December 28, 2008
so i’m writing this really epic post right now and have been for the past couple of weeks. it should be finished in the next day or so but i needed a break and so this afternoon i recorded “whitney, i love you but you’re bringing me down.” so obviously, it’s “new york, i love you but you’re bringing me down” but with the lyrics, um, changed to be about whitney and her new show, the city, which premieres tomorrow.
EDIT – i just remembered that i also wrote a song about whitney a year ago.
December 12, 2008
this is the second in the series of christmas songs i’ve recorded. it’s a cover of the standard “winter wonderland.” when i started messing around with it, i came up with the idea of double tracked vocals panned pretty hard left and right. the vocals would go in unison for the first two lines of the verse and then when the melody shifts for the last 3 lines, the left vocal would go to this bluegrass high harmony. it sounded really fucking awesome but unfortunately i put off doing a real take of the vocals until i had spent two weeks having my throat dried out by winter air and infected by the petri dish of children’s germs which is my workplace and by the time i tried to record it, i couldn’t really even sing the basic melody, much less the harmony. i had to therefore give up on the harmony (i tried to do it with a vocoder but it sounded bad). the really ghetto solution i eventually came up with for the melody was recording four vocals. i recorded the first two and then tuned them to pitch as well as i could; however, i don’t have much experience with autotune and so they sounded kind of t-pain-y after they were done and you can call me heartless but that’s not my style. so what i did was pan those vocals left and right and then record two more vocals which i did NOT tune at the same stereo position as each of them. the theory was that the tuned vocals would sort of pull the untuned ones to the right pitch while the untuned ones would make the tuned ones sound more natural. the practice is kind of meh but it sounds better than one set of the vocals by itself.*
i stretched out the melody somehow or just brought the tempo down a lot, i’m not sure which. either way, as a result, i had to cut the bridge sections (the “we can build a snowman”/weird impromptu marriage (?) parts) because they didn’t sound right slowed down but then if i didn’t slow them down there was this weird slow fast contrast. the thing i’m least happy with besides the vocals is the rhythm. my shitty piano playing has this weird, i don’t know, do-si-do feel that screwed up my ability to make any interesting percussion stuff besides the basic 4/4 kick (which is EQ’d way down) unless i wanted to further reinforce that feel, which i didn’t. i am happy with the part at the end where the piano and drum drop out, though.
* i remember reading an ARC a couple of years ago about geoff emerick engineering the beatles and he mentioned how on some of their early songs (“she loves you” era), george martin had this really primitive version of auto tune where if somebody sang a note out of tone he would go in and overdub a piano note at the right frequency at a really low level under the vocal to try to correct it.
December 8, 2008
First, are you our sort of a person?
Do you wear
A glass eye, false teeth or a crutch,
A brace or a hook,
Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch,
Stitches to show something’s missing? No, no? Then
How can we give you a thing?
Open your hand.
Empty? Empty. Here is a hand
To fill it and willing
To bring teacups and roll away headaches
And do whatever you tell it.
Will you marry it?
It is guaranteed
To thumb shut your eyes at the end
And dissolve of sorrow.
We make new stock from the salt.
I notice you are stark naked.
How about this suit—-
Black and stiff, but not a bad fit.
Will you marry it?
It is waterproof, shatterproof, proof
Against fire and bombs through the roof.
Believe me, they’ll bury you in it.
Now your head, excuse me, is empty.
I have the ticket for that.
Come here, sweetie, out of the closet.
Well, what do you think of that ?
Naked as paper to start
But in twenty-five years she’ll be silver,
In fifty, gold.
A living doll, everywhere you look.
It can sew, it can cook,
It can talk, talk , talk.
It works, there is nothing wrong with it.
You have a hole, it’s a poultice.
You have an eye, it’s an image.
My boy, it’s your last resort.
