Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Pulp and Sex

Pulp (and the group's frontman Jarvis Cocker) have been among my favorite musicians since I was 16 or 17. They;re to this day one of my favorite bands--the music always sounds fresh and relevant. Perhaps what is so refreshing and exhilarating about Pulp (and Jarvis's solo work as well, but to a lesser extent) is the way the songwriting approaches love, relationships, and sex. Instead of glorifying sexual acts as idyllic and beautiful like so much of the rock canon, Pulp presents sex in all it's messy, complicated, and nuanced reality. The awkwardness of first crushes and fumbling first explorations. Forgotten lovers and high school dreams are portrayed with a slightly cynical and world-weary realist perspective. Indeed, the song entitled "F.E.E.LI.N.G.C.A.L.L.E.D.L.O.V.E" (in an homage, I suspect, to Wire's "Feeling Called Love", the experience of being in love is cast in dark relief. "I've got a slightly sick feeling feeling in my stomach, like I'm standing atop a very high building, oh yes", and "It's not chocolate boxes and roses, it's much dirtier than that, like a small animal that only comes out in the night". Pulp write about sex in truly naturalistic terms that are far more relatable, in my opinion, than much other musical output on the subject. Recently, I saw a documentary at the Film Society of Lincoln Center entitled "Pulp: A film about Love, Death, and Supermarkets" that charted the band's final reunion tour stop in their hometown of SHeffield in 2012. Not only a portrait of the band itself, the film struck a deep chord as a portrayal of Sheffield and contemporary culture in Britain. I highly recommend it and anticipate seeing it again when it has a wider release in November.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Best Things In Life Are FREE---musings on Mad Men

The above title is taken from the ending scene of the mid-season series finale of "Mad Men", as sung by (SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) a ghost vision of a dead Bert Cooper (Robert Morse, of Broadway and "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" fame), What a wonderful, wacky, and hallucinatory way to end the first part of the final season. As with Breaking Bad, the final season of the series will be split up over two seven-episode mini seasons. These seven episodes brought some of the greatest dramatic tension the series has seen....from Don and Megan's on again--off again marriage, to the agency being split between two coasts, to Michael Ginsberg's nipple-splicing psychotic break. I was particularly saddened by Ginsberg's sudden departure--while there were a few moments in the show previously that suggested that he was more than just slightly eccentric, it was truly upsetting to view the sinister underbelly of his personality. This season in particular has been mired with a sense of impending uncertainty and doom--not just because the series is almost over. From the arrival of the computer (which Ginsberg, in his paranoid state posits will make the entire agency obsolete...and he's half correct) to the constant question of Don's status within the company, there has been a foreboding tonal element throughout. I really like the full chiasmos of Don and Peggy's characters---of special note are the highly awkward scenes where Peggy gives Don orders, as she is now his superior. There are many pairs and foils within the series, and I am curious to see how everything will end up come next year. I'm thinking about Don/Peggy, Roger/Joan, Peggy/Pete (will their relationship ever get full closure or resolve? For awhile I thought Peggy had really risen above Pete and the scumbag he had become, but I think that he not only showed his respect for her in this seasons but also matured as a character. I know there are a lot of Pete Campbell haters out there, but he's one of my favorite characters, if not my absolute favorite, because even if he might be an asshole, he is tremendously nuanced, and there is a great pathos to his being). Peggy/Stan (are they EVER going to get together? I do want to see this happen!!!!) Stan/Ginsberg (AMC, if you're reading this, please make a spin-off buddy show just about this pair). Now let's just get rid of both Cutler and Chaugh (ugh) and the show will be just fine. I really enjoyed Bob Benson's reappearance this season. While I found him a little grating in the previous season, I admired the show's nod to emerging gay rights issues through his character. As with previous "social issues"--women's rights, civil rights--that the show has portrayed with complexity and dignity--I hope that somewhere in the final seven episodes there is room to make more of a comment upon gay rights, beyond the tokenism of Sal (we all miss him! Maybe he'll be back?) and Benson. Showrunner Matthew Weiner has stated that at the end of the series, all the characters will be facing the consequences of their decisions. I think most viewers can agree that Don will end up miserable, alone, or dead. He's already halfway to two thirds of the way there. I only hope that Peggy not only continues to ride on the success she found in this season (especially during the finale's Burger Chef presentation....I love the slow pan just prior to her reminded me of both Kubrick and the bar mitzvah scene in A Serious Man), but that she also finds some personal happiness and satisfaction. Peggy has always been a loner and unlucky in love. Then again, between Pete, Duck, and Abe, she really knows how to pick 'em. I really liked Abe for awhile, but their relationship was heading south way before Pegs accidentally stabbed him. I wish she'd taken up Joyce's offer and maybe had some Sapphic fun....that would have been a curious episode indeed! She just might be a touch too conservative for that. There's been long-standing chemistry, flirtation, and more in the cases of both Pete and Stan. While others might argue that they are beneath her, I think both have proven themselves to be rounded and mature characters, although both are goofballs. Seriously, Peggy desperately needs to get laid. Is it just me or was she starting to be really bitchy this season? I'd like to see the loose strings tied up of whatever happened to her kid, as the show keeps putting Peggy in awkward situations with children (when Joan brings her baby in to the office and Peggy must babysit, or her maternal relationship with her tenant Julio this season). It would be nice if all that were resolved. However, who really knows? As their own commercials so aptly announce, Mad Men is always full of surprises. All the relationships possible for Peggy with someone from the office are probably too on the nose for this show. After all, they brought back a major character only to have him join the Krishnas and write a wacky Krishna-based spec script of Star Trek (easily one of the best plot lines of the stellar season 5). All in all, I found this mini season, and the finale especially, to be enormously satisfying. While I still think the jewel in the crown in terms of seasons thus far is Season 5, this season moved beyond the tediousness of season six and kept the viewer in a constant state of anticipation, wonder, and uncertainty. It's sad that there will only be seven episodes left, but if AMC's other amazing show, Breaking Bad, is any precedent, the final episodes will all be show stopping gems. When one has followed a show for so many years, you really feel as though you grow along with it. Especially in the context of a drama so poignant and layered as Mad Men--the characters almost as human as your friends and neighbors, I'm sure there will be a sense of loss once it's all concluded. Oh well, cheers to a half-season done well! And before it's all over, I'll have new series of Orange is the New Black and Masters of Sex (!!!!) to obsess over.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Voter Rights?!!!!?!?!?!

Every time I have voted in this city, I have felt disabled and disempowered. I don't require a lot of assistance or aids to cast my vote, but what I do need is a large-print, legible ballot, and a clear source of light. How hard is that? How difficult is that to provide to New Yorkers? In a city that prides itself on accessibility and equal access, the voting procedure (at least in my district) is a glaring red FAILURE.

I walk in to the church that is my polling place. It's pretty empty, which is somewhat surprising. I except something between the two hour wait of the presidential election, and the pin drop silence of the primaries.

Anyway, I walk in and show my registration card and ask, "hi there, is there a large print ballot?". I am pointed to my district table, and I ask the same question. I am greeted woh utter grace by the woman at the table, who sits there and gruffly asks, "Ehat? You can't see?" I'm so appalled by her lack of sensitivity and awareness that I choose not to dignify her question with an answer. Instead, I'm told, no, there are no large print ballots, but two people can come in to the booth to read the ballot to me. No thank you. I choose to use my own reading glasses, but am again flabbergasted when I see that the ballot has you bubble the candidates in. A scantron form. Like the one on the SATs. At this point, I am livid. I look around. There other constituents voting are all easily septuagenarians---at least. Many of them are also having trouble.

I don't typically find myself in a position where I'm asking for help. Indeed, I try to avoid these situations. But when I do find myself in these instances, I would really appreciate it if people refrained from being condescending and judgemental assholes. Sure, I didn't like these old crones' attitudes, but it cuts deeper than that: I fiercely and passionately believe in the right to suffrage. It is a privilege and civil duty. Yet, by making it such a challenge, the government is providing a disincentive to vote. It shouldn't be this hard or upsetting. I know I am not the only one who has faced challenges this Tuesday, and I want to do something about it.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I slipped up.

