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“I got down to the writing and I began writing and I was writing the entire book longhand and I found the whole process to be awful, just disgusting.  I don’t know why I had romanticized writing, it’s like a disease, I mean, it steals your body from you, it’s lonely, there’s no audience there, it’s horrible.”

Spalding Gray, Monster In A Box

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dear lo,

lo, light of my life, fire of my loins, my sin, my soul…oh wait, somebody else started it that way, i have to start it my own way, i have to “make it my own” or “make it new” or “make it work,” i don’t know which, i just know i have to make it with you somehow and that thing about the light and fire and sins and souls is not the right way for me to begin.  it’s not right because i’m not all poetic like that beginning would make you believe i am.  i think that’s okay, though, that i’m not a poet, because who needs poetry in a letter?  a letter is about the message that you’re trying to send to the person you’re sending it to, the things you want to communicate to them, that you want to pass from you to them by the medium of the letter.  if you want to write an essay, write an essay, if you want to write a poem, write a poem, right?  paint a painting, sing a song, etc.  but i’m writing a letter to you so i should make it like a letter, in content and in style.  i should be medium-specific, you know?

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so let me start over, let me say it more simply and letter-ish:  lo, i like you.  i feel i have this really complicated relationship with heidi and lauren that makes me emotional about them in weird and sometimes uncomfortable ways. it’s too complex for me to explain in detail here (besides, this is a letter to and about you, not them) but, basically, i feel like maybe they are different parts of me; like, lauren represents the part of me that is sometimes sad and scared and has trouble dealing with other people, the private part of me, and then heidi represents the part of me that is an artist/content generator, that is putting myself out there and hoping that people will like what i put out, the public part of me.  i think that’s one of the reasons that i want them to be friends again, friends on TV or friends in real life, whichever but hopefully both, because i feel like maybe if their outer connections are reconnected then my inner connections will be too and then i can be a better and more whole person and have a happier life.  i guess that’s a lot to expect from some TV characters but i’ll take what i can get.  i heard a really good quote about that on fresh air recently. here, listen:

you, though, lo, you’re different than heidi and lauren.  because while i have a “love/hate” relationship with those two, which involves, of course, lots and lots of love but also, inevitably, some (self) hate, i have a “like” relationship with you, which is much less complicated and much more fun.  i like you for a lot of reasons.  i like you because you’re bubbly and effervescent and always smiling, even if you’re pissed off or frustrated (those particular smiles are actually adorable, which is a rare thing in my experience).  i like you because you are protective of your friends, even if sometimes it makes you look stupid or bitchy.  i like you because you speak in a cute dialect all your own, that you put curlicues and flips on ordinary words and phrases and punctuate them with giggles and squeals.

lofairey

though i like you for all those reasons, i think what really sealed the deal between me and you was when i read that you were an art history major in college.  when i read that — i don’t remember where or when, though it was a while ago — i was so happy.  it seemed to cement this feeling i had about u and i, about us, to make it concrete and not abstract.  it’s really nice to find out things that you have in common with your favorite celebrities — i think that’s why that “stars: they’re just like us!” section in Us Weekly exists, although i don’t really like that section because i think it’s too ironic and jokey.  because, really, stars are like us, even if only in small ways.  like for example the two of us have this thing in common, since you were an art history major and i was an art history minor in college.  we may not have many things in common, but at the very least we have that.  (p.s. i thought i would put in, like, images and sounds in this letter — that’s why those are in here.  mixed media and everything! i know maybe that’s not a normal thing for a letter, in terms of form, but i thought you would appreciate the artsiness of it.)

this is a photograph from a series called theaters by this photographer hiroshi sugimoto; have you seen it before?  i first saw it when i was an art history minor in college, in a history of photography class.  i think as an art history minor i’m supposed to like it because it’s like this commentary on the nature of film exposure and, um, making this point about time and space and everything. and i do like it for those reasons, kind of, but really i like it because it’s sublime and romantic and just makes me feel, you know?  this poem i like about going to the movies has this part that goes, “it’s true that fresh air is good for the body / but what about the soul / that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images” and when i read that part, those lines, i sometimes think about being in art history class, in the dark, looking at sugimoto’s silvery images.  you know, i have what on television is called a flashback.  some of my most romantic memories and flashbacks of loving college (i mean the learning parts, not the “i love college” parts, though i also loved those) are of art history classes.  that’s for a lot of reasons but one of them i think is that art history classes are the some of the only ones that take place in the dark.  there’s something romantic about that, i think, about going through normal life out in the light with all the other people going through their normal lives, and then, at some arbitrary hour, eleven o’ clock in the morning or 3:30 in the afternoon, stepping outside of the day and sitting in this dark room and staring up at these ghost images, larger than life, projected up on a screen, and then you come out after and you have to rub your eyes like waking up from a daydream.  i guess that’s kind of nerdy, but whatever.

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anyway, last week, i read a really interesting interview with you in TV guide.  well not in TV guide, of course, ha, who reads that anymore, right?  did you ever see that old episode of seinfeld about the guy elaine meets on the subway who collects issues of TV guide and is like this obsessive weirdo about TV guide and everybody laughs at him for being weird and it’s so funny?  i used to laugh at that episode a lot but now i don’t think it’s as funny anymore, partially because it’s kind of dated, right, because TV guide isn’t relevant anymore and the jokes kind of depend on TV guide as a reference to be funny, but mostly because i think some people might see me as being like that guy who was like an obsessive weirdo about TV guide and they might laugh about that or think i’m weird which would make me feel bad, personally.  like they would that i don’t have anything in my life except this pop culture object and so i just think more and more about that, making crazy theories about it instead of making meaningful relationships with people.  which is totally not true, totally, but anyway let’s get back to talking about your interview with tvguide.com.   the interviewer asked you:

TVGuide.com: Will we finally get to see you dating at all this season?

and you said:

Lo: I don’t ever really date on the show. It’s something I talked to the producers about back when I was doing Laguna Beach and said this is part of my life that I don’t want to have on TV. For me, I’m comfortable being a secondary character on the show. I want to have a career afterwards and the less people know about me, the easier it will be to branch into something else afterward. So I try to keep my really private life private and to myself.

the reason i thought this comment was interesting is because i think it relates in some way to this movie called guest of cindy sherman which has just come out in limited release and which is getting a lot of attention right now.  you said in the interview you are “in the art scene” so i’m sure you’ve probably heard all about the controversy surrounding it (i had, months ago), but in case you haven’t, i thought i’d tell you a little bit about it.

