Princess Cornflakes

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Archive for November 2007

Mountain Goats at NYU – the Goats are All Right

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Last night I went to see The Mountain Goats at the NYU Kimmel Center – my first concert since Einsturzende Neubauten in 2003. As my husband and I stood there watching, we realized that everyone was about 15-17 years younger than us and they all had tight jeans on. Lots of people are talking about the “emo” kids – I guess today’s variation on goth. They make fun of their long bangs and overly sensitive ways. I just think they are young kids listening to new music, and we call them “emo” because we are jealous that we don’t look as good as they do in tight jeans. I don’t think that these kids are any more effete than we were at age 18-20.

Anyway, The Mountain Goats consist of John Darnielle on guitar and Peter Hughes on bass. They are one of a new category of what I call “half bands”. Like the White Stripes, the Mountain Goats only have 2 members who double up on instruments. Therefore John Darnielle sings, plays guitar and tries to keep the rhythm by slapping the guitar occasionally. Hughes just plays bass and stands there looking very cute in his 3 piece mod suit.

John Darnielle is also one hell of a good songwriter. He’s been through a lot in life and he’s heard a lot of music. He grew up in Norwalk, not far from my hometown of Long Beach, and claims to have spent his youth listening to Gun Club records that he picked up from some Hawaiian owned record store in a local strip mall. The Gun Club are one of the great under-sung bands of punk so if Darnielle’s story is true, it’s an inspiring tale.

Darnielle writes about his abusive step father, he writes about Kurt Cobain, he writes about speed users in Oregon, he writes concept albums about fictitious alcoholics rotting in old houses in Tallahassee, trapped by love and substance abuse to a trashy everyday of cheap gin and game shows. He writes well about these intense situations in a first person voice, alternating between profound metaphor and trivial moments that make the songs seem so lifelike, for example, “This Year”:

I played video games in a drunken haze
I was seventeen years young.
hurt my knuckles punching the machines
the taste of scotch rich on my tongue.

and then cathy showed up and we hung out.
trading swigs from the bottle all bitter and clean
locking eyes, holding hands,
twin high maintenance machines.

Yes, I know, that last line is a grabber. Darnielle has a damn fine knack for language.

He also sings his lyrics with passion. Sometimes his singing is soft accompanied by his gentle guitar strumming, sometimes he bursts into high gear with a sudden whiny yell, eyes closed, as if he’s possessed by some inner demon. At these moments he’s singing directly from the heart, no faking. Darnielle’s inspiration, Gun Club lead singer Jeffrey Lee Pierce also broke out into moments of true passion with his vocals, his voice literally cracking in songs like “Sleeping in Blood City” or “Like Calling up Thunder”, and Jeffrey never faked it either. But the reality of Jeffrey’s demons were just the problem. They killed him in the end. Darnielle’s demons are just in his imagination and in his memory. Had Jeffrey lived and “walked the straight path to the end of his days”, perhaps he would have learned to control the demons for the purposes of his music. But like Billy Holiday or Bob Marley, perhaps we prefer Jeffrey to be a legend.

And oh yeah, the NYU show….they didn’t play “No Children”, the crowd-pleasing singalong song that everyone requests. Perhaps they are trying to get away from this one. I’ve heard it too many time and am sick of it so that was fine with me. They played Tallahassee which was great. But I really wish they had played “Dilauded” a song that truly has “enough sexual tension to split the atom”, as Darnielle put it so well.

Written by nattie

November 30, 2007 at 3:00 pm

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Watching TV with Paul Morrissey

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I just spent the past hour in an unexpected TV-viewing encounter with Paul Morrissey. For the uninitiated, Morrissey was Andy Warhol’s film director and made many of the films starring Edie Sedgwick, such as “Chelsea Girls”, “Trash”, “Flesh”, “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein”, etc.

As a long-time (20 years) devotee of Warhol, Edie, the Velvet Underground and all things Factory, I obviously had a lot to ask Morrissey. His responses were unexpected in many ways.

Obviously the first thing I asked about was Andy Warhol. Seems like everybody has a strong opinion about Andy. “Andy was materialistic”, “Andy was obsessed with stardom,” etc. Morrissey observed that what you hear about Andy is mostly the media’s fabrication of him, since it has become fashionable to make him into a total charicature. Morrissey himself recalled Andy as being a very challenged person. Andy was dyslexic. Andy had difficulty speaking. So, when he met people on the street Andy always had a few handy one-liners in his back pocket – “Can I take your picture?” “Do you want to buy a copy of my magazine?”, etc to distract people from starting a conversation which may reveal his communications failures.

Being a self-titled bohemian girl (OK, houswife), I obviously asked Paul about Edie. Edie was always one of my idols. Morrissey basically repeated what you often hear about Edie. She was a rich, pampered girl. She was incredibly good-looking. She had an amazing body. She was very disturbed as a result of the way her family treated her, but also thanks to the asylums where she had been continually sent and the drugs she had been given there. I was surprised that Morrissey actually liked “Factory Girl”, which I had heard described as “Edie for dummies”. However, he said that the portrayal of Bob Dylan was completely inaccurate. The film made Bob out to be a moral hero, putting down the factory crowd for their speed and hard drugs and begging Edie to leave Andy, a “bloodsucker” and come with him. According to Morrissey, Bob invited Edie to Woodstock and there he gave her heroin. Bob was apparently no better than any of them.

Surprisingly, for a Factory regular, Morrissey didn’t take drugs. Here is what Andy said about Morrissey (from warholstars.org)

Andy Warhol:

“Paul didn’t take drugs – in fact, he was against every single drug, right down to aspirin. He had a unique theory that the reason kids were taking so many drugs all of a sudden was because they were bored with having good health, that since medical science by now had eradicated most childhood diseases, they wanted to compensate for having missed out on being sick. ‘Why do they call it experimenting with drugs?’ he’d demand. ‘It’s just experimenting with ill health!'” (POP118)

 

Warholstars goes on to say that although Morrissey himself didn’t take drugs, he was known at the Factory for making films of people shooting heroin. Did those people want him to film him like that? I doubt it.

Morrissey’s strongest opinions are about pop culture and rock and roll and the way this has affected society. Basically, he hates rock and roll. He says that after the first few good acts of the sixties: The Beatles, The Beach Boys, then rock and roll was ruined. It produced a mentality of chaos, sexual promiscuity, and a drug culture which has completely destroyed young people. Basically, his rhetoric is that of the conservative right wing or the 1950’s establishment. He hates rock both socially, for encouraging promiscuity and dissipation, and aesthetically, because rock’s hard relentless beat is ugly, discourages healthy critical thought and just reduces people to animals. He compared the youth rituals of listening to a rock concert, dancing and having sex to a Nazi or communist rally. As we watched Grace Jones sing in a new wave reunion concert, Morrissey praised disco which caused music to become melodic again and broke the destructive trend of rock.

I observed that today, with 1 million different channels for expression on the Internet, there are endless producers but no audience. He blamed this again on the 1960’s rock culture. Thanks to drugs and rock, kids today have damaged their nerve endings so that they need constant stimulation and cannot concentrate on slow culture. There may have been some truth to this, but it was a bit ironic that Paul himself was busy channel-surfing on a large screen television as he spoke.

My conclusion about these points of view coming from the man who used to produce “The Velvet Underground” and hang out at the Factory was that obviously he has seen so many people go down the tubes when their habits caught up with them, that he reacted viscerally.

He condemned me when I told him that I had loved garage rock for about the past 20 years since I was about 15 and had discovered the Velvet Underground, and about my father, a record collector and rock and roll historian who had dedicated his life to the music. He disagreed with my opinions that rock is necessary for young people as it helps them express their natural angst. Well, you can imagine his response. I was just a knee jerk fundamentalist liberal. OK, we went around with the same old tired arguments for some time. Still, he let me express my views – that rock was cathartic and powerful, and sometimes that was what we needed. We don’t want to listen to pleasant , melodic music anymore since frankly, life has not been pleasant and unified since before WWII.

Like just about anyone else, Paul Morrissey is good and bad. For all his right-wing opinions, he was a surprisingly pleasant and humorous man. He was about 70, Scottish descent, good-looking and altogether very smart and astute. He continues to be a well-respected film artist amongst those who look beyond the mainstream blockbusters that fill our cineplexes and minivans.

Written by nattie

November 23, 2007 at 10:58 pm

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Mother of the Rebel

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Today I attended my son’s Thanksgiving assembly in his classroom. The kids sat for 1/2 hour waiting for their parents to arrive. In that time there was much squirming, especially from my son. Every now and then the teacher would say “Appropriate behavior please”. What exactly does “appropriate” mean? Nothing. It is Newspeak. Why not just say “Dear, you are annoying the other students. Stop it.” That’s a clearer message, but the word “annoying” might not be positive enough for 2nd graders. Still, “appropriate” is a subjective term which means different things to different people. “Appropriate” activity to a 2nd grader might mean racing down the street at top speed on a bicycle to see how many people jump.

All students gave a “choral reading”. This means they had to sit together and read a poem together. My son does not like falling in line so he read in a funny, distracting voice. But what do they expect when they ask 2nd graders to read a poem together? Being a kid is all about showing off and getting attention, not doing the same as everyone else.

Next, they were supposed to stand, one by one, and read from a “Thankful book”. This was a photocopied book they had decorated. Each page came supplied with the starting of a sentence, for example:

“On Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for….”

“At school, I’m thankful for….”

The students were to fill in the rest and then present them. A typical example went like this:

“On Thanksgiving I am thankful for the turkey because it tastes good and keeps me healthy”

“At school I am thankful for my teacher because she helps me learn and get smarter”

“Outside, when I look at nature I’m thankful for the planet because it is where we live”

“I’m thankful for my family because my parents take care of me”

My son’s book went like this:

“On Thanksgiving I am thankful for being able to watch TV because at least I’m not in school”

“At school I am thankful for recess because it’s almost the end of the day”

“Outside, when I look at nature I’m thankful for the bats that eat the mosquitoes because I hate them”

“I’m thankful for my family because I love poking my mom in the belly when she does belly dance”

OK, this last one was a bit embarrassing for me, but at least it was original. And a lot of the other parents complimented me on my son’s lines. They were honest, and I was proud. Since when do kids like school anyway? Despite all the cheery rhetoric of educators, 2nd grade students don’t want to follow every rule and like it. They try to break rules. Come to think of it, they probably don’t like intensive preparation for standardized math tests much either, but that’s another story.

Written by nattie

November 22, 2007 at 3:03 am

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