December 2000

They Tell Me (Catpower)

they tell me what they do
I don't know what they're talking about
they tell me what they do
I don't understand what they're talking about
they're talking about it
I did not start this conversation
I don't intend to keep talking about it
you tell me about it
maybe if I pray, to the lord above
I'll get some sleep
but the lord don't give a shit about me
they tell me what they do
how can I help it, how can I help it
I sure can't shut them up

LordOuch and I have been in a discussion about the quality of faith, belief, lust, desire, and Higher Powers and all that good stuff as it relates Chan Marshall and P.J. Harvey. Both artists acknowledge suffering from breakdowns (yes that is the theme of this fact this site will now and in the future be known as Franny's Brokedown Palace or something like that) and both seem to reach out to whatever it is they think of as a god and beg for help. Don't we all know that one? LordOuch sent me a great email that excerpted Chan interviews where she talks about her breakdown and how she prayed for god to protect her from this man who she thought was Jesus who was threatening her. I don't really understand the whole thing and LordOuch has also suggested that she could a)be full of shit and pulling a Bob Dylan on everyone b) that she is co-opting Denis Johnson in Resuscitation of a Hanged Man to explain her breakdown when it was really about other things. There are a couple things that are interesting to me one is: did she have some kind of spiritual awakening in her breakdown? It sort of seems it when you read the excerpts that I read but I don't know.

I think that some of it had to do with the fact that Chan is an artist who people look to to be sort of "depressive" and "melancholic" and yes...waify...and I think she mentions in the interviews that she is kind of bummed out by being the bummed out indie princess. All the people are there for her to be bummed out and I know if I were in that situation I'd feel trapped. And so, who knows if it was a spiritual thing or not, I think she realized that being totally bumming all the time was driving her insane and she is trying to do something else with her music...and thought this was a more interesting way of saying it? I don't know...this is sort of a strange thing to speculate on.

The reason I am interested though, is this: Anthony and I were having another conversation at the same time about the role of the artist in the world at large. I have this crazy idea that art is sort of immoral (not completely cuz I think it is a tension between morality and immorality and with that said i hate the concept of morality period). But the reason I see art as immoral is that through art/music/literature et al. we live sort of vicariously sucking up another persons life experiences as our own so that in some way we think we empathize with some kind of extreme state when in point of fact we might have no idea what that state is like. I sort of see it as people paying other people to live and in a sense feel for them. You can say oh I know what x or y is like because I read this or I've heard that, but you don't have the experience directly so we don't really know. It bugs me that we have people who are professional depressives and fuck ups and who constantly get praise for martyring themselves and then splaying open their insides for us to examine even though we can never really do more than have a sort of touristic fascination with what we see because most of us don't go to the extremes to which some artists are driven. A sort of extreme extreme example of this sort of thing is like Chris Burden having someone shoot him in the arm with a rifle during a performance, or crucifying himself on a VW Beetle, almost getting electrocuted during the performance, Iggy Pop bleeding from crawling across glass, and I know there are more examples.

In Chris Burden's case I know he was more interested in the relationship of the individual to institutions of power than he was I think in making any kind of coherent statement about the role of the artist as martyr...but to me it is one of the ultimate art martyrdom acts. Anthony brought up a good point which is that he sees art as a means of connecting with your brother or sister man or woman and that by viewing/reading/hearing someone else's lyrics/words/images about themselves one is connecting with a bigger community where all these sorts of feelings, desires, emotions are a sort of communal zeitgeist and acknowledging them is good, and not about living vicariously really but making sense of the world around us. Like I said I thought that was a good point and it is part of the "moral" pole of the moral/immoral thingy. I still can't shake the feeling that we like the idea of paying someone to feel and exist for us and that if we listen to enough "out there" artists we will never have to walk anywhere different, interesting, scary, disgusting, decadent, etc ourselves because we will think that we know what it is like.

Make a little sadder, all your tales
Just enough to feel good without scales
Fill my head with the things I haven't done
The more black the better, shelter
And you're my saving grace with your tragic case
Life a life, just make sure it's your own one

Emma Pollock, Delgados, "Accused of Stealing"

Went to see Kiki and Herb: Jesus Wept over the weekend. It was really great. It made me think: I wish I thought of that because of course with a title like that, you know the show was about martyrdom. And the Kiki character is sort of a rock n roll martyr made over into a 70 year old lounge singer. I actually think that the whole show is a rock opera but if they said that no one would go. Anyway, I will get back to this later...but the show made me nostalgic for gay and lesbian culture. I was thinking that I've become too alienated from gay and lesbian stuff (I couldn't even tell you who is a dyke icon anymore...) and so I was looking through some gay rags like Next and HomoXtra and I realized that I think most gay and lesbian culture is boring. Kiki and Herb are like the aberration not the norm...and it is their genius that they can appeal to so many different people.

