Monday, May 28, 2007

Archives Project: STL #25

Title: Language Holds Us
Description: Reading Roundup: Poetry
Date: 17 December 2003

I've been catching up with "post-avant," "progressive," "pomo," or, my favorite, "postlangpo" (post-Language) poetry since I starting checking out a number of blogs linked from Ron Silliman's blog this past summer. A lot of these poets take their inspiration from Zukofsky, so it makes sense that I try to figure out what they're up to. The more immediate inspiration for most of the poets I discuss below is the so-called Language poetry that flowered in the 1970's. You can access the famous journal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E online if you're curious.

Language writing was a heavily theorized stew of Wittgenstein, Marx, Saussure, Charles Sanders Pierce, and other Big Thinkers. The original crew of poets (Silliman, Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian, Bruce Andrews and many others) wrote theoretical explanations of their work (I mean their "projects") that make for a useful, necessary really, grounding for the poetry. T.S. Eliot once said that to understand Ezra Pound's poetry you had to read his prose, and vice-versa, and I although the language poets rejected the political implications of the arch-modernists tropes of mastery, they certainly share this hermeticism. The place to start with the theory might be Bernstein and Andrews's The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book, which features short essays by a lot of people, along with some nice appreciations of their influences, like Stein and Zuk. Bernstein has published many of his own _________ essays in three volumes (to date). I've been reading Content's Dream. That blank two sentences back stands for a quality I can't quite place. It's not that they're "lyrical," "lucid," "thoughtful," "insightful," though they are all those things. They partake in some of the same tactics that his poetry does: associative, rupture, humor, skepticism toward language, absolute belief in language, though a bit more directly. The unifying principal of langpo is that language doesn't reflect social reality, but constitutes it. "Language is the material of both thinking and writing.... thinking cannot be said to 'accompany' the experiencing of the world in that it informs that experiencing. It is through language that we experience the world, indeed through language that meaning comes into the world and into being" (61-62). The poetry therefore isn't discourse (or description, or documentation) but enactment or instantiation. Okay?

Take Clark Coolidge's At Egypt. Please. I've been meaning to read this book for years, ever since it was cited by Marjorie Perloff as an example of avant garde work that resorts to syntactic defamiliarization made necessary because imagistic innovation is immediately gobbled up by advertising and other media. You can see this in the opening: "I came here. I don't know you here./ I say this. I have lost such./...There is little sure./ It was a coming which was done." It's a long poem, 80 pgs in 11 sections, and I'm sure my reading is only partial, but my reaction to the book is that it's about how language mediates, no wait, constitutes, change, as figured by travel. This reading is informed by the five epigraphs, by Flaubert, Michael Palmer, Jabes, Rilke, and sumbuddy named Robin Cook. I won't quote these; you can look 'em up. I'm also intrigued by the form of the poem. Short sections of this book length poem are justified to the right, many of which in the early going contain references to a shadowy 'he.' I'm not sure what to make of it, but you can see what it looks like here

Another of Coolidge's books is called The Crystal Text. I haven't read it, but the implication I think is that writing is like a crystal: seemingly transparent yet opaque, focusing but dispersive. Christian Bok (there's an umlaut over the 'o' which I don't know the html for) pushes this equivalence in his Crystallography, which (mis)uses that science to understand poetry. For example, a stunning poem called "Diamond" appropriates terms of art to create a poetic equation: LIFE X FIRE = BRILLIANCE (all this is true)" Though Bok is playful and experimental (he cuts the word diamond apart and refashions it: "i am, and i/am, and/i am, and i/am, and/i die, amen") some of his work, particularly "Diamonds," is moving in a way that only the distance of heavily artificed work allows.

I already burned my Coolidge transition on Bok, but I make the rules here. Lee Ann Brown's Polyverse also uses some juicy epigraphs, one from Emily Dickinson ("There is a Zone whose even Years/ No Solstice interrupt--") and one from Gertrude Stein ("Any letter is an alphabet./ When this you see you will kiss me.") You can dismiss language-based poetry has trickery if you want: Bok uses some concrete techniques, and my first reaction to the word "polyverse" was a sarcastic 'ooo wow, she's overthrowing the hegemony of the unitary implicit in the linguistic construction of the basic paradigm of existence.' But looking at the poetry more closely, you see craft and music ("Rhythms silly/when you tink it/sneezy pretty/Crepe and crush"), and sophistication and lyricism ("I say these things not because they happen but because many things happen") to go along with good old-fashioned paradigm smashing.
Brown creates a sort of Language lineage out of women: her epigraphs and the dedication to Bernadetter Meyer, her "CoLabs" with Meyer, Hannah Weiner, Jennifer Moxely, and Lisa Jarnot, and her poems for quasi-riot grrls like Liz Phair and Polly Jean Harvey. I've toyed with the idea of investigating a women's lineage for postlanguage poets (of both genders). You could start with Anne Carson's Sappho, a translation which uses fragmentation powerfully, continue through Dickinson and Stein to the many significant Language writers who were women.

That route takes you through Susan Howe's My Emily Dickinson. It is a book of criticism, though Howe is also a well-known poet. Dickinson is interesting because her "publication" method of home-made fasicles allowed for a great deal of contingency and reader participation. Though the editions we read give the illusion of a single text, she would regularly star words and provide alternatives at the end of the poem. Her poems are semantically and textually amibiguous. The nice thing that Howe does is in a sense 'recover' this famous and extraordinary poet from critical abuse: "The reductivist approach to writing signalled by the title of their book forces [Gilbert and Gubar, of Madwoman in the Attic fame] to worry unnecessarily that Dickinson choose not to celebrate and sing herself with Whitman; nor could she declare confidently with Emerson that 'the Poet is the sayer, the namer, and represents beauty. He is a sovereign, and stands on the center.' She said something subtler." The bulk of Howe's book is a close and widely allusive of a single poem, "My life had Stood--a Loaded Gun." I haven't read Howe's poetry, but this book of criticism is as 'poetic' as can be.

I've brought up the idea of "lineage" of progressive poets, which helps them distinguish themselves from the current mainstream, which Silliman recently dubbed the "School of Quietude." That's a reductive opposition, between "post-avant" and SoQ, and it's really only good for proselytizing. But by God we need proselytizing! However, it leaves some poets, particularly John Ashbery, in a weird position. After all, Ashbery is easily the most prestigeous living poet, having had laurels and honors heaped on him. His style has been hugely influential, creating a sort of tribe that has significant power in poetry (which is like have significant power in Iceland these days). But he was once an innovator himself, before he started repeating himself in great quantity. I read The Mooring of Starting Out a collection of his first five books where he first developed his deliberately ambiguous, ironically beauracratic style: the fabulous "Decoy" begins "We hold these truths to be self-evident:/That ostracism, both political and moral, has/Its place in the twentieth-century scheme of things;/That urban chaos is the problem we have been seeing into and seeing into,/For the factory, deadpanned by its very existence into a/Descending code of values, has moved right across the road from total financial upheaval/And caught regression head-on." Ashbery is like a Kafka who heard somewhere that everything's going to be OK. In the first of his Three Poems (written in prose), he says that "life holds us, and is unknowable." The language writers would want replace "life" with "language," and aren't so content with ignorance.

I read these books over the course of the last few months. I paged through them all while writing this roundup, but forgive me if my impressions have dulled since I read them. One of my reasons for keeping this site is to save things I read from disappearing into the fog of memory, so in this review I'm at least trying to cut my losses. Toward this same end (memory), I hereby reinstitute the "/other/" feature from the early days of STL. The formal rule is now eleven things, mostly books, I've been occupying myself with in the last week or so. I'll explain why this number some other time.

books: Ashbery, Drawn and Quartered by Robt Creeley and Archie Rand, Connected by Stven Shaviro, Paratextual Communities by S. Vanderborg, McSweeney's 12, The Believer, Return of the King

movies: All That Jazz, Buffy Season 5, Alias Season 1

music: We're Only In It For the Money by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Archives Project: STL #24

Title: MOMA on the Road
Description: A Ramble Through the Twentieth Century
Date: 10 December 2003

This is an example of experience I might otherwise have completely lost if not for writing about it. In my upcoming move, I expect to burn the journals I kept on and off for 10 years. Maybe I should reconsider, or at least review these.

The Museum of Fine Arts-Houston is lucky enough to host the only American stop of "The Heroic Century," a collection from the Museum of Modern Art which is out wandering while MOMA's building is being renovated. There's a temporary MOMA space open right now in Queens I guess, but I don't know what's on display there because it seems like all the good stuff is in Houston. Though this treasure trove of modern art coming to Texas might seem like Michaelangelo's David visting New York, LA, and Springfield (on the Simpson's), there are some fine museums in this state, including the MFAH.

I've been to plenty of special exhibitions in my life, but tend to forget most of them. I'm going to try to retrace my steps through this exhibition, from the crowded entrance to the thinned-out exit, pausing at a few pieces which impressed me most. This collection is so well known by the reproduction that it's hard to see a lot of it with fresh eyes, and my experience of it mostly consisted of my tastes being confirmed: I still appreciate without liking cubism, still cannot fathom what people see in Salvador Dali, and still have a morbid passion for Adolph Gottlieb and Franz Kline. I wrote a few months ago about how hard it is to see art, a statement I felt stupid about when I noticed the paintings for sale in the coffee shop I go to everyday, but the quality of this stuff, above and apart from its familiarity, is extraordinary.

Entering the exhibit, you are confronted with Matisse's big painting of a ring of dancers. It's a well-known image, though I had never noticed that in the bottom left corner two of the dancers' hands aren't touching, so the circle actually isn't complete. It's fitting that this hopeful keynote to a show of the most self-consciously depressing century have this devious sign. The first large room is a mix of some late 19th century stuff, like Van Gogh's famous Starry Night and a nice Gaugin South Seas portrait, and early twenthieth-century European masterpieces, including Rousseau's The Dream, an image that decorates many a dorm room wall (though not as many as Klimt, who has a typical oil, gold and platinum piece in this room as well). I know this image well, having written an embarrassing descripto-symbolico poem about it as a teenager, but wasn't aware of its large size, nor of the color contrast which makes it hard to see the black stripe of the snake in the shadows. The next room is devoted to Picasso and Matisse, who I like but don't have anything to say about now. You then move into a room that charts the movement toward abstraction, from cubism to the purer abstractions of Kandinsky, who is juxtaposed with Monet in tribute to a recent, well-received show, and Mondrian.

The next room apparently recreates a famous show from the thirties, "Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism." There's a Duchamp ready-made, a bicycle wheel mounted on a stool. I haven't mentioned that, for the first time in my life, I was listening to one of those audio guides.* I generally scorn these, but they gave it to you with admission. Anyway, the description of the Duchamp went strictly by the book, citing Duchamp's questioning of the nature of art by exhibiting a mass-produced item as sculpture. The commentary didn't get into recent research that suggests that Duchamp altered all of his ready-mades or made them himself. If this is true, it obviously complicates the meaning of his art. (Find out about this new theory here.) If I ever get smarter, I'd like to study Duchamp in depth, and puzzle out a theory of his work (including his turn from artist to chess-player). Most of the rest of this room is worthless, though I almost missed a Cornell box, only the second I recall seeing, because it was wedged between two Dails. I had to shove through a herd of mouth breathers to see it.

Then you go through a room of sculpture to a small room of later representational paintings by Balthus, Beckman, and Hopper. Hopper is a funny case, since his current popularity is based, I suspect, on nostalgia, though his ongoing argument was about the isolation of modern life. The Beckman was an eye-opener, a symbolic tryptic called Depature. His topic is Nazi domination of German politics, represented by disturbing images on either wing. The center panel is ambiguous, of a king and queen on a boat. Are they leaving or returning?** Are they even relevant? I wasn't familiar with this painting at all, and haven't though too much about Beckmann in my life, but was mightily impressed by this piece.

This painting is an appropriate place from which to take leave of European painting, moving with emigree artists to America. A large room featuring de Kooning, Pollock, Klein, Gottlieb, Motherwell, and others was comparitively empty. Sure, the crowds pressed around Starry Night were tired from progressing through real space and so passed quickly toward the exit, but they are also increasingly challenged as we progressed in represented time. People simply don't want to grapple with something that looks like this in terms of "art." They do cluster a little more in the following rooms on pop art, though this walk is starting to tire me out, so I think I'll head toward the exit. I will pause though, to quote the Audiostar (TM) guide on Claus Oldenberg's big floppy sculpture of a piece of chocolate cake: "He changes the way we look at cake" (paraphrased, but it was just as stupid.)

