please stop tickling me

In which we laugh and laugh and laugh. And love. And drink.

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Location: Portland, Oregon

Otium cum Dignitatae

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Occupied with what Other People are Occupied with, and Vice Versa

Despite the fact that the title is a line from a Built To Spill song, it also serves as a pretty good definition of 'journalism', don't you think?
The Bee and I spend a bit too much time, here in our exile on Killin' Street, looking at stupid shit on the internet. But it's great too, I suppose, since each and every morning we examine what's what with the media, and the world. Since neither of us have anywhere to go on most days, this means we get to watch stories develop from tiny shoots to massive saplings.

But that's not what's important. I've mentioned before the special hell that is the 'Living' section of our local paper, and how I just can't think of where else one would ever see the following headlines:
Coffee Tables Are Able Tables (tha winnah!)
Sunglasses Have It Made In The Shade (not only not News, but deeply retarded)
BAAA-UTIFUL! Speedy Shawls
Frisbee, 50, Still Makes Disc-iples

Yep, all that and "Ask Amy" too. It's great. But one must remember: these are the minds that brought you abortions like the word 'Brangelina', and for that matter, the notion that a book by the widow of a journalist killed in Afghanistan should then be made into a movie that largely celebrates not only how wonderful said widow is, but also how wonderful Angelina Jolie is for being in the movie treatment thereof.
Woof. That was quite the sentence. But really; even the whole 'The News Has Gone To Hell' story has now become boring. I see increasing amounts of media figures writing that particular screed, and while it has the virtue of being true, I must, as always, Blame The Parents, which is to say: And whose fault would that be, you fucking whiners?

I like Dum Nooz (patent pending) as much as anyone: I get my news from Wonkette and Slate, pretty much, with the BBC running a diiiistant third. And the Mayor Beaver blog (Okay; Blogtown PDX is what it is, and has always been called): I don't really get news as such, I get gossip and infighting. Do I join in? Yes, yes I do.
It's not like I'm protesting much here: whenever journalists start talking about Public Service, I always narrow my eyes. And this too: that perhaps this is just the reasonably expected happening. The English language is mutating further and further into what appears to be slang, so goes the Fourth Estate, yeah? The industry that uses Language and Perception as their main means of production start to mirror the minds of their customers?
Much like 'Fourthmeal' at Taco Bell isn't an indication of hunger; it's evidence that you're drunk, but it's hard to delineate that in the moment.

Then there's the fact that a small cottage industry has sprung up around our very worst comic strips. It's not enough, for instance, that "For Better or For Worse" is inarguably terrible and mostly serves as a roadmap for Lynn Johnston's increasing neurosis, but the fact that exactly how horrible and why is debated extensively on The Comics Curmudgeon, and there are several blogs devoted specifically to it.
It's wonderful. It's stupid. We all apparently have a lot of time on our hands.

Not sure what I'm talking about, really. Blogging is stupid, and more and more people seem to be doing it, which is leading to a sort of Gresham's Law effect where less and less people are reading the damn things.
I certainly get less random traffic from people around the world than I once did, but that could be a lot of things: I often go long periods without writing anything in this space because while most people use these things as online diaries, I only sometimes view that as a good idea. So if I don't have some larger point to make, I try to avoid the diarizing.
So I guess I'm writing something to keep the mind limber, and the Saturday NYT crossword is only reminding me how hungover I am.

Tonight: the first meeting of The Golden HoAxe Committee! News to follow.


Sunday, June 10, 2007

It's Gestalt Therapy time! Hit It!

Ooh. Post One-Fifty. Big.
I had planned on doing a version of that Gestalt number in which you start each sentence with "Now I (am/hear/see/smell/am sucking on, etc.)", and for the less literal among us, I was gonna leave out the word 'now', and just write about whatever has been on my mind over the course of the afternoon.
That was yesterday. Google decided it didn't like me, and not only does that mean that I couldn't check my email, it also meant that Blogger wasn't letting me anywhere near any o' that, either.

So having said that, I'll speak instead about a topic never far from my heart: dance craze songs.

