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I’ve been reorganizing media files this afternoon, and suddenly decided that these three remixes needed to be grouped:
The first remix is of the theme to the crowd-sourced independent film satire, Iron Sky. The original song was very neo-Bond, but I heard something else–something sadder.
The second reimagining derives from the compiled classical tracks that are scattered across the three albums Peter Hammill released in 1996. I found myself wanting to hear the best parts of them knitted together into an organic whole.
Finally, “Chemical Wings And Excuses” was sculpted from two Pet Shop Boys studio songs and one demo shard recorded on a cell phone by Chris Lowe. I always thought that together they told a larger, more resonant story.
Lucy’s wearing vintage
Boy’s in a rented tux
Safety pins for cufflinks
Please dance with me
The party’s still in full swing
and you’re such a bright young thing
Nancy’s got her monkey
on a silver chain
Pose for Stephen’s camera
then dance with me
Forget what the future brings
Surrounded by bright young things
Sometimes a party’s
a port in a storm
No one is weary
or lost and forlorn
Listen, a nightingale sings
in Berkeley Square the bright young things
are flying on chemical wings
intent on their one-last-flings tonight
It’s time! It’s time!
It’s time! It’s time!
When I get you home
there’ll be sunlight on your bed
Close your eyes and drift off
the promise of a diamond ring
You the queen, and I your king
Sometimes a party’s
a port in a storm
You won’t feel weary
or lost or forlorn
Listen, a nightingale sings
in Berkeley Square the bright young things
are flying on chemical wings
Share with me one last fling tonight
It’s time! It’s time!
[‘I’m All Alone Again . . . I’m All Alone’ Movement]
I walked into the room
Imagine my surprise
you were sitting close to him
staring in each other’s eyes
Each of you looked up
but no one said a word
I felt I should apologise
for what I hadn’t heard
A silence filled the room
awkward as an elephant
In the crowded court of your love
I was now a supplicant
And clumsy as I felt
at stumbling on this theft
to save further embarrassment
I made my excuses and left
So long ago
I felt like such a fool
All that I know
is when you feel inside
it all begins again
[Movement One Reprise]
I awoke this morning with Morrissey’s “Everyday Is Like Sunday” lodged between my ears, and it’s stayed there right up to lunch. Thus the best way to see this improvisational project is as a kind of pop exorcism.
So welcome to seemingly everyone in the world having a run at that deserted beach and cheap tray–from Mozza himself to a guy with a ukulele. As aways, the sequencing is everything . . .
Being A Curation of Pop Groups, Passionate Fans And Musical Reviews Tackling The Pet Shop Boys Catalogue (With An Afterword by PSB)
The Pet Shop Boys’ 12th studio album will be released next week and it’s made me wonder once again about the resistance of mainstream American music buyers to the boys’ sneaky brand of pop. In one sense, it’s their own fault: PSB deals in Trojan Horse songs–smart, Sondheim-eque music and lyrics that are carefully disguised beneath a glittering surface of dance beats. This is the shared secret of the fan-base–the knowing glance that passes between Pet Heads when they meet: the knowledge that, stripped of their clubland trappings, PSB songs rival the Lennon/McCartney songbook in terms of craft and persistent quality.
The tactic of slyly camouflaged songs is of a piece with Pet Shop Boys’ carefully distancing George-and-George approach to pop music (and is part of their ongoing critique of pop, although that is another essay unto itself). Thus, if the PSB won’t help me demonstrate what’s going on beneath the swooping synths, maybe crowdsourcing will.
This is a curation of pop groups (some less known than others) and passionate fans (some less talented than others) who have one thing in common–each in their own way has managed to tease something emotionally resonant out of the PSB songs they chose to cover. I’d like to think that this was entirely due to insight, but I’m prepared to accept some of it was sheer luck–a getting lost in the songs in exactly the right way. But however it happened, they all got there–to the substantial and often moving writing that is at the heart of the Pet Shop Boys’ releases.
