Posts from April 2004
Its about a girl whose boy has gone to Los Angeles,
with Prada stores and electric cars, and about the
worries that correspond to that move–namely “I don’t want to
lose you to LA.
But the thing is is not really about LA. Its about
not wanting to lost country values–of love, fiedilty,
patrotism,and vehicles that run on gasoline. She does not
want to lose the All American foot ball hero to a sissified
eunuch who cares more about hair products then anything else.
Maybe its something else to, maybe its something more meta. Think
of it as losing country music to LA, from the roughhewn Nashville
to the slick and over produced sheen of studio productions.
There has been a move of these songs about Nashville selling out, and they have
moved from the outside in. It started with the outlaw alt insurgents, Robbie Fulks
singing Fuck This Town, Hank III singing Dick in Dixie and Cunt in Country,
then slowly inward, the worn out George Strait remaking his career with Murder on
Music Row, and then in Canada at least Chris Cummings They’re Making Singers
out of Cowboy Hats—Fulks and Hank had banjos, mandolins, it was honly tonk
at its most pure, George Strait still had steel guitars. Chris Cummings
dropped most of the musical signifers, but wasn’t nearly as plastic
as Shania Twains Def Lepperd Light.
What’s interesting is this song is the most pop, the most jangly, the least country
musically i have heard. Its a family band, and that doesn’t really happen
anywhere else anymore and it cares about the issues of persevation, so
the code is country and the theme is country…which means the desire to return to
a non fallen state has become so ubqituoius that the words don’t need to
Exotic indelicacies #2: Wintergreen Tic Tacs
It was seven in the morning, I had had maybe four hours’ sleep. I suddenly realised that it’s good to have some sweeties to suck when you’re plane’s taking off. It helps your ears pop, or something.
Not for me the sane option of wandering along to the little newsagents with their proud selection of boiled sweets. Much better, I thought, to go to the little caff, they’d be sure to have some. I was right: a packet of spearmint greenish Tic-Tacs. New! It said. 30% Larger Mints! More ENJOYABLE FRESHNESS.
Not until I boarded the plane did I check the flavour. I assumed it would be OK: wintergreen must be some sort of mint, yes? Even if it’s not, it’ll be some yummy sweet flavour.
No. Wintergreen Tic-Tacs taste of Deep Heat. Not the worst thing I’ve ever tasted, but very close. Deep Heat sucking sweets or painful, un-popped ears? You choose.
The Apple Stretching (WWIISINY, part the second)
Here you are then: more of the same (only different).
5. Jim Lambie: Mental Oyster (Anton Kern )
Good old Jimbo Lambie, he’s doing here what he does best, taping up the floor so it’s all eyeball-scrambling op-installation and then planting grubby / intriguing bits and bobs around the place. Here’s a varnished mattress and there are a pair of trousers, rock-hard with glitter and glue (he did that with a pair of pants in Oxford’ have I spotted a transatlantic quip?). This time he’s put up (and taped up) these little extrusions from the floor, meaning not everything is visible at once. Not much new ground covered, but when the ground is covered this entertainingly, how could it be wrong?
Also: Mental Oyster!
I know it’s cheating because it’s a proper famous museum and it’s not even in Chelsea but I thought it was worth mentioning for a curatorial masterstroke. Singular Forms is a minimalism show and is tremendous if that’s your sort of thing. It’s mine. Better still, halfway along the Guggenheim’s spiral ascent (actually a descent if you’re a lazy lift-using top-starter like me) is a small show of futurism based around the Boccioni. It’s brilliant: just as you’re beginning to think that you might have seen enough white squares on a white background, there’s this blast of painterly intensity. Each show enriches the other. Top work, Goog!
3. David Stephenson: Cupolas (Julie Saul Gallery)
Simple and smart: Antipodean photography professor travels the world photographing domes’ innards. He uses long exposures to ensure that the subjects are lit using the light sources provided architecturally. As Jonesy said, it’s all in the cropping: each one is deadly centred and the series strikes you as a series of abstracts dealing in crazy geometry and dashes of colour. And they’re pretty!
2. Ray Beldner: Counterfeit (Caren Golden)
More classics reproduced: Beldner has re-fashioned classic works of modernism and pop from real actual dollar bills. The green-on-green Lichtenstein ‘The Melody Haunts My Reverie’ looks fantastic in its own right, as do the Carl Andr’ tiles. The real winner, though is the Felix Gonzalez-Torres knock-off. It’s a pile of sweets in the corner of the room, each painstakingly wrapped in a dollar. There’s a sign inviting patrons please not to take one.
1) Vito Acconci 1969 ‘ 1973 (Barbara Gladstone)
Vito’s a nutter.
That’s probably not fair at all, but this retrospective of Vito’s work shows him placing himself in various embarrassing or uncomfortable or absurd situations. Read VA’s account of following a series of innocent folks around all day and documenting their every move! See VA bite his own arm so hard and for so long that he leaves an upsetting impression (marvel at the Acconci fan who asked for the same treatment and then had the marks tattooed on). There’s more, and nastier, and worse (better).