The blame, as always, must begin with Chubby Checker. (With a name like that, it's almost easy to forget that he was once Archbishop of Canterbury, and an Earl who has been a Peer of the Realm for several decades.)
There's been many dance crazes throughout the years, but before "The Twist", I don't believe any of them had their own song, ostensibly explaining how to do it.
And Chubby himself may have single-handedly did in the entire genre by insisting that he wasn't a one trick pony...Or he was, but in a sort of Updated For Your Pleasure kind of way: the hopefully-named "Let's Twist Again (Like We Did Last Summer)" (with the unpublished subtitle: 'Perhaps you recall what fun it was, and what a great time we all had in those innocent days of a year ago when I was a top-selling recording artist, and not at all lonely as hell, having a hard time paying the bills, etcetera. Do you know how hard it is retaining a small harem of groupies [The Chubby Chasers (tm)]? Won't you please help?').
Then came "The Christmas Twist", I believe it was called (But hell, even Harlan 'Colonel' Sanders was doing albums like that, in those days). What they never tell you about was his later foray into social activism that most Black artists would eventually embrace: "Let's Twist in Remembrance of Brother Malcolm X", and "A Twist to Decry the Hellish Social Conditions in the Ghettoes of Amerikkka, Causing Many to Riot".

So you'd think that we'd be done with all that, but we weren't. Many one-hit (and no-hit) wonders of the days soon after tried it too, with the same level of hopeful-ness. From the 'Hairspray' soundtrack, we have "It's Madison Time", or perhaps just "The Madison". I don't know; I don't own the album.
But it never fails to crack me up. The first line, before you even know what's going on, is simply: "It's Madison time-HIT IT!" And then the guy sort of lazily explains possible things one might do, bodily, to celebrate...Madison Time, with the constant command, "HIT IT!". This would provide the template for future excursions by less talented artists.

And who can forget Otis Redding's one attempt at this weirdness-"The Hucklebuck"? In lieu of explanation of Hucklebucking, he kind of provides a travelogue of places where they be doin' the Hucklebuck. Handy for planning Hucklebuck-oriented summer vacation road trips, but still for the life of me, I can't do the Hucklebuck, and Otis isn't making it any easier on me.

The '70's were apparently a great time for James Brown impersonators. On the compilation series 'The Sounds of Soul', there's about a hundred of them, and many want you to learn their brand new dance. I love 'em all: The Vibrettes, McKinley Sandifer, Phil n' Portia, all had their dance-hit attempt.
Certainly the most famous of these was Archie Bell and the Drells, who gave us...Well, let's let Archie tell it:
"Hi, I'm Archie Bell, and these are The Drells! We're up here (?) from Houston, Texas, and we're gonna show you a brand new dance called The Tighten Up!"
A lot of explanation for so little information to come. Archie spends almost all his time exhorting you to Tighten Up, at some point excusing himself to go 'tighten up with the drummer', who responds with a weird little drum solo, causing someone in the studio to whistle with appreciation.
And yes, at no point is there anything in the way of explanation of how one does The Tighten Up. This song, for some reason, is available on some karaoke machines, and I've done it, simply because it's fucking absurd to stand up there singing repetitions of the words 'tighten up', over and over again. On the album, there is so totally a "Tighten Up, pt. 2" track. It varies little from the original.

The Vibrettes, on the other hand, gave us something called "The Humpty Dump" (not to be in any way confused with "The Humpty Dance", some ten to fifteen years later). They do, in fact, give us some explanation of how the dance is done, but what emerges is a description of something you would look wrong doing:
"Do the hump. It's The Humpty Dump.
Do your thing, pat your rump.
Pat your thighs.
Shade your eyes.
Move your feet.
Show your tee-eeth"
All this is set to what amounts to a James Brown riff, and just for giggles, I tried doin' it once. What I saw in the mirror looked more than passing queer.
Then the song, in the great tradition of songs like this, decides to mention a couple other dances that you, as a dance-craze consumer, might wish to check out: "Gonna moo-oove to San Francisco, where they're doin'/ a thing called The Bolo". Then they fail to explain what that is, and well, they spend the last moments of the song simply repeating "gonna moo-ooo-ooove", which is, under the circumstances, poignant. They utterly failed to become famous.

"Rare Back and Stretch", by McKinley Sandifer, is a wonder of contradictions. On one hand, the dance is easy "like taking candy from a baby", but it also is "a whole lot o' work y'all: it ain't no play". This is at least partially due to the strictures of the rhyming format ('baby' rhymes with 'maybe', as 'ain't no play' rhymes with 'listen to what I say'), where meaning often takes a back seat.
But then, after some pretty definitive (if mutually contradictory) statements about the nature of The Rare Back and Stretch, McKinley then softens up a little. He offers that if you can't do the dance, you may "groove cross the floor, and do anything". Okayyy...But wait a minute. Where are you going?
"Ah'm 'onna go rare back n' stretch wit' th' drummer!", in an obvious nod to Archie Bell, he says, adding, "Git it!", which sure as hell sounds like someone demanding that I do The Madison to me.

This is all so confusing, and as always, it just gets weirder when everyone's stoned. "Charge!", by Phil and Portia, is a wonder. It's an interaction between a man who is so stoned, he keeps breaking narrative to just stand there going, "Heh heh...Heh heh heh heh...", and a woman who is more likely running the show, so spunky is she.
The name of the dance, according to Phil, is the Charge and Discharge. He ran across it when he went home down south, "where they're doin' a mad, mad thing". She almost blows her cue, and stumbles through asking him what the name is.
It's hardly remarked upon, what a horrible name for a fine, fun dance that is. And after a fair amount of what should be good, casual, earthy banter, he asks her to step on back ("I'm gone!", she drawls), and he yells, "CHARGE!"
The music goes into a break, and apparently he's dancing. Portia is making approving noises, but again: we have no idea what the dance looks like. After breathing a sigh of what sounds like relief, Portia interjects: "Look here!"
She points out that she too has learned a brand new dance, and for some reason, it is also called The Charge and Discharge. However, she ain't no damn 'farmer', as she keeps calling Phil (which makes me think that maybe these two have several years of banter-y, vaguely sinister interaction ala Ike & Tina, that we haven't been privy to), and in the city, they have ce-ment, which is smoove, not like all them weeds they got down where farmers are.
"You sure do get on my case," says Phil, a bit pathetically.
"Your case is bad!" she retorts. This is getting out of control.
She too, somewhat more coquettishly, says, "Charge!", and seems to be dancing or something, based on the reactions of all nearby. Eventually, one of these geniuses (I'm gonna say 'Phil') gets the idea that maybe a good idea would be to combine the rural and urban versions of these dances we, as listeners, have only heard about. The song fades.

Too much junk, too much coke, too many 'ludes. The dust what make yo' head BUST! The Seventies burned out, much like we suspected they would, and took with them both The Variety Show Hosted By A Celebrity and Dance Craze Songs.
Or Did They? The Humpty Hump, Da' Butt, The Macarena, for Christ's sake? 'The Steve Martin', from EPMD's first album? Hell, you haven't lived, son.
Naw, the greatest game is never done. We just gotta get back at it. The stakes are remarkably low.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What I Am

There was a report, on the local news a few years ago, about a program designed to divert young firebugs from further arson. It followed the progress of two young boys, and at the end of the segment, both were asked what they had learned.
One of them said something to the effect of, "Well, I learned that I shouldn't set fires because I might hurt myself or someone I love," and the other one said, "I MUST NOT SET FIRES BECAUSE I MUST NOT SET FIRES, " pretty much. All of this said with wide, barely-in-control eyes.
The difference, for some reason, wasn't remarked upon by the news anchors because they are idiots. All they saw was a darn good program that was really helping the kids there, and not the multiple-arsonist-to-be that had just been profiled. The program had somehow forgotten that anyone, really, can say what other people want to hear.

