December 7, 2007

Using ideas as my maps

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Film and Video, Literati and Cognoscenti, Music — tomemos @ 2:12 pm

Attention, smart people: I think we should have some kind of symposium on the Todd Haynes film I’m Not There. Probably an online symposium, though honestly I’d like to get us all in a Mariott ballroom talking about it, as it’s a film where our disagreements are more important than our agreements. Because while I liked the movie overall—I’d say three stars on Netflix—it’s also the most disappointing movie I’ve seen in years; I didn’t love it by any means, and yet no one who loved it has said anything I’ve disagreed with. So I’d like to start us talking about how we could all be thinking such similar things about the film and coming to such different aesthetic conclusions.

Here’s what I’m going to say today: I’m Not There is a textbook example of why, in art, the conceptual is unsatisfying without effective practical execution. In fact, I used it in class a week ago to make that very point to my students. Somewhat like the other Todd Haynes films I’ve seen—Safe (which I saw while young, admittedly) and Far From Heaven—the movie is thoughtful and has interesting ideas, but does not actually feel interesting to watch. The disappointment of I’m Not There is so keen for me because the concept is especially good, while the execution is often mediocre and occasionally bad. (Spoilers follow from here on out.)

In fairness, I should note at the beginning that I experienced the film in a sub-optimal manner: some reels were shown out of order, so that (for instance) we first encountered Cate Blanchett’s Dylan before he had been properly introduced. Perturbed by the abrupt shifts in scene, we suggested to a theater employee that the reels might have been out of order, but he said he had arranged them correctly and added, “It’s what you call an extremely disjointed narrative.” It took a week to confirm that this was incorrect; the friend we checked with wondered at first if maybe we just didn’t understand avant-garde cinema. On the one hand, you could say that we would have enjoyed the movie more if we had seen it in order, and that’s probably true (though it wouldn’t have made any difference for the Richard Gere and Heath Ledger sequences, which had nothing redeeming for me). On the other hand, the fact that the projectionist couldn’t tell that the film was out of order isn’t exactly a point in its favor. (There weren’t a lot of audience members around us who shared our suspicions, either.) So, with that out of the way:

Joe Kugelmass, who initially disliked the movie, came to appreciate it by thinking of it as a statement on Dylan’s use of self-mythologizing: “For Haynes, Dylan is the sum of his fantasies—the fantasy of being black and young again, the fantasy of being a noble refugee with a history of violence.…” Uncomplicatedly, in a comment on that entry, agrees:

Everyone goes through successive reimaginings of themselves– which is part of what gives the film weight and resonance– but this is especially important for Dylan, who was bent on reimagining himself in defiance of people who wanted to hold onto the particular incarnation they had connected with.

This matches other opinions I’ve heard: the movie is intended to capture Dylan’s constant re-invention, both to the public and to himself, and the impossibility of settling on a “true” Dylan in light of this. This is made explicit in Richard Gere’s words near the end of the film: “Me, I can change in the course of a day. I wake up thinking I’m one person, and when I go to sleep I know for certain I’m somebody else.”

Here’s the thing: I get all that. What’s more, I agree with all that. It’s what I understood Haynes’ object to be when I heard he was making a movie with six very different Dylans, and as someone who’s been a Dylan fan most of my life, it’s what made me excited to see it. And, despite some unfortunately literal uses of Dylan lyrics, Haynes’ use of this concept is exemplary, as he makes observations—criticism, really—about Dylan’s life and career that make intrinsic sense. My favorite of these is the way that Christian Bale’s Dylan, the early-sixties protest singer, resurfaces in the late seventies as a born-again preacher. It’s true that Dylan’s Christian period was in some ways a reprise of his protest period: he believed, again, that he could change people, save people, through song. I had never thought of it this way, but, thanks to Haynes, now I have.

My problem is that the enjoyment or fulfillment I got from watching these concepts in the movie was equal to that I got from reading about them in film reviews ahead of time: it was an intellectual enjoyment, not an aesthetic one. In other words, for the most part the concepts and ideas work only as concepts and ideas; aside from a few good scenes, almost all in the Bale or Blanchett sections of the movie, they are not actually executed in a way that gives pleasure beyond figuring them out or understanding them. And so the movie ended up for me as a noble failure, a smart but disappointing effort, rather than a comprehensively good film.

Of course, one could reasonably argue that you can’t judge a film fairly once you’ve spoiled it for yourself by reading reviews, and that if I had seen the film without prior knowledge I would have been able to achieve full enjoyment of its ideas. I would respond with two points:

1) The film’s own promotional materials made a point of explicitly selling, and explaining, these same concepts, running the same risk of spoilage as the reviews did. I’m not just talking about the trailer, although that’s part of it (the Gere quote from above is right there in the trailer); I’m also talking about “I’m Not There: The Official Guide to the Movie,” a six-page booklet, given to us with our movie tickets, which contains articles explaining what part of Dylan’s life and iconography each of the actors represents and what all the sources for the people, dialogue, clothes, etc. are. Now, obviously Haynes didn’t make the trailer or the booklet; he may abhor them. But it is relevant to me that the film was sold by giving the concepts away: it created my desire to see the movie that went along with those concepts, and that movie didn’t stand up. Moreover, I wouldn’t be too quick to say that this is separate from what Haynes himself does: in both the beginning and the end of the film, we see a rapid-fire display of snapshots of the six actors playing Dylan, which seems to be Haynes’ way of pushing the film’s central concept to the forefront.

2) More importantly, the film should stand on its own. This is true of any work of art: the intellectual or conceptual material is not less important than the practical execution of that material, but both halves need each other to thrive. A friend of mine disliked the novel Hannibal, until he found a website that claimed to find a system of oblique references (to what, I don’t remember) in the novel. Without weighing in on the plausibility of the references, or the quality of the book—I’m not familiar with either one—literature is not an Easter-egg-hunt; it’s not just about finding references, nor is it just about making points and developing ideas. Those references, points, and ideas have to be artistically presented to an audience. A boring or unconvincing novel is better with well-developed ideas than without them, but it remains boring and unconvincing either way.

