Saturday, February 28, 2009

Snark Off!

Roger Ebert is sick of snark...

''There was an old Disney "real-life adventure" titled "The Living Prairie" that had a funny montage of prairie dogs sticking their heads up out of their holes, taking a quick look around, and ducking back down inside. Snarkers are like snipers trying to catch prairie dogs in a moment of vulnerability. Americans have never been eager to adapt French words, but gaffe became the word du jour during the political season. A politician dare not commit one. In week after week of relentless campaigning, not one word could be wrongly spoken. John McCain referred to an audience as "my fellow prisoners" and was never allowed to forget it. But we all do things like that. In giving a talk about the Oscar candidates one year, I said: "Darky is the rock horse." Yes, I did. Let a politician try that.

What concerns me is that snark functions as a device to punish human spontaneity, eccentricity, non-conformity and simple error. Everyone is being snarked into line...''

I would recommend that he cut down on his internet time to reduce his diet of snark; it seems to be the dominant voice online. There are fairly popular sites that I've altogether stopped visiting because they offer nothing but snark. They don't feed me in any way. What bothers me is that it's impossible to tell what they really feel about anything; you can guess what things they think are stupid, but nothing more than that. You can perhaps assume from the sheer volume of snark that they are very unhappy people. You definitely can't tell what sort of things might make them happy.

The average time that young people spend on the internet now is about 4.5 hours per day. I've gone down to about 1/2 hour per day, and it seems to reduce the amount of snark I get exposed to, and in general makes me a bit happier.

Blues Everywhere - Memphis Minnie


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sister Rosetta Tharp

Sometimes you see a video, and know it belongs here. Enjoy.


Adventures in Super8

Recently, I bought this super8 camera from a junk shop. It seems to work- I put in four AA batteries and the motor runs. There was some trouble with the focus; but Claire's Uncle- a cinematographer- told us how to fix it. I'll let you know how it goes.
-Rufus (using Claire's computer)


Tuesday, February 24, 2009


''I think it's like a cultural slur. When someone is from outside a culture, they'll say "all that music sounds alike," or "all those people from that culture LOOK alike," because they're not tuned in to all those subtleties. To a lot of people blues all sounds alike. I'm not tuned into the subtleties of reggae. I know there's a lot of it there, but it's just not my world. Or hip-hop. It's just all different for different people, and they should at least acknowledge that maybe they just don't know instead of criticizing. Maybe it's better just to back off and say "I don't know that."
-Poison Ivy Rorschach.

I like this point. I've noticed the same thing. People will say that all country music sounds the same, or all science fiction is the same, or all horror movies are the same- because they're not familiar with the genres. I'm trying to get better at saying 'I don't know that' whenever it applies.


What's the deal with records?

I am no technophile- recently, my father visited us, and somewhere in between reminiscing, drinking, and ice racing, he taught me how to connect the wires on my record player. I've had the thing for the last decade [I got it second-hand], and used to play records all the time, but for some reason, I forgot how to connect the wires to the speakers. It's one of those old record players where connecting the wires the right way is akin to jump-starting a car battery or unwiring a bomb. Anyway, now I can listen to all my old records again.

I'm also not an audiophile, so I can't really explain or even understand why my records sound better to me than their CD counterparts. I've tried to update and buy copies of them on compact disk; but for some reason, rock'n'roll bands sound 100 percent more raw, powerful, and human on vinyl. People who are into record collecting can be fairly annoying about this, claiming that the switch to digital music ''robbed the soul of rock'' and so forth. However, I spent quite a bit of time recently listening to a song I like- I've Got Levitation by the 13th Floor Elevators; both on the 180 gram vinyl repress of the original 'Easter Everyday' record, and then on CD. There was no comparison; the digital version sounds weak and flat; the vinyl version sounds warm and powerful, like the band is playing all around you. I don't think it's just the speakers.

I've tried to figure out why music sounds better to me on vinyl, and I have two theories. The first is that the analog sound wave is more complete than digital layers- or basically steps- can replicate. Sound waves are better suited to the human ear, even if the digital version is infinitely layered. Compare a drawing of a curve to a pixelated drawing of a curve- I think this is what happens to a sound wave when it's digitized.

The second theory I have is that, when music is remastered, the computer removes a lot of the 'noise' that is actually produced by people playing music. Not just dust and scratches, but the ambient sounds of human beings playing the instruments. One way of describing CD versions of albums is to say that they seem 'flat' by comparison. It's as if you're listening to a computer imitating the original recording, which really isn't that far from the truth.

