Thursday, August 20, 2015

Class Authenticity, The Rain In Spain & Sooonshiiiiiiine: On Alex Niven's Oasis' Definitely Maybe 33 1/3 Book

My cat hates it when I read because I'm not paying attention to him.
I feel bashful when I share with people that I like Oasis. One time at work I requested a desk copy from a book distributor of the original Oasis drummer's memoir (Oasis: The Truth: My Life as Oasis's Drummer by Tony McCarroll), and when it arrived, one of my co-workers opened the package and pulled it out and pinching it like it was contaminated underwear, he said, "Should I grab bag this?" I said, "Actually, I requested that book." I had to come clean; I thought I would have intercepted the package but he got to it before I did.

I've on the sly been reading books about Oasis and special Oasis-centered editions of Mojo and Uncut for years, and the only person that knows this is my husband, who makes fun of me. If Oasis ever comes up in conversation, he starts singing the refrain from My Fair Lady "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain," which I agree, does actually does sound like a line that would be in an Oasis song.

Has anybody done a mashup of Oasis and My Fair Lady? Because I can't possibly be the first person to make the connection of the working class Brit elevating their status by way of some sort of performance (a lower class Eliza Doolittle learning/performing the mannerisms of the upper class, the Gallagher brothers elevating their status from working class to British nouveau riche by creating/performing music etc etc etc bla bla bla).

when there's no sooonshiiiiiiine
And that's where Alex Niven's 33 1/3 book about Oasis' first album Definitely Maybe comes in. But I'll get to that in a minute.

My relationship with Oasis is a carryover from a previous boyfriend of many years ago who got me into them. Previous to him, I had always kind of found them boring. However, when someone can act as a tour guide for a band and expose you to the right songs with the right introductory explanation, that's where the appreciation can come in. You would think after the relationship ended I would not want to have listened to a band that my ex was into, but amazingly, the amount of time I had to lay off Oasis was relatively short, and then Oasis was reintegrated into my heavy rotation. And in fact, even though at that point I'd only had the first two Oasis albums and a variety of other B sides, it was actually the boyfriend after him (now my husband), who gifted me the third Oasis album, Be Here Now. That third album is the one that Noel Gallagher told Chuck Klosterman in a 2011 interview on grantland.com that during the recording "We were taking all the cocaine we could possibly find," which explains its less than stellar success.

Oasis' first two albums (Definitely Maybe and (What's the Story) Morning Glory?) are solid. Although there are a fair number of songs from later Oasis albums that I do like quite a bit, somehow there weren't any Oasis albums that captured the anthemic energy of those two albums. The more recent work made by the Gallagher brothers, independent of each other after the breakup of Oasis, lacks the synergistic awesomeness that happens when they were in a band together.

Sidetone: I saw some hilarious press conference with Noel Gallagher (the elder brother and primary song writer for Oasis) when Oasis broke up. I could have sworn that he described this one event that preceded the breakup of the band. Liam (the younger brother and the one with the iconic Oasis snarly whine that people tend to equate with the band) asked Noel if the Oasis tourbook for the next tour could feature his clothing line Pretty Green. Noel said no, which made Liam so angry he smashed a guitar. His own guitar. This is, of course, hilarious to me.

Independent of each other, the Gallagher brothers pursued their own bands. Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds have a few good songs and Liam Gallagher's now defunct band Beady Eye had a few good songs, but both projects were missing the ingredients that the other brother puts in it. Noel's band is missing Liam's Mancunian drawly sneering sass, and Liam's band is missing Noel's songwriting input. At this very moment I'm listening to the High Flying Birds album "Chasing Yesterday" on Spotify and maybe it's because it's 12:42am on a Wednesday, but I'm hardly feeling moved to do air guitar moves. Is that a saxophone? Is that why Liam Tweeted on May 7th of this year, "Just coz you have a SAXAPHONE on your new record and you think your all Pink Floyd LG x"? Because that's about when this album dropped. I should also add that Liam then Tweeted "Everybody knows your just another PRICK in the wall LG x" which in spite of the spelling error, is actually pretty funny.

So, both brothers are aging, estranged from each other beyond just their notorious constant bickering, making music that isn't quite as awesome as they once did when they were together in the 90s, ruling British music with anthemic rock. Something about it is sad to me.

Oasis very much appeals to the part of me that loves anthemic guitar-driven rock music, which I refer to as the Guitar Center part of my personality. I do love me a good anthemic rock song.

