Movies I’ve Seen: Kedi (2017)



Directed by Ceyda Torun. Music by Kira Fontana. Starring the streets of Istanbul, the cats that roam it, and the people who love them. In Turkish.

About five minutes into Kedi, I realized that I wanted to talk at length with its director, Ceyda Torun, over mug after mug of fragrant, honeyed tea. How did she get such roving, intimate shots of the secret lives of cats? Where did she learn the patience to simply let felines, especially stray and undomesticated felines, get comfortable enough with cameras and crews and cinematic apparatuses to simply be? More important, how did she get the people who love these cats—with equal parts adoration and exasperation—to open up so thoroughly? For it’s clear that when they talk about cats, they’re talking about the deepest parts of themselves—who they think they are, who they wish they were, what they desire most about the world. One man muses that dog lovers love dogs because dogs imagine that their humans are God. “Cats are not ungrateful,” he says, accurately, “but they know better.” Cats know that we are, if anything, God’s middlemen—and they treat us accordingly. Continue reading

Posted in Film, Me | Leave a comment

Movies I’ve Seen: Toni Erdmann (2016)

toni-erdmann-01

Written and directed by Maren Ade. Starring Sandra Hüller (Ines), Peter Simonischek (Winfried/Toni Erdmann), Thomas Loibl (Gerald), Ingrid Bisu (Anca), and Trystan Pütter (Tim). In German and English, with snatches of Romanian.

I don’t know what Toni Erdmann is, exactly, and that lack of knowing is liberating. I don’t think I would call it a comedy, though it has a 15-minute sequence near the end that made me laugh harder at a film than anything I’ve seen onscreen in five years. I would call it a melodrama, given how histrionic some of the action and emotions get, but it’s shot in Steadicam—the slightly jittery camera got on my nerves after a while, though maybe the persistence of anxiety is part of the point—and with a muted color scheme that practically cries out “realism.” It keeps a melancholic tone throughout its 162 minutes (a running time appropriate for a family saga, not a clash-of-cultures comedy), and the movie begins and ends with deaths, but I wouldn’t call Toni Erdmann a drama. Though it centers on a father/daughter relationship, corporate capitalism is the air in which that relationship breathes, and Toni Erdmann is as much a satire (or perhaps just reportage) of globalization’s reach into our personal lives as it is a family dramedy. Rather, it’s a movie that keeps you on the edge of laughter, taking the idea of the Comedy of Discomfort (see: The Office [British version], Curb Your Enthusiasm, or practically any HBO comedy since 1999) as far as it can go, teetering between slapstick and despair.

So, it lacks a genre or maybe has too many of them. So, let’s call it a relationship film. The core relationship, between Winfried (Peter Simonischek) and his daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller, phenomenal), is that of strained family relations that grow closer—well, maybe—as a result of highwire tension. Ines is trying to close a deal as an oil consultant that will ultimately result in hundreds of people losing their jobs. She knows this. She sorta hates it. But she wants to succeed, to be good at it, to be perfect, even, though she doesn’t really know why. Her estranged dad sees her despair—though he’s projecting some of his own into the mix—and attempts to help in the only way he knows how: by being an embarrassing buffoon in Ines’s public life. He does so in the hackiest ways, with a bad wig and fake teeth and schlumpy demeanor and basic faking his way through awkward social exchanges. He effectively blows up his daughter’s life in order to save it.