Losing sight of this means losing sight of why we take the two hours to actually watch a film, rather than just talking about its ideas. When a film is all concept, it’s impossible to discuss it on any other grounds; every flaw is actually an essential part of the concept. The Richard Gere sequence in I’m Not There is derivative (basically a watered-down McCabe and Mrs. Miller with giraffes), but that’s okay, because Dylan’s vision of the West was itself derivative. The Heath Ledger/Charlotte Gainsbourg divorce scenes are boring, but that’s okay, because it shows us how flat and boring Dylan’s life felt to him during this time. On the other hand, I just watched a Sopranos episode (“House Arrest”) about Tony and everyone around him being bored and depressed, and it was compelling from beginning to end. Everyone who’s been in a writing workshop has heard someone say that a character is supposed to be annoying, or a scene is supposed to be frustrating. The fact is, good art is able to make all the emotions and experiences of life, even the banal ones, feel interesting and worthwhile (not to say pleasant or enjoyable) without making us think of justifications for their banality.

I would compare it to surprise endings. Obviously, a movie with a surprise ending is better when you don’t already know the ending, so that you don’t lose the surprise. At the same time, a good movie should be good independent of that surprise. The fact that The Crying Game doesn’t stand up when the twist (not actually at the end, I know) has been spoiled is a sign that it isn’t a very worthwhile film. On the other hand, I loved Citizen Kane, even though I had known what Rosebud was since I was seven. A concept, like a twist, is something one can know and understand independently from actually seeing the movie (or reading the book, etc.). Experiencing that concept or twist has to be worthwhile in and of itself.

I do admire Haynes for making such an ambitious and conceptual movie; I do enjoy thinking through what it has to say about Dylan and about identity in general. As it turns out, all of that doesn’t have much effect on my experience actually watching these people say those lines. “But then all this had somehow to be turned into art,” Martin Amis once wrote at the end of a book review; “that is where the real trouble started.”


October 25, 2007

Can you imagine Doobie in your funk?

Filed under: Music — tomemos @ 12:40 am

(Updated below/Updated again)

In an article in The New Yorker, music critic Sasha Frere-Jones discusses a trend in rock music, specifically indie rock music: the move away from rock’s black roots. Reviewing the familiar ground of how early rock and roll relied heavily on adapting, and sometimes stealing outright, black rhythms, genres, and lyrics, Frere-Jones follows the thread into the early ’90s when, with the rise of both hip-hop and political correctness, white and black music underwent a schism: hip-hop for black music, obscure and soulless indie rock for (a sector of) white music. This has culminated, he argues, in the situation we have today: indie rock is almost wholly white, both in performers and in affect, and as a result has lost the power to entertain, to move, and to excite that rock and roll once had. (I’m giving a very brief synopsis of Frere-Jones’s argument to leave room for my own indispensable commentary; I suggest you read the article for the whole story. Just to avoid confusion: Frere-Jones uses “indie” to refer not to the labels, but to the genre, and I’ve followed that usage.)

At the outset, I want to say that while I disagree with Frere-Jones about both the scope of this phenomenon (the separation between white and black music) and the consequences, it is a real phenomenon. The concerts I go to are generally attended almost exclusively by white people, and the difference between rock and soul now is, broadly speaking, greater than it was in the 50’s and 60’s. As for the racial makeup of early rock…it’s hard to say how many people of color really dug a band like the Shondells, but certainly our images of sixties rock and roll include multiracial crowds at Woodstock or Altamont watching multiracial bands like the Jimi Hendrix Experience or Sly and the Family Stone. These are ideals rather than facts, but they may at least be based in fact.

Nevertheless, I found Frere-Jones’s article profoundly irritating. A lot of my objection comes from the sense that he is hostile to introspection and thoughtfulness in music, and equates them with whiteness: he criticizes “retreating inward and settling for the lassitude and monotony that so many indie acts seem to confuse with authenticity and significance,” and he casually describes Wilco’s lyrics as “embarrassing poetry,” which would be annoying enough without the memory of him dismissing Radiohead’s lyrics in much the same way a few months back. I also couldn’t help but think of his insinuations that Stephin Merritt, of the Magnetic Fields, is a racist for not liking rap music: it honestly seems like Frere-Jones is a little too obsessed with negritude to be an effective critic sometimes. Beyond these circumstantial questions, though, I do think there are some important oversights and errors of reasoning in Frere-Jones’s article which cause him, fatally, to miss the point of modern music and what it means to be a music fan today.

First of all, it’s convenient for Frere-Jones to simply ignore clear cases of blending (I’m using that term rather than the more loaded “miscegenation” that he prefers) going on in modern music. One of the most successful indie bands of this century has been the White Stripes, who spent two albums making blues-rock and whose music now sounds an awful lot like Led Zeppelin (when it doesn’t sound like a Scottish-Indian blend; see “Prickly Thorn but Sweetly Worn”). Cat Power’s last album, The Greatest, used Memphis studio musicians and production to create a fairly literal blend of introspective indie and gospel-inspired soul. (More on that album below.) TV on the Radio, aside from actually having black members, uses varieties of soul harmonies in their very indie songs, and just last weekend I saw the multiracial Go! Team performing their blend of soul, hip-hop, and symphonic ballad. Even bands which I think Frere-Jones would describe as pretty white, like Spoon and Yo La Tengo, have some songs which strongly emulate 70’s soul and funk. So the whiteness of indie rock, while definitely a thing, is not nearly as thorough as Frere-Jones puts it in this article.

Frere-Jones also seems unaware, as he waits patiently for the Miscegenation Rock Tour to come to his town, that rock and roll is no longer the only game in town, even for white people. He doesn’t ignore hip-hop, but he does present it as a black musician’s domain (with Eminem as “the exception that proves the rule”), bereft of the kind of interracial interaction he’s looking for. However, there are several white indie-rap darlings (Sage Francis, Aesop Rock, Buck 65), just as two of the most exciting acts in soul are Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen; and Gnarls Barkley, a collaboration between a white DJ and a black Atlanta rapper, had one of the biggest hits of 2006 and were huge with the Coachella set. (There’s also Matisyahu, to prove that you should be careful what you wish for.)

More importantly, the blending during the sixties wasn’t all white-black, which is the other reason that “miscegenation” is such a lame term. Elvis drew on black singers and musicians, but he got his start with Sun records singing about Kentucky and touring with Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, et al, and it would not only be hard to say whether black music or country music was the bigger influence on him, it would be pointless: country music is also heavily influenced by blues and black folk, and—what do I know?—probably vice-versa. Dylan used blues music, but also Woody Guthrie, the Beats, and, later, the Beatles. Simon & Garfunkel used traditional and contemporary English folk music. The Beatles, on their highest-regarded albums, drew on English music-hall tunes and Indian sitar, for heaven’s sake. By limiting his discussion of musical influences and interactions to a single continuum—white-black—Frere-Jones presents it as a binary issue, rather than one that shifts and evolves.