These covers are bookended by another kind of deconstruction–that of PSB’s public image. The first is the classic send-up of Pet Shop Boys on the French and Saunders show; the second demonstrates PSB’s own ironic self-awarness through the casting of David Walliams and Matt Lucas as themselves in their video of the drolly titled “I’m With Stupid.” See it as the boys’ reaction to all the covers of their work–cryptic but not obviously displeased . . .
Welcome to the soft roll-out of the new, unified CultureHack site. And by soft roll-out, I’m suggesting that it’s best to see the next six weeks or so as a kind of beta test.
The question you’re not asking (though my ego insistently clings to the delusion that you are) is Why? To which the shortest possible answer is Twitter (the second-shortest response, however, is the much more pleasing to me: Fucking Twitter.)
Over the years, I’ve distributed content across an array of sites via a number of platforms and hosting services, including most recently the soon-to-be vaporized Posterous. And why is it about to vaporized? Because–wait for it–Twitter bought Posterous for the express purpose of shutting it down. So yes, Twitter is the reason we’re gathered here right now. Fucking Twitter. (It really is more pleasing with the adjective.)
The impending demise of Posterous has forced me to migrate a number of my sites elsewhere, and in in doing so, I decided to centralize the stuff I’ve been posting–well, the things worth preserving anyway. This time around, I’ve created one place for the iPhoneography, book excerpts, essays, political punditry, recent entries in my Twitter stream, rants expanded from tweets and, of course, my blog.
So yeah–welcome to my newest virtual atelier, brought to you by the crack Business Plan Division of Fucking Twitter . . .
Does this site compile everything I’ve ever tossed online with trademark hubris and insouciance? Of course not–are you insane? Instead, I’m treating this centralization as a kind of reboot. The legacy content here can be thought of as a curation prior to moving forward into new territory. (I’ve given a lot of thought about what this terra nova might be, and there will be screed on that in due time.) But right now, this is me editing myself and blatantly eliminating the boring, the thin and the dated. And also–it goes without saying–anything that’s become embarrassing. Screw the inviolate rules of perpetual posts with retrofitted strike-throughs: I’m talking image management-cum-manipulation here.
A word of warning at the outset is indicated–lots of things here remain to be tweaked. For instance, in many cases, the multimedia links didn’t survive the migration from Posterous and will need to be tended to manually. So yes, there’s still a thin coating of construction dust on almost everything: typefaces, kerning, formatting and, of course, the aforementioned videos and music. (But to balance things out a little, there’s also the delicious New Site smell that we all love so much.)
I’m making April Fool’s Day my deadline for getting this fit-and-finish stuff done–which pretty much gives the game away, don’t you think?
in the fog
the little pearl you left behind,
I kept it safe,
it’s here in my pocket like hope–
sometimes you have to,
you have to wake up;
sometimes the wind caresses
like a finely-tuned lover,
and some nights I find that
when I’m looking for cover
and I can’t pretend that I’m not crazy about you . . .
When I think about the new music I’ve bought in 2012 (far too much, as usual), one collection eclipses all the others in terms of how many times I’ve revisited it, the depth of its emotional kick and–be it ever so Old-School–its sheer sonic beauty. Mid Air, Paul Buchanan’s fragile, shimmering song-cycle is a masterpiece. End of story. (How’s that for concision?)
And yet, even though its my choice, I can’t help but be surprised and slightly shocked by that top-spot position. After all, this is a collection of 14 songs that average two-and-a-half minutes in length which comprise a total running time of slightly more than half an hour. This is a collection of acoustic piano and yearning voice with slight washes of translucent orchestration. It’s a collection so minimal that there’s literally no place to artistically hide–each note, sustain and verse reading presents itself unapologetically naked to the listener, daring the authenticity to be questioned. It’s a release that could have been recorded on an eight-track Revox with three channels to spare–and so timeless, it might have been written anytime in the past 40 years.
But for all this, it is to my ears the best pop recording of 2012.
