Faeted To Pretend

I had iTunes on shuffle today and Time to Pretend by MGMT came up. The song’s been out for like a year and a half, but somehow I had never really paid attention to the lyrics before. Oh, I’d listened through the part about ‘I’ll move to Paris, shoot some heroin, and fuck with the stars’, but tended to tune out thereafter and had always just assumed that the song was about youthful hedonism and that’s all there was to it. This time, for whatever reason, I paid attention through to the end and was struck by how much in common the lyrics have with one of W.B. Yeats’ early poems, ‘The Stolen Child‘ (one of the few Yeats’ pieces I still remember vividly from a seminar I took in college). Consider…

In Yeats poem, a bunch of faeries plan to spirit off a human child to a magical land. The magical land is all good times, carousing around and staying up all night (‘To and fro we leap / And chase the frothy bubbles, / While the world is full of troubles / And anxious in its sleep’). Its allure is in its non-reality and weightlessness (consider the strange and beautiful line ‘We seek for slumbering trout / and whispering in their ears / Give them unquiet dreams’), and in the extent to which this contrasts with the mundanity and sorrow of the real world:

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand.
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

But then, the final stanza produces this switcheroo where we’re made to feel the longing that the stolen child will feel for the tangible, commonplace details of the real world, petty and squalid as they may be:

He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest

The sheer tangibility and realness of the lowing cows, singing kettle and vermin-infested oatmeal chest becomes the stuff of nostalgia. Time To Pretend manages a similar trick: the first half presents stardom as all models, cocaine and elegant cars, an escape from mundanity. ‘What else can we do?’ the singer asks, ‘Get jobs in offices and wake up for the morning commute?’. The first verse ends with him pledging to ‘forget about our mothers and our friends’. But then, in the second verse, we get the equivalent of brown mice bobbing in the oatmeal chest:

I’ll miss the playgrounds and the animals and digging up worms
I’ll miss the comfort of my mother and the weight of the world
I’ll miss my sister, miss my father, miss my dog and my home
Yeah, I’ll miss the boredom and the freedom and the time spent alone.

Suddenly worms, family members and even boredom are things to be longed for. Of course, Time To Pretend ends with a sort of resolution and renewed vow to party up to the end and eventually ‘choke on our own vomit’… but I like to think that they were really channeling Yeats and just threw this in at the end to make it an acceptable pop song. In any case, I think there’s a lot of correspondence between the two, given that one is a youth anthem and the other is all pre-Raphaelite and shit.

The 7 types of stories

See the list of tags in the right-hand column of this blog? Turns out they’re obsolete. Categories, too.

(Side rant: there isn’t a single coherent explanation anywhere in the WordPress internet kingdom of what the difference is between ‘tags’ and ‘categories’. I vaguely get the sense that you’re supposed to use them both in concert with each other… which would be fine if I had 5 hours a day to write posts or a teeming staff of assistants to delegate such matters to. Like I’m conducting interviews and explaining So, once the post comes back from the copy desk and the fact-checkers, it’ll be your job to assign appropriate categories and tags. It’s important that you do this before we get the galley proofs back from the publisher! )

According to this WaPo profile of economist-blogger Tyler Cowen, there are only seven possible variants of story line, blog or otherwise:

Cowen also has rules about stories: He distrusts them, particularly ones like this profile. The writer is arranging facts to keep readers reading. “The more inspired the story makes me feel, very often the more nervous I get,” he once said. He believes nearly all stories follow seven templates: “monster, rags to riches, quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy and rebirth.”…Cowen, based on his reading of thousands of books, thinks stories trick readers because they are filtered: Writers ‘take a lot of information and they leave some of it out,” he says.

So there you go. From now on, blogs should come pre-populated with only those tag/category options:

  • monster
  • rags to riches
  • quest
  • voyage and return
  • comedy
  • tragedy
  • rebirth

There could still be a ‘edit tags’ button, but this would only shoot a thick black inky substance across your monitor, like a retreating octopus.