But I think the larger answer to Frere-Jones’s question about why the blackness has gone from indie rock—and the reason, in my opinion, that indie music is not stagnating, and in fact is as interesting as it’s ever been—is summed up in this response by Joseph Kugelmass to Cat Power’s The Greatest:

I can tell you what Memphis soul sounds like: it sounds like Aretha, or perhaps Dusty Springfield. It has a little fire in its belly. Cat Power’s inability to catch that fire is a huge problem.

I don’t happen to agree with Kugelmass’s assessment of Cat Power here—in my mind, she can succeed, not by exceeding Dusty Springfield, but by blending the two sounds to make something new and exciting, and she often (though not always) pulls it off. The point I want to make with this quote, though, is that we know what soul music sounds like now, in a way that most white people simply didn’t when Elvis hit the scene. Modern white music listeners, unlike (I would argue) those of the sixties and seventies, are quite familiar with the major black musical styles, from blues to reggae to hip-hop, from the 1930’s to today. (Though jazz is a weak spot with me and the kids I know.) I wasn’t there, and anyone who was should comment, but my impression is that early rock and roll wasn’t just a blend of white and black musical styles; it was also a bridge between the white and black musical worlds. Most white people listening to Elvis for the first time didn’t know who his influences were, since their record stores didn’t carry “race records.” Elvis brought them black music, just as groups like the Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival, in the late ’60’s, brought country music to listeners who wouldn’t buy a bona fide country album if their lives depended on it. Someone buying Led Zeppelin when they first arrived would probably not also be buying Willie Dixon; ditto with the Rolling Stones and Robert Johnson, the Doors and Howling Wolf, Janis Joplin and Big Mama Thornton. Early rock and roll was largely white artists showing white audiences how great black or black-influenced music could be.

Whereas nowadays the demonstration is unnecessary, and the surest way to demonstrate your indie cred is to know all about the classic blues and soul singers of Chess or Stax. A few years ago, the extremely white and indie movie Ghost World made the scratchy blues recording “Devil Got My Woman” into a favorite among beflanneled twentysomethings; the same movie made fun, through the band “Blueshammer,” of white acts that thoughtlessly raid black music and create something truly miserable. Today there simply is not as much room for musical acts to draw on/appropriate other musical genres and cultures, because the listeners of today, unlike those of forty years ago, are already well familiar with the source material. To impress us, you have to make something new, or at least draw on source material that has not often been drawn on—as Interpol draws on Joy Division, say.

“Last month, in the Times, the white folk rocker Devendra Banhart declared his admiration for R. Kelly’s new R. & B. album ‘Double Up,'” Frere-Jones writes at the end of his article. “Thirty years ago, Banhart might have attempted to imitate R. Kelly’s perverse and feather-light soul. Now he’s just a fan.” As if we Converse-wearing ironists don’t know who R. Kelly is, and don’t know how to go to our local Amoeba or iTunes Store and buy his record.

Let me close by observing that it is always an extremely dangerous move, as a critic, to say that there’s no good art anymore, or less than there used to be; nine times out of ten, history will discover that there was plenty of great stuff going on, and that you were just a fuddy-duddy unable to adapt. (Think of Arnold Bennett’s stance in “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown.”) Frere-Jones tries (I have to suppose) for a kind of exciting relevance by evoking sex in the blend of white and black music that he remembers: aside from the “miscegenation” references, he twice talks about the old music as music to have sex to: “…it was though your parents had come home and turned on the lights” (the boringness of the new music); “There’s a reason the lights were off” (the greatness of the old). But equating black music with sex has its own problems; moreover, all of this just sounds like the guy who thinks that the Cure is gay, and that real music is music that gets your ass shaking, man. No one can be an effective critic based solely on their memory of how good things were back then, and based on this article it certainly seems to me like Frere-Jones has outlived his usefulness to music listeners.

Update (10/26): In comments, Brandon points to this Slate article by Carl Wilson, which also takes Frere-Jones to task for his oversimplifications, and, more importantly, describes the socio-economic changes, ignored by Frere-Jones, that caused this trend: the resegregation of American communities, the increasing gap between rich and poor. While the article still suffers somewhat from the same narrow-minded view of what rock should be—referring to “boringly undersexed rock music” and calling the Decemberists “fine-arts-grad poseurs” (for the record, Frere-Jones mentions the Decemberists as an indie band he enjoys)—the thesis is convincing and worth reading.

Also, in reference to “boringly undersexed,” let me ask—what is with the sex thing!!! As a culture, can we not get it up unless we’re constantly listening to music with a heavy bassline? That may be a masculinist way of putting it, but I’m being faithful to the source material: after deriding the indie rockers “performing their haplessness and hyper-sensitivity,” Wilson sneers, “Pity the indie-rock girlfriend.” Yeah, ladies—wouldn’t you rather be dating a real man? Wearing a leather jacket with a big fucking eagle sewn on the back?

Update II (10/27): On his New Yorker blog, Frere-Jones publishes e-mails he received from Will Butler, a member of the Arcade Fire. In addition to defending his band against the charges of whiteness (or whatever) with an MP3 that juxtaposes the Arcade Fire’s music with its purported black influences, Butler makes the same point about ignored Latin influences that Surlacarte makes in the comments:

First, I would encourage you not to ignore the Latin element in rock-and-roll history. “Twist and Shout” by the Beatles is in fact “a fairly faithful rendition of a 1962 R. & B. cover by the Isley Brothers.” But that 1962 version is a fairly faithful rip-off of La Bamba by Ritchie Valens, which is a fairly faithful rip off of a traditional Latin tune plus a rock and roll beat.

Butler also points out that “miscegenation need [not] be across color lines.” It’s good of Frere-Jones to publish this e-mail, but I think the reason he doesn’t respond is that there is no response: Butler is correct, and Frere-Jones’s original article is generalized to the point of uselessness.

June 28, 2007

I’ve got some David Bowie CDs, but I’m no David Bowie

Filed under: Music — tomemos @ 10:20 pm

I was listening to the radio today, and the Killers’s no-longer-new song “When You Were Young” came on. It’s a pretty good song, probably my fourth-favorite song by them (after the three hits from their first album, which are the only songs of theirs I know). But I realized today that it’s also an important song, for the following legally binding reason (here’s a paragraph break so you know I’m serious):

Once you admit that you like this song, you can never hate on Meat Loaf again, ever. You can make fun of him, sure—how could you not?—just like you can make fun of “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier,” but you can no longer talk about how bad Meat Loaf is or how much you hate his lyrics and his over-the-top delivery. If you do that you must admit, in a notarized document, that “When You Were Young” by the Killers is a bad song for all the reasons you just laid out.

