Have you seen the video of Turkish demonstrators singing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” It’s been making the rounds this week, aggregated on the usual aggregation sites and retweeted by the usual tweeters, including the famous croaking policeman himself, Russell Crowe.
Accompanied by a piano that was trucked into the square recently, the group starts with an English verse and chorus of the Les Miserables anthem before switching to Turkish. It is a joyful video, with the young singers, mostly women, leaning into that big refrain. It’s also a move that shows some savvy, attaching a little pop culture panache to a political movement and sending it viral.
This is not a music review. If you like Black Sabbath, you have already bought or are going to buy their new album, 13. If you don’t like Black Sabbath, you haven’t and you’re not. If you like or don’t like Black Sabbath but enjoy the cover of the X album Los Angeles, you should consider buying the new Black Sabbath album on vinyl and putting the two covers next to each other on your wall. I bet they’d look neat next to each other.
The National have gone from artists’ artists to stadium headliners, just as their borough has gone from artists’ enclave to centre of the creative universe. Both have come to represent a certain kind of ambition. Where does it end?
Last night, The New York Times published a scarce new interview with Kanye West in which Jon Caramanica leads his subject towards some kind of rhetorical apotheosis—that is, a combination of perceptive social critique, fashion-house utopianism and empyrean megalomania. One week before the arrival of his new album, Yeezus, Kanye invokes numerous current influences or imagined peers, including Raf Simons, Steve Jobs and a modernist Corbusier lamp, but reading his mercurial pronouns and surreal pronouncements made me think of an unannounced one: John Ashbery, elusive eminence of the New York School poets. I decided to do some interpolation, reassembling Kanye’s answers into experimental verse.
I was able to slip past everything with a pink polo,
That was from a place of love.
I knew I was going to make it this far;
I knew that this was going to happen.
If you walk into an old man’s house, they’re not giving nothing.
A hand emerging from a pile of loosely packed dirt typically hails the beginning of a zombie movie, not the end of a season of teen melodrama. But by the time the dead were (maybe!) rising in the third-season finale of ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars, it felt less like a shock than a standard scene transition. The twists in this show can come so furious—and be so ridiculous—that a dragon could flambé the main foursome and my primary reaction would be to wonder how long we’ll have to wait (one whole episode? Less?) to find out they’re still alive.
That’s slightly unfair, actually: one of the sheer joys of Pretty Little Liars is how good it is at setting up its twists, at making each one such a visceral thrill that, even if the fact of it were obvious from the opening credits, the details and subsequent pay-off are enough to inspire in you (well, me) incredibly dated bitchy proclamations (“Damn gurllll!”, “Oh no she dinnit!”, etc.). Most of the shows that draw wide cultural attention these days—Pretty Little Liars is not only the network’s most popular show ever, it was the first-ever show to rack up one million tweets while it was airing—have taken some kind of lessons from the plotting of soap operas; Pretty Little Liars has injected the DNA and mutated it into a more perfect form, taking it further even than its teenage melodrama predecessors.
William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition is a novel of collapse. As the line between true and false, digital and physical starts to crumble in protagonist Cayce’s quest to find the maker of the mysterious “footage,” so too does the boundary between local and global—especially that dividing the UK and America. It’s a phenomenon the narrator refers to as “the mirror world”: the fact that the two countries are inverted reflections of each other, somehow distinctly different and yet indistinguishable, all at the same time.
Joss Whedon's fast and loose production of Much Ado About Nothing reflects Shakespeare more as a writer of lowbrow human interest plays than the overwrought soliloquies Shakespeare has come to be associated with.
I’m a student of patterns. At heart, I’m a physicist. I look at everything in my life as trying to find the single equation, the theory of everything. – Will Smith, interview in New York Magazine
Look to the sky. See that orb? Feel its heat. Now observe how it traces an arc across the heavens. It does this every day. That’s a pattern.
Have you noticed? Best Actor Academy Awards are usually awarded to men who either play historical figures or characters with mental illness. Forrest Gump, Lincoln, the disturbed silent man from The Artist. Coincidence? Not on your life: that’s another pattern.
On Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club, and why watching something can be the worst way to understand it.
