fjb, local currency: solo 1992-1998 (fayettenam)

the human hearts, civics (tight ship)

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Tangentially connected to The Gleaners and I: One of the wittier elements of the film are the sequences in which robed jurists are stand in fields or on the streets and are made to recite and explain relevant passages of the French penal code concerning “unowned property” (tomatoes, refrigerators), the upshot being that the law considers such stuff fair game. (Though on the agricultural side, the situation seems to vary a lot with location, crop, and the attitude of the growers.) Of course, one notes that the law cannot by its nature make these allowances except by treating such items as potential property that just happens to be judged not to stand in any property relation at the moment; hence it may be appropriated. Resonant with [34] Bernard Edelman’s The Ownership of the Image (1973; trans. Elizabeth Kingdom, 1979, RKP), which uses changing and inconsistent statutes on rights and copyrights on photography as the thin wedge for a deconstruction of the ideological principles behind French law. I’m not well-versed enough to understand just how Edelman’s account differs from other French Marxist legal theorists (Pashukanis and Renner, according to editor Paul Q Hirst’s introduction); it all seems heavily Althusserian to me. Immediate interest for me are some passages from Alphonse de Lamartine, who sounds exactly like Roger Scruton:

In the same way that a musician would not be an artist if with the aid of an orchestra he restricted himself to imitating the noise of a cauldron on the firedog or the noise of a hammer on the anil, so a painter would not be a creator if he restricted himself to tracing nature without choice, without feeling, without embellishment. It is because of the servility of photograph that I am fundamentally contemptuous of this chance invention which will never be an art but which plagiarises nature by means of optics. Is the reflection of a glass on paper an art? No, it is a sunbeam caught in an instant by a manoeuvre. But where is the conception of man? Where is the choice? In the crystal, perhaps. But, one thing for sure, it is not in Man. (45)

It emerges that as photography becomes an object of commerce and industry in the new century, the legal system falls all over itself revising this opinion, with the eye of finding someone to assign property rights in the results of this natural process: on some judgments, the owners of the film stock!

Also: [35]
“Cheap,” a red-vinyl no p/s 7” by Jennifer & The Qualifiers, circa '78-79. Musically, this is sub-Patti Smith Group rock-as-punk with an indulgent lead guitarist, but the grottiness fits well with frontwoman Jennifer Blowdryer’s glaneuserie (well, let’s pretend it’s a word): “You can spend a lot of money/on a shirt/or you can buy it for a dollar/on the street/you could love someone with all your heart or you could love who you happen to meet/I’ve tried it both ways now I do it for cheap/cheap cheap cheap.” The B-side is the kicker: Johnny Mercer/Matty Malneck’s 1936 “Goody Goody,” with corrupted chord changes. I would have pegged this for an LES artifact, but apparently they were Bay Area-based. Ms. Blowdryer, the internets reveal was later on the ground floor of the Annie Sprinkle/Slut Fest scene, and continues to write books and plays.


Saw [32] Basic Sanitation: The Movie (2007, Jorge Furdato), again in the Premiere Brazil series. A small town do-gooder wants to build a new cesspool to clean up the local creek; there’s no money left for sanitation projects in the regional budget, but there is a small grant available for a video (which has to be “fiction”), which a helpful functionary in the local government is willing to divert, so long as the town produces a short, cheap 10-minute movie (about the “Swamp Monster”) as well. The characters’ naïve attempts to do this (at first, they’re not sure what counts as “fiction,” and are unclear on the notion of editing as well; there are also some funny jabs at product placement) are the source of much of the film’s humor – the territory, and the implicit valorization of non-professional artistic production, is similar to Be Kind Rewind. Of course, the covering project of representation ends up overtaking the “real” one, which never gets completed, and what’s disappointing about the film is just that this develops in somewhat predictable ways – the local beauty goes diva, a wedding-video editor from a nearby larger town sees the piece as an auteurist vehicle, the climactic showing to the townsfolk is a “small triumph.” There are a number of more than clever moments – as when the self-congratulatory construction-project sign the mayor puts up b the creek gets repurposed as a homely bridge – but my sense was that the filmmakers didn’t quite find a third act that would balance the (very winning) lightness of tone with the micropolitics and reflexivity. [“Self-reflexivity” is a redundancy.] Which is too bad, as I gather all these are long-standing concerns of Furtado’s, whose short “Ilha dos Flores” was apparently an anti-capitalist faux-documentary on garbage collection. Worth seeing if it comes around nonetheless.