On the same day I dragged Anthony to some galleries to see some shows. I haven't been to galleries in a while but we some some big blockbuster shows: Cindy Sherman, R.Crumb, Damien Hirst, Eric Fischl that were all packed and were dandy shows. The Cindy Sherman's are new color photographs of her dressed up in various "characters" who seem to be sort of based on slightly batty "real" women. They reminded me a bit of some of Diane Arbus's work. And there was that tension between are these real, are these fake, are these making fun of people who might be less than sane, or is she celebrating them (and what is the exact difference)? In much the same way that you might wonder about Kiki but Kiki reaches a higher metaphysical level than does Cindy Sherman. The other thing that really affected me was the Damien Hirst show. He has in the past gobbed up a canvas with sticky icky stuff and then let butterflies and moths fly into the mess and die and he did this work where he allowed maggots to hatch and then when they became flies they flew up into a bug zapper...and it was instant fly he sort of has this reputation as being a sick sadistic puppy. And in this show he has these beautiful vitrines filled with water and fish and disintegrating man made products like a computer, a desk, a gynecological examination table, and all I could think was I hope those are plastic and made to look like they are disintegrating (you know sort of like the fake lost treasure shit you get for some acquariums) and NOT REALLY made of real materials. I imagine that if those real metal and plastic and whatnot parts were to be allowed to be "aged" by the water it would create a toxic atmosphere for the fish. All I could think of when I looked at those fish tanks was of penny oxidizing at the bottom of a fish tank and the fish gasping for life. I noticed the fish were all sort of congregating in one area and I was afraid they thought it was like the way out or something cuz the water was so toxic. Dathilacha said he saw a dead fish at the bottom of one of the tanks...I was also thinking about the film version of Mass Appeal where the priest talks about the fish dying in the acquarium that had been over-heated and he says he hears the cry of every single fish trying to save itself from death. I thought looking at the tanks, this is truly majestically beauteous, I hope those fish aren't dying for this. But Hirst being the sadist that he is I think would be laughing his pants off of at my pansy-assed thoughts.

I've been to heaven and it was hell...Jesus has a guitar and he thinks he is Joni Mitchell

Kiki and Herb, Jesus Wept

I don't mean to start any blasephemous rumors, but I think that God has a sick sense of humor
Depeche Mode as interpreted by Kiki and Herb, Do You Hear What We Hear?

I've been trying to think about what to write about Kiki and Herb. And I think that is bad, because the whole point of this space is that I write without thinking (as if that NEEDED saying)and that I just spew so I don't obsess and compulse and disorder. But Kiki and Herb really tore me up because well a good drag queen does that to me. One of my best friends in college and I got so into drag that she ended up writing her thesis on drag (that was back in the days before people did things like that) and we went to see every drag act the city had to offer from like Matthew Kasten's Boy Bar Beauties to Rose's Turn to Lyspinka's Off B'way show to Linda Simpson to Escuelita to Sally's Hideaway or Sallys Too or whatever it is called now(where it is whole different kind of trade show if you know what I mean) and my whole point is that really fab drag can take a simple song and give you the pathos, the confusion, the love, the hate, the disgust, the genderfuck in something like "Ooops I did it Again" and you find the most banal piece of crap completely poignant (sort of like finding Damien Hirst's fish tanks filled with the deep dark unravellings of the tortured human is there but who looks exactly?). And with Kiki and Herb it is not just that they can take a simple song and make it gut wrenching but that they take the gut wrenching songs that I love and they turn them into comedy but not an easy parody that would be so sort of cheap, but they spin a sort of web of black humor around everything in the same way I've seen many performing drag queens do with pop standards and stuff but it is different when attached to things like "Fox in the Snow," "Lilybelle," or "Smells Like Teen Spirit" because it is about confronting the melancholy of the song (and the Holiday season especially with "Fox in the Snow" where the contradictions of holiday largesse and the have nots of both the material and ethereal world are so wittily dealt with that I would trade that song for a million and one political pundits) but through the Kiki character and her life story they are still poignant and moving but the survivor tale is underscored at the same time that the black comedy of the theme comes through.

And like I said it really is a rock opera. Kiki is this 70 year old singer who with her piano player Herb has been in show business for years and understands it as a blessing and a curse...she is a cancer survivor/alcoholic who as the show goes on gets more and more outrageously drunk but as she does so gets more and more sentimentally philosophical in ways that aren't just for laughs...but it is sort of like The Rose or Marianne Faithful or Janis or insert name of singer whose life was overtaken by myth: Kiki's is the story of this extreme and out there addict who bares her life and her soul through her music and can't quite make the knot over into a bow...Kiki is raw, unpredictable, insane, but she is not mythic, not famous, she is not big time, she is this sort of pathetic not even nearly famous lounge singer belting out the bile of her soul in like some Ramada Inn for tourists, travelers and other unsympathetic souls. She feels her music and Kiki is a grand, epic, majestic mess and it is all an act, and all fake. Or is it? So I am back to the paradox faith, is what I believe faith or folly? Or both and that is the total thing I love about them and the show...I could go on forever...but sigh, I can't find anyone to go back to the show with me and I am too shy to go on my own. AND besides, use a search engine and you can find better crap than what I am saying like this one on an old Kiki and Herb show called Have Another