The title track is the thesis for the rest of the collection: mid-air–suspension; neither grounded or in flight. It exemplifies the region that most of us occupy–somewhere between the quotidian and the ecstatic. It’s about the everyday epiphanies that strike when we least expect them . . .
Many of the choruses on Mid Air are so stripped-down that each new verse casts them in new light. The effect is as if song hooks have become sculptural, revealing new angles and tensions as the listener moves around them. Consider, for instance, the shifting and deepening nature of the chorus/chant, “The cars are in the garden now . . .”
This is highly compressed songwriting of the highest order–something that seems breathtakingly slight until the engaged listener unpacks it to reveal something huge and universal.
Mid Air is a late-night collection–its lineage can be traced back to Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours and Miles Davis’ Ascenseur pour l’echafaud. In an interview at the time of its release, Buchanan stated that Mid Air was the result of standing in his kitchen at 3:00 AM, staring at the lights in the other apartments and wondering what sort of things were keeping his neighbors up.
Ultimately then, Mid Air is a catalogue of our dead-of-night musings–regret, wonder, love, loss, resolve, and–yes–quiet joy. It’s the best collection of 2012 because it gives articulate, moving voice to these sleepless considerations . . .
Didn’t I tell you
Everything I wanted?
How I loved you
When I loved you
Most of all . . .
Its emotional wallop stems from the shock of our self-recognition.
In retrospect, of course, this was inevitable–I’ve been on a collision course with this particular project since those first amino acids formed in that far away, prehistoric tidal pool.
It happened this way: This morning I was archiving documents to my server while listening to The Divine Comedy’s A Short Album About Love. As I opened the folder containing the source graphics for my Tilda Swinton Moment posts on Twitter, well, the perfect song started playing, and I knew what I had to do . . .
And so I did.
Today finally marks the end of my morphing avatar on Twitter. I can’t speak for you, but I began to think I’d never see the end of this project. What started out as a playful comment on the more constant avatar-shifters somehow became 30 days of performance art. In retrospect, I still like the idea of a single avatar that daily changes stylistically. I think it appeals to my inner-Warhol.
But the problem was how to give the project genuine closure. Somehow the simple resumption of my official avatar seemed, well, wimpy. It was then my friend Susan Champlin (@susanchamplin on Twitter) suggested that I conclude the project with a time-lapse summary. Perfect. (A virtual kiss on Ms Champlin’s always-thinking forehead for the brilliant idea.)
And so to conclude this weeks-long performance, I give you A Month Of Me, the–um–film. The version of “Vanishing Act” that serves as the soundtrack was excerpted from 2004’s Animal Serenade. It’s written and performed by Lou Reed and copyrighted to him.
(One last thing–learn from me, and never wade into something that requires you to change your picture on Twitter everyday at 6:00 AM without fail. Just sayin’ . . . )
The East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in the last dusk of the first decade of the new millennium.
For reasons now obscured by the gauziness of time, I wind up at a Feast of Seven Fishes each December 24th. (Always, I might add, seated next to the look-alike sister of a film star on whom I’ve had a decades-long crush. And no, don’t ask–it’s a murky Dante / Beatrice / Gemma sort of thing; darkly twisted psychology crossed with One-Degree-Of-Someone-More-Talented-Than-Kevin-Bacon.)
Anyway, this is the day I annually make my Social-Obligation Apple Pie–which is also increasingly known as Dub-Mix Apple Pie because over the years I’ve reduced the ingredients to six, and lately I’ve even decreased their amounts. While I’m certain that the final destination of this recipe is unavoidably a baked apple skewered on a cinnamon stick and sprinkled with brown sugar, I’m fighting the temptation because my yearly dining companion seems to like current iteration of the pie–and when she smiles, she looks exactly like her sister . . .
You know what I love? The powder-finshed, matte-black Incase slider that lovingly (and minimally) surrounds my iPhone 4. You know what I hate? Pulling off the bottom of that case to dock the phone. You know what I hate even more? Charging it on its back, straight from USB cable.