guest of cindy sherman is a documentary made by and costarring this guy paul h-o.  the basic synopsis i’ve seen is that he was a new york art scenester who produced and hosted a jokey t.v. show about goings on in the art world and who, as a result of his TV show, met and got into a relationship with the artist cindy sherman.  over time, as she became a super famous celebrity artist and he remained a nobody, he became more and more frustrated with living in her shadow, with being the “guest of cindy sherman.” (that’s where he got the title from)  apparently paul got cindy to sign a release at the very beginning of their relationship for all the video he was taking of her, so that their whole relationship was mediated in some way by the presence of his camera shooting her shooting herself with her camera and of course also his camera shooting the two of them spending non-art personal time together, couple time, except of course that was also “art” time since he was shooting video and so basically their whole relationship was captured on video, kind of like lauren and doug’s was on the hills.  (considering how complicated all that is, it’s probably a good thing you don’t show your relationships on TV!)

did you study cindy sherman in college?  i’m sure you did.  i studied her a little, in that history of photography class and also i think in some kind of contemporary art survey that i can’t remember very well.  as you know, cindy sherman’s work is all about changing and becoming different people.  cindy sherman is not my favorite artist but her work when i first read about it made me think things and sometimes also made me feel things.  i made this video last year comparing cindy sherman’s most famous work, her untitled film stills, to heidi’s staged paparazzi pictures (marc jacobs is also in the video, in case it sounds boring).  one of my blog commenters challenged me on the comparison and i said this thing which in retrospect is kind of harsh to cindy sherman but i felt at the time was really clever, in kind of an art history class pop quiz kind of way:

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the reason i think all this is related to you, lo, is that, as i understand it (i haven’t seen the movie but that certainly hasn’t stopped some people from talking about it, so why should it stop me?) paul h-o got into this relationship with cindy sherman and eventually realized that he was always going to be a secondary character in her “show,” just like you’re a secondary character on the hills and probably will be until you’re not on it anymore.  paul h-0 was never going to get some plot twist or story arc that was going to make him more important (or even as important) as cindy.  eventually, he couldn’t take that — he couldn’t stand to be a minor character and so he made this movie to try to inject some buzz into his personal narrative.  i guess it’s working, to some extent.

most people who don’t like guest of cindy sherman seem to take issue with paul h-o’s “narcissism” or “egotism,” his inability to recognize that he really just isn’t that important, that of course he doesn’t hold a candle to cindy sherman as an artist and therefore isn’t deserving of the kind of attention she gets and what kind of gall does he have to be making this movie and et cetera. female critics tend to focus on the sexism that paul h-o apparently exhibits in the movie, and on the fact that cindy sherman herself is unhappy with the movie and had to use lawyers to force changes to it before its release.  i don’t know what the truth about any of that is, although his comment about being a “wife” in the trailer is admittedly pretty gross and makes the criticism of him as sexist seem pretty valid but i have to say i empathize with him, a little bit at least.  i think you should too, lo.

like, in that interview, you say that you’re okay with being a secondary character on the hills, that’s what you want, what you’ve always wanted.  you’ve say you’ve never cared about being a star, a main character, a heroine or villainess.  that’s fine and i hope you keep feeling that way; i think that would mean a healthier and better life for you, probably.  but what if you end up changing your mind?  what if at some point you decide that you’re not satisfied with your standing, that you want to move up, be a main character in your life? what if you want other people to see you as important or smart or interesting and moreso than lauren or heidi, what if you want to be on the cover of Us or InTouch and you want to be there by yourself and not just in some lame group shot?  what do you do then?  how do you deal with it?

like, i kind of see this paul h-o situation as being similar to what happened to whitney.  when whitney was first on the hills, she was just like you: she had no interest in being a major character, she just wanted to buzz along in the background, get paid, maybe make some contacts in the fashion industry that would help her pursue her real dreams off-camera.  but then, either gradually or at some crucial, unspecified point, something inside her changed and she became a different person, in a way, and she wanted to be a major character, a heroine, and so she made herself one, by leaving lauren’s show (the hills, duh) and making her show the city.  this is like what paul h-o is trying to do, to make himself the main character in his personal narrative.  should we hate whitney or say that she’s bad just because she changed, just because she became a different person?  should we feel the same way about paul h-o, even though he’s not as pretty or as nice as whitney?

i don’t think so.  i mean, i’ve done things that i’m ashamed of, too.  i think we all have, right?  anyone who puts him or herself out there enough to do things and live in the world is eventually going to do bad things which hurt themselves or other people.  that doesn’t mean necessarily that they’re a “bad person,” like some cheesy villain in a movie, it just means that all people have the capacity to do lots of things, some of them good and some of them bad.  even people who i like, like you, who i think are “good people,” even they can do things which aren’t necessarily “good” or “right.”  okay, i can see you rolling your eyes, lo, i know this is not groundbreaking stuff, okay, but i’m trying to make a point.  like, remember how you were, well, so mean to audrina when she moved in with you and lauren in the hills season 3?  do you sometimes regret that?  do you regret that you did it, that you were mean, or do you regret that it is captured on video and that lots of people have seen it?  because i understand that maybe you weren’t mean for natural reasons, maybe you were pressured by the producers (or lauren) to create tension for the show or maybe you just felt a pressure to be a bigger presence in the show — like, since you were moving in with lauren, you finally needed a role, an angle, a plotline and so you decided being semi-mean to audrina would be your story.  even if you don’t feel bad about how you acted, do you maybe feel bad that a lot of young girls watched you acting that way and thought that that was the right way to act? do you think of yourself as “role model”?

gosh, i’m sorry, i’m really hitting you with these tough, tyra banks style questions!  i’ll stop, and, to show that nobody’s perfect, especially me, i’ll give you an example from my blog of something i did that i didn’t feel particularly good about.  it’s one of the few stories i have that involves me interacting with a real life celebrity.  i mean, i’m interacting with you, lo, of course, but we both know it’s kind of fake and one way, whereas this was kind of real and two way.  the celebrity in the story is the person you hear in that audio clip, one of my first regular blog commenters, the movie writer and director mike white.  he saw my blog when it was mentioned in the new york times and started commenting after that.  he wrote interesting things like this:

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so, in the regular course of writing and doing artsy behaviors on my blog, i commented on a funny or die parody of the hills starring james franco and mila kunis.  this was during the writer’s strike in 2007 (remember? what was LA like for you then? was it different, did people have ill will towards you for being a reality star?) and basically the video was a viral parody of the hills, supporting the striking writers by making the joke that if the strike wasn’t settled, all we would have were unscripted shows like the hills.  “without writers — there’s only reality.”  in doing so, it made the hills basically out to be a stupid, worthless show populated by idiots.  at the time, i felt very strongly that the third season of the hills was the best and most innovative show on TV and certainly not stupid or worthless (and certainly not populated by idiots, especially not you, lo).  so i did a post where i basically said that i didn’t like the parody and thought it was bad and i said it in kind of a mean and condescending and snarky way because that’s the way a lot of people write on the internet (somebody even wrote a book about it!).  after that, mike white left me another comment:

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it was a complicated feeling i had after i read that, because when i wrote that post criticizing the funny or die parody, i wasn’t trying to impress anybody or put on airs or anything, i was just giving my honest reaction to this piece of art, i was just saying how i felt about something i felt strongly about.  at the same time, though, i had said this mean thing which was probably unnecessarily mean and which was mean about this thing that people worked hard on and that a lot of people liked, and not only was it mean to all of them but it was also mean to this nice person who, even though he was a celebrity, had taken the time to say these nice things about me and support my writing when only a few people were supporting me.  i felt kind of bad about that — it was hard for me to deal with.  at the same time, i couldn’t go back and change what i had said  — it was done, it was set, it was archived.

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that hills parody video was on the website funny or die and sometimes i feel like that’s a rule for being successful on the internet, like, be funny or die.  a lot of the times, i’ve felt like if i was writing “ironic” and “cutting” and “snarky” things about you and heidi and lauren and the other celebrities i write about, i would probably be a lot more successful and would have a bigger audience.  some writers online have these big audiences who love them for doing just that and every week after they write their ironic and cutting and snarky posts in which they “eviscerate” popular television shows, their audiences tell them how smart and clever they are and how much they love them for their writing and everything.  sometimes i wish more people would tell me that they love me for the things i wrote, lots of people, but i can’t just write the things that i think people will love, i have to write the things that i believe are true and that i think are good for me to write, both good for me and good in terms of the public good (and, since this is a letter that i’m writing here, good for you, lo).  not that i’m being self righteous, not that i think i’m any better than writers with acid tongues and razor-tipped pens — i just know that i can’t do what they do myself because i would eventually just end up feeling bad about the mean things i wrote, even if i thought they were clever or funny when i wrote them.

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i’ve always been a positive person but after that comment and also some other stuff that happened in my (real) life, i’ve tried a lot harder to not write mean or bad things, or, if i’m going to write mean or bad things, if i feel that i just have to for reasons of being an artist, i try to balance them out with nice or good things, or at least sincere and understanding things and humanistic things instead of harsh and ironic things.  like i said, i’m not perfect, it doesn’t always work that way, but i try to be aware of my sometimes tendency towards meanness and do the best i can to be a nice person who doesn’t make other people feel bad, at least not on purpose or without good reason.

sometimes that is the good thing about having documents and records of ourselves and the things we’ve done, that we can learn from them and try to be better, as people and artists and everything.  i know looking at old things i wrote sometimes i cringe because they’re embarrassing, but in that cringing and being embarrassed, i can recognize growth and change, which i think is a good thing or at least feels like it is.  sometimes it is hard to see past versions of yourself but sometimes you have to do hard things in order to make your life or the lives of others better.  like the way you could learn from watching how you dealt with audrina on the hills, lo, and maybe decide to act differently in future situations.  that’s why i think that it’s “good” (or at least “not bad”) that the movie guest of cindy sherman was made and i don’t think the creator should be “demonized” even if he is maybe definitely not a perfect person.  i don’t know if by making his movie paul h-o learned something about himself but maybe he did or maybe watching the movie after making it he learned something about himself or maybe hearing how other people are now reacting to the movie now he is learning something about himself or will learn something in the future, something that he can use to make himself better for himself and other people.  maybe cindy sherman, seeing herself in the movie, seeing herself as framed by someone else other than herself, in portrait instead of self portrait, maybe she learned something, too, something good, something she can use as an artist or celebrity or even just as as a regular person.  maybe the hip and art-type people who see guest of cindy sherman (are you going to see it?  i don’t think it’s out in LA yet) will watch it and see things in it which might help them learn things about themselves, even if they are negative things, like how not to be or what not to do, they could still learn things and if they do, that would be good, i think.

lofairey

to finish up, i think that the other interesting part of your tvguide.com interview was the thing you said at the very end:

TVguide.com: Based on the trailer for the new season, it seems as though a lot of loose ends will be tied up.

Lo: I think so. There are a few events that haven’t happened yet, and I know they are going to be included in the show, so we have to see how those things play out. But I truly think it is going to come full circle where everybody grows up and comes together. And like any popular show on TV, you want to end it on a high note. So I think it’s going to end in a good way that everyone’s happy with.

i think that’s a really interesting thing to say.  like, the idea that you might normally live your life this one way, but, because your life is shown on a TV show, you then might change it, improve it, not for your own sake but to give the “narrative” a “resolution,” i think that’s interesting.  the idea that the loose ends of life can be tied up as easily as a string bikini or bunny-looped shoelace (happy easter, btw!).  a lot of people would consider living your life that way, according to television conventions, to be “inauthentic” but i think that if you fake a good thing in your TV life, it might make your real life better, too.  and if your real faking and fake realing makes other people watching you on TV feel better or live their lives in some better way, then that’s even better, better for you and them and the world and everybody, like that is like hope, like if that picture that i “made” of you with the shephard fairey image generator wasn’t some snarky ironic joke but was really a true belief in the potential of you, in the power you have to create change.  anyway, it’s a very positive attitude you have which hopefully i can take something from in order to help me live my life better, too, by learning from the example you set on reality TV.  like for example maybe if i write better, both in terms of the quality of the writing and in terms of being more good as a person, maybe things will turn out better for me, too, in the process, the process of writing and being, of faking and realing.  i don’t know that it will but at least it’s something to try, which you gave me the idea for with the interesting things you said in TV guide.  that’s just one more reason that i like you, lo, and i hope you’re doing great, for real.

