Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Rant in E Minor



Remember that scene in Garden State when the cutesy Natalie Portman tells the conflicted Zach Braff to listen to "New Slang," for it would "change his life?" Yeah. I thought that was lame too. I mean, really--we're all adults here. How can MUSIC, of all things affect your life in any way? Any substantial way, that is. Sure, we derive enjoyment from it. Even a comfort in those shady parts of the day when you just know you are the only person in the universe listening to that exact piece of music at that exact moment, getting a specific feeling from it that you know is unique to your own personal being. But, in the grand scheme of things, you need to be grounded in reality in order to take objective looks at the elements in your life to make significant changes, right? The tingly feeling I get when I hear the chorus of "Gigantic" is admittedly unforgettable, but what is it really going to do for me when I look back at the choices I've made. When I'm lying awake trying to figure out how or why I've ended up where I've ended up. Where is the reality? After all, reality is what we deal with, correct? It's where we live, it's where we breathe, and it’s where we fuck. Music is art, and art (above anything) is a comment on reality--not reality itself.

You see, I know all of this; in my heart of hearts and my brain of brains I possess the power to understand when reality takes a backseat to my emotions and pleasure centers. What I have learned, however, is that I don’t care. Fact: When I am in a bad mood, a good song can bring me up. Fact: when I am feeling “blue” a sad song can commiserate with me and tell me it will be okay. Fact: this may mean I have a generally weak constitution and may not have the ability to truly come to terms with reality in many, many aspects. Fact: Fuck reality.

When you take music too seriously, be it because of your tortured existence, your bad parents or even your bitch of an ex-girlfriend, you are called emo. It's a stigma as unwanted as a bad case of lice, and a mental image most could do without. In my twenty-four years on this rock, I’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time embracing labels. There, I said it. I try to be honest with you, my brothers. I’ve been a drummer, a geek, a Goth, a rude boy, a skinhead, a punk, a…moron. This all probably has to do with my striking lack of self-esteem matched with my ridiculously large need to be a part of group while still feeling like I am “outside” of society. As I’ve gotten older, this part of my psyche has mostly softened. These days, I am mostly content in having people pay as little attention to me as possible. The point is that labels have never bothered me. This “emo” title, on the other hand, does.

Let's forget, for a moment, the obvious homophobic connotations associated with such a term. Unlike any other label mentioned, it is only really used as an insult. Now, I’m not at all defending the merits of being emo, or emo music. I think the “correct” use of the term has largely disappeared or, at least, certainly lost any relevance. My problem is with the fact that such a label, which was once solely associated with a specific type of music, is now almost exclusively used as a euphemism for being gay. Which, of course, brings about a larger issue involving why exactly being called gay is still considered an insult this day and age.

Showing emotion is seen as a weakness. I believe this is true. Say all that you want about the progression of society from the alpha-male mentality of the 40’s, 50’s, etc. Men don’t change that much. Not really. So when I close my eyes and sing along at the Cat Power show, I am weak and I just might be gay.

This fact became clear to me recently at a Cursive show. It was a free show on campus in Gainesville, FL. Since anyone could walk in…anyone did. Most were fans, but a lot just wanted to see what all the fuss was all about. Towards the middle of the show, a few larger gentlemen in the 18 to 21 year old range in my general vicinity simply started laughing and walked off. Not before declaring us all “Emo faggots” of course. I got to thinking about it. It doesn’t bother me that someone who I don’t know, don’t care about, and will never see again implied that I was gay; I’ve certainly been treated worse by people I know. It was the use of that term again that was the compelling factor. Is it the way you enjoy music that makes you emo? When I jump in the pit at an Every Time I Die show, am I not getting emotional about the music? This is something that bothers me, but with every word I type it does so less and less.

If the reality of using music as a tool for escape, as a blanket of comfort, is that you are weak, that you are less of a person, that you are emo…well, then I suppose I can add one more title to my stable of labels. It just sucks that I don’t enjoy having hair in my eyes or wearing female jeans that show off my package…or bad music. But, you roll with the punches I guess.

