a minute on your tolerance wagon, there, Natalie.
Now, to give her credit, those of us who believe would probably say God is sometimes a lot like spinach, and sometimes a lot like kissing a boy. And sometimes like none of the above.
I don't fault Natalie Angier's daughter for thinking this way about God, but I'm annoyed (or maybe by now just bemused) at the credence Angier assigns these words. I shouldn't be surprised anymore by things like this, but the whole piece reminds me of nothing so much as ministers who quote their children on Sunday. "Little Johnny once asked me if the money we take up in the collection plate goes to God so He can buy things," the preacher says and the congregation all goes "Awwwww." The mystery of belief becomes easier through a child's eyes, and so, apparently does the project of atheism. Angier says:
When I tell my daughter why I’m an atheist, I explain it is because I see no evidence for a god, a divinity, a big bearded mega-king in the sky. And you know something – she gets that. She got it way back when, and I think once you get it, it’s pretty hard to lose it.
I don't know how hard it is to lose atheism. All I know is how hard it is to keep faith. Oh yeah, and that eight-year-olds are, um, children, and will keep wrestling to find answers to the big questions no matter what their parents tell them. My prediction, for the record, is that the kid turns out Ba'hai.
Sunday, February 06, 2005
Anyway, I feel this way all the time about people reminding me of other people and am usually greeted with blunt denials -- "No, he doesn't" -- or dubious humoring -- "I can kind of see it. Around the eyes." Yesterday, however, I emerged victorious after venturing that a very good friend whom I haven't seen in several years (isn't it bizarre that I'm old enough to write that?) reminded me of Princess Ann Claire from Love is in the Heir. I was greeted with squeals of approval, nods of recognition, and even a few rounds of "Exactly! I thought the same thing!" Very Good Friend herself has not yet seen the show, but, after having been compared repeatedly to a princess, I hope she starts watching.
By now the "I'm ashamed to admit it, but I have this reality show that I love" confessional has gotten pretty worn out, but I have to throw one last log on its smoldering embers. Love is in the Heir is a great show. Really. And I'm not just saying that because my friend looks like the princess. See, it's about this princess (who, although the show doesn't dwell on it to the point of not mentioning it at all) is fascinatingly half Iranian and half British. And she lives in LA, where she speaks with a hard-earned American accent, although she still throws in Britishisms unawares. And she has this personal assistant, who's totally preposterous (except for in that one episode where she had two personal assistants, and one of them was named Baz. That one was the best.) And she is allegedly kind of dating her former personal trainer, Ritchie, except he has probably the worst hair I've ever seen and seems markedly uninterested in her. The Ritchie stuff is pretty terrible. But the best part of all is that she wants to be a country singer.
Some people (such as my Beloved Fiance) have pointed out that this show might be what they call "fake." And I'll admit that some of the gambits probably weren't entirely the participants' ideas. But I do believe wholeheartedly that
- Princess Ann Claire is actually a princess and her family is actually royalty of some sort.
- She does actually want to be a country singer and wrote all those lame country songs herself.
And that's enough for me to care about the show. She really, really wants to be a country pop star, enough to drag herself off to Nashville and make a huge, horrible fool of herself in front of all these music executives. Maybe this is just coming from a particularly insecure place in myself, or maybe I'm just sick of watching people's heroic rises to the top, but there was something beautiful in her pure, hopeful mediocrity that spoke to me.
I think, perhaps, at the end of the day, that's what America has to offer. We don't have dynasties or Crown jewels or Cinderella balls, but we are a country where any schmo with a couple spare million dollars and a dream can parade around on television chasing it. Would I let someone make a TV series called "American Playwright Idol" about my quest, banking that the exposure would be more valuable than the inherent exploitation? Probably not. I can't stand to watch videos of school plays from 5th grade, so I don't think I'd do so well on TV. But something makes me respect those who are willing to put themselves out there for a shot at greatness.
