Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Dark Knight: Bummer, or, No Country for Old Self-Righteous Billionaires

I'm not sure at what point it was, somewhere around the first ten minutes of the film I pretty much guessed I wasn't going to like it much. Perhaps it was the entrance of the Joker into a co-op style mob meeting, where the black gang works on id and lobs middle school ideations of mob talk at the fool who robbed their bank. As the movie progresses the Joker becomes less of a character and more of a Camus cliffnote (and by note I mean one) on the absurd. How does law and order act in a world where law and order have to be created, but don't necessarily exist?

And here is where the film's central thesis, if there was any, kind of bugged me. Instead of the Joker being a product of his environment (which isn't quite necessary but kind of becomes so due to the strictures placed by the film's allegorical intentions), the environment becomes a product of him, nothing more than an abstract cipher with the potential to unleash every force of good's inner evil out of a sense of pragmatism and ticking bomb philosophizing. And there it was, the downfall of society and government at the Joker's hands weren't examples of an inherent flaw in the system, or the institutions meant to keep it in order, but said institutions' inability to deal with an anomaly that their previously benevolent structuring was now unable to harness.

If I heard right The Joker believes that all mankind are inherently evil, that there is no order, that man creates a false sense of morality to cover up its dirty underpinnings, and instead of everyone being a rough gem they're really pieces of coal that need to be thrown back into the mines. In that I think I'm giving the film too much credit, because they do to anarchy the same thing corporations with a finger on punk's pulse line have, or the government with a fear of its loss of power over the public faith did, mainly strip the idea of a society with no established institutions of order and turn it into a nightmarish floodgate for chaos at every turn. So then anarchy is chaos that happens when the good guys have lost their ability to take care of you.

This is the same problem I had with the film No Country For Old Men's central thesis, that there's a "rising tide" of new kinds of violence, unexplainable by the present's conception of the human clockwork. Society being undone by a new kind of sickness for which no precedent existed. I say the film because it left out many of the book's thematic underpinnings, mainly that Chigur's sociopathy was a powderkeg that reminded the sheriff and Llewelyn of the point in their lives that they realized it was a meaningless mass of sadistic chaos, respectively, world war II and vietnam. Acts of unbridled brutality that stripped them of their comrades and left them walking ghosts without an explanation as to their existence. The book might have kept to the point that violence was becoming less understandable anomalies, seemingly alien inventions of torture. I disagree with it there, too, because it was governments that introduced the guillotine, it was governments that introduced the iron maiden, mutilation of the flesh in unrecognizably bizarre ways is nothing that rapidly developed only in recent times, it has historical precedence.

But at least the book understood that historical precedence. The film's nihilism was undeserved, it just launched a cipher on a bunch of seemingly good characters and watched them crumble in baffled exhaust, remaining essentially good, but powerless in the face of amoral chaos. The film left out the thematic backgrounds of the characters, and Llewelyn's conflict with identity, which would have better explained their loss of humanity, something that was lost before Chigur. The Sheriff didn't believe a law existed, was dumbstruck as to his own position. Chigur was just a reminder of that. In the movie he's just a pat plot device.

And despite Heath Ledger's showstopping, clamorous performance as a psychopath able to coldly rationalize his lack of rationality, that's all he is, "a new breed of villain." At first I thought the film was a showcase of libertarian realism, close to Frank Miller's threads of Randian jingoism, that the job of the state is best left in the hands of well armed capitalists, but as the film progresses Harvey Dent becomes a mantle of the law's ability to curb all of society's unwanted elements, and restore order to what was once good, as if Gotham, unlike the rest of the united states, wasn't built on exploitation and slave labor.

Yeah, it's a comic book movie, but it makes explicit parallels between Gotham law's fight against The Joker and post 9/11 America's fight against terrorism. "If we cave in to the Joker's demands, then terrorism wins." Much of the police force is demoralized, placed in compromising situations that require they make realpolitik decisions, perhaps Sophie's Choices, in order to make it to the next round of sadism. Lucius Fox, Bruce Wayne's one man military defense contractor, is forced to wiretap on Gotham's 30 million people with phone lines so that Batman can catch his Bin Laden figure, The Joker. Lucius warns he'll resign, but he's willing to break the law just this once, to catch this uncompromisingly and inexplicably evil brand of villain.

There is no explanation for the Joker. Before slicing victim's faces into smiling scars resembling his own, he gives fabricated explanations as to the reason for his, either an alcoholic father or loss of human spirit in the face of tragedy befalling his wife, possibly poking fun at the audience's need for an explanation of the character's motives. But if that's the case the film might as well poke fun at itself, as it's first film spent two hours setting up the motives for Batman. And stripping the Joker of any psychological explanation as an example of nihilism or unexplainable phenomena is a poor excuse for plot development.

As a result the allusion is flawed because the film only picks up after 9/11, as if there was no historical precedent for the waves of terrorism in the supposedly civilized parts of the world. As if the United States and various other European countries didn't build themselves on the exploitation and expropriation of peoples they felt were inherently inferior, because of some racist genetic hogwash. That 9/11 wasn't a response to decades of pillaging other people's natural resources, destroying liberal governments because they got in the way of private business interests essentially paving the way for opportunistic fundamentalists with an equally fervent opposition to godless communism.

In that way the film ends up being somewhat of a rationalization of all the fucked up things run through congress in the light of the war on terror, a humanizing portrait of all those who were compelled to do such things by a new, unprecedented, unmitigated evil. If they decided to be P.C. and make Harvey Dent black the film could have doubled as an ad for Obama. The government having been bought off by corrupt private elements, Dent was going to make a sweep that would change that. Though if they did do that, then his convoluted story arc in which he himself is eventually dehumanized by the joker and his political idealism reduced to a parable about the dangers of revenge (hello Batman parallelism!), people might not vote for Obama because his hope would be revealed to be an empty slogan by a comic book film with faux-philosophical pretenses? I don't know, either way, the film was discomfiting and disappointing in that regard.