Will you marry it,
what if sylvia plath and ted hughes had their own reality show? besides the fact that they’re both dead, this is not so far fetched. in a recent review of the letters of ted hughes, david orr writes,
“When gossip grows old,” the Polish writer Stanislaw Lec said, “it becomes myth.” In the case of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, the myth made by gossip has long obscured the art made by a couple of poets.
what if in some weird alternate reality, instead of sylvia sticking her head into the oven and becoming the literary kurt cobain, what if she and ted were reborn into the heyday of our millenial gossip culture (i.e. a year or so ago, before the upper of the election and the downer of the economy distracted us from the important stuff)? what if they were inserted into our cultural narrative as another doherty and moss, as the poetic contemporaries of winehouse and fielder-civil? ok, you’re right, that’s not really them, they might have fought but they weren’t into drugs or anything, they weren’t all sid and nancy like amy and blake. ok, sure, maybe their show would be different, less sensational and more domestic. fine then, maybe they’d be more like tori and dean, posh and becks, heidi and spencer…
this is all such a ridiculous fantasy, of course, for reasons that have nothing to do with the reanimation of sylvia plath and ted hughes. the real joke is the possibility that in 2007 or 2008 “sylvia” and “ted” could be famous poets. famous poets? god! sylvia plath living today would be a depressive MFA student intermittently flicking the switch on her livejournal* from “friends only” to “public” and surfing for gluten-free vegan cupcake recipes while living in a poorly lit condo in vermont with her boyfriend ted, a bassist in a noisecore band that played CMJ last year and is trying to get that blog buzz going so they can tour but is really totally sad because panda bear won’t respond to his myspace messages. famous poets? what famous poets, who? i mean, maybe like maya angelou is a famous poet, but for my generation she’s famous not in the reading-her-books kind of way but in the way that if there’s a post on jezebel with a video clip of her talking about obama on the today show, people will watch it, all of it, the whole two minutes, and then leave comments under it like, “oh, maya’s so wise.” i guess there’s some “famous” to that but there’s not much “poet” – it’s us interfacing with her less as a writer and more as that old black grandma/prophet in the matrix who told neo his future and also baked killer chocolate chip cookies. famous poets? what, like ron silliman? he’s about as famous as poets get on the internet, which is to say that his page views have to be significantly less than those of the sparknotes’ EZ exegesis of shakespeare’s sonnets and the google search results for “neruda poems that get u laid.”
but despite the impossibility of a celebrity poet today, it’s still kind of an interesting thing to dream about. sylvia plath on MTV! what would the archetypal Confessional poet do when placed in that cornerstone of the reality television aesthetic: the, erm…confessional? imagine her sitting in that booth on the real world with the hazy, swirling background behind her, the lights set just so, the camera rolling. in that environment, would she lose all of her craft and skill, her art – would the dark revelations and complex images in her writing become the simplistic, autotuned confessions of a teenage drama queen? imagine her as a a teen girl today: instead of winning the mademoiselle fiction contest but then hating her fashion magazine internship (yeah, she had one, too, just like LC!) and going on to oxford to be a poet like the real sylvia did, would our “sylvia” have been driven by watching heid’s fake bolthouse internship on the hills to get a job in PR, a job which would at first be fun and exciting but would eventually become existentially unfulfilling in a way that, because she hadn’t read anything other than vogue and us weekly, she wouldn’t have the vocabulary to explain?
or, would she, as an artist, be emboldened by the medium and learn to use the essential tools of the form to create effect, emotion, drama, image, meaning; to create poetry? instead of writing the bell jar, would she become a better, stronger, faster lonely girl 15? would she learn to balance the performance and the reality, the fact and fiction, not in order to create art with words on paper but to make herself art, to create a living text? (insert interior scroll joke here). the sad thing about sylvia plath, the last really famous poet, is that she didn’t get to take advantage of being famous because by the time she was famous, she was dead. she didn’t get to experiment with her myth the way celebrities today do because the myth came as a consequence of her own death. it’s a shame because whatever you think of her poetry, imagine what she might have done if she could have used the power of her fame to unite life and art, gossip and myth. imagine if, instead of the myth obscuring the poetry, as david orr rightly argues it does, if she could have used the poetry to embroider the myth and the myth to illuminate the poetry, if she could have created a greater kind of art from their synthesis. imagine if that was possible for any poet today, that kind of power, that scope, if a literary artist could also be a figure whose life captured the wider popular imagination. the closest we’ve come to that in this century is james frey — i think my alternate reality “sylvia” could have done better than him (and gotten along a lot better with oprah). maybe this is because i would love to see some camera phone shots of her flashing her britney on TMZ but mostly it’s because the real sylvia plath, the dead one, basically invented the genre. from a 1971 times piece about her posthumous popularity, in the wake of the bell jar:
She is now a famous poet, but few read poetry. On April 14th, Harper & Row published “The Bell Jar” for the first time in America. For the past seven weeks–to the astonishment of many–it has been on the bestseller list. What could have caused this wide popularity, this second posthumous career as a novelist?
