Monday, October 17, 2005

Free and Easy

Bright Eyes is worth every cent I paid for it

So, I have this friend whom I like alot, even though he’s kinda evangelical about things in a way that borders on annoying. He’s always like “buy this!” “read this! I know you’ll like it!” and it’s more often than not it’s something really inappropriate like the novelization of Garfield the Movie. And lately he’s been sending me links for free downloads, and yeah, it’s free, but The Hives? The Strokes? The Worst of Interpol?

You all have the same friend. It’s Amazon*. And I’m probably a little late to the party about this, but Amazon offers an assload of free music downloads. Obviously it’s to get people to buy things, but I’ve been loading up my i-pod with things I’ll never ever buy, like The Arcade Fire, Bright Eyes, and, yes, Elliott Smith. And I put it in it’s own Amazon playlist (this month’s is imaginatively called Amazon 1005) and listen to it at the gym, and I’m always like “What? Is this what the kids like? The kids is stoopit.” So, Amazon, it’s not working! And yet, I cannot stay away. Every few weeks I go trolling for free downloads.

Now, here’s the even weirder thing: people are making those Amazon “Listmania” an “so you’d like to” lists for the free downloads! They’re free! why do you need recommendations? That’s like if I needed some kid in Tampa to write me a list of what chocolates to take on a table of free chocolates. I’m tasting each one! And if I don’t like it I’m spitting it into the garbage! But now I find myself clicking on downloads on the recommendations lists that maybe I wouldn’t have normally. Like if said kid from Tampa doesn’t recommend Interpol and The Strokes, maybe I take his recommendation of Assmen a little more seriously. And now I can honestly say things like “VHS or Beta? They totally suck!” instead of saying that dishonestly because maybe I saw them on New York Noise and they sounded like a bad disco wedding band, but maybe I was confusing them with Ladytron. Now I know. And that’s dangerous. Before I might have kept my mouth shut, and now there is no stopping my constant spewing of hatred of hipster bands! Get out the way! It’s like I’m the fat may in the restaurant and Amazon just gave me a wafer thin mint. Also, I’m not the only gay in the village. OK, that makes no sense in this context, but I just wanted to make a reference to Little Britain.

Now, in case I’m called upon to plug my i-pod into a PA system at a Todd P show, my amazon playlist will be guaranteed to please the urban outfitters in attendence. And I will laugh while you groove to Ladytron because I got it for free, and you could have too and didn’t.

* Here is my secret confession--I came upon the Amazon free downloads when looking for a peppy little goth disco song from the late 90s--Annie Would I Lie to You, by Iris. Go look for it! It's free!

Monday, October 10, 2005

which of these things is not like the other?


I was sick this weekend, and it was raining, so I was positively stuck inside the apartment. Without even the brainspace to figure out what to ask Jack to go rent from the local video store, I was stuck with copious stories of turkeys in Turkey with avian flu and whatever awful stuff was on TV. After attempting to watch a 1-1/2 star movie starring Jerry McConnell as a cartoonist which turned out to be a 1/2 star movie starring Helen Hunt as a woman in love with a guy in the hospital (and why oh why can’t you TV people update anyone regarding what you’re showing?) I ended up on an MTV show that I had managed not only to avoid but not even hear about in any form until Saturday, called Next.

In case you’ve been doing nothing but complicated book layouts and cursing at Alex Trebek (as have I) I will explain what Next is. It’s a dating show. It’s a dating show not dissimilar from Third Wheel or Studs. It’s a cruel dating show with incredibly shallow people, some of whom are highly attractive, and some of whom you would avoid sitting next to on the subway. The way it works is this: one single person, we’ll call him/her Moe, gets to meet 5 other people--let’s call them the Curlys. Moe gets to decide how much time each Curly spends with him/her, and the Larry will win one big fat dollar per minute spent with Moe. Obviously, the Curlys are very very poor that they are willing to subject themselves to this for what, after waiting time, amounts to much less than minimum wage and probably equals about what my mother used to haul in small change on Halloween in 1956. The kicker, if you can call it that, is that the Curlys remain “hidden” on a bus, so Moe may be spending time with Curly Joe, while the real Curly is on the bus talking about her past lesbian experiences. If Moe doesn’t like the first Curly that comes off the bus, Moe says “next!” and a new Curly comes out. Some of the Moes try to humiliate the Curlys, which will always eventually backfire, as when the Curlys go back on the bus they always tawk about how mean Moe was to them. The Curlys spend alot of time on the bus together, so they forge a closer bond than Moe could possibly. The show ends when Moe decides he wants to stay with a particular Curly, and he gives a little speech, that goes something like this. “Curly, you and I have spent the last 72 minutes together having fun. So you have made 72 dollars. You can either take the 72 dollars, or go on another date with me.” The show is much better when Curly says “PSYCH! I’m keeping the money beeyatch!”

Anyway, Next is clearly yet another indicator that we are yet again in the endtimes. Almost no one behaves in a reasonable fashion. Like for example, I would have thought that Lesbian Next would be less catty and more gentile that Hetero Next, but I was way wrong. One girl got nexted for not wanting to go swimming, and another got nexted for allegedly wearing too much makeup. It’s possible that the Lesbian Moe thought that this Curly’s darker skin color was makeup. Anyway, the abrupt speed with which brown Curly was dismissed was rather alarming.