Now would be a good time to mention that the ex-boyfriend who got me into Oasis also gave me a bunch of the guitar tablature for Oasis songs that I liked. After much practice I could fake my way through a few of them, but never in a way that wasn't ridiculously embarrassing, accompanied by a lot pausing and me going, "Wait! Wait!" while switching cords. Mostly what I remember though is that Wonder Wall requires a capo (this, because the Oasis Tour Guide boyfriend showed me), that Noel Gallagher writes a lot of music with alternating D and D sus chords, and that Cast No Shadow was sort of easy to play.

After reading Alex Niven's book: Oasis' Definitely Maybe book, from the 33 1/3 series (Bloomsbury), I had half a mind to pull the guitar back out and give some Oasis songs another go (although the aforementioned songs are actually on Morning Glory), but come on. Honestly, NoWaysis. The most that I'm willing to do is listen to Oasis in the car. P.S. Wonder Wall is actually one of the more boring Oasis songs. No wonder everybody thinks Oasis is boring. They're better when they're doing arena rock. Also, NOBODY wants to hear me snarl whine my way through Oasis at karaoke. "But we really want to watch a short Jewess from northshore Chicago perform Rock'n'Roll Star at the American Legion Hall" said ABSOLUTELY NO ONE.

That is, except for my husband. He did tell me that he thought my Cigarettes and Alcohol rendition was pretty rocking. So I guess that's a thing. I did get a karaoke disc with a bunch of Oasis songs but it's shitty and low quality, and the lyric graphics are all janky and get jumbled on the screen. Boooooo.

So as a semi-closeted Oasis fan, I enjoyed Niven's book. For one, he defends accusations of Oasis making simple and derivative music, and the difference between pastiche and plagiarism (and how depending on the musician's class, the same act can unfairly be considered one or the other), and how class plays into the Oasis narrative. I found the book to be thoughtful and worded so articulately that if there was anybody sitting next to me I would have read them the passages I was putting stars next to.

In the foreward Niven writes, "It was also important to me to try to show that even the most simplest-seeming pop music can contain multitudes of meaning." I couldn't agree more. We all know that as an audience member, the meaning we derive from a song may not actually be in the songwriter's intent. Sometimes meaning can be derived from considering the song through a lens unintended by the writer and performer. We might use a historical lens, a sociological lens, or a critical lens used by those who consider pop an artform worthy of intellectual digestion. I've always thought that no matter what the topic, there is always something intelligent to be said about it. It may require some processing, or if it's about some work of art what you come up with may not be compatible with what the creator intended, or it may even be cynical and snarky, but the potential is there for thoughtfulness on any topic. Hence, any pop song "can contain multitudes of meaning," as Niven writes.

I also loved Niven's point defending Oasis' musical output as being a creatively successful work that is more than just simplistic stealing on page 25:

"When middle-class musicians resort to appropriation and collage it is often applauded as 'allusion' or 'pastiche', when working-class musicians do it they are dismissed as plagiarists, or prosecuted as outright thieves. The notion - still popular in some quarters - that Oasis were chancers who rose above their station by stealing other bands' creative property is patronizing and ultimately untenable. Whatever can be said about their musical conservatism in later years, on Definitely Maybe, Oasis's appropriation of the past was just as valid, and just as creatively successful, as the sample tapestries on Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions."

Amen.

At the beginning of the book, Niven included a lengthy Dostoevsky quote from The Brothers Karamazov, about being rejected by the unforgiving world, but then watering the earth with one's tears that then bring forth fruit. It's making art from one's grief. It's a fitting quote for the story of a band confined by the limits of their membership to dead end working class, but making art inspired by dreams of escaping their station, which Niven posits is a large part of the Oasis narrative.

I love the image of the Gallagher brothers (and the rest of the band) against the world that looks down on them (even though everyone knows they never really got along). So the idea of the band being years past the prime of their success of the first two albums (not to mention broken up) creates a weirdly poetic wistfulness in me, especially considering I wasn't even all that into them until after their first two albums had already peaked. And before you jump in and go "Well maybe you're being wistful for the relationship with the Oasis tour guide boyfriend" I feel it important to say that I was really unhappy in that relationship because it was a really unhappy time in my life.

What I want to say is that the wistfulness comes from the part of my personality that gets really caught up in other people's narratives, especially performers' story arcs, like for example Britney's rise and fall and rise again (but as her current Zombney the Undead state where she's been replaced by an automaton, managed by other people).

