Saturday, October 28, 2006


Briefly, as if I want to go swimming today I have to leave in ten or so minutes. I'm writing this blog because the format suits me and because it gives me a means of procrastination that feels not entirely unproductive (because, I'm, like, you know, thinking through things, and shit). I often wonder, however, just how much of a tree-falling-in-the-woods effort this is. So, if you read this, please let me know. Danke shoen.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


Went to a program of short animated films by Adam Beckett at the Siskel today. Beckett's five films in the program (he only completed six before dying in a fire at age 29), were all kinds of amazing. They were at their best when they were least psychedelic, a compulsive rotation of evolving shapes and patterns, some of which felt downright heroic for their ingenuity and the pencil hours it must have taken to produce them. The films were paired with other abstract/weird animations curated by Jim Trainor, including Oskar Fischinger's Motion Painting #1, which I'll never tire of seeing. There's a pseudo festival of animation around the city this weekend, including an appearance from Naomi Uman (which I can't make it to, unfortunately). I'm definitely going to the Sunday afternoon program of films by Robert Breer and his daughter (whose films are fantastic, by the way) Emily.


Watched Michael Snow's Wavelength the other night for a class (on 16mm, other screenings this week: Weekend and Herzog's The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser). Can't get it out of my head, really, although I'm not really sure how to describe it. Fascinating, and I think I've starting to get a handle on what exactly fascinates me about it, but it's hard. So much of film analysis is based on the concrete and tangible (form in service of narrative, of theme, of argument), that switching over to something that doesn't articulate any sort of argument, in which narrative might as well be nonexistent, and in which the theme is ambiguous at best, can feel utterly alien. They're often described in terms of technique, much like painting or sculpture, but that's most definitely outside my own area of expertise, if you can call it an expertise. What I like about it is what's been occupying a lot of my brain, or at least that portion that fantasizes about what I will one day (soon) be studying instead of actually doing any studying: the way that space and distance are coded, particularly how they're infused with so much substance and significance by the oh-so-slow zoom in. And then there's the resolution, that final transporting image that the film spends 45 minutes explaining as an image (a photograph on the wall constantly at the center of the frame), but that functions, somehow, as a "real" escape from the confines of the room.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Randomness and Alternative Time Usage (aka Harder Better Faster Blogger)

Have a lot of work to catch up on over the weekend. Lots and lots, much of it dense psychoanalytic theory. I have to admit that I giggle occasionally at some of the assertions, which have abstracted themselves from experiential or observational analysis so much as to seem ridiculous on first glance, second glance too. A Lacanian's specialty, as I understand it from the little I understand of recent psychoanalytic criticism.

I really want to get Lynne Tillman's new book, American Genius. I know nothing about it except for that kickass title. I of course have no time for leisure reading right now, and have several large piles of books that I've been planning on reading one of these, with a not-all-that-small pile of "nightstand books" (quotation marks as in, I don't have an actual nightstand, just two cardboard boxes piled on top of each other) that I've been "planning on reading next" for who knows how long. As with several of my other favorite authors, Tilmman's books, no matter how much ridiculously gushing praise they get, are released in paperback only - good for me, the poor, broke grad student who feeds all his money into the library printers, but it would be nice if the author of No Lease on Life got a little respect from the industry.

The Kleptones have two albums available for download from their website (, neither of which I was aware of. Steven Shaviro turned me on to the Kleptones' Night at the Hip-Hopera on his blog, The Pinocchio Theory ( So far, the two post-Hip-Hopera albums seem to be more conventional mash-ups, in the a+b=c format (of course adding sprinklings of d, e, f). Night at the Hip-Hopera collapsed a veritable history of hip hop into the collected works of Queen, interesting conceptually in a fundamental way, for its play with issues of race and masculinity (in addition to playing black music in an extremely white way, Queen were swaggering poster boys of leather-bound masculinity, with a small but relevant secret - now juxtapose that with hip hop; Shaviro covers similar ground much more eloquently on his blog, by the way). 24 Hours, the album I'm currently listening to, is certainly energetic and always keeps the mix surprising and clever, and definitely has something to say (lots about money, especially; also quotes McCluhan more than once, with the "all-at-onceness" line sample standing out very early on disc 1 - not sure, but that may come from Waking Life). The standout track so far is "Daft Purple," a mash of my second favorite Daft Punk song, "Harder Better Faster Stronger" and Deep Purple's "Fireball," along with a "Money" interlude, some Jethro Tull, something by a rapper named Hijack, and the aforementioned McCluhan alongside dialogue from The Breakfast Club, and more, I'm sure. I've heard that Daft Punk song dozens of times, but had never figured out that it was an ironic endorsement of company life, of buying into and living for the system. I'd always just assumed it was about dancing. Vocodered Frenchmen aren't all that easy to understand, so I have an excuse.

Still haven't gotten sick of Wild Honey, or Love You. Trying to pick a favorite Sonic Youth song, for time-wasting purposes, realized that Rather Ripped's Jams Run Free is most definitely in the running. Possibly on the bill for next monday, JLG's Passion plus... wait for it... JLG's jeans commercials, a dozen of them. Jeans, by Jean-Luc Godard. I'm sure he made himself utilise prostitution as a metaphor for the capitalist system in his next feature as penance. Saw Psycho on 35mm last Monday for a class, had to skip Sauve qui peut (la vie) in order to do so. It was fucking great. The little bit of theory I've read so far this year has focused so heavily on Hitchcock that I feel increasingly aware of what to look for in his films, and am consistently surprised to find his films even more meticulously crafted than even the theorist's give him credit for (or deny him credit for, depending on what you're reading). There's always more to look for in a Hitchcock film. Which is good, because we've already watched four Hitchcocks, and we're supposed to have watched Strangers on a Train three times, and I have to do a detailed analysis of The Lady Vanishes that will require three full viewings at least and a shot-by-shot deciphering of a scene. It's a lot of Hitchcock to take in all at once, but better him than just about anyone else, I suppose. It was Kristi's birthday on Thursday, and in addition to a surprise package still on its way, I've been cheerily spending time making birthday mixes. I have to watch myself, though, because I'm making her a whole box set of mixes (7 and counting), and as I run out of my original ideas for a Mix For Kristi, I drift into my own tastes more and more, and lately those are running towards the darker, more dissonant, skronk end of the semi-popular music spectrum.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Beach Boys love you

I've been listening compulsively to post-Smile(y Smile) Beach Boys for the past couple days, particularly the albums Wild Honey and Love You. The former is a sparkling little gem, much more rocking than anything the group had done before, with a distinct r&b swing to it. The soft and bittersweet prettiness of Pet Sounds left behind for something that is perhaps less distinct, and, indeed, the sound calls less attention to itself as a "sound" and acts primarily in support of the songwriting (rather than being an integral part of the songwriting process, or vice-versa). But the songs are irresistible. With 11 songs, each lasting less than three minutes and several clocking in at under two, the disc is brief, and it feels slight: the layered harmonizing has been pushed into the background, and there's a general absence of Pet Sounds' deeply felt adolescent questioning. It's possibly most famous as being the first Beach Boys album on which Brian Wilson didn't write all the songs - but "Kokomo" this ain't; the 1:58 "How She Boogalooed It" is a nice little palate cleanser that leans more on its rhythm than its melody and works just fine as such. As Robert Christgau puts it, there isn't "a bad second" on the album, with each song whittled down to the most basic nuggets of pop perfection, which applies to the sonic as well as compositional qualities of the music. With both this and Love You (and much of the 70s output), Brian and whoever else was sitting in the mixing room (and there was somebody else sitting in the mixing room) shifted the focus to the production, rather than the performance, and it's all for the best. The instruments, electronic and otherwise, feel much more integral to their music than they ever had before, and the slightly off-key, not-quite-harmonic singing is mixed until it sounds pretty damn good and actually on pitch. And that's not because they were becoming better singers.

