Tuesday, August 31, 2004

MELANCHOMEDY

Painting by Gina Disney who lives on the Westside of the East Eastside.The Los Angeles River is like the fuckin' beach over there.

Can you smell the industrial wastelands of Boyle Heights beneath the surface of this painting? Driving home from work in Los Feliz to this warehouse district in a place that lends shape, facets to the words “poor” or “desperate” and especially “bourgeois.” Can you smell that all? Can you see it (the people getting darker the further east you go) in that painting up there? Can you see the painter tossed about and ravaged, approaching the soul’s most outward boundary this ravaging is, and there’s nothing she can do about it. Nothing she thinks she can do about it. Are you getting all that? I’m not either because I must pretend I do not know the artist if I want to try to objectively interpret, however ambiguously, this oddity of a panting you see just a few lines above. Authorial intent holds no weight according to the symbols gleaned from the rubble made by the battles of the churlish, critical canon wars. Shots fired with rancor by fleets of rage-aquiver warriors (Academics). Heaving canon balls from behind the walls of their entrenched, vacuum-like castle fortresses (Universities).

Back to the art (which has nothing to do, really, with Academia).

The sallow red-lipped pale face looks a bit like Hitler, but more feminine, more forlorn, more beautiful because the anguish on this face exudes a sense of knowing. The expression ruts of a straight face belie the laugh, the deep, teary eyed, belly laugh that follows this instant captured in the life of this head that floats around somewhere in the artist’s head. This head is flanked by decline above (“I may be getting uglier”) and further declination below (“but at least my paintings are getting worse). Though getting uglier can be seen as an ascension, a shaking off of vanities. Depends on who we’re talking about. And the criteria! Get your criteria here! Criteria! We’re all out of criteria! Sorry there folks. Just keep walking.

Note the strip of film negative near the top, above the head. Negative imagery. The whole thing is negative. Except the crisp lines on the head and the body. The lines render them cartoon-like. The images become hyperbolic representations. This “Melanchomedy” is a melodrama. But see, it’s not ironic. The painting both mocks and endorses self-doubt and resignation (what it’s portraying). The painting is always poised on the cusp of laughter and reverie. Momentary reverie, but just as momentary as the instant captured here. Miserable (emphasis on the "miser") moments paint better than the fractions of seconds when we actually do feel good about ourselves.

The painter, Gina Disney, works in a converted wherehouse north of Downtown L.A. and can be reached at elscarl@sbcglobal.net

Monday, August 30, 2004

XIU XIU’S QUEER WOMB


Xiu Xiu at the Smell on Friday, August 27, Downtown LA.
The heat of anticipation, the neck turning, exposed for a chopping. Entering a queer womb, the queerest of wombs.


Xiu Xiu is a conundrum, a frail lamentation of a musical entity fronted by a man named Jamie Stewart. These are his songs, his trembly, wavering, supplicant, antagonistic howl wrapped in oblong, bizarre, synthetic rhythms. Except for the rare exception, when people are first initiated into the world of Xiu Xiu—with its chaotic grating and bursts of soft submissive beauty (like the beauty intrinsic in the face of a person injected with a head-full of mossy, terrible memory, of that time when you lost all control, all agency and let terrible things happen to you because, well, you’re still not sure why. Perhaps you wanted to be loved. Sounds right.), when people hear this spectacle, the sound of a man/boy breaking into pieces before you, a tragic grimace pulling his face upwards towards some empty space between his eyes and the ceiling, this space where the lusty and cold ghosts of the past, man-shaped, flutter in colorful vignettes of memories and empathies, specters of madness and fuzzy solace—when they hear this, most people I’ve seen laugh at first because that’s all they can do to reconcile the soft hard spectacle creeping into their minds through expanding and contracting ears.

But you might very well get to a place where you’re not laughing at Xiu Xiu or quickly turning it off, not ready for a music so singular and singularly difficult but ultimately easy because it’s accurate and necessary to have our demons in a conversation with each other. That’s what Jamie Stewart’s music does: thrusts his (or someone’s) demons into a hushed and awkward conversation with your demons. Thus it’s hard to listen to Xiu Xiu all the time (except during crazy times). Think of David Lynch as queer and in his late 20s, singing his strange creative subconscious rather than making films.

The show
There’s something about WHO goes (or who would go) to a Xiu Xiu show that makes you know that the crowd is certain to be here for the music, clutching itself in unison in the awkward and lilting, unconscious posturing of one damaged and wearing fitted denim. Upright hipsters, youngish.

And after some laborious sound-checking, Xiu Xiu takes the stage, peppered with a keyboard, a harmonium, some percussion triangles and gongs, an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, various synths, a sputtering drum machine and then, of course, Jamie Stewart with his beautiful female counterpart, Caralee McElroy, the lanky and nurturing soft faced cherub (on about five occasions, she quickly yet affectionately would touch Stewart on the arm or shoulder, as if to say, but not too loudly, “everything’s fine because I love you and understand you, Jamie Stewart, oh you…”) to Stewart’s dour, vaguely pouty, fragile-yet-emboldened young man.