This last thing you see before heading downstairs is an assemblage by Dan Flavin of multi-colored fluorescent light tubes connected in a square. It's not a ready-made (more like a made-made), but all the parts are store-bought. There's plenty of 'nature-of-art' theorizing that you can do about it, but the bottom line is that the artist worked with the materials of the contemporary world, and made something pretty. A good way to end this ramble though last century.

*Funny anecdote on those audioguides (or whatever they're called): My wife and I were eating at a second-rate Italian restaurant in downtown Austin (go figure). A couple at the next table, obviously on a first date, were making small talk next to us. The woman was from New York (you could tell from the shoes) and the no-neck was an urban Texan (you could tell from the utter studidity). After asking if his date was a big eater (he wanted to get salads and split an entree--classy move), he steered the discussion to museums, for that she was cultured and all. He liked museums, he said, especially the headphones. Especially the headphones!

**Yeah, this seems a thick-headed question because of the title, but it's worth asking departure of whom, from what, and by what means. Or maybe I'm just getting excited about The Return of the King.

Archives Project: STL #23

Simplest! Things! Last! #23: The Big Cop Out
Description:"This is what Tom does"

Date: 5 December 2003

I like this one. It's short and funny. I doubt if I will ever comment on the Frank Waters book.

It seems like forever since I've written about a novel. As every illiterate knows, it takes time to read a novel, and as a poetry specialist, I have to use my precious free time to read them. I enjoy novels as much as the next somebody, so usually have one going which I read nights before bed, and maybe Sunday mornings. I had been reading Frank Waters modest-length The Man Who Killed the Deer for an improbably long time, but I finally finished it Thanksgiving Day. Shall I tell you what I think of it? Maybe, but not today. My week has been filled with end-of-semester chores, and in an hour I teach the last of what has been the most dreadful class I've ever taught. Immediately afterwards, Junebug and I are off for the weekend to celebrate our 5th anniversary. (That's wood, in case you were wondering.) In other words, I don't have time to craft one of the thoughtful and felicitously expressed essays that you are used to reading here, and what's more I don't even have time to write one of the hare-brained pieces of crap you are more used to finding.

As I've said, I don't have a lot of time to read novels, like for instance Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves, but sometime I read about them. N. Katherine Hayles, famous smart person, recently wrote a short book called Writing Machines about the materiality of texts in the information age. That topic is of great interest to me, but I won't be writing about that either. Instead, I will quote from Hayles quoting from Danielewski: "'This is Tom. This is what Tom does best. He lets you down.'"

I have found my motto.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Archives Project: STL #22

Title: "If Such a Category Exists"
Description: On Specialization
Date: 25 November 2003

I just learned that this post was linked as a resource for a class on modern American poetry. I swell with pride.

My "morning in rare book room" post a couple of weeks ago nearly violated my 'no dissertation' rule, and this week I'm going to break it altogether. But it's more to note an occasion than to surrender my mind to a single subject, and I promise next week I'll be back in the wider world. Writing a dissertation requires (and more importantly, signifies) becoming a specialist in some small portion of an academic discipline. "Specialist" to me is a dubious concept. I'm working on a doctorate in English, which to the layperson (opposite of specialist) might seem the appropriate credential for teaching Beowulf, The Duchess of Malfi, and The Powerpuff Girls. But actually, specialization is far more specific (special) than that. Me, I'm going to be a specialist in 20th century American poetry of the Objectivist tradition. 'Specifically' I'm working on a book on Louis Zukofsky, obscurest of the obscure. The poet and critic Bob Perelman, in a good book called The Trouble With Genius: Reading Pound, Stein, and Zukofsky, mentions the immense labor that goes into creating difficult art, and the commensurate labor in reading it. He writes that the value of such work relies largely on hearsay because "the writing remains illegible or semilegible for any reader who is not a Poundian, Joycean, Steinian, or--if such a category exists--a Zukofskian." While I resent the restrictiveness and pigeon-holing that specialization represents, I recognize that the work that reading works of genius demands requires it. And there's no doubt in my mind about the supreme value of difficult art.

If such a category exists, I guess I belong to it. The curator of an upcoming exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center of 20th century poets (it'll display manuscripts, letters, rare editions, etc) asked me to write a biographical sketch about Zukofsky for the exhibit. Mind you, this person is on my dissertation committee so it's not like he heard about me through the grapevine or something, but this task, which I guess will wind up as the blurbage on the placard next to the display, may represent the first formal exercise of my specialty. While I'm against specialization on principle (when I'm famous I'll write an essay "Against Specialization"), I confess that being consulted in this way is quite a thrill.

And so, here's the statement, coming soon to a museum placard near or far from you:

LOUIS ZUKOFSKY (1904-1978)

The son of Yiddish-speaking Russian immigrants, the husband of a composer, and the father of a concert violinist, Louis Zukofsky valued language, music, and family. Like two other great Modernists, Gertrude Stein and William Carlos Williams, Zukofsky spoke another language before learning English. Perhaps because of this outsider’s perspective, his poetry shows a fascination with the musical aspects of language, with the sound of language, even at the expense of sense. He once even described the bounds of his poetry as set by a “lower limit speech” and an “upper limit music,” and imitated musical forms like the fugue and the motet in his writing. Some of his poetry may make little “sense” on a first reading, due to its eccentric syntax and obscure references, but can still be enjoyed for pure musicality. Although the surface pleasures of Zukofsky’s language are always available to us, certain passages are elusive because they simply were not written for us. He referred in print to his wife (“Blessed/Ardent/Celia”) as his “one reader,” and there is a sense of hermeticism to much of his work, as if it is written in a private language we can never fully understand. Lines like “music, thought, drama, story, poem/ parks’ sunburst—animals, grace notes-/ z-sited path are but us” have some meaning in the context of a larger work, but only a family intimate would that the final three words evoke Arbutus Lane, the street where his adult son lived. His work is full of such private references.

Zukofsky persevered through almost complete indifference from publishers and readers, supporting his life-long writing with jobs for the WPA, as a technical editor, and for many years as a teacher at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. Though little known to the wider world of letters until late in life, he compiled a large body of work, including an eight-hundred page poem entitled, with characteristic understatement, simply “A”, hundreds of lyric poems, a controversial translation of the Roman poet Catullus, essays, fiction, and a book of Shakespearean criticism. He referred to “A” as a “poem of a life,” and while this obscure and beautiful twenty-four movement work is far from a traditional autobiography, we can see in it a life filled with intellectual pursuits, love of family, and an appreciation of daily interactions. While we can trace through its pages personal and public events from the 1920’s to the 1970’s, elaborate motifs based on Bach, horses and Marxism, transliterations of foreign languages, and even a condensed history of the world, he boils down his work to a simple equation: “As I love:/ My poetics.”