And, as is the custom on most dating shows, the girls are always better-looking than the guys. When a girl Moe is set up with her 5 guy Curlys, at least one of them will be repulsive, two will be wearing golf shirts with popped collars, and one will be dressed in head-to-toe Urban Outfitters. Whereas the girls are always at least presentable. The girls are never anyone that you would be embarrassed to set up a friend with. Why is this? Is it me? Do I just like girls better? Am I one of those closeted, self-hating lesbians? Perhaps these are issues for a therapist, and not a blog.

Anyway, I proclaim Next to be perhaps one of the only marginally watchable shows on MTV. Not as good as my old favorite, Motormouth, but better than the show with the tattoo’d emo band drummer with the bad teeth and his wife.

Monday, October 03, 2005

This Book is Not a Pipe [Bomb]


How Ben Marcus Made Me Cry

The October 2005 issue of Harper’s magazine contains an explosive essay written by experimental writer Ben Marcus, entitled “Why Experimental Fiction Threatens to Destroy Publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and Life as We Know It” (an excerpt of which you can read here). The title, of course, is sarcastic—experimental fiction never hurt anyone, except, according to best-selling author Jonathan Franzen, the reader, who, if he is enjoying experimental fiction must be a masochist.

To put this in context for the kids: this is like Coldplay picking on Dillinger Escape Plan. Imagine if the vegetarian from Coldplay did an interview--nay, a lot of interviews--proclaiming that bands like Dillinger Escape Plan were ruining music, and if they continued what they were doing people would stop buying music, and anyone who listened to them was crizazy?

So that brings us to the real problem: Marcus’s essay, which I agree with 100%, and I’ll get into the why and whatfor later, is an answer to essays, interviews, screeds by Jonathan Franzen. Who, let’s face it, is crazy. Where is my proof, you ask. Here is my proof—he consistently bemoans the fact that authors to don’t have rock-star status (see review of Alice Munro’s Runaway, for example [New York Times Book Review, November 14, 2004], wherein most of the review giving the reader, or asking the author, reasons why Munro is not more popular than, say, Philip Roth or Rick Moody, and where he manages to insult both Munro and her readers). This after causing a fuss about his book The Corrections being selected for Oprah’s Book Club (about which you can read a fairly comprehensive, and I think fair-minded, case study here). The point is this: be as conflicted as you like, Franzen, about “corporate ownership” and the “high literary art” you feel you produce—you can’t be a rock star without being part of the corporate publishing machine. Much of the Oprah’s Book Club debate centered on Franzen’s views of being a literary writer who was independent and didn’t want his book co-opted for corporate usury, yet he apparently was not concerned about solicited blurbs that appeared on the back of the original jacket, or of future movie tie-in editions (from the NY Times, October 29, 2001, “He said he had no problem with any number of alterations -- including logos and pictures of actors on paperbacks editions reissued after the book becomes a movie.”). In other words, Franzen is the proverbial guy who does not want to be a member of a club who will have him for a member. And worse, he is an iconoclast who seeks to overthrow--not the traditional or popular--the experimental and the avant garde. He is, is other words, your parents.

I understand why Marcus takes what Franzen says more seriously than what Stephen King said when he won the National Book Award (when he says “There's a great deal of good stuff out there and not all of it is being done by writers whose work is regularly reviewed in the Sunday New York Times Book Review,” he is not talking about experimental literary fiction. He’s talking about his books, reviews of which have been ghetto-ized to the daily edition. Poor dear!). Marcus takes Franzen more seriously because Franzen continues to assert that he is the vanguard of experimental fiction, he is the most ambitious and difficult writer publishing today, and anyone else is just writing nonsense. They’re not writers at all, they’re doms beating up their subservient readers. Additionally, Franzen constantly asserts that he is the ideal reader for avant garde and experimental fiction, yet he holds it in such distain that he can’t read any of it. Dude, I am that reader, not you, and I am requesting that you quit insulting me before I kick your ass.

Essentially I see the problem as this: everyone is beating up on the nerdy kids, even the other nerdy kids. Because publishing is ALL nerdy kids. King and Franzen will gladly cast oblique aspersions at people like Ellen Gilchrist and Don Delillo, people who may not be household names but have had honors bestowed upon then nonetheless (and who get reviewed in the New York Times Book Review). How dare the National Book Foundation award a prize to something as difficult as Cormac McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses? It’s funny, if you go back and look at the NBA winners for the last 50 years, you’ll see a lot of familiar names. It seems that these awards are indeed going to the big name people, the publishing rock-stars. I guess you wuz wrong Stephen King.

But the real thesis of Marcus’s article is this: the avant garde—Ben Marcus and Lydia Davis, Marianne Robison, David Means and David Gates, and yes, even David Foster Wallace—are the future of fiction. Not that you’re all going to be reading difficult fiction 10 years or 50 years from now, but that fiction will die as an art if it does not go forward. People like Franzen and King don’t want the art to progress. Why do you want to kill what you love, dudes? What, if you can't have literature, no one can hav her? That's crazy talk. I also don’t understand why you want to fight with me. I am a mean and dirty fighter, and I will win. The difficult writers will continue to publish, and will continue not to sell any books, whether you want them to or not. And I and 35 other people will read them and enjoy them.

I guess the problem is this: I’m a really attractive reader, and I am the reader you really want, the one who will get below the sentences of the text, who will be right there with you when you make your linguistic pirouettes. Guess what? Your worst fear has been realized—you’re not good enough for me.