Or maybe he’s not that useful at all. Parents, as their children grow older, tend to think that they have a clearer sense of their children’s needs than the children do, even though—by necessity—parents actually know less about their kids’ day-to-day lives as the kids grow into adults and thus away from their parents. Still, at Toni Erdmann‘s beginning, Ines is shot and structured as a standard Ice Queen—always on the smartphone, even at family gatherings; keeping up with things in Shanghai and Bucharest by Skype, while neglecting what’s directly in front of her; flailing at a vaguely defined (but high-paying) job that keeps her rootless, and keeps her embedded in a deeply sexist workplace; her relationship with a colleague is clinically sexual, despite a kink involving a petit four, and there’s little romantic or even passionate in her life. Ines performs her work life with a series of fixed smiles, a clipped vocal tone in a variety of languages, and with smooth facial expressions; none of it seems quite real. She needs help and, deep down in those quavering eyes of hers, she knows it. What’s interesting, though, is how our knowledge of her changes over the course of the movie. In the first third, I sympathized with Winfried’s semi-inspired clowning but grew weary of him by 45 minutes into the movie, shifting my allegiance, if you can call it that, to Ines. She’s in a tough spot, in a demanding industry that she’s not even sure she respects, much less likes. She’s in the midst of a difficult business maneuver involving multiple countries, languages, and competing professional alliances. And here comes Dad to tell her how Empty It All Is, and how keeping your humor and grace will save the day. It’s irritating, especially when it becomes clear that Dad doesn’t really know what she does for a living.

Then again, neither did I as an audience member. Maren Ade’s screenplay and direction make it clear that “consultant” is a catchall term that implies and demands of a lot of things involving PowerPoints and backroom negotiations, and that saying that one is a consultant is a way of putting on a mask, of disguising your true intentions. There’s a lot of that in Toni Erdmann, right down to the title. “Toni Erdmann” is the half-assed pseudonym that Winfried adopts while trying to improve his daughter’s life, and it’s arguable that the daughter is the film’s protagonist, anyway. Ines is the real “Toni Erdmann,” playing at roles continually throughout the movie—she makes her assistant (Ingrid Bisu) switch clothes with her before a major meeting, after a bloody mishap; she switches languages fluidly, depending on who she’s talking to; she pretends to be Toni Erdmann’s secretary, for reasons of her own. Ade makes the point perhaps too obvious by having Ines show her true self, finally, by getting literally naked—for about 15 minutes—as a corporate team-building exercise. Of course, given the genre queasiness of this movie, you can read that moment as a long-overdue mental breakdown. It’s also Ade lampooning the casual workplace sexism that Ines deals with throughout Toni Erdmann, by having Ines force anyone who wants to enter the team brunch (at her apartment) to come as naked as she is. As with so much of this movie, the scene can be read in several directions at once. And that’s before the seven-foot-tall faceless furry monster steps into the apartment.

The movie elicits nervous giggles throughout it, because the situations have the potential for high comedy, but are so often played and shot flatly. (The cast is as deadpan somber/funny as a Wes Anderson picture.) The naked team-building brunch allows for a tremendous release. The nudity isn’t played to leer at Ines (though Hüller is stunning and sexy, clothed or not) but to ramp up the laughter, with each new person entering the apartment adding to the guffaws. The audience I saw Toni Erdmann with rolled and rolled during this sequence, almost in relief. This sequence is terrific but I think a slightly earlier one gets at the heart of Ade’s movie.

During a day that starts with Winfried and Ines handcuffed to each other, and finding some Romanian toughs to unlock the cuffs1, the daughter and father end up in the Romanian countryside, at an oilfield where Ines needs to do business. It’s here that we finally get to see the people who will lose their jobs because of Ines’s corporate work, as well as the limits of Winfried’s buffoonery—he accidentally gets someone fired as a result of a bad joke; he’s disconsolate about this; Ines calmly (but not coldly) informs Winfried that her consulting firm would have fired the guy eventually, anyway. We see poverty, people in shacks with septic tanks nearby, children scheming for cash because they need it, and the general rundown nature of life that globalism tries to smooth over in think-tank conferences and trade summits.