But the truth is that I think the wistfulness comes from the part of my psyche that fears the decay of getting old, past one's prime, sick, or even worse, what happens when all your dreams come true and then you're not left with anything to look forward to (which is why I think some celebrities turn to religion in their "YES BUT WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!!" moments). The Gallagher brothers and their fellow Oasisians are hardly decaying and I'm happier as I get older, but it's probably true that there's my fear of death in there somewhere. Queue up the Andrew Lloyd Webber music to accompany the one-time glamour feline singing about her days in the sun, unsuccessfully copying dance moves of the younger cats, but alone and frail, unable to capture the magic of the Ball. And so on.

Niven writes about Oasis that they were confined as "losers in a failing city" then escaped their economic and social status by becoming rock stars. He describes it excellently on page 18:

"In 'Rock'n'Roll Star', Noel Gallagher's alternative plan was to get a car and drive it as far as he could away from Manchester, a plan that was ambitious given that he had no money and had never learned to drive."

Ah yes, even part of the class you might not even have the background to exist within it once your there. How very Eliza Doolittle.

A band is on top of the world, then they get bloated and it all falls apart. I will always be pulled into the rock and roll narrative. After all, the rise and fall is the greatest story ever told. Of course it's better if the narrative denouements out with a rise again, but the climb back to the top is often pretty artificial. We all age, we all die, or at least we all have to live in the real world where it isn't always the high of being on top again: grocery shopping, daily living, paying bills, trimming your toenails -- life is not just one big montage of being on top all the time. Sometimes it's boring.

All this is to say that the real problem with the rock and roll narrative is that often it's a rise and fall that may or may not have a rise again, but if it does have a rise again, the rise never recaptures the magic and vitality of the first initial rise. This makes sense to me. For one, everyone loves an origin story and sequels are never as good as the origin stories, the Oasis origin story being one of a working class band becoming extremely successful such that for Brits, being a soccer hooligan became cool, (as opposed to the art school snobbiness of a band like Blur, the sort of anti-Oasis). But more to the point, the narrative does not account for people getting older or ending the band. Nobody wants to watch rock stars age.

Niven sums it up best on page 20:

"After Oasis really became famous, after they finally, decisively escaped from Manchester, the strength of their idea that pop music can allow anybody to achieve empowerment in a moment of liberation would be undermined by the boring reality of their status as lofty celebrities. When you are actually a rock star, singing about the fact to crowds of thousands every night is not a statement of idealism. It's a description of a daily work routine."

Ah, the bloating. It's as if to say their narrative went from underdog to the overweight dog of the status quo. In the documentary Live Forever: The Rise and Fall of Brit Pop, Louise Wener, former lead singer of the Britpop band Sleeper, talks about Noel getting invited to Downing Street to see Tony Blair. She said of Noel's visit how "Everything he was about, he used to not "belong" to anybody, and then suddenly he did, he was right in their pocket, and in that very instant, he was neutered, like someone had just come in with a knife and cut his bullocks off."

If there was the Oasis biopic (there seemed to be some discussion around 2011, but it seemed like it never really panned out), that visit would be the moment where it's clear the band went from being the band that united the classes, their music played ubiquitously in bars, discos, weddings, just, everywhere in Britain with anthemic "We're in this togetherness," to a sort of resented and resentful cynical parody of themselves. "Cynicism is the patois of the status quo," Niven writes on the first page of his book, as if to remind us that the rock and roll rise and fall ends in the band leaving youthful earnest rebellion behind and turning to jaded cynicism.

I loved Niven's discussion of Britpop. In this quote, he's referring the the song Shakermaker, which ripped off part of the I'd Like to Buy a World a Coke jingle, which well, Coke is pretty much a symbol of consumerism. Oasis was considered to be the more sort of authentic, less middle class alterna contemporaries Blur, Suede and Elastica. I enjoy the overview laid out so articulately here, with a little help from critic Jon Savage as well, on page 27:

page 27. Thanks, Google Books!
The sentiment about Britpop being composed of ill-informed bougie bands singing about working class is the classic "You're a suburban poseur, why are you complaining about gentrification in your city block?!" argument. I don't know if it's really warranted because I'm sure it's more complicated than that. And to be fair, I do like Blur, Suede and Elastica. But I do like the quote's overview of the different bands within Britpop and what they each