Sure, there was a sequence in which the prisoners are revealed to be as equally humane as the bloodthirsty civilians on the opposite ferry when they both have a chance to detonate the other for their own safety, but the foil for the act came when one of the civilians wasn't able to get his hands dirty, probably because he was used to batman doing it for him. That both boats came to the point of possible detonation means the overwhelming choice was to blow up the other boat. Either way, it was only for Batman to be able to point out that human good triumphs over sociopathic evil, and not everyone is a freak, an unmanageable anomaly like the Joker.

Side note, I just read The Killing Joke for the first time, and Christopher Nolan claims that was his inspiration for the character's portrayal in the film, handing Ledger the one-off as preparation for his role. It was written by Alan Moore and his assessment of it years after publication is unusually apt when comparing it to the film's version, saying it was "clumsy, misjudged and [devoid of] real human importance." That, "at the end of the day, Watchmen was something to do with power, V for Vendetta was about fascism and anarchy, The Killing Joke was just about Batman and the Joker - and Batman and the Joker are not really symbols of anything that are real, in the real world, they're just two comic book characters."
Either Nolan didn't pick up on that or thought Alan Moore was an uppity old coot. In light of that quote, though, "why so serious?"

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

p4k afterthoughts: Sunday

Okay, the tail end of the previous evening involved opening the door at Schuba's and being warned by an older man who didn't work there to NOT. GO. OUTSIDE. Well, slightly less dramatic, would have went well with a flashlight underneath his chin, but still certainly ominous. We made it to the car, but I couldn't understand why I felt compelled to shower after basically being showered and laundered. Perhaps it was the image on the blue line earlier in the evening of two of the mud people from the day before who resented their parents for not making them woodstock '94 babies, locked in pre-coital passion, with breasts and limbs straight out of a mud bath and a hankering for a UTI. I turned around and focused on the screaming baby and a conversation in Russian and reminisced about the War and Peace that I wouldn't read.
Any ways, that day was going to be my day. If there were twenty bands I was going to see ten. Had been looking forward to Mahjongg's co-opted polyrhythms, secret police wiretap burbles and high school principal, counselor ready announcements but they were forced to wait until church got out. Times delayed I worried I'd miss the dirty projectors and when Times New Viking let it rip 'cross the ports while Mahjongg were still testing bongos I ran over and caught a spot. I had seen High Places the night before in order to be able to see The Dirty Projectors, something I divulged to both of them before probably never speaking to either again. Times New Viking sounded kind of great live, something their paper cup with a string telephone recording obviously doesn't do justice. I know, I know, that's the intend, find the pop gems buried underneath. I grew up on gbv, i'm over it.
Any ways, The Dirty Projectors. Sure, the notes on record sound like someone climbing a xylophone but until you see their multiple scale perpendiculars being performed on stage, the fullness of its orchestral framework doesn't really sink in. It was beautiful. They mostly stuck to Rise Above which gets better with every listen (i've actually only heard the entire thing once).
It's wierd that Black Flag broke up because Ginn kept on changing their style up and Rollins wanted everyone to catch up by just doing the same thing they did last time, because the dirty projectors' rise above rumination is exactly what I imagine the acid trips Ginn forced him to take sounded like in his head. I can imagine him in the corner of his room, or on the front porch dissociating himself from company and friends, crooning falsettos of Ginn's words, trying to reconstruct his life via the only thing he's got going. I tried playing it for my little brother, who can only think of doing standard covers of all the damaged tracks, but he hasn't been to house shows where everytime you show up someone is doing a bogus rise above cover, completely missing the point and wallowing in the past. I asked the band and they said that they get maybe a little hate mail for messing with a punk masterpiece, but they generally just laugh about it, which is the appropriate response, because honestly, the dirty projectors are far more punk rock than some upstart punk band wearing that strict, fascistic chug on their sleeves. Don't conform, play that shit like a xylophone!
So, thankfully it was still early in the day, I could maneuver through a somewhat spread out crowd to get a good glimpse of Boris. I really wanted to see them shred and pummel. Their drummer was dressed like a Michael Jackson impersonator and had a pink drum set with a gong behind him. Wata was obviously cool and detached like she was born with her fingers in shred position and is merely doing us a favor by taking some time on mortal soil to lodge a few tricks. I was ready to get elbowed in the teeth again. There was a "hey, remember me?" when I tried to pass and I thought for a moment I might be able to patch up the circumventing misunderstanding before !!! but it turns out the person was referring to the extortionist with the muscle t shirt before vampire weekend. After the obligatory "oh yeah!" I jumped in to the flailing arms the vertigo afflicted crowd members merely had my chin pushed up once or twice. I did this on an empty stomach and without water, and was hoping I would possibly near-faint so I could get one wihout having to lose my spot for les savy fav. Michio Kurihara was there so I thought they'd let up with a few Rainbow songs but it was straight riffage from top to bottom.
After almost resting on a few stranger's shoulders I made it to the front, where there was still another hour and 10 minutes before those who rock the party rocked the body. The Dirty Projectors kind sounded like the defense some might use for Apples in Stereo's Pete and Pete worthy glimmery pop sheen. I'm not a music theory major and can't gleam notes by ear (or by eye, for that matter) but those sounded like fairly standard pop rock songs. Which can be fun, but I was bracing myself for a whole different kind of beast.
"Check. Mic 1 Check. Mic 2 Check. Check. Check. Check mix." Tim Harrington is pretty much the best rock star going right now. Unconstrained by his body type, a cherubic cupid hitting a midlife crisis of more to love, not enough to give to, he indulges in all your fantasies and inhibitions in a way you'd be too embarrassed to pull off without apologies for having been drunk or not prepared enough for halloween. There's no irony in his stage presence, there is just honest, unbridled frivolity. If there was any deconstruction in his performance, it was his crafty destruction of american apparel's fashion sense. First running out in a yellow tracksuit with green tassles under the arms he eventually revealed red lame leggings, cut off on one leg so part of his sack, snug and loved by red boy briefs, could hang out in a one nut, some glory bawd. Now, like the hold steady, i'm not systematically familiar with Les Savy Fav's lyrics, but memories of the songs meanings helped ground their set's mythic proportions in Olympian dalliances with mortal flaw. It was beautiful, and scary. After running the gamut from pirate, caped crusader and sherlock Holmes, doing round robins on the crowd by half circling the railing, one of the first times I noticed joyful chills running up and around my skin, he covered himself in brown mud. At this point my awestruck admiration turned into fear as the show made it's way into g.g. allin territory. I couldn't get woodstock 94's explanation of the mud people's muck as soil mixed with running portapotty fluids, and when he started giving high fives to the crowed I planned on darting in any direction that would have kept my OCD from rapidly devolving into fits of unclean hysteria.
Even still, I couldn't help but smile. He smeared war paint on his band member's faces calling Union Park an ancient Indian burial ground that also, in his rambling, improvised historia, doubled as a youth initiation ritual into manhood. As the drummer lifted his shirt up for a belly smear Harrington explained that the youngest were rubbed there for their transition. There was one moment that was both heartbreaking and uplifting, it was Harrington, changing costumes in the back kind of sat there like a kid with a train set and muttered something about "why can't we buy this park? Why can't every day be like this?" And it was great, because the band brought their families, and made their family life like this. A testament to the idea that growing up doesn't have to mean getting old like an age home.

Les Savy Fav performing We'll Make A Lover Out Of You (I didn't even realize he crowd surfed in a garbage can and played Oscar The Grouch)

My day kind of trailed off after that. I don't know why Evan McGarvey didn't suggest, hey, why don't you choose Trae and Z-Ro's ABN instead of rehashing every white person's standard hip hop fallback, a wu-tang associate? Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I didn't get there late and watched from next to the sound tent, but the sound was distant and from what I could tell nothing different than any other wu-tang show, which, if you haven't been to one, go, because it's a blast. But it's the same blast. Here's the ODB tribute, Ooh Baby I like it Raw. Here's everyone's favorite Wu-Tang line "wu tang clan ain't nothin' to fuck with" and then here's a few solo songs. Maybe they should have had RZA show up and fuck with the sound. From where I was standing, Raekwon looked like Rick Ross' gold medallion of himself, with a body attached. They did another "one for the real hip hop heads out there" again making a silly distinction between their true to new york coke rap tales of drug dealing and non true to new york coke rap tales of drug dealing. That soulja boy Ice-T diss is hilarious.
Before making my last rounds in the record fair and picking up Marty Friedman's Megadeth solo project for my little brother, and that last Xiu Xiu album for myself, I caught five minutes of spiritualized, perhaps the most perfect five minutes of the festival. When they let the notes ring out, slowly following each other in a languorous haze, they filled out the festival grounds beautifully, black backup singers doing the soul thing for a white frontman not uncomfortable at all, but mollifying. When the chug picked up, the sound went flat, and I bounced, making my through the burning man contingent and taking the train to a homely couch.

Holy S#&%! The exact five minutes I caught of spiritualized! (It's all coming back to me, I can see the sun setting over the steeple!)

I missed cut copy, who I had initially hated, but then heard while boozing it up at the patio of the vagabond and fell in love with. I didn't see as much as I probably could have, and would like to space out my performances so I don't have to catch up on so many in one weekend, but what I did get to experience was awesome. Especially the vegan barbeque wings from the chicago diner, oh lord. HEAVEN (for animals?).