Now compact disks have their advantages too, especially the fact that they take up less space. And there are certainly some albums that sound better in the ''digitally mastered'' version, cleaner and easier to hear the individual musicians. But it was kind of obnoxious how we were all expected to throw out our records and get with the times when the industry started pushing CDs. People whose tastes are basically undefined tend to believe that whatever is newer is better. This is the mantra of consumer capitalism. But, in the case of CDs, we're not talking about the difference between a horse and an automobile; prefering the sound of vinyl doesn't make you a ''luddite'' or ''old-fashioned''. And people who believe that it does need to put less stock in music industry hype.

Besides, it's a good time to be a record collector. As the music industry sinks under the weight of its own greed and stupidity, the only sector to see increased sales is vinyl; people are buying more records than they have in recent years, and less of everything else. The explanation has been that people get all of their music on MP3s now, and want to have tangible things to go with the music. This sounds like industry-think to me. MP3s are fine, aside from sounding lousy because of the high compression. But, music played on a good stereo from vinyl records is about as good as it gets.

Ive Got Levitation - 13th Floor Elevators


Monday, February 23, 2009

Herschell Gordon Lewis: Marketing and Massacring

According to his website, Herschell Gordon Lewis is ''the world's best-known copywriter'' and without peer in ''the sophisticated world of direct marketing''. You can put his expertise to work for your organization; he offers you ''prestige without big agency overhead''. All news to me; I just thought of him as the director of Blood Feast.

Lewis's first film as producer was The Prime Time, shot in 1960; but his first film as director was Living Venus, about Hugh Hefner. With David F. Friedman as producer, he shot a handful of nudie films, with great titles like B-O-I-N-N-G! and The Adventures of Lucky Pierre. But, when the nudie market started to dry up, Friedman and Lewis had the brainstorm of exploiting graphic violence instead of nudity.

And they created a sort of history. 1963's Blood Feast tells the stirring tale of an Egyptian caterer who uses women in his cooking after sacrificing them to Ishtar. It is not exactly Shakespearean; but it's hard to think of a ''gore film'' that came before it. Besides, Friedman and Lewis found that they could get ''splatter'' films into drive-ins that wouldn't show nudie cuties. They soon followed Blood Feast with Two Thousand Maniacs! and Color me Blood Red. They went through god-knows-how-much red poster paint.

These films had some of the greatest tag lines imaginable. ''An entire town bathed in pulsing human blood!''; ''Nothing so appalling in the annals of horror!''; ''It will leave you aghast!''; ''Nothing has ever stripped your nerves as screamingly raw!''; ''In devastating color!'' It's not surprising that Lewis found success in advertising.

All told, Lewis has directed at least thirty-six films. In addition to the gore classics and nudie flicks, he directed the biker film She-Devils on Wheels; children's films such as Jimmy the Boy Wonder, and sex dramas like Suburban Roulette. His most recent film came out in 2002; it was a sequel to Blood Feast.

Herschell Gordon Lewis is a cult favorite among weirdos and horror movie obsessives like myself. He frequents horror conventions as well as consulting companies about direct marketing; and I have to wonder if he ever gets his powerpoint presentations switched. One wonders how a corporation looking for advice on direct marketing in the age of the Internet would respond to scenes of a crazed Egyptian caterer ripping out girls' hearts. If anything though, Blood Feast is a story about how to make your business work for you!


Friday, February 20, 2009

6K Paintings, 5 Minutes of Animation, 2 Years, 1 Art Student

Khoda from Reza Dolatabadi on Vimeo.

Anywhere you pause this, you're looking at a single complete painting.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Off to the Tropics

Well, it looks like we're off to the islands; and that's not just an excuse to embed a song by the always cool Martin Denny! Claire and I had some old flight credits that were about to expire. We were planning to fly out to Paris, once again; but realized that we would have to pay to have them extended, probably more than once. So, we've decided to cash them in on the last day possible, which is right around the time of my Spring Break. Also, we decided to go visit our good friend Aaron Henry, who lives on an island in the Bahamas, and sleep on his couch.

I think we've come up with a good plan here.