For what it's worth, Love You is a masterpiece as well, even if it feels like a sort of last stand for Brian Wilson - and it would be, as Wilson's last moment of undeniable musical genius until Smile (which I've also been listening to lately). The music is brilliant, reaching back to Wilson's earliest style of songwriting (but, again, with superior 70s production - and I do think the 70s production is superior), but the lyrics are what make the album most memorable, not in a good way. If 60s songs like "God Only Knows" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice" come from a a young man's anxieties and uncertainties about growing up, Love You seems to come from an adult who hasn't quite gotten it right. Every word on the album is painfully sincere, but whether they're singing about Johnny Carson's greatness, the planets of the Solar System or awkardly processed adult relationships ("pat, pat, pat her on the butt, butt, butt/she's almost asleep") it can be a little embarassing. It seems to be a missive from Wilson on a slide downhill, an attempt at the warmth and love (for girls girls girls, for surfing, for cars, for teenage life) he once wrote about that now seems out of place, or somehow mis-placed, at least in an adult, mature world. But the music is buoyant, joyful and immensely enjoyable. And songs like "Mona" and "Roller Skating Child" are just as catchy as "Help Me Rhonda" and "I Get Around," really they are. And to add to the hyperbole, I'd go so far as to say that song for song, recording for recording, Wild Honey is up to the level of any pre-Pet Sounds greatest hits collection you could put together. Brian Wilson just wasn't made for those/these times, unfortunately. And it is unfortunate, but also lends a great deal of poignancy to the whole of the Beach Boys' output. That vague sense of out-of-place-ness infuses Wild Honey and Love You as much as it does Pet Sounds, giving even the silliest lyric a resonance that reaches down into your gut.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


I've been swimming a lot lately. It's calming in a nicely repetitive way, like riding a bike, or mowing the lawn. I'm starting to get pretty good, and have usually been able to keep up with even the serious-looking swimmers to the sides of me - until two days ago, when the girl next to me who may or may not have had an invisible rocket strapped to her back, kept gliding by me at what seemed to be twice my speed. She was going as fast or faster than I was even when she was using a kickboard (i.e. no hands). I shrugged it off, as she appeared to be one giant muscle in the shape of a small-ish redhead, except that other people in the pool seemed to be going faster than me as well. Same thing yesterday. Now, it's not that big a deal, except that when people are blowing by you, you really become aware of your own lack of speed and the large number of laps you have to do to make swimming a worthwhile exercise - well, each one feels long, and each set of ten feels longer, and then each half mile takes forever. Maybe I just need to focus more. That would make sense, I have been having trouble focusing for the course readings. In that case, though, I just figured that laziness was the culprit.

I won't be swimming for a couple days, at least until I can find new trunks. My once dark green swimming trunks - which had, thanks to repeated exposure to the most poisonously chlorinated water I've ever swam in, turned a sort of peach-y color - developed a tiny hole on one of the legs. I had to cut my laps short yesterday, as somehow that tiny hole had developed into a gigantic rip. I slammed the shorts into the locker room trash can, and I'm pretty sure that I had a frustrated and/or perturbed look on my face as I was doing it.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Or maybe fatigue, who knows. I'm two weeks in to the quarter and already behind. The reading keeps piling higher and higher, but it's all interesting, with much of it being very interesting. Movies to watch, articles to read, hair to get cut, hopefully can squeeze some swimming in there - it doesn't help that the sheer amount of extracurriculur activities is so staggering, especially now that the CIFF is stacked on top of the normal great film programming on campus and around town. I get the feeling that I'm not drinking enough, just in terms of trying to fit in among my fellow Chicagoans. To watch: Rebecca (at the Film Studies Center), Strangers on a Train (again), Vertigo (Monday, on film), Syndromes of a Century (CIFF), also the TWO Apichatpong Weerasethakul shorts programs next week, Invisible Waves (CIFF), Taxidermia (CIFF), Climates (CIFF), hopefully Griffith's Intolerance, Shadow of a Doubt, and My Sex Life, or How I Got Into an Argument, my three Netflix films that are only sorta kinda related to coursework, and can be watched at any time. I've gotten nothing done today, though. And I'm going to give myself just a little bit more nothing, just for a little while longer.