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henry

love is all around you (mary tyler moore theme) (after Hüsker Dü)

p.s. i was cleaning my room the other day and by some weird coincidence, i found this old art history paper i did when i was in college. i’m not the kind of person that keeps old school papers — this one was randomly stuck in this textbook i had saved because i thought it was a good book with a lot of pretty pictures and interesting ideas. the paper i found is not, like, good or anything and you probably did way better ones at UCLA. it’s actually kind of embarrassing to show it to you but i’m trying to give you as much of myself as i can and i think it kind of goes with what i was talking to you about it in the letter and also the “mixed media” form (random!) so i’m going to put it right here at the end, just in case you’re interested.

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fan’s notes

April 9, 2009

kanye

poem of me from a teen reporter” (via k.w.)

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dear heidi,

did you read the story about lil wayne in this month’s rolling stone?  i did.  personally, i’ve read a lot of magazine stories about lil wayne and i enjoy every one and every one makes me want to like him more.  i think that’s one sign that someone is really good at being a celebrity, that they can continue to be interesting in boring magazine stories and interviews that are all basically the same.  in the rolling stone story, lil wayne (his nickname is “weezy,” the reporter said) does all the things he usually does in magazine stories (and, i guess, maybe, that he usually does in real life): he smokes blunts, drinks cough syrup, records songs, and says weird and interesting things.

my google alert about you (i hope that’s not creepy, i just like to keep up with what you’re doing because i care about you) had a post from mtv.com about how you love lil wayne’s music and that, actually, you want to have him appear on your album.  (i know your album is coming up soon, oh my god, are you excited?)  you give a lot of interviews, so in case you’ve forgotten this one already, you said,

“I just love making fun music, like Lil Wayne,” [you] said. “He’ll do a rock song, and then he’ll do a rap song. I get to choose my own songs. It’s something I love doing. I’m having so much fun doing it, and it’s not too much pressure. It’s more on my own.”

since you’re a celebrity who is famous and gets magazine stories written about yourself, there’s a chance you might actually meet lil wayne at some point and so i feel like you should know some things about him — that might help you talk to him into appearing on your album or at least just make it easier to meet with him.  i know that sometimes it’s really hard for me to meet people and if you’re prepared, it might make it easier for you to meet him.  (when you’re famous, is it easier or harder to meet people?  i wonder about that a lot.  because i have this problem with meeting people where i’m not good at it but sometimes i think if i was famous, it would be easier because people would automatically know things about me and that knowledge would make it like we weren’t meeting because they had already met me, in a way, by experiencing this other part of me like by reading Us or something.  but then i have also read things about “the problems of celebrity” so i’m sure there are problems, too, i’m not saying you’ve got it easy or anything.)

anyway, there were three parts of the lil wayne story that i thought you might find particularly interesting and since i know you’re busy and probably don’t have as much reading time as you wish you did, i guess i’ll just put them in this letter right here.  the first part i wanted to tell you about is how lil wayne talked about selling himself:

Still, as he moved into his 20s, Wayne was hardly a household name, and be began to feel as if his record label wasn’t doing all it could to promote his music.  So he came up with a plan of his own — in a blatant violation of the economic law of scarcity, he began working nonstop, recording and releasing countless mixtape tracks

when i read that about him, i thought, that’s you, heidi, that’s what you did, as you “moved into your 20s,” the way you violated “economic laws of scarcity,” the way you gave and gave and gave yourself away for free, more and more, until suddenly you were everywhere and you could start selling yourself for real money, all about the benjamins like in that song.  the way you made yourself into a business.  i mean, heidi, all of these businesses in america are failing now and bad stuff is happening all the time on the news and people will still pay you money to come to a club or be in a magazine story.  that’s amazing, i bet your mom is so proud of you.  there is this really good rap by jay z where he says, “i’m not a businessman / i’m a business, man.”  well, heidi, you’re a business, m’am.  (that wouldn’t really work in the song, of course, since there’s no such thing as a businessm’am, but still i wanted to tell you and sometimes it’s easy to tell people emotional things like being proud of them or liking them if you do it in a joking way, even if the joke is bad.)

i have a secret problem, though, heidi. even though i like reading about lil wayne a lot, even though i like reading about him so much that I would probably read like a 500 page biography of him, i don’t actually like his music.  i don’t really like the sound of his voice, i don’t like the rasp of it, the gravely sound to it, the wheeze (that’s where the nickname “weezy” or “Weezy F. Baby” came from, the reporter said).  i think maybe the way i don’t like his voice is like the opposite of how most white people, even old or racist or stupid ones who don’t normally like black musicians, how they love louis armstrong and his froggy throat.  but for me, because of lil wayne’s vocal tone (and also rhythmic things about how he flows), i find it really hard to listen to him.

it’s frustrating for me —  i want to like him so much.  i read quotes of his lyrics or descriptions of his songs in magazines (“the surrealism is epitomized by the 2007 mixtape track ‘i feel like dying,’ in which wayne imagines playing basketball with the moon and diving into a sea of codeine…”) and i think, “that sounds like a song i would really like, that’s so interesting and, i don’t know, artistic.”  but i don’t like him and it makes me feel so stupid and uncool that i don’t like him.  it makes me feel so uncool that i don’t like to admit it to people, it’s embarrassing, but i trust you and i know that i can be honest with you so i’m admitting it to you.  i keep telling myself that maybe i should just wait for his voice to grow on me, that it’s just like how i didn’t like bob dylan’s voice at first and now i love it (most of the time), that soon some song of his will come along (he releases a lot of songs, often on “mixtapes,” the reporter said) and change my feelings, but i just keep waiting and trying and i still don’t like it and i can’t and don’t listen to his music.  so i just thought i would tell you about that in case you’re just pretending to like him, too, because you think that you’re supposed to because it’s cool, so that you know somebody else has this feeling that you have, too.  not that not liking art or an artist is something to be proud of or feel good about, i don’t think that at all, i hate it when people are so self-righteous and proud about not liking you, god, but still sometimes you can’t help your feelings even if you’re doing your best to remain open and unprejudiced.

the second interesting part of the story was when lil wayne was talking about his singing voice.  he said,

I always knew I couldn’t sing, but I also knew I had a voice that isn’t heard by many, and that I could learn how to stretch it and make songs sound good.  Therefore, I practiced that.

