by carl wilson

Ian Curtis Wish List (also Getting Feisty, and More)

The whole idea of an Ian Curtis bio-pic is faintly nauseating, since it seems like a case of posthumous wish fulfillment - perhaps it's because of being in North America, or being a little too young and not-from-the-city to get it first-hand, but the Curtis cult always seemed to be hinged precisely on the early-death rock'n'roll-suicide bullshit that Curtis himself was enamored of, and its fulfillment in Hollywoodization painfully close to an endorsement of his offing himself. As much of a voyeur as the next geek, I did not mind it entirely in 24 Hour Party People (and like all non-Brits I was completely mystified by the parts about the Happy Mondays) - but I am not so stoked for the extended remix. That said, of course Joy Division was a goddamn brilliant band and the best discussion of what made them so that I've ever seen is right here: Mark K-Punk Fisher on Joy Division, about masculinity and its melancholia, about the sound of 1970s UK council-flat rot, about the un-Americanism of art rock (a fact English critics can assert while averting their eyes from the way that this means "the unrockness of art rock"), about death drives and half-lives and all the other things that make it searingly sharp how not-goth, and certainly not-Interpol, was Joy Division. Simon Reynolds gets in some good footnotes on drugs and neuromancy, but most of all on a photo of Curtis with his infant daughter that really makes you stop and bite your lip.

I've strained to come up with some brilliant segue from there into the matter of place in Feist, but fuck it. For Aaron, a week late: You're not too far off when you get to that "some undefined nowhere" trope but it's more than that. The ways in which the record is Parisian - its French rhythmic lilt, its breathy a la Birkin wheeze - strike me as window dressing, not bearing any real urgent discursive relationship to the content of the songs or the content of Feist-ness, but not making much of the disjunct either. I'm quite taken with a few of the traxx, mainly the ones in which she seems to get more explicit about the kind of slacker-musician-abroad lifestyle questions the rest of the album seems intended to evoke rather than confront - the rockiness of the road less traveled in Mushaboom, the exile-istentialism of the title track, and the choked-up-nostalgia of the Bee Gees cover. But mostly the dodge of saying the songs take place in her bedroom a la Elliott Smith does not wash with me - for one thing, I don't buy that Smith's songs take place in the bedroom. Mostly that only applies to his worst songs. Otherwise they may start or finish there but somewhere along the way they will also take the bus, go to a bar, fall asleep in a park and buy junk from some asshole. If the songs are in the bedroom it's for the good reason that they've got to either (a) cry, (b) punch things or (c) jerk off. (And occasionally drift off to sleep and/or wake up.) See how easy it is to imagine Elliott Smith's songs living out a whole lifetime? I find this v. difficult with most of Feist's songs. They are good but not as good as they would be if they would stop looking in the mirror to see if their new little French dress looked good. So the trouble with their psychogeography is not that it is not nationalistic enough (although I am all for sense-of-place in this sense) or too globalized (this is something music is learning of necessity how to carry off) but that there ain't enough ballast or swagger or in general physical presence (even the presence of wispiness) to suggest that most of these songs have anywhere to go or anything to do. They dematerialize and thereby mystify. (This argument, now having been articulated, sounds waaaay exaggerated and unfair to Feist's real swaggering talent, which is why I procrastinated about making it, I think, but there you go.)

The psychogeography of the Junior Boys, by the way, is that the songs are trapped in a 1984 music video and only intermittently remember, but then with a terrible desperation, that they want to get out of it.

Speaking of gifted but problematic peripatetic Canadian female folksingers: Martha Wainwright might be about to escape that category with her finally upcoming debut full-length, which we hope is going to be as brilliant as the title (and cover) of her 2004 EP, whose existence I just discovered. Bloody Motherfucking Asshole (not explicitly dedicated to her dad but apparently not unrelated) is full-force five-by-five with the presence and the pipes and the mean streak and all the other qualities that long ago made me think Martha was the sleeper Wainwright, the Wainwright to watch for the 21st century, the most Wainwrighteous of 'em all. (And more so since brother Rufus has been on a slow involuted downspiral, sadly, tho I hold out hope.) Bloody Motherfucking Asshole is no doubt not available at a family big-box store near you, but three out of its five tracks are playable as MP3s at Martha's website, including the title cut. Second-best title: "I Will Internalize." (Next word? You guessed it: "Everything.")

Bloody motherfucking other random stuff: Toronto teenage mutant rock-disguised-as-rap, scene-hectoring-disguised-as-cheerleading band Ninja High School finally has a website and it likewise has MP3s and if you know what is good for you you'll go there and laugh at the New Bad Design design aesthetic and yell along with said MP3s. Ninja High School would totally (choose one) approve/disapprove of The Death of the Advertising Jingle. (It's all pop music now. Bloody motherfucking pop... okay, I'll stop.) Holy shit, here's Fab Channel, where you can watch long concert videos by the likes of John Cale and the Hidden Cameras and tons of other people. I haven't yet, mind you - who has time? A cool new bang-on anti-intellectual-property campaign: Because information doesn't want to be free so much as information wants to star in caged-heat prison-sexploitation movies where it's whipped by a she-pimp named Bettye and forced to dance like a circus bear. [...]

The navigator of two split worlds
BRIDGING THE GAPS Martha Wainwright, daughter of Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III, spent her adolescence between her parents' homes. She embraces contradictions.

CARL WILSON
The Globe and Mail
15 December 1999

Toronto - At 23, Martha Wainwright could almost pass for 17, or 40, depending on her moods -- poised, urbane sophisticate; hothouse-romantic adolescent; melancholy child of divorce; wry, loft-living slacker. All these voices co-exist in her conversation, and in her songs.