Related posts:
P4k afterthoughts: Friday
P4k afterthoughts: Saturday

Monday, July 21, 2008

p4k afterthoughts: Saturday

Awesome weather. Apparently Fleet Foxes and No Age weren't the only atmospherics carried over from Sub Pop's 20th Anniversary Festival.
After rekindling my intellectual insecurity by dashing any hopes of reading the $5.50 copy of war and peace I bought from the Myopic Bookstore (thanks stilted translation and grammatically careless public domain!) my host offered me a raincoat. Initially hoping that, along with Rick Ross styled shades some stranger left at my house, it would help me look the part of the "im only here for the Rascal" a-hole, I was dismayed that it instead made me look like the unabomber if he intended to use his publicity to push a career in rap as the ultimate outlaw, but couldn't get past the whole dweeb aspect.
It was nice to be able to rely on public transportation in chicago, mainly because the train system in miami is a non-existent development failure. Apparently intended as a sprawling syndicate of interconnecting railways it ended up being one line across US1 that inconveniently passes by the airport and curves off into the middle of nowhere.
Not knowing much about Titus Andronicus except for their penchant to just fucking tell you already, gosh, I hopped over to the B stage to strike my globally cultured world (weary) pose. Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar were setting up and I was willing to use my cognitive dissonance to strike out Kusturica's Milosevic associations and remember the fun parts of his movies, mainly the bombastic and triumphant score that carried his scoundrels from one scandalous feat of irreverence to another. It's a shame his view of a united Yugoslavia comes under the banner of a Machiavellian realism. Either way, that Balkan Brass was mighty uplifting, none of that melancholic warble Beirut grounded his eastern-european impressionism with (not that I'm opposed). I haven't been to temple in forever, but if services were entirely made up of that rendition of Hava Negila, I'd bring the manischevitz.
For some reason their set left me in the mood to soak up some blood visions. Perhaps it was the end of Titus Andronicus blaring over the port-a-potty's that convinced me it was time to tussle. The end of their set reminded me of the birthday in my last year in high school where my Conor Oberst obsessed friend made me go see Bright Eyes on their I'm Wide Awake It's Morning and all it took was an anti-bush screed to convince me their sobbing and whined out country bamboozle was actually pretty rockin' underneath the Olympia Theater's garishly fake starry night. They kind of sound like someone who has something really important to tell you right when your favorite band is playing, and they're emotionally vulnerable at the moment so if you don't listen to them they could do something crazy that you might regret, which is either unfair or a sign that they really respect your opinion and can't wait for it.
I hopped over to Jay Reatard where King Kahn was out in a hawaiian shirt, carrying a cup of what looked like smoking dry ice, letting his gut hang out while he propped up his bud through his sunglasses. I never really got into King Kahn and the shrines but that guy looks like a lot of fun. Jay Reatard on the other hand was all business. Totally wronged by who knows what, whatever joy, or mock wistful fright to be found Blood Visions was replaced by harried shouts on beat. The bass player more than made up for his anti-charisma and filled in the facial gestures. Meanwhile, King Khan totally goofed from the side of the stage, apparently starting something he carried over to the aftershow later that night, mainly letting the crowd know that Jay Reatard gave him a blowjob before the show and that he's totally happy. Now, unlike Public Enemy, I could actually justify people flailing into each other here and took my unabomber outfit right into the middle of the fairly mild mayhem taking place in front of the stage. I haven't been that ecstatic about being elbowed in the teeth in, like, ever. I was more dismayed when Jay Reatard finished his set with a middle finger. It was silly and lame. Interesting vocal choices though, he sang half the songs in a screeching falsetto.
I spent most of Caribou waiting for my hosts to arrive and it turned out to be great background music. On record the music kind of streams into oblivion and that shimmery psychedelia ain't really my thang. Some vaguely trip hoppish cover of Here Comes the Sun was put through the motions when the clouds started clearing up, and as background music I wasn't at all annoyed but at some point Dan Snaith got off the keyboard and joined in a whirlwind dueling drums session that brought back fond memories of that black eyes show I caught before they broke up. I couldn't tell but either Snaith or the guitarist set off a noise loop that ran atop it and I became convinced that drum solos should never be dolo.
This morning should bring on embarrassing footage of me attempting to disprove the main thesis of Where Da G's by being extremely enthusiastic and limbically loose throughout Dizzee Rascal's set. I was beat though by a girl who pushed up beside me and knew all the lyrics. Again, I have no idea how people do this, but my retention for rap lyrics, or any lyrics for that matter, is almost non-existent. It's helpful because it's consistently refreshing when listening to it at home, but live, when the only thing you hear is bass and Dizzee's chirping it would be nice to fill in the blanks. Your parent's record collection got dissed when Dizzee came out and summed up Fleet Foxes as that fuck shit he was there to get rid of. Not that Alex Turner is the antithesis of fuck shit, Fleet Foxes harmonizing is kind of pleasant but ephemeral in the same way that nostalgia for classic rock passes when you turn on big 105.9 and a sports announcer is cramming useless factoids about The Eagles down your throat.
Even without knowing the lyrics, I almost lost my voice in unrestrained giddiness shouting out various dirtee stank associated buzzwords throughout the set, or merely spout gibberish that could be construed as enthusiastic. Old school dance moves, neon pink and green dj headphones, an unnecessarily self-censored version of Pussy'ole which was still fun because yelling "blood! don't make get old school!" is a blast, Tom Breihan's soundless visage seemingly cackling with unlimited benefits from the VIP section, and a genuine interest in getting the crowd to stand up tall made it one of the best sets of the weekend, or ever.

Dizzee Rascal performing Sirens (strangely, sound is clearer on this video than it was at the show)

