Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for December, 2009

In His Way, Yes: RIP Vic Chesnutt

December 28th, 2009

If you care you probably already know about Vic Chesnutt’s death over the holidays, at the age of 45. I first heard of him when a tribute album was organized to help pay the wheelchair-bound (from a drunk-driving accident in his teens) singer’s medical bills in the mid-1990s. But those financial burdens only got heavier over the years, with Chesnutt reported to have owed $70,000 in hospital fees at the time of his death - which happened to coincide exactly with the passage of the defanged U.S. health-care-reform bill in the Senate. Whether the new legislation could have provided someone in Chesnutt’s situation any “sweet relief” I can’t say, though I am inclined to doubt it, and judging by the timing of his apparent suicide, perhaps he did too, although speculation on what is sounding in the depths of someone’s heart when they take these desperate measures is really out of bounds.

I could rhapsodize for days about what a fascinating songwriter Chesnutt was. While he was more than capable of crapping out or trifling with his own talent - and even that said something about his fearlessness - his strongest moments offered this unusually philosophical music that reminds me of the aphorisms of E.M. Cioran (the author of books such as The Trouble with Being Born), who wrote, “Melancholy redeems this universe, and yet it is melancholy that separates us from it.” But Chesnutt’s was, unlike Cioran’s excoriate-the-cosmos Romanian po’face, a southern-gothic existentialism that also partook of moments of transcendence in which the same things that make life intolerable also make it worthy of the love that pokes its crooked nose out between the bars of his songs - songs that find the pungency in a pun and heroism in just squinting hard enough to see your way clear to survival. … Most of the time.

The video above was made just a month ago, which makes it hard to endure, the thought that all that liveliness could be so suddenly given up and gone.

PS: His close friend Kristin Hersh (ex-Throwing Muses) provides a Paypal link to donate to Chesnutt’s family, along with her own moving tribute.

News Flash: The End of “Final Fantasy”

December 18th, 2009

I’m on deadline at the paper right now but wanted to share this with you right away: A press release just received from For Great Justice Records, home of Final Fantasy Owen Pallett. I’ve thought changing the name would be a good idea for a long while, mainly because it makes his stuff so hard to find online (I realize the recent trend to neutral single-word-noun band names is partly about making yourself Google-slippery as an anti-commercial, anti-surveillance-age gesture, but as a guy with a Google-challenging name, I also know what a pain in the ass it can be). But it also sounds as though some legal pressure came to bear.

(Later): In related news, “Issa” (who plays Hugh’s Room this weekend) has decided to change her name back to Jane Siberry. What with Bill Callahan now performing as Bill Callahan and Lou Barlow as Lou Barlow, it seems like the day of the bandonym may be dimming (although of course there are still plenty of younger ones out there, such as St. Vincent and Wavves). Perhaps that’s a good thing? As Franklin Bruno wrote in a little rant in October on why he doesn’t use a bandonym, which I chose not to take as a personal rebuke of the Pop Conference paper I wrote on the subject a few years ago: “If you disdain me before you know anything about me because I’m not bearing the mark of cool, it is as well that I don’t know you, and that you don’t know my music. If you can’t figure out that an individual who records pseudonymously may be implicated in all manner of objectionable (or not) Romantic self-expression, and that one who does not may not admit of any direct equivalence between the ‘I’ of songs and the person who happens to be performing them, then, again, it is well that, etc. Also, good luck with fiction and poetry. Should one at this point exclaim ‘but the self is fragmented/decentered/illusory,’ I reply: Perhaps, but if so, then this is the case whether or not I fuck about with self-presentation. “Franklin Bruno” may well be held together with spittle and memories, but this is so, and is reflected (or not) in the work, quite independently of whether or not he goes to the trouble of rebranding himself Ziggy McPersona.” So there’s that.

Owen’s new album about the fictional world of Spectrum and the “young, ultra-violent farmer” who lives there comes out Jan. 12.

Friends,

I began playing solo violin shows in 2004. Although it was essentially a solo project, I named the band Final Fantasy, as the experience - and the tone of the material - was reminiscent of the hours and hours I had spent as an adolescent playing those epic JRPGs.

But the laws of trademark infringement exist for good reason, and so I am voluntarily retiring my band name. In the new year, my record Heartland is coming out, and it is my first to be released in many territories, including Japan. With this in mind, I feel it is in my own best interests to definitively distinguish my music from Square/Enix’s games.

So, I am no longer playing shows as Final Fantasy. Subsequent releases, including Heartland, will be issued under my own name, Owen Pallett. Prior releases will sometime soon be re-packaged and re-issued.

I thank Square/Enix for their kindness and support, and I thank you all for your understanding.

Salud!

Owen Pallett

After All That We’ve Been Through …

December 15th, 2009

My second post in Slate’s year-end Music Club discussion went up yesterday, with some verbiage on the Dirty Projectors, “Fourth World” music, tUnE-YaRdS, Fever Ray, DJ Quik and Kurupt, The Very Best, shitgaze and Lucky Dragons. Later today, Ann Powers brings the sex, and then we’re back for a final round of inconclusive conclusions.

Did they talk to Ochs’s niece?

December 10th, 2009

It is unconscionable that in the headline, subhead, text or cutline of this Guardian story — about a festival-goer who called the Spanish police on Larry Ochs’s trio for not being jazzy enough (and they actually came and investigated!) — nowhere is there a single Leonard Cohen joke. Did the policia enter the concert hall shouting, “Jazzer, drop your axe”? Did they discuss the fan’s grievances over grilled turtle meat? Did they even have the decency to go through Ochs’s folders? Oh, come on!