END RANT.

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Gone and Forgotten: South Dakota Dark's 10 Favorite Albums of All Time! (Part II)



Firstly, R.I.P. Robert Altman. Be sure to read Todd's lovely post below this one.

Secondly, Happy Thanksgiving. I could go on a tirade about the general misconceptions of the holiday and tell you all to leave the poor turkeys alone. However, in the interest of not being a total douche bag, I'll stick with talking about music.

SO, moving right along, let's refresh your memory:

Ten Favorite Albums of ALL TIME:



10. Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain

Crossing over into the most main of main streams, Purple Rain saw The Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince taking an earnest and collective look at his place in the industry and leaping forward in a most ambitious turn. Fusing his already eclectic stylings of Funk and R&B with an even more palatable mentality geared towards pop as well as straightforward rock, Purple Rain is an undeniable catalyst for most phases in mainstream music.

The nine tracks contained therein; while "dated" in some circles (I won't argue that point here) remain some of the more auspiciously perfect pop tracks one might have the pleasure of hearing. I won't say that Purple Rain simply came along at the right time. That is true, yes...but it was more than that. Any album can come along at the right time, give the masses that hint of change they seem to crave and vanish just as soon as they've served a purpose. In the case of Purple Rain, however, it seems to have a pulse and a spirit that tends to linger, going past even its most obvious attempts at individuality. It's within the grasp that Prince holds so delicately (never with too much control or too little) that provides the LP with its personality, singularity, and its larger than life heart.
And then...


09. PJ Harvey, Rid Of Me
This is back when PJ Harvey wasn't simply the name of an amazing female artist, but the handle of an amazingly raw, enticing, honest-to-goodness band. The trio's second LP produced by Steve Albini is as viciously erotic and aggressively brilliant as anything Polly Jean has done in her career since. A perfect choice for producer, Albini captures the distinct aura the group presented at the time of a damaged deviance that remains unashamed and unhinged. Both loud and blisteringly quiet, Rid of Me is a darkly told masterpiece of the underbelly.
It's not that Polly Jean got softer when she went solo; hell, she's been to darker places than this. It has more to do with this raw, bloody quality that an album like Rid of Me possesses that can't really ever be recreated, so why bother trying? Artist that she is, PJ has simply reinvented herself over and over again; each album being an honest account of her mental stability (or lack thereof) but none more simultaneously frightening and exciting than Rid of Me.
PART III COMIN' ATCHA IN A BIT!

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

RIP Robert Altman

The first time I heard of Robert Altman, even if I didn't hear of him by name, was probably when my parents told me of the only movie they had ever walked out of -- MASH. Needless to say, I was surprised to find that one of my mother's favorite TV shows had a.) once been a movie and b.) been bad enough in some way for my parents to leave it. "The movie was very different from the TV show," she said (she wasn't a Philistine or anything -- some of the jabs at the Catholic faith weren't received well by their young, dating selves). And that was that.

But I never really liked the TV show. I still sort of don't (granted, a lot of this has to do with the fact that the last four seasons -- the pretty sketchy ones -- seem to always be the ones playing in syndication). I didn't make plans to see the movie (I was nine or so), but I filed this piece of information away.

The next time I heard of Robert Altman, I heard of him by name. It was Oscar time, and he had just been nominated for The Player. Altman's was a name I hadn't heard of, even though I was familiar with the other big living American directors -- Scorsese and Spielberg and Coppola and so on. I was a movie- and TV-loving kid stuck in the middle of nowhere, no access to movies like The Player, which never even played in my state's biggest city. I had to content myself with reading descriptions of Altman, with learning about MASH, his biggest hit, and then, Nashville, perhaps his biggest critical success. When he was nominated again for Short Cuts, I knew full well who he was, even if I had never seen one of his movies.

