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Sunday, August 27, 2006

I actually do need a haircut

I feel like venturing away from my sworn topics of film, food, books, and beats. I feel like talking about hair.

I have very short hair--culturally aware people might call it a pixie cut--and since chopping my locks off six long years ago, I have learned that short hair carries a mysterious stigma (go figure). Over the course of my short-haired existence, I have been mistaken for a boy, a lesbian, and a model. Hairdressers and militant female English teachers always love my hair; young guys and my stepfather are not very fond of it. I suppose this has something to do with accepted, if perhaps unconscious, stereotypes of women: women are supposed to have long, flowing hair. Men are the ones with short hair.

Don't get me wrong. I love long hair. I am so very jealous of some of my girlfriends who have long, thick, glossy hair. However, I had long hair once upon a time, and for one thing it just didn't suit me, and for another, it was a pain in the rear to take care of. If you have the temperament to blow-dry and fiddle with and tug at long hair, by all means! do it. But I do not have this temperament, and I don't think I'll be developing it any time soon. For some reason, most of the males I know don't seem to understand how annoying a lot of hair can be. I can only attribute this to them never having had a lot of hair, and since they have never had a lot of hair, they can do the world a favor and shut up.

The hair is staying short. It is not going to be grown out. I do not feel the need to 'try something new'. I don't care if you mistake me for a boy; I will simply taunt you with my awesome A-cups. I don't care if you think I'm a lesbian; I probably think you're an idiot, or at least someone who has never heard of Winona Ryder, Jean Seberg, Audrey Hepburn, Halle Berry, or Natalie Portman of late.

I like my hair, and short it will stay. I mean, really--not only is it flattering, it's also easy to take care of AND it serves as a sort of social barometer, especially as far as the male persuasion is concerned. If you think my hair looks good, we'll be friends. If you think that only men should have short hair, you're not long for this world.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Charles, Patron Saint of Rock Criticism

Chuck Klosterman is a poet. Any man who can write a book of nearly 300 pages about hair metal which along the way classifies Rush as Christian rock is a poet pure and simple, a poet the way Eliot and Frost were poets (and certainly more of a poet than, say, Carol Ann Duffy).

Fargo Rock City, children. This is where it's at. If you haven't read it, go out and buy it RIGHT NOW. Even if you think people like Nikki Sixx and Gene Simmons are decadent, untalented man-whores; even if, like me, you hate spending fourteen bucks on a paperback. I mean, I can't stand 99% of hair metal, and I think this book is the best thing since The Awakening, and not just because I've adored Chuck Klosterman's writing since I read a SPIN column detailing his dream band (I would totally listen to Doomed Honeymoon. Lord yes. Give it to me now.), especially since he did write one thing I couldn't stand. That would be the SPIN article about rock star deaths (I mean really, Chuck--you give Kurt Cobain two pages and Bob Stinson a paragraph? Who cares if you don't know anything about him? The Replacements owned Nirvana.)

I'm always a little slow on the uptake as far as new books and new music go (with the exception of On Beauty--that's a good one, too, AND I managed to read it only about a month after it came out); Fargo Rock City was first published in 2001. But no matter. I have read it now and I will read it again, and again and again, until I finally realize that it should be on my non-fiction shelf. Perhaps it's the subject matter of these, as Klosterman puts it, 'coke-addled deities', but the book doesn't read like a rock'n'roll history. No knowing rock-snob writing here, no jokes about Big Star, no impassioned opinion rants about Reagan's Eighties (not that I don't also love Michael Azerrad)...only a detailed, loving tale of the gilded road to hard-rocking, coke-snorting, stripper-banging metal godhead.

All the greats are here: Van Halen, Motley Crue, Yngwie Malmsteen, Quiet Riot, Def Leppard, Guns 'N Roses, Poison, The Scorpions, KISS, Nugent, all the way up to the Big Four of thrash metal and heavy metal's demise in the early 1990s (damn you Kurt Cobain, again!). For metal novices (like meself...since my metallic tastes are limited mainly to the power and prog genres), this book is an encyclopedia; for metalheads, it's a Bible, albeit a Satanic one (ha, ha...I can make knowing rock-snob jokes too). It shows that music can be technically stupid and still manage to affect an entire generation, and that there's nothing wrong with that (I guess hip-hop is still showing that today). It mouths off about rocking out to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin alike, wanting to wear black lipstick because KISS did, lusting after Lita Ford, and doing all this in rural North Dakota. North Dakota, man! Could there be a more kvlt state in the Union? Clearly not.

Furthermore, Fargo Rock City made me wonder--who on Earth was my heavy metal enabler? I mean, for Pete's sake; I'm a mellow Mormon girl from a little island off the East Coast of Florida. When did I start listening to Queensryche? When did I even hear the name 'Queensryche'? When did I learn how to pronounce 'Queensryche' correctly? And Strapping Young Lad? Opeth? Opeth does not exist in Merritt Island, FL; Merritt Island, FL, is for people who like Kenny Chesney and Vanessa Carlton. Who was it that started me on my path to tinnitus? Klosterman blames his older brother, which is only natural, but I don't have an older brother. I only have an older sister, and she's into Euro-trash and The Velvet Underground.

Whoever it was that tipped off my long strange trip (if I may mix genres), bless you. I'll buy you a copy of Fargo Rock City as a thank-you gift.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

How do you imagine Heaven?

Libraries both excite and depress me. It's an interesting mix, and while excitement generally wins out, occasionally I run into things which shove depression over the top.

For instance--books which never get checked out. Seriously, it's like the Island of Misfit Toys or something for these books. It's sad. Now, I can understand why The Scarlett Letter wouldn't see much action, but really good books like The Once and Future King? Who doesn't love a little King Arthur, a little WWII-era political ranting? And it's happening right in your local library. I'd guarantee it. People are going for the Danielle Steels and Jodi Picoults on the New Fiction! rack at Borders, and leaving the dusty classics behind to lean against one another, weary on the library shelves. In the library of my university, there are at least three books which, over the course of the last year, have only been checked out by yours truly. That's because I like to read books multiple times, and I also like to note how often a book I love gets read, in hopes of someday finding some like-minded souls to talk to (I really do wish they still stamped your name in books instead of anonymous checked-out-checked-in dates). However, the yearning for my own private book club will have to remain a happy daydream, because apparently I'm the only person in the school who enjoys reading George Orwell. I can't fathom how no one else has discovered the joys of Keep the Aspidistra Flying; the first time I read it, I thought I was reading my own brainwaves--that shock, that thrill of familiarity. Or Coming Up for Air, another of Mr Blair's neglected gems, which hadn't seen sunlight since November of 1999. It's safe to assume, even though USF stands for 'U Stay Forever', that the last person to read Coming Up for Air is long gone from the campus. No luck for a meeting of the minds.

I guess what I find so hard to understand is why people wouldn't want to use a library. Especially a huge college library, and USF's isn't even that big. I can't imagine what I'd do with a library like Yale's or Columbia's. Probably go inside and just never come out again, a regular missing-person case. All those books at your disposal--for FREE! FREE, people! No jacked-up hardback prices, no bookstore employees bugging you about buy three, get the fourth free! like that's some kind of deal...just plain reading bliss, for free (unless you return books late, but only losers rack up overdue fines). Really, the worst-case scenario as far as libraries are concerned is that they won't have the book you want, and in that case, there's always some library that does. Loans, people, they're a great invention.

A friend of mine postulates that libraries are unused because people simply don't read anymore. I guess he could be right. I hope he's not.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Brown man's burden

I don't like Hanif Kureishi. Or rather, I don't like his novel The Black Album; I'm sure Mr Kureishi himself is very nice.

However, The Black Album is frankly not worth reading. I realize my opinion is in the extreme minority--at least, the minority as far as white people who consider themselves forward-thinking and well-read is concerned. I'm sure most liberal Anglo folks who want to look politically correct and sound literate think that this book is the Punjabi's pajamas (wow, did I really just type that?). Maybe I just didn't 'get' it. Maybe I didn't read 'deep' enough, maybe I'm missing what's 'there'.

I don't care. I didn't like it, and this is why. It's not a novel.

Now, I have no problem with books that aren't novels. I like biographies, histories, plays, poetry, and essays as much as the next non-English major. But when a book claims to be a novel, I want it to be a novel. That's not to say that Mr Kureishi's book isn't fiction; it is (isn't it?). However, the author seems to subscribe to the school of thought which believes in 'the plot's the thing' ethic, the school of thought which uses characters to shuffle the plot along, with little regard for the characters themselves. The Black Album is such a book--the characters are cardboard cut-outs, standies symbolizing moral standpoints or ideas or (Lord forbid) ideals. They are not people in themselves.

