Saturday, February 10, 2007

Tolkin of affection // Emo's voice cracks

have been lax re: checking up on friends' sites. Ted Reichman has posted some great stuff of late, including a heavy reading of Von Trier's "Dogville" and add'l commentary on Van Morrison and "4% Pantomime," including a lyrical unpacking of the latter courtesy of none other than Levon frickin' Helm.

perhaps even more vital though is this here meditation on Altman, which Ted graciously pointed me toward, from Michael Tolkin who wrote both the novel on which "The Player" was based and the screenplay of said film. it's a musing on the inscrutability of Altman's methods--as evidenced during the production of "The Player"--viewed through the lens of the director and screenwriter's mutual pot use.

this Tolkin fellow really has a word-way, as evidenced by these excerpts. discussing his own quitting of pot, he says, " was the ’80s, the parentheses of aerobics between the cocaine years and the advent of the age of caffeine." damn, son, "parentheses of aerobics?" or would that be "parentheses of yogging?"

also i love when he says, "After smoking a little pot with [Altman]—and other than one morning in the office he didn’t smoke during the day—some of his methods made sense, *****and if it was pot sense, the sense is not invalid*****." emphasis mine, of course; that's stoner philosophizing of the highest order--right up there (i.e., literally: look up top) with Ty Webb.


the other thing that needs to be discussed/owned up to immediately is my eminent enjoyment of emo. no, not the emo that everyone likes to say they like, i.e., Rites of Spring or something, but pretty mainstream, My So Called Life-type emo.

gotta paint a quick portrait for you of teenage resentment. my best childhood/teenage/present-day friends played in this phenomenal punk band called the Crackbabies. they were arguably the heaviest, tightest and catchiest band in the Kansas City underground for a moment there in the early to mid '90s. i'm biased of course, b/c all members were/are some of my oldest, dearest bros. but they severely kicked ass.

right from the start they played a bunch of their shows w/ this band Kingpin, who as i recall took an immediate backseat to the Babies' virtuosity, i.e., they'd open for them and not the other way around. i remember Kingpin breaking up and those guys dropping off the scene for a bit. then they resurfaced, opening for the Crackbabies at a club called the Daily Grind and playing under a new name, which was (drumroll) the Get-Up Kids.

so they got famous over the next few years, yadda yadda. people get really weird and dumb when people they know/knew get famous; they inevitably want some stake in the fame, even if that's a negative one. like of course, i remember telling a lot of people in college, "Oh yeah, the Get-Up Kids--big deal. my friends the Crackbabies used to blow them off the stage." and of course all you get is a bunch of blank stares, and as i later realized, rightly so. that shit is just sour grapes. the truth is that it's really cool that they succeeded and they deserved it. were the Crackbabies a better band, IMHO? fuck yeah, but who cares; the Get-Up Kids were the ones who stuck it out and strove for and achieved fame and they deserve credit for that.

anyway, i know that's kind of a muddled point, but how many times have you heard someone say, "Oh, i knew x celebrity in college--he was such a dick," or "x celebrity was such a loser back then," etc. etc. i guess i understand the deal. everyone desires and craves fame in some respect, and if the closest they ever got to it was going to high school with someone who later became famous, they'll milk that for all it's worth.

aaaaaaanyway, what the hell am i talking about? the point is that i later got over my totally unfounded Get-Up Kids resentment and came to like them quite a bit. yeah, they're cheesy and sappy and all that, but they do that punk-rock puppy love thing so goddamn well, especially on the song "Action and Action" (from "Something to Write Home About," that record with the robots on the cover). this is a gorgeous song and it gets me jumping around every time. here is the awesome video:

there are many sociologically interesting things about this band's presentation and the general milieu of this video. one thing that interests me greatly is the use of humor. the video has a lot of stuff that reminds me of what Weezer did a bit earlier; it's like this cheeky, yet squeaky-clean skit-type humor, complete w/ subtitles and a totally silly plot involving the girl downstairs getting annoyed about the noise the Kids are making.

but have you noticed that there's absolutely NOTHING funny about the song itself? it's totally serious and sad and grandiose: "You taught me how to play the fool / Every mistake that I made, I couldn't have made without you." it occurs to me that if the presentation didn't swing the other way and get kind of goofy, no one would've tolerated this sappiness for a minute, at least not all the teenybopper punks that ate it up. it's like the Get-Up Kids are suggesting that they have a sense of humor, even though it's completely absent from the product itself, i.e., the music.

another thing that's great is how handily this video encapsulates emo fashion. check out the singer's textbook pompadour and the bassist's dorky glasses and ironic '70s KISS long-sleever. i'm not sure i can actually make one out, but you know there are at least three chain wallets being rocked up in that piece. this was quite a while ago, 'round '99, so i'm wondering how well established this whole look was by that time. now, and even a few years ago, you could easily throw together one of these ensembles without leaving the ground floor of Urban Outfitters, but maybe it was the Kids who really did it. Weezer was probably the watershed moment, but these guys fed the fire no doubt.

don't mean to slag on or condescend them. ok, maybe i do a little. but i honestly think this song is gorgeous and i play it pretty much everyday.

another song that's become a regular part of my musical regimen is "Alive with the Glory of Love" by "Say Anything." if you think about the Get-Up Kids as the classical model for poppy emo, Say Anything would be the postmodern version of the style. there's still that cloying but charming diaristic gush, that suburban-white-kid-railing-against-the-suburbs vibe (hey, was Rush's "Subdivisions" the first emo song?!?) and the super-sugary hooks, but there's also this new jaded-ness, this ambivalence about fitting into that model.

Max Bemis is Say Anything's main dude, and he's pretty keen on deromanticizing cliches of teen romance. he's a stoner, a pervert, a Web junkie and he's got no problem admitting it: on "Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too," he sings, "...for an eternity, I'd lay in bed / In my boxers, half-stoned, with a pillow under my head...." and "When she described her underwear / I forgot all the rules my rabbit taught me in the old shul." there's this total ambivalence about representing the paragon of chaste prepubescence embodied in that Get-Up Kids video.

but he seems to have the same sort of fan following that the Kids did--the young guys and gals are wild about him. i guess Weezer took some darker turns and people stuck with them, but this strikes me as a real development for the genre. the Get-Up Kids not only dressed like, but purported in their lyrics to be as chivalrous and squeaky-clean as Buddy Holly (a figure referenced by Weezer, interestingly); Bemis knows he not that guy.

so "Alive with the Glory of Love" is my fave "Say Anything song. it's a somewhat ludicrous emo fanfare, with all these crazy genre nods. it's completely over-the-top and somewhat absurd, but also really heartfelt. at the beginning, Bemis sings, "When I watch you, wanna do you, right where you're standing. / Right on the foyer, on this dark day, right in plain view." (it's amazing to see/hear a whole roomful of teenagers singing along to that, as you can here: ) but then he moves onto these emo cliches like "I won't let them take you, no no." i have no idea what the song's really about, but i like the ambivalence of the message. plus it's unbelievably catchy. this guy's a real talent. the album "...Is a Real Boy" doesn't contain anything else halfway near as fun as this song, but it ain't bad.

here's sampler of texts mentioned in this piece:

Say Anything - Alive with the Glory of Love
Say Anything - Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too (plays when you visit the Say Anything site)
Get-Up Kids - Action and Action
Crackbabies [reprazent!] - Iconoclast


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Anonymous said...

dude, you're getting spammed. That's quite a compliment.

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