Bacoa (Digitally Remastered 96) - Martin Denny


We're having an out-of-money experience

While the consensus seems to be that the US needs some sort of stimulus package to avoid going ass over tea kettle, the Economist says, ''Close, but no cigar''. In an interesting critique of the program, their editors note some obvious problems with the thing,

''Too much of the boost to demand is backloaded to 2010 and beyond. The compromise bill is larded with spending determined more by Democrat lawmakers’ pet projects than by the efficiency with which the economy will be boosted. And it contains “Buy American” clauses that, even in their watered-down version, send the wrong signal to trading partners.''
Basically what I've been saying into my beer recently. The problem is that both parties have tried to treat a pragmatic problem as a political problem. President Obama has allowed Democrats to lard their pet projects onto the package, making things much more partisan than they really needed to be. Republicans, meanwhile, have given the impression that, ''whatever it is, I'm against it,'' in order to please the crackpots that seem to drive their party these days. So, someone needs to fix the glaring errors and get this thing back on track. My pick would be the President.

Rip Off - T. Rex


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

University Madness

Sometimes, when I'm at the university, I feel like I'm crazy- like I'm engaged in some sort of bizzare and quixotic quest simply in making an honest effort on a daily basis. I mean, I'm no genius; but I try. I take an interest in things and make an effort. I also try to stay positive, but everyone I meet at this school- professors, students, grad students, etc.- give off constant vibes of negativity. I think it often seeps into me and bleeds into my life and this blog.

Today, I was sitting in the lecture hall, and the professor was lecturing on state building, and I was the only person within my field of vision who was taking notes. The two young men in front of me were on their laptops- one doing Facebook and the other playing some sort of shooter game; the girl next to them was sleeping; a kid next to me was irritatedly playing with his cell phone. In fact, that was the predominant emotion- irritation. Most of them seemed genuinely vexed that this man was lecturing in the lecture hall during the weekly lecture portion of the class. Maybe they expected something different.

And it isn't like we take roll or anything; they needn't be there if they find the lectures bothering. And yet, they come; if only to be annoyed. Maybe it's a ritual for them, part of their identity that's performed by being disinterested in anything that's not taking place on a digital screen. Maybe it makes them feel sophisticated to be disinterested, and if they were disinterested at home, nobody else would see it. Some of them come and talk throughout the lecture- I generally tell them to be quiet. But, I'm really not sure if more than twenty percent of them actually pay any attention at all during the lectures, and none of them take any notes. When the exams come, a good number of them will fail, and if we were grading more honestly, a majority of them would be failing. As it is, a majority of them will flunk out anyway. I only teach for those twenty percent anymore.

I don't know if it's this area- in these blue collar cities, most people you meet give off a vibe of lazy frustration at all times. But, it still feels weird to attend a university that so closely resembles a high school. Quite a few of the professors respond to the low-level hostility by ''dummying up'' the courses. And this course in particular asks almost nothing of the students; maybe that's the problem. I often wonder what we're doing here. A certain percentage of the students have no interest whatsoever in doing college-level work, and a [slight] majority of them really can't do college-level work. And nobody in the university seems to much care about that.

It's sort of nuts.

Its Mighty Crazy - Lightnin Slim


Monday, February 16, 2009

Bad Motorcycle

Okay, now this is what I've been talking about doing here- embedding songs in posts. I absolutely love 'Bad Motorcycle' by the Storey Sisters. It's a bit more doo-wop than straight rock; but it's impossible for me to hear this song without smiling. We're not talking about pushing the boundaries of music here- just pure bliss.

Bad Motorcycle - The Storey Sisters


Movie Notes- The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Here's a short Italian lesson: 'giallo' means 'yellow', and it is often used to describe a certain type of crime novel sold in Italy, for their yellow covers, as well as the crime novels that spun off from those paperbacks. Here's where it gets a bit confusing however, because ''Giallo'' films very soon mutated into horror films that are called ''thrillers'' in Italy, and ''giallo films'' in the english-speaking world. So, when we talk about ''giallos'' over here, we're incorrectly pluralizing giallo and talking about movies that aren't gialli anyway.

But, whatever we call these things, Dario Argento is an undisputed master of making them. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, from 1970, is a well-constructed mixture of Hitchcockian mystery, slasher mayhem, art world hipsters, and a killer in a black vinyl raincoat. The story is about an American who witnesses a near-murder in an art gallery and becomes the target of a woman-killer. Some of it falls apart with close-inspection: there are places in which the mystery could have, logically, been solved a lot earlier. And a few of the plot twists are just plain weird- always a danger with Argento movies.

I still liked it because it was fast-paced, relatively plausible, had a score by Ennio Morricone (who must've scored every Italian production in the 60s), and featured a killer with a bad-ass, black, shiny, vinyl raincoat. One upon a time, Argento was sort of a kinkier, baroque, pop-art, Italian version of Hitchcock, and bless him for that.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ice Racing

This is what we were doing this weekend- Minden ice racing. They flood a track with water before freezing season, and build up big snow banks on the edges. Then they race old beater cars that have been modified quite a bit. Claire's brother made this video. He's a really good racer. The time I went with him as a passenger, he took the checkered flag. It's even more fun to race on the ice than it appears here.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Miss Sarah Hodges of Salem

The Eastman House has posted a set of daguerrotypes by famed Boston photographers Southworth and Hawes on Flicker...

There's some good stuff there.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Life Goes on at GSM...

I'm ready to move on a bit here. I'll keep filing Cramps stuff [for myself mostly] in that last post, but stop posting about it myself. I don't want to turn into one of those Elvis people. Well, maybe I do a little bit...

But, I am sort of interested in posting more often about weird exploitation films and old rock and country albums. You know me- it's usually about the gems of culture around here, when I'm not bitching about politics. As Spring sets in, and I start emerging from the usual Winter depression, I find myself surprised by all the interests of mine that were in hibernation. Hey, I love the Kinks! Oh, that's right- Patsy Cline! Hey, I remember loving Herschell Gordan Lewis movies!

So, I don't know if there's any common theme here- I like the real ''classics''of art and literature, the hidden gems of music, and the weirdest, way-out artifacts of trash culture pretty much the same. I love anything that doesn't bore me, and just about every damn thing I see around me nowadays bores me stiff.

And, if it's okay with everyone else, I'm going to keep on plugging along here with this thing. Without a map, as usual.

Endnote: Anyone know how to embed MP3s on this damned thing? It'd make it easier to share some of the weirder songs I have lying around.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A friend remembers Lux...

Look, they were and are my all-time favorite band, so you're gonna hear about 'em for a little while. I'm in mourning. So is Roger Armstrong, a friend of the Cramps:

''Lux was a rock (‘n’ roll) star without a doubt, but also without the hubris, and without the, all too often, disengagement from reality that too many ‘Stars’ suffer. The Cramps dealt in reality, in many ways of their own creation, but also grounded in humanity, and a genuine need to communicate Cramps World. This was a complex place that evolved from a stew of films, exotic, noir and just plain “interesting”, and a taste for ‘out there’ records second to none.''
''There were many who got the big picture beyond the glib notion of the ‘cartoon’, ‘cult’, ‘ retro’ band that they were too often portrayed as. The Cramps were the most complete contemporary artistic expression of Rock ‘n’ Roll that it was possible to create. They lived it at the same time as performing it in the most extreme way. They have been and will continue to be a massive influence, but there never has been and never will be another Cramps, no one else could be that glamorous.''
Here's a really nice post by Kid Congo Powers, who played in the Cramps and the Gun Club:
''During the always chaotic rendition of "Surfin Bird" Lux climbed on the stacked drum monitors, peeking out of a slit in the long black velvet curtains so that all you saw was his bleached blond head glowing beautiful and grotesque, I saw the always cool Poison Ivy look up and start laughing with appreciation and love. At that moment I was incredibly touched and so thankful for The Cramps.''

And here's a really touching interview with Lux's kid brother, Mike Purkhiser from the Action:
''I just thought he was the greatest, he was so inspiring and so alive. It's hard to think of him as dead right now because he was so alive. It just seems like he was somewhere else right now. And it's the same with Ivy, I swear I never heard those two down.''


Dirty Rides on a Rock'n'roll Rampage

It's a web-radio show by a frauline with good taste. I'm working my way through the episodes now.


Banking Canada

A few years back I finally got sick of my US bank- the god awful M&T Bank, a truly predatory organization that was the worst I've ever done business with- and put everything I had in a Canadian bank. Apparently, I had a good idea. Fareed Zakaria:

''Guess which country, alone in the industrialized world, has not faced a single bank failure, calls for bailouts or government intervention in the financial or mortgage sectors. Yup, it's Canada. In 2008, the World Economic Forum ranked Canada's banking system the healthiest in the world. America's ranked 40th, Britain's 44th.''
Remember that Canada is actually a much more conservative country than the US; it's just fiscally conservative instead of socially conservative. Even though the economy is starting to suffer here, I'll be interested to see if people with money start investing in the Canadian dollar.