Shahid: the narrator, a Pakistani immigrant living on his own in London. Represents the British Asians and their predicament, identity-wise, in English society. Should he swap his heritage for an anonymous English persona? Should he hold ever more tightly to religious and traditional ideas and shelter himself from Western influence? In the end he does neither--the model of non-committment, the paragon of disaffected modern youth.

Deedee: the professorial siren. She teaches Shahid and conducts an affair with him. A liberal feminist with a (more than) healthy sexual appetite, she is symbolic of the lure of the West: moral decay, loss of traditional values, et cetera. She is a snob, and can be seen as only interested in Shahid because he is a member of a minority; her exclusionist 'high cultural' outlook can also be seen as a form of racism (or reverse racism). She is representative of the new left; no real political or social agenda (see Brownlow), basically existentialist.

Riaz: the radical Muslim. He is determined to keep the Islamic people of London bound to their roots, and sees Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses as an attack on their religion and an affornt to their way of life. At first a somewhat serious character, by the middle of the novel he devolves into an absolute caricature of everything Westerners fear about Islam. He is rigid, fundamentalist, and absolutely certain that he is correct.

Brownlow: the communo-hippie. A relic of the Sixties, Deedee's former husband, and the antithesis of Riaz, in one light, and Shahid in another. He represents the remnants of the 1960s counterculture, and unlike his ex-wife, actually has an agenda. He is Marxist, basically, sees Deedee as decadent and morally bankrupt, and a traitor to her causes.

These characters exist as mouthpieces; they are used by the author to vent spleen, to further political argument. Not only that, but the politics are in the end inconclusive--Kurieshi believes strongly in the freedoms he trumpets, but at the close of the novel, the reader remains unconvinced. Riaz at one point makes the claim that 'all fiction is...lying--a perversion of the truth' with no middle ground, no room for compromise; fact and truth are the same for him. Likewise Deedee's claim is that nothing is sacred, there are no holy cows, and in the interest of complete freedom, offense to or desecration of so-called 'sacred' objects is not a problem. However, Riaz is basically a terrorist, and Deedee a hypocrite; personality traits which wouldn't be so bad if they but had personalities. In plot puppets used to portray ideas, terrorism and hypocrisy are unforgivable. Can you take a terrorist seriously, if that is all he is? Can you trust a hypocrite who has no excuse for hypocrisy?

Kureishi's characters are too extreme, too unrealistic, for real life or even for good fiction; the world is not as black and white as he chooses to write it. Almost no one is able to make the clear-cut choice between religion and freedom--which is his challenge, as I see it: that there can be no compromise, that, as one of Kureishi's peers writes, either everything is sacred or nothing is.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Conglomerations and side projects

Supergroup: n. a) term used to describe music groups consisting of members who have already achieved fame, either as solo artists or as members of another group. b) any band Eric Clapton has ever been a part of.

Everyone has at least one supergroup in their record collection. Admit it. You're listening to Roger the Engineer right now, aren't you? No? How about Fresh Cream? Damn Yankees? Please don't let it be Mary Star of the Sea.

Every genre has its supergroups. The only question is, what the heck's the point of them? Ego-boosting? Ego-casting? Why on Earth would Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton feel the need to make music together? Aren't they great enough on their own? Certainly. Who told Stone Gossard to release an album with Chris Cornell? Don't these people realize that too much talent on one record can cause fans' heads to explode? But enough complaining about virtuosoes. I suppose I whine because I have no musical talent whatsoever, and don't understand the need of guitar gods to hang out together and make everyone else look bad. Let's peer at a few of these beauties in particular, and a few subcategories too.

Never heard of them? Shame on you. Possibly the first supergroup, Traveling Wilburys only contained every major musical figure of the 1960s and 70s. George Harrison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne were the brotherly sojourners of the name, and they rocked. Their first album, Traveling Wilburys Volume 1, was composed and recorded in ten days straight, and immediately after its release became one of Rolling Stone's top 100 albums of all time. Plus, they tried to get the orphans of Romania some much-needed attention with the 1990 single "Nobody's Child". Essential track: "Handle With Care" (Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1)

Yeah, they count. Alcatrazz had possibly the greatest classic metal lineup of all time, including Graham Bonnet, Jan Uvena, Yngwie Malmsteen, and after Malmsteen's departure, Steve Vai. Come on. Could they have rocked any harder? Probably not. Described by Bonnet as 'the thinking man's metal', they released five albums in as many years, and managed to score a hit which mocked MTV ("God Blessed Video") on the way. Essential track: "Too Young To Die, Too Drunk To Live" (No Parole from Rock'n'Roll)