Now, I don't think Vampire Weekend should be held accountable for being influenced by an afropop that they genuinely seem to enjoy. I do think they should be held accountable for being unnecessarily affected about the ordeal. From what I've garnered out of the few listens of their album that I was able to make it through (actually I haven't made it through, stopped somewhere round track nine) their lyrics are more about class disparities that ivy league campuses pretend to be insulated from but aren't because there's always a kid there on scholarship. Unless why would you lie about how much coal you have is from the perspective of a rich kid calling out a poor poor kid trying to fit in with a made up status. I honestly could care less because the barbershop quartet vocal affectations stop my enjoyment dead cold. From someone who paid attention I was told the crowd was twice as large for Vampire Weekend as it was for Public Enemy. They were flabbergasted because Vampire Weekend had no S1W's. I'd say that maybe if Public Enemy were white kids with a taste for hip hop they could broach the color line, to white ears. But I'm glad to say that aside from Eminem, rap has still not been expropriated by anyone other than its founding race. Not that i'm not for the globalization of hip hop. Palestinian rappers DAM are an excellent example of how it can transcend borders, but generally in the united states, when the white kids get on the mic they've got to consult their dystopian sci-fi jargon because they can't imagine how shitty it already is two miles over.
Anyways, I'd like to see XL take a random sampling of bands and launch them to national superstardom overnight with the help of pitchfork and see what kind of response they get. If kids can't listen to Phil Collins unironically, how can they identify with this? I'm also pretty sure the bigger the band the more assholes present in the crowd. I actually had an interest in hearing M79, as it reminds me of the rushmore soundtrack and is kind of catchy. Unfortunately I had to deal with tall, gel spiked bro with a muscle t-shirt and designer shades who obviously cared more about running a dialogue about what I'd be willing to offer in order to get in front of him. He wasn't sure I even liked the band and I almost admitted I didn't. They were less grating live, the instruments sounded perfect (conspiracy?), but if there's anything more painful than the vocals it's Ezra Koenig's facial expressions. Brocappella sincerity, arched eyebrows, mary poppins singing to a bird. Either way I wasn't bummed about it, it was jaunty and kind of fun. Not a convert or anything, but if that's what the kids want...then please, Koenig, go to Africa and bring back some golden polyrhythms! The kids, they just skip over the Ghana Soundz with the 8.8! You be their 8.8!
Then the afternoon took a turn for the worse as I made the worst mistake I made during the festival and, in a psychosomatic need for water, left the !!! stage before that turned into the dance party of the century. On record I can't stand Nic's vocals, but waiting for the hold steady, he looked like Nick Swardson as Jessica Biels' gay brother in I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry, basically, awesome. It was kind of what I wanted at that moment and in anticipating what the Hold Steady's set would bring, kind of wished I went back and made friends with that one person who made the sarcastic comment about how to exit when I stepped in front of him trying circumvent the lawn people to his left. Instead I called him out on his snark and he told me "Fuck You!" and I got my water. Not exactly refreshing. I may go next year to see if every saturday at 6 some kind of asshole moment happens. Last year I brought my little brother to Mastodon. Him being an avowed metal fanatic for some reason disavowed mastodon as more of the same old same old. I wanted him to sit on the railing with me, because last year the sound tent people didn't mind as much some patrons hopping up the rails to catch a glimpse over the crowd. If they wanted the discomfort that brought their glutes, then so be it! Any ways, two guy guys/bro dudes had gotten there first. Not to sit on it or anything, just to kind of stand next to it. Now, there was totally enough room for me. But because I hadn't staked out their the extra five minutes they probably took, I could not ask them to kindly move half a foot so my little bro could sit next to me. Instead, cutting my somewhat passionate speech about his ability to move a little bit to his left he told me I could keep on talking but it didn't matter because he wasn't going to move. Killed the mood. Same with this saturday's convo.
Anyways, yeah, The Hold Steady. If you're not drunk and don't wear their lyrics on your sleeves don't bother trying to have any emotional investment. I don't know how kids adapt a band's lyrics about girls with pill problems as a rallying cry, but actually chips ahoy is a pretty great song about wasted potential and reliance on external enhancements for what's already there. Still, the words really meant something to everyone right around me and as much as I tried to feign enjoyment I wasn't drunk enough and it wasn't bar enough, so I left to wander aimlessly in search of the hosts. I ended up walking through Atlas Sound's crowd, having missed the other jam of the evening, Extra Golden. Atlas Sound really fit into the background well, and my initial lack of success turned into hazy reverie reminiscent of the non-annoying scenes in labyrinth. Festival people can be wierd, lotus positions with gyrating shoulders with really sincere closed eyes and whatnot. Fest wasn't too far from burning man yet.
At that point I wasn't able to muster up any excitement for no age, who sounded exactly like they did on record, except on record I didn't have the option of being elbowed in the teeth. At this point in the day I wouldn't have minded just putting them in a glass of water by the sink and calling it a night. I didn't try to maneuver with the crowd folk for animal collective because there was an abe vigoda, high places show, but their performance of the symphonic communication sequence from close encounters of the third kind kind of won me over on the way out and made me regret not sticking around a little bit longer to see how they make their songs entirely unintelligible even to their most devoted fans.
The rest of the night was a series of social faux-pas as my host actually turned out to be friends with High Places and I had no idea what they looked like and as a result, once their set won me over I totally geeked out and asked a bazillion questions about vinyl availability and touring schedules and personal info and so on. I'll cut right to it because I want to go to sleep but the hazy ethereal quality they drown the drums in on record (at least from the sound of their myspace) is nothing like the chinese drum circle they drop on you live. I'd imagine the perfect setting for a performance by them would be cross between a chinese restaurant in a bamboo forest and the temple of doom, though for maximum enjoyment the latter part would have to be without the enslaved children and the live heart stealing. What would make it the temple of doom then? LAVA. I haven't had a chance to fully digest them but the way her words drift into the drum patterns and wind chimes is like a post-grad wistfully watching over her family while her younger siblings grow up without her and life moves on, and she could say hi but this curse is rustling her surroundings while a disorienting loss of familiarity pulls her front yard from under her and all you hear is "you know why, don't you?" and images of her climbing trees with her sister and saying grace at the dinner table and idyllic rural memories turn into reveries on a pillow in a hostel somewhere in East Asia. I swear, I wanted to cry.
Instead it rained and we had to rush to the car, but i'll be spinning the 7" and 10 song cd I bought in search of those moments for a while, I hope.