As far as taxonomies go, this is a good one, although not as quite as fun as Wolfgang Weinart’s enumeration of the different kinds of typefaces he designs:

  • bunny type
  • sunshine type
  • ant type
  • five-minute type
  • typewriter type
  • for-the-people type

I guess if I were to write a post about the Led Zeppelin tribute band I saw last night, that one would go under… hmm: tragedy and rebirth? Why was I watching a tribute band, you might ask? Well, my friend was playing the part of Mitch Mitchell in a Hendrix tribute outfit that opened up for the Led Zeps. (Maybe quest would be a better categorization for this post, actually, given man’s ancient quest to have Hendrix and Zeppelin play on the same bill). Czech Zeppelin was entertaining and played the songs well, but made no attempt to look like the members of Led Zeppelin. Here, for example, was our Jimmy Page for the evening:

Other than the commendable accuracy of the red sunburst Gibson Les Paul, he looks more like Ray Cole from The Wire:

Now, the idea of a cover band whose members play Zeppelin songs but look like characters in The Wire would be a perfectly welcome innovation, but they didn’t extend this concept across entire band. Only Page, and the singer who looked passably like that Stevedore character whose name I can’t remember who helps Ziggy lift stuff off the dock:

With the singer– who sounded exactly like Robert Plant, by the way– there was this hilarious juxtaposition between his Czech speaking voice and his howling, vowel-laden sung Plantisms. Example:

SPEAKING VOICE (quiet, clipped, lots of consonants): “mutter, mutter…. zxk k kvvvvkkx xsxxxkkxxvvv….”

[music kicks in:]


OK, time to put a sock in it. Wouldn’t wanna offend Tyler Cowen any further.

5 favorite epigrams

  1. “The word ‘no‘ crops up a great deal around Lou Reed. […] Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore once called Metal Machine Music “the most positive negative record”, and I guess Lou Reed must be the most positive negative artist – because during our conversation the word ‘fun‘ comes up just as often as the word ‘no’.” — Alan Licht’s profile on Lou Reed, ‘Give Them Enough Nope’, in The Wire.
  2. “It was just embarrasing as well as exhibiting this awful, awful taste. His choice of movies, say, was invariably terrible. TV programmes… Everything. Plus he was starting to get pretty weird […] A genius musician but an amateur human being.” — Brian Wilson’s collaborator on Pet Sounds, Tony Asher. From Dark Stuff by Nick Kent.
  3. “My poems may hurt the dead, but the dead belong to me” — Anne Sexton
  4. “I always believed that computer might be that thing that I only need, that I only need that thing to survive. It might replace everything.” — Andrey Ternovki, the teenage founder of Chatroulette.com, as quoted in a piece in this week’s New Yorker.
  5. “‘I guess I’m not very human. All I really want to do is paint light on the side of a house.” — Edward Hopper

[Image: Stefan Sagmeister’s poster for Lou Reed’s Set The Twilight Reeling.]

The Siberian Basketball Diaries, Part Ten

[ed note: the following is an excerpt from the travel journal of my old high school friend Andrej Mucic. In 2005, Andrej bicycled over 7,000 miles through Siberia to raise money for the American Anti-Slavery Group. Previous installments start here.

Nearing the end of his adventures, Andrej returns to Moscow and explores the city.]


Subject: The Underpass

The time had come for me to pick up my ticket for Montenegro. The JAT (Serbian Airline) office is near Arbatskaya, in the belly of the Moscow beast.

The weather alternates between rain and sun. I am in my traditional attire and I am lost. The streets here aren’t marked, and a compass is very helpful.

I’m practically naked and walking in an underpass. At the end of the underpass is a stately old woman wearing a Soviet army uniform, sitting on a box and begging for change. As I approach her I’m already fishing around in my pocket for change. Then she suddenly comes to life and shouts, “Hey sportsman…nice pecs! You look like you’re new in town.” Yes dear readers, she was hitting on me.