Now, don't look at me that way. A collaboration between the inimitable Steve Albini of Big Black and Scratch Acid's rhythm section, David William Sims and Rey Washam, Rapeman was the supergroup of the underground--angry, sonically grating, unapologetically incorrect, and so good. Bonus!--they named one of their EPs for R. Budd Dwyer. The band's performances were often the target of feminist protests, who for some reason took offense at the band's name or music or maybe just at Albini for the mere fact of his existence. No worries; it just adds to the flavor. Essential track: "Trouser Minnow" (Two Nuns and a Pack Mule)

I know, I don't like them either, but A Perfect Circle are proof that the supergroup dynamic lives on (or, I guess, that musicians will always be egotists). With a rotating lineup of Maynard James Keenan, Twiggy Ramirez, James Iha, Josh Freese, Tim Alexander and Paz Lenchantin (among others), A Perfect Circle is the alt-rock girl's wet dream. Their second album Thirteenth Step managed to hit the #2 spot on Billboard within its premiere week, and certified gold less than a month later. Their third album, eMOTIVe, was a bunch of political cover songs. What more could you want? Essential track: "Sleeping Beauty" (Mer de Noms)

Of all the musical genres, grunge seems to be top-heavy with supergroups. Audioslave, Temple of the Dog, Mad Season, Zwan, Eyes Adrift, Mother Love Bone, and even Nirvana and Velvet Revolver all fall into this strange, interbred little category. Mark Arm of Mudhoney had an interesting take on the grunge scene in general--that its close-knit style was all due to everyone involved being on MDA. Lovefest takeover! I guess the grunge guys just couldn't keep their guitars off one another. In any case, some of these incestuous collectives were better than others--leave Audioslave to the eighth-grade suburban set, put Zwan out to sea where it belongs, download Eyes Adrift, and if you can, find a copy of Mad Season's lone album Above and treasure it.

Perhaps it's an oxymoronic term, but I say they exist. Groups like The Yardbirds, Yes, Genesis, and Cream can all be classified as retroactive supergroups. Sure, Jimmy Page wasn't famous when The Yardbirds actually existed under that title, but everyone knows who he is now, right? Maybe Peter Gabriel would rather not be associated with what Genesis became, but the fact remains that before Phil Collins mucked things up with his sweet'n'low pomp rock gloss, Gabriel was making music like The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. (On a related note, Jon Anderson of Yes auditioned to sing for Genesis.) It's unfortunately true that when Cream was an entity, people might have asked, Ginger Baker who? but by the time Blind Faith rolled around, everyone knew who was behind that drumkit.

I rest my case. Supergroups baffle me. I love some of them and I hate some of them, but mostly, I just can't see the point.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

All-inclusive ridiculous simplifications

Reading High Fidelity two or three times this summer made me realize that there really is a Top Five list for every occasion. Even if this realization defeats the entire purpose of the book. So, to start us off, we have the all-important...

1. "Back In the USSR" by The Beatles (The White Album)
2. "I Will Dare" by The Replacements (Let It Be)
3. "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs" by The Minutemen (What Makes A Man Start Fires?)
4. "American Gothic" by David Ackles (American Gothic)
5. "Teen Age Riot" by Sonic Youth (Daydream Nation)

And then how about...

1. The Godfather (duh)
2. Donnie Brasco
3. Goodfellas
4. The Godfather, Part II
5. The Hebrew Hammer (what, it counts) tied with Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

Or we could do...

1. "Superstar" original by The Carpenters; cover by Sonic Youth
2. "Breaking Us In Two" original by Joe Jackson; cover by Mandy Moore (hehehe)
3. "I Wanna Be Sedated" original by The Ramones; cover by Shonen Knife
4. "Master of Puppets" original by Metallica; cover by Dream Theater
5. "Cat Scratch Fever" original by Ted Nugent; cover by Moog Cookbook
Honorable Mention #6: "Guilty of Being White" original by Minor Threat; cover by Slayer (it'd be higher, but it's not unexpected that Slayer would want to sing about being white)

Mmm, this is fun. Let's do...

1. Joan Miro (Spanish Surrealist artist)
2. Evelyn Waugh (English satirical author)
3. Lillian Berlin (singer/guitarist, The Living Things)
4. Geddy Lee (singer/bassist/keyboardist, Rush) (good one, Cara! Except I still think he actually IS female)
5. Sue (eponymous antihero of a Cash song) (kidding...mostly)

Okay. I'll stop. For now.