Saw [33] Calamity Jane (1953, David Butler). Much better-crafted than I tend to expect from a non-MGM original musical (i.e., not a stage adaptation), esp. by the ‘50s, and esp. esp. given that it came about, I believe, largely out of Doris Day’s disappointment at not landing Annie Get Your Gun after Judy Garland had to drop out. But, against the odds, it’s more satisfying than the overstuffed, overloud Betty Hutton version of AGGG that eventually appeared, and in places rivals The Harvey Girls. One realizes only after the fact that, although it’s typically bright and colorful for its time, this isn’t an especially “spectacular” musical, as things go – there are no huge ensemble numbers, the action is divided among relatively few set-ups, and Day’s big ballad (the shimmering “Secret Love,” a megahit record) is staged as a simple wander through the brush. It’s strengths are Day’s performance, remarkably physically confident, and the songs, by journeymen Sammy Fain and Paul Frances Webster. “Deadwood Stage” (which, as the first single Robert Christgau ever owned, I’ve mentioned here before) and “Windy City” feel fresh and inventive despite being in standard, extremely narrow subgenres (the first is, at bottom, a train song; the second is clearly inspired by “Kansas City” from Oklahoma!), and two largely unsung performers (Dick Wesson, Allyn McLerie*) receive a convincing vaude-period numbers apiece (“Hive Full of Honey,” “Keep it Under Your Hat”) Only the Calamity Jane/Wild Bill Hicock duet “I Can Do Without You” is forced – too obviously designed to fill the same spot as “Anything You Can Do” in AGGG.

Oh, and there’s a good deal of drag, in both directions, on the way to the (incomplete) feminization of “Calam.”

*Bree is kind of incredible: She i.d.’d this actress as a dancer with one line in Words and Music, for which IMDB lists her as “uncredited.”


non-review notes

Working over coffee a couple of days ago, I unavoidably heard a conversation between a guy in his mid-20s and, presumably, his mother. He was physically a Subway Jared type, somewhere between "before" and "after" -- not morbidly obese, but enough that he'd likely be constantly accompanied by an awareness of how it affected people's reaction to him. (I've known this firsthand for a long time, though it's been lessened by the fact that I dropped some weight about 3 years back, disgusted after a particularly indolent Chicago winter.) The conversation centered around his apparent plan to enroll in some college classes (community, maybe), I think for the sake of finding a better job. He was extremely agitated and defensive, insisting "I hate school, the only reason I'm doing this is [inaudible], I only want to take 101 classes," and then, flipping through a course catalog, "Look at this -- 'The Italian Response to the Holocaust," "Greek Myth in Song and Story" -- it's nonsense!" From there he went on to variants on "I know I'm not an intelligent," "I'm a miserable person," "I don't want to do anything important," concluding, "I like office work -- my little dream is just to have an office, and type things, and not do anything for anybody or to anybody." (I couldn't make out anything his mom said in response, and I made an effort to tune out after this, as I felt passively invasive.) I guess I'm just noting down how sad all this made me, and how recognizable it felt: No one protests this way unless s/he does have some intelligence and ambition s/he somehow believes some combination of perceived personal weakness and external obstacles will never allow them to realize. How does anyone fix that?