Godspeed, Princess Ann Claire. And you, too, Very Good Friend. May your dreams come true, with or without the Pahlavi dynasty to back them.
Friday, February 04, 2005
Senior year of college, I directed a production of Three Sisters, which now strikes me as unfathomably bold or extraordinarily stupid. But, at the time, I was obsessed with the liminal state in which the three sisters found themselves and the degree to which they brought it upon themselves with all their educated angsting. Fast forward 3 years and I'm cozily ensconced in my own self-inflicted threshold and looking to stay there for, well, at least a few more months. I've applied to grad school, but am dour about my prospects of getting in, and overeducated, immobile angst fills at least 20 percent of my daily mental space. Hence, "I want to go to Moscow!"
We had t-shirts made for the Three Sisters cast and crew (marketing is one of the things about this show that I remain proud of -- especially the ads featuring the girls of Full House and The Brady Bunch) that said "Are we there yet?" on the front pocket, and that's sort of how I feel these days. I know I should appreciate each day as it happens, and there's actually quite a lot of great stuff going on in my life, but still, I'm itching to know what happens next. When I was younger, I would always make my mom explain the plots of movies before we watched them: I couldn't handle the stress of not knowing how the story would end. Once I knew the end, however, I could kick back with the popcorn and actually enjoy the show. (Full disclosure: I still try to make Colin do this if we're watching a movie he's seen before. He refuses, though. Something about "ruining the end" or some such nonsense.)
And that's pretty much what's going on with my brain these days. I bug Colin and my mom and my friends to tell me how it's going to end, convinced that once I know what's going to happen in June I'll be way better equipped to handle February, and they say "Shut up and watch the movie."
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Typing up all of these (what I'm avoiding right this very minute, thanks) is making me want to do nothing so much as add in narrators, vegetables, animals, time travel, and dream sequences to whatever I write next. Not that it'll be as good as my students' stuff, but as their teacher, I should at least be giving them a run for their money, right?
Really. They're all geniuses. Narrators! Who knew?
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Anyhow, in the interests of greater harmony and better snobbery, Beloved Fiance and I are now presenting the First Annual Inaugural "Holy Shit, I'm So Happy They Put That on the Radio in the Last Five Years" Awards. Now, you know where to put the pitchforks, people.
"Stan" -- Eminem
When I first heard this song, I literally had to get off my treadmill. The real kind of treadmill that you run on. Because I was so freaked out at the juxtapositions -- wispy British vocals, suicidal protagonist, and the unbearably post-modern worldview posited: "My rapping character is a creation of symbols. Whither reality?" Eminem was being fought by a lot of different people when this album came out. With this single, he not only defeated his critics, he shamed them. Derrida's heir, dude, Derrida's heir.
YOU SAID THE D WORD.
The amazing thing is not just that the Stan character is more fucked up than Slim Shady (saying alot after the previous track "oh god now he's talking about raping his own mother, snorting coke, abusing whores, and we gave him the Rolling Stone cover?"). Stan's is also really human, which makes this song still really scary. And remember when Eminem performed the song on stage at the Grammys with Elton John? Dude went a long way in a few months, and sadly I don't know when he's coming back. "Lose Yourself" is killer, but everything since has been meh, though he's still good at the confessional/realism thing (like the new Toy Soldiers song--bad production, amazingly vulnerable words).
"H.O.V.A." -- Jay Z.
Can't really say what about it. Maybe the introduction. "...You could be anywhere in the world..." I should be smarter if I'm going to write about it. The whole tune is in the pocket. And was a revelation to me--I didn't know acting totally gansta would get sold so well. But damn does this song sell it. Best moments with this tune: played over halftime at a international soccer match in Gillette Stadium. Ticos from Nueva York and literal soccermoms from Duxbury, heads bobbin' everywhere.
"Gossip Folks" -- Missy Elliot
With her rapping on this song, Missy proved that she could get away with anything.