Her subject–the nervous breakdown and attempted suicide of a well-behaved, bright and successful college girl during the summer vacation of 1953–is hardly topical, and for careful, plain, dolorous prose style, which conveys the world of the heroine under the bell jar of madness with its “stifling distortions,” offers few sentimental attractions. It is not a facile, entertaining or dramatic book; it has none of the sharp bitter humor and bite of her poems. It’s not well shaped (it can be quite awkward); it offers no modish visionary thrills from the world of the insane, and though it has scenes of college life, the suburbs and the fashion magazine world of the 1950’s for the most part it just hangs there dully and drags you down with its heroine; you don’t believe she really recovers. Its vague, absorbent, melancholy pull lingers for weeks.
Hardly the stuff of a best seller. But there it is, number four this week. Some clues to its attraction can be seen on the dust jacket. The cover shows a woman’s hand holding a white rose. The photo seems romantic, shot through gauze, but at a second look it begins to resemble an X-ray or a glimpse of a Gothic hand reaching out of a grave. On the inside front flap is the author’s picture: somber, sensitive, an intellectual, but also the girl next door from the fifties. Below it we read: “At last Sylvia Plath’s only published novel is available in her own country, eight years after it was published in England under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas.” Instant curiosity: why the delay? Why the pseudonym? Are the facts of this fiction so hurtful and true that for years the book has been kept from our eyes? Clearly so: “The work reveals so much about the sources of Sylvia Plath’s own tragedy that its publication must be considered a landmark in contemporary literature.” Life is literature; literature, life. The book comes complete with a biographical note giving the background and history of the novel. The eight pen and ink drawings by Sylvia Plath suggest a further intimacy. Finally, “the photograph on the back of the jacket shows Sylvia Plath as she appeared in the August 1953 issue of Mademoiselle.” There in faded purple smudged antiquity is the author, younger, smiling maniacally and holding a rose, as stiff as could be. The rose is black. A connection is made. The cover is a blow-up of a negative of her hand with the rose. Above the old photo are quotes from the book that bridge the last gap between fact and fiction and buckle you in:
“‘Come on, give a smile.'”
“I sat on the pink velvet loveseat in Jay Cee’s office, holding a paper rose and facing the magazine photographer. . . . I didn’t want my picture taken because I was going to cry. I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody else spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I’d cry for a week. . . .”
“‘Show us how happy it makes you to write a poem.'”
that last jacket quote, “show us how happy it makes you to write a poem,” that’s the real problem with the sylvia and ted show, the main reason why it could never actually exist. the reason is it’s just not entertaining to watch someone write a poem or to watch them write anything, really, no matter how much joy a poem can give the writer and the reader. it’s not that there’s no place for creativity on television – far from it, in fact. the classy bravo juggernauts (project runway, top chef, top design), the lower brow but more widely popular fox and fox-ish shows (american idol, america’s next inventor, america’s got talent, etc.), and the bizzarely compelling high low hybrids between the two (ANTM, america’s next top fashion photographer, on the lot) all have shown that creativity and talent (or at least the illusion of creativity and talent) make for great, entertaining, successful TV. (to go into another alternate reality for a second, i imagine a world in which color television was invented earlier and where every tuesday night, the don drapers and peggy olsons of the world mixed up some sidecars and tuned in to america’s next top abstract expressionist. frank o’ hara in the tim gunn adorable gay mentor role…rosenberg and greenberg in their high backed judging chairs bitching at each other like michael kors and nina garcia…pollock accusing franz kline of stealing a tube of his red paint and then getting kicked off the show for breaking a beer bottle over someone’s head… raushchenberg running out of time on a challenge and so coming up with his white painting…rothko being chastised by guest judge truman capote. capote: “it’s just too…red”
but the process of writing isn’t visually compelling, it’s not an interesting thing to watch on television. the only poetry TV show that i can imagine would be some sort of fear factor style spectacle organized by oulipo (joe rogan: “you have two minutes…to write a villanele…without the letter “a”…while you are being lowered into a tank of spoiled milk….teeming with flesh eating leeches.”). a professor at the college i went to, robert olen butler (who had his own confessional reality drama on gawker last year), did this online video series in 2001 called “inside creative writing” in which he drafted and revised a short story live on a webcam over 17 2-hour sessions. in case you suck at math, that’s 34 hours of grainy, pre-youtube video of a middle aged guy sitting at a computer and typing. the concept is interesting, admirable, and ahead