As for me I find myself in a strange position: I've decided semi-voluntarily not to pursue more teaching work immediately and, in essence, be a freelance writer/musician (I like the phrase "without portfolio," but it's not quite accurate) for the time being. (What does "semi-voluntarily" mean? Well, in the past I've turned down one tenure-track job, and last fall willingly allowed love, location, and unwillingness to take another good but explicitly temporary gig to constrain my job search. Frankly, the predictable result has been Plan A for a while; both locating and landing a genuinely suitable position would have been more surprising at present.) That's all fine: I expect I'll teach philosophy again, and I'm grateful to have the time to think though some aspects of what I've been doing since the Ph.D. that I won't go into here. But the fact is that the other way I've earned money over the last 12 years or so has been journalistic criticism, out of which the bottom has been dropping -- the slow shrinkage of word counts and available inches has been a constant since I've been publishing, but the wave of film critic firings and the closure of newspaper book sections is a new wrinkle. (Of course, it may be that some of these phenomena will have an upside for freelancers, just as current trends in academic labor make it feasible to land a class here and there, but harder than it once might have been to find security. And sure, maybe some of the action is going online, and that's fine, but as for monetizing a blog or being "entrepreneurial" in some way, well, I'm squeamish, for what I think are probably self-regarding reasons. Similar problems about making money from music, which is roulette anyway.) In any case, most of the writing projects I give a fig for (writing a musical-theater biography, say) strike me as more appropriate to a gentlemanly "independent scholar" than to someone who'd like to make a living. The point, by the way, is not complain: for various reasons (no debt, luckily modest baseline living expenses, some savings, no interest in yachting, have medical insurance), I don't expect to be chewing off my hands in the next 6 months or even, honestly, 2-3 years. It's just kind of interesting to realize that, even though, as I've said, my current situation is mostly of my own choosing, aspects of the present economic downturn/final crisis of capitalism are not without their practical implications for members of whatever class fragment I might be said to belong to.

One tires of always writing (and seeing others write) from a place of confidence. Or is this not the done thing? Back to our regularly scheduled judgments presently.


Enjoyed this streaming 3-song "single" [28] by Baltimore's Gary B & The Notions. Their erstwhile leader released a good deal of solo material as Your Imaginary Friend a while back, but the band-band plays a deeply unfashionable gtr-pop-rock (RIYL Rage to Live and The Silos), with considerably more care lavished on chord progressions and arrangement subtleties than the norm -- the sort of thing indie audiences as currently constituted are unlikely to treat with much respect because of its strong resemblance to actual rock and roll. Lead gtrist Tim Sullivan is an excellent foil throughout, esp. on the contrasting pre-chorus of "Amy," but the pick of the litter is "I Get Up," which begins as a paean to "hot sex in the summertime" w/ a debt to #1 Record but moves into emotionally shiftier territory: "How I'm married to's not black and white." More that likely that the HH's will play a show or two w/ these fellows down the road.

Saw [29] The Gleaners and I (2000, Agnes Varda), kinda the lisablog of cine-essays. I'm hardly bringing the news to anybody by recommending this, but I couldn't be more impressed with Varda's combination of seriousness of purpose with lightness of tone, or of apparently offhanded technique ("the dance of the lens cap") with pinpoint control of visual rhythm. Happen to be watching, in bursts, a DVR-D of Mr. Varda's [30] Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967, Jacques Demy), which is not sung-through like the better-known Les Parapluies de Chairbourg, but more Donen-besotted. I've never read up on the relationship between these two filmmakers; the only obvious connection between these two films is their concern w/ France beyond Paris. The Demy makes we want to get another crack at Model Shop (1969), a European-tries-to-figure-out-Southern California movie that is as outlandish and occasionally ugly as Zabriskie Point, perhaps in a less faded print than the one that showed up at LACMA several years ago. (Tangentially, I'm disappointed that I didn't manage to get to recent screenings of the latest French semi-musical oddity, La France (2007, Serge Bozon) apparently set in WWI w/ ye-ye "numbers."

Saw [31] The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan). I can only nod in agreement with those who say that Heath Ledger's performance is the damndest thing. The canny bit of the conception, as opposed to what he did with it, is the character's presentation of conflicting "origin stories"; this loon won't even observe that convention. Bale's mask and Eckhart's gore do most of their acting for them, Caine and Freeman seem to have pricetags attached, but the only performance that's actively bad is Maggie Gyllenhaal, trying too hard to do something with nothing. About other aspects, I could hardly care less -- I'm just not the audience for extensive blockbuster destructiveness and velocity, and the idea that this movie says anything about terrorism, except that its agents are incomprehensible, is insulting. I suppose some of the "moral dilemmas" in the movie might do for the trolley problem and its ilk what The Matrix did for brain-in-a-vat skepticism.