Related posts:
P4k afterthoughts: Friday
P4k afterthoughts: Sunday

P4k afterthoughts: Friday

So I cashed in and went to the pitchfork festival this past weekend.
First off, I'd like to thank Owen Ashworth and Holly Rotman for making this possible by opening up their couch to me and making Chi city feel like a place I can call Chi city without sounding like a white kid that listens to Kanye. Oh, wait, that's impossible because I'm a white kid that listens to Kanye! But still, hearts warmer than the weather.
SHOWTIME - already accepting that there were relatively few token rap acts, and that I could look forward to skipping Spoon and taking advantage of lackluster options to skip around on scheduling conflicts, I was pretty much ready for thunderdome.
I arrived late and unfortunately missed Mission of Burma. The entire Don't Look Back curricula requires a band foregoes making a live mixtape for its audience and sets the odd stricture of having them perform an entire album that you may or may not skip around when listening to on your own. I guess it's the emergency action directive from the save the album campaign. From what I read about their history I assumed that it was the spontaneous nature of their improvised setlists that allowed for their shows to be either chaotically awesome or novelty trainwrecks that either way would have been transfixing, otherwise they'd be forced out of their element. I used this excuse to comfort myself when I saw Barlow and Co. were setting up while I was walking in.
In middle school my neighbor burned "bakesale" for me and I developed an abstract concept of relationships as burying your head in your lover's bosom in order to bestill their beating heart, possibly yours too (wasn't double suicide so superficially poetic back then? Ugh. Kids need more Myth of Sisyphus (I did, it's sadly gone unread by me). If you're going to piss off the world, stick around to gauge its reaction, no? Pissing off yourself does no one good, though I haven't ever been in a situation that was unbearable and inescapable, so I'm not one to talk. Though I think I'll always be morbidly fascinated and stuck in awestruck reverence when it comes to self-immolation). So yeah, bakesale. It was awkward, and this is probably made up because I was into it more for the lingering traces of light in his melancholic delivery. Music was all about moods back then. But reading about Barlow's awkward virginal sexual history, and how it made him odd man out in Dinosaur J, taking homophobic potshots from J Mascis and adding disturbing psychosexual undercurrents to sucking on the cookie monster's eyeball in J's face as revenge strategy, until he pulled the band from its Mascis Comes Alive! trappings to play a Gnostic God's underling with two tape decks and in doing so falling in love with a college DJ at age 20, gave me some comfort during high school. Kind of like reading about Fugazi cooped up in a motel room and becoming friends for life by revealing their deepest, darkest secrets to each other. I didn't envy it as much as appreciated that bonds like that could be created, and sure, would have liked to sit in and tell them everything. I was in odd confessional mode in high school, not realizing how awkward that can make some friendships. But aren't friendships better than psychologists because with friends your not paying them 100 dollars to measure your sanity but giving them morsels of your heart so you can know that everyone is a little fucked up? Lou Barlow's lyrics seemed to stem from not being able to let out like that.
Any ways, I had never heard Bubble and Scrape, but it pretty much sounded like a Sebadoh album. I was in the port-a-potty when they started, which is where I can imagine the songs were either written or meant to be heard, or a real john, slumped up against a sink hung over from too much drama. For a few moments I thought, hey, this is what Sebadoh used to make me feel, tonight's going to be all right! And then I got bored and darted for the record fair. Numero Group was there, reliable as usual, taking 55 dollars for a selection worth over 80. Waiting for public enemy I met a photographer who thought it was worth a free download (I later tell myself that the packaging and the liner notes are worth it. Did not get into the ethics of downloading, because I totally have half the bands from the coming weekend on my mp3 player illegally). Found out the vegan Soul Veg cart in Tallahassee, run by Hebraic Africans raising money for a pilgrimage to Israel, was also a Chicago staple and are directly related to the Soul Messengers from Dimona. From the liner notes ",,,Dimona, Israel. It's an arid and rocky landscape: perfect for secret nuclear facilities, ideal for raising goats, and according to track twelve, the spiritual capital of the world." Way to bring on the apocalypse. So looking forward to this.
A great moment was catching Lou Barlow reacting to the Bomb Squad cutting into his solo acoustic encore on the Jumbotron. It looked like a kind of a shrugged acceptance. "If my music isn't sad enough..."
Yeah, bomb squad, I would have loved an hour DJ set from them. I can safely say that was the best usage of the soundsystem all weekend, as, intending to move the crowd they forced the crowd to move by shaking the ground. The Shocklee claims of still bringing us something new rang false considering Public Enemy's decline and forever waning status outside of Robert Christgau's head as politically or even sonically relevant, but that really didn't matter because their dubstep/dancehall blitzkrieg brought ear-shattering body rocking nonetheless. Before the Shocklee exit, "we made the public enemy sound, we won't be on stage, but don't you forget!"
I hadn't been keeping tabs on public enemy so Terminator X1's absence took me by surprise. Also Chuck D's loyalty to Professor Griff, outfitted for the new rap era, and apparently at a loss for words on his own contributions to the old one. More later. S1W's in ROTC formation marched Chuck D out, who, reliant on the power of his words, was done up in a basketball Jersey (perhaps a reference to He Got Game, the last time a music contribution of theirs made any waves?). I haven't heard the album in forever, and always favored Malcolm X over Farrakhan. Finding out their politics were informed by his was a somewhat harsh blow to my understanding of them as progressive. At least the follow for now line gave room for growth. Except when it came to Professor Griff, who locked himself up in black muslim conspiracy theories. And Flava Flav, too, really, who locked himself up in his own exploited image.
I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, their relevance at that point in time can't be stressed, I honestly can't think of another rap group that seemed to have the ability to affect politics radically, as opposed to now where a celebrity endorsement for Obama and a spot at the Democratic National Convention is the epitome of high-powered celebrity activism.
Though I wasn't expecting them to come out and say something in support of a gay, atheist communist like Angela Davis I was still a little glum over their Obama endorsement.
Anyways, show sounded awesome, Chuck D ran out and did his thing like it was embedded in his system and if he didn't periodically release it he would explode. As per usual, I couldn't decipher any lyrics in a rap show, all I could follow was the cadence. Of course, it seems the point of rap shows is to know every word before going so you can sing along. My retention is shit though, so I went back to moods, and the mood read blown away.
Various contingents of the mostly white audience reacted as if they grew up on public enemy via the Anthrax collabo on Tony Hawk and thought it was appropriate to mosh. Just because they collaborated with Scott Ian doesn't mean you have to get caught in a mosh, kids! A man of east-asian ancestry brought his two year old to the show, outfitted with ear plugs, a tiennamen square reference could probably be written off as an example of orientalism, but if he doesn't go opposite pop's route like alex p. keaton, who knows what power will come through the barrel of his gun (or guns like popeyes, but the guns of his mind, wishful thinking, right Gelderloo?)! Almost made me wish my first concert wasn't U2 in a baseball stadium in elementary school. But I used to really like the batman forever soundtrack when I was 10, so in retrospect that worked out really well!
So Flava Flav clocked in one song late and played that loveably goofy foil to Chuck D's fiery rage, decked out in clock and green medallion advertising his new sitcom about a wild street-savvy black guy crashing a bourgeois negroes upscale seclusion from his brethren. I was surprised Flava Flav actually rapped, he carried a whole song by himself while Chuck D went all Parents Just Don't Understand behind him. He asked Professor Griff to join in and then called him out for not remembering a word of his own venerable institution.
Best part:
Flava Flav - Hey, check out my new show Under One Roof every wednesday at something something on TBS.
Crowd - Boo!
Flava Flav - What? Don't boo me! All y'all booin', what, what, what are you, ghosts? You know who you boo, your spouse, you call your spouse boo. You should be proud of a brotha!
Now I'm not one to talk about one man's actions setting an entire race 15 years back, because that's usually a misconception of how a race should be presented in white eyes, calling for some kind of fascistic united but homogenized front as opposed to allowing for said race to express all expressions of the human psyche. But his reality tv shtick probably did a lot to aid in the undoing of Public Enemy's image as a consciously political group. Unless they decided to become a dada parody of the worst aspects of capitalism's instant gratification in the form of exploitative self-glorification. Chuck D kept dissent to Flava Flav's image to a minimum, but I remember him leaving Flava Flav at the altar when it came to the friar's club roast.
Chuck D asked all the REAL hip hop heads to make some noise, making another silly old guard distinction between their music and what's on the radio. If only they knew that this white audience might have heard NPR's eloquent deconstruction of MIMS' This is Why I'm Hot. If only they knew this audience loved listening to radio rap when recontextualized by a white nerd with a keyboard who threw their parents record collection as a backbeat! If only they made more songs with Buffalo Springfield as the backbeat! (Oh, whiteness, how self-aware you can be while remaining entirely ignorant at the same time! Don't worry, i'm totally including myself in that)
The saddest part came right before I left midway through the album. Chuck D made a claim that thanks to the audience's reception of their album as the rap Sgt. Pepper, the world realized that rap was here to stay. I got my nostalgia kicks in, and cashed out after the only possible damage they might have caused was to pitchfork's relation to the city's noise ordnance.
Looking in the DIY record tent it seemed that not only was rap not there to stay, but neither was Public Enemy, themselves underrepresented in a festival they were co-headlining. When the token rap act doesn't have a token prop, then a token ain't worth nothing more than flop. Jazz, having lost its cutting edge unless it frees itself into atonality, was widely present in the used record bins. I fear that rap itself will suffer the same fate, forty years after it caused a stir it would be relegated to elevator music until something new came along with a widely polarizing effect. Accepted only when it's a tourist trap on bourbon street. Old blokes doing renditions of Soulja Slim and the Hot Boys for white folks with a new sense of intolerable non-p.c. kicks. Hand grenades will still be their drink of choice.