All in all, Barry would probably say, Oh, that's not obvious, Diana. How about fucking Beethoven? Side One, Track One of the Fifth Symphony... but tough toenails. I like what I like.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Come one, come all, to 1984

It's true. The dystopia of saccharine tablets and missing orgasms which George Orwell foresaw is upon us, in the form of one of Wikipedia's language settings: Simple English.

As nearly everyone in the world knows, Wikipedia is the online encyclopedia to end all online encyclopedias. It will have an answer to 99% of anything you ask it--it might not be the right answer, but it'll be an answer. Wikipedia is the nemesis of English teachers everywhere, and beyond that, it's just plain fun. It can tell you anything from your favorite band's complete discography (including rarities, B-sides, live recordings, and singles!) to the finer points of the Kama Sutra, and you can read this stuff in any of 229 languages. One of these languages is the so-called 'Simple English'.

Simple English, according to the homepage, 'only uses very simple English words and simple ways of writing'. It goes on to elaborate, explaining that Simple English pages are intended for: a) people whose mother tongue isn't English b) children and c) people with learning disabilities. All nice and good, but also somewhat...creepy. This use of very simple English words severely limits the content of the Simple English Wikipages; for instance, if someone surfing the Simple English section wanted to read about Albert Camus, they wouldn't be able to. Albert Camus does not exist in Simple English. Search for him and Wikipedia will give you a basically blank search page (he appears in non-link format on a list of Nobel prize winners). Search for his famous novel The Stranger and you'll get equally diminutive results.

So, okay, maybe you say what child or non-native speaker or learning disabled person wants to read about Camus anyway? For that matter, what normal person wants to read about Camus? He was dense, French, and an existentialist. All very true, but my point is, if you can't read about someone or something in a certain language, does that mean it doesn't exist? If that's the case, then Simple English is rewriting knowledge itself, and if that isn't the case, then Simple English is still engaging in language slaughter. Simple English slices out synonyms, antonyms, and all but the most basic grammatical structure of English with frightening relish. Simple English cuts away the nuances, those pesky idiosyncrasies and that massive vocabulary which make English so beautiful to its native speakers and so hateful to anyone trying to learn it.

It would make Syme, Orwell's Newspeak enthusiast, positively drool.

In the Simple English entry for Nineteen Eighty-Four, the plot summary mentions that "Another thing they [the Party] are trying to do is cut all the hard words out of the English language and change it to make it more simple so that people will not be too smart or think too hard."

But that would be...unthinkable.

Be it mere dumbing down of the facts or actual rewriting of history, literature, science, and every other topic known to man, Simple English is simply scary.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Valhalla, I am coming

For some reason this morning I felt inclined to a little Viking music. This happens a lot, since I love a number of odd Viking and power metal groups from the Scandinavian regions, but I've been in London for the past five weeks and haven't been thinking about music, metal or otherwise, so the dysenteric urge for a little yoiking caught me off-guard.

(Actually, I wasn't listening to Finntroll at all. I was listening to Sonata Arctica, furtively, on a library computer tuned to the sweet strains of "8th Commandment". Of course, my guilt at possibly assaulting the eardrums of innocent passers-by would have been nonexistent if I had just brought my laptop to England, but I didn't, so I'm reduced to looking up music videos and concert clips on Youtube. God bless the Internets.)

Anyhow, my indulgence dredged up memories of a wonderful concert I attended in February of this year. I live in Tampa, Florida, which has its own very special metal scene, and the presence of this scene is sometimes enough to attract really good bands. One really good band who came visiting recently was Sonata Arctica.

Dig if you will a picture: a bony guy in plaid trousers and red-streaked hair belting out lyrics about werewolves, puppets, and Greek goddesses in dog-bothering falsetto, while keytarists, guitarists, bassists, and a drummer who looks like Legolas cavort around the stage. And they're all smiling! They actually look like they're having fun, unlike some bands I could mention but won't because of libel and so forth. Amazing music, amazing stage presence, amazing concert. If possible: a) See Sonata Arctica live b) see Sonata Arctica live in a venue small enough to feel Tony's sweat dripping on your face. Nasty, technically, but oh, so metal.

Face it. A new power couple is in the house. First there was Page and Plant, Jagger and Richards, Bebe and Hammond...and now we have Kakko and Liimatainen. They are electricifying; they are beautiful; they are metal.

...speaking of Valhalla, wouldn't it be great if they played "Immigrant Song" on a continuous loop while you're waiting in line for the Norway ride at EPCOT?

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