Over the summer, I had been going to the gym all the time, and I introduced yoga to my repertoire this fall. Both of these pursuits were to relieve stress and tension, as well as being healthier in general. I felt great! Any anxiety or nerves I was feeling melted away once I worked up a sweat and felt that endorphin rush.

Well, I've been busy writing midterm papers and working on a research project. I've lagged behind in my exercise routine. It's probably been 2 or 3 weeks since I've been to the gym, and longer since yoga.

I was feeling tense and moody last night and this morning (hello, lovely lady hormones!) and decided to go to yoga. I go to Yoga to the People on st. Marks. I love it! They offer Power Vinyasa Flow yoga. While it still focuses on the breath as all yoga does, it is quite a WORKOUT. When I leave, I am shaking and sweating all over. But I still feel peaceful and centered.

I went today and was reminded of the importance of self care. Even though I have been much less stressed than I was think summer (thank God), it's still important to take the time for oneself. My other ritual is going to Trivia with Nathan at Full Circle Bar. But that's our couples time. What makes yoga and going to the gym so powerful for me (aside from the endorphin kick!) us that I can be wholeheartedly selfish and narcissistic and focus on myself. But not focus on any of my issues--these are times I can take to relax and release. I realize how important it is to keep up with these routines--even at the best of times. Otherwise, it is all too easy to let the stress creep up and consume you.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lou Reed

So I've been really torn-up about Lou Reed.

The death of public figures usually doesn't upset me. Their lives haven't affected mine, not personally at least, merely in the way they shape
culture. Typically, I reserve grieving only for people I know. That changed when I heard of Christopher Hitchens' death. I knew he was very ill, but the news gig like a thunderbolt as I sat in a taxi to Paris CDG--the worst airport in the world. I immediately began sobbing. He seemed like such a genuine and earnest human being, and I was shocked he was gone.

Anyway, back to Lou Reed. On Sunday afternoon, I was sitting in Nathan's family childhood home in New Jersey, talking to his grandparents. Nathan casually and silently passes me his phone: a text from Pete: LOU REED IS DEAD. OMG. I immediately Google on my phone, and it's true. I can't believe it. He was only 71. All of this happens without breaking conversation with the grandparents, so my shock is silent.

But it doesn't really hit me until later, when we start listening to Velvet Underground and solo Lou Reed songs. It's then that I realize how far back I go with Lou.

Listening to something off of Velvet Underground, I think Pale Blue Eyes, I suddenly remember being seventeen and listening to the same song as we toured college campuses. I think it was either Haverford or Swarthmore. I don't remember much else from the trip, but I recall pulling up a verdant drive and passing some school's arboretum as the Velvet Underground played.

My initial exposure to Lou Reed is via the Velvet Underground, when I'm 16 or so, and initially discovering rock music. This discovery came alongside that of (oddly enough) Belle as Sebastian, Joy Division, and the Smiths.

Later I got into his solo work, specifically Transformer and his most cracked-out album, Street Hassle.

When I graduated high school, a close family friend pulled some strings and got us tickets to the sold-out lecture Lou Reed was giving at the Warhol museum. It was incredible. Sure, he looked more like the principal from the Breakfast Club than the Rock n Roll Animal, but it was incredible nonetheless. I did ask a question during Q&A. About poetry. And I had some books signed. It is a really special memory, and certainly the coolest graduation present I have ever received.

When I first met Nathan and we exchanged mix cd's (as couples do early in their relationship), the CD he made for me included the Velvet Underground b-side "She's my Best Friend" which previously I had not heard.