Leaving aside a comparison of the sound (and they sound exactly the same), here’s a side-by-side comparison of the lyrics of this song and Meat Loaf’s 1977 classic “Bat Out of Hell.” If you can convince me that Brandon Flowers’s lyrics are more respectable than Meat Loaf’s, I will tell you that you are wrong and that I am not convinced.

The scene is set:

You sit there in your heartache
Waiting on some beautiful boy to
save you from your old ways
You play forgiveness
Watch it now … here he comes!

Meat Loaf:
The sirens are screaming and the fires are howling
Way down in the valley tonight
Theres’ a man in the shadows with a gun in his eye
And a blade shining oh so bright
There’s evil in the air and there’s thunder in the sky
And a killer’s on the bloodshot streets
And down in the tunnel where the deadly are rising
Oh I swear I saw a young boy down in the gutter
He was starting to foam in the heat

The passionate chorus:

He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
But he talks like a gentleman
Like you imagined when you were young
(not that ridiculous until you factor in the way he sings “Jeee-zus”)

Meat Loaf:
Like a bat out of hell
I’ll be gone when the morning comes
When the night is over
Like a bat out of hell I’ll be gone, gone, gone

A dramatic view of the uncertain future:

Can we climb this mountain
I don’t know
Higher now than ever before
I know we can make it if we take it slow
Let’s take it easy

Meat Loaf:
I’m gonna hit the highway like a battering ram
On a silver black phantom bike
When the metal is hot and the engine is hungry
And we’re all about to see the light

The freedom and danger of the road:

We’re burning up the highway skyline
On the back of a hurricane that started turning
When you were young

Meat Loaf:
I can see myself
Tearing up the road
Faster than any other boy has ever gone

A sudden interruption: a soft bridge, backed by keyboards:

They say the devil’s water, it ain’t so sweet
You don’t have to drink right now
But you can dip your feet
Every once in a little while

Meat Loaf:
Then I’m dying on the bottom of a pit in the blazing sun
Torn and twisted at the foot of a burning bike
And I think somebody somewhere must be tolling a bell
And the last thing I see is my heart
Still beating
Breaking out of my body
And flying away
Like a bat out of hell

And close with: the chorus! But louder!

He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
I said he doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
But more than you’ll ever know

Meat Loaf:
Like a bat out of hell
Like a bat out of hell
Like a bat out of hell
Like a bat out of hell
Like a bat out of hell
Like a bat out of hell

And yes, it’s true that Meat Loaf’s songs are nine to eleven minutes long while the Killers’s songs are only three to five. That’s because Meat Loaf has the balls to be Meat Loaf, whereas the Killers still want to be played on Indie 103.1. The temptation must be excruciating; you know that somewhere there’s a 9:35 version of “All the Things That I’ve Done,” contractually forbidden to ever see the light of day. Every night, Brandon Flowers plays it and lets it lull him to sleep, as he lies under his dim blacklight wearing his sheer silver pajamas.

April 5, 2007

Yeah, I really do think

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Funny Stuff, Music — tomemos @ 11:16 am

WordPress lets you check your visitor stats, which I didn’t know until recently. It’s a good thing I didn’t know about it until recently, because it’s exactly the kind of online information I could get addicted to. Sure enough, as soon as I heard, I started checking it every few days, then every day, and for a while there I was checking it whenever I sat down to the computer. My interest flagged, though, when it became clear that there was very little variation; I haven’t done anything to attract a lot of attention, so every day, for the most part, I got the same thirty- to forty-person combination of dedicated readers and misguided Google searchers.

Then, on Monday, I noticed something odd: all my stats were as usual, except that some 28 people reached my blog with the following search term: alanis my humps. Now, I do have an entry that matches that search – the one about “My Humps,” which also mentions Alanis Morissette – but it didn’t make sense that anyone would be making a web search like that, let alone 28 people. “Some sort of bot thing,” I mused.

Then, that evening, Lore posted an entry about his favorite “sensitive, acoustic covers of non-sensitive, non-acoustic songs,” such as Tori Amos covering “Smells Like Teen Spirit”… or Alanis, essentially as a joke, covering “My Humps.” “Aha,” I thought, “that’s why people were making that odd web search – because they wanted to find this video! Well, anyway, I’m sleepy. Think I’ll go to bed now.”

Then, the next day, I checked my blog stats and learned that my blog had blown up. What follows is a compilation of some of my blog stats over the last few days, but it’s more than that. It’s also a precise, even elegant, numerical depiction of the precipitous rise and breathtaking fall of an internet fad over three days, a “curve” that doesn’t resemble a bell so much as the Murderhorn. (Note: all statistics for 4/5/07 are as of 7:00 p.m. GMT.)

Visitors to the blog using web searches for “alanis my humps” or words to that effect:

4/1/07: 0

4/2/07: 28

4/3/07: 208

4/4/07: 17

4/5/07: 0

Visitors to Tomemos, by day (previous high, 69):

4/1/07: 28

4/2/07: 113

4/3/07: 330

4/4/07: 74

4/5/07: 35

Visitors to the post in question, by day (previous high: 7):

4/1/07: 1

4/2/07: 49

4/3/07: 261

4/4/07: 36

4/5/07: 1

Total views of the My Humps post since 8/31/07: 489

Views of the My Humps post from 4/2/07 to 4/4/07: 346 (70.8% of the total)

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t revel in my brief rush of visitors, even though almost all of them probably tossed the blog aside impatiently when they realized it wasn’t what they wanted; for a while there it was kind of incredulously thrilling just to click “blog stats” and watch those numbers rise.  However, there are two parts of this that are a little sad – maybe even a little ironic, though I’ve been paranoid about misusing the word “ironic” ever since Morissette’s song on that subject (isn’t that ironic? … isn’t it?). The first is that I misspelled the title of that entry. It comes from a George Saunders piece in the New Yorker where he makes fun of, among other things, the lyrics to “My Humps.” However, he writes “Hump my dump, you lumpy slumpy dump” whereas I wrote, God knows why, “slumby.” I meant to change it, but obviously that’s a lie. So my pride at this undeserved popularity was mingled with embarrassment that it was centered on an entry where I had used an incorrect piece of gibberish, rather than the right one.