Related posts:
P4k afterthoughts: Saturday
P4k afterthoughts: Sunday

Friday, July 4, 2008

Shattered Dreams and Freak Though (Larve, Fuh Real Pt. 2)

Shattered Dreams by UGK (though this is Pimp C's show)

Lyrics (please read them in all their glory)...

I finally bought UGK's Underground Kingz after bumping it for a while on my mp3 player. I've never listened to it from beginning to end and for some reason have been digging into it something fierce lately. Repeated listenings have brought out a more variegated understanding of the UGK mythos.
As stated in an interview with Bun B, apparently proceeds from the records are split up between Bun B and Pimp C's widow and children. Reading that he had a wife and family brought on the same effect learning of Juvenile's placid, warm domestic setup as described in "I Know You Know" had. Pimp C's nasally wrath has always brought unexplainable joy in me in that it's able to transform the most vile of statements into intentionally caustic man-child ruminations on juvenilia, but for some reason the misogyny in his lyrics always had an overriding grate that barred fully desensitized enjoyment. His lyrics in One Day U Here were heartbreaking but more often he came off a wild card side saddle to Bun B's stable grown man sensibilities. After his death I began reading more about him and learned he was a renaissance man of sorts, who learned multiple instruments growing up, was in the school choir, and handled much of the production work in UGK's early albums. It's usually his voice that croons that falsetto on their songs. I didn't realize how much that passed over to his lyrics until I heard Shattered Dreams.
There was a lot of word in the press round the time of Underground Kingz release that Real Women was supposed to be the antidote to Two Types of Bitches nasty, paranoid misogyny. I always thought that was bullshit because all real women did was thank spouses who basically compromised their lives because their romantic entanglement got tangled up and caught. Ran their lives into the ground so they could play side saddle to someone else's game. I thought it was particularly restrictive and the praise was backhanded, and it's a shame that Shattered Dreams got nary a mention because this is the male-scribed feminist anthem that Real Women's lightning was stolen from. For me, this was totally uncharacteristic of Pimp C. And as much as I loved hearing Pimp C say stupid things, there was always an emotional distance that came from his hardline approach against women. From all the verses I heard never once did I hear him say something contradictory to "if you ain't a bitch, then you a ho". But honestly, this is one of the most emphatically sympathetic verses to come from a male rapper ever.