The Liberace of Stephen Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra (which premiered last Sunday on HBO) seems quite comfortable in his own skin. And yet, everywhere in Liberace’s life are signs that he apparently wanted to be just about anything other than what he was. There were, first of all, those costumes, lifted from a fantasia of how anyone dressed at any point in, you know, human history. He didn’t use the name he’d been given—everyone called him Lee, instead of his real name, Wladziu. He claimed to love women when, in fact, well, no. He tried to be a movie actor, a television actor, a sort of walking tourist attraction. Apparently, “just” being a millionaire classical pianist—an improbable path to success if ever there was one—brought him insufficient rewards (other than money, that is). To his critics, he was a big user of that phrase, “I cried all the way to the bank.” ... MORE
If it’s true that Arrested Development was a show built for the obsessive attention of the Internet several years before the Internet was mature enough to properly obsess over it, it’s safe to say that we have all made up for lost time. If the show had half as many viewers during its original run as it has had joke breakdowns, cast interviews and legacy think-pieces in the lead-up to its return, it never would have gone off air in the first place.
The genius of the series is generally attributed to its intricate structure, its callbacks and running jokes planned, placed and executed with better efficiency than most public transit systems. Individual episodes will set up and play off jokes with such speed and regularity that it can be surprising to return to the show (which I just did for, I think, the seventh time) and find out that something you thought was a series-long gag was merely sprung, stretched, inverted and paid off across a dozen instances in 22 minutes. There are perhaps a few sitcoms in the 10 years since Arrested Development debuted that can compete with it for sheer density of jokes, but there’s nothing on television—well, maybe, maybe, Mad Men, with its fractal-pattern character building—able to tie nearly every line, every gesture into a cohesive whole.
Z-Ro (a.k.a. Joseph Wayne McVey) is a Southern rapper known for songs about feeling lonely, depressed, betrayed or addicted to drank. Rob Ford is, at this precise moment of writing, still improbably the mayor of Toronto. Not the most intuitive pairing, one might think—unless you know that pretty much every popular musician of note secretly belongs to the Illuminati. (Remember when Biggie predicted 9/11?) For mysterious but undoubtedly sinister reasons, Z-Ro’s role in the conspiracy has forgone pyramids and alien reptiles to focus on Toronto municipal politics. Listening to his 2008 album Crack this week, I realized that it contained an intricately veiled prophecy of the Ford mayoralty. Only now can the clues be decoded.
On Wednesday, Doug Ford described his brother as “the people’s mayor,” more “accessible” than ever before, apparently referring to his habit of fielding phone calls from any stranger who makes one. But there are numbers the younger Ford clearly needs to stop dialing, as Z-Ro made clear five eerie years ago: “It’s a shame having a cell phone, but don’t want it to ring / Cause I don’t wanna deal with bullshit people and the bullshit they might bring / That’s why I send them to voicemail heaven (I don’t wanna talk) / Cause bullshit run a marathon, I rather keep it real and walk.”
The title of Community’s fourth-season (and probable series) finale, “Advanced Introduction to Finality,” pretty much sums up the absurdity of the show’s last year of existence. Having lost its creator, a notoriously cranky ensemble member and even its original start date, it has muddled its way through a dozen episodes of solid comedy that feel at times like an alternate-universe version of the show, or at least one more concerned with palpability than following its bizarre whims as far as possible.
So if “Introduction to Finality,” the season three closer, was about bidding adieu to the show as creator Dan Harmon conceived it, the fourth season as a whole has often felt like a chance to drift away from the show on the viewer’s own terms—the finality of having something taken away versus the finality of giving it away. This isn’t to say Community has been bad, exactly, but it’s been markedly different: less anarchic, less idiosyncratic, more of a standard sitcom in oddball clothes than a piece of esoteric art snuck through the network’s gate.
Cinema began with an industrial ritual: 46 seconds of workers leaving the Lumière brothers’ factory in Lyon, women playfully tugging at each other’s dresses, a large dog doing what hyperactive dogs have always done, every one nonchalant about their presence at the creation, this blank screen that, in the Scottish writer Gilbert Adair’s words, would bear “the myths, dreams, drives, lies, desires, archetypes, whimsies, crochets, psychic megrims, and occasionally the history, of our century.” Music video announced itself in kitschier terms. After the countdown, the moon-mission imagery, that American flag flashing with MTV neon, the Buggles’ elegy became its inaugural march, elevating them to immortal obscurity.