And so I went searching, because surely I wasn’t alone in my docking need. And, lo, I wasn’t. Except that this Other Guy seemed to be an engineer–an engineer with access to machine shops and power lathes. In short, this Other Guy was in a position to actually do something about the proper docking of an iPhone inside an Incase slider. (Did I mention it’s powder-finished, matte-black and Seriously Minimal? Did I also indicate my more-than-slightly perverse love for it?)
It’s a week later, and here it sits on my desk–a dock carved out of a single piece of aircraft-grade aluminum, with–wait for it–an anodized black finish. (Steady on, there–steady–be still, my design-fetishist’s heart.) A dock that literally has been machine-tooled to fit my powder-finished, matte- . . . well, you know. And, best of all, when the phone is off, the goddamned thing looks like it’s waiting to be discovered on the Moon in a Kubrick film–which is indisputably good.
And now, because I knew you were going to ask (how could you not?), here’s a short video of the dock’s first phase of manufacture:
As Robert Duvall almost said once, ‘I love the sound of metal fabrication in the morning–it reminds me of victory . . .’
Fig tart with caramelized onions, rosemary and Stilton (drizzled with honey). Long day; suddenly much better evening.
I’m thinking of pairing it with a Pinot Noir and Maddow. . .
Zero History, William Gibson’s new novel, has been released today. I’m a littler over a hundred pages into it, and WG is making the prose sing in a way equal to Pattern Recognition, my favorite of his novels to date.
Really? you say cautiously, looking askance at me, ready to be dismissive of any fanboy worship you detect. Except there isn’t any because none is needed. In terms of prose style, Gibson has mashed Banville into Ballard to often wondrous effect:
In the amusement arcades, he judged, some of the machines were older than he was. And some of his own angels, not the better ones, spoke of an ancient and deeply impacted drug culture, ground down into the carnival grime of the place, interstitial and immortal; sundamaged skin, tattoos unreadable, eyes that peered from faces suggestive of gas-station taxidermy.
He was meeting someone here.
‘Nuff said . . .
For me, verse is infrequent punctuation to the constant flow of prose. Infrequent and also unexpected, because while I arduously search for the next elusive sentence no matter how long it may take, the poems thus far have always found me and arrive nearly whole when they do.
And though I dutifully capture and refine them, I’ve never been sure of their exact relationship to any of my long-form writing. But thinking about it, that’s not quite true. It’s less about uncertainty over the poems and more about the fact I try not to dwell on them. Maybe because I see them as momentary and inexplicable impulses–like a split-second homoerotic thought or an instant of darkness while standing slightly too close to the edge of something dangerously tall. It’s better not to think about these things too much; best not to follow their respective logics to whatever destinations they may lead.
And so all I can do while remaining honest is to shrug and and introduce the latest from what is clearly my bicameral self–mostly produced by one part of me to the slight astonishment (and occasional annoyance) of the prose-centric other chamber: An aftershock from the East Coast quake woke me in the middle of the night last week–in much the same way that bad dreams regularly do. And instantly the entangled gist of “Aftershocks” was there, forcing me to polish it when I should have been bashing-out exposition. Natural disaster, meet neurosis; aftershock, this is anxiety.
But now it’s done, and true to my word, I’ll be more than happy to stop thinking about it. After all, no one needs dangerous thoughts at the edge of dangerous places . . .
after the event,
my world shakes yet again.
And I wake with a sharp
intake of breath
to the creaking and tremble
of the costly protection
I’ve constructed around myself.
The tremor passes
as it always does,
leaving me sleepless and agitated,
until at last I make my way
out of the darkened corridors:
To the place where this fear of sudden shifting
can be exorcised–
to where I can bathe in a pool of light
that eases this breathless sense of drag,
that staves-off this suddenly endless night
with the steady glow of a ceaseless present
that glides across the screen.