of its time but, seriously, don’t watch it unless you’ve already gotten through all the videos on vimeo tagged “paint drying.” writing is boring and unpleasant to watch even when it’s going well, even when it’s done by someone who’s really talented. in trying to dramatize the making of poetry, that gwyneth paltrow movie about sylvia plath had this hilarious scene in which “sylvia” and “ted” and some of the other members of the oxford getting-drunk-and-and-reading-books club shout and scream improvised poems back and forth at each other, almost like a sort of proto rap battle but really really british. it’s to the credit of the actors that the scene doesn’t seem completely ludicrous but only kind of sort of ludicrous. the only time i can remember when that movie got anywhere near sylvia plath’s poetry was this one little scene, kind of reminiscent of l’avventura, in which sylvia’s out in this little dinghy in the water and she’s is floating up and down on the waves and the camera is floating up and down too but on different waves and so it’s losing her and then finding her again in this frothing, dramamine ocean. it’s a great image that is so plath in that it is elemental and unsettling, but at the same time highly formal and aestheticized. what it’s not, thank god, is an image of her sitting at her desk, chewing on an eraser and trying to work on a turn of phrase with the damn children in the next room screaming for milk. it’s not trying to represent the writing of poetry, it is poetry.
“she is now a famous poet, but few read poetry.” this is the other reason why the sylvia and ted show wouldn’t get picked up by a major network. even if the experience of watching someone writing poetry could somehow be as fun as watching the puppy cam, people still wouldn’t sign their DVRs up for a season pass of the sylvia and ted show because nobody reads poetry. if this was true in 1971, that “few read poetry,” how much more true could it be now? the songwriter (and published poet) jeff tweedy has this great lyric in which he sings, “i wonder why we listen to poets / when nobody gives a fuck.” well, i don’t know who the fuck he’s been talking to because nobody listens to poets in the first place, much less gives a fuck. and since we’ve talking about confessions (on the dance floor?), here’s mine: i don’t read poetry. i love stein’s prose (everybody’s autobiography is my BFF 4ev), but i can’t see tender buttons as anything more than a coffee table curio, something to page through on the john or when you’re really stoned. i like o’ hara (and i liked him before the mad men bandwagon, check the archives) but my favorite thing he ever wrote was a prose piece, his mock manifesto “personism,” which people who are signing up to get blogs should be forced to read the way you have to do TOS agreements. part of my poetry block i think is just my brain’s make-up – i’m made for prose and not much else. i can’t read comic books either, even when they’re dressed up and and intellectualized and called “graphic novels” — my brain just can’t process them. i can’t do with lines, i need paragraphs, big, meaty ones. so part of it is all that, my weird personal shit, but i think part of it is also a wider cultural thing for people my age. i am part of the educated youth, the sort of person who fifty years ago would have been going on about rilke or roethke or someone else whose name ended in “ke”. i am a sad young literary man, the sort of person whose dollars and whose attention you need in order to keep poetry afloat, and i couldn’t read a fucking poem to save my life — i’m too busy getting through the third page of jezebel comments about maya angelou on the today show.
and so, for reasons both real (them being dead) and fake (all the bullshit i just wrote), it’s too late for sylvia and ted and their poetry TV show (alternate title: syl and ted’s excellent adventure).
it’s not too late for heidi and spencer, though. they still have a chance to stay alive, albeit a small chance. they’ve just gotten married, they’re fresh from their honeymoon, yet the clock is already ticking on their relationship. not their personal relationship with each other, but their other relationship, the intimate bond between them and us, between content and consumer. heidi and spencer have been talking about having their own spin-off show since at least the beginning of the third season of the hills, if not earlier. well, if it’s ever going to happen, they need to strike now, while the iron is still lukewarm. one thing working against their chances is that the ratings are down for the hills this season and while the show is still getting media coverage, it’s not (in my impression) anywhere near its season three peak. strike two is that even though the hills isn’t doing so well anymore and even though even audrina notices that the narrative possibilities for a new season are limited, it’s one of the only shows on MTV that does any numbers, so it’s been renewed for a fifth season, meaning that heidi and spencer will have to be appearing on that instead of their own show. strike three is that in less than a month the whitney port spin-off, the city, will air. if it does well, that might create a climate in which a heidi and spencer show might be a possibility, but if it fails, well, there goes the ballgame. with all these troubles in mind, i present three and a half possible models for a heidi and spencer spin-off show.