She tells me that she’s 80 years old and that if she was a few years younger, she’d just love to jump my bones. I tell her that she too is a hot little ticket. She is flattered, and she tells me that back in the day she was a champion sharpshooter and that she personally killed 27 Germans in the Great Patriotic War. She says that she begs as a hobby; something to do to get her out of the house. She is saving her begging money to buy a new set of teeth so she can be beautiful again. I can tell that she must have been incredibly sexy back when she was one women slaughterhouse.

I give her one hundred roubles, because she is the first Russian girl that hit on me. Finally!!!! As I’m half-naked and chatting with one-shot-one-kill Natasha, two wicked hot young blonde hotties approach me from behind. “Spechenzee Duetch!?” they ask “Nyet.” I say I could not believe my luck. It was like a tag team hit-on-Andrej Ho-Down in the underpass. Russian gils are usually very shy and they seem to be afraid of me. God bless German girls (and Irish girls). They’re truly are the salt of the earth.

I tell the two little hotties that I’m an American and that I also speak Serbian. Their giggles fill the underpass. I’m giggling too. They also speak a little English. Turns out they are Russian, not German, and they study languages at the university, and they are eager to practice their English. So I insist on buying them some beers. I say good bye to Natasha and go above ground with my new little friends.

And so there I am, in my underwear, in an outdoor cafe in the Arbatskaya, sippin a cold one and giggling with the ersatz-Olsen twins. From there I drift in to Sector Southwest. As I leave  Sector Center, it begins to rain, hard. But what do I care? I’m practically naked. I think that walking through Sector Southwest, in the rain, ranks as the top ten of the greatest days in my life. As I walked, I meditated on Rutger Haurer’s improvised and haunting last lines in Bladerunner.

If you haven’t walked naked through the rainy streets of Moscow, you haven’t lived. I’ve done the Paris in spring time thing, and it doesn’t even come close.

[Yuri Gagarin statue photo courtesy of Flickr user Spaak]

Then, suddenly, I enter a huge square; it isn’t really a square, it’s more like a gigantic intersection of five eight lane roads. And in the middle is fucking super cool titanium monument to my nigger Yuri Gagarin. This is definitely my favorite monument in Moscow. And across the square is the extremely interesting looking Soviet Academy of Sciences. I don’t know how to describe this building. Imagine Viennese art nouveau meets David Lynch’s Dune. I explored its court yard.

[Academy of Science photo courtesy of Flickr user Dash Morgenstern]

From there I entered a mighty wood and walked for two hours until I reached Moscow State University. There I sat, on the dry fountain in front of this awesome building in the middle of a forest, and meditated on my own academic future.


Next: Warriors

Friday song: Stamping Ground

Louis Thomas Hardin, aka Moondog, made a drum set from a cardboard box at age 5, lost his site at age 16 to a dynamite accident, and moved to New York City at age 27, where he lived on the streets playing music on corners dressed as a Viking.

Here are the two opening tracks from his self-titled 1969 CBS album:

Theme/Stamping Ground by Moondog

These are officially two different tracks. The first part , “Theme”, was (I think) used in the Brazil soundtrack, and the second part, “Stamping Ground”, has become a standard of sorts. They’re separated by Moondog’s odd observation that “Machines were mice and men were lions once upon a time… but now that it’s the opposite, it’s twice upon a time.” In the first copy of the album I got ahold of, these two tracks were joined together into one, so that’s the way I got used to thinking of them and how I’m presenting them.

The Siberian Basketball Diaries, Part Nine

[ed note: the following is an excerpt from the travel journal of my old high school friend Andrej Mucic. In 2005, Andrej bicycled over 7,000 miles through Siberia to raise money for the American Anti-Slavery Group. Previous installments start here.

Back in Magadan, Andrej nears the end of his visit and prepares to head back to Moscow]


Subject: Atom Tan

When I say I’m going to Metallic Beach, you all have to remember that I’m wearing a fur coat to the beach. The city is on a steep hill and the beach is just a little stretch of sand at the base of a 90 degree cliff. There I go to collect my thoughts. And meet the ell-gathering underbelly of Magadan society.

