September 2006 Archives

when did you get back from the moon

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A paragraph I covet, from Margo Jefferson's On Michael Jackson, talking about the latter MJ's performance of "Billie Jean" on the Motown 25th anniversary special (itself now almost 25 years ago):

"'Billie Jean' is a song about anxiety and guilt, desire and resentment; fathering a child and being a child. In the bridge, when he sang of how Mama warned him, 'Be careful what you do / because a lie becomes the truth,' he jumped straight into the air three times. The genie in the bottle is a young man who can't control his energies. In the repeat bridge, as he recalled 'the smell of sweet perfume / She brought me to her room,' he jumped from foot to foot with his knees up, like a boy having a tantrum."

I'm reading it because I'm in the middle of a big listening-to-Michael-Jackson assignment (to give my ears something to do while my eyes and hands are busy on the Great Big Project); also discovering that the pumped-up, slicked-out arrangements of the Jacksons' post-5, pre-split albums are my kinda thing in a way they never really were before. "Can You Feel It" used to be my idea of a punch line; now I... feel it.

My orbit right now is tiny; there are a few days in each week when I don't leave the house at all. Today's expedition outside included a 70-family garage sale. The first house we went to has a couple of attached apartments whose tenants apparently tend to leave behind music when they move out. There was a suitcase full of jewel cases for enticing things: Nurse With Wound, Stereolab, Thinking Fellers, Patsy Cline, the Urinals. How much? "A quarter apiece. They're all empty--somebody just left the cases." But there was also a box of old LPs, all evidently from 1970 plus or minus a year and all well-played and well-loved: Willie Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Al Green, King Curtis. A handful of those went home with me.

(Willie Mitchell is playing right now: "Wade in the Water." Every time I hear anyone's version of that song I get a little flush of shame that I didn't recognize it as the source of Tony! Toni! Toné!'s "Little Walter" for years.)

This coincides, more generally, with my rediscovering the pleasure of music after a few months where listening to recordings seemed more like a responsibility than like something I did for fun. (Most people probably didn't notice I was having that phase; I think I hid it reasonably well.) What was responsible for the reawakening? Besides that Arthur Russell thing I mentioned a few weeks ago, probably the Blow's Paper Television, and a curious little synchronicity where a few things over the course of a few days reminded me of how much I loved Shudder to Think in 1994, including finding out what a Kissi penny is. (I downloaded a couple of songs from A Shudder to Think Tribute--you know, guys, it's customary to give these things a title in addition to the descriptor--and was pleasantly surprised by the Firebird Band's version of "She Wears He-Harem," or rather by the fact that it doesn't try to sound like STT's version.)

Went with the Small One to the Belmont library's toddler-age story hour today, at which so many other baby/parent dyads showed up that the facilitator read stories and sang songs for a few minutes and then just let the babies wrestle with each other and toys in a big happy knot on the floor. At one point a general wave of crying broke out for a minute or two. "It's okay! It's okay!" I murmured into my baby's ear. "We're all upset about habeas corpus and the torture bill and the Public Expression of Religion Act! But at least it's not like they're amendments--they're blatantly unconstitutional, as I hope even the current Supreme Court is going to have to admit, and they really just look like show-off bills to lead into mid-term elections. Plus Mark Foley, as Slate put it, just 'hit career-alt-delete.' There's hope, little one!"

the crit

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I've occasionally talked about how sometime I'd like to teach a writing workshop that would promise its students the harshest possible critique I (& the other students in the workshop) could scare up. But then along comes something like the late Alex Toth's commentary on Steve Rude's pencils for a "Jonny Quest" story to show us all what "harsh crit" really means.

Also in the dept. of writing teachers: Sharon Mesmer has a blog!

the charity of antiseptic soldiers

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Mission of Burma were freakishly inspirational as usual last night at Doug Fir. Highlight of the new stuff, and probably of the show, was "Donna Sumeria," their adaptation of a couple of ideas from "I Feel Love" into the Burma idiom (there's an MP3 here, and while you're at it that Yo La Tengo song is mighty good). A mosh-pit broke out, mostly courtesy of two guys in muscle-tees who look like they make a habit of starting mosh-pits, but then at some point somebody lost a pair of glasses; the pit abruptly became an anti-pit, with everyone shining their cell phones at the floor until the glasses were found, at which point it resumed.