Saw [26] Os Desafinados [Out of Tune] (2006, Walter Lima Jr.), which amounts, roughly, to the Brazilian That Thing You Do, following the tribulations of a fictional bossa group though '50s/'60s Brazil, and for at least 1/2 the movie, NYC, where they go to crash one of the famous Carnegie Hall concerts that brought the style to public notice in the U.S.. Nice thread early on where an American producer buys the rights to one of their originals for the seemingly princely sum of $1000, and then proceeds to register a crappy English version of the lyrics in his own name. Other than that, disappointingly inspecific about the particulars of how this kind of music came to be (for that you can read Ruy Castro, I guess), but not off the mark, in a generalized way, as to the joys and tensions of playing and writing together at a certain age. Not that there aren't elements of the fantastic, as when the group wanders into a recreated Village Vanguard and begins jamming, w/o invitation or prearrangement on "Take the A Train" (an unlikely choice in that sort of club in the mid-'50s) with the cats on the bandstand to general acclaim -- evidence, I guess, of how thin the line is between what people (and filmmakers) want from a "musical" and movie "about music." Once the film gets back to Rio, the '64 coup in comes in eventually, mostly so there can be some suspense around the band's filmmaker buddy's attempt to smuggle his film out of the country; later, the group's composer/pianist is kidnapped and killed in an Argentine prison, leading to protest concerts at which the bassist has suddenly turned into, essentially, Gilberto Gil. Far more of the movie is given over to romantic hocket among two of the band members, the stalwart wife of one, and an Anglo-Brazilian singer/flautist -- the film's Jeanne Moreau/muse figure -- they meet in America. (The latter is played by Cláudia Abreu, a lithe Siena Miller type with a distractingly Anistonian 'do.) Both the young guys in the band and their older counterparts in the contemporary framing sections are likeable; a final sequence, however, in which the muse-figure's son shows up and "brings the old gang back together despite it all" for a group sing of the title tune, is hard to take. A much slicker entertainment than I'd been expecting -- I hope that the other films I mean to see in MoMA's "Premiere Brazil" series (esp. Basic Sanitation: The Movie) have less of an air of transplanted Hollywood.

Saw [27] Lullaby of Broadway (1951, David Butler). Opening shot replicates Busby B's famous slow dolly up to a disembodied head (here, Day's) from Gold Diggers of 1935 (there, Wini Shaw's, I think), which has the effect of making one conscious of just how bizarre the scale of a face on a movie screen is. Has anyone noted the affinity between this and Wavelength? That's the only interesting thought I had during this barely-ok musical, in which: Day is amusing and fresh but not, despite a couple of classic reaction-pouts, the comic actress she'd become; "Cuddles" Sakall, on loan from Metro, receives, thankfully, much more screen time than the nominal male lead, a very boring Gene Nelson; Gladys George is quite touching as Day's alkie mother; the song choices are an unmotivated grab bag of catalog items; and all the choreography is at the level of what you'd expect to see from nightclub "terp" duos of the kind that used to be reviewed in Variety.


The format I've been attempting here for the last few months has been overly constraining, guilt-inducing (setting myself up for failure if I don't keep up a self-imposed quota), and probably not that illuminating. I don't know exactly how things will develop, but, for a start, I think I'm going to stop differentiating between music and other cultural products. So, let's try something like this for a while.

Read [25] Julie Carr, Equivocal (Alice James, 2007) at gym. 'Worthy' but otherwise well-executed book which, in part, torques the contemporary motherhood post-lyric (a few poems appeared in Not For Mothers Only) with a step- or adopted child variant ("Like other mothers, I say no to desserts, noise and spitting, but I am not a mother and I am not like anyone else.") The series "Wrought" rubbed me the wrong way early, with "Beckett" isolated on its own line, floating out there in an inspecific musing relatedness, but later sections tighten up quite a bit, both in imagery ("When he gathered the mussel shells//they were studded with barnacles--//wedding cakes") and sound. The title series is often, from p. 58 on, insistently dactylic ("If that bird in my hand and that bear in the trees/were to read what I store in the crease of my eye"), which sets off the chatty "I'm not really into science right now" on the final page sharply. Though I like that line, the "limits of reason" material that pops up here and elsewhere ("Iliadic Familias") seem like pretty worn goods.

Listened to [26] The Kinks, Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire (orig. Pye, 1969). Thirty-odd minutes on how the English working class busies itself, what it thinks of itself, and what it can't; sociology shading into ideology critique. "The little man who gets the train/Got a mortgage hanging over his head/But he's too scared too complain/'cos he's conditioned that way" ("Shangri-la") is a little undercooked, but much of the writing is sharper, e.g. "She's Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina," probably my favorite song on the album, though "Brainwashed" would make someone an excellent cover (as "Victoria" did The Fall). A few cuts ("Australia") are overlong, and sonically, I've never found most mid-period Kinks anything to write home about, but the writing does so much of the work here that it doesn't matter much. Haven't gotten to the CD bonuses.

