the great happiness space

November 28, 2008


the great happiness space is a documentary about a male host bar in osaka, japan.  host bars are special clubs where people pay an expensive hourly rate and buy overpriced drinks in order to participate in a simulacrum of a relationship with their chosen “host,” an attractive, charming, immaculately coiffed member of the opposite sex who they choose by flipping through a laminated catalog in their bar booth the way people at TGI Fridays order hot wings or jalapeno poppers.  i came across the movie pretty randomly last weekend although it appears that it was actually boing boinged a couple of months ago.  i’m not really sure what compelled me to watch it but it was probably the title, which really is one of those beautifully clumsy caresses of the english language that only ESL speakers can provide.  despite that, i didn’t expect much of the film.  i assumed, partially out of latent ethnocentrism but mostly out of the loads of OMG JAPAN kind of crap on the internet, that it would just be one more piece of boingboingy exotica, another chunk of japonisme 2.0 that would digg into the gritty underbelly of this host club and omg deal with SEX and not just SEX but REAL SEX (like those HBO documentaries fourteen year olds watch at 2 AM with the sound down) and not just REAL SEX but REAL JAPANESE SEX, DUDE, OMG, HENTAI, BUKKAKE, etc.

i mean, seriously, gag me.  (that’s what she said!)

the movie completely destroyed those expectations, though, and in the process completely destroyed me.  i really hate to give away details of the plot but i feel i need to give away a couple major bits in order to hook you enough to make you download the veoh player or rent it or whatever.  the movie starts by immediately breaking down my original expectation, which is that there’s loads of sex going on behind the scenes and that this host club is really just a front for male prostitution.  in the opening moments of the film, one of the hosts makes some joke about how, when he first started working, he was having non-stop sex.


it quickly becomes clear, though, that the hosts aren’t having sex with their customers, at least not on anything like a regular basis.  one of them explains that they can’t do it because if they have sex with their customers, the women will either feel that they’ve gotten what they wanted and move on to another club or they’ll try to form a real relationship with the host, outside of the club.  either situation is unacceptable for the hosts (and their bosses) because then the girls will stop buying the drinks and paying the exorbitant fees that keep them the hosts in designer belts and tailored jackets and expensive hair gel.  instead, they have to perform this sort of excruciatingly slow version of “the chase,” complete with a balance of negs and insults and then micro-rewards like kisses on the cheek or late night text messages. in something like that neil strauss book all this seemed completely abhorrent but here, by virtue of the setting and the inversion of the goals (the goal is not to have sex, remember) and the way time is stretched out (one of the girls they profile has been a customer at this club for 3 YEARS), things are completely defamiliarized and too strange to be disgusting.


the second thing i’m going to tell you is the thing that totally blew my mind.  ok, for the first third or so of the movie, we follow this group of five or six women who are the main patrons at this club, the most devoted customers.  we watch them in the club as they spend what the subtitles tell us can be as much as 10,000 dollars a night (which i don’t think is quite right, the strength of the yen notwithstanding, but it’s obvious they are spending lots and lots of money).  they spend money on the hosts themselves, on special tables, drinks, and especially on overpriced bottles of champagne which are ingested in this hideous spectacle that is less dignified sipping of crystal flutes and more undergrad girl in a tank top doing a beer bong of natty lite.  this is interspersed with talking heads of the girls espousing their devotion to the hosts, how they’re worth spending the money on, how much they love them, etc.

then, after we’ve watched them burning money for twenty minutes or so, the producers ask the ladies how they can afford to pay for these hosts. what could they do for a living to be able to spend all this money?


so yes, these customers are either the exact female counterparts of the male hosts they patronize or else they’re strippers or else they’re hand job girls or else they’re regular, old fashioned prostitutes.  this really flips the dynamic of the film on its head.  up until this point, your view of these girls is that maybe they’re kind of sad and loney, that this seems kind of a stupid way to spend money (postmodern detachment, blah blah blah) but, you know, whatever, it’s their money and they can waste it however they want.  maybe you could even view it as a little empowering in a twisted sort of way, like these young professional women using their money to have agency over men (in korea, where i live, there’s a popular reality show a student told me about which involves middle-aged professional women taking handsome young men who are unemployed because of the recession and making them basically their slaves, maids, etc. all the women / who independent!).  but then this bombshell is dropped and everything changes and you see everything differently and you realize how completely next level and wild things really are.  these women are, in effect, selling fake love in order to buy fake love.  a few of the girls say they wouldn’t even be prostitutes or night life workers but that they got the jobs because they needed to have more money to spend on the male hosts they’re in love with.  they’re in these situations where they are seemingly naively believing that these guys are really in love with them and not just taking their money and yet at the same time they can’t be that naive because they do the same thing in their own personal jobs every day.

(one must, of course, assume that not all the customers are “night life workers” and the producers are artificially strengthening their narrative by way of subject selection but at the same time it doesn’t seem like they’re just creating this out of thin air.)

if that premise doesn’t get you to watch then i don’t know why you would be possibly reading this blog.  it’s such a sad and profound manifestation of the issues the hills also deals with, namely the performativity of life and love and existence and and how the real relates to the fake and etc. the only other recent movie i’ve seen that deals with the paradoxes of modern identity in any significant way is mister lonely but trust me, this is a lot more fun to watch. there are also great parts that don’t even deal with the authenticity thing but that instead touch on consumer culture and commodification, like this one section about how hosts go about marking up the price of various champagne bottles which brings to mind recessions and credit crunches and solid things melting into air.  i’m not going to spoil the end of the movie but to say that it is exquisitely structured and powerful and just strange – watch it, seriously.

watch the great happiness space

rent it via netflix

official website

and there are so many great lines.  i’ll just offer one here: there are a number of times in the film when the main host being followed, issei, tells a customer that,  “this is the only place i can meet girls.” by “this,” he means the host club where he is working to take large amounts of money from all of his customers.  on the one hand, this is obviously a line to try to convince these poor girls to stay a couple more hours and buy a few more drinks, to dangle the carrot in front of their faces and say if they just spend a little more money on him then they might be the one, they might be different, they might have a chance at real love with him.  it’s so fake.  on the other hand, it feels almost undeniably true, in this classical dramatic irony way.  when issei is saying it, he means it as a pick-up kind of line, a falsehood, but we know from watching how he lives in the film that it’s really the truth, even if he doesn’t understand it.  he’s working at this club almost every night and when he gets off work he’s so destroyed from binge drinking in that you have to assume he’s passed out all day.  this is the only place he can meet girls.



oh yeah, also, heidi and spencer got married.  i don’t watch the hills anymore but it kind of works with this and i don’t write posts that often so why not tie that in?  does anyone want to write a think piece about the marriage for their blog ?  here’s an outline:

– thread 1: introductory salvo about heidi/spencer marriage – snarky jokes, “fake,” etc.

– thread 2: IN OTHER NEWS style section about recent prop. 8 related protests, cultural detritus, etc.

– main point uniting the two threads, rhetorically foregrounded to emphasize your brilliance: something like, “while real, loving gay couples can’t get married in california, a fake couple like heidi and spencer can.”  done most likely in an outraged OMG THE WORLD IS ENDING kind of voice or maybe if you’re slightly more subtle like one of those gawker posts where they suddenly shift from being really sarcastic to that “oh but we really do care about stuff and seriously dude i am being real with you” kind of voice.

then, depending on the overall tone of your blog, either:

– extended coda musing on the strangeness of california : the white album, etc.


– lolcat picture making light of the issue: “i can has marriage,” etc.

of course, i personally disagree with the above characterization of heidi and spencer’s marriage as “fake.”  or, at least, i disagree with the characterization of it as only fake.  anyone who is even slightly acquainted with the phenomenon that is the hills should understand that they’re absolutely and truly the perfect couple for each other.  you know when people say things like “there’s a person out there for everyone”?  heidi and spencer are the exact proof of that saying; heidi even notes something to this effect in the us weekly OFFICIAL WEDDING INTERVIEW (“i knew at that moment he was the person God put on this planet for me”).

