Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for January, 2010

Pazzed Out Cold (Balm in Indiead)

January 20th, 2010

The new Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll is up, and while it’s not the event it once was (because of past turmoil, competition [congrats on outlasting the now worse-than-useless Idolator, P&J], and finally the fact that it now comes lagging behind ten billion other lists and polls) and the top 5 are perhaps the most predictable P&J top 5 ever, there’s always some value in the essays and quotes. I liked (mostly) this remark from Michael Azerrad:

A lot of people sneer at so-called “NPR rock” for being wimpy or something, but it’s a hoary cliché that underground music has to be loud, fast, and out of control. Once upon a time, mainstream culture was blandly, blindly complacent, so underground music was angry and dissatisfied — look at the Velvet Underground droning about heroin while America tried to paste a fluorescent smiley-face over Vietnam; look at the Sex Pistols railing that “England’s dreaming” in ‘77 while the Queen’s silver jubilee distracted from rampant unemployment and racial unrest. But in 2010, mainstream culture isn’t complacent; it’s stupid and angry. So underground culture has become smart and serene. That’s not wimpy — it’s powerful and constructive, a blueprint for kicking against the pricks.

That’s an interesting thing for the guy who wrote the book about Black Flag and Husker Du to say. He’s right that there’s a basic impulse to make music as much unlike Glenn Beck as possible, and that there’s a philosophical/moral undercurrent to it.

I’m not quite so convinced of the historical myth of complacency - America wasn’t stupid & angry during the McCarthy era? Under Nixon? But I also wonder if the dropout oppositional logic of Animal Collective and others, which I applauded in 2004, isn’t now out-of-date - way less serviceable under Obama, who needs to be held to account, than it was under Bush, who was never going to give a shit what you said.

The mainstream mood now actually seems more a mixture of complacent and shell-shocked, and while that (and the nature of media) means that the stupid-and-angry faction resonates way beyond its proportions (as it did, agonizingly, this week in Massachusetts), it also makes it seem much less “powerful and constructive” for the “underground” to sound so compulsively self-soothing.

(Mike Powell makes an affecting case to the contrary although mainly by focusing on content rather than sound; I’m talking more about the thing his dad brings up at the top - all that reverb, smeared over the music like so much Vaseline on a lens, or Bert’s Bees lipbalm or something.)

Kiss and Say Goodbye:
Kate McGarrigle, 1946-2010

January 19th, 2010

how I attempted seduction
with a select and
careful playing of
The McGarrigle Sisters

how you seduced me
stereophonically          the laugh

the nose      ankle      nature

repartee      the knee

- from “The desire under the Elms Motel,” by Michael Ondaatje

That poem, from Ondaatje’s striking 1984 lyrical suite about marriage and infidelity Secular Love, always seemed to me evidence of the quiet way that Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s music insinuated itself into Canadian lives (or at least some Canadian lives), less as a main focus than as a climate, an atmospheric pressure. By power of understatement, they were able to attain, with remarkable frequency, something like perfection. (Kate’s children Rufus and Martha Wainwright’s songs sacrifice some of that perfection in favour of the sense of drama bestowed/wreaked upon them by their American dad, but it’s always available to them as singers when they reach for it.)

Following Kate’s sad death on Monday, after four years of suffering from liver cancer, many people will speak reverently of their singing voices, and perhaps of how they brought Quebec Acadian folk music for the first time to larger English audiences. But the sisters’ remarkable touch as songwriters is often neglected: so subtle, positively allergic to flash, but so sure and firm, with lines that shift and intensify in repetition and by geographic references and juxtaposed allusions to folk songs that do the emotional work of narrative without many of its explicit trappings - much the way Ondaatje’s poem has it, “ankle, nature, repartee, the knee.” You can hear the deep satisfaction other singers, such as Linda Ronstadt, Maria Muldaur and Emmylou Harris, always took in covering them.

It’s hard not to be saddened by the death of someone whose cherishing of family, place and history were so obvious and so generously shared with her listeners, in concert and on their Radio Hour and family Christmas albums. You couldn’t help but feel a little like one of their cousins (especially for those of us to whom Montreal is also personally dear). Kate was still appearing on stage to sing with her loved ones up to almost the very end, when she must have been very ill, which reinforced the feeling that this was a sustaining activity for them - that sharing a song was as integral to life as sharing a meal, or a drink, or a heartfelt conversation. Some music is interior and some is social but it’s a rare trait for music to be deeply intimate and deeply communal simultaneously (no wonder Ondaatje’s narrator found it erotic). Kate McGarrigle and clan achieved this with liberty, equanimity and sorority.

Talk to me of Mendocino
Closing my eyes I hear the sea
Must I wait? Must I follow?
Won’t you say, “Come with me.”

  - from “Talk to Me of Mendocino,” by Kate McGarrigle

Profound sympathies to Martha, Rufus, Anna, Jane, Sloan, Loudon, Lily, Dane, Chaim and all the other McGarrigles, Wainwrights, Lankens and friends. Donations can be made to the Kate McGarrigle Fund, supporting cancer care and research at the McGill University Cancer Centre and McGill’s teaching hospitals.

This is the Story of Haiti & Regine

January 14th, 2010

The Arcade Fire has some advice for you about how to help with the crisis in Haiti (vocalist-violinist Regine Chassagne’s family emigrated to Canada from there). It parallels what I’ve heard from other people with Haitian aide experience, so it’s probably the best plan:


Haiti needs your help in her darkest hour.

We just got off the phone with our friends at Partners in Health.

Most of the medical infrastructure in Port-au-Prince is down. Since Partners in Health’s clinics are in situated the surrounding areas and haven’t been damaged, they are mobilizing their resources towards the capital, setting-up field hospitals to treat the injured on the ground. Also, Paul Farmer (the founder of PIH) is at the UN and has access to the best information on where to direct the money… so for the moment if you want to help, we suggest sending funds here.

Canadian residents with Roger cell phones can text HELP to 1291. $5 will be directed to Partners In Health’s Haiti emergency fund.

Please be generous as time is of the essence.

Win and Regine

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If You Were Thinking of Studying
Aesthetic Philosophy

January 11th, 2010

… you don’t have to any more, now that you’ve got Douglas Wolk’s 5-Minute Guide to Kant’s Critique of Aesthetic Judgment (as interpreted through images from Marvel Comics). Somehow I missed this when Douglas first posted it, the latest proof that he’s the one to beat in the genius-multimedia-lecture game.

Aesthetic Philosophy">5 Comments

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