Anthony Easton

22
Nov 05

Sarabeth–Rascall Flatts

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The woman (child) this song is named for, is dying. Nothing makes people feel sadder faster then a child dying (this time of leukemia) and people like Martina McBride have made whole careers out of it (download God’s Will for a rather awful example.

So having this song starting with diagnosis and ending with her dancing at the prom–one is reminded about Wilde on Dickens (One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.) But they pull it off, its not mawkish at all.

The song features plain detail, common speech, little detail, and a touch of clinicism (actually mentioning blood flow and surrival rates) The plainness, the lack of hand wringing, the complete and pure rigor moves away (in fact refutes) domestic melodrama.

I am shocked Rascal Flatts had it in them.

9
Nov 05

Trust me on This

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 357 views

You can tell that republicans are in the white house and borgies are making mad bank, because people are spending batshit money at auctions, esp. the american impressionist, modern and post war–but not the crazy conceptual stuff.

Whats the Matter with Normal

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 301 views

I have been of late reading monographs from famous transgressive photographers—Essays on Mapplethorpe, Nan Goldin’s I Will Be Your Mirror, Arbus’ Revelations, Wolfgang Tilman and a few others, and the work that chills/excites/moves/ me are not the ones that are supposed to, the nudists, the circus freaks, the fisting, the heroin addicts and the hard cocks—what is supposed to transgress has become boring.

Desire escapes, a limpid balloon on a line, and I want something else. The pictures that transgress for me, are the throw away shots, the super commercial work, the formal work, the photographs that are the closest to normal.

Mapplethorpe’s portraits from the 70s, including Patti Smith’s Horses, the sly and wise Ianna Sonnabend, Louis Bourgeois holding a phallus with a grin. All of the ones that look like they should be on the back page of disposable Catalogs, the well light and well designed skill of a Parson design graduate is soft, lapidary, exquisite, and much better then any man with his elbow up somebody’s arse. Or a scant 6 pages in the Nan Goldin volume, a two page spread of black trees and green grass taken out of a train window, on the way to Berlin and two shots broken horizontally, across a single page. One of fog bound skyscrapers in Kyoto and a medium close up of pink blossoms. The Arbus photos are the formal and well posed work with her husband at Vogue. Clear, concise, ripping away the rococo silliness of 50s pop, in black and white. Wolfgang Tilliman’s oranges, squash, tomatoes, on the window sill.

Think of it this way—each of these photographers have a public personae that assumes total honesty; an emotional frankness. They take pictures that are voyeuristic. But they are not honest, and they are not voyeuristic, they are carefully composed, surgically constructed to slice taboos, but the cleanness of the photos and blandness of something that is not supposed to be bland betrays. Think of the photos mentioned in the previous paragraph. They are commercial work, intended for other people, or tourist shots meant to pad a book, or playing with another genre. They are at a point, where the photographer says something that is unrelated to the construction of personae. Considering how rare that is, its surprising that they are not written about more often.

(Think about AA Breakfast by Tillman’s and what he really ate for breakfast. AA Breakfast is a sex act photographed high above the earth, on the way to England. It’s a nice penis. It is a well-composed shot, well light, with excellent tendencies towards colour. It’s also exactly the kind of photograph expected by consumers of Tillman’s and it is the work that got him famous. It is unrelated to the everyday, quotidian practice that marks the strength of the best work. The best work is another breakfast, one of muesli, yogurt, fruit, well light, and so close to a still life, not quite Northern.)