2009 in Review: The Year’s Stars on 45

December 9th, 2009

My first post to the Slate roundtable on the year/decade in music is up now, including my personal top 45 tracks of 2009, from Destroyer’s 14-minute “ambient disco” song to “Auto-Tune the News” to Persian rap. Bonus musings on periodization, the divergent ascents of the single and the concept album, and armchair psychoanalysis of dudes who name their bands after collective nouns for chicks.

All the Single Digits,
Put Your Hands Up

December 8th, 2009

I’ve rejoined the ranks of the Slate Music Club this year along with Jody Rosen and Jonah Weiner of Slate and Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times, to jawbone about the music of the year (and the decade). Jody kicked things off this afternoon; my first contribution should be up tomorrow. (I last participated in Slate’s year-end in 2006.)

Highlight so far: Jody proposes that instead of “the Zeros,” “the Oughts” or “the Noughties,” the best name for the decade now in denouement would be “the Beyoncés.”

Put Your Hands Up">No Comments

Ren Weschler: Drawing (outside) the lines

December 2nd, 2009

My interview with non(?)-fiction author extraordinaire Lawrence Weschler appeared today in The Globe & Mail. It’s worth reading, I assert to you. I’m now rushing over to his free 7 pm lecture at Innis Town Hall - but looking forward much more to his appearance tomorrow in the meta-aesthetic live game show “What’s The New Line?“, in which Weschler and a host of Toronto artist-writer-performer types (curated by Sheila Heti & Margaux Williamson) will try to figure out if there is a more relevant set of divisions to use to talk about art in the 21st century than the old fiction/nonfiction divide.

Jody Rosen on Eva Tanguay:
The Googoo(gajoob) of (Lady) Gaga

December 1st, 2009

“This is where the received history of popular music begins to crack open.”

At long last, F.O.Z. Jody Rosen has followed up on his ace 2008 Pop Conference presentation and given the world the lowdown and dirty on “the first rock star” (I’d prefer “pop star” myself), vaudeville diva (and anti-diva!) Eva Tanguay. Go read it now. It’s a lengthyish piece - and one of the most significant works of music writing you’ll read this year - so I’ll try not to add too much verbiage here, except to [concision fail! - ed.] make a couple of pedantic points and a couple broader ones. Which do you want first?

1. I’d quibble with Jody’s cherrypicked list of Tanguay’s spiritual heirs and heiresses - a hell, yes! on Johnny Rotten; this is like a missing, rebalancing chapter of Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces: Punk, you’ve met your Euro Dada, now meet your (Red Hot) Mama, who of course came yapping straight out of vaudeville and New Yawk. But to be fair, when Jody mentions Lena Lovich and (especially) Bjork, I think one has to say that they are more animated by the ghosts of European cabaret (and music-hall in Lovich’s case) than by turn-of-the-century American showbiz. On the other hand, presumably because it doesn’t boost the “rock star” thesis, Jody doesn’t mention the likes of Bette Midler, who gets her shot of Tanguay passed directly mouth-to-mouth from Sophie Tucker.

2. Speaking of Tucker, besides the recorded legacy, I wonder if in part the reason she’s better remembered than Tanguay in the public imagination is that she had an ethnic community with a vested interest in preserving and promoting her memory. Tanguay was a French-Canadian expat whose act reminded nobody of hearth and home. (And thus too her heart-wrenching end-of-life.) (To digress from my digression, I’ve heard tell that she may have been a relative of Therese Tanguay - better known today as the mother of Celine Dion. Fun, at least for me, though Celine could never be called an “I-Don’t-Care Girl” - more like the “I-Care-So-Very-Very-Much Girl.”)

3. Most shocking though is that somehow Jody managed to get through that entire piece without saying the word “Madonna.” [Later: Mea culpa! There is one mention of Madonna. I tried to double-check but missed it because I didn't know my browser's text search was case-specific.] Although he did say “Lady Gaga,” so maybe Madonna is just automatically implied? (By the way, my current working Gaga thesis: She is to Madonna what Bowie was to Mick Jagger, i.e., the art-school version.) Also m.i.a. - not so much M.I.A., but Lil Kim, Missy Elliott, Kathleen Hanna (”Suck My Left One” = “I Don’t Care” in 1991ese).

4. Wanted, the secret history of “madcap.”

5. Jody passes pretty fast over the fact that Tanguay’s signature number emerged “in the musical comedy The Sambo Girl. Playing the lead ‘brownface’ role …” Combine that with “her rumored romance with black vaudeville star George Walker,” in whose case vaudeville is at least partly a euphemism for minstrelsy, and one begins to wonder about the minstrel influence on what she did, and indeed whether there are any female minstrel characters who might have served as a template for her persona, which otherwise seems to bloom surprisingly full-grown into life. Of course, that’s just how stars do seem, almost by definition, but the genealogy is always more complicated. The continuities and/or breaks with 19th-century minstrelsy-centric pop culture (if we can call it that: see next point) are an important part of any account of early-20th-century U.S. pop culture, particularly if you’re going to make a case for the ragtime era as Rock’n'Roll Mark I. Not that Jody isn’t aware of all that, but again, it seemed underplayed.

6. That said it’s beginning to seem like the claim for “first pop/rock star” can keep being backdated and backdated, so long as anyone is intrepid enough to dig. (Or simply imagine it, the way Sophia Coppola did with Marie Antoinette, for example.) My sense of when mass culture began seems to jibe roughly with Jody’s, and we share a supposition that mass culture is a necessary precondition of the category “pop star.” But a plausible counterproposal could be that the pop/rock spirit is inherent to civilization (in part because it is the anti-civilization impulse) and that every culture’s had performers who embody it - to twist a proverb, it’s Elvises all the way down. Discuss.


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