This stuff reminds me of work of a similar age by the great UK conceptualist Stephen Willats and by Art and Language, mostly I suppose as a result of the obsessive documentation, and how the documentation looks: increasingly scrappy 1970s xeroxes, yellowing photos. I love the way these artefacts look now, like intense messages from a parallel world. Yet where A&L took on politics, aesthetic and academia, and Willatts concerned himself with art in its relationship to society (perhaps more properly sociology), Acconci’s all about the personal. His work, even at its most absurd, is oddly affecting. The two Anglos in there (me and Pumpkin Pete) were the only ones laughing.
I didn’t have forever to look at this: I wished it was showing in London, where I’d have had the chance to live with it for a while.
What was it I saw in New York?
I’ve been to New York, you know. I went to look at some art in Chelsea, or perhaps the Meatpacking District (the latter sounds so unromantic, but then it’s hard to warm to anything named Chelsea). I set off with the ambition of limiting myself to around 25 galleries, having frazzled myself with about 50 last time I was over. I didn’t do so badly: I ended up visiting 35-40 I suppose. It’s so hard to resist a gallery when it’s right there in front of you. Anyway, I made a top ten list for my friends of the bits & pieces I most recommended. Counting down’
10. Natalie Charkow Hollander: Reliefs In Stone (Lohin Geduld Gallery)
I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for classic art reproduced: I particularly liked the Poussins and Titians roughly hacked out of breeze block sized lumps of marble, and the fact that the marble ended up looking like plastic. The Twelve Mythological Views (After Poussin) looked like high art packed up and sold cheap, though I’m sure these wouldn’t be cheap by my standards’
9. Jon Routson: ‘Recordings’ (Team)
‘That’s not art!’ objected Ally C when I was banging on about this, and my little heart sang almost as loudly as my overfull post-diner belly. Routson takes his camcorder into fleapits and films films. You can take the opportunity to watch some or all of various top releases here, as long as you don’t mind variable colour, variable focus, people getting up and obscuring the picture. It’s ‘about’ the experience of watching and the status of works of art in the age of mechanical reproduction (snappy line, eh?), I think. It seems cheeky. I hope, really hope, Routson manages to sell lots of these.
8. Dieter Roth: Prints and Multiples (Matthew Marks)
Some handsome printmaking here, for certain, but this is included primarily for the set of four double-hung lithos of a single image: a set of London buses (Routemasters, saddos) going through Piccadilly Circus. Each was variously obscured with superimposed colour and each, I could dream, featured the number 12 bus which goes to my house.
7. Martin Honert: (Matthew Marks)
A set of more-or-less pop sculptures which seem to circle around the broad subject of disappointed dreams. I was most taken with the first piece you see: in a gauzy picture hung in the middle of the room, a boy is fashioning a fabulous city from sand. On the room’s floor, a busted-up sandcastle which can’t ever have been up to much anyway. What fun!
6. Allan McCollum and Matt Mullican: ‘Your Fate’ (Christine Burgin)
In which the chaps seem simultaneously to be taking the mickey out of clairvoyants and spooking themselves (and us). They’ve devised a set of 25 dice, each with a single blocky (and rather attractive) image. You’re to throw the dice and, according to where they land, your fate will be foretold. Lord knows that after a stint of between 35 and 40 galleries I was up for a bit of play. But then I looked at the set of symbols framed but obscured with black felt and I ran away.
Leeds fans have plenty of things to worry about, and the new kit is another small straw on the back. Seemingly based on the forgotten 90s fashion principle of Global Hypercolour, the kit changes colour according to its wearer’s body temperature: great to see who is doing their bit on the pitch, less flattering perhaps to the ‘better-built’ fan on a hot day…
According to Hollywood (which is of course where we should get all knowledge from) all the Nazi’s did in World War II was send out troops of soldiers to get involved with all sorts of occult rituals to help Hitler win. At least in Indiana Jones Hitler was after godly relics to help him win. In Hellboy (the name is a clue) Hitler was after help from the Dark Lords of Chaos. Well, he was using Rasputin to summon them Just to add to the ridiculous historical melange.
Perhaps Hellboy as a film fancies itself as a subtle addition to the nature vs nurtue argument. Will the bright red, satanic, behorned child grow up to be good or evil. Well, if you christen him Hellboy instead of – say – Dave, you might be loading the cards against him. However since he is our titular heroic character, and saves kittens, there really is no suspense at all on that issue. Instead we have a low rent X-Men clone (fish bloke, sets herself on poor CGI fire girl) and plenty of up in the air dangling subplots.
And more battles with unkillable opponents. (Here there is every suggestion that Rasputin will yet again find a way to be resurrected and the Lord Of Chaos haven’t exactly gone away. Nor for that matter did the half hundred monsters in the New York Subway.)
Pepys, Dostoevsky, and Skinner: John Sutherland’s imprimatur means this Streets piece can leave the callow lowlands of NYLPM and be linked on the Wedge instead. My major problem with the article – aside from Sutherland’s reading of the narrative which I’m not sure I agree with – is the continual use of “underclass”. Ben Thompson in the Observer Music Monthly rightly pounced on “Think I’m ghetto? Stop dreaming” as a (the?) key Streets line. Not having fifty quid in your account doesn’t make you “underclass”; nor does being keen on a burger. Skinner’s appeal is way less vicarious than Sutherland suggests.
(You can’t win, though – on an ILM thread one nay-sayer posited that people will excuse any old shite as long as it speaks to ‘their culture’.)
… PAINTS A THOUSAND ERS … The writing in Girl with a Pearl Earring was so awful – and Scarlett Johanson’s word-swallowing mumble so unremitting – that Dr Vick and I began speculating if it wasn’t a ploy of some kind: “We want NOTHING to detract from the loveliness of our scene-by-scene recreations of Vermeer’s paintings…” What, not even the wall-to-wall blandness of address, stupidity of execution and contrivedness of pretext? Not even the fact that every single relationship in this TERRIBLE film was off-register – obviously its director won’t have met many 17th-century dutchfolk, but surely he has occasionally encountered SOME HUMAN BEINGS SOMEWHERE!!?? The idea’s not bad – the making of a masterpiece, and how compromised and contradictory its actual genesis might have been; the domestic politics of an artists’s household when a patron’s must be serviced – but I’ve seen the topic of the jealousy of artist’s wife for artists’s model done (way) more incisively in a made-for-TV Hercules Poirot!! Colin Firth as Vermeer was a vacant blob (as usual); S.Johanson’s pale gobliny face was bizarrely incompetently directed (she was allowed to – or asked to – smile her little private-joke smile all the time, but the whole thrust of the story was that she DIDN’T know what was going on); everyone else was made to look red-faced ugly or red-faced unlikeable or both. The only cliffhanger came where it looked as if SJ (as the maid) was going to start doing some of one of Vermeer’s best-known paintings for him – which wd have been an excellent, amusing, anti-reverential twist – but no, it wz just more unreadable business leading nowhere. Not a single Dutch name is pronounced right (Vick is inured to this in the UK but said this was abnormally useless and lazy…wd an arthouse movie be so cavalier w.French?) The music is a direct rip of one of Wong Kar Wai’s films (I think Chungking Express). It was always kind of obvious this film was going to be dreadful: as a result I wz fighting quite hard to find a way to like it. But all my hard-mustered contrarian perversity failed me.
This reputedly shifted a million copies, not an easy thing to do even when the singles market in Britain is booming. If you do manage it it’s down to one of two things – either you’ve united the British pop-buying market in approval, or you’ve managed to break out of it and get people who don’t generally buy singles (or even records!) to pick up your disc.
Clearly “Dustman” achieved the latter – reaching out to a broad audience of music-hall nostalgics and variety-show fans. The music-hall was dying if not dead by 1960, having hit a steep decline with the rise of the cinema. Shorn of the audience’s boozing and flirting, the ribald style of music hall was kept alive by light entertainment – the winking not-quite-naughtiness you hear on this record was still a going concern when I was a child, showing up every time some interminable, deferential Royal Variety Performance reached a musical number. When I first heard “Dustman”, that was the context I immediately fitted it to – its roaring audience for me will perpetually include a gin-pickled Queen Mum.
In 1960 it would hopefully have seemed fresher – surely the million owners of the record will have given the thing more plays than I can stand to (An unbridgeable cultural gap is summoned up in the delighted squeal from one audience member when Donegan says “flippin'” at 0’31”). Unlike, say, George Formby’s big hits, “Dustman” in 2004 is a remorselessly unfunny record. Donegan was a natural showman but his sledgehammer timing here is pretty excruciating – the pause before every punchline which is further telegraphed by i) being sung in a ‘dirty’ voice that sounds a bit like Roland Rat, ii) gouts of audience hysterics. Formby, to continue the slightly unfair comparison, delivers his punchlines straight, moves smoothly into the next verse and leaves the audience a split-second to work out by themselves just how filthy he’s being.
Donegan can fairly be accused of making an awful record – the sniffy charge of ‘selling out’ that hangs around “Dustman” is easier to counter. Donegan’s affinity with music hall was always apparent – the ‘two old ladies’ bit of “Cumberland Gap”; the whole of “Putting On The Style”. It was hardly surprising that he’d try his hand at more straightforward comedy numbers: the only shame is that “Dustman” is more awkward and has less wit than any of his skiffle hits.
If anyone (ideally anyone who I see fairly regularly) has a copy of George Melly’s Revolt Into Style I could borrow, I would be very grateful. I would take very good care of it! It seems to be out of print at the moment and the asking price on Amazon is a horrid £25! Leads on cheaper copies also appreciated. Thanks!
(UPDATE: Thanks to an extremely generous reader this is on its way to being sorted out! I wuv the Interweb.)