Archives Project: STL #21

Title: One Bad Movie
Description: A prayer against Matrix: Resurrection
Date: 22 November 2003

I stand by my prediction that soon you won't be able to tell the difference between Matrix movies and Tron. I also hate computer-generated animation, but that's the tale of another day.

So I've been working like a dog, well a dog-of-letters anyway, for the past seven days. My research has taken up virtually all my time, with breaks to eat and to teach. So what do I willingly do when I have some leisure time at last? I pay money to see a movie I expect to suck. And wouldn't you know, it did suck, even far beyond my capacity to believe it.

The Matrix was a cultural phenomenon. I, too, was fascinated with the look and feel, the technique, and the unspoken fear that information technology has mediated our lives so much we can no longer see the real. I never took the philosophical pretensions seriously, but why would you with so much stylish spectacle? The Matrix Reloaded, as I mentioned way back in STL #2, seemed totally stale, and a little icky too. But Matrix Revolutions is so bad it staggers the mind. In the first fifteen minutes, three of the primary characters storm a Marilyn-Manson-inflected night club to confront, uh, "The Merovingian." There's some now familiar Matrix-issue combat, with lots of guns and walking on walls and such. It seemed to me as I was watching it that it might serve as good demo for one of those first-person-shooter games. Little did I know that the shootout in the coat room would be the best scene in the movie. After a half hour or so of stilted dialogue full of Capital Letters about people with Ridiculous Names, we have to suffer through what seems like an hour of men in absurdly inefficient and cumbersome suits of armor fighting mechanical insects. As least this section of the movie gave me something to laugh at: first at the 'inspirational' speech the general (well, some general--we're asked to keep track of too many people in this part) gives to his mechano- warriors, who pump their ridiculous mechanical fists in the sky. It was kind of like Mel Gibson from Braveheart addressing the Transformers. The special effects of this battle were chuckle-inducing too: I doubt if in twenty years we'll be able to see a qualitative difference between this movie and Tron.*

The original Matrix had some cultural significance, as I indicated above. Now, it's a weapon that the Robots from Mars use to oppress The Last Free People. The best thing about the matrix was always that you got to wear sunglasses at night and were a kung-fu superstar in it. But when you start think about the matrix too much, (like for instance if you sit through three movies about it) you start to wonder things like, why you can stand on the ceiling but not stop bullets? And if these supersoldiers are so powerful, why do they have to fight at all? I remember one time Superman punched a hole in time--now that's strong. But the big final showdown of Neo and Agent Smith seemed like a conventional fight between two dudes who can fly. The whole "One" versus an army of Smiths is supposed to be some kind of individualism over group thing, but that has no connection with the matrix per se and is about as current as Ayn Rand (or Robots from Mars).

Revolutions was far worse than any of those movies I complained about last summer. The only recent movie I can compare it too in scope of dreadfulness is the Kate Beckinsale vehicle Underword. Sometime I'm going to have to learn that beautiful people running around in leather suits firing guns from each hand does not a good film make. But why you would ruin such a simple and beautiful thing I'll never understand.

*And while on the subject, I think the best way of describing this whole underground militaristic world is as "Tron meets Das Boot."

Archives Project: STL #20

Title: Bedtime Story
Description: Philip Pullman
Date: 13 November 2003

I've been reading some pretty dense criticism and writing a pretty confused synthesis of it for nine hours now. My eyes are bleary; it's time to quit. I think I'll turn in, maybe do a little reading. Yeah, I've been reading all day, but bedtime reading is my reward for sticking with my allday reading and work. The last book I finished in bed was Philip Pullman's brand new Lyra's World. It's a small book, what they'd call a duodecimo I believe, which is to say it would fit into the inside pocket of your coat. The story "Lyra and the Birds" is only 49 pages, so if you're not too tired, you can read it all tonight, and over breakfast look at the fold-out map and other ephemera like postcards and travel ads. The story is a further adventure of Lyra, the heroine of Pullman's remarkable His Dark Materials trilogy. Those three books--The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass-- take place in a world where "experimental theology" takes the place of physics, everyone has an animal familiar, and a girl might run into witches and talking polar bears. The books are "for kids" I suppose, but the world is so sharply realized that you forget in reading them. The fact that Pullman's themes are in dialogue with Milton and Blake doesn't hurt either. And did I mention God is senile?

I haven't read those books for a couple of years so don't want to comment on them here. The new installment occurs two years after they end, and as the title indicates takes place in Pullman's London, beginning, like The Golden Compass with Lyra learning what she shouldn't in fictional Jericho College. (She's a ward of someone there, not old enough to be a student.) This story is a meditation on interpretation: "Everything means something" Lyra tells her daemon, or other self, "we just have to learn how to read it." Not to give anything away, but Lyra's first interpretation of events turns out to be wrong in the end.

I'm not sure how to read this story: is it self-contained story, or does it suggest more to come? The answer might be with the parts of the book which are not the story: the map, the postcard from a character in The Amber Spyglass (also of our world, as it turns out), even the epigraph from Baedecker all suggest travel. Perhaps our new journey is just starting with this little book. In his foreword Pullman remains coy: these extras "might be connected with the story, or they might not; they might be connected to stories that haven’t appeared yet. It's difficult to tell."

He also write that these things "might have been put down absentmindedly in another universe, and been blown by a chance wind through an open window, to find themselves... in our world." That's sort of a parable for a strong imagination like Pullman's, who can assemble such fragments into a whole that we can read and delight in. After reading Pullman, I get the idea that in the real world, Harry Potter's cute shenanigans are read only by the kids on the short bus, and J.K. Rowling grumbles in envy at Pullman's name. But in our world, we haven't yet taught children to read such imaginative richness, or maybe we're afraid to let them.

Archives Project: STL #19

Title: Kinda Dumb (But I like It)
Description: Let us lift our goblets to The School of Rock
Date: 6 November 2003

Soon after we got home from seeing “The School of Rock,” my wife put an AC/DC record on the turntable.
“That’s obvious,” I said, because the movie had ended with Jack Black in an Angus Young style schoolboy uniform (let out considerably), fronting a band of 10 year olds playing “It’s a Long Way To the Top (If you Wanna Rock and Roll).
“I know,” she replied with pride.