"Cry Me a River" -- Justin T. et al
Alex Ross did it first and did it better, so I'm left with a world of ditto, but suffice it to say that when the pretty-boy frontman of an Orlando pop band suddenly shows up with a soaring string section, a vindictive chorus, and sludgy-yet-hummable production by Timbaland, well I consider it worldview-shattering. Add the backstory about Britney and that man-slut Wade the Choreographer, and get even more zeitgeist splinters.
I like this song, I'm sure, but I kind of get bogged down when I think about what to "say" about lil JT. This entry can represent my favorite things about JT in the past 2 years: the fact that he personally pulled off Janet Jackson's boob-cover and yet seems to not be remembered in that incident (but when will we hear "Rock Your Body" on the national scene again?), and his amazing impersonation of the beardless 1/3 of the Bee Gees.
"Chop Suey" -- System of a Down
How freaking weird is System of a Down? How did anyone put them in the same camp as Limp Bizkit?
One day they will fulfill the promise of the "Jesus Christ SuperSatan" midsection of this piece and perform a full-length rock opera about the Armenian Genocide. Until then, we can only sit back and do what our tapeworms tell us to do. Pull the tapeworm out of your ass! Hey!
"Travelin' Soldier" -- the Dixie Chicks
Most of the time, when I hear a song on the local country station that involves soldiers, I turn off the radio and bang my head soundlessly into the steering wheel. But this song actually dares to tell a story, and tell a sad one. Granted, it was written before we went back to war, and it takes place during Vietnam, but it can put a boot in Toby Keith's ass any day of the week and twice on Sundays. It's a sad, sweet love song about a girl and her soldier, but the most haunting image is also the most shocking. In the final verse, the heroine finds out the boy is dead with the line "and one name read and nobody really cared." After all, this is a boy who writes to this girl, not because they're dating but because, as he put it, "I got no one to send a letter to." So, there's the fiddle break and the delicate harmonies we come to expect from the Dixie Chicks, but buried in there is a message way more threatening than "I'm ashamed to be from Texas": when you're killed in a war, maybe no one will care.
Wow. I never have heard that song. It sounds really good and sad. PS--don't tell MediaUnbound, Inc. that I never have listened to that song.
"All Falls Down" -- Kanye West
Why oh Why do would most critics rather talk about Slow Jamz? Yes, that song was funny, but this song is about something. I think it's the flagship song on the album. No gimmicks, not even the Jesus gimmick. Dorothy's going to be better at this than I am. Buckle down, because I'm sure it's going to be... uh... thorough...
Communism's dead. Socialism's flagging. And those skinny weirdos who put up the LaRouche signs aren't accomplishing much of anything. But somehow, under everybody's noses all at once, a Chicago producer released the most lucid and bracing critique of contemporary consumerist society and in particular tied it to three centuries of racism and the legacy of slavery. THIS IS TOP FORTY RADIO, PEOPLE! Nobody, and I mean nobody, has made these points (linking the desire for flashy consumer goods to a lack of sense of self than comes from being historically 3/5 of a person) more trenchantly. Not scholars, not newspaper columnists, not Al Sharpton, and not Spike Lee. Oh yeah, and the song's three minutes long. And it's funny. And it rhymes. Switching from a fictional female character (who "couldn't afford a car, so she named her daughted Alexis," for those of you not quite as obsessed with this song as I am) to the collective "we" (who are "trying to buy back our forty acres") and then back, self-depricatingly to himself ("we're all self-conscious, I'm just the first to admit it"), Kanye West exposes and explores purchasing as a necessary form of ersatz self-esteem. And people were singing along to it in clubs for months solid. Larry Summers fired Cornel West for releasing a rap album. If he had any brains in that puffy head of his, he'd hire Kanye West for the same offense.
Other entries not yet discussed include "Why" (Jadakiss) and "Ms. Jackson" (OutKast).
Perhaps more will come later.