The second is that, to be honest, I don’t really like the video whose coattails I rode for a couple days. I initially assumed it was posted by an Alanis imitator, because the voice really doesn’t sound very good (let’s take the “and you thought it was an imitator?” jokes as read), and it’s too slow and weird to be very funny. You get the joke after about 20 seconds, and honestly, “lovely lady lumps” sounds even more nauseating when sung slowly and breathily. Nonetheless, without Alanis (and, I suppose, Fergie et al.) I would not have breathed the rarefied air of double-digit visitors. So, as a way of saying thank you, here it is: my first, and possibly last, embedded YouTube video.

March 13, 2007

Yes, this *is* my singing voice

Filed under: Music — tomemos @ 10:01 am

A Trouble Clef Timeline (from the liner notes to Tomicide: The Complete Trouble Clef, 1997-2007):

October 1996: First known composition: inspired by “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Amish Paradise,” and in response to a school assignment, Tomemos composes and performs “Glucuose Paradise,” which parodies Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” while teaching listeners about cellular respiration. Performed in Mr. Spohn’s Berkeley High biology class; accompaniment provided by a cassette with the instrumental track of “Gangsta’s Paradise.”

Summer 1997: While riding BART, Tomemos decides on a rap name: “Trouble Clef.”

Fall 1998: Friend suggests an opening line to a Tomemos rap song: “My name’s Tommy H, and I don’t mean Hilfiger.” Trouble later completes the couplet with the line “I gotta be a rapper, ’cause I ain’t no singer.” Also during this period, Trouble settles on the album name Tomicide.

June 1999: Writes and performs a rap for the staff of the Berkeley High school newspaper, the Jacket, to commemorate the end of the school year and the graduation of the senior editorial staff. First performance under the Trouble Clef moniker, given in the second couplet of the song: “My clothes are wack, but my flows are def/And ’round Berkeley High, they call me ‘Trouble Clef.'”

August 1999: Writes and performs a rap to commemorate the end of a guided rafting trip on the Rogue River in Oregon. (Due to the lack of writing materials, the rap is committed to memory and later transcribed.)

November 1999: Writes and performs a rap as a birthday present for a friend. “‘Round Berkeley High” becomes “‘Round SLC.” The song is well-received, and Trouble performs birthday raps for two more friends in the following January and February.

Summer 2000: Begins writing what will later become “Elmer Season.” Drafts are unavailable, but lines that probably appear during this period are “I’m the bomb, like President Truman,” “I throw down comedy like Benjamin Stiller,” and “I’ll fuck Miss Scarlet, bust a cap in Mister Boddy.”

Spring 2001: As part of a required seminar for Sarah Lawrence club leaders, writes a rap touting The Bubble, Sarah Lawrence’s satirical newspaper. This constitutes the second half of Trouble’s “student journalism” cycle.

Fall 2001: In England for a study abroad program, begins performing an early version of “Elmer Season” to entertain American classmates.

March 2002: Writes a parody of Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” which apologizes to the subject for not sending a present in time for her birthday; performs it as an answering machine message in early April. The song contains at least one rhyme that will appear, in modified form, in the final version of “Elmer Season.”

Fall 2003: Performs final version of “Elmer Season” for fellow UC Irvine grad students. “‘Round SLC” becomes “‘Round UCI.”

January 2004: Receives an offer from Patrick Keller, who would later found Dutch Missionary Records, to record “Elmer Season.” Trouble expresses interest, but takes no action.

December 2006: Records “Elmer Season” as a contribution to Dutch Missionary Records’ ILL Literates compilation.

March 2007: Final version of “Elmer Season” released:

Trouble Clef, “Elmer Season”, © 2007, Dutch Missionary Records

Produced by The Beat Conflicts

Backing vocals by The Beat Conflicts and Praxis

Thanks to The Beat Conflicts for getting me onto wax, and to TBC and Praxis for their help making this song ready for the studio. Thanks to Title Fight for inspiring me in 1999. And a big Thanks to everyone who’s listened to this song over the last six years. —TC

January 19, 2007

So yeah, we’re werewolves

Filed under: Music — tomemos @ 5:29 pm

Happy New Year! It’s long past time for me to rank my favorite music of the past year; the Grammys (Grammies?) have been given out and I think Pitchfork is about to release its “Best Music of the First 19 Days of January” list. In the past, my best-ofs were just distributed by e-mail to those as obsessed as myself. This year, though, inspired by Kugelmass and Irrelevant Narcissism and new UCI blogger Sur la Carte (note the new link on the right), I’ve decided that broadcasting my music opinions is exactly what a blog like this exists for. So, below please find my top albums and songs of the year. I’ll give commentary on the albums/songs when I have something to say, which isn’t very often but sometimes something occurs to me you know.

The 12 Best Albums of 2006:

12. Cat Power, The Greatest

11. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones

This album posed something of a conundrum for me, because it is wickedly uneven. It has three stone-cold classic songs—”Gold Lion,” “Cheated Hearts,” and “Dudley.” On the other hand, it has a bunch of songs I’m indifferent to (“Warrior,” “Mystery”) and one I actively dislike (“Phenomena”). So normally it would fail the “good album” test, but those three songs really improved my quality of life significantly over the course of the year, so there really isn’t a way for me not to include it. Also, hint to aspiring bands: a great Coachella performance, like the one the YYYs gave, is a sure-fire way to get on this list next year! If I end up going to Coachella and attending your performance.

10. The Coup, Pick a Bigger Weapon

For a long time, this album kept me from posting this entry. (Sure, Tom, blame it on the Coup.) See, I bought this album on impulse back in September, and then put off and put off and put off listening to it. Like Aesop Rock, the Coup spend a lot of time (and words) not living up to their potential, and an uneven concert at UCI just deepened my fears that this album would mostly meander. And I didn’t feel right about ranking the best music of 2006 when I had a pretty well-regarded 2006 album gathering dust on my shelf. So today I finally forced myself to put it in my CD player, fully expecting to reject it…and it’s actually good. And since I bought the Clean version by mistake, I can only imagine that the real version is better yet. (One note, though: Boots, stop talking about sex. Forever. It’s hard for any rapper to pull off, particularly a Marxist, and in this case it doesn’t even work as a joke.)

9. Islands, Return to the Sea

8. Shearwater, Palo Santo

These guys seem to have been universally overlooked. I didn’t see them on any end-of-year lists, and I’ve only ever known one fan. It’s almost unheard of for me to be into something that some of my friends don’t also follow, so part of me fears that when I say I like them everyone is embarrassed to be around me and just isn’t letting on. But screw my friends, becuase Shearwater are great. If you like Iron & Wine but aren’t in a very gentle mood, give them a listen.