Yes, if so inclined, you can also detect traces of her mother, Kate McGarrigle, and her aunt Anna, the acclaimed Quebec folk-rock duo; the autobiographical bent of her father, U.S. songwriter Loudon Wainwright III; the brash art-pop of her older brother, Rufus Wainwright. She has been on disc with all of them, as subject, as singer and, you sense, as stabilizer. But her own music, at once dense and fragile, confessional and poetically coded -- pop, but performed with the vocal panache of a classic stage chanteuse -- is much more than the sum of nature and nurture.

"What's very funny," she says, fresh from hair-and-makeup, backstage at CTV's Open Mike with Mike Bullard, before Friday's concert at Ted's Wrecking Yard in Toronto, "is that I have a couple of songs that make a lot of older people come up to me and go, 'You're too young to be singing about that thing.' It's almost, 'You didn't really write that.' . . . Maybe it's because I went to acting school that I can write in a mature voice, and really get myself into that character."

Yet Martha dropped out of Concordia University's theatre program two years ago to devote herself to the "inevitable" calling of music, after having started singing with her brother, and then on her own, in the spoken-word/cabaret scene of Montreal. More than dramatics, her knowingness seems to come from navigating divisions.

She grew up partly in the public eye, her childhood often chronicled in her parents' songs, while her own home was split between bilingual Montreal, her mother's family home in rural Saint-Saveur, Que., and, after the 1979 divorce, her father's U.S. residence. She was surrounded by high-calibre folk musicians, while she and her brother sang Eurythmics and Cyndi Lauper songs, belting them out competitively from their beds each night. "What seemed a very attractive thing," she says, "was what our mother and father hadn't achieved."

So, if maturity means embracing life's contradictions, no wonder Martha Wainwright had a head start. "It's a Montreal dualism, and dual citizenship, a duel with my brother, the duel between my parents -- there's a lot of polarization," she agrees. "I also always had a nickname, which everyone who knew me before the age of 8 calls me . . . and that's created a sort of split in my personality too."

She laughs, smoothing down the thin black dress and white slip she'll be wearing on stage, "So I'm very confused, I have a lot of dualities. Hopefully it doesn't make the music saturated, or spread thin. I think it adds to it."

She pauses. "The other obvious thing about the songs, which would be ridiculous to deny, is that they all seem to be about one thing. Which is unrequited love . . . some sense of unfulfillment."

With a self-released six-song EP in hand, a flat in Brooklyn, and record companies hovering, Martha is preparing, she jokes, "the grand plan to conquer the world."

The strategy, really, is not to accept any given role. She notes that there is no equivalent in today's diverse music scene of desperately wanting to be the next Bob Dylan, as her father did. She's not even certain she wants to follow her brother down the major-label route. She is concerned to be seen neither as a McGarrigle-Wainwright nor as a post-Alanis, post-Lilith Woman In Rock. "This is my personal form of feminism, in a way -- not to play the sex card or this or that card . . . But to be the person gender."

Likewise, her writing is carefully balanced between the honest and the circumspect. She speaks of the "minstrel" position of her father, with whom she recently toured England and Ireland. After 30 years, Loudon still has to get up each night and divulge the details of his life to expectant crowds. "It's draining," she says, frowning. "There's nothing left to give to people who are close. Whereas if you create music where there is slightly a separation, and . . . poetic licence, or it is just about the chords or the melody, you can sit in it and enjoy it."

And she has faith that her love of mutability may be requited, gradually, by the world at large. "I'm hoping," she says, "to be able to combine the two -- that your life is so interesting that it becomes a pop song. That the chorus is so true and so great that you can say it over and over and over again. And there's a riff behind it." If anyone is equipped to pull off such a paradox -- and that's an open question -- it might well be Martha Wainwright.

Read More | The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, January 12 at 9:07 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)

 

COMMENTS

i think Aaron's hit the nail on the head when he says "this leaves her... placeless" -- she'd likely agree, and wholeheartedly, as she'd be the first to tell you that despite everyone's desperate insistence to dub "Let It Die" a 'Paris record,' it only is so by default (i.e. it was made there, in a darkened studio that could have been almost -- emphasis on almost -- anywhere).

she also says that the record couldn't have been made in Toronto ("too many ghosts"), but personally, i hear a real scrappy Canuck undercurrent throughout, and i don't just mean "Mushaboom" (though Mocky's remix, with its feet-crunching-through-snow intro, brings that aspect into full focus).

- Tab.

Posted by Tab Siddiqui on January 14, 2005 6:06 AM

 

 

i'm tempted to ask: what else did we expect?

this is a girl who has bounced from calgary to toronto to berlin to paris and back and forth and through several times over. the artists she's worked with (from by divine right to peaches to kings of convenience to broken social scene to gonzales to, now apparently, massive attack) equally as varied.

somewhere someone (surely not i) would make the argument that this leaves her effectively homeless, or genreless or placeless.

but i've never felt that with let it die. i mean, i suppose now that i think about it, it doesn't "feel" like anywhere i can find on a map, but that hardly seems to matter. given the choice between a record that sounded like paris and a record that sounded like the entity known as "leslie feist" i suppose i choose the latter and the chance to follow this little spirit wherever it supposes to go.

Posted by agw on January 13, 2005 11:17 PM

 

 

This whole debate about placing Feist's music is interesting, even though as Carl says, it can get waaaaay beside the point. My take is that it's French by approximation. I agree that any Frenchness in it can seem more adorned than integral. But she's touching more on a kind of nouveau cosmopolitan cabaret (couldn't it be equally placeable in Berlin?), though she's complimenting that with the occasional Canadian, homey, more-myth-than-reality touch. Isn't the heart of a cosmopolis "some undefined nowhere" anyway?

Posted by Guy Dixon on January 13, 2005 10:50 AM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson