Saturday, April 04, 2009

T.C. Boyle

T. Coraghessan Boyle has been one of my favorite authors for a few years now. I first read his T.C. Boyle Stories, a giant collection of ironic, black-humored short fiction, and then his novel, The Tortilla Curtain, which I just discovered will come out in movie form in 2010, starring Kevin Costner and Meg Ryan.

Boyle is brilliant at exposing human awkwardness and self-consciousness, the absurd clash of our manifested instincts and our rigid civilization. I'm revisiting the stories right now and can't help myself from sharing this hysterical passage from "The Ape Lady in Retirement." An academic observes her audience while waiting backstage before giving a lecture, and then while giving it:
She watched the crowd gather--blank-faced housewives and their paunchy husbands, bearded professors, breast-thumping students, the stringy, fur-swathed women of the Anthropology Club--watched them command their space, choose their seats, pick at themselves, and wriggle in their clothing...She was absorbed in the dynamics of the crowd, listening to their chatter, observing their neck-craning and leg-crossing, watching their furtive plumbing of nostrils and sniffing of armpits, and obsessive fussing with hair and jewelry...

She watched them--fidgeting, certainly, but patient and intelligent, all their primal needs--their sexual urges, the necessity of relieving themselves and eating to exhaustion--sublimated beneath the spell of her words.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Monday, November 24, 2008

Copulatin' Blues

Yesterday I read this NYTimes article about an evangelical pastor in Texas who conducted an exciting "sexperiment," a "Seven Days of Sex" challenge in his church of 20,000, urging married couples to get jiggy as much as possible for a week in order to strengthen their bonds. Finally, a Christian message that makes sense.

If nervous couples needed a little extra help during their week-long sex-quest, perhaps they threw The Copulatin' Blues on the stereo.

Here's the track list:

I need a little sugar in my bowl (Bessie Smith) (2:42) --Get off with me (Coot Grant) (3:06) -- My daddy rocks me (Tampa Red's Hokum Jug Band) (3:18) -- Keep your hands off my mojo (Grant & Wilson) ((2:53) -- Winnin' boy (Jelly Roll Morton) (4:10) -- Shave 'em dry (Lucille Bogan) (3:00) --Barbecue Bess (Lucille Bogan) (2:33) -- I'll keep sittin' on it (Georgia White) (2:48).Preaching blues (Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers) (2:54) -- Stavin' chain (Lil Johnson) (2:52) -- Do your duty (Bessie Smith acc. by Buck and his band (Frankie Newton (tpt), Jack Teagarden (tbn) Benny Goodman (clt), Leon "Chu" Berry (ts), Buck Washington (pno), Bobby Taylor (gtr), Billy Talor (sbs)) (3:17) -- New rubbin' on the darned old thing (Oscars Chicago Swingers) (2:30) -- Press my button (Lil Johnson) (3:04) -- Stavin' chain (Johnny Temple acc, by the Harlem Hamfats) (2:18) -- Don't you make me high (Merlin Johnson) (2:31) -- You stole my cherry (Lil Johnson) (2:30)

Update: In another surprising first, I'm linking to a Tucker Carlson article about this supposed evangelical sexual voracity.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bruno Strikes Again

With three commissions, too much grad school, and tons of politics to keep up with, this blog took a hit. But I'll try to heat it back up starting now.

Bruno in Milan

Sacha Baron Cohen is one of the best performance artists of our time. Lately, as the gay Austrian, Bruno, he's been dabbling in art intervention. Just 10 days ago, Cohen managed to act as an extra in a court scene for NBC's Medium, sitting in the jury and disrupting the shoot. Earlier this fall, he crashed two fashion shows, one in Paris and the Prada show in Milan, for which he actually walked the catwalk wearing a cross between an elementary school diorama and the Derelict line from Zoolander:

Other recent Bruno escapades include a pro-Proposition 8 rally in LA and two cage-fighting matches in Arkansas. Cohen apparently lured people to the fights with promises of chicks and cheap beer, and then proceeded to strip down and kiss another man in the ring. The audience was a bit put off, and many threw chairs and beer at the young lovers.

Hopefully much of this great work will appear in his upcoming film starring Bruno, out this May.

What should we make of him? Is he just a comedian, a brilliant Neo-Dadaist like Pierre Pinoncelli, or somewhere in between? I'm inclined to think his mockery of the fashion and television industries and of homophobia in the past few months alone is more than just laughs.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Originality: not what you think.

Starry Night, by Robert Silvers

Technically speaking, according to current copyright law, the above work is completely unoriginal. It's a replication of a famous Van Gogh painting, and it's made up of NASA images. There's nothing original about it! This is highway robbery!? Let's sue Robert Silvers. Cunningly, Silvers copyrighted his artistic Photomosaic method, and can, I'm sure, wiggle his way out of copyright battles at this point. But many musicians, who aren't millionaires, CEO's, and legal wizards, and who do essentially the same thing with audio, have a lot to worry about. But isn't Silvers' work an originality mindfuck? I applaud him for that.

Ben Franklin said that "originality is the art of concealing your sources." Girltalk, Robert Silvers, and others may have altered this philosophy.