Because the movie was directed by Richard Linklater and written by Mike White (Chuck and Buck, Freaks and Geeks), I thought it might be more than the big dumb comedy it appeared to be. Not that I particularly like either Linklater or White, but I at least expected them to play with the expected formulas a little more. But this movie plays out pretty much exactly as you’d expect. The unlikely outsider insinuates himself into a position of responsibility, does it his way, succeeds until exposed. Precocious but uptight kids encounter zany teacher, learn there’s more to life (namely, the perfect rock show that can change the world); even more uptight parents see there children in new way; and so on. When the teacher tells the kids to ‘stick it to the man’ by playing rock music, we arrive at the movie’s paradox: rock and roll has become institutional rebellion. Even the stuffy principal likes Stevie Nicks. Black’s character momentarily observes this paradox, but the larger issue, that rock only exists in quotation marks these days*, is glossed over, as is the sex and drugs part of the trinity.

I don’t want to give the impression I didn’t enjoy the movie. Jack Black screws up his face with typical fervor, and its often funny, but nothing you don’t expect from him. The first time I ever saw Black was a “showcase” of Tenacious D which didn’t divulge J.B. and K.G.’s comic intent immediately. Black’s imbibing of heavy rock mannerisms is so complete (“I see a lot of potential Back Stage Bettys in the audience tonight”) that I couldn’t tell if these two chubby middle aged dudes strumming acoustic guitars was a ‘real’ band or not. That uncertainty—wondering if he’s really joking or not—is the key to Black’s success. Likewise, a parody needs an element of loving what it’s lambasting. A detailed knowledge and appreciation of hard rock always comes through in this movie, mostly through Black, the True Believer, who may be sincerely quoting “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You) (“We roll the guitar bite”) to ten-year olds, who might really mean it when he prays to the God of Rock for the power to blow people's minds with our high voltage rock.”

“High Voltage” brings us, of course, back to AC/DC. It wasn’t their first album (High Voltage) that Niffy put on, but the Holy Grail of Heavy, Back in Black (the one that starts tch tch tch tch),The story is familiar: the singer dies from choking on his own vomit so his mates recruit a singer who sounds like him or close enough and record the party record of the decade. That I think is the best that this particular school of rock can give us.

So when I say that “School of Rock” is stupid and obvious, I mean it in the same way as if I was describing an AC/DC song, or religious devotion; I mean it in a good way. So let’s all raise our goblets to rock and keep praying for the gig that changes the world.

*stolen from Simon Reynolds’s blog

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Archives Project: STL #18

Title:The pleasure of discovery
Description: A Morning in the Rare Book Room
Date: 28 October 2003

I'll post this without comment. I did finally finish my dissertation, and discontinued my blog. There's a lesson there.

One of my informal rules is that I don't talk about my dissertation here, for the simple reason that that's what I'm avoiding when I do this. But I had an exciting moment this morning in one of my favorite places, the reading room at the Harry Ransom Center that bears comment. You see, I'm giving this paper at a world-famous conference in central Arkansas (a-hem), and I've been slicing away at what I've got because it's a little too long. Why editing would lead me to additional research is a good question that only now occurs to me, but I had come across references to an edition Ezra Pound did of the 13th century Guido Cavalcanti, which I thought might bear on the topic of the paper Louis Zukofsky's First Half of "A"-9.

Pound you know, the grandpa of hard American poetry. Louis Zukofsky was his younger disciple, and something of a mirror image: where Pound was anti-Semite, he was Jewish, while Pound was fascist he was radical. You may not have heard of Zukofsky, though he's exerted a lot of influence over a lot of contemporary poets he also may not have heard of. The HRC hold the Zukofsky archive, which has become the focus of my research. (Last winter they were renovating the reading room, where I have to go to do my research. Whenever I went by the Loading Zone sign, I would think the LZ was a secret message.)

Because of almost complete indifference from nearly everyone, Zuk had to seek his own publishing arrangements. His first book publication, The First Half is a thoroughly homemade affair made on a mimeograph machine and bound in manila folders. The title poem is only 75 lines, but the book is 41 pages, the majority of which are quotations from Karl Marx, and rest including a poem by the 13th C Italian poet Guido Cavalcanti in the original and in four different translations, and some text describing the poem and its prosody. My paper, which I won't get into here, argues that the book itself exhibits bibliographic codes which supplement the semantic codes of the poem itself to help us fully understand LZ's argument.

Why Zuk uses Cavalcanti's poem as a vehicle for a Marxist argument I'm not sure, though the he was a favorite of Pound's, who published a scholarly edition, with some commentary written in Italian. The large book looked impressive enough, with red card stock covers (bearing the creepy stamp ANNO X, denoting the 10th year of Mussolini's reign), alternate readings in the margins, and plates of earlier editions. What really caught my attention was the second half of the book, which reprinted his attempt at getting a bilingual edition of Donna Mi Pregga into print in England ("With all these printers, all this paper, and all this ink, it is manifestly idiotic that we can't get the editions we want"! railed EP). This is the template LZ was copying in his First Half. The same poem, one of the same translation, the same exegesis. Why LZ is copying this I still don't know, nor do I know if or how I'll address this edition in my paper, but the thrill of recognition more than justified the effort.

The Cavalcanti is rather rare, with some 500 copies published, and the Zukofsky extremely rare, with only 55. I've never seen mention of the correspondence of these volumes in print, so it's possible that no one ever put these two rarities together before. Discovering this simple, fact is more satisfying than creating any elaborate theory to explain them. It's the pleasure of the observable.

Archives Project: STL #17

Title: 3-2
Description: Rage, rage against the Yankees and the Marlins. The sporadic review of culture casts its eye on the American Pastime.
Publication Date: 25 October 2003

Looking back over my only piece of sports writing, I come across a few incoherent statements that I've tried to fix. I can't see myself writing about baseball again in the near future, even after two pleasing World Series victories by the assorted Soxes.