Watched [27] Best Food Forward (1943, dir. Edward Buzzell [though the main stylistic stamp is producer Arthur Freed). MGM adaptation of a bit of prom-at-the-military-prep-school froth with, in its Broadway version, had been a surprise hit thanks to a young (like, the actual ages of the characters) and energetic cast. I should know the OCR and don't (there was also an early '60s reviival that was one of Liza Minelli's big roles), but I have to assume that these stage versions were livelier than this film, which is so stylized and art-directed that it might as well be animated. Lucille Ball -- playing "Lucille Ball," a sex symbol who accepts a fan's invitation to his prom as a publicity stunt -- works the Eve Arden side of her persona, but her hair color is more integral to the film's overall design than she is to the plot. Many of MGM's junior stable are caught at awkward stages: Virginia Weidler, so wonderful at 13 in The Philadelphia Story, is shrill and stagey three years later (this was her final film), and June Allyson wouldn't find (or be handed) her sweetheart persona until Two Girls and a Sailor the following year. Here, she just acts hyper. Nancy Walker is almost the only performer to come off well, though the sort of "homely" jokes she's given -- see also Girl Crazy, and Alice Pearce in New York, New York -- are the single most unpleasant aspect of the MGM musical cycle. Glad I checked this off my list, but it's not a patch (musically, either) on the superficially similar Good News.


24. Stars Like Fleas, The Ken Burns Effect

(Hometapes, 2008)

Reviewed for Time Out New York

22-23. American Music Club, The Golden Age, Mark Eitzel, Candy Ass

(Merge, 2008; Cooking Vinyl, 2005)

Reviewed for Village Voice

I don't know whether thesays something about my interest-level or Mark Eitzel's career, but I've followed the guy pretty closely, and I was completely unaware of the solo Candy Ass (echt-Eitzel title, no?) until I was assigned the new AMC. Coming between the two new-era-AMC discs, it's a collection of songwriting demos comparable to similarly-minded collections I've seen him sell on tour for years. (One tune, "The Sleeping Beauty" is reworked on The Golden Age.) Several tracks are electronic instrumentals, and not wispy oral surgery soundtracks either, but fairly 'dirty' and aggressive-sounding constructions. Eitzel is more adept with the relevant techniques than he was a few years back on The Invisible Man (the obligatory man-and-his-loops '90s solo album), but still, this is just not the thing for which he's ever going to be anyone's go-to guy. Of the song songs unique to this release, the standout is "Song of the Mole," concerning a character enraged by his positive test, with a terrific opening conceit: "He was so pissed off he was dying/he would only play Hall and Oates."


Cost of replacement aside: things I'm least happy to have lost along w/ my laptop, which was stolen out of an Upper West Side coffeeshop while I used the restroom on 6/30.

1) Longish (2/3 of a book, maybe) series of poems ("Ohm: An Incident Log") that I've worked on off and on for more than a couple of years now.
2) A couple of weeks of revision work on an aesthetics paper (photography material I was discussing a while back, just getting back to it.)
3) Stickie note where I kept isolated words or idioms that I'd like to find a place for (bollard...wallwart....sea lawyer....whitelist)
4) The back-channel emails (mine/others) I've kept, stemming from blog commentary etc.
5) Any photos I never posted anywhere.

Upsides, or so I tell myself:

1) Released from guilt over a lot of stuff I've loaded onto iTunes and never dealt with. (Somewhat similarly for a long list of books/authors to be explored; I imagine most of the ones really worth the effort will come to mind again before I die.)
2) A lot of "Ohm" wasn't that strong, as indicated by my resistance to sending parts of it out. (I am hoping that another longish piece/series, "Still," was kept by one of the few people to whom I've sent it.)
3) I've been kind of desultory in starting any major prose projects; I'm not halfway through a Latouche biography or anything.
4) DIdn't happen just before my EMP or Orono talks, of which there are hard copies and probably other documentation.
5) I haven't bought an M-Box yet, so haven't started doing any significant hard-drive recording.