26
Oct 05

Good Ride Cowboy–Garth Brooks

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Memorial Tribute to Chris LeDoux and really interesting for a few reasons
1) It’s the second reference to chewing tobacco in the recent chart (Skoal Ring), that and the NY times quoting Bobby Bare about it…Which needs to be forgiven, because of documentary details (not that there is anything that needs to be forgiven here)
2) The theme of the song is really about how cowboy music is different from country, or to put it a different way, how what is played at rodeos is not the same as what is on the radio–the question of purity, or what is really country (ie the western swing here and what Brooks calls here: “the western underground”) is often argued b/w the Americana crowd and the radio crowd–and I mean Brooks can be nothing but a radio populist, but here he does hint at that difference, and I don’t think it has been talked about before…
3) He has for a long time had a really heavy hand for extended metaphor–this time, its a few words, and subtle ones at that–but it defines the western ethos as one not of independence or bullying, but of tenacity “when she starts to twist, hold on tight”
4) he says good ride cowboy–and reading Jane Dark’s blog, she points out that this sentiment needs to be uncoded by people who have spent time at rodeos:” though the loveliest part of this song is how the titular compliment stores its rodeo admiration not in the praise (you gotta say “good ride” to everybody, after all) but in the honorific. Not everyone gets to be a cowboy”
5) II’m glad that he is back.

24
Oct 05

Earwhigs

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Punk is always assumed to be about making a righteous noise as soon as possible…Politically engaged,nihilistic, angry, its speed and volume is inversely proportional to its craft.

The Earwhigs upend that. It is v.v. fast–7 songs in less then 7 minutes, and the sound is tubthumping (ie bass, drums, etc. There is a rawness here that maintains less craft means more purity.

For a bunch of suburban teenagers in a basement trying to break themselves out, they have an intense amount of goofy fun with the genres earnestness. They take pleasure in the muck of chaos.

I love the Earwhigs for the pop edge, the random modulations of voice and the hyper self aware deconstruction that is maintained at the same time as making a political message about boredom and exhaustion. They are capable and shrewd critics of the same things that are so forward and important to their work.

It reminds me of the best of Tape Mountains work from Portland, or Edna Walthorpe’s albums with the Pinefox or the ambiguity in the way James Kolchaka uses the word Rock.

I do not have a hard copy of the album, but I do have mp3s, and the one that I have included here is called “Your A Jerk and I don’t like you Like You” and it does tautology like no one else can.
Earwhigs%20-%20Youre%20a%20jerk.mp3

19
Oct 05

Will Oldham, Oldhat

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Every time I listen to Will Oldham these days I have a little less pleasure. I don’t know who said it first, but there was a long discussion of him as class tourism and mobility, and fake authentic, and how all of this was a very bad thing. How if we wanted to listen to Alan Lomax, we should go back to the big red box.

I have no idea why I believed this shit. I Listened to him again today, and his voice was as dark and moving as ever, his feeling was as deep and wide. Whether he is attempting to be poor, or geographicaly different, or stranger is of little consequence.

There is a meme in certain circles, that Lomax deserves less points, because he chose the least commercially available, the weirder music, to make an ideological point.

Maybe Lomax thought that pop would ever always be pop, and we would always have the mainstream stuff, and the work that needed to be preserved was the oddities. Oldham seems the opposite, and I’m glad for it.

15
Oct 05

kd lang—Dreams of An Everyday Housewife (From the Desperate Housewives Soundtrack)

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The first season of Desperate Housewives was interesting, well written and decently acted; the whole thing was a game to determine exactly how camp the producer was attempting to be. When it was nominated for Emmys in the Comedy category, it pretty much gave up any of its dramatic force.

So when the soundtrack came around, its tracks a sort of compendium of domestic pop of the last 25 years or so; there were very little surprises. Mostly country, and mostly mediocre, and frankly mostly unrelated to what desperate housewives worked as both melodrama and meta-satire of melodrama. It was a pretty banal collection. (I am willing to take arguments that the Macy Grey and the Sara Evans tracks are exceptions, but not as strong an exception as the brilliant kd lang.)

kd lang was always smarter then her material. She continues to be smarter then her material. She covers here, Glen Campbell’s Dreams of an Everyday Housewife. The way she constructs it, making it sound swoony and dangerous, attractive and banal, extending the whole thing as far as it can go, making it appear and disappear in a languor that can only be pharmaceutical (in fact much more self aware and much more pharmaceutical then Liz Phair covering Mothers Little Helper a few tracks up)….just like her album Drag was about gender, drugs, presentation and sex, this song is about gender, drugs, presentation and housework.