After a couple of deadline Saturday morning posts in the last few weeks, I'm in danger of slipping from the weekly to the occasional. It's surprising to me that I haven't already-- in fact I planned a maybe weekly, more likely sporadic schedule when I started this summer. But during the summer I had the time, and found writing these weekly memos to the void amusing, if not rewarding. Lately it's been more hectic, but if I can't find an hour or two a week to jot down my thoughts, I might as well slash my wrists right now. I have a few ideas in the back of my head: there's a couple of books I've read for my dissertation that might be of general interest, an engaging conversation I had with one of my students about Kill Bill's warrant and why it shouldn't apply to the depraved fantasies of Marshall Mathers (the kids, they love Eminem b/c he's "real"), the accumulating mass of Songs:Ohia and the similarly studied obscurity of Will Oldham, which seems to lash out against itself in the beer anthem that never was "Work Hard Play Hard," a definition of 'high lonesome,' or the beautiful wordless comic that I read last week, "The Last Lonely Saturday." But I can't think about any of that right now. This lovely Saturday morning is troubled by a dark cloud on the horizon, or maybe that's a tropical storm offshore: tonight, the Florida Marlins could win the World Series for the second time in eight years.

I've found that I've been resorting to a rhetorical technique that my alter ego Drunk Tom uses frequently. Instead of finishing the point I'm trying to make, I break off and shake my fist at the sky, uttering a sound that can best be captured as "GARGH!" I call this 'argument from inarticulate rage.' I blame my increasing usage on the current Series. When Drunk Tom cries "GARGH!" he has either forgotten what he was going to say or stumbled into a contradiction. The other Tom uses argument from inarticulate rage because he knows that the universe resembles baseball, and sees that no win is possible. The phrase "Yankees Win" is distasteful enough, as every other time you turned around in the twentieth century this consolidated source of power had vanquished some contender or another. In fact, the first World Series I can remember was the Yankees and the Dodgers. Their strategy then as now is blunt: stockpile as many star players as you can, at any cost. As a result, you get people who aren't in any sense Yankees playing in pinstripes. This strategy didn't work to well during the eighties, but during the current dynasty the team has been able to surround a homegrown set of stars like Mariano Rivera and the smug Prince of New York Derek Jeter with guns for hire like Clemens and big Jason Giambi. It's a little distasteful, both because of the money and the predictability of it, but the cultural continuity of it is nice. We always know that the Yankees are good, and in fact the statement bores us.

The last time the Marlins had a winning season, they bought it off the shelf. It was the best team money could buy, but had no cohesion and was parceled off as soon as they won the Series. By comparison, this team is a lot more interesting. The have only one big name player, the superlative catcher Ivan Rodriguez, and he seems to be interested in sticking around with some talented youngsters. This team runs, which is more interesting than watching big necked sluggers swing from their heels. Why then does the notion of "Marlins win!" make me so nauseated? That's simple, I can tell you right now: I don't believe in them.

Its not just that they're an expansion team. I've followed my hometown team the Seattle Mariners most of my life (I'm a little older than they are.) But they are an expansion team that hasn't paid there dues, nor have they cultivated an informed fan base. I remember the contrast between the fans in frosty, long-suffering Cleveland leaning out of the right field stands signaling 'fair ball' on a double down the line, and just a few days later a bunch of Floridians playing beach ball in the stands. Despite the fact that they're an exciting young team who had the best record down the stretch, the Marlins averaged 16,000 fans during the regular season (though now the locals have jumped on the bandwagon and are filling the Walmart-like Pro Player Stadium to the rafters.)

It's not just because they're a wild card team. I don't care for baseball imitating football, I don't care for gimmicks to wring out more advertising money, and I don't care for pushing the end of the season to the edge of November. Although I'm grateful to the Marlins for eliminating the Braves, so that I only had to hear their fans collective Tomahawk moan a couple of times this October, their presence in the World Series is Wrong: they didn't win the most games in their league or their division. I'm willing to let that slide sometimes, but they have a lot else going against them.

It's not just because they're from Florida. I can't hate the state too much. They did, after all, go for Gore in the last election. But you may have guessed by now that I'm a baseball traditionalist, and in a matter of fact I'm also a mythicist. I usually don't go much for Eternal Recurrence and whatnot, but baseball follows a cycle: hope in born in the early spring, as we hear reports on our heroes practicing in the warm South. Strength and skill are tested throughout the summer, and valor and stamina in the fall, at the closing of the season. I can tell you right now, there's no crisp air in Florida. Florida is where baseball starts, not where it ends.

So I favor the Yankees marginally, because to me the proposition "same as it always was" is better than "whatever." It's the terms of the argument that frustrate me--what's the point in finishing this? What really depresses me, the reason I'm locking up the knives this weekend, is that I know what we're missing: the two most beautiful old ballparks left, and two sets of knowledgeable, long-suffering fans. This phantom Series would have no possible loser, because both "Sox win" and "Cubs win" the same two possible meanings: "Curses don't stick forever" or maybe "it's the end of the world." I've seen some objectively great games this post-season, but their outcomes frustrate me beyond words. I half-believe that this dream Series is taking place somewhere else, where managers can stick with their aces all night if they want to, and where my arguments have a satisfactory end.

Archives Project: STL #16 (unnumbered)

Title: "I love you Bill and I always will"
Description: None. The topic is Kill Bill Part One
Publication Date: 15 October 2003

This one is less pretentious than I remember, but still a very mixed bag. I excised some factual errors, but left in the misidentification of the klaxon-y hospital theme as an original. I later discovered this theme in Female Convict Scorpion, a cited influence. Note the crucial role of the horizontal rule in this piece.

I should do a new piece on Death Proof. I actually sought out and watched two source, Vanishing Point (really good) and Crazy Larry and Dirty Mary (good performances by Vic Morrow and Adam Roarke, but gratingly annoying turns by the title characters played by Peter Fonda and Susan George.)

Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped.

Kill. The Verb. Imperative. The highest degree of brutality. Bride's reason to live. Slamming a rapist's head in a door until he is dead. Blood spouting from the stump of a neck. Stone Cold Revenge.

Bill The Direct Object. A twist, a rhyme, a tiny deviation. A name sketched on a window pane. A wry smile. A love that extends from metaphysics to typeface. The #29 song of 1969 ("Bill, I love you so, I always will/I look at you and see the passion eyes of May/Oh, but am I ever gonna see my wedding day/I was on your side Bill when you were loosin'/I never scheme or lie Bill, there's been no foolin'/But kisses and love won't carry me till you marry me Bill")

There's a fine line between silly and perfect.