the first reason their union is magical and perfect is sheer chance.  consider that in los angeles there are, i don’t know, hundreds or thousands of small town transplants who look vaguely like heidi montag and have blonde hair and big boobs and aspirations toward success in the entertainment industry but at the same time have no real talent or way to capitalize on said dreams.  consider that there are also hundreds or thousands of rich trust fund boys like spencer pratt from southern california or wherever else who are living in LA on their parents’ dime and who have aspirations toward success in business but who at the same time have no real initiative or ideas.  the possibilities for mediocrity are endless!  what if heidi had stayed with her season one boyfriend, jordan eubanks? what if spencer had decided he wanted to fuck, i don’t know, laguna beach‘s kristin cavallari?  that didn’t happen, though, and it didn’t happen because heidi and spencer each met the exact right person, they each met the only one who could make their life complete.  their relationship is a child of destiny (put a ring on it!).  in her vows, heidi calls spencer her “prince charming” and while that is partially symptomatic of her barbie-girl-princess-castle naivete, it’s also true.  he is her prince charming and she is his cinderella. because they were lucky enough to find each other and because he, i don’t know, placed the magical christian louboutin on her foot, because they were a key and a lock or whatever kind of metaphor you want, their lives became magical, not in the old fairy tale way but charged instead with the postmodern magic of fame and publicity, with the glowing aura of celebrity.  that isn’t romantic to you?  that doesn’t make you positively audacious with hope?

maybe not, maybe you’re a hater.  ok, let ‘s look at it from a different angle and through another pop cultural lens, maybe one you’ll find less objectionable.  think about the office, the british one, think about that incredible moment in the last episode when dawn is in the car on the way home from the party and she unwraps the art set from tim and then goes back to the party and kisses him and they love each other and everything is wonderful and everybody cries.  you cried, right? it was beautiful.  the US version of the office has just had its own art set moment, last week, in the house jim bought for pam.  when you see the easel that he’s set up in that shabby garage, the american analog for the art set, you cry but in a different way.  you cry because even though it’s romantic, it’s sad.  there is this horrible pause between the reveal of the easel and pam’s reaction and in it you can feel her suppressing something inside herself in order to make jim happy because she thinks doing that will make her happy, too.  it’s her trying to fill the round hole of her creative desire with the square peg of love, which for a real artist seems like a tall order no matter how true that love is.  in a recent post on marriage, emily gould writes,

“And maybe that’s the most offensive lie of wedding culture, the idea that chanting some spell is going to bind someone to you in a way that makes you permanently not-alone. We come into this world alone and we leave it the same way, and that’s a reality that no vow or dress or $5 million ring can change.”

in kind of the same vein, just because you’re in love with someone doesn’t mean you stop being you. just because you have someone to love doesn’t mean you stop caring about yourself or forget your ambitions, at least not once the honeymoon is over (or maybe i’m just a completely fucked up person, but i have to not believe that to go on).  because, really, the art set that tim gives dawn in the british office doesn’t just say, “i love you,” it says, “i love you so much that i want you to be who you want to be.”  it’s a gesture of love, definitely, but it’s not a gesture of connection.  it’s not about creating a shared identity, it’s not about being a couple, it’s not about becoming jam or speidi or brangelina, it’s about allowing the other person to be her own truest self, to fully realize her individual identity.

in other words, it’s the ballad of john and yoko.  like, i’m sure john and yoko loved each other in a romantic way but on some level, the reason they were perfect for each other is that yoko enabled john to create his own individual artistic identity (and vice versa, of course).  she gave him the excuse he needed to be himself.  in the early beatles, the boys all wear the same suits, they all look the same; they’re indistinguishable, save for some fan club generalities (“paul likes bangers and mash while john likes beans on toast”).  as time went on, john went to greater lengths to differentiate himself from the others but no matter what he did, he couldn’t break out, he was still only one of four, a part and not a whole.  yoko, though, she gave him the opportunity to really be himself, in all his primal screaming glory.  that’s why they were perfect for each other and that’s why heidi and spencer are perfect for each other, too.  being together has enabled them to be the people that before they could only dream of being.  marriage is a partnership and heidi and spencer are not only partners in love but in business as well.  for people as obsessed with money and fame as they are, that’s nothing to sneeze at.  while some only have each other to hold, heidi and spencer are also able to have and hold their holdings, their assets and their acquisitions.


finally, maybe the truest, realest, most authentic reason i know that heidi and spencer’s marriage isn’t fake is that, well, their marriage isn’t real.  after the initial burst of publicity about the wedding, the AP reported yesterday that heidi and spencer didn’t actually get a marriage license or have a civil ceremony or go through any of the, you know, legal stuff you have to go through to get, you know, legally married.

this is perfect.