the first model for an MTV show about newlyweds is, of course, the MTV show newlyweds. the show, which aired from 2003 to 2005, starred pop singers jessica simpson and nick lachey as they went through the first two years of their marriage. the subject matter and tone of the show were basically “we are celebrities, look at us!” i would call this the “do nothing” form of relationship reality TV. this televisual trail was blazed by newlyweds’ direct predecessor, the osbournes. these reality 1.0 shows featured no actual drama — for all the complaints people make about the lack of drama on the hills, in terms of plot, it’s like an episode of lost compared to newlyweds. the truth is, the thrill of newlyweds and the shows like it was in their lack of narrative, in just how interesting it was in to watch video of people doing quotidian things like making a sandwich or siting on the couch watching TV. the only other excitement on the show was caused by jessica or nick’s brother drew saying or doing something slightly more stupid than normal (“chicken of the sea,” etc.).
after the success of newlyweds, this became the go-to form for a reality show about couples. there have been so many manifestations, many of them focusing, as newlyweds did, on musicians (there and back, starring ashley parker angel and tiffany lynn, ’til death do us part, starring dave navarro and carmen electra, meet the barkers, starring travis barker and shanna moakler, the sublime and beautiful strange love, starring flavor flav and brigitte nielsen). the basic “do nothing” form was also adapted to platonic couples to create what I would call the BFF subgenre (rob and big, rich girls). if heidi and spencer want their own show, it’s likely they’d ask something like this – this is what they know, this is what they’re familiar with. the problem is that this model is such a tired formula – it’s been done to death by all the shows i’ve just listed.
the MTV “do nothing” model for relationship reality has recently evolved a new strain, what might be termed the “do something” model. i feel this is exemplified in the show man and wife, starring rapper and radio personality fatman scoop and his wife shanda. the show doesn’t follow the two of them through their everyday lives, as a traditional newlyweds style reality show would. instead, fatman scoop and shanda recline in an oversized representation of their marriage bed, which is placed onstage in front of a live studio audience. in a silly but warm and frank way, they answer questions about sex and relationships which are either given by the live audience or sent in electronically.
the problem with heidi and spencer following this model is that they seem to lack talent or skill for anything but being famous. radar’s bizarre ask spencer notwithstanding, nobody’s going to be asking them for advice about anything.
except…perhaps…about being famous — even their haters can’t argue that they’re really good at that. so, how about a tongue-in-cheek instructional series starring heidi and spencer, a complete idiot’s guide to being famous! they could offer a lesson in each episode (taking good paparazzi photos, giving tabloid interviews, etc.) or maybe do a twisted version of made, in which they take a young person who hopes to be famous and give them a makeover followed by a meeting with janice min or the newsroom of TMZ. what about youtube integration — heidi and spencer sponsoring videos which go along with their famewhoring lesson for that week and airing them on the show (subsequently giving that video a bump in pageviews that would drive an internet community centered around the show)? lots of product placement, of course! not only could the irony and camp associated with such a project function as a sort of image rehab for the two of them, but in terms of numbers, it would have the potential of drawing from the large mass of american people who are very interested in, you know, how to be famous.
the third possible model is the one which i find the most artistically interesting. it’s the form created by the britney spears and kevin federline reality miniseries, chaotic. the show (watch it here) followed britney on her 2005 european tour. the tour only functioned as a backdrop, though; the real purpose of the show was to chronicle, in just five episodes, the progression of britney and kevin’s relationship from a few weeks after their first meeting to their surprise wedding, which takes place in the finale. the interesting thing about the show was that besides some post production talking heads and insert shots of britney in concert, all of the video was was generated by britney and kevin themselves, using handheld cameras. because of this aesthetic choice, there is an amazing sense of vérité, of reality, that you can’t get through the standard reality TV show. when there’s a scene of britney and kevin alone in their hotel room, they’re really alone in their hotel room, it’s not like any other reality show where there’s always a camera crew present. the generally poor quality of the video combined with their shaky ineptitude with the cameras and constant discussions about what they should film and how they should film it create this big authenticity signifier that makes the show really compelling.