Quentin Tarantino is a major force behind the ascendency of the geek's cultural status in the 90's, along with comics geeks working in film and television like Joss Wheedon and Kevin Smith. Actually, a more significant force would probably be the scads of money that ran after computer geeks, and the cultural fetishes like comics and genre films of the 70s jumped to prominence incidentally. If that's what we have to thank for QT's ability to make movies, that's fine. But it seems there's a more intricate connections between commercial and cultural strands of geekdom: both feature obsessive attention to detail (computer code simply won't work if you mis-strike a key; if you don't know "Switchblade Sisters" you won't appreciate Darryl Hannah's eyepatch), both are concerned with protocols and procedures. On the other hand, both have the tendency to live in sealed-off world, whether it's dreaming in Perl (I actually overheard someone say this once) or handicapping fights between the Hulk and the Thing (pick 'em).

At this point I could proclaim myself a film geek and take rightful possession of Kill Bill as my own. But I can't quite do it. I don't know about Darryl Hannah's eye patch first hand, and even worse I can't remember if it was "Switchblade Sisters" or something else. Instead of endlessly replaying Shaw brothers' kung-fu movies I do things like my job and be married. Sure, I recognize some conventions, like the subtitles using the common thick yellow type favoured by vintage Hong Kong movies, and the unnecessarily thick lines dividing split screens as a similar nod to 70s film technology. I also get the devotion to the rituals of taking out the Crazy 88 killers one by one, or the ceremonial importance of acquiring your weapon. But these things are almost archetypes by now; Tarantino I'm sure has done a lot more in mining the dross of 70's exploitation cinemas for its gold. You get the impression the this film is a distillation of the best of a whole hidden culture. If it meant that I could enjoy this movie more, I wish I had become a full-fledged film geek.

What I do love about Kill Bill is Tarantino's love of artifice: we see it in the shuffled chronology of the narrative, in a striking animated sequence, in a rogue answering machine that disguises the Bride's name (to preserve her mythological status), in the switching to b&w, in the absolutely beautiful use of color in the House of Blue Leaves chapter (including the pool that turns from blue to red, the silhouetted fight against blue screen, and the Bride's bright red and yellow entry into the icy garden to duel O-Ren Ishii).

There's also a dark humour at work here; what's more it's a real humor that doesn't require recognizing the Bride's track suit as identical to Bruce Lee's, but is based on pacing and human interaction, like the fight with Vernita Green. Remember, Tarantino isn't only the obsessive video clerk who translated City on Fire into Reservior Dogs, he's also the only director who's ever got the patterns of Elmore Leonard's snappy exchanges onto film, in Jackie Brown. But, then again, he's also the guy who got us to laugh at Thurman sitting up stock straight with a giant hypo sticking out of her chest. As you'd expect, some of the humor comes from the absurdity of the carnage, but this is where QT encounters his strongest criticism: is all this stylized violence, this savvy collage of pop culture, this snappy dialogue just to quicken the pulse of a generation sunk a quagmire of pop culture, delighting in their recognition of minutiae? I don't really have a problem with that. If he can compete with the artless violence of Jerry Bruckheimer, for instance, he might teach a jaded audience something about pattern, about knowing a tradition, about, gulp, the rewards of loving art.

I wrote about Sofia Copolla's divergence from auteur-ness two weeks ago. While Tarantino remains firmly in that camp, he has at the same time reached out to assemble some admirable talent. I enjoyed all the perfomances, particularly Uma Thurman's, which might be the most rugged woman in film history. Sonny Chiba goes from clown to grave warrior at the drop of a sake cup. Behind the scenes, Yuen Wo Ping's fight choreography is of course beautiful (and beautifully framed by QT), and the music lingers in the memory: in the hospital, in the tea house, and what I think is a RZA (who else but the leader of the Wu-Tang Clan could score this film?) original, the burst of klaxon-like notes signifying the church (it reminds me somewhat of RZA's score of Ghost Dog in its minimalism).

Since Kill Bill is only half over, maybe I'm being too hasty with my praise. Maybe being the distillation of the best of grindhouse cinema ain't that great. But I'm more than half-willing to start training as a black-belt film geek to be able to judge.

Archives Project: STL #15

Title: Authenticity Blues
Description: Gillian Welch
Publication Date: 11 October 2003

Another pretty good piece I think, delving into the "Authenticity problem" that still interests me.

I mentioned last week that I saw Gillian Welch perform on her birthday. It was at a taping of Austin City Limits--I had never been to one before and am happy to report that the studio is as intimate as it looks on TV. The cameras are a little distracting, especially when you’re futilely trying to avoid its search for audience reaction. You realize that the performance isn’t exactly for you when the show stops so the tape can be changed, or when Welch and her partner David Rawlings perform the songs which didn’t get recorded properly a second time. Nonetheless, it was a great performance which got me thinking about her career.

The first song of hers I remember hearing was “Orphan Girl,” as covered by Emmylou Harris. Welch’s first album, Revival came out shortly afterward, and since 1997 she’s released three others. I’ve heard all of these except the latest, the unfortunately named Soul Journey, and none of them as strong a set of songs as Revival though none vary too much in quality or style. The handle critics have put on her kind of music is “Americana,” which I suppose is as good as any other: the music draws from the traditions of folk and country. Some of it uses modern topics with traditional settings, some seems to be trying to replicate it in form and content. Welch does a bit of both, writing songs that are cognizant of (but not conversant with) rock and roll as well as odes to red dirt. Seldom if ever is the music itself ‘updated.’ Authenticity, the core value of this music, would be offended by a drum loop over “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground,” though contemporary scenes in traditional arrangements testify to the staying power of tradition itself. Whether or not that logic makes sense I don’t know, but that’s the way it is.

The motherlode of this kind of music is Harry Smith’s legendary Smithsonian Anthology of American Folk Music. Even these recordings from the 20s are self-consciously Authentic; the early record companies actively searched for “old-timey” performers, though the songs themselves actually were old, for the most part. Some of Welch’s music aspires to Bill Monroe’s remark to a young John Prine after hearing the latter’s “Paradise.”—“I thought it was one of the old-time songs I never heard.” “Orphan Girl” is like that, and so is her “Tear My Stillhouse Down.” Presumably, this daughter of two television orchestrators never was a moonshiner, so she writes in these songs in emulation of tradition, as a gesture toward Authenticity, rather than as a matter of self-expression.

At the taping, Welch introduced “By the Mark,” one of my favorites from Revival, as her “first gospel song.” Contemporary gospel tends torrid the horrid, so imitating old ballads of devotion is a good move. What’s really remarkable about this song is how doubt is wholly engulfed by yearning: there’s a real belief that Jesus will return, and that she will know “my Saviour when he comes to me by the mark where the nails have been.” She doubts her own faith even as she expresses it by invoking Doubting Thomas in its formulation. (I say “she,” but basic interpretive strategies tell us that this is just a persona. As it happens, Welch is utterly circumspect. There was a lapse in the taping when someone shouted out “When are you and David going to get married.” Her evasive response was, after a pause, “How do you know we’re not?” although “Why do you think we’re even dating?” would have been as appropriate. While we don’t know her real thoughts on religion, it seems that she’s saying skeptical lines behind a dogmatic mask.)

Not all of Welch’s lyrics use these anachronistic masks. After her first album, she began to write songs that are more clearly contemporary in setting “My First Lover” recounts Trans-Am driving boyfriend and the Steve Miller song that was playing when she lost her virginity. (Again, “she” doesn't mean GW). The somber banjo picking heightens everything that happens to a mythic level. You can almost imagine a singer going up to hit the “Quicksilver girl” quote of the song. Certainly this is the best repurposing of Steve Miller’s work ever, though admittedly that field is limited.

Last week I mentioned that I had a complicated comparison with Sofia Copolla in mind. You wouldn’t think that a maker of urban films and a performer of traditional music would be that similar, but Copolla and Welch have a few things in common. They are both daughters of show business families and somewhat close in age (within two years on either side of yours truly). I suspect that they both faced a similar crisis of self-expression: in Lost in Translation Charlotte talks about a similar problem. She says,“I think every girl goes through a photography phase where she takes a lot of arty picture of her feet.” Charlotte’s problem is that she doesn’t know who she is, or what she has to say. Copolla and Welch have solved the feet problem in different ways: Copolla by finding new strategies for a deeply masculine role, and Welch by delving into a rich tradition, and finding in it what she needs. We’re lucky to have both of them.

Archives Project: STL #14

Title: More than this
Description: Copolla's latest masterpiece. Sofia, that is: Lost in Translation
Date: 02 October 2003

A might confusing that the previous installment was actually titled "Lost in Translations." This piece is kind of important to me, since it's where I talk about my still emerging theory of film as collaborative art and of director as a network coordinator.

I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the titles of my weekly installments. Usually something suggests itself in the course of writing, like last week. The title "Lost in Translations" isn't exactly clever, but apt enough in evoking the comparison of the problems of switching between media with carrying over from one language to another. Unfortunately, it also suggests the title of a movie that's out now, Sofia Copolla's wonderful Lost in Translation. The title is the only rote thing about the movie, which is absolutely fresh and unlike anything I can think of. Bill Murray has gone from the guy who's always good to possibly the best actor we have, and Scarlett Johanssen makes good on the promise she showed as the yearning, goodhearted hipster in Ghost World. What's really great is the script, by Copolla, which follows the development of a relationship between a young woman and a middle-aged man. Murray's Bob doesn't seduce Johanson's Charlotte, and doesn't really even think about it. Instead, they do something radical for the movies: they become friends.

This friendship develops in the sterile environment of the Tokyo Hilton (or is it the Westin, or the Four Seasons?-- I can't recall but the point is it doesn't matter). Their friendship is casual at first, starting with a few Murray wisecracks, but becomes all the deeper because of their shared isolation. You could say the film's susceptible to xenophobia, and maybe the r/l jokes are a sour note, but their alienation is working on both cultural and personal levels, as Charlotte doesn't seem to know her husband anymore and is directionless in life, and Bob's career is long dead, and his marriage may as well be. He has become the Unnecessary Man, liked by his kids but not needed, and big in Japan but washed up back home.

No other film uses karaoke as means of communication to the extent as Lost in Translation*. There's an extended sequence near the halfway point of the movie consisting of four performances, which taken together are the key to the movie. Bob and Charlotte are at a Japanese friend's place. The friend, named Charlie Brown, performs "Anarchy in the U.K." but the rebel anthem is obviously totally out of context. Bob responds with "(What's so funny about) Peace Love and Understanding," which fixes him in time at the point were human values become mediated by commercial performance. We rely therefore on heavily ironic performances, but the irony doesn't necessary contradict the humanity, which strains in its vessel. Charlotte, wearing a pink wig, sings "Brass in Pocket," charmingly squeaking out "I'm special, so special," and she sure grabs our attention. This and the last performance enact private communication in a public setting. Bob tells Charlotte all he knows, borrowing from Brian Ferry: "More than this/ there's nothing/ more than this." The two expats discover a zen koan in a Roxy Music song.

The movie's full of affecting scenes: Charlotte in curled on top of Bob's bed, and Bob lies prone beside her. He lies to her that "it gets easier" and, with the most intimate gesture of the whole movie, reaches over to touch here barefoot while still staring at the ceiling. Bob channel surfs past a movie starring his younger self, without a trace of interest. The expression on Bob's face (that's Murray's face and could be no other) when he wakes up after drunkenly bedding the hotel lounge singer: there's a glimmer of excitement and fear when he sees the two champagne glasses, passing to alarm when he remembers who it was. Charlotte's spiteful, wounded, reconciliatory rejoinder to Bob after she finds out: "Well, she's closer to your age." I've only scratching the surface of what this movie has to offer, I think Sofia Copolla's really going to be a force to be reckoned with.

There was a fascinating article in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago about Sofia's "smart mob," the network of friends she mobilizes for creative projects. This conception of film-making is very provocative, and makes a lot more sense than the still dominant auteur theory of dictatorial directorial power. That model has served well for a great number of magnificent films, but also reinforces typically masculine values which have severely limited the number of women directors. Sofia Copolla seems to use a whole different range of techniques than her famous (and once great) father. Naturally this leads to whole different range of effects: not epic, but lyric.

In closing, I'll note that Thursday was Gillian Welch's 35th birthday. I saw her perform, for the third time. If I wasn't so late getting this installment out, I'd awkwardly backflip into a discussion of Welch's music, and her work's relationship to Copolla's, which I realize is not at all apparent. Maybe next week.

*Nor do many films try, although it's often used for laughs, like in Jim Carey's Cable Guy. The only other "important" use of karaoke I can think of is the often overlooked My Best Friend's Wedding.