I finally came to know Robert Altman though a late night showing of McCabe and Mrs. Miller. I wasn't a big Western fan, and I was a rather film illiterate 17 (I knew all of the names behind the movies but hadn't seen most of them). But even broken up by commercials, McCabe and Mrs. Miller seemed devastatingly sad to me -- I realize the film runs the gamut of emotions now, but at the time, I channeled my teenage angst into it, couldn't, really, see the forest for the trees. I couldn't express how I felt about the film, so I just left it be.

I finally came to know Altman personally (as it feels we know all great artists) in college, when I began to unravel his other great works -- MASH (a touch overrated, I still feel), Nashville (still one of my very favorite American films), Short Cuts (one of the first Altmans I saw, so, therefore, somehow still special). By the time Gosford Park rolled around and gained so much acclaim, I was ready, ready to explain to my girlfriend all about how Altman used improvisation on set, created environments for actors to play in, worked with overlapping dialogue.

What I like best about Altman is the sense that all of his movies are found art. I realize it's not exactly an original thing to say, but it really feels almost as if Altman has managed to find the exact right camera placements to capture an engrossing story as it unfolds in front of us. Even his lesser works manage to convey this sense of life enveloping and washing over the viewer, sweeping us away in a dense swirl of moment.

Altman, I think, is the most American of directors. With his huge casts and his overlapping stories, there's really a sense that at any moment, anyone's story could be the most important. Altman, of course, worked within milieus he was completely familiar with, but he was unafraid to throw people of different classes (still the biggest differentiator in the U.S.) together, to say that all of these stories were equal, that all of these stories mattered.

Earlier this year, the House Next Door had an Altman blog-a-thon. I thought for a time I might contribute a piece on Altman's TV direction, so poised was my TiVo to capture various episodes of Bonanza he directed in his long decades in the wilderness before MASH. When I watched them, though, it was hard to see flashes of the Altman we would come to know later. Sure, the episodes were well-paced and competently shot, but because of the iron fist of the producer in TV, it was hard to find even a taste of experimentation.

But I think TV and Altman influenced each other in very interesting ways. TV gave Altman the sense that what was most important was to work -- how many other directors of this caliber kept turning out film after film after film, even if some of them weren't that great? Even when he couldn't scare up big funding in the '80s, he made a long series of, essentially, filmed plays, all of which have a performance or two or a set of directing choices that make them worthy of recommendation (caveat: those that I've seen, though I have it on good authority the others are just fine too). Altman compared making a film to making a sand castle at the Oscars this year (when he won his honorary award), and there's a real sense of that in both his films and his working methods, many of which were probably learned in the breakneck pace of TV -- all of this is transitory. Wait a week, and you'll be on to the next thing.

But the spirit of Altman lives on most, I think, in television. While there aren't any shows that can reliably be called "Altman-esque" now that Deadwood and Sons & Daughters are both gone, the sense that everyone's story is worth telling, no matter how high or low their station, permeates both top-flight series like The Wire and series of a lower class like Six Degrees (even if that show careened too much into talking about the rich). Altman's rhythms are still probably too idiosyncratic for TV, but, then, his rhythms are probably too idiosyncratic for film (and don't give me Paul Thomas Anderson -- as good an eye as the guy has, he has none of Altman's generosity of spirit or natural feel for how a story should progress). Altman's influence wasn't as seismic as, say, Spielberg's, but, then, his films were never that seismic. His influence gently laps at the industry's toes, growing and growing, until we all find ourselves underwater.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

YouTube Nation

The Michael Richards tirade, like a great many things, is the sort of thing that could have easily been covered up and made to have less of an impact even 15 years ago (I'm not going to post it here, as I don't know if, exactly, I can post YouTube videos with content warnings). In the early 90s, it would have been easy enough for Richards' publicist to write off his racist tirade as a misunderstood joke or a greatly overblown event. Even if the video had been readily available to the press, it would have been easy to limit who had access to it -- even then, broadcast of it would have been limited to news shows and the sheer horror of the clip would have been blunted by bleeping words out and editing around them.