I wrote a pretty long comment on a NewMusicBox post about sampling, Girltalk, and intellectual property law, so I thought I'd just post it here. I'm a little disappointed that no one else responded...The original post, by Carl Stone, brings up the familiar debate over originality, and what defines this concept today versus what it used to mean. You can read my thoughts on the topic below.
I'm glad to read many similar thoughts to my own in an interesting NMB post. Since taking a class on fair use in the music world (and really, before that), I came to realize how the legal system (especially in America) is always so horribly behind mainstream culture. (Gay marriage is still illegal in most states. The death penalty is still legal in many states. The list goes on.) At least in terms of copyright, this is probably largely the result of "case law," which only gets built slowly, over time, and, maybe, less the fault of insane, fundamentalist Supreme Court judges who would be better off behind bars than in a post appointed by the president. Maybe Girltalk is the first one to break through to the next generation of musicians who can sample electronically in just the same manner, as you write, as Brahms and Bach and everyone else did acoustically. I see absolutely no difference in what Girltalk does and what any Baroque or Classical composer did (and what many of these composers' instituational incarnates continue to do now, acoustically). But the world's collective consciousness still won't equate the two - we still haven't accepted the digital as "the real." And it's not. But it's a perfect simulacrum of the real--meaning it resembles the real so accurately as to take its place--and therefore, as far as we can tell, it is the real. That could be why the courts can't change the laws just yet - it is so seemingly real, whereas a reorchestration is somehow so different (but really not). I agree that Girltalk is recontextualizing the hits he mashes up to the point of fair use, or de minimis, or however you want to classify it, but I'm pretty sure if he was taken to court, it'd be copyright infringement for sure. The point at which the legal system's assault on this particular component of our creativity will stop is when it and the record labels realize that allowing this type of creativity is more profitable than the court settlements that prohibit it. Maybe that's finally happening right now--I wouldn't be surprised if Girltalk is getting courted by a couple big labels, or will be soon.

This quote from the NYTimes opinion piece sounds quite familiar: "All aspects of creativity are basically reconstituted bits and pieces of things we've seen, heard and experienced, finely or not-so-finely chopped and served in a form that hopefully blends the ingredients into something 'new.' The ancient Greeks seemed to know this, expressed in their belief that the Muses of creativity were the daughters of Mnemosyne, Titan goddess of memory."
It resembles Fredric Jameson's extensive writing on originality and "death of the subject" from the 1980s. He apparently agreed with the Greeks. But now, over 20 years after he wrote about these topics, I wonder what he thinks, though I hear he still buys the same music that Adorno was praising in the early to mid 20th century. Still, every piece I've read by Jameson has amazed me with its foresight and analogies. But the realization that Girltalk really is original, that the digital age has spawned an original form of originality in itself, is something that the courts haven't grasped yet, and Jameson couldn't in the 1980s. What the current discussions of originality today are missing is that a) originality has changed--we can't discuss it today with the old definition, and b) it's pointless to discuss originality at all today, because it either doesn't exist, if you buy into Jameson, or it has changed so much in the last few decades that we need a new word for it. Furthermore, maybe Jameson is right--subjects are dead--how can anyone today begin to claim that she's 100% original with no outside influence?

I personally stick to the word "innovation," and wholeheartedly believe in the obsolescence of the greedy, money-driven copyright industry--and that's why I spent most of the day remixing the final movement of Mozart's 40th.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Twin Cities

My favorite line from Hillary's speech tonight:

"It's no surprise that McCain and Bush will be appearing together in the Twin Cities next's pretty hard to tell them apart these days."

And from the NYTimes article about Biden's speech:

Mr. Biden, who referred to his childhood struggle with stuttering, made a few verbal slips, including referring to Mr. McCain as “George.”

“Freudian slip, folks,” he said. “Freudian slip.”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

This Week's Bookmarks

A few World Wide Web links for the three to five readers per day who haven't arrived here via a Google image search. (I've never searched the World Wide Web for "world wide web" before. Why isn't Sir Tim Berners-Lee the most famous guy on the planet?)

Sweet bathroom art
A very different way to spruce up the water closet than what the pictures in my previous post illustrate. If I had money, he'd be way up on my commission list.

Composer Charles Wuorinen with his cat.

In the home stretch of an election that I fear might confirm my utter lack of faith in the people of this country, finding this pathetic website has not helped my optimism. Apparently Charles Wuoronin's opera based on the Brokeback Mountain story (or "gay, 12-tone cowboys," as Ross puts it) will be "radical and dangerous" in its "celebration" of the "homosexual lifestyle." I'm surprised these ultra-conservative hominids are able to maintain a website, considering their desperate attempts to exist in a different century than the rest of us.

American sprinter Tyson Homosexual

This is the same news-censoring site that reports on "Tyson Homosexual's" track and field successes and "Rudy Homosexual's" basketball career. Conservatives apparently still like to view being gay as a psychological disorder, rather than a common sexual orientation, and thus prefer the term homosexual - the most clinical and scientific word, and a term that many gays and lesbians consider highly insulting for this reason - to the word gay. So, they use a software program that automatically converts every instance of "gay" to "homosexual" so its readers won't be quite so threatened by this horrible and potentially contagious disorder. Some results are the ridiculous articles about Tyson and Rudy Homosexual. I agree with Michael Scherer that nonfiction writer Homosexual Talese should chime in on the issue.

A couple questions for the homophobic writers: how would they censor their own scientific classification as homo erectus? And shouldn't they censor the name of the Brokeback article's author? Charlie Butts sounds pretty vulgar to me. Maybe Charlie Rears or Charlie Backsides?

I'm constantly baffled at how people who claim to live by a strong moral code can hold such horribly derogatory, completely immoral, vastly inhumane, highly bigoted, overtly frightened, and simply uneducated views. It's a shame, and it's depressing, and I'm embarrassed to share a nation with them. The fact that our country still insists on denying a giant proportion of its citizens the right to get married is preposterous. So is the fact that states can legally murder their inmates. How is it wrong to abort a 2-week old fetus but ok to kill a full grown person or torture a suspect? These are issues that the true, leftist Obama that I hope hides behind his campaign facade will tackle head-on if he does win this election.