The best thing about this cover is that it fully recognizes, and works w/i the genre that the television is making. If Desperate Housewives is about figuring out the domestic in a post-feminist age (and I recognize how strange it is to write that, realizing that it was developed by a gay republican working while inspired by his mother), kd lang realizes the strangeness, isolation and prescriptive hyper femminity of this task and messes with it, plays with it, fucks it up royally.

She’s good at that.

3
Oct 05

State of Fact

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 297 views

Jenny Holzer’s latest project continues her move from texts written by herself to texts written by other people.

This time, for a few weeks in New York, she is scrolling excerpts from Abu Gharib Pentagon Reports, the 9/11 commission Report, and various poets; this scrolling occurs high up on various famous sky scrapers and is paid for by, among others the National Endowment for the Arts.

It strikes me as symbolic that Holzer is being paid to criticism capitalism, by capitalists on capitalist landmarks. I am not sure if this negates or deepens her institutional critique.

12
Sep 05

John Currin

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 398 views

I saw it from the corner of my eyes, in a story for the premiere issue of vogue:homme America, or what ever they are calling it. Surrounded by the usual, silly badly constructed grotesques the New York art world mistakes for finely crafted historically informed painting.

The painting of his son, 2 years old, is so warm and so pretty, so well constructed, so loose, and so confident that it is something new altogether. The toxic irony, the pathetic sadness of all history and no love has leeched out of him. One of the things about craft, is that it is useless if it is not placed next to context and emotion.

He keeps wanting to be part of a history of mannerism, the article talks about a hallway in his house that has two works facing each other—a Carruci from the 1590s, and a Picabo from the 1940s—the most over painted, over the top, mannerist work. He also talks of his bed, a reproduction of a reproduction of a mannerist disaster, and that is how is work seems, except for this largish picture of his kid.

Its loose, foreshortened, elegant, and beautiful. For the first time in my critical history with him, I see where everyone gets it. The man can paint like a motherfucker.

9
Aug 05

Ed Ruscha ‘s Swimming Pools

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In 1978, Ed Ruscha moved from single words or images to phrases. There has been much written about the koan clairty of the phrases, how much of America and Hollywood they compile in a few cryptic words. (I would recommend this elegant examanation by Elaine Equi: http://jacketmagazine.com/25/equi-rusch.html).

There is one though that has haunted me for days. It has a wide aqua field with undalting white patches. It looks better then Hockney, for example, because there was something unreal/surreal/subreal about his swimming pools, with this field it looks as if its august and you are pushing yr body thru the water.

This is even more important–the phrase that rides on top the wave:

FIND
CONTACT
LENS AT
BOTTOM OF
SWIMMING
POOL

The shape of the words is rectangular, like a little raft. The lack of puncation means that we do not know if this is a commandment or an interogative or something else. The words are white, like they are painted on the deep end at the same time as floating above–stable and unstable, in stasis.

Then that sentence, think of it as a Robert Townes update on Amazing Grace. I once was blind/but now can see. But it’s an impossible task isn’t it, seeing a clear object in 1000 cubic feet of water ? Anyways, do contact lenses float or sink? So it is more like I once was blind/now I see/then I was blind/now can I see? This is the whole of Ruscha–giving us basic and banal questions, and telling us no answers.

I assume that the narrative behind this is of loss, a meloncholia mourning and a sort of blind panic. I lost my contact less at the bottom of the pool, and I can’t fucking see–help me, HELP ME. But maybe thats becasue i’m blind, and i panic. There are ways of reading this, of burma shave bemused, of resigned laconic, of something else entirely.

All we know is the contact lens and the swimming pool.