because, really, who needs a marriage license when you have an us weekly spread?  who needs some measly piece of paper signed and notarized and read once by a couple of court clerks and then locked away in some filing cabinet forever when you have a glossy run of images in a national magazine?  who needs a marriage license when you have a post wedding interview and full records of the minutiae of your marriage chronicled in the pages of a tabloid, when the state of your union is archived in google caches and thousands of automated robo-blog posts, when the ceremony itself, intimate as it may have been, was filmed by a camera crew and will be watched by millions of people and packed into a commemorative DVD box set?  why, if you have all those things, does it matter if your marriage is legal?*

there’s so much documentation, there’s everything you could need.  the minutiae in that usweekly spread is both rich with personal details that reveal things about heidi and spencer and are also quotidiana redolent of our age.  usweekly shut down the ONTD scans of the wedding issue but you can still get them via google cache. not only are the full vows presented in the original (crumpled hotel stationary), but there are also snapshots of heidi and spencer in the process of writing said vows and more pictures of every other step of the wedding process (most of them presumably recreations).  do you want to know what they had for their wedding dinner?  ok, “blue shrimp enchiladas, tuna tartare, chips and guacamole.”  seriously!  truly some life changing mexican food.

heidi, describing how spencer dressed for the occasion, notes that he put on “his collared shirt.” as if he only had one – how casual and joe the plumber!  heidi herself didn’t wear a wedding gown but instead wore her sundress from the beach (however, she is careful to note that it was a balenciaga sundress).  her shoes?  “my christian loboutins were the only fancy shoes i brought here, so it’s a good thing they were white!”  the coup de grace of the fashion facts is that during the ceremony, the two of them exchanged what heidi says were “leather rings” and which spencer quickly corrects as being “pleather,” i.e. fake leather.  heidi: “i think with the economy being how it is, no one wants to be buying expensive rings.”  well, let them eat cake! (heidi notes later in the interview that the money saved on the cheap ceremony will actually be going into a big ass rock for her).  i am reading the antonia fraser book about marie antoinette right now and the parallels with the diamond necklace affair are startling!  ok, not really, but as a response to the state of the french economy, m.a. did switch from fancy gowns to simple white muslin dresses, just like heidi and the balenciaga sundress.  recessionistas!

one thing that heidi and marie antoinette don’t have in common is their relationship with the paparazzi.  for heidi, it’s almost like her wedding had a sponsor the way sports events and parades do, like “heidi’s wedding – BROUGHT TO YOU BY US WEEKLY.” her relationship with us weekly has certainly been mutually beneficial – it’s kept heidi in the pop culture zeitgeist way longer than she would have been otherwise and the spectacle of heidi and lauren has helped us to push a lot more copies than they would have otherwise.  marie antoinette, on the other hand, was tortured by the rise of libellistes, the perez hiltons of her day, who in their pamphlets made horrible and completely untrue accusations about her morals, her spending habits, and her sex life, the latter accompanied by pornographic drawings that make the imaginary lauren conrad sex tape seem quite tame.  marie antoinette was in a sense killed by gossip, by bad press.** if she had been able to cultivate a relationship with the us weekly of eighteenth century paris, might she have been able to keep her beautiful head?

ok, probably not.  and by the same token, no matter how good heidi’s relationship is with us weekly or perez hilton, it won’t stop mostly everybody who knows who she is from hating her.  that makes me sad.  i know i shouldn’t care about it but i still find myself depressed by this reflexive hatred that the cyber petit bourgeoisie has for heidi, their constant complaints that she and spencer are wastes of space and subhuman and worthy of execution and the end of the world and FAKE FAKE, FAKE and blah, blah, blah.  i guess it’s kind of because i see that attitude and the fact that it’s so widespread as a failure of humanity and empathy.  the problem with all these commenters, the reason they can hate so freely and easily, is that they’ve stopped seeing heidi and spencer as people and respond only to them as images.  that’s scary to me because when people are able to see other living, breathing human beings solely as images, as caricatures, that’s when no good very bad things happen like racism and bans on gay marriage and etc.

in some sense, i suppose i can understand the shitty attitude of the commenters.  the reason so many people can hate the image of heidi montag is because they feel that it’s been shoved down their throats over and over and, to be fair, it has, and to be even more fair, heidi montag has been the one doing a lot of the shoving.  still, i find the hatred disturbing.  the problem with hating the image of heidi montag is that the image is the reality and reality is the image; you can’t separate the two so easily.  heidi and spencer’s fake lives are intertwined with their real lives, the two are inextricably fused.  early on in this blog, i said something like it didn’t matter if the show was scripted because even if it was scripted, as the cast played out the script, as they lived it, it became real, it became their lives, it became history.  the incredibly alchemy of reality performance is that outside of the well worn boundaries of the standard dramatic film or television show, performance is reality.  for the reality performer, it doesn’t matter what your intentions were when you did something, whether they were genuine or not, because when you did it, it became the record, it’s what happened.  i’ve compared heidi to cindy sherman, but really she’s more of an andy kaufman; she’s working without the the safety net of “art” and instead living on the knife edge of identity fabrication.  if you fake it in real life, you make it real.  if you document your fabrication, you further cement its reality.  who needs a marriage license?

and heidi and spencer are right to feel that their fake love is real because fake love is real love.  in the opening chapter of sex, drugs, and cocoa puffs, chuck klosterman sets up this binary between “fake love” and “real love.”  he very clearly defines his concept of “fake love”: the song “yellow” by coldplay, john cusack as lloyd dobler, etc.  however, even though he’s very explicit about his definition of fake love, he doesn’t at all touch on what “real love” is supposed to be (unless we’re supposed to view the image of him silently eating cereal as real love, but golly i sure hope not).  maybe it’s because he’s never had it himself (he gestures toward this a little) or maybe it’s because he has but he’s too solipsistic and analytical to know about it.  maybe it has nothing to do with him, maybe it’s because real love is such a basic, essential thing we’re supposed to just instinctively know what it is without explanation, the way babies know how to breathe.  or maybe it’s because you just can’t say what real love is, that there are no definitions besides platitudes and anecdotes and trite lines in pop songs.  maybe it’s because that there is no clear line of demarcation between real love and fake love, because that border is seriously porous at best.  maybe it’s because fake love is real love or at the very least it is the font from which real love springs, it is the scotch tape that glues pieces of real love together, it is the refrigerator that preserves real love and the microwave that reheats it when it’s gone cold.

fake love is real love when a teenage boy with shaky hands slips his oversized headphones onto a girl’s ears so she can hear a song that he tells her “will change her life.”  sure, laugh at the (incredibly) easy irony of that, at the (complete) cliché, but can you imagine how many times that little one act performance of garden state has gone on in real life, completely unironically and completely beautifully, can you imagine how many times it has led to love, real love (whatever that is)?  can you imagine how many first kisses are built on episodes of friends or the oc or scenes from, i don’t know, fucking harry potter?  just because something is a massive cliché doesn’t make it unbeautiful or insignificant or lacking in the holiness of human essence.  everyone plugged into contemporary society builds their lives on a lattice of lies and a foundation of fiction; we are each and every one nursed on narratives.  it doesn’t matter whether those narratives are in the bible or on gossip girl or in a copy of twilight, they’re all stories, they’re lies that not only tell the truth but tell us how to tell our own truth by lying.  there’s that stupid facebook profile/yearbook quote that goes, like, “i am the sum of every person i have ever met.”  and yeah, you are that, sure, but you’re so much more deeply a sum of the narratives you’re consumed, a collage of half remembered scenes and paraphrased lines. people hated on james frey because he fictionalized his memoir, but even before he wrote it all down, his life was formed on fictions, on kerouac and bukowski and all the outre shit that sixteen year old (and perenially sixteen year old) boys think are manuals instead of novels.  the structure of those stories influenced the structure of his life, the things that those fake characters did influenced the things that he did (or at least wanted/pretended to do), the way that those writers saw the world shaped and molded his perceptions.  that doesn’t make him fake, it doesn’t make him a fraud, it makes him a normal person like all the rest of us and like heidi and spencer, too.

and that’s why i wish people could be as happy for the newlyweds as i am, if everyone could see them not just as an image and not just as real people but as both, as this beautiful, blurred blending of the two, a celebrity palimpsest.  because that’s what they are, both, image makers like hollywood stars of old and image consumers like all of us watching TV and reading shit on the internet. if you see them as only one or the other, it’s like looking at a 3d image without those stupid red and blue glasses; it’s like listening to a pink floyd song with only the left earbud or watching imax on an iphone.

if i could be so presumptuous (and ridiculous) (and completely desperate to bring this overlong post to a conclusion), i’d like to suggest a wedding song for heidi and spencer, something to commemorate the occasion.  there aren’t many songs about fake love but there are a hell of a lot of songs about “real love” by a hell of a lot of people: mary j. blige, the beatles, john lennon, al green, dolly parton, katharine mcphee, smashing pumpkins, swans, steve winwood, master p, kenny rogers, michael mcdonald, george michael, cher, bob seger, and ne-yo, just to name a few (i would link to all of them, but fuck it, you know how google works).  one of my favorite billie holiday songs is “until the real thing comes along,” in which she coos, “i’d lie for you / i’d sigh for you,” in the hope of showing her beau that her love is real.  however, the best song, the song that should have been heidi and spencer’s wedding dance in that little mexican restaurant, is “ain’t nothing like the real thing.”

most songs about “real love” deal with authenticity: how this new love, your love, our love, etc., differs from other loves in the past, loves that weren’t true or real or authentic, that couldn’t compare, that were, you know, fake.  however, “ain’t nothing like the real thing” isn’t about authenticity at all.  instead, it’s about representation and, more specifically, about the limits of representation.  the first two verses deal primarily with the inadequacy of images and text when compared to their real life counterparts.  in the first verse, the singer has her love’s “picture hanging on the wall” but is (oddly) disappointed to find that it can’t see her or “come when [she] calls his name.”  she then realizes (oh shit!) “it’s just a picture, in a frame,” and is therefore not real.  in the second verse, the male singer responds that he reads his love’s letters when she’s not near, but they don’t “move” or “groove” him like her sweet voice whispering in his ear.  this is all like the motown version of “on exactitude in science.”

coming after the chorus, the third verse seems as if it were written by heidi montag herself.  the female vocalist sings that “she plays the game, a fantasy,” she “pretends” but she’s “not in reality.” however, in the grips of this pretending, this fakeness, the woman yearns for corporeality, for the body, for the shelter of her love’s arms to comfort her.  this is, in essence, why heidi wanted spencer to put a ring on it – because even though they fakely love each other, they really love each other, too, in some way.  in that youtube clip of “the office” above, there’s this talking head of tim in which he says, “life isn’t about endings, is it?  it’s a series of moments…if you turn the camera off, that’s not an ending, is it?  i’m still here, my life’s not over.” when you turn the camera off, heidi and spencer don’t stop being together.  on their wedding night after the camera crew and the us weekly interviewer are gone, they’re in the hotel room together and she’s in the bathroom taking tums because she has a stomach ache and he’s on the bed and probably wants to watch some TV, maybe 24, maybe sportscenter, and they’re in the hotel room together, that night and the next day and every day after, their bodies coexisting in space.  call me naive but you don’t get (fake) married unless you really (fake) love each other.  i mean, i could be wrong about this and maybe it’s all a big con perpetrated by heidi and spencer and liz gateley and janice min.  i guess i just really hope it’s not.

“ain’t nothing like the real thing” is arranged as a duet.  duets are a kind of strange subset of vocal performance.  in a duet, the two singers often form some sort of fake relationship within the context of the song.  a large part of the success of a duet rests upon whether the two singers create, sometimes out of thin air, the impression of a real human connection between them.  it’s not about notes or phrasing but about something intangible, about whether their performance makes their love true, if only for the length of the song.  great duets, whether they’re from johnny and june or ella and louis or gram and emmylou, have this kind of magic, the performance that stuns you with its reality.

the marvin gaye and tammi terrell version of “ain’t nothing like the real thing,” the essential version, the one everyone knows, has this kind of power.  the grain of his voice rubbing up against hers on the track is beautiful and magical and what love songs are supposed to be like.  it is, thus, kind of poignant how fake the magic all turns out to be.  when you listen to the song, you imagine them in the studio together, cutting the vocals almost cheek to cheek, working out the unison parts and the vocal interplay and flirting and drinking and being all sexified and lovey dovey.  as it turns out, they weren’t together at all; tammi recorded her part alone with the band and, several weeks later, marvin laid his vocals down on top of the whole thing.  thanks to the new magic of multitracking, this is how the large majority of their classic duets, including “ain’t no mountain high enough,” were recorded.  in other words, in order to record this song, which is all about how representations can’t equal reality, about how real love involves physically being in the same space with the other person, marvin gaye sat alone in an empty vocal booth, listening to an echo of tammi terrell’s disembodied voice spooling off of quarter inch tape into his headphones and he sang along and his ghost voice was frozen in time with hers.  it’s so fake.

yet it feels so real.

* of course in really really real life it does matter if your marriage is legal for reasons of hospital visitation and taxes and basic civil rights and etc. and i of course support gay marriage and blah blah blah.

** i realize this is an incredible simplification of history, whatever, did you think this was the NYRB or something?

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