I'm not just saying this because I deplore racism or anything (though, obviously, I do); Richards is genuinely scary in the video that TMZ.com posted earlier today. He really, really seems like a man who's completely lost it. But what makes this a potential career ender for him is that we now live in a world where this sort of thing is available easily and instantly to anyone with Internet access (which is a segment of the population that grows more every day). You can see the edited down version on the local news, or you can see the uncut version in all its glory on YouTube.

As corporatized as it has become, the Internet is still the best place to get unvarnished information, free from editing or other manipulation. To a very real degree, the next media wars are going to be fought over who can control the YouTube market (which, of course, is very nascent). A real reason the Democrats swept up so much more of the youth vote this time around is because of the way they and their devotees used the Internet. Republicans tried to play catch up but were always at least two steps behind at all turns -- it didn't help that the most devastating "videobites" played against Republicans in most cases (the Internet, of course, is not the sole reason young people turned out to vote for Democrats, but it was a good way to keep them informed and interested).

Obviously, I'm a TV guy, so I don't think that or any other old medium is going to disappear completely. But they're going to merge more and more with things like YouTube. The age of the mass culture is almost over, and the age when we all become our own programmers is just beginning.

(Just some brief thoughts spurred by the Richards video -- expect fuller thoughts on this subject in a year-in-review piece.)

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Gone and Forgotten: South Dakota Dark's 10 Favorite Albums of All Time!



So, to keep my self busy since moving BACK to Florida, I've decided to compile a not-so-definitive list of my favorite albums of all time. I find this task both laborious and largely useless, but--I live in FLORIDA. Usually, I would preface such a list by stating that on any other day the list would be completely different. I don't think that's quite true here. I've thought about this good and long, and I think this really is about as close as I can get to relaying my musical tastes (or lack thereof) to you, the READER. So, without further ado I give you part 1 of a 10 part series!

Ten Favorite Albums of ALL TIME:



10. Prince & The Revolution, Purple Rain

Crossing over into the most main of main streams, Purple Rain saw The Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince taking an earnest and collective look at his place in the industry and leaping forward in a most ambitious turn. Fusing his already eclectic stylings of Funk and R&B with an even more palatable mentality geared towards pop as well as straightforward rock, Purple Rain is an undeniable catalyst for most phases in mainstream music.

The nine tracks contained therein; while "dated" in some circles (I won't argue that point here) remain some of the more auspiciously perfect pop tracks one might have the pleasure of hearing. I won't say that Purple Rain simply came along at the right time. That is true, yes...but it was more than that. Any album can come along at the right time, give the masses that hint of change they seem to crave and vanish just as soon as they've served a purpose. In the case of Purple Rain, however, it seems to have a pulse and a spirit that tends to linger, going past even its most obvious attempts at individuality. It's within the grasp that Prince holds so delicately (never with too much control or too little) that provides the LP with its personality, singularity, and its larger than life heart.

Stay tuned for Part II!

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Why don't networks do this anymore?

The all-network promo -- a commercial where the stars of the network in question cavort to a peppy song -- is mostly a thing of the past. The networks aren't as powerful as they once were, and a celebration of their ability to unite America (as these inevitably turned in to) just feels stupider and stupider. For that matter, they were always really cheesy.

As a kid, though, I loved these. While I rarely, if ever, knew who all of the stars were, I liked the idea that Hollywood was one, giant unending party where people danced dorkily with balloons. Never mind that the stars probably had to be plied contractually and dragged on to set. I thought it looked like the best time in the world.

Here are a few of these promos. Be warned. These songs have been stuck in my head since the '80s, and they'll be stuck in yours now.

NBC 1988:



NBC 1989:



ABC 1990:



Perhaps most annoying of all, CBS 1981:



These are completely awful, but there's a certain cheesy faith in television's power to bring people together that's nice to see in this age of fragmented audiences.

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