as a singer, i thought this quote would be really interesting to you.  do you like the sound of your own voice?  since we don’t really talk to each other, you know, i have to go with my gut on this one, and my gut tells me that you don’t.  i have to believe that you feel it’s not good enough since all the vocals i’ve heard of yours are so heavily tuned.  don’t worry, i’m not going to call you out as “fake,” you know i’m not like that.  i mean, i don’t use vocal tuning much myself because in the kind of music i make (indie), it’s not very acceptable, it doesn’t fit so much with the sound picture that’s made.  but even though i don’t tune it, i don’t like the sound of my voice either and sometimes, almost all of the time, i do things to try to cover it up, like adding layers or using reverb or distortion or other effects.  a lot of singers don’t like the sound of their voices and try to do things with machines to make them sound better. before we had machines to change our voices, people had to do things to their bodies to change their voices, like (this is gross) guys used to get their balls cut off so that they could sing higher notes!  i know, right!  i read that on wikipedia.  luckily, now, in the age of mechanical things, there is all of this modern technology to change our voices without pain or injury.  a while ago, i read this book written by an engineer at the recording studio of the beatles and he said that john lennon (of the beatles) really, really hated the sound of his voice and was always asking the producers and engineers to do mechanical things to his voice, filters and distortion and stuff, to make it sound better.  one time, he wanted to put his vocal microphone in a fish tank (which could have been totally bad because he could’ve gotten electrocuted).  another time, he tried to lay on the ground and they swung a microphone hanging on a wire over him, to try to make it sound like his voice was swirling all around.  i think if even john lennon, who is totally famous and sold like a bajillion records, even if he didn’t like the sound of his own voice, then it’s okay for you and me to not like the sound of our voices either.

sometimes i wish we were brave, though, you and me.  not that i don’t think you’re brave, but in that quote lil wayne is being really brave about his bad voice.  it’s almost like he’s proud of it, like he’s not only not ashamed of it and doesn’t feel bad about it, but he’s proud of it, like a red badge of courage, because his bad voice is his bad voice and he is so confident in himself and his artsiness that he can make people like his singing even if it’s bad because he’s that good.  i think that’s different than you and me, who are embarrassed or ashamed about our bad voices and so try to cover them up with machines and electronica or just try really, really hard to sing good enough so we can sound as good as other people.  in the kind of music i listen to (indie), sometimes singers who don’t like their voices sing really bad on purpose, try to sound “bad” instead of sounding “good.”  sometimes that can be brave, but i think a lot of the time it’s not brave, i think it’s the opposite.  i think it’s kind of that they’re afraid that other people will tell them that they’re bad singers and so they sing even worse on purpose, they don’t really try their best, so that other people won’t be able to tell them they’re bad because they obviously already know and their badness is part of their “art.”  and, i mean, there are lots of different kinds of art and art is what you like and in the eye of the beholder and some other quotes but i don’t like that kind of art most of the time, personally.  that is my “taste.”  a lot of people say that you are trying to sound “bad” on purpose like that, that you are making irony music, fake music, and i guess that could be true and since i’m not really talking to you like in an interview in a magazine story, i can’t know for sure, i can’t get it “on the record,” but i like to believe that you are just doing your best at making real music (not fake), even though it’s really hard and you’re not a very good singer, because you want to share yourself more with your fans.  i hope that’s what’s true and not the other thing.

this writer i like has this essay where he talks about what he calls “the grain of the voice.”  it’s a really complicated essay and the writer (he’s dead) was really smart and sometimes i feel stupid reading things he wrote but i keep reading them because he’s so smart and sometimes if i can understand a smart, good thing he said then it makes me feel smart and good, too, it makes me feel like him, like a real smart guy.  do you ever feel stupid about not understanding something ?  i’m sure you do, everybody does, it’s natural, but it’s a hard thing to admit because sometimes you feel really proud of yourself for maybe reading something hard but then you’re not getting the things that other people get out of it and you think, why them and not me?  like it’s not fair.  like when i was in school and somebody in my class understood something about a book that i didn’t understand, that always made me feel kind of sad inside and i didn’t like it.  but that’s how you learn, i guess, by being stupid sometimes.  evolution and everything.  anyway,  i don’t always understand that dead writer but along with some other things he wrote, i really like his saying, “the grain of the voice.” i don’t really understand it, i just like the sound of it, it sounds very smart and makes me think of those squiggly pictures that your voice makes when it’s on a computer screen in the studio and how your squiggly pictures are different than mine, even if we sing the exact same words.

one last thing about me and you and weezy (i’m going to call him that without quotes, even though i don’t know him, the same way i’m talking to you so privately even though i don’t know you — i guess it’s cause i read all these magazine profiles about him and i feel like i know him now, just like i know you), one last thing we have in common is that our favorite place is the recording studio.  you said in that MTV.com report that you “just pretty much live and breathe in the studio.”  weezy described the studio in this really amazing and complicated way:

“It’s when you close the door to the world and jump outside of yourself.  And you look at yourself and say, ‘You ain’t the best.  Show me you’re the best.  Show me you can play the fucking guitar without lessons.  Show me you can make a hit song and make everybody tell you, ‘I love what you’re doing.’  Show me you can do that.’  And then i come out that door and jump back in my body.  I do that every night.”

isn’t that an interesting way to describe it?  i love my studio, too.  my studio is only a closet which also has all my clothes in it and some stored things and it gets kind of hot in there with me and the computer and instruments and clothes and and i have to put my laptop outside of the closet when i record my vocals because otherwise it’s too noisy, but still,  i’ve recorded a lot of songs there and it’s a special place for me.  i record the songs there there and i put them out and hope that people will like them and listen to them and the songs will make them feel things that they want to feel.  i make real music, i think, not fake music; at least i hope it’s real music, i’m not 100% sure but at least like 95%.  you can never totally tell, though, right, it’s like being cool, how your mom tells you that your coolness comes from inside but it’s so obvious that a lot of it comes from whether other people outside of you think you’re cool.  or fashion and style, the way in the magazines they talk about “inner style” but really style is something that lots of outer people decide on and then put in magazines like rules or guidelines.

so i’ve recorded one of your songs before (‘”higher,” remember) and i was in the studio yesterday, just jamming around, and i got this inspiration, like, i’m going to record a song for heidi, and then i just did it, like that, two hours and done.  that’s what’s really magic about music today, how i can just do that for you, lickety split, just like weezy can.  it is a magic technology miracle that lets me record music even though most of the time i feel like i’m just pretending to be a musician, i’m faking it.  but in the studio, in my studio, that doesn’t matter, nobody’s telling me what i can or can’t do, i just do it, like in those nike ads.  it’s kind of like you said in that MTV interview:  in the studio, you’re “more on your own” and “it’s not too much pressure.”  i mean, i’m not a great musician or even a good one, but it doesn’t matter, in the studio, i can still make a song for you like anybody else.

i think the reason i decided to make this song for you, even though i already made a song this week and i’m really trying to make less songs (kind of the opposite of weezy), is that i was watching idol the other night.  are you watching it this season?  i don’t know if you like it or not since we’re not talking.  i wrote this story about you last year (you were probably too busy to read it, it’s okay) and in the story i had a part about how you hated idol (and lauren loved it).  but that story was about a made up, fake you in an imaginary world and not the real you, of course (although i guess i’m kind of talking to a made up, fake you now, right? but it’s not as imaginary in that story, it’s more like the real, made up, fake you).  so anyway, i was watching idol last night.  this is the first season i’ve ever watched it and i really like it, even though i think most of the singers suck.  i mean, “suck” is so relative, right, though, because the ones that i think suck can still sing a lot better than me, but even though that’s true, i can still say that they suck, i think i’m allowed.  there is this saying that goes like “nobody ever built a statue for a critic” and i think that’s interesting and maybe true but if it’s true it’s probably because good, sturdy statues are big and expensive and hard to make and need permits and land to be built and lots of other things, and it’s because of that they don’t have statues, not because critics are never worthy of love.  i mean, you’re really famous, heidi, and you don’t even have a statue.

but anyway, on idol, i really like the singer adam lambert who is the most popular one who almost everbody likes.  i think maybe the producers are really trying hard to make everybody like him, like the way they give him better lighting (like twilight) and more camera angles and closer close-ups than anybody else, i think they want us to like him because they think he could be really popular and successful.  but whatever, i’m unoriginal and stuff and i like him, i think he’s the best and should win, totally. on tuesday night,  i was really surprised because the song he sang was this song “mad world” which i don’t like because it was in this stupid (indie) popular movie i didn’t like.  but even though i don’t like the song and i had all these negative feelings attached to it, i still really liked the singer, adam, and how he sang it, i really liked his performance and “the grain” of his voice.  i think that is one thing about whether a singer is good, if they can even sing a song i don’t like and make it likable to me, that is proof they are good, i think.

but i didn’t want to sing another version of “mad world” since adam’s version was really close to this other version which was actually not even the original, so that actually wasn’t my inspiration.  my other favorite contestant on idol, though, is this guy anoop who seems really nice, that is the main thing about him, and what he did on tuesday was he sang this old cyndi lauper song (kind of like that cyndi lauper cover at the beginning of the second season of the hills, that played when you took your pregnancy test, oh my god, you were so good in that scene, that was when i first loved you), he sang this song that was originally sung by cyndi, a woman, and he is a man, and he sang it and all the judges said it was really good and amazing because he “made it his own.”  so i was inspired by that so what i did is i took your song “overdosin‘” (is it still on your album? it seems like it’s always changing, how exciting) and i tried to “make it my own.”  i don’t know if my version is a good version or better than yours but i’m still happy i made it because i think “making it my own,” i think that is a really important art thing to do and i am really glad you gave me the opportunity to do it.  you are always giving me opportunities and so that’s one of the reasons i wanted to write you.

yrs,

henry

overdosin’ (heidi montag)

higher (heidi-montag)

dear lauren,

so there’s this singer i like right now and she has this song, “24,” which is partly about watching the show 24.  the song starts with the lyrics:

you are watching a program for exactly an hour
all of these hours they will add up to a day
you will sit there till they’re done
now there are twenty four to play
and there are rings around your eyeballs by the seventh or the eighth
but if you go to sleep tonight, you will be older
when you wake.

the song isn’t really about 24, which is good because i don’t much like 24; it just uses 24 as a device to get at something deeper.  part of the song is about impersonation, about trying to be someone you’re not.  the part i quoted, though, the part i think is best, is about time, about how it passes and how we pass it, how one of the ways we pass it is with TV.  like, the way in the fourth line that the 24 hours “to play” could be the hours in a season of 24 or the yet unlived hours of any new day in the world.  listening to the song, i wonder, is that why you’ve stopped filming your show?  time, the hours in your life and the hours of your life on television and the space that hangs between them, is it the reason?  does it feel like, when you have all these hours and hours of yourself recorded, these copied selves living outside of you, like shadows, does it make you feel drained, like there’s less of you inside of you?

does it make you maybe feel older than you really are? i know that even though i’m actually a couple of months older than you, i think of you as being so much older than me.  not in a bad way, of course, not all wrinkly and gross or anything, you look great, but age in terms of how experience collects inside of us.  emotional weight, psychic weight; the kind of things we can’t count calories for or do an extra hour on the treadmill to burn off.  i guess i feel like you’re older than me because i feel like you’ve experienced so much more than me and that that experience has been captured and recorded as proof, in a way, and that that proof — the outer you of the show and the websites and the tabloids, the copied you — that proof is a supplement to the real you, an addition, an appendage, which makes you more.  the proof can enhance who you are, of course, it can make you more in that way, but the other side of the coin is that it also carries with it things you might not necessarily want.

i mean, i’m not famous or anything, but in a way i know how it feels, too.  i have a facebook account which i got when i was a sophomore in college, when getting a facebook account was a new and cool thing to do, and so i have this facebook account like everybody else and i don’t like it, i don’t even want it anymore. i haven’t really used it in weeks, i don’t like using it.  my message box is full of messages which remain unanswered, my wall is overgrown, most of the pictures of me there are so old that i feel they should be cast in black and white or sepia.  when young people die now, sometimes their facebook or myspace pages are left up as monuments to their lives.  somebody i went to college with, someone i knew but wasn’t close to, he died last year and his facebook page is like this, still, and i’m still friends with him and so sometimes his little name and picture pops up in my friends box, in that jumbled randomizing that facebook does to remind you of people you know whom you may have forgotten.  when i used to see his profile, when i would click the little name and picture, it always kind of creeped me out;  it was like living with a ghost — his pictures were still there, his wall posts, his interests and the groups  he belonged to, they were all there; even though he was dead, there were no dead links.  after his death, right after but still months and months after, people continued to post messages to him, direct addresses, as if his facebook page were some kind of medium between the computer and the spirit world, as if facebook also exists in heaven and he got alerts on some celestial iPhone when somebody poked him or tagged him in a picture.  i guess i could pretend the reason i don’t like facebook is weirdness of this, fear of ghots, but the truth is this is the first time i’ve thought of that person in probably nine months and my reasons are much more self-centered.  i guess the reason i don’t want my facebook is because it ties me to this external me that is not like the me i feel like i am inside now, that is an old me or, worse, a fake me.

but there’s the paradox, right, the proof, how the proof is bad and good at the same time, important and unimportant, real and not.  because even though i don’t want my facebook, even though i don’t like having it, i keep it, i can’t get rid of it.  it’s because i need it, like, as proof of my humanity.  some people, mostly old or loud or old and loud people, might say that that’s silly, that the only proof of your humanity you need is a beating heart and air in your lungs, that the proof of your humanity is how you treat other people.  but today there are machines to make our hearts beat, there are machines to help us breathe, and when you join the peace corps or teach abroad you write a blog about it and when you’re rebuilding houses after katrina, you take pictures of all the good you’re doing and you twitter from the homeless shelter in between ladles of soup.  i need my facebook because if i meet someone, someone i like or want to like or want to like me, i need that facebook, the pictures and wall posts and the number of friends that i have, i need all of them as proof that i exist, not just physically, but outside of myself.  i need to show people those things so that i don’t seem like a loner or a weirdo or all the things i think about people when i meet them and they only have three facebook friends and aren’t tagged in any pictures.  i need the proof, even if the proof isn’t what i want, even if i don’t think it’s good enough, just like the dead guy’s friends need to see his page and write on it so that they can remember him and think that he’s remembering them, so that they can write their fake letters which can only be addressed in spirit to a spirit.  they need the proof, i need the proof, we need the proof.

even if the proof isn’t real.  like, this is supposed to be this heartfelt and sincere letter, that’s how i’m writing it, that’s the form it’s taking.  but of course, first of all, it’s not really even a letter, like with paper and ink and stamps, it’s not even an e-mail or e-card.  it’s not a letter because i’m not sending it to you, you’re not going to read it, we’re not friends.  i’m just using the form of the letter because it allows me to pretend to talk directly to you even thought i’m not actually, you know, talking directly to you, even though i’m talking a lot more about myself than i am about you.  even though letters are private and this one is public, an open letter, a letter which isn’t closed and can be read by anybody and they can read it how they want it and think what they like.

and then, second of all, is this letter heartfelt and sincere?  i mean, i guess it could be.  i guess in some way or another i believe all the things i’m saying to you, otherwise how could i have written them?  they came from inside of me me.  at the same time, maybe i’m accentuating certain aspects of the things, selecting, coloring them, making them maybe more or less than real because i know that if i do that, it’ll make people feel a certain way and i want to people to feel that way because then they might feel a certain way about me and i want them to feel that way, whether it’s true or not.

i guess the truth as we feel isn’t the same as the truth that gets caught by our machines, the cached truth that you can search on google.  i’m sure i don’t have to teach you anything about that;  if anybody’s an expert on that, it’s you.  but the untruth is true for me, too.  like, for example, earlier, i said i wasn’t using my facebook anymore because it didn’t feel real to me and that was true, in a way; it felt like a true thing i was feeling at the time that i wanted to say to you and so i said it. but then another true thing is that i use my facebook sometimes anyway, maybe even often, that i just used my facebook a week ago to promote this song i wrote.  i wrote this song which was like a letter, a fake letter, kind of like this, and then i posted it on the magazine’s facebook page and then the magazine heard it and liked it and they posted it and then other people saw that and heard it and liked it and they posted it and then other people saw that and heard it and liked it. for a while, it seemed like everyone was hearing and liking this part of me, this voice, this thing that came from inside of me and was then outside of me and was with all of them.  i fed on the hits and the buzz, the hearing and the liking, which lasted a day, and it felt good, it was a good day, a great day, even.  and then another day passed, 24 hours, one after the other, and as each hour ended there were less and less hits, the buzz was quieter and quieter, and then those hours were done and another day came and there was none of it left, no buzz, and it was like it had never even happened and i didn’t feel so great anymore, i just felt like me.

do you worry about that happening to you, losing that feeling?  do you worry that you’re making the wrong choice, that when it’s all gone, you won’t be able to feel great that way anymore and what that will cost you, that loss, not in money but in feelings, in emotional currency?  do you worry about only being you?  i do.  or maybe you know something i don’t.  maybe since you’ve had so much buzz, so many hits, you understand something i don’t, something that heidi and spencer don’t either.  maybe you’ve had so much buzz that you understand that the buzz isn’t it anymore, that you need to get away from the buzz more than you need to seek it.  is that it?  can you tell me?  i really want to know.

god, here i am being silly again, pretending to ask you these questions that you can’t answer because this isn’t a real letter, it isn’t real or a letter, and i’m not being real and you’re not being real, even though we both are, somehow, in certain ways.

yrs,
henry

p.s. i was going to watch your show and tell you a little about what i thought of it, not in the long old way i used to but in this different way.  i forgot to tivo it last night and then this morning, it’s still not available for streaming on MTV.com or on itunes and it’s not scheduled to rerun until 5:00 on MTV and i don’t have time to wait around for that so i guess i won’t be able to tell you what i think of your show.  but you might want to talk to adam or liz or tony about that, that seems pretty stupid to me, personally, in terms of people who care about you and want to check in with you not being able to and that hurting you and MTV and everybody.

[smiling with your eyes]

unfinished session

April 4, 2009

unfinished session

so i was watching friday night lights tonight, which, since big love ended, is i think the best traditional hour long tv drama.  i say this even though i’ve only seen like three episodes of it but those were really enough to convince me of how good it is.  my favorite part of tonight’s episode was this exchange between this kind of loser-y (yet lovable) football player landry and his object of affection tyra and their story in this episode was that tyra had to write her college admissions essay and tyra is this girl who has a heart of gold and dreams and things but is not like completely book learnin’ smart (at least yet)  and landry has been helping her to better herself and so she tries to write her college admission essay and it sucks and she’s sad but then he helps her to understand that she has so many inspiring things in her life which have taught her simple but profound lessons which would be good for her college admissions essays and are at the same time also proof that she is wonderful and amazing and worthy of love and then they kiss in a hotel room and shit.  the show rode the line between pathos and bathos SO hard w/re: to this stuff; i mean, just to point out one thing, there was a magnolia-esque montage of all the different characters in emotional moments and the audio underneath it was this fingerpicked guitar and then tyra’s voice comes in and you realize she’s reading the admissions essay she’s just finished writing and it is really sad and it was so close to being so something cheesy you don’t want but it was like a kid who is walking along a beam and sort of wobbles and but doesn’t fall, like it just kept being good and never went into badness and it did this not through self-conscious apologies for being bad or tricks to get around it but just by making me care about the characters which is a really hard thing to make me do because i don’t have feelings so much.  so watching it really made me want to make something unironic and un-meta and, like, simple and pure and emotional (god, i sound like the worst altbrohipsterrunoffetcetera here), kind of the opposite of that teenage wasteland song i did which practically needs footnotes or whatever to make sense.

so i wanted to do something simple and earnest and singer-songwritery and just dripping with authenticity but the thing is i don’t ever record whole songs live to tape, one take wonders and everything.  i think i’ve done it maybe twice the whole time i’ve been recording.  what i usually do, because i’m not a good musician and especially i have terrible rhythm, is i make loops of all the instrumental parts, a verse loop, a chorus loop, etc. and then i fix the loops (via either MIDI or audio timestretching) so that they sound, you know, musical, the way music is supposed to sound (or as close as i can get them to this platonic ideal), and i try to make enough loops and vary them and mix them so that it doesn’t sound repetitive and then when i have my loops laid down i record a bunch of vocal takes to try to get something usable and then i don’t get something usable so i chop up the vocal section by section and use the best takes.  without this patented looping and fixing process, i wouldn’t be able to make songs quickly and simply, which is the thing that’s satisfying to me about music as opposed to writing prose, that it’s fast and easy and you do it and then it’s done and you have it and there’s no sort of you know agony.  but then there is agony sometimes, too!  like how in response to my friday night lights feelings, i tried to do my unironic, un-meta alt country cover of “oxford comma” (i figured i would do a vampire weekend song since i dissed them in that last song) but after like a half hour of screwing around i just couldn’t come up with anywhere near a usable take.  which i really think is kind of funny — like, i’ve released 70 songs now and i still can’t play through a simple 3 minute pop song in one take of guitar and voice (!).  the big thing that classic rock guys say in interviews is that if you really want to know if you’ve got a good song, you’ve got to be able to play it with just acoustic guitar and voice, no other stuff, which i think is totally stupid authenticity fetish man alone with his guitar and feelings crap but maybe i just feel that way because i can’t play a song with acoustic guitar and voice without messing up.

i always think it’s really interesting to see process, the making of things and all that paris review interview stuff — when i was in film school, i read one of those william goldman screenplay books that they make you read when you’re in film school and i remember he was talking about heist movies and he says that the most pleasurable part of heist movies is where you get the guys together, with their various skills and abilities, and they make the plans for the heist, like, watching the heist itself is never as good as watching them make the plan for the heist.  i think that’s totally true (i touched on something similar to this re: commando in dear heidi, part 5)  and then in sympathy for the devil there are those amazing parts with the stones jamming and they’re just so interesting and so good, to see them at work and how they come to make the thing they’re making.  i’ve never been the kind of music fan who really sought out alternate takes or demos or rarities but all the same i’m kind of glad for them to exist somewhere to be discovered; even if i don’t care about them, i like to think they’re cared about by somebody.  anyway, this is not anywhere near so interesting or good as the “sympathy for the devil” sessions but anyway here is twenty four minutes or so of me trying unsuccessfully to sing “oxford comma” tonight. (if you listen to the whole thing you will have nightmares, it’s like the lo fi indie rock version of the ring)

teenage wasteland

April 2, 2009

teenage wasteland

one of my favorite contemporary movies is southland tales.  i really think it’s a shame that it was so poorly received.  i mean, i’m not much of a richard kelly fan — donnie darko was one of the most annoying movies i’ve ever seen — and i’m not the sort of aintitcoolnews kind of target audience, either — i don’t like comic books or science fiction or film noir, all of which feature heavily in southland tales.  despite this, though, i still think it’s a good movie, one i probably come back to more than any other made this century (besides maybe marie antoinette, which i just come back to for the prettiness).  maybe it’s not even good, i don’t know, maybe it’s actually shit (it’s definitely shit in parts, like the part with the giant toilet) but if so, it’s really visionary shit, it’s shit that somebody put a lot of work and thought and energy into.  an epic fail, literally, a failed epic.

i kind of see it the way i see the tyra show.  where i live, the ellen degeneres show and the tyra show play opposite each other at five o’ clock every day.  the ellen degeneres show provides a very consistent level of quality talk show — there’s a guaranteed decent performance that ellen gives: decent skits, decent audience interaction, decent interviews.  however, she’s never surprising or exciting.  the tyra show, on the other hand, is all over the place in terms of quality.  i mean, i don’t even really like tyra as a person because she can be so crazy judgmental of people (recently, the way she treated the pregnant prostitute and porn star parents were both really fucked up), but as a producer and host, she’s incredibly idiosyncratic and interesting.  the tyra show, because her auteur sensibility is so crazy and scattered, so sort of outsider art TV, has the potential to be really amazing, even when it’s bad.  that’s why i like it and kind of why i like southland tales.

so anyway i did a song called “teenage wasteland.”  it started out as a bishop allen-y kind of generic indie love song but then i just couldn’t figure out how to write generic indie love song lyrics without it being stupid, mean parody (if i had written that sara bareilles song, the chorus would be “i’m really just not quite able to write you a love song” which is not as sassy and girl power-y by half).  instead, i loaded it it up with the standard pretentious allusions, pseudo-genre play, and puns (since everybody loves puns, right!).  i wanted to use the original “all falls down” interpolation but i could only get a really low quality version so i just sang it myself.  i guess for me it’s another indie rock diss track (previously) although, again, i don’t actually hate the bands i’m dissing, so that kind of deflates it.  that’s good — i don’t want it to really have any kind of authority, thus the yrics being like a criticism of collage texts and impersonations that is then undermined by the fact the song itself is a collage text full of impersonation.