one reason heidi and spencer have become so boring lately, i think, is because in large part any sense of real drama in their relationship has kind of fizzled out. they just got married, they’re supposed to be in the proverbial honeymoon period, so we can’t exactly expect him to start cheating on her tomorrow. this disappearance of drama isn’t just about them, though — maybe it’s also because the form of their show has ceased to be as cutting edge and exciting as it once was. it’s been on a lot — remember, the hills fourth season is about to end and this is after two seasons of laguna beach before that. in order to reinvigorate their tired images, maybe heidi and spencer also need to reinvigorate their images — i.e. change the aesthetic of their television presence. i think the chaotic look might be the right one for them. the reason is the aforementioned authenticity signifiers; in order to stay entertaining and relevant, heidi and spencer need to reintroduce the glimmer of the real that made them so captivating in the past. because they’re married, it seems like it might be difficult for them to do this on the macro level (unless the hills season five is going to be about their divorce), so instead, they should do it on the micro level, with small details, with subtle bits of showing instead of telling. they should use an aesthetic that is the exact opposite of the hills, because in its opposition it will signify truth that much more boldly: cheap, grainy video, simple little scenes of them hanging out at home together, at the beach, eating dinner etc. they don’t necessarily have to abandon their fakeness entirely, of course; the show doesn’t actually have to be a true record of their lived lives, like chaotic was for britney and kevin. instead, they can plan it and produce it and even script it if they want. it doesn’t have to be real and authentic, it just has to create the illusion of being real and authentic.
the last model only counts half because it’s not a TV show, it’s a website; it’s not a broadcast, it’s a lifecast. the last model is a (show and) tell-all relationship website in the vein of jakob and julia. heidi and spencer attempted something in this direction with their website speidiweb (currently down), but the design is atrocious and it really just functions as a dumping ground for tabloid photos that anyone who wants to see has already seen on justjared or perez. speidiweb has no sense of being an event or spectacle — even if you’re a fan of heidi and spencer, there’s really no reason you would ever need to go there. in order to drive traffic to the site and take ownership of their online presence, they could do their own version of the jakob and julia thing. even though they’re both always reading, neither heidi nor spencer seem particularly literate, so the site would have to take the form of mostly video and pictures instead of written posts (with maybe a side bar of kanye west style personality driven curatorial blogging, which an intern could do). the main thrust of the site, the video, could be the chaotic stuff described earlier, just in small clips released every day instead of a half hour show broadcast every week. the benefit of doing the chaotic aesthetic for the web is that it’s extremely fast (so it can be topical and interact with tabloid rumors in a way the hills never could because of turnaround time) and extremely cheap: no crew, two cameras, maybe a freelance editor to splice clips together and add titles.
the cheapness is important, because instead of being heidi and spencer’s most viable option for a spinoff or the one with the greatest possibility of success, the website might be their only option. last thursday, viacom, the parent company of MTV, laid off 850 employees, which according to gawker is 7% of the company’s global staff. last friday, in a darkly funny coincidence, defamer did a post about the hills girls and how MTV continues to keep up the illusion of their fake jobs. it’s a depressing thought, but if all the real jobs in the company are disappearing, it can’t be long be long until the fake jobs start going, too. for a while, in the ruins of MTV, content might be able to command more capital than money for interns and freelancers but, in a recession, there may simply be no money for a heidi and spencer show. therefore, they may have to do it themselves, on the cheap, on the web.
you probably think my suggestion is really stupid, though. i mean, the two show models which i’m suggesting as the best option, chaotic and jakob and julia, were both judged by basically everyone to be complete and total failures, both commercially and artistically. and lifecasting, who does that well? that dude from justin.tv? mary rambin? to use the (annoying) parlance of the current web moment, FAIL and FAIL. yet i still think lifecasting has a chance to succeed and i think maybe the reason it hasn’t yet is that for all the talk we’ve heard about it, no one who is really and truly famous has actually done it. what if lindsay lohan, at the apex of her tabloid popularity (right before the release of i know who killed me), had strapped on a sleek, designer version of one of those justin.tv webcams and started broadcasting a live stream of her life? can you imagine what kind of ratings that would have done, what kind of ad dollars it could’ve demanded? it would’ve been the biggest show around. what if, on the off chance that you got bored with her, you could have switched from lindsay 24/7 to the amy winehouse channel or the britney show. could you have turned it off?