It is a human conceit that the sea is cruel. I've spent years too damn many telling anyone who will listen: it is what it appears to be to You, on any given day, and that is all. However, never turn your damn back on it, as it is as unpredictable as anything or anyone can be. It already tried to take me once.
I saw a couple of little shits the other day at the beach. One said to the other, "If we get stuck, it's not my fault." I chuckled.
"I know what those evil little boys are going to do," I said to Bee. I knew damn well. I'd already done it.
It's the number in which you challenge the sea to come and get you, and the sea, depending on the time of day, time of year, and the whim of that moment, will almost inevitably appear to do so, and depending on the level of your foolishness, it can be deadly.
One could say that it's the opposite of what everyone else does though; backing into traps of their own making, protesting ignorance the whole time.

In the Neko Case song 'Mood to Burn Bridges', there's the line "So many people who live in my town mind to my business and none of their own. They are so happy that I've done wrong, I'm surprised they don't turn around and thank me."
It's a funny thing about being me: there is no way to do it that will please everybody, to put it mildly. I've been told by friends (or those who purport to be such) many times over the years that I ought to not maybe be so critical of other people.
But on the other hand, a fair amount of them seem to enjoy my hyper-critical-ness (whether for its usefulness or its amusement value), and a lot of the time, I'm only saying what other people won't, or feel they can't, despite the fact that they agree.
So when it turns around suddenly and becomes a case of me poisoning the well of goodwill, I'm a little grumbly about it, since I also tend to be the person likely to give the worst bore in every crowd at least one serious listen, just to see if they're worth listening to, and the more disliked by the majority you are, the more likely I am to give you several chances. And besides, the accusation makes me narrow my eyes: it's always from someone who would rather talk shit behind the backs of their prey, or do it with passive-aggression. I spoil the game by doing it out loud.

There's a couple fundmental things at odds here: on one hand, the fact that I truly do view there being something worth while in everyone, and on the other, the fact that I have every right to call bullshit on people, and there's a lot of it. Just like they have the right to disagree when I do it, but can I never, ever again hear some shiny-eyed believer tell me You can't say that?
Because the thing is: I'm often wrong about many things, and I gladly admit it when that's the case. However, I'm rarely wrong about people.

And: on those occasions when I know that I've done wrong, gone too far and burned too many bridges, I generally interpret it as the universe telling me to just shut the fuck up for a while.
But, if I were to try to glean some larger lesson from the whole thing, what would it be? That I hold my tongue more than I already do? It may not seem like it, but I routinely drive myself near ulcers letting people make their own mistakes.
Naw, as always, I'm not not gonna be myself: it's impossible. Say it, let it be done, and prepare for the consequences.

It is a human conceit that the ocean is kind. I was standing on the deck of Bachelor Pad Two the other day, watching the sun go down over the ocean. It was one of those moments when everything gets ridiculously sparkly, shortly before the whole enterprise becomes too bright to set eyes upon. It's like the world is playing the most beautiful goodbye song, entirely composed of one long, perfect note.
The fact is, that particular part of the north coast is the only home I've had for the length of my entire life. The house will be missed, and the reasons for why the last week in May was all the more chance I'll get to see it have led me to, for the time being, cease speaking to my father.
But the important part is, I know that beach now like it's part of my own body, and I'll keep returning to it because it's unique among beaches. Talking to the sea is talking to yourself is talking to the universe.

I was sort of parenthetically talking about this the other day to a relatively well-known local artist. We were talking about our mutual dislike of another local artist's work, and I said that she was "too self-absorbed; well duh-she's an artist."
My conversational companion, who earlier had been all in favor of bluntness, now was registering something that looked like outrage. I moved quickly.
I reminded the table that art requires self-absorption, to an extent. It all begins with us talking to ourselves. The dialogue in our heads (or talking to the voices) is the origin of all of it, and the only problem is when you forget about the rest of the world, and spend all of your expression in that familiar love song to yourself that bad art is: The Artist Congratulates Themself For Being An Artist.
Crisis averted. At least we're just talking about those other people, eh?

Mister White has been writing a great deal lately. The Obits will be back soon, with final thoughts on the tragic demise of a band that previously had been available for weddings, birthdays, bar/bat mitzvahs and retirement parties. My own thoughts are scattered in this period of deep transition. I haven't been able to adequately put down here all those fine thoughts I bin' thinkin', but it was worth a shot.
See you soon.