The story of Yo La Tengo

Saw Yo La Tengo at the Vic last night. My favorite band - I realized a couple weeks ago that I did actually have an answer for the "what's your favorite band?" question - puts on one hell of a show. As much as I love them, I'd never really noticed Ira Kaplan's guitar god status. Even their ten-plus minute noise-groove digressions rocked pretty goddamn hard, for the whole ten-plus minutes. The slow songs were painfully pretty, in their signature not-quite-ecstatic way. (To be a little purple - blue? - YLT's feedback-radiating grooves are structured as almost tantric sublimations of that pop music, hook-driven tendency towards ecstatic melodic resolutions, directing the pop instinct inwards on itself instead of outwards towards the feet and hips; it occurred to me not long ago that YLT is actually a groove band, except that they're the least funky - er, whitest, New Jersey-ist - groove band ever.) Their live sound was remarkably similar to their album sound(s), with the only noticeable difference being the total dominance of the strings over the keyboards. There were four instruments used on stage - guitar, bass, keyboards, drums - and both James and Ira played all four, Georgia played at least three (didn't notice if she played the bass as well, although she very well could have).

After nine well-played songs, including a quick and perfect "Stockholm Syndrome," they sent the crowd screaming when they tore up "Cherry Chapstick," followed by "Watch Out For Me Ronnie" and "I Should Have Known Better," the most energetic tracks of their 60s-inflected new album. The set's high point carried over into the next song, a transcendent "Tom Courtenay" (electric, sung by Ira). Three and a half minutes of blissful heaven. "The Story of Yo La Tango"[sic], their latest album-ending rave up and maybe their poppiest, brought the house down, starting off slow and swirly and suddenly surging forward with that driving energy they manage to keep up for the full however many minutes.

Their last song before the encores was Painful's marathon groove finale "I Heard You Looking." During Ira's guitar/noise/feedback performance, he got as theatrical as Yo La Tengo gets, going so far as to wave his guitar in the air - a cliched rock'n'roll move, to be sure, until I figured out instead that he was directing it towards and around the speakers, trying to orchestrate the speaker feedback (which he did amazingly well, as if he's been doing it for decades).

The band played three encores, with the third coming because they wanted to convene backstage to discuss their final song selection (they opened it up to the audience to decide between three tracks from Fakebook, and ended up with "Yellow Sarong" - a decision my own yelling and screaming had a little something to do with). Their encores were mainly covers, the only other one I recognized was "Speeding Motorcycle" - chosen by audience request, by which I mean there was one guy standing near me who was screaming "Screaming Motorcycle!!!" throughout the show.

And if anyone hasn't seen their classic "Sugarcube" video, I just want to say "I love you, YouTube."'

One of their encore selections they chose because their "friend Mark" (Kozelek?) was in the audience, which I'm assuming he wrote. On another, a Dream Syndicate cover, they brought another Rick Rizzo, who they'd "been playing with since before most of you were born."

Oh, and somebody - the "Speeding Motorcycle" guy, maybe - yelled out "I love you Georgia." Ira ignored him until he yelled it again, then looks up from the drums (he and Georgia were playing drums in tandem) and says: "Not as much as me."

How can you not love this band?

In case anyone is curious, now that I have an iPod I'm able to keep track of what I'm listening to the most. After the break, a short list of most-playeds.

Belle and Sebastian - I'm a Cuckoo
D.N.A. - Blonde Redhead
Orange Juice - Rip It Up
Flipper - Generic (full album, "Ever" most of all)
They Might Be Giants - Doctor Worm
The [English] Beat - Save It For Later
The Box Tops - Soul Deep
Yo La Tengo - River of Water
Cut Chemist - Lesson 4: The Radio
Brian Eno - The Big Ship
Otis Redding - Cigarettes and Coffee
Kelly Clarkson - Since U Been Gone
X - Adult Books
The Blue Hearts - Linda Linda
Double Dee + Steinski - Lesson 1 (The Payoff Mix)
Michael Hurley/The Unholy Modal Rounders - Griselda
Sonic Youth - Sunday
Kraftwerk - Trans Europa Express
Husker Du - Sorry Somehow
Bob Dylan - Workingman's Blues