I recently learned that this beach is very radioactive, particularly in the exact location I like to sit and enjoy the view. You’re probably asking yourselves, How radioactive is it, Andrej? I’ll tell you. On a Geiger counter, a virgin forest reads 12. Downtown Manhattan reads 30. My metallic beach reads a whopping 420! Nice. As I’m catching rays from above, the ground is seething with Cesium ash below me. No biggie though. The locals don’t seem to mind.

So what do I do here when I’m not street fighting, preaching abolition or absorbing radiation? I’ve started translating a 9 year old issue of Russian Cosmopolitan. It’s fun! So far I’ve translated an Estee Lauder ad, and now I’m working on an article about legs.

I have six more days in Magadan. Then I’m off to mighty Moscow.


Next: The Diaries conclude as Andrej returns to Moscow for The Underpass.

Skid Row

In case you missed the brouhaha, TK at 40goingon28 posted this tweet from noted film critic and profuse sweater Roger Ebert:

Several folks (myself included) quickly recognized this as a semi-opaque reference to the movie Vertigo, where the movie’s action is instigated by a request that James Stewart’s character visit an old friend with a Mission address– ‘skid row’, as gal friday Midge remarks. As it turns out, both references have a ‘sic’ quality to them, in that both the End Up and Gavin Elster reside in what we would now consider to be SoMa, but back in the day, this counted as part of the Mission.

Here’s the clip (click for movie file):

As far as I know, the other notable cultural references to the neighborhood are:

1. 48 Hours, where Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte visit the credulity-stretching Torchie’s Western Bar– supposedly, a straight, white, red neck strip joint. (By the way, check out this Czech-dubbed version of the scene that demonstrates the particular awkwardness of trying to find jive-sounding Czech guys to do the lines for the Eddie Murphys and Wayans brothers and other hip African Americans of the movie world.)

2. Dashiell Hammet’s novel The Glass Key. Members of an occult group break into a pharmacy in the Mission to steal opium.

3. Nabokov’s Lolita. As Humbert Humbert travels the country with the nymphette Dolores Haze towards the end of the book, he gives a series of quick one-liners listing places they’ve visited. ‘Mission Dolores: good title for book,” he remarks self-deprecatorily.

Anything I’m missing?

Getting back to Roger Ebert for a sec, here’s a photo of him from 1970 where he actually looks a tad End-Uppy:

The Devil's Disciples

One of the best ideas I ever had in my life came to me in high school, moments after some crackpot on the street had handed me one of those Jack T. Chick religious tracks that everyone’s run across at some point. I specifically remember it was one called Dark Dungeons, a stern warning about the devilish evils of role playing games:

Anyway, my epiphany was to write to the address printed on the back and present myself as a high school teacher looking for religious materials to help me save my damned and unruly students. I used my high school’s address to make the teacher ruse more believable, and sat back and waited. A few weeks later, a box containing a motherlode of religious junk appeared, including…

  • a ton of those afteromentioned tracts
  • These great full-size comics called The Crusaders about two musclebound guys, Tim and James, who go around busting satanic plots in small towns and are always kneeling down and praying together on the floors of supermarkets and stuff like this. There’s homoerotic tension oozing out of every page, believe you me.
  • A lenghty hand-written letter (!) questioning the sincerity of my faith (it’s quite likely that my letter wasn’t entirely convincing, given that it was written by a stoned 15 year old).

But the crown jewel of this haul was a 345 page treatise called The Devil’s Disciples, written by one Jeffrey Godwin (one hopes this is a pen name), that purports to “rip to away the curtain of lies, ignorance and misconceptions about modern Rock music” and “show the Satan-worshipping world of Rock in all its sick and deceitful glory”:

In an appendix in the back, we’re informed by Godwin that he used to be a slavishly devoted metalhead before he saw the light and turned to God. The book is quite likely the funniest thing ever written, in large part due to Godwin’s prose style, which veers between wild hyperbole, leering hatred, snide condescension, pathetic gullibility and then — just when you’re thinking that the whole exercise is appallingly pitiful — unexpectedly lucid insight. Some examples…

Writing style:

“From a sneering, hip wiggling hillbilly named Elvis Presley to a blood drinking, bat biting maniac named Ozzy Osbourne, today’s Rock Stars have the full blessing of Satan in the work they do,” Godwin warns. And this is the second sentence in the book! Within the next two pages, rock music is characterized both as a “ravenous leech” and a “huge sprawling parasite”, performed by “male singers wearing heavy mascara and lipstick, fondling themselves while hissing demonic lyrics at a mesmerized audience.”

