A few friends dropped by the other afternoon and wound up staying for dinner, and I had to walk up to Xuan Dieu to the Italian grocery run by our neighbor Dominico to get some extra pumpkin ravioli. On the way home, I passed by our neighbor’s house to hear him blasting Led Zeppelin at full volume with all the windows open. I can’t quite communicate the effect this has in a little Vietnamese villagey neighborhood with houses separated by alleyways about 2 meters across, but it’s pretty funky.
The thing is, I have absolutely no objection to hearing Led Zeppelin blasted at full volume at pretty much any hour of the day. Nor do I have a problem with hearing the Grateful Dead on the days when that’s his ear candy of choice. I’m not sure what effect it produces on the rest of the neighborhood. On the one hand, most of our Vietnamese neighbors have never heard any of this stuff and probably find it rather strange. On the other hand, most of our Vietnamese neighbors seem to have a mind-boggling tolerance for noise, so maybe it doesn’t matter. Most significantly, the only neighbor who actual had a visibly irritated reaction was a fellow American who really doesn’t like heavy metal.
The point being I suppose that it’s striking what a powerful influence on one’s state of being this kind of acculturation can have. Here we’ve got this massive sonic input which to me is pleasantly nostalgic and to other American neighbors is just ghastly, because we’re on two sides of some kind of discrete cultural argument about what constitutes good or bad music. And to our Vietnamese neighbors I think it may just be anaesthetic gibberish, neither good nor bad but simply loud.
Of a heart attack, in New Orleans, two days before Big Star was scheduled to play SXSW.
This song was important to me even though, or perhaps because, the lyrics don’t quite seem to clearly mean anything.
Filed under: Music
…if you don’t want people to make fun of it. Conor Friedersdorf wonders why Lady Gaga didn’t get a better lyrics writer for such a high-profile project. Seems to me the problem isn’t so much the quality of the lyrics as their utter disconnection from the conceit of the video. It’s jarring and silly to watch someone standing in a prison cell, banging on the bars, and complaining that their boyfriend is texting them too often on the dance floor of the club and they can’t respond with a drink in their hand. Though maybe 14-year-olds have some kind of higher post-narrative consciousness that isn’t bothered by this type of incoherence.
Filed under: Music
Last night, for the second time in a month, I met someone who lives in Hanoi and has interviewed Ian MacKaye. As with the first person I met in Hanoi who had interviewed Ian MacKaye, I met her at Tadioto. (It’s almost redundant to say that something I did at night in Hanoi happened at Tadioto, as this is the only place where anything ever happens to me at night in Hanoi. Similarly, it would be redundant to say that Tadioto’s owner-publican, the great Nguyen Qui Duc, was present, since Duc is present at everything that happens in Hanoi.) The first person who had interviewed Ian MacKaye was from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The second was from Adelaide, Australia.
Anyway, what struck me in part about each of these very interesting people was that they were far too young. The second is 28. The first was, if I recall correctly, also 28. Yet each said they had spent their teens as huge fans of Fugazi and related period bands. What were they doing listening to the same stuff I had listened to at that age? Shouldn’t they have been listening to something that came along 13 years later, and which I knew nothing about, having in the interim become a pathetic old fogey?
Both cases felt rather bizarre. On the first occasion, I had earlier that day gone looking for a video of “Waiting Room” for posting purposes and found, by chance, one of a December 1988 Fugazi show at the Wilson Center where I had been present. I then walked into Tadioto, was introduced to a young man from Albuquerque with a nice full beard, told him I had grown up in Washington in the ’80s, and found him interrogating me about Fugazi.
The second case was yet more thematically crisp: I had just read David Hajdu’s interesting piece in The New Republic lamenting the way Guitar Hero seems to have frozen young people in a pastiche version of the classic-rock musical universe of his youth. I then walked into Tadioto, got into an interesting hour-long political discussion with a young woman from Adelaide, then moved on to describing the Hajdu article and said it reminded me of how I had earlier in this very bar met a young fellow who turned out to be a huge Fugazi fan and had interviewed Ian MacKaye…at which point she responded “I interviewed Ian MacKaye!”
Both of us then agreed that the fact that the internet makes the visual and audio reality of earlier musical and stylistic epochs instantly available has indeed to some extent frozen people’s creative impulses and channeled them towards reproduction or burlesque rather than cross-pollination or innovation. (She contrasted this with the mail-order vinyl and zine epoch of her teenage years.)
In retrospect, however, I’m not sure that recognition of Fugazi signals these late-20-somethings had been captured in an infinite regressive loop; I’m not actually sure it’s any different from the time-lag on which my generation experienced music. We listened to classic rock all through high school, at a time lag of 15-20 years, along with Elvis Costello, the Clash and the Specials at a time lag of 5-9 years. By college we were all constructing iconographies of “seminal” work, which you might decide included anything from the Damned to Queen to Sun Ra at removes of anywhere from 10 to 30 years. So maybe it’s all the same thing.
John Quiggin Holbo thinks Matthew Yglesias is wrong: the answer to the question on the French Bac exam is that it’s not absurd to desire the impossible. What’s clear is that if French teens consider this question a serious one, it’s because they have quite rightly been listening to plenty of Paris-based Swedish musician Peter Von Poehl.
What’s going on in Iran remains the most important story in the world, for many reasons, but as ever in the news cycle it’s been supplanted by a bunch of genuinely interesting if ultimately pointless little stories that are still compelling enough to make me want to say something about them. So just to get this out of the way:
- In contrast to Hilzoy, I not only think Mark Sanford’s confession was genuinely human and compelling, I actually sympathize with almost everything about his entire situation, including his attempt to break off the affair without telling anyone where he was going. There may have been nobody in his office he could trust with this information. He could have broken off the affair via phone or email, but if you actually are in love, that feels demeaning and irresponsible. Trying to get four or five days off to disappear and handle a personal problem seems like a perfectly understandable approach. If he were a CEO, that is. As a senior elected official, obviously, you simply can’t do this. But I find Hilzoy’s “leaving his kids without a father” rhetoric quite overblown and puritanical. The episode shows Sanford lacks the extra stability and responsibility one requires in a governor, but it doesn’t make him a terrible person. (The way he handled the stimulus money, however, does make him a terrible governor.)
- Farrah Fawcett was the most famous woman in the world for about six months when I was in fourth grade. Many years later, she used her celebrity to do several morally and artistically good things, which is laudable. Sex symbols should generally be encouraged to do the same; the only problem is that some of them are idiots.
- Michael Jackson: I still don’t entirely understand why people like “Thriller” qua music; “Billie Jean”, in particular, is an extremely mediocre and irritating number. But as cultural text, the disco zombie thing is seminal and has to be a major part of any exploration of racial identity in America, and from this perspective MJ’s subsequent madness is, unfortunately, all wrapped up in why he was important. Regardless of that, “Off the Wall” was great, the Jackson 5 stuff was joyous, and anyone who’s seen MJ’s childhood appearance as Sinatra on “The Tonight Show” (which for some reason I can’t find on YouTube) knows he was one of those figures who at some point in their lives transcend the human and become earthly avatars of the gods of music and dance.
Commenter Matt tells me I simply must share this Iranian protest song with my readers. And he’s right. It’s incredibly beautiful.