I like the new Burma songs so much I wouldn't even mind if they felt less obligated to play some of the old stuff--I mean, I will never complain about hearing "Academy Fight Song" and "That's When I Reach For My Revolver," but I don't think being sure to hear the hits is the draw for Burma at this point.

Cooking for guests: Korean-style cucumber salad with cukes from the garden, tofu fajitas, pancakes pancakes pancakes for three unexpected but very welcome overnight guests from Seattle. Also confirmed my suspicion that there is no small social gathering, no matter how much fun it already is, that can't be made more fun with a screening of Jessica Yu's "Sour Death Balls", the most perfect four-minute student film ever.

Much as I would love to do what Carl suggests I ought to do, I think I am going to temporarily withhold comment on Numa Nouveau. I'm tabling a lot of things until the Great Big Project is done--a friend's suggestion of getting a "core dump" onto paper convinced me to make a specific list of the things I'm going to do when (& not until) the G.B.P. is out of the way, and the list is getting scarily long.

I want to see all my friends at once

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I think I am currently on my seventeenth consecutive playing of the late Arthur Russell's newly released, DFA-fortified, cello-and-trombone-and-chintzy-drum-machine-graced Springfield. I don't think there could be any better music to crawl toward a really overdue deadline to.

And if you want a taste of Russell's other stuff, this page has a lovely re-edit of Dinosaur L's "Go Bang" with a singer who really really REALLY can't sing--I like that kind of thing, of course--and this page has Dinosaur's sublime "Kiss Me Again."

In the meantime, y'all know about Idolator, right? Go Maura!

dept. of personal overpreparedness

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I have a certain fondness for preparedness of the "stash it and forget it" sort: the basement fallout shelter, the airplane seat that detaches to serve as a life vest, the sort of thing my pals over at Catastrophe occasionally monitor. It usually manifests itself more as admiration from afar than as actual preparedness of my own, aside from the odd fire extinguisher and first-aid kit around the house. But when I saw this at Costco for a very reasonable discount price, I knew I had to have one: the Vegetarian Bird-Flu Preparedness Bucket o' Tasty Abstractions! An enormous sealed plastic bucket full of just-add-water cook-and-serve meals--275 of them, all vegetarian, all with a projected shelf-life of 20 years. Ten different dishes, plus "whey milk." I love, in particular, that it includes "Ala King" (sic) and "Cacciatore." Nothing in particular à la king or cacciatore. Just the style. Naturally, its usability depends on having a big supply of clean water, but, you know, who ever heard of a disaster where clean water was a problem? Don't answer that.

Unrelatedly (I hope): the new issue of The Believer includes a short piece I wrote about three unusual games.

on bonobo mesa, pt. 1

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I'm going to update the sidebar sometime soon (relative to the heat-death of the universe), but one piece I really wanted to make sure I linked to: my review of Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's Lost Girls, over at Salon.

The project I brought with me to Burning Man this year was called Green Light, although I didn't use that name when I told anyone about it. Lisa designed permission slips from the Black Rock City Dept. of Permissions--an official-looking form, which we had printed in pads, with carbonless duplicates. I asked people what they wanted permission for, what its potential risks and rewards were, and if they needed someone to cosign. (Any action requiring someone's consent called for that person or entity to cosign.) Then I'd approve it--conditionally, if it needed to be cosigned.

There were some fairly evident patterns in what people wanted permission for, as you'll see. I discovered that it was nearly impossible to get good answers from people traveling in couples or groups, since they always had to confer with each other on what they wanted permission for, and had to come up with something that sounded bland and non-needy but also amusing. A number of people gave me the "I do whatever I want"/"I don't need anyone's permission for anything" response--much more often men than women. Occasionally I encountered somebody who was just aching to be given the go-ahead for something--usually to experience a particular emotion. I ended up filling out around 250 slips, I think.