Their lament for radio stardom’s death wasn’t the first of its kind, but what one takes away from Spectacle, a new exhibit devoted to the form at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image, is that this medium could only emerge as such once communications technology caught up with art. The curators identify numerous precursors—D. A. Pennebaker’s adaptation of Duke Ellington, Paramount Pictures short films featuring performers like Bessie Smith and Cab Calloway, The Girl Can’t Help It and A Hard Day’s Night, those slabs of Gallic camp known as Scopitones—yet none are the “music video” that immediately comes to mind. On day one, MTV VJ Mark Goodman declared “we’ll be doing for TV what FM did for radio,” and by importing radio’s demographic research techniques to the unsurveyed vastness of cable, the predictably anarchic network gathered a mass audience to validate mass culture.
Prince revels in confusion, defying definition and willfully obscuring his past—and, often, his present. How is it, then, that he helps us understand ourselves better?
When people ask me what the Pop Conference is, as they often did last week, I tend to describe the annual EMP-sponsored event as a gathering of music nerds, which may collapse the diversity of the participants into one disheveled middle-aged man talking about obscure soul records. There are disheveled middle-aged men talking about obscure soul records at the Pop Conference, sometimes to fascinating effect, but the critics, academics, fans, DJs and musicians who show up mainly come to see disparately smart people obsessing over each other’s ideas. The first time I went, it was to present a paper about 50 Cent’s video game, Orientalism, bad Damien Hirst art and American hegemony; one year later, my topic was Bhutanese pop music, on a panel with people discussing Treme or tropicalia compilations.
I didn’t present anything last weekend. Whether due to scheduling issues or to give organizers a sabbatical for once, the 2013 conference split into five concurrent mini-events, hosted by Los Angeles, Cleveland, New Orleans, Seattle and New York, each with its own theme. (Excerpt from the announcement for NOLA’s event, which must have had the best-fed attendees: “We’ll do the South by driving straight into its tensions: tradition vs. modernity, faith vs. transgression, racial nostalgia vs. new immigrant populations, authenticity vs. performance.”) The NYC program, unlike some others, was curated in advance, so I decided to take the year off and come simply as a spectator.
Almost anybody can join the circus these days, and, thanks to the success of Cirque du Soleil and other marquee shows, probably make a good living doing it. But as the industry finds itself on solid footing, it loses some of the danger and romance that once made it such a unique draw.
As big-box businesses continue to crowd Toronto’s Queen Street West, fewer and fewer strongholds remain. Increasingly, you’ll find the gleaming, homogenous façades of new chain stores settling in next to independent retailers in an insidious gussying-up of the commercial strip. There is one unsullied stretch, though, in the neighbourhood of Trinity Bellwoods Park, and right in the middle of it sits Type Books.
Type, which has been around since 2006, is special not just because it’s a bookstore—a modest emporium that puts a premium on the printed word in a halogen megamall world—but because it feels like a part of its local community. Before setting foot in the store, the window calls out to you. In the past year, Kalpna Patel, a part-time Type employee and avid craftician who is bewilderingly adept at multi-tasking, has transformed the storefront into a talking point for flaneurs, artists, readers and Instagrammers.
Country music is talking about racism, hip hop is talking about rape culture, and rock and roll, maintaining its title as Low Stakes Champion, is talking about itself. In Pitchfork last week, alt-folk workhorse Kurt Vile called punk ideals entirely irrelevant, about a month after John Roderick, singer for The Long Winters, railed against punk rock for 3,000 words in the pages of Seattle Weekly. Roderick was so widely denounced that his piece was taken down, while Vile, in what passes for “widely denounced” for critical darlings, got tweeted at extensively, sometimes by Titus Andronicus. In both cases, you got the feeling that fans of guitar music were just happy to have something to talk about.
While Brad Paisley and Rick Ross have somehow sparked discussions about real-world issues (willfully misunderstanding the Civil War, drugging girls), here are rock’s recent points of conversation: Coachella-goers failing to appreciate the Stone Roses; the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame failing to induct, I don’t know, Supertramp?; “Is Ke$ha a rock star?”; and the aforementioned rock and roll musicians crapping on punk. Rock music has become such a non-issue that in the inaugural edition of Apology, the new culture/lit magazine from former Vice editor Jesse Pearson, Ian Svenonius breaks away from his usual “Rock as the psy-op stealth tool of the dominant power hegemony to crush human spiritual resistance” routine and instead devotes 20 pages to Wikipedia as slave labour. Clearly, the world has moved on, leaving all us thirty-somethings in ill-fitting band T-shirts to talk to ourselves, about ourselves.
Napoleon said caricatures “did more than all the armies of Europe” to defeat him. King Louis Philippe jailed a comic artist on grounds such a work “amounts to an act of violence.” Even the skilled propagandists of the Third Reich flailed in the face of unkind portraits.