Click here to hear an Iranian garage band from the 60s playing a Persian cover of ''Wooly Bully'', complete with a blood-curdling scream. Why?... Well, why not?


Something Weird Honey Britches

Please only watch this if you are the most mature.


For all the stinky blinkers out there...

Mello jello and wavy gravy! Here you can listen to a bit of vintage broadcasting from Pete ''the Mad Daddy'' Meyers, a Cleveland radio legend who passed on way too early. It's a quantum leap from the lousy DJs on corporate radio these days. The cosmos only knows how many stinky little brains were warped [in a good way] by listening to the Mad Daddy every evening throughout the 50s.


Economic Nationalism

In a recent editorial, the editors of the Economist say, ''Hey, knock it off with all the economic nationalism, will ya?''

I'm guessing they know more about economics than I do, so I'll bow to their superior knowledge here. It doesn't hurt that I also live in a town that makes steel to sell to the US. What the Economists are refering to are the provisions in the stimulus cash-bomb that say, ''Hey, don't use any of this money to buy stuff from foreigners, you hear!''

Such provisions have been unsurprisingly popular with the AFL-CIO, and it's easy to understand why people don't want their tax money going to Canadian companies. We'd just spend them money on poutine and hockey tickets. However, it's damn near impossible to get out of a recession by starting a trade war. Adam Smith used to argue against this sort of protectionism [or mercantilism, as it was once called] because, if you make your money by trading stuff, you want to keep trading, and make trade as easy as possible for everyone. Duh.

Incidentally, he also argued that the government should keep a close eye on capitalists to prevent them from running amok, but nobody ever seems to rememeber that part!


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

More on Ignorance as a Lifestyle

From an amusing, if a bit snotty, rant about ignorance...

''What we need to talk about, what someone needs to talk about, particularly now, is our ever-deepening ignorance (of politics, of foreign languages, of history, of science, of current affairs, of pretty much everything) and not just our ignorance but our complacency in the face of it, our growing fondness for it. A generation ago the proof of our foolishness, held up to our faces, might still have elicited some redeeming twinge of shame—no longer. Today, across vast swaths of the republic, it amuses and comforts us. We’re deeply loyal to it. Ignorance gives us a sense of community; it confers citizenship; our representatives either share it or bow down to it or risk our wrath. Seen from a sufficient distance (a decade abroad, for example), or viewed through a protective filter, like film, or alcohol, there can be something almost endearing about it. It can appear quaint, part of our foolish-but authentic, naive-yet-sincere, roughhewn spirit. Up close and personal, unromanticized and unfiltered, it’s another thing entirely. In the flesh, barking from the electronic pulpit or braying back from the audience, our ignorance can be sobering. We don’t know. Or much care. Or care to know.''

-Mark Slouka, quoted here.


Sunday, February 08, 2009

Henry Rollins remembers Lux Interior

Morrissey gave Lux Interior a shout out on television the other night, which seems a bit weird, until you learn that Morrissey founded one of the first Cramps fan clubs as a young man in London. On the other end of the musical spectrum, here's a nice appreciation/remembrance on Lux Interior by Henry Rollins in the L.A.Times.

And here's a nice piece in Allmusic.

Here's Rob Miller, who started a record label after falling in love with the band...
''Lux Interior is dead. There will never be any performer like him again. That is at once high praise and very, very sad. It's time to listen to their dissection of "Surfin' Bird," which teeters on the edge of disintegration. Lunacy. Exquisite. Epochal. I hope the end of the earth sounds something like it. Truly it would be a joyful apocalypse.''


Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Calico Wall- ''I'm a Living Sickness''

Here's another nutzoid classic- the Minneapolis band The Calico Wall- ''I'm a Living Sickness'', which will be on the soundtrack if I ever make a psychedelic horror film. Here's the great cover [and video] by The Dwarves. And here's the crazy B-side ''Flight Reaction''.


'Scream' by Ralph Nielson and the Chancellors

As sad as it is to see Lux Interior leave the planet, his passing has reminded me of all the wild music that influenced The Cramps. For every classic disk pressed in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, there were a hundred that were overlooked, often with good reason; but sometimes just because they were so demented.

One such classic is ''Scream'' by Ralph Nielson and the Chancellors. I've always loved this song, just because it sounds like the whole band is falling down the stairs while a woman keeps screaming! I don't know where in the brain stuff like this comes from, but the single came out in 1962- hard to believe in itself- from a New Jersey band. And there are thousands of buried treasures like this out there.


Friday, February 06, 2009

The Cramps-Like a bad girl should

I was always a bit lukewarm about this song, but I think the video captures the great love/lust story that was the Cramps.


Here's something that could cheer me up...

If someone bought me an ''EX-masturbator'' tee shirt, that would be nice.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Ultra Twist featuring Michelle Carr

Here's a Cramps video from a while back. This is actually the 'uncensored' version- the one they showed on MTV had more tame stock footage. It definitely gives a good idea of Lux and Ivy.


Songs Lux Interior Taught Us

The Cramps often described themselves as ''beautiful monsters'', a term they say a homeless person gave them that just stuck. They made the sort of music that probably strikes many listeners as monstrous, but which contains a great deal of beauty, and came from a place of love, and lust. Blending a bone-deep love of B-movies, rockabilly, fetish gear, garage rock, bad taste, and each other, the singer Lux Interior and his beloved guitarist Poison Ivy Rorschach were the backbone of a band that lasted for over three decades, together longer than any other ''punk'' band in the United States.

Their music couldn't really be isolated to the punk genre though; it was a mix of blues, rock, country, and punk that spawned an entire genre of music of its own known as ''psychobilly''. Lux described himself as ''one half hillbilly and one half punk, with three long legs and one big mouth''. There are few musicial groups that could be said to have spawned an entire genre, but in terms of punk rock music, the vast majority of bands sound like a handful of originators the Ramones, Misfits, Cramps, Operation Ivy, etc. In terms of the Cramps, it is simply impossible to imagine bands like The White Stripes, Southern Culture on the Skids, or the Rev. Horton Heat existing without Lux and Ivy establishing the prototype.

Lux and Ivy [born Erick Purkhiser and Kristy Wallace] met each other in 1972 while in college in California. The story goes that she was hitchhiking in torn jeans and red panties, and he came to a screeching stop to pick her up. They were inseparable after that, both of them sharing the same strange tastes in movies and art, and the same inability to fit in with the world around them. They were both obsessive collectors and enthusiasts of obscure movies and art, and madly creative. They went on to create an entire world for themselves out of their influences.

From this world bubbled up the band, one of the early ''new wave'' bands in the late 70s NYC scene. Their early music was rough and primitive sounding, with two guitars and no bass. The song Human Fly, for instance, has only two chords throughout the verses. Bryan Gregory, the other guitarist, played mostly fuzz and feedback. Unlike most punk bands, the Cramps played songs that were slow and menacing. As an early album's liner notes put it, ''they ooze; you'll throb''. The music sounds dirty and raw; it's sexy too. The Cramps are the only punk band I could imagine fucking to.

Their songs tended to be about sex anyway. There were a number of songs about monsters and aliens; but largely they were about Lux's unquenchable desire for Ivy. Many of the album covers were sexy pictures of her, by him. The irony of the band is that, for all of their alienation and juvenile delinquent aura, their music was the story of two weirdos who found their soul mate- it's devastating to think about what Ivy is going through right now.

The band went through any number of drummers and bass players [having finally added a bass]. Members described the band as being like a cult- Ivy and Lux would educate musicians, keeping them for hours after practice to watch obscure exploitation films, making them avoid sunlight to stay pale, asking them if they'd be willing to lose a finger to join the band. Again, what was fascinating about the two of them is that they weren't faking it. This was who they really were. And, if you pay attention to the songs, for all their black humor and weird references, there was often an autobiographical aspect filtered through. Lux really was a ''teenage werewolf'', or ''Elvis fucking Christ''; Ivy really was the ''queen of pain''.

They were also enthusiasts- I can't tell you how many great bands I've discovered through Cramps covers; nor how many weird B-films; nor how many great artists. There are several record compilations dedicated to the songs that Lux and Ivy so much as referenced. Bands like The Sonics and the Count Five are known by punk rockers in every city because the Cramps championed them. Whether or not they hated the ''squares'', the Cramps loved a lot more, and celebrated entire swaths of lost American culture in their music and their lives.

And they really did ooze and rock; their songs are still funny, sexy, subversive, and brilliant. I always wanted to see a documentary about these two originals who fashioned a complete universe out of the strange things they loved. It's still devastating to think that we'll never have another new Cramps record. And it's horrible to think that Lux has left the planet, even if we all knew he was from outer space.

So, goodbye Lux. I'll drink a glass of Wild Turkey and strychnine in your memory.

Some of those influences can be heard here.


gravest shit

Elvis fucking Christ! Lux Interior has died.

Some of you know of my undying love for the Cramps. So, this is a shock. I always figured he was an immortal.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

CTV delays the collapse of civilization a bit

I didn't watch it here either, but the Super Bowl was televised in Canada. This year, the station, CTV, rejected an ad from a website that facilitates adultery because ewwwwww. I liked this line from the article “Physical intimacy is no different than requiring oxygen to breathe or water to drink. If it’s missing in your relationship, I don’t care who you are, President of the United States or the Prince of England, you’re going to step outside your relationship. That’s the bottom line.” said the president of the company, Satan.


A Chat with Ted Haggard

Okay, so her worshipfulness Oprah Winfrey recently interviewed ''disgraced'' preacher Ted Haggard about his sex life; an interview you can see here. Oprah, of course, is preparing for her stint as Secretary of Nurturing in the Obama administration, which might explain why this interview doesn't scale her usual heights of awesomeness. Honestly though, I always just assumed that being interviewed by Oprah about your sex life violated the Geneva conventions somehow. It's an interesting interview, at any rate, because Haggard's understanding of his own sexuality is actually much more sophisticated and nuanced than you might expect.

Haggard is a preacher at one of these ''mega-churches'' where they run around on stage and do a sort of Vegas-style routine. These sort of preachers really only interest two groups of people: those who were recently born-again and not ready for a real church, and those who are opposed to the born-again agenda and waiting for the preachers to say something retrograde and embarassing about gays, liberated women, or science. Personally, I find watching these Mega-Preachers to be a bit like watching Don Ho discuss the Book of Revelations.*

Therefore, the big caveat here is that I have no idea if Ted Haggard is one of these gay-bashing preachers that CNN sometimes brings in live via satelite from the Cenozoic Era. I generally don't pay attention to what these people say [actually I never pay attention to what anyone says if they're not being interviewed by Oprah], and so maybe Haggard's take on homosexuality really is as bad as people like Susie Bright say it is.** But, here, he came off as more sophisticated than Oprah. Hard to believe, I know.

Apparently, the back story is that Ted Haggard has been ''disgraced'' by his prediliction for sex with young men. It's difficult and confusing for the man and his wife because he loves her and enjoys having sex with her, but he also likes men. So, whatever shall he do?

I guess the lowest level of understanding of human sexuality would belong to those people who say that being attracted to the same sex is ''evil'' and ''vile'' and so forth. If you can make people hate their genitals, you can control their minds. I have no truck with the things Haggard says about his ''dark and repulsive'' urges. I don't sympathize with the members of his church who want Haggard to be made into a ''complete heterosexual''. And I absolutely have no sympathy for those people who believe that same-sex attraction is deranged or pathological. Including Haggard's therapist, from the sound of it.

But, I think that the next level up in understanding belongs to those people who look at a man like this and assume that he's a closeted gay man. There's something nearly as retrograde about the people who see ''sexual identity'' as these nice, narrow little boxes that we can all be shoved into. Papers, please! Either someone like Ted Haggard is a ''heterosexual'', and that's okay; or he's a ''homosexual'' and he'd better stop fooling himself about this marriage thing. Nothing else exists. Kinsey be damned.

Perhaps, Ted Haggard really is a happily married man who loves his wife but is also attracted to men. Et, alors...? From the things I've read around the Internet, you'd think that people had never heard of such a thing. It's much easier to deal with the boxes; not so much with people who are between boxes, or totally outside of them. Oprah seems to have a particular axe to grind about these guys. One of her more teeth-grinding episodes involved bringing on ''married men on the down-low'' and subjecting them to waterboarding. For whatever reason, she often comes across as one of these bores who thinks that sexuality is easily-defined and unchanging.

So, of course Ted Haggard is confused. He's surrounded by Christians who believe that gay desire is sin, and criticized by ''progressives'' who think he needs to leave his beloved wife and move to the Castro! Nevertheless, he is, by all accounts, in love with his wife, and also enjoys having sex with men. The best he can figure is that he's a ''heterosexual with homosexual attachments'', which isn't great, but still more nuanced than what the larger culture or his Church friends are offering him. It's very sad that he's seeking to ''overcome'' his desires through therapy; but I liked it when his wife said that the labels don't apply to him. Oui, exactement! One has to wonder if bisexuals aren't in a deeper closet than gays- at least, most people accept that gays exist.

In a perfect world, Ted and his wife would be able to talk honestly about the fact that he is in love with his her and still desires sex with men, and that the two things aren't mutually exclusive. They could, maybe, even accept all that, and consider the possibility that there are young bi men out there who would love to fuck a nice married couple. Maybe it wouldn't be such a big, overwhelming, painful deal. Maybe it would be fun. Maybe the two of them would realize that they need cock more than they need therapy.

But, unfortunately for them, they're still stuck on this planet of pain.

*[Although, of course, watching Don Ho discuss the book of Revelations would probably be very cool.]
**[Again, I pay absolutely no attention to preachers, so if I'm cluelessly defending Hitler here, I'm sorry.]

[Lastly, all I could think of while watching Oprah's weird composure was this scene from the Kids in the Hall movie...]


Sunday, February 01, 2009

Benedict Anderson

Benedict Anderson has become an important touchstone on nationalism in recent years for his 1983 book Imagined Communities. To a certain extent, the thesis is in the title: Anderson believes that the nation is a community that is 'imagined into existence' by its members. This is because, unlike other communities, in which we actually interact with other members, we never meet the vast majority of other members of the nation. This should sound familiar; the other writers we've discussed agree that the nation is largely imaginary; this seems to be the general academic consensus. Anderson stresses the role of media in creating this imaginary community.

Here, he borrows from previous writers; noteworthy is Marshall McLuhan, who argued that nationalism was produced by the Gutenberg press. Anderson talks about ''print capitalism'', but the argument is the same. Modernity began with the collapse of the legitimacy of the old hierarchal, divinely-legitimized, monarchical dynasties. The widespread communications-and in fact the standardization of languages- made possible by print, allowed people to start speaking in a common discourse, and to imagine themselves as part of a larger community.

You'll note also how many scholars associate nationalism with modernity. I do think we could imagine- certainly!- pre-modern ethnic chauvinism, although perhaps it wouldn't qualify as nationalsm. Also you'll notice that many academics, particularly those dealing with culture, are social constructionists- that is, the subject (here nationalism) doesn't exist objectively; but is instead constructed by various interests in the society; its meaning is always fluid and contested. It's a collective fiction; and larger social forces, like ''print-capitalism'' are evoked to explain where essentially fictional ideas came from.

Social constructionism is on shakier ground when it comes to the psychology of all of this. How did ''print-capitalism'' ever compel people to throw themselves on a landmine for their country? So much nationalist rhetoric seems to spring from either existentialist dread or an outright death instinct. Somehow, for me, when writers talk about nationalism arising from the stress of industrial production, or new kinds of communication, or whatnot, there seems to be something missing. In the worst case scenario, nationalism becomes a sort of madness. Maybe the psychologists need to come back into the discussion.


France will survive

A few months ago, nobody would have believed that Nicolas Sarkozy would be praising the economic system of France that he believes strangles free enterprise and modernization in the country. Mais, l'impensable s'est produit. France is suddenly in a good position to weather the economic storms that are shaking the western world.

Pourquois? Well, first off, France has a huge social safety net. A third of the average French salary goes to pump up the second largest social welfare system in the EU, after Sweden. People gripe about it, and yet, ''Cela lisse la consommation et amortit les chocs", says economist Mathilde Lemoine.

Secondly, the French economy is still largely agricultural, and so better able to absorb a downturn than an economy rooted in industrial production. Germany will be in more trouble. France hardly developed its industry.

Third is the lack of a budget deficit; now, with its extra money, ''le gouvernement amortit le choc de la crise.'' [To be honest, I think I'd rather go through the shock than the high taxes.]

Lastly, the French banks have serious troubles, but nothing like what's going on in places like Great Britain. By comparison, the French portfolio is much more diversified. I'm not entirely sure the reasons for that.

To be honest, the standard of living in France has its advantages and its disadvantages. Outside of Paris, you don't see a lot of rich French; but you can also live cheaply in most other parts of the country. Where I think there is an advantage is that, in most parts of the country, people are already okay with scrimping and saving. It's not the end of all life on earth, like it is elsewhere. I'd like to see that attitude get exported, although probably it'll be the high tax rates that catch on.