Here are some of the things people asked for permission to do, with a few of the better risk/reward combinations noted:

Sing out at the top of my lungs
Stay out past my bedtime every night
Thump my ex-fiancé (Risk: won't feel better. Rewards: will feel better)
Get an emotional all-access pass
Bitch at people who don't help put up my dome
Fly, hover and levitate
Dance burlesque (Risk: hitting someone with bra. Rewards: enriching community with nudity)
Not do a goddamned useful thing all week
Round up a parade of boys painted blue, with pigtails, at least 20 of them, to schlep me around (Rewards: kisses)
Be fully honest internally and externally
Take a three-hour siesta in the middle of the day
Have lots of sex (Risk: lack of sleep. Rewards: giggles)
Hug strangers (Risk: weird flu. Rewards: spreading love)
Complain about BMORG
Make up new words (Risk: ridicule, lack of acceptance, belittling. Rewards: own Wikipedia entries, capture things in a gloopier way)
Be shaved by a stranger
Go through the gate of Spike's Vampire Bar at will (Risk: decapitation, stake through heart, garlic. Rewards: immortality)
Run around alone all day
Spank my kids, 10 or 11 times each (Risk: they might giggle. Rewards: obedience) [this woman's 3 young kids were standing next to her at the time, giggling]
Miss my Reno flight tomorrow without bad feelings
Let myself fail
Really silly dancing with my baps out (Risk: damage to soft parts, ego-worship. Rewards: minions)
Group sex with at least four people
Hide (Risk: people forget to look for you. Rewards: get to make small animal noises)
Find time to write in my journal
Have three threesomes or one ninesome (Risk: awkward geometries, elbowings. Rewards: joy multiplied)
Give my boyfriend's partners the evil eye
Hula-hoop naked
Three gratuitous flirtatious actions without karmic imbalance
Tapdance on a drunk person's head
Grow up a little bit (1/3 to 1/5) (Risk: too many martinis, forgetting how to play. Rewards: breakfast, see friends with smile lines)
Throw people away and not feel bad
Lose a little NYC
Be a shirtcocker (Risk: uncomfortable gravitational pull. Rewards: freedom (nether))
Accept that I'm leaving on Friday and still have fun
Fulfill all my wildest dreams
Stay faithful to my boyfriend
Frolic and lollygag
Be submissive and promiscuous
Use friend's shower in RV (Risk: sex. Rewards: sex)
Anger (across the board) (Risk: alienating people, breaking stuff. Rewards: getting stuff done, saying necessary things)
Boulder up the side of the main library naked
Next time at a strip joint, go to the back room (Risk: might like it too much. Rewards: might finally come) [This was a woman of 40 or so--heartbreaking!]
Open heart and receive
Be a fucken bad girl (sic)
Start a garden (Risk: miserable beginners' failure; terrible sunburn. Rewards: yummy food (self-grown); more beneficial bugs)
Chill the fuck out
Be absurdly late to everything all day (Risk: might get there after food & booze gone. Rewards: not leaving amazing things)
Wear edible candy costuume
Kiss sister on lips
Take advantage of [ ] for any given amount of time and degree of lewdness (Risk: could take > 1 wk. recovery. Rewards: overall sense of euphoria, childlike rejuvenation)
Start my own art gallery
Express love and joy, even though [ ] is in a "committed" relationship
Take a masseur or masseuse hostage
Sneak into Burning Man '07 (Risk: suffocation, dehydration, trouble. Rewards: keeping anarchy alive, using creativity fully)
Take a full day for myself
Adopt a gnome, no questions asked
Mock anyone with a bullhorn (Risk: unwanted projectile bullhorn injury. Rewards: make many new friends)
Not shower for a week
Let go of ego
Be a bitch
Stop worrying about body image and hipness
Work as hard as I can on my camp, but no harder
Forgive myself for betraying my boyfriend
Not have to see every single thing
Not drink alcohol
Get as drunk as [ ] (Risk: falling down on bike. Rewards: not having to babysit)
Be upset
Find booty
Go to the bathroom at 3 AM
Make out with a chick
Take more than an hour of refuel time for my brain
Not wait to find someone; be proactive and think about it a lot
Not hit my ankle with rebar
Excessively violent capture and subjugation of wild animals and other undesirables (Risk: diseases (blood-borne). Rewards: gold teeth pilfered from playa)


Lessons of the week:
1) Having permission to do something is not the same as having the ability to do it.
2) Needs are not the same thing as desires, and there are very few of them; desires are often mistaken for needs.