lifecast is one of those stupid, tech-y neologisms like “mobisode” and “adware.” the term is derived, of course, from “life” and “broadcast”. i like to think of a different etymology, though, imagining it not as one word (lifecast) but as two (life cast). this idea, of a “life cast,” brings to mind both birth or death. “birth” in terms of those plaster casts that are done of the bellies of pregnant women to record the effect of their babies on their bellies. in this sense, think of there and back, the first MTV show to feature a birth — it depicted the arrival into this world of ashley and tiffany’s son, a beautiful baby boy named “lyric” (there is a poetry joke here). by the same token, if the world is a reality show and we are all merely players, well, as don d. taught us, “all plots lead to death.” “death” in terms of death masks, the plaster molds made from the faces of dead celebrities in the pre-photography world as a way of preserving their images. death masks — because the important thing to note about all but one of the reality relationships i’ve discussed above is that they ended after the show was over: nick lachey and jessica simpson, ashley parker angel and tiffany lynn, carmen electra and dave navarro, travis barker and shanna moakler, flavor flav and brigitte nielsen, britney spears and kevin federline, jakob lodwick and julia allison. when the cameras stopped, so did their relationships, so that these shows are leftovers, discarded candy wrappers, the graves of love.
but even though their relationships stopped, ours didn’t. we did watch them and we do watch them and we will continue to watch them, past, present, future. because, despite the constant hum and whine of the commentariat and a whole lot of op-eds from roger ebert and other buzzkills and latter day adornos, the transformative glow of celebrity is still a real and powerful thing. it’s magic.
like, take the shaq twitter feed. personally, i could care less about basketball — i think i’ve seen maybe three NBA games in my entire life. yet i am completely and totally captivated by shaq’s twitter, by both his writing and by the sheer fact of the existence of the writing itself. i mean, his writing is really interesting – he uses odd coinages like “quotatious” and asks questions like “Does anyone have the names of the 14 people bush gave pardons?” he cites both aristotle (He who has never learned to obey, cannot b a good commander The big aristotle) AND kc and jojo (All my life, i pray for someone like you, and i thank god that i finally found you Kci and jojo)! in his most recent post, he’s positively avant garde; he gives silliman and the language poets a run for their money (Just saw punisher, great bloody movie, aggggggh, dats what i , nevamind lol, aggggggh (growl) (snarl) spit 9:42 PM Dec 5th from txt).
yet i know that if i had found some random quirky person who wrote exactly like he does, i probably wouldn’t have read his blog more than once. i would’ve thought, “oh, that’s weird,” and moved on and forgotten him. i kept reading and i keep reading because he’s not just some random person, he’s shaq, he’s a celebrity, he’s (physically and metaphorically) larger than life. now just because someone’s a celebrity, that doesn’t mean they’re interesting, that doesn’t mean i want to subscribe to their RSS feed or watch their TV show. i like shaq’s twitter because he is both famous and interesting. those two things are working in concert, seamlessly, to create this incredible aesthetic experience for me which either of them alone wouldn’t be able to create. what use is there for auden when we have the shaq twitter feed? from the 1971 times review of the bell jar:
…This novel is not political or historical in any narrow sense, but in looking at the madness of the world and the world of madness it forces us to consider the great question posed by all truly realistic fiction: What is reality and how can it be confronted?
In “The Bell Jar,” Sylvia Plath has used superbly the most important technical device of realism–what the Russian critic Shklovsky called “defamiliarization.” True realism defamiliarizes our world so that it emerges from the dust of habitual acceptance and becomes visible once again. This is quite the opposite of that comforting false realism that presents the world in terms of clichès that we are all too ready to accept.
my favorite twitter entry by THE_REAL_SHAQ is this one, from a morning in november:
you can laugh if you want, but it hit me so hard when i read it. shaq’s twitter is usually very funny and jocular; this particular message is sandwiched between a shoutout to a friend about marketing and a bad joke about minneapolis (Why do they call minneapolis, the twin cities, nobody here looks a like, waaa waaa waaaaaa). yet there in the middle of those messages, at 9:49 AM, he wrote “Im standing at the oklahoma city national memorial.” why did he write that, why was he compelled to do it, what does it mean? i don’t know. i just think there’s something beautiful about it, about this seven foot man, this american colossus, this living monolith standing before a monument to suffering and destruction and death and being affected enough to want to share that with people, enough to pull his tiny cellphone out and hold it in his big hand and tap out the text.