Hugging an autoharp like it’s a strummable teddy bear, Stewart gracefully fumbles us into the land of the Xiu Xiu. “Bog People” blubbers out, settling us for the full force, a musical acclimation as our bodies acclimate to the thick, lumbering heat shrouding us all, the Smell living up to its odiferous namesake reputation. And then the ranges of quiet melodic sung crumblings, discordant tonal chords, the harmonium’s wheezy yawn, spiritual, church-like. I have never been to church. But I’ve prayed.

Xiu Xiu’s music has a tendency to boor itself into deep and fragile memories. Your relationship with the band is tenuous and connected to those times when something crazy happens that’s queer and wrenching with a staggering chaotic lurch and you can only gain consolation through confrontations and reflections of those vectors of feelings in the form of Xiu Xiu’s hushed then screaming songs. Xiu Xiu connects to your seemingly important (emphasis on the “imp”) narrative obsessions, narrative being the story we tell ourselves about ourselves every morning we wake up until we go to sleep. Sleep is where we lose the plot. But come morning, we grasp at some strands, catch new ones in our dreams, and assemble our plot rife with new twists even if they’re the same old twists.

Or maybe the huge Sapporo I slammed in the alleyway and the whisky sipped back at home has just started to hit. Cause Stewart sounds like he’s singing the blues. Metaphorically.

So seeing Xiu Xiu with my own warped furrows of emotional distress and melodramatics and a mellow, ruminative buzz on, made the experience of this well executed (intimate then aggressive then intimately aggressive) show a rather moot point. I wasn’t even there. I was, while standing in a dank underground music box in Downtown LA, suddenly thrust a year and a half back, to Santa Cruz, Xiu Xiu’s “Sad Pony Guerilla Girl,” my anthem for a few weeks of a big gay mindfuck named Tino. Stewart sings waveringly melodic, shaking through the strings of his acoustic guitar (electric tonight and a little different, more confident), “I like my neighborhood. I like my gun. Driving my little car. I am your girl and I will protect you.” And I feel like this and though this song might well be about a molested kid, it tells of this little boy’s own obsessions, desires of passivity and acquiescences delivered and yearned for. The song is appealing and soothing until somewhere comes a slurry of garbled, loopy chaos, completely atonal and jarring, the listener’s eyes become wide, a grin infests his mouth (recognition or gawking?), and then the calm melody and guitar return. And I loved (and love this song). It portrays the tumultuous (most often incurred by our own doing) battling with the beautiful (desire however bruised and knotted it is). I’m listening to this song driving down a redwood infested windy road, sunset all indigo, we’re talkin’ a deep, dimmed neon blue, and I’m terrified because my desires got me face to some beautiful young man which brought me face to face with myself.

I’ll spare the details of that specific narrative. But the show ended and we funneled out into the alley and back to our cars, shaking our heads, those old demons pushing out our foreheads from inside our skulls. Hmm. Yes. Let us drink more. Drink we did.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

VISUAL SOMBRIETY (CINEMA)

Last Life in the Universe directed by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang with cinematography by Christopher Doyle (of Wong Kar Wai fame, one of the best cinematographers working in world cinema).

There’s two nights left to see this brooding, stunning, perplexing film which opened last Friday at the Nuart and closes Thursday, finite, oh so abbreviated the span, not even enough time to savor, to grasp the sense, clutch the skin, comprehend the smells, the tactile-soft wonderment, the falling.

The purely subjective theme spew
Isolation, futility, beauty, the macabre, an affirmation of something unclear yet wholly recognizable. Perhaps the perfect film to see alone, as I did, because its core is about how we’re inarticulate, trapped within the mossy confines of our bedraggled skulls and dormant hearts.

Genres
This film adheres to the newest, perhaps most welcomed film genres, that of the Finite Love Drama… promulgated by Before Sunrise, hammered in by Lost In Translation, coffin nailed by this one. You see, all loves are finite. They all end badly, either in revulsion or death. There are no happy endings, just endings loose and open and frayed and uneven.

Plot
Japanese man in Thailand is miserable and regimented… suicidal in his own very special way (he’s screaming silently to be heard, to be warmed). Craziness, coincidence, fucked up (thus funny) violence. The deadpan deaths. Then love fleeting. Any more would really detract and I’m not here to proffer interpretations to soil your own… Just see it.

Sights
See it. It’s shot so well. The visual plane suffuses the protagonist's encounters and habits and ache with such crisp immediacy and beauty.

And then
You’re in a room full of people, sharing something, some audio-visual, projected spectacle of uncertain bliss, of familiar mundanity and ache with escaping gusts of solace. You watch the credits roll, heart throbbing, head not ready to reconcile the assault of images and open-endedness. Attributing meaning is cliché. Incorporating feeling, senses, somber senses, letting it do, it being this film, letting it do what it does, wickedly, terribly, so foreign, so familiar. Drive home alone and hope to fucking god there’s whisky in the cupboard.

Monday, August 23, 2004

SUNSET JUNK TON

Sunset Junction Street Fair 2004. The 24th Annual commingling of hipsters and fags and dykes commenced with hazy skies. Early arrivers thought, for once, we won’t get scorched by the omnipresent sun pummeling from above and upper-cutting from the wet-hot cement below. Then, the cock-teasing haze gave way to the sun’s full force. No one was surprised. Pale, indie rock skin turned red and not for the sake of a blush.

Myth states that the fair began on the year of this reporter’s birth, to bring the disparate Homo and Vato entities of LA’s Eastside—specifically Silverlake which, I might add, has always been dubbed as cool—together in reverie. It might well have achieved that this weekend, but it’s doubtful.
Best Vendor:
Utili-kilts. No explanation necessary.

Best Band:
Dengue Fever (pictured above). Though this reporter can only judge the bands he saw and he saw to it that he saw very few, he can doubt that any band surpassed the Deng. Fronted by a diminutive Indian woman who sang like a peasant at a Bollywood open casting, with some middle eastern variation on a burnout all bearded and turbaned on guitar, a tall black bassist (big surprise) who moonlights in this other LA jewel of a band called the Radar Bros., and most importantly, the white boys on keyboards, drums, and sax/flute.This band is an embodied LA metaphor. The wasps’ proficiency peppered by ethnic flair. It’s the perfect musical ensemble for the white man with the taste for spice but who likes his ethnic food on clean tables (analogous the the 4/4 beats proffered by the pasty drummer). The singer was incomprehensible, but oh so beautiful, wow, amazing, the cultures colliding, I feel nourished. You get the point. All irony aside, they were good. And ooooooooh so multi-ethnic.

Biggest Spectacle:
Quadriplegic, obviously wheelchair bound, blonde wigged, tranny decked out like a beauty queen in the throws of the evening gown competition. Rumor has it, she haunts lesbian bars and harasses straight men out of sheer bitterness and self-hatred. This isn’t really a rumor or a joke but no one would believe it, so yeah, it’s a rumor.

Staple:
The large, dark skinned, big bellied, vague-ethnicitied man in only long-johns, long strings of black hair flailing as he danced, naturally, to every band playing the rock stage. Same as last year. Same as the year before. He only exists one weekend of the year.

Best Food:
The foot long spicy sausage plunged firmly into the welcoming slit of a near-loaf of bread, slathered with onions, kraut, ketchup and mustard and deep throated by this reporter at that point lost in a vodka-beer binge and hurting from the heat, olive skin gone bronze, weary.

Best Moment:
Subjective. Mine was wandering alone, ditched for some lesbians by my best friend, flanked by hundreds of thousands of people and never feeling more alone. The loneliness of crowds; an incubator for catharsis (which is always subtle if it’s actual).

Most Ambiguous Moment:
The street fair exists on a strip of Sunset Blvd that includes the now monolithic shrine to suicided rock star, Elliott Smith, the curved lines painted on a wall, now dappled with lyrics and notes from grieving fans. The sidewalk below still bears flowers and candles nearly a year after his death. The second morning of the Fair, Sunday, after the hard-core collective debauch, the squealing and hanging from billboards, the coke-dicey gallivanting, the false feeling of collectivity, the wake of all this left the word “Coward” in gray spray-paint over the wall of Elliott Smith Remembrance. Who’s the coward, I wonder? Seems that it takes a lot of bravery to voluntarily and prematurely extricate oneself from this addled swamp we call life. I could be wrong. Perhaps “Absurdist” would have been more appropriate, but then I doubt our feeble yet bold vandals read much Camus. Or maybe that angered citizen is right? Or maybe he who wrote it (the gender is a guess but the paradox of sneaking into the night to make bold statements unseen, this stinks of maleness) is so hardcore, so deep into the underground, he had to express his truth at the flashpoint moment when the most LA hipsters would be congregated, sticky, stoned, fashion victims figuratively (because they care) and literally (because angular hair and ironic 80s clothes don’t mix with the summer sun). Who’s right? Fuck all. All’s wrong and Street Fairs are for the philistine masses.

Thanks Silverlake for closing down the main road-artery for the entire weekend, cloistering a bunch of people who would rather have the autonomy their cars and wallets and privilege have afforded them every other weekend of the year. Thanks. A vodka-sausage belch to an annual reason to lasciviously cruise during the day, the reason for Kieffer Sutherland to walk as if he’s a regular dude, the reason for the crazy rock stage emcee lady, who too only appears one weekend a year, bleach blonde, haggard, all motley dressed in neon yellows and a poly-poly blend of melted faux pas, screaming, squealing, to be precise, “Ooooahhhheeeeww! Hey everybody. Yeah! It’s Sunset Junciton! Eeeeewahhhhheeeeew!” Choke on your screetches, woman. I bet they don’t even pay you to go on stage and vomit your invisible pride, year after year, into the vacant faces of a community that just moved here from Kentucky, like seven months ago. Ha!