7. Ghostface Killah, Fishscale

6. Joanna Newsom, Ys

Some people I respect rated this album very highly. Well, so do I, in a way; every song sounds great, and the ambition of the project is really admirable. However, it’s hard for me to think really highly of Ys, for the simple reason that I liked the compact, exciting songs of The Milk-Eyed Mender too much to be unambivalent about her abandoning that format completely. I mean, what’s my favorite song on Ys? It’s hard to say, because you can’t just pick out a song and have fun with it; the shortest song is seven minutes long, and the highs and lows of her voice and instrument mean that while it’s good all the way through, it’s off-putting all the way through too. I don’t say that no one should make complex, challenging music, but those who can make beautiful, pithy, strangely singable songs should not cast that aside lightly.

5. Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

Also somewhat overlooked, though there the answer is easier: there is no one ideal Yo La Tengo album, because all of their albums do a million things at once. They often do them brilliantly, but it makes them difficult to characterize. What I am learning is that the best Yo La Tengo album is all Yo La Tengo albums strung together, and since this wonderfully-titled record is part of that procession I am happy to list it here.

4. Bruce Springsteen, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions

Confusingly, none of the songs here were written by Pete Seeger. This makes sense, because Seeger did not really write Bruce Springsteen songs (though I could see a great Springsteen version of “If I Had a Hammer”). The characters of American folk music—canal workers, outlaws, preachers, widows, and steel-driving men—did. So this album is such a natural combination that I’m astounded that Bruce didn’t get to it until 2006, by which time he had already covered “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” (magnificently, but still). NB: What’s funny is that, not only did Pete Seeger not write any of these songs, I’ve only heard him singing one of them (“We Shall Overcome,” an uncharacteristic song on the album). However, that’s just because I haven’t heard enough Seeger performances. So I’ll get on that.

3. The Hold Steady, Boys and Girls in America

2. The Decemberists, The Crane Wife

1. Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

Honestly, not to end on a grumpy note, but the fact that this was my favorite album of the year sort of indicates that this was not a great year for music. Last year I had a bunch of new discoveries—Wolf Parade, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, M.I.A.—clambering over each other in search of the top spot, rounded out by great albums by established favorites (Franz Ferdinand, the Mountain Goats, Sleater-Kinney, the Decemberists). This year, Neko Case is by far the most important act I got into. If the stars I gave songs in iTunes meant everything, Fox Confessor wouldn’t get the crown; it only has two or three great songs (compare to Show Your Bones, above) and sometimes lags a bit. But whenever the quantitative side of me wanted to demote it, I remembered that, for days at a time, I listened to nothing else, just hearing her voice do everything. That says “album of the year” to me.

The Best Songs of 2006, from albums that didn’t make the cut:
The Editors, “Munich”

“Weird Al” Yankovic, “White & Nerdy”

Just shut up. I don’t want to hear it. This song is great. “I was in AV Club and Glee Club and even the chess team”? You can’t front on that.

She Wants Revenge, “These Things” or “Tear You Apart”

Oh my God, their lyrics are SO DUMB sometimes. “Either way, he wanted her, and this was bad.” As my friends will tell you, one thing I said again and again this year was that I would like to get a version of these songs that just consisted of the instrumentals and the chorus. But you know, the reason I said that again and again was that, despite myself, I just couldn’t stop going back to these songs. The thrill is insubstantial and transitory, like the melting popsicle in “These Things,” but five minutes later you’re hungry again.

Ladytron, “Destroy Everything You Touch”

Belle and Sebastian, “The Blues are Still Blue”

TV On the Radio, “Wolf Like Me”

This song also features one of the best videos of the year, directed by the good people at Waverly Films, those guys that I totally know some of them.

Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy”

What can you say? I stuck up for this album for a long time, just certain that the rest of it must be good too. Hell, I even swore that the cover of “Gone Daddy Gone” was a valuable reinterpretation of the Violent Femmes original. But eventually I realized that I was never playing this album; when I tried to make myself listen to it, I just vaguely wandered away. Now I’m putting all of my Gnarls eggs in this basket, which is the best rap/electronic/r&b (damn if I know how to classify it) song in years.

Of course, the best rap single of this year may be coming from a source somewhat…closer to home. Just check this space. I’ve said too much already.

So, to conclude: let’s have more great music this year. I mean, more than we had last year. The Shins, the Arcade Fire, I’m looking at you.

1/20/07, 3:00 a.m.: Superficial edits made.

July 18, 2006

Hump my dump, you lumpy slumby dump

Filed under: Music — tomemos @ 3:46 pm

The other night, a few of us were in a bar in Costa Mesa, having a decent time. It was a little bit of a dive bar, and a bit over-warm, but there was a secluded corner and the drinks were cheap. (Plus it was the fourth place we had tried; of the other three, one was smelly, one was way too crowded and had loud live music, and one was not a bar at all but a café, with no alcohol.) Someone had ordered pitchers for the house and we were two-thirds of the way through ours, when “My Humps” by the Black-Eyed Peas came on. Within thirty seconds, we had gathered our things and abandoned the remainder our pitcher and were on our way out to a donut shop. “My Humps” drove us out of a bar.

With bad pop culture, the safest thing is just to piss and moan when it comes on and otherwise keep it out of your head by consuming good pop culture. But this song is a cultural phenomenon, one that I think warrants extended, painful consideration. First of all, it’s amazing to consider how utter the consensus is on this song, at least among people I know. You hear a lot of opinions from my friends and acquaintances, and not all of them are pretty. I’ve heard people defend “My Heart Will Go On,” “I’ll Be Missing You,” “This Kiss,” and any number of bad disco songs and showtunes. I myself have defended the likes of Rod Stewart, Neil Diamond, Meat Loaf, and Andrew W.K. But I have never met anyone who had anything good to say about “My Humps.” So since we’re all thinking it, I’m going to come out and say it:

I believe that “My Humps” is the worst pop song of all time.

I really mean it: the very worst. Worse than anything by Herman’s Hermits or Alanis Morrisette or Foreigner or Boyz II Men. (Note that all of the aforementioned bands have at least one good song; I’m just making a point.) Any of us can bring to mind any number of songs we hate for any number of reasons, but you really can’t match “My Humps” for sheer awfulness, not even wtih a previous Black-Eyed Peas song. Even something truly horrible like “Who Let the Dogs Out?” doesn’t do as many things wrong as “My Humps”; to whit:

–Repellingly dumb lyrics: Whenever I hear the song, I get that special kind of headache, also found when watching bad kid’s movies, that says “I am getting dumber just experiencing this.” “Lovely lady lumps” gets the blue ribbon for this, managing to be creatively stupid and gross, a whole new world of stupid and gross that no one ever thought of before, but it doesn’t end there: “all that ass inside them jeans”? At least “junk” and “trunk” rhyme, for God’s sake.

–Dumb instrumentation: Not much to be said here, except that the drum machine and synth are so lazy that it could be almost anything…but no. You know it’s “My Humps.” And that’s worse.

–Offensive to Berkeley sensibilities: See “lovely lady lumps” above. Also, was the world crying out for another song about how women can and should use sex to get men to buy them expensive name-brand merchandise?

–Ubiquity: To date I have heard this song at a roller-skating rink, a dive bar, and a vaguely classy bar/club with a dance floor and a DJ. Not only is it played everywhere, in the bar that night it came on on the jukebox, which must mean that someone paid money to subject us all to it.

–Catchiness: Catchiness is the great double-edged sword of pop music: the same qualities that keep good songs running through your head also make bad ones inescapable. I won’t soon forget the torture of lying awake of stomach problems in a hostel in France, unable to get Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” out of my head (a song which I later came to love, by the way), but it’s nothing to the torture of writing this entry, where just the act of thinking about the song makes me hear “Dolce and Ga-bann-a” and “She’s got me spennn..ding..” like a mosquito bite in my brain. I only hope I’ve given you a fraction of that suffering.

June 7, 2005

Too many parties and too many pals

Filed under: Music — tomemos @ 3:20 pm

I’ve had a music entry in mind for a while. I was going to do an entry about the resemblances I see between the Arcade Fire and the Talking Heads, and how some people I know are resistant to the idea. However, I’m going to put that one off (again), because I’ll have a chance to put my theory to the test…when I see the Arcade Fire playing with David Byrne at the Hollywood Bowl in a couple weeks! I don’t want anyone to ever complain about Los Angeles again.

As the song-doohickey at the top of the page probably reflects (and as Bret noted in a comment earlier today), I’ve been listening to Hank Williams a lot. I went from nothing to a three-disc greatest hits collection in about eight dollars, thanks to the magic of public domain. For those of you who don’t know Mr. Williams (I don’t like calling musicians by their first names), he’s the guy who wrote “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and was one of the earliest big country music stars, in the fifties. (Some of you may hold that against him.) I like it a lot–it’s slide guitar-heavy bluesy crooning, covering the eternal country themes cleverly and creatively.

Today, I want to talk about something that might be ridiculously trivial: an awful lot of Hank Williams song titles are complete sentences.

This is a phenomenon that first came to my attention with the Smiths. Run down all the songs by the Smiths, and you’ll find a surprising number are complete, sometimes elaborate, sentences: “I Know It’s Over,” “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” “The Queen Is Dead,” “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore,” “How Soon Is Now?”, “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” “William, It Was Really Nothing,” and, of course, my favorite: “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want.” This is only a partial list. (Morrissey’s solo work displays this even more heavily, judging from “You Are the Quarry”: “America Is Not the World,” “I Have Forgiven Jesus,” “The World is Full of Crashing Bores,” “How Can Anyone Possibly Know How I Feel?” and more–nine out of the twelve songs, all in all.) Normally, I’d never blog about this–as I say, it’s pretty trivial–but it’s something that I occasionally wonder about.

But I’m bringing it up now, because Hank Williams has the same thing. There are 60 songs on this set I got, and almost half of the titles (26) are complete sentences. Furthermore, as with the Smiths, a lot of the titles are depressing: “Why Don’t You Love Me,” “You Win Again,” “I’ve Just Told Mama Goodbye,” “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive,” “I Just Don’t Like This Kind of Living,” “My Love for You Has Turned to Hate.” I know you’re not supposed to confuse the art with the artist and everything, but reading those titles it’s not surprising that he drank himself to death at age 29.

Now, the Smiths are not much like Hank Williams, musically or personally–Morrissey is still alive and shilling for PETA. However, something they do have in common is that they are both very frequently concerned with sadness, despair, futility, etc. Their approaches to the subject are different–the Smiths sound petulant or wounded (“I’m feeling very sick and ill today”), Williams sounds rueful (“What can I do? You win again”)–but they both wear their hearts on their sleeves. There’s something plaintive about calling a song “What Difference Does It Make?” that doesn’t permit much ambiguity; it’s clearly bitter on its face. At the same time, both Morrissey and Williams have a certain sense of dry humor that I think is well served by elaborate titles. The Hank Williams song “My Son Calls Another Man Daddy” is sad, but with a certain amount of self-conscious irony, and I think that part of that effect is the way the title lays all the song’s cards on the table. Anyway, I should stop talking about this before I get even less plausible, but I’ll close by saying that I’m a big fan of the starkness of these kinds of song titles, particularly when it’s reflected in the song itself. There’s not much room for optimism in a song like “I’ll Be a Bachelor ‘Til I Die.”


Marginally related to music: for the second time in a month, I’ve been shafted in Apple class-action suit settlements. First, it was the iBook settlement, when I would have been eligible for money had my iBook adapter failed like all the others did. Instead, it worked flawlessly for all four years I used it. (The battery failed, yes, but never the adapter.) Now, I find that if my iPod battery had failed, I’d be eligible for a new one (battery or iPod). I’m still within the period covered by this one, actually, and I’d really love one of the click wheel iPods, so if anyone could arrange for the battery to have some kind of…accident…I’d be very grateful.

May 19, 2005

My brand-new suit’s really made out of sack

Filed under: Blogs Themselves, Music — tomemos @ 2:39 pm

Hey, I put a song-thingy on my blog! It had been over to the left, but it was blocked by the text of my blog so it either didn’t display at all, or got cut off midway through. Now the last thing I played on iTunes is right there at the top of the page! It’s all thanks to Audioscrobbler. To be honest, though, the actual song device is secondary; the main thing I’m excited about it slowly, tentatively teaching myself HTML. I kept being afraid that I would make a change and check my blog and see that it was now being displayed in Mandarin, but it actually worked. I’m a genius!

Now, let’s cut to the chase: I know it probably looks terrible. There’s all that weird white space, and I’m no graphic design guy but I know that it looks pretty awkward. Any advice on how I should redesign my blog? And hey, I don’t just mean in regards to that iTunes thing. What sweeping changes should I make? Animated gifs? Bright green background? The sky’s the limit now that I’ve finally figured out some rudimentary HTML.

May 4, 2005

I look just like Buddy Holly

Filed under: Music — tomemos @ 10:21 pm

Edit: Sorry, humanity. I don’t know why comments were broken for a few days, nor why the paragraph breaks disappeared, nor why half of it disappeared and I had to write it again from scratch. But here’s the version as God intended.

We went to Coachella again this year! And what’s more, Julie came too, for both days. One of the tickets was a Christmas gift from me. The other was due to her being a rockstar.

It was easily as much fun as last year. True, the lineup was probably not quite as strong (Coldplay is not Radiohead), but it was still really solid, with classic and up-and-coming bands alike. And I’m much more up on the indie music scene than I was this time last year–last year I probably saw seven or eight acts that I knew nothing about (and that’s the acts I saw, leaving aside the others at the festival) where this year there were really only a couple. It’s particularly good to see bands with only the one album out (Autolux, the Futureheads, the Arcade Fire), because I can feel like I’m building an early relationship with them. (Nothing like the relationship Drew has with the Arcade Fire, though–he has a tape of theirs from their pre-album days, e.g.)

Plus, it was much cooler this year, temperature-wise. Highs of 86 or so; it was even too cold in the evenings. Not to say that the heat didn’t get to us; it still woke us up at 9 am and while hanging around the campsite we had to develop a shade system by suspending a tarp from tent poles. It went through a number of different iterations, at one point counterbalanced by a pair of jeans hung from an outstretched pole. We finally got it perfect on Sunday, attached to poles on one end and the tent on the other, but a massive gust of wind caught hold of it, sending it and the unstaked tent tumbling along. “Why didn’t anyone else’s tents blow away?” Julie asked. “Because no one else’s tents had a sail!” I replied.

But mainly Coachella isn’t about temperatures, or jeans hanging from tarps–it’s about music. As per last year, here’s my assessments of the bands I saw:

Best Set: An absolute tie between the Arcade Fire and Nine Inch Nails. The AF had a wild time performing, throwing themselves totally into their music (and, in one case, into the crowd), climbing the frame of the stage, fighting each other with their instruments. NIN just rocked like crazy, getting me to throw up the horns at several points. And they destroyed their instruments and amp afterwards. Plus, and this is something I never realized before, Trent Reznor is totally hot. (Runners-up: Autolux, Bauhaus, the Futureheads, The Kills)

Best Surprise: The Chemical Brothers. Well, it wasn’t a surprise that they were good, obviously, but I was amazed at the crowd: though they were competing with Coldplay, they packed their tent, and the crowd was extremely enthusiastic throughout. It was my first exposure to the electonica crowd en masse and, drugs or no, they made quite an impression. (Runner-up: Zap Mama, who I had never heard at all; they were the funkiest thing by far I saw during the weekend.)

Most Likely Album Purchase: The Arcade Fire, “Funeral.” I’ve heard it before, but, as with the Pixies last year (or They Might Be Giants in 1999), it wasn’t until after seeing them that I realized how incredible those songs are. (Runners-Up: Weezer, “The Blue Album”; Nine Inch Nails, “Pretty Hate Machine,” “Broken”)

Best Stage Show: Bauhaus. A band whose biggest hit is a 10-minute song called “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” should present themselves ostentatiously, and Bauhaus didn’t disappoint. They opened with that song, in fact, with the lead singer making his entrance suspended upside down from a 25-foot moving cable at the top of the stage. At other points he was striding across the stage, or standing on top of a platform, with a staff, like Moses; at one point he stretched that staff across his shoulders like Jesus on the cross. With his shock of white hair in the harsh white lights, he looked like a film negative. Oh, and the guitarist made that vampire pose. You know, the one where you cross your arms diagonally on your chest? Awesome. (Runner-up: Nine Inch Nails, who had good lights.)

Best On-Stage Antics: The Arcade Fire (see above). At one point the drummer was carrying the cymbal around while hitting it. (Runner-up: The Kills, a man and a woman named Hotel and VV, respectively, who sang with their lips and instruments [you heard me] like a few inches from each other and ended with what was either a mutual orgasm or a seizure.)

Totalest Asshole: The 30-year-old in a silk shirt and denim skater pants (not “denim ska”–that would be some sort of Special AKA/Bruce Springsteen hybrid)who was jumping around like an idiot during Autolux. When he wasn’t jumping, he was making the “cool guitar hands” during anything that remotely resembled a guitar lick. I mean, it’s Autolux, not Scorpion; it would be like jumping around to the Shins. It wouldn’t have bothered me that much, except he landed on one of our bottles of water at one point, and at Coachella you don’t take that lying down. I stepped forward and said something; he didn’t like it, but he cooled down from that point on. (What I said was, “Excuse me, could you jump around less? You crushed one of our waters.”) (Runner-up: Whatever motherfucker put SHIT AND TOILET PAPER on the inside of a Port-o-Potty.)

Biggest Disappointment, Band’s Fault: No real disappointments, though New Order and Weezer could have played more classics and fewer of their fair-to-middling songs from their upcoming albums. That was a theme this year: bands with a long history who had new albums to promote (add Wilco, Bright Eyes, and NIN to the above list). Of course, they have to play the new songs, but this being a festival where they compete with other bands for attention they also have to put their best foot forward, and some of the new songs were not, shall we say, the best feet. Last year, the biggest bands–the Pixies, Radiohead, the Cure–were happy just to be nominated, so it wasn’t as hit-or-miss.

Best Bands Missed Due to Scheduling Conflicts: Snow Patrol* (Ambulance Ltd/The Kills); half of Rilo Kiley (Wilco); the Secret Machines (Weezer); Bloc Party (Bauhaus); Coldplay/Spoon (The Chemical Brothers/Zap Mama); M.I.A. (the Fiery Furnaces); Gang of Four (the Arcade Fire); Aesop Rock (New Order); Black Star (Bright Eyes). There are more this year than last because I knew about more of the bands this year.
*Mia saw Snow Patrol and said they were really bad.

Best Bands Missed Due to Exhaustion: None, really–the reduced temperatures helped a lot. Though I was really loopy for Bright Eyes.

Okay, I’ve reconstructed this from memory (of the entry and of Coachella) as best I can, but I don’t remember how I wrapped it up. Had a great time, love music, love the Tesla coil crackling purple lightning bolts in the desert sky. But they’d better get Franz Ferdinand next year.

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