Frequently, the author gets so carried away condemning the musicians he hates that they come across as evil comic book super-villains. Still in chapter one, he delivers a scathing account of Altamont and the Rolling Stones’ (described in passing as ‘a band of depraved, drug addicted black magicians’) culpability in the disaster: “What were the Stones doing during this pandemonium? They simply continued playing as long as possible, coldly noting the chaos they had brought about, occasionally leering at one another“. [emphasis mine]. What an image!

Tragic Gullibility:

One thing that’s sad about this delightfully enjoyable book is how much the author gets taken for a ride by all the flash-in-the-pan nobody bands that were affecting a cheesy veneer of satanism in order to sell records to suburban teenage boys in the 80s. I mean, I can believe the Rolling Stones were devoted satanists… but PileDriver? Or Keel? Or jokers like Twisted Sister? Not so much.

There are a few not-so-menacing names that make it as far as Godwin’s countdown of Top 10 Most Satanic Bands Ever. Number four, for example, is Motley Crue: “A ragtag gang of foul mouthed and vulgar fornicators who openly brag of their detestable lifestyles, Motley Crue is Satan’s Pied Piper of the 80s, their siren call dragging thousands of fresh souls down the well-worn ruts of the Highway To Hell.” Yeah… in Tommy Lee’s dreams.

All in all, these parts just remind you more than anything else about how goofball mainstream metal mores were in the 80s until Nirvana restored some sense of seriousness.

(Number ten on Godwin’s public enemy list is the totally negligible W.A.S.P.)

Strange moments of lucidity:

Just when you think he’s gone totally off the rails, Godwin comes up with something strangely probable. Consider, for example, his explanation for the shooting of John Lennon: Lennon, in his telling, had dropped out of the Rock-n-Roll lifestyle by the mid-70s and was instead producing records like “Double Fantasy”, an album described as “a record filled with passionate devotion to wife and family”. In Godwin’s telling, Satan is now spurned and sends Mark Chapman after Lennon because the latter has gone off the reservation. In conclusion? “Lennon had outlived his usefulness as the Devil’s slave, and he ceast to exist”. There’s a certain logic to this– certainly, it’s more believable than ‘some random nut read too much JD Salinger and decided that Lennon needed to die.’

And, lastly, the chapter on Punks:

I can’t end this without mentioning the fantastic chapter on Punk rock (which Godwin believes in somehow tied in with England, socialism, and a determination on the part of the dark lord to overthrow capitalism). A few passages:

We remember to well what Punks and their music were like in the Seventies — a screaming, cursing, insane mob of monsters. Let’s take a look at Punk today.

Another simmering, steam-bath night is descending on Los Angeles in the sweltering summer of 1986…. In defoliated, bombed out suburbs like West Hollywood, the Punks, or “street survivors,” as they are also called…

Street survivors?

…. mass on the trashy sidewalks outside their favorite Rock & Roll clubs. California punks come from far and wide to join in Fascist sprees of Nazish violence and blood-letting, a feast of “slam dancing” that leaves many with broken bones, slashed faces and busted heads.

Some sections of Los Angeles have been completely taken over by Punks. Santa Monica Boulevard is a good example. The place is a nightmare in 3D, a living, breathing abomination, a riveting and horrible example of what thirty years of Rock & Roll has mutated and produced in our young people and our culture. If you ever drive through this area, keep your doors locked and your windows up.

Many Punk clubs here resemble fortresses with barred windows, heavy doors with peepholes and walls thick enough to repel any enemy invasion. People stand in the street, threatening passerby and harassing traffic. Others lounge on upturned garbage cans, or squat on the sidewalks, bored, waiting for some “action”.

I could really go on with this forever. But, time to sign off and go find some “action”.