The list goes on, ad nauseum. Beyond the personal connection I feel, I think New York has lost someone special. Rarely has an artist identified so strongly with the aesthetic and ethos of a city, as Lou Reed did New York. Maybe one day Laurie Anderson will pull a Yoko and commission a Lou Reed "Strawberry fields". It's highly unlikely, and I honestly wonder what a formal memorial to him would look like, given that his works are marked by beyond innovative, anti-establishment, and against the grain. I'll conclude my ramblings on the topic to note that the world has lost a thoroughly unique soul.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Sounds of Spring

As I convalesce at home with a sprained ankle, (and get some end-of-semester work done), I find myself reflecting upon the music I return to in spring. When I was in Paris last year, once the weather got really nice, I'd take long perambulations with no particular direction or endpoint. My iPhone (really a glorified iPod while in Europe due to lack of function as a phone) was my constant companion. The music I listened to imbued an emotional depth of my surroundings--often jubilant, sometimes pensive. I think that's one of the reasons we have such a profound connection to music, as a society--there is an emotive quality there. "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars" was the first David Bowie album that really clicked with me. I discovered it in junior or senior year of high school, I' certain when exactly. I had always appreciated glam aesthetics--the makeup, outfits, androgyney, and theatrics--but I had never really listened to the music. The album, track for track, resonated with me. I have since gone on to love many other Bowie albums--pretty much everything until "China Girl"--as well as his stage presence, use of persona and performativity to constantly reinvent himself. As great as the other albums are, I always come back to "Ziggy Stardust", and usually in the spring or summer. I'm not certain why I have a seasonal attachment to it, but I just feel it's a perfect summer album. "Ziggy Stardust" is not the only album I think is perfectly matched to warmer weather. what else? Of The Rolling Stone's catalogue, I'd select Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. I also tend to come back to my two favorite Pulp albums as the weather warms--"His'n'Hers" and "Different Class". The Electric Light Orchestra (specifically "A New World Record", but really any album) is well-suited to relaxing outside, but honestly, I love some ELO during any time of the year. As there is music appropriate for the warmer months, there are also choice tunes for the cold. I always retreat to Dylan, the Smiths, and Simon and Garfunkel in the colder months ("Hazy Shade of Winter", anyone?). When I lived in Paris, portability of music was key. When I'm at home, however, I prefer to enjoy my music on vinyl. It's not just an affectation--I truly believe the format improves the quality of music--especially music recorded specifically for release on vinyl. When I first listened to Bowie, the Stones, and the Beatles (among many others), I first heard them on digital transfer. Some are better than others, but with the worst of the bunch (I'm looking at you, downloaded copy of "Exile on Main Street"), the music sounded tinny and shallow. The other thing I really love about vinyl is that the format compels you to listen to an album straight through, without skipping around. There's a purity of form in listening to a piece as the artists intended. Contemporary society is so hung up on instant gratification (I admit I'm quite the guilty party myself!), that often we just want to skip to our favorite songs. Listening to the whole album enables us to engage with the artist, and to participate in the cultural experience.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Megabus misadventures part deux

I've written before about a VERY funny trip courtesy of Megabus before. Well, I'm back on one of their coaches, and I have an amusing story to tell. This time, instead of a misogynistic control freak driver, we have a rather jolly older fellow who has a flair for drama.

So, on our bus the latch to the bathroom is stuck. If you are in the
restroom and try to lock the door, it may just get stuck that way and you could end up stuck in the bathroom! Our driver recommended not locking the door, and simply knocking to see if it is in use. The doors on the restrooms have a tendency to swing around, so I could definitely see someone getting an unwelcome and haunting visual in this situation.

Our driver just embellished this news with a personal anecdote. About a year ago, the same issue with the bathroom door occurred. However this time, he locked himself in! He managed to get help from a passenger, who asked "where's the driver?". The voice from the interior of the bathroom replied "I AM THE DRIVER" à la Star Wars, and the subsequent silence was deafening. He instructed the passenger where the key was, and managed to extricate himself from the locked lavatory.

To quote the immortal Gilda Radner, "It's always something!"--I don't think she had Megabus in mind when she coined the phrase, but it certainly is applicable.