Got a kick for a dog beggin' for LOVE
I gotta have my suffering
So that I can have my cross
I know a cat named Easter
He says will you ever learn
You're just an empty cage girl if you kill the bird
Tori Amos, "Crucify"

I just downloaded this song from Napster called "My Radio" by this Brit band called the Stars. I think I am in love. And just tonite while I was messing around trying to find some new links to add to my home page, I found that Kaia (ex of Adickdid and Team Dresch) is in a new band (well not new they have 2 lps out) called The Butchies. I haven't heard them yet, and I don't care what they sound like, I worship Kaia's voice. "Hand Grenade" is as close to a perfect song as I can imagine in many ways. Actually, I throw that perfect thing around a lot cuz well every song that my own personal list of mind blowing vocalists sings on I end up finding perfect as well.

Last nite Anthony and I went to see Blonde Redhead. Blonde Redhead has been one of my favorite bands for years and strangely, I've never seen them live. All the songs I love by Blonde Redhead are on La Mia Vita Violencia, I always thought that, but last night I LEARNED it. There are some good ones on Fake is as Good as Real (or whatever that title is) like "Kazuality" and "BiPolar" but I found their later stuff a little ahh...slow and boring. Give me catacylismic and messy over pretty ballads any day. Like I said, I'd never seen them live, and when they are loud and flailing and stuff, I love them, when they are slow and reserved and boring, I could do with another beer. Though, I was really really impressed with Kazu. Anyone who can like move at all and play guitar wins my admiration but she dances, jumps, and stuff in an almost Carrie Brownstein-esque fashion (though more reserved and sometimes she sort of unfortunately reminded me of one of those women in that hated Robert Palmer video) but her stage presence is THE BAND for me. The other guitarist Amedeo has been hailed by other guitarists who know as a guitarist who matters, but whatever, yeah he hands Kazu her guitars and stuff (and I can see guitarists who know and matter saying she is not a guitarist...and re that: what the fuck? who cares she still plays them as far as I can tell), but his stage presence seemed to be cribbed from Lindsay Buckingham's "Big Love" complete with facial grimaces and overearnest expressions. Which isn't to say that I don't find that endearing, but it wears out sort of fast. So I shouldn't criticize a band for not having a gimmick, can't they just be themselves? But with their chic little outfits and guitar staps and stuff, they have an image gimmick, so they should think about putting together a set list that flows instead of sputters and spurts and then saves all my favorite songs for the encore when I have to leave.

So having missed the bus back to where I live, I went to go to hang out with an old friend of mine who does this retro 80's party. I walked in and the place was packed and "Dancing Queen" was playing and everyone was flocking to the dance floor. It was fun and alive and it put me in a better mood than Blonde Redhead. But they were both meet and greet scenes in a way. I would never go to see a band and think of it as a place to meet someone. Yeah I know we all suffered through Singles so thinking of it that way is nothing new, and watching the guys and girls all dressed up to attract attention was sort of fun. Though the drunken mating rituals, blech. So anyway, I think meeting and greeting to disco is somehow more lifeaffirming, I don't know why exactly. But when I first walked in there was a trio of guys groping one another in the corner, then all the lights in the club malfunctioned and came on and they sort of sheepishly slunk away. Everyone who was watching them was bummed out...but somehow that sort of action is like the sort of out of bounds stuff that repulses others and I think is fabulous. The one thing that sort of flattened my evening was this one comment this guy made to me. As I was standing there dancing to Janet Jackson's "Love will never do with you" this guy walks by with his group of friends and goes to me "get a girl." I thought that was hilarious...considering many things, there are many reasons why that is an absurd comment to make to moi. And then I thought about it and it made me mad, but whatever I hope it made his day to say that to me. I still had fun and I kept my friend up until the crack of dawn while he entertained me until the next bus in the morning with an inspirational video for kids by Mr. T, food shopping with Susan Powter, bootleg Stevie videos, bootleg Blondie videos, H&R Puffnstuff, and more things that I can't remember. He truly has the greatest video collection of anyone I know, I think.

Opening for Blonde Redhead was The Thrones. A one man band who the entire time I kept telling Anthony sounded a hell of a lot like the Melvins. People were screaming out metal songs for him to cover and I kept hoping that he was gonna break into "Boris." Near the end of Blonde Redhead's set Kazu thanked Joe Preston and his Thrones and it all of a sudden hit me! Epiphany! Joe Preston was the bassist for the Melvins after Lorax left. Duh! I loved him. Thought his vocals were a little samey but gee that was the only problem I ever had with the Melvins. And it was pretty amazing how he managed to play the bass, the sampler and all that stuff and it was funny how he kept referring to The Thrones as an "us" when it was only a "me". I can see how that is sort of gimmicky and wears off soon. But hell the guy drove all the way from Salem, OR for that one show, joked with the audience and looked a little too much like Charles Manson for I thought he was great, in some ways more unexpected and better than Blonde Redhead, but BR definitely had their moments so I wouldn't totally say that.

More December 2000

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