a lot of people would say that his message is just a few worthless bytes of information, a waste of time, a symptom of our contemporary information overload. “why do i need to know that, that he saw that monument?” they would say. “who cares? there’s no art to it, it’s not an unique perspective, it doesn’t make me laugh. it’s just another average photograph of the most photographed barn in america.” and they would be right, it is all of those things, but that’s what makes it so beautiful. there’s such a purity to his expression, the simplicity of the sentence, the physicality and concreteness (“i’m standing…). there is no spin, there is no tone — it’s not funny, it’s not emotional, it’s not patriotic, it’s not “UNITED WE STAND” or some crap like that. it just is. it’s one digital heartbeat, a ping that he sent out knowing that someone, maybe many someones, maybe you, would catch it and hold it if only for a second. you see it and it registers and then you let it go, like a ladybug that lands on your hand and then flies away.
“she is a poet, but few read poetry.” a bell jar is a clear glass container from which the air is expelled to create a vacuum (i just learned this from wikipedia!). if you were feeling particularly, i don’t know, poetic, you could see this bell jar as a metaphor for the state of poetry — you could see poetry as being a kind of nonsociety, hermetically locked away from the people in the academy or at a poorly attended coffee shop poetry slam or in a musty old book, somewhere away from the real lived life of the world. are we living (forgive me) in the post-poem age? i don’t know, maybe. is the sonnet as dead as the sitcom? i don’t know, maybe. is chris crocker’s screaming youtube clip about britney spears my generation’s version of “the day lady died“? i don’t know, maybe. what does it all mean? i don’t know, maybe i just know i want it all to mean something but i don’t know what that it is but i know that it does. “she is a poet, but few read poetry.” i don’t know, maybe i don’t have any answers and this is a really shitty conclusion and i felt like i was doing so good for a while and now i just can’t make it work anymore, this stupid post, the words don’t look right and the paragraphs won’t click into place — i can’t make the rubik’s cube show solid colors on all sides like those dickheads on youtube can. whether you consider that a cop out or a confession, it’s what i got. all i can say is that maybe one solution for me and you and heidi and spencer and shaq is to stop worrying about all of it, stop worrying about forms and start worrying about function, stop thinking about poems and start looking for poetry, stop hating and start loving. you might hate heidi montag and you might think shaq is just a stupid basketball player and you might think that all of this celebrity culture is worthless and facile and an annoying waste of time. and me, i might not like reading poems and i might hate yeats and i might think pound is a punk. but we can change! i can change, you can change! and if by changing you could find just a little more beauty in the world, if you could fill your cup with free refills of wonder and awe every day, why wouldn’t you? you can change — just do it.
December 4, 2008
so after i quit trying to apply to graduate school, i decided that i was going to record a christmas EP. i hadn’t been recording or really even playing music for a while and i thought that the change might be kind of nice. and at first, it was amazing! just like when i started working on my grad school portfolio, i had this amazing burst of creativity in which i wrote two full songs and recorded the beginnings of them as well as several covers. then (just like with grad school!) my energy waned and i got distracted and then the feedback loop of creative dread started (not having energy and feeling distracted but feeling like i should have energy and not be distracted and then feeling bad about this so having less energy and being distracted and etc.) so instead of doing one release with 5 or 6 songs, i’m going to put them out more piecemeal which i don’t even know why i’m going on about this because do you really give a shit?
this is the first track i wrote and recorded for the christmas EP. it’s called, appropriately enough, “christmas song.” i think musically i was kind of going for the midpoint between kid rock and pavement, erring more on the side of kid rock (when i was laying down the guitars and the lyrics weren’t quite finished, i did a scratch vocal with some of the lyrics from “bawitdabaw”). i’m fairly satisfied with it – i don’t like how in the verses the muted guitar parts are so noisy but i can’t rerecord them for annoying technical reasons. i tried to eq out some of the really annoying tones but it seems like with that much gain, i was hitting harmonics basically everywhere on the neck. i also feel like the octave solo at the end is pretty de rigeur for me but i just really wanted a solo there. in an earlier draft there were some strings in the background but the mix seemed too busy so i took them out.