But then, graciously, Ade shows us the flipside of this: community and familial life in action, despite the poverty. On the way back to Bucharest, Ines and Winfried stop off at a Romanian family’s house for a traditional Easter celebration. It’s a cramped house, filled with loving family members. There’s food and tchotchkes everywhere, and an egg-dyeing station in the dining room. There’s a cheap keyboard that’s perfect for drunken singalongs. Given the tonal weirdness of this movie, you just know that Winfried (in “character” as Toni Erdmann) is gonna end up playing that keyboard. Ines, who is near her emotional breaking point, will end up singing to the family. As everyone encourages Ines to sing, she resists, and I was initially annoyed by her coldness. But then, as they egged her on, I began to empathize with her—she didn’t want to come, she doesn’t really know why she’s there, she didn’t ask to participate, and now Dad’s gotten her into another fine mess. And then I realized what song Winfried was playing, and began to chuckle, and then to laugh. And then Ines finally sighs and we can see her think to herself, Jesus, fuck it all, and then she launches into…

Ines falters at first, and gradually warms to the song, and the song warms to the family around her, and this crowded scene flickers through so many emotions—hilarious embarrassment, mounting pride, a sentimental flooding of a heart, and then a kind of earned grace that fuses wistfulness and jaw-dropping, did-she-just-do-that? wonder. It’s not that Ines matches Whitney Houston’s pipes. No, her voice cracks at moments, and she gets flat once or twice. But she really, really, really feels the song. She goes all in, emotionally and performatively, in a way that she hasn’t done up to this point in the picture. (Hüller will do it again, at her birthday brunch.) That Easter moment has everything that’s in Toni Erdmann in a single scene. And then, as soon as Winfried hits the final chords, Ines bolts out of the house. She doesn’t even say goodbye. We’re not sure whether that’s out of pride or out of embarrassment, and maybe, in that instant, they’re the same thing for her.

1. Again, so many of this movie’s contrivances read like slapstick comedy on the page but visualize like kitchen-sink drama.

Posted in Film | Leave a comment

50-worders: Keeping up with the fogeys

This is way late, originally intended for December 2016, but life intervened, mostly in a good way.

Considering that I recently turned 40 years old, and I’ve spent a year co-writing a book of musical criticism about a single record, I was surprised to look at my CDs & phone and learn that I actually bought more new releases in 2016 than in the previous two years combined. So, I’m keeping up! Except, you know, not so much—half of my buys have been new records by my old mainstays, and the other half are longtime jazz masters with whom I’m just now catching up. Here we go with some 50-word reviews and recommendations.

I’ll have a larger reflection on a new Sun Ra release in a week or two. It’s a three-disc affair, and the Man from Saturn deserves more than a snippy sentence or two.

(For a primer on the process and rating system, go here. I added two rows for, respectively, favorite and least favorite tracks. You’ll figure it out.)

50-word-cheetahaphex twin — cheetah [EP] — 9.5
Beats throb like a thumping heart; everything else courses like a river of blood. The synths echo and skittter nervously off the walls. The instruments feel soft, rounded, and pulsing with erotic energy. Play it loud, quietly, on your headphones, or through your speakers—no matter what, it’ll flow through you.
reminds you of: The Orb / Autechre
slay tracks:
“CIRKLON3 [Колхозная mix],” “2X202-ST5”
just say no, Nancy:
n/a (and, no, that’s not a song title)

50-word-and-the-anonymous-nobodyde la soul — and the anonymous nobody — 6.0
When everyone shows up to your party, sometimes people forget who threw it. Supa Dave West’s all-star group funked around uninterrupted for hours; the gorgeous tracks were built from these sessions. David Byrne, Snoop Dogg, Estelle, Usher, 2Chainz, Jill Scott, Damon Albarn, and others add contributions. Guess who feels missing?
reminds you of: D’Angelo’s Voodoo / Jurassic 5 / Lucy Pearl
slay tracks:
“Pain,” “Memory of… (Us),” “Trainwreck, “Here In After”
just say no, Nancy: “Drawn,” “Lord Intended,” “Whoodeeni”

50-word-sunday-night-at-the-vanguardfred hersch trio — sunday night at the vanguard — 7.8
So warmly recorded that I often forget how chilly the music is, I appreciate Hersch aiming the standard piano/bass/drums format beyond tasteful ballads, even though the band ultimately clings to that mode. They mesmerize me enough that I almost never longed for feedback, bad ideas, or, like, a kazoo. Almost.
reminds you of: Bill Charlap / Martial Solal / Bud Powell (but when is that ever not true for a piano trio?)
slay tracks:
“Blackwing Palomino,” “The Optimum Thing”
just say no, Nancy:
“Serpentine,” “Calligram”

50-word-ritual-spiritmassive attack — ritual spirit [EP] — 7.5
So much remains the same—outstanding singers and MCs made usefully indecipherable by dense production; slow-building sonic layers; intricate beats—that the changes are jarring: Tempo’s generally up, beats crunch instead of thump, and it emphasizes industrial harshness instead of hiding its digital roots. It rocks but I wish it bounced more.
Reminds you of: Shabazz Palaces / Tricky / RZA
Slay tracks:
title track, “Voodoo in My Blood”
Just say no, Nancy:
n/a

50-word-perfectionmurray, allen & carrington power trio — perfection — 9.0
Like Sleater-Kinney, this trio doesn’t need bass. What David Murray’s saxophone can’t croak on the low end, Geri Allen’s left hand covers on piano; whatever she misses, Terri-Lynn Carrington catches on drums. Jaunty and roiling, this combo sasses and snaps, gets gorgeous, and then slinks away—often on the same track.
Reminds you of: Ben Webster, at his most full-throated / Martial Solal, at his most angular / Elvin Jones
Slay tracks: “Barbara Allen,” “Geri-Rigged,” “Mirror of Youth”
Just say no, Nancy:
oddly, the title track (“Perfection”)

50-word-big-boatphish — big boat — 6.0
The Vermont boys tamp down the D&D lyrics and complex changes, which surface only on “Petrichor” (gorgeous) and “Waking Up Dead” (awful). Trey loves horns (good). Page loves vocoders (*sigh*). Even the drummer wrote a song, because that’s what “Friends” are for. Everyone invests in generous emotional clarity, for once.
Reminds you of:
Sting / Styx / Motown
Slay tracks:
“More,” “Breath and Burning”
Just say no, Nancy:
“I Always Wanted It This Way,” “Waking Up Dead”

50-word-we-got-it-from-herea tribe called quest — we got it from here… thank you 4 your service — 10.0
Phife’s dead, Ali Shaheed Muhammed is mostly absent, and Tribe is technically defunct, not that you could tell. Jazzy beats and liquid flow remain but respectively harder and funnier. This time, Tribe’s politics reach beyond Afrocentrism, embracing “mothers and fathers and dead niggas,” and brothers and sistas of all colors.
Reminds you of: Blowout Comb (look it up; you need to own it) / Fear of a Black Planet (ditto)
Slay tracks: “Dis Generation,” “The Space Program,” “The Donald”
Just say no, Nancy: n/a

50-word-ring-spielmike watt — “ring spiel” tour ’954.5
A few ringers—Dave Grohl, Eddie Vedder, Pat Smear—help Watt out in Chicago but it’s his show. The melodic bass crowds the room, inventively, sure, but mixed too muddily to tell. The music jangles and throttles in equal measures but, God bless, Watt can’t really sing. Or write a memorable chorus.
Reminds you of: fIREHOSE / Pearl Jam
Slay tracks:
“Big Train,” “Piss-bottle Man,” “Chinese Firedrill”
Just say no, Nancy:
“Powerful Hankerin’,” “Habit,” “Against the ’70s”

50-word-forever-soundswussy — forever sounds — 8.5
Lisa Walker (honeyed, confident) and Chuck Cleaver (yelping, anxious) sing so differently that it always surprises how beautifully they intertwine. Here, they bury their beautiful voices (and lyrics) in corrosion, spacy synths, and downtuned sludge. Clean songcraft suits Wussy; frayed atmospherics makes you dig for the magic—which is still there.
Reminds you of:
Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot / Lush / Sleater-Kinney’s The Hot Rock
Slay tracks:
“She’s Killed Hundreds,” “Hello, I’m A Ghost,” “Better Days,” “Majestic-12”
Just say no, Nancy:
“Hand of God”


Posted in Music, Quick Hits | Leave a comment

Happy New Year / 2016’s Top 5

It’s time, once again, for the grand tradition begun in 2002, in an Austin, TX, backyard. (See the 2014 and 2015 editions.) 2016 was a difficult year but this summing-up reminds me that there was indeed a lot of joy within it. This year’s version started as a letter written to two of the people who were with me in that backyard, chilly and shivering, listening to fireworks pop, and sharing puffs on a Arturo Fuentes Short Story Cigar. So, I’ve made some edits.

OK, here we go.

#1: A long spring weekend in the north Georgia mountains.
Needing a place to write that was away from my usual distractions, I went up to Clayton and Demorest, Georgia, basically the foothills of the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Mountains. There, in a cheap Days Inn motel room, with a printout of the Workbook manuscript Dan and I had written, I frantically revised by longhand, while occasionally looking out the window at the fog nestling over the mountaintops and getting tangled in the tree branches. I took breaks: to go on a long-planned birdwatching hike at the Lillian E. Smith Center of Piedmont College with accomplished birders who pointed out red-eyed vireos and crows by their calls and colors, even from great distances. Of the 15+ people on the bird walk, I was the youngest by two decades, and I spent a good amount of time being the “nice young man” who helped old ladies when they slipped on the rocks and roots. Then, back to writing. That Saturday night, nursing a bourbon after a long day of cutting-and-pasting and jotting, I turned on the TV, and turned to HBO, which I don’t get at home. A Beyonce music video had just started, and boy it was weird… and long. I checked Twitter to see if anyone could help me figure out what I was seeing, and so got to experience Black Twitter’s hourlong freakout over the premiere of Lemonade. The next morning, more writing, and then I checked out of the hotel, to go on a quick hike on the Warwoman Dell Trail, which ends in a trickling, delicate waterfall into ferns.

#2: Saratoga Springs, NY, 4th of July weekend.
I was there to see three Phish shows with friends but my days were free. I had a rental car, and went every day to a new trail in the Adirondack mountains. This was strenuous and beautiful and with vivid greens and dauntingly clear skies that I breathed in with each step. I took pictures and wrote haiku. I smelled evergreen perfume everywhere I walked, and rambled under tree shadows. I spent an afternoon sauntering around downtown Saratoga Springs–charming, lively–and its beautiful park full of mineral springs and duck ponds. The concerts were almost a anticlimax by comparison.

#3: The moment I hit the SEND button on 6/14/16, officially turning in the full manuscript for Bob Mould’s Workbook. Dan Couch and I have poured a lot into this book, and we ain’t done yet. (Our final revisions are due at the end of this month; publication’s scheduled for Bloomsbury’s Fall 2017 season.) I’ve published a fair bit, and my portfolio of criticism is reasonably robust but sending off our first full manuscript for publication was… well, it was something else.

#4: Andrea Couch & Erik Wofford’s wedding weekend, outside of Austin, TX.
Another April event. Andrea is Daniel’s younger sister, and a dear friend. She’s also friends with many of my high-school friends and acquaintances, so the wedding was essentially a class reunion–but the kind I would actually want to attend. I saw at least ten people who I hadn’t seen in a decade or longer. The outdoor wedding, along the banks of the Rio de Colores, was grand and thoroughly rain-drenched. Andrea and Erik trooped through it, sans umbrellas, and even, during a quick lull in the downpour, shot off fireworks over the river after they’d exchanged rings. But, really, the entire weekend was lovely, not just the wedding day–from my off-the-wall-insane hotel room (a floor-to-ceiling collage of burlesque/pinup photography & poster art) in a genuinely crazy cottage; to hanging out with Dan and his family; to (thank God) genuine Texas barbecue with beef brisket; to a fantastic open-air meal at a restaurant featuring a great punk Cajun band and kids playing everywhere on the playground and their parents sipping beer; to the fusion-skronk-disco stylings of the wedding band (Golden Dawn Arkestra).

#5: I’m moving to Atlanta.
This happened on 30 December: I signed on to rent a house in East Atlanta. I’ve spent the autumn negotiating a promotion that, among other things, allows me to telecommute my job from Atlanta. I like Athens a great deal, and I’ll miss it (though, really, it’s just 75 minutes away from my new home) but I realize that I’m a big-city guy at heart, and I miss the electric pulse and pressure and in-your-faceness of true urban spaces too much. Plus, I really, really love Atlanta–well, except for the traffic, which I’m learning to understand. The fall has been unusually stressful but, now that I know where I will be living, much of the anxiety has melted away. It feels like a weight’s been lifted from my heart, like I can breathe and see clearly again. The house is lovely, in a funky middle-class neighborhood that I like, and it’s all a good fit for me.

Honorable mention (cut & pasted from a letter to a different friend, out in L.A.): “I did attend a Sun Ra Arkestra concert [in February] that blew me away, here in Athens. The band veered from free-jazz atonality to blues ballads to big-band bebop to relatively straightforward swing. Such a nimble band. It all felt of a piece. The trombonist did backflips. The horn section insinuated itself into the audience on two occasions. They all wore sparkly futurist Egyptian garb. It was bizarre, and wonderful. Interestingly, given that Sun Ra was a keyboardist extraordinaire, keyboards played the most minor role–the horns and percussion led the way. Anyway, I’d been wondering where all the cute black and nonwhite women were in Athens–as college towns go, it’s a pretty white place. Well, apparently they come out en masse for space-age ruckus and skronk. Who knew?”

HAPPY 2017! May it be an improvement over 2016 in every way.

Posted in Me | Leave a comment

Bob Mould saves my life, again

Last night could’ve been a bust.

Bob Mould came to Athens’s Georgia Theatre on a Thursday night with his crackerjack rhythm section—Jon Wurster on drums, Jason Narducy on bass—and nobody showed up. Well, not nobody. But the Georgia Theatre can hold roughly a thousand folks, and only about 150 attended this gig. So, it was considerably undersold. We were mostly achy graybeards and thin-hairs, with my friend (at age 31) being among the youngest there by a good decade. The night was chilly, the air thick with the campfire smoke that seemed good until we realized and kept realizing that the smoke came from continual wildfires blooming and raging an hour north of us in the mountains near western North Carolina. Those of us who shuffled into the venue were melancholy, shell-shocked, numb with fear, wearied with anguish over the presidential election. The balcony section was curtained off entirely, and the floor never looked completely packed, even by mid-set.

Bob & Co., though, didn’t give a shit. At 9:40pm, they strode onstage fast—the house lights were still on—and slung their instruments into their hands and took one quick look into each other’s eyes and Wurster clacked his drumsticks one, two, three, and off they went on a 70-minute roar into the stratosphere. Tight, fast, loud, and focused, Mould and Narducy swirled across the stage during instrumental breaks, Narducy high-kicking on occasion, and Mould bearing down on his axe while lurching purposely. Wurster mouthed the words as he pounded away on the drums.

As usual, Bob thought of the show in terms of themed packets, starting with a one-two-three punch of Hüsker Dü classics—“Flip Your Wig,” “Hate Paper Doll,” and “I Apologize”—and then vaulted headlong into two Sugar songs (“A Good Idea” and “Changes,” which come back-to-back on 1992’s Copper Blue). The band didn’t pause for breath (or applause) between songs, or even slow down during the whole set, so the effect was like being in a melodic wind tunnel, one song blurring into the next. I liked the effect, as it allowed for a sonic continuity between tunes that were sometimes written and recorded 20 years apart from each other. The band played songs from Bob’s most recent three records—Patch the Sky (2016), Beauty & Ruin (2014), and the astonishing Silver Age (2012)—as well as from Beaster (“Come Around,” from 1992). A lot of Hüsker Dü songs got airplay, sure, but so did Patch the Sky. Though the band rarely veered into Bob’s late-1990s/early-2000s electronica period, all other aspects of the man’s career surged through the house. The whole set felt of a single piece, in a way that wouldn’t have been true if I had listened to the studio versions, in a Spotify playlist. It all made sense together.

But of course I’d think that, being a Bob Mould fan for more than half my life. During “You Say You” (from Patch the Sky), I wondered what someone relatively unfamiliar with Mould might think of this concert. And there was my friend, who to my knowledge does not own a Bob Mould record and has heard Hüsker Dü mostly on YouTube, and she was flailing away, headbanging and pumping fists into the air, probably imagining Donald Trump on the receiving end. I felt better. Bob probably imagined the Orange One getting pummeled, too, which might be why there were no ballads on this set, and why “In a Free Land” got played but not “New Day Rising” or “See A Little Light,” why the only song that Bob introduced properly was Patch the Sky’s “Hold On,” why we all sang along during a ferocious rendition of the Mary Tyler Moore Show’s theme (“We’re gonna make it after allllllll!!!!!”) instead of the Hüskers’ “Divide and Conquer.” The mood in the house could have been somber, given everything and given that Mould’s songs are rarely exactly sunny, but the man was smiling throughout, bounding around the stage like a drunken monkey. His joy is contagious, cathartic, and Lord did we need it.

*********

RELATED: A decade ago, I wrote about seeing Bob in Seattle. A few years later, I did an audio version of it.

Posted in Music | Leave a comment

Song of the Day: Wussy’s “Halloween”

From the superb album Attica!, this dreamy, impressionistic song evokes childhood and teenage life in a small town for me like no other song, even though I’m not sure that’s exactly what Lisa Walker is singing about, and I didn’t grow up in a small (or even relatively midsized) town. Its tonal twang reminds me of driving around Dallas at night, the skyline blinking and the twilight submerged beneath the convergence of tangled interstates, gliding through the Friday evening traffic toward my friends in Oak Cliff, imagining adventures I knew about only from radio songs—few of which were as good as this one.

Posted in Music | Leave a comment

Commonplace

“The same progressives who bemoan the way Fox News has polarized political discourse in America, masquerading as news while never troubling its followers with anything that would disturb its most cherished and untested convictions, happily turn to the satellite radio station of their preferred genre or subgenre of music or seek out the support group or message board that fits their demographic, the political site that skews their way. Entering the realm of the other seems done solely to express rage.

“The rigorous division of websites into narrow interests, the attempts of Amazon and Netflix to steer your next purchase based on what you’ve already bought, the ability of Web users to never encounter anything outside of their established political or cultural preferences, and the way technology enables advertisers to identify each potential market and direct advertising to it, all represent the triumph of cultural segregation that is the negation of democracy. It’s the reassurance of never having to face anyone different from ourselves.

“I don’t believe it’s an accident that this segregation has become our cultural norm at a time when America is as politically polarized as it’s ever been. The hard fact of democracy, which is always a crapshoot, is that for it to work we can’t shut out who or what we don’t like, who or what we have not bothered to encounter. Popular art, which depends on crossing barriers, can’t exist in such confines. And criticism—which is meant to help people make sense of work they don’t know or assume they won’t like, or work that they know but haven’t really thought about—becomes something like samizdat in a culture set up to enforce the boundaries that art and criticism must transverse.”

—Charles Taylor, “The Problem with Film Criticism,” Dissent (Fall 2011)

Posted in Commonplace | 1 Comment