It seems to start like any other rapper's "Heart to Heart" -

Man I refuse to let the bitches take away my pride
Them hoes can lock my body up, but they cain't lock my mind

And here is where I'm for the widespread usage of "bitches" and "ho's", not thrown around as a specifically misogynistic derogation, but instead reconstituted as a genderless defense against any woe bearing foe. It would be silly to eradicate a modern fixture in our language (though lord knows how many words from Shakespeare's time are not still around today outside of academia) when it can so easily be transformed into an equal opportunity force of defenestration against all haters and stooges playing stopgap to the good life.
Pimp C explains why he calls some women bitches and some women hoes and then tells them they have the option of staying out of that line of fire by changing up their lifestyle. True, for someone who glorifies the backstreet profession of exploiting women's bodies and raking in surplus value via hierarchically unfair wage distribution, it's hypocritical to make a judgement call on women who sleep around for free. Or takes pimping out of its monetary definition and sleeps around for free but calls out the girls for sleeping with him (there is something self-deprecating in that self-glorification, like, "if sleeping around doesn't mean anything that must be why it's so easy for me to do it?")
But Pimp C does the honorable thing and places hoes and pimps in the same line, giving an empathetic barrier-breaking olive branch to both and saying that just because the game thrives off of you doesn't mean you have to survive off of it. Both parts of the equation, the pimp and the ho, are relegated to the dregs of society because that's where they're allowed to fester, but the main concept of the song is that if you're there you probably think it's because you have no future, that you're future is over and here you are, commodifying your pussy, or someone else's pussy, until eventually that money pit dries up and you're in a pit drying up. But if you stop thinking like that, you might be able to crawl on out that hole.
He must know there are girls listening to his songs, and it's truly touching when he says

"Just cause you sold your body don't mean you a hoe for life,
I got to speak it right for all the one that paid the price".

Then the next verse is about family care for those who didn't Plan their Parenthood.
"To all the babies havin babies on ya own, I know you feeling up fucked up and feelin' all alone" and he gives words of encouragement, telling them just because society judges them as failures and fuck ups doesn't mean society has to live with their choice, doesn't even mean their definition of fucking up is applicable because if you, the lil mama keep on keeping on, taking care of your own who the fuck is someone totally unrelated to drop some dime a dozen excoriation that'll get you nowhere but a grief counselor.

"Ya only fucked up if you lay down and don't continue to fight - uh!"

And then he moves on to the pops, here assumed to be a young street soldier slanging dope like it's a rope that'll hang him 'fore he's high. His friends might want him to duck and cover, hang with the boys, but they're not going to be around when his girl is feeding his boy. I honestly wish I could sum this up in a way that's more heartfelt than Pimp C's words of encouragement, but I can't bring myself to tears like that.
And because this song is basically the self-esteem anthem of last year that should have been for young women, the third verse is also great. Here was the perfect response to the Imus controversy, or Chamillionaire calling the women in the NBA nappy headed hoes.

"I know they say, 'It ain't enough room in the NBA'
You tell them haters, "Save that bullshit for another day"

Then, in what I guess is a rip at the prevalence of female rappers flipping pimp status to be more gender equal, staying in the game by merely being as nasty as their male counterparts, he tells 'em they can do their thang and people won't be talking to their thong.
And here's the last part that just blows my mind.

"Some people gay, what can I say? The only judge is God
But don't be shame and try to hide cause then you livin fraud
Cause everythang done in the dark, gon' come to the light
So do yo' thang, cause cain't no man tell you what's wrong or right"

He takes Kanye's path one step further and puts it on record. It might have been a song on the second half of the album buried in the tail end, but they know their fans are going to stick around. UGK made albums, not singles, and that they released a double album is indication that they wanted to give their fans as much as they could, and to flip the standards they delightfully spent masticating on all the preceding tracks in order to take time for some real talk is a lot more of a genuine move at opening up dialogue with their audience than some last ditch effort to say something and drop out.
What's great about this song is it doesn't gouge what Pimp C has to say in isms or grand statements, every one of these verses is only interested in the pragmatic, like a high school counselor who has ten minutes to be a parent for someone who doesn't have one. He's not going to drop pamphlets on the kids, he's going to talk to them about how to best make the choice about this particular rough spot in their life.

Freak Though by T.I. (featuring Pharrell)
Now here's a song whose practicality is of a whole nother sort. It's sympathy deviates not from where something went wrong, but from where something was perceived to go wrong when it was right from the start. Basically, the song is about a girl that T.I. starts seeing and finds out she's a freak, but not just from bedroom behavior, also from neighborhood reputation. Here is where a lot of rappers succumb to a hypocritical assessment of the freak's life (except for maybe Devin the Dude, who will quietly pine in her absence) and castigate her lifestyle choices when they run parallel to theirs but are done from the receiving end as opposed to the giving end.

"She got angel eyes, wit the baby face
(But she's a freak though)
I want my momma and daddy to meet her
Maybe have my baby
(But she's a freak though)
They keep talking about you
Because they - can't keep up with your pace
You're my - super freak! super freak!
You're my - super freak!"

Instead of disposing of her as some misguided, passion induced floozy, he actually takes her seriously. Well, he says she might have been a little misguided, but then again so can he be. Another insanely stupid maxim tossed around as hip hop dictum is the notion that you can't turn a ho into a housewife. Before asking can you turn a pimp into a husband, T.I. writes the whole thing off, asking why the fuck would he want a housewife? Perhaps it's not the Feminine Mystique, but it's definitely a boot in the notion that a ring is a token to be exchanged for a prize possession, not necessarily prized but shelved for decoration. The entire song he basically upends the standard derogation of a ho. Everyone else can sheep it up flock style and kick back with their homeboys, T.I. is going to spend the night, have breakfast, lay in bed and actually try to establish a human connection with what his friends left off as a conquest. Obviously they didn't conquer anything because they totally missed out on the treasure buried underneath. That's why a line like "give every ho a hug" is one of the nicest things a rapper could say ever. With this as that line's backstory he's basically saying there are no ho's, there are women taken for granted by douschenozzle's who gave up their distinguishing faculties to their dicks.

I just respect that she herself and she don't hide it
Though she may have been a tad misguided
All she need is a little affection, a lot of direction
A nigga wit a constant erection

But one that beats with a bleeding heart.
I can't wait for paper trail.

Related Post:
Larve, fuh real