Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Grunge Binge #2: Taught Slackers

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Stills from the music video for "The Crooked Place" by Glass Eye (circa 1989).

Start with the image, and the simple goal of capturing the essence of "grunge" or whatever. The indefinable aesthetic essence of a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Find the video, which smacks as exemplary of this running definition's core. The video being "The Crooked Place" by Glass Eye. Welcome to Austin, Texas in the late 1980s.

"The crooked places may be made straight but the heart longs for the crooked place," sings Kathy McCarty donning a priest's collar. While singing this phrase her mouth transforms from stolid and effete to this sinister, beautiful smile, and then cut to the fairgrounds of some slacker carnival while these staccato guitar chords punctuate the chaos and cigarette smoking beauty of it all. Ah grunge.

And if this video feels familiar, perhaps that's because the Austin milieu from which this band and video came, is intrinsically tied to one of the town's most prominent cultural figures, filmmaker Richard Linklater. See, McCarty, along with other members of the band, appeared in Linklater's epic, free-ranging indie masterpiece Slacker. And that's McCarty singing a solo acoustic cover of the Daniel Johnston song "Living Life" at the end credits of Linklater's exemplar film Before Sunrise. Point being, this Glass Eye video, which I urge you to watch, is like the grunge holy grail, gravelly and emotionional (both the song and the video), dirty and disheveled and sleazy and full of motion, then haltings, then motion. Watch it:

PS. For a little bit of a "where is she now," you can read Kathy McCarty's personal history of her time and place (she's still making music) in the Austin scene. She wrote her account in this article from 2005 for the Austin Chronicle. Notably:
Long ago, I was in a local all-girl band called the Buffalo Gals, and we were sorta famous. I was the dorky one. Then I was in Glass Eye, here in town, and we were quite popular. That band was together for 10 years, and we won lots of awards and drew huge crowds. We made albums and the critics loved us. We were on MTV.

Like many a critics' darling, we never hit the Big Time. Big labels considered us "Impossible to Market," and perhaps that was true – if you're a slimy piece of shit label yes-man with crispy ashes for a soul. Or something. Either way, after 10 years of superhuman striving, we got all worn out with being fucked around, and broke up. It was sad. OK, I was devastated.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Less is Moral

Great article in this week's NY Times Science section on a possible evolutionary, biological source for human morality:
So why has evolution equipped the brain with two moral systems when just one might seem plenty?

“We have a complex animal mind that only recently evolved language and language-based reasoning,” Dr. Haidt said. “No way was control of the organism going to be handed over to this novel faculty.”

He likens the mind’s subterranean moral machinery to an elephant, and conscious moral reasoning to a small rider on the elephant’s back. Psychologists and philosophers have long taken a far too narrow view of morality, he believes, because they have focused on the rider and largely ignored the elephant.

Dr. Haidt developed a better sense of the elephant after visiting India at the suggestion of an anthropologist, Richard Shweder. In Bhubaneswar, in the Indian state of Orissa, Dr. Haidt saw that people recognized a much wider moral domain than the issues of harm and justice that are central to Western morality. Indians were concerned with integrating the community through rituals and committed to concepts of religious purity as a way to restrain behavior.

On his return from India, Dr. Haidt combed the literature of anthropology and psychology for ideas about morality throughout the world. He identified five components of morality that were common to most cultures. Some concerned the protection of individuals, others the ties that bind a group together.

Indulge the possibilities with the whole article here:
Is ‘Do Unto Others’ Written Into Our Genes? [NYT]

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Wake Up Your Windows!

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It's Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and a good reason to dredge up this rare New Year's Eve performance by Jeff Mangum, the man behind the band Neutral Milk Hotel. Mangum was an obscure late 90s indie rock figure whose last proper album, the brilliant In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, came out in 1998. But his songs don't seem to tire, particularly the one being performed in this video, "Engine," which can't be found on either of his albums but stands as one of his best songs, though honestly, they're all so good:

PS. Check out the incredible saw playing. Damn a well executed saw performance can make a good song great! Black Heart Procession kills on stage when the saw gets involved.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007


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Manohla Dargis meditates on the greatness of Jodie Foster in this essay in this weekend's NY Times. Dargis exalts Foster's trajectory as an actor, her androgyny, her performances-as-autobiography, the inevitability of her success, and argues interestingly that Foster is one of the few actors that can be called an auteur, a phrase usually attached to directors. My favorite passage recounts an interview between Andy Warhol and Foster back in 1976 for his magazine Interview:

Andy Warhol: So, when are you going to get married?

Jodie Foster: Never. I hope. It’s got to be boring — having to share a bathroom with someone.

Andy Warhol: Gee, we believe the same things.

Warhol was impressed that she had appeared in a commercial for Coppertone, running about in frilly white panties and a California tan, and asked if she had received any “nut mail” for doing “Taxi Driver.” And he mentioned “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” in which she played a scarily mature street kid, one with a foul mouth and a wayward mother. “You couldn’t tell whether you were a boy or girl.” Absurd, funny, sly and freakishly on target, Warhol seized on her appeal instantly, pinpointing everything that defined and has continued to define her screen presence: her beauty, talent, androgyny and ambition (she was excited about the publicity she had received for “Taxi Driver”), yes, but also a willingness to exploit her body and a taste, or perhaps instinct, for provocation.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Belabor Day, Long Beach

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103 degrees today in Long Beach, Labor Day. Some tempers were bristly as the sun scorched hordes tussled over a parking space along Bluff Park (the vantage from which these photos were taken by me). The pic above is the north-facing view from the Bluff. The pic below is a panoramic vantage from the bluff, facing south.Click it to see the panorama at a larger size.

Click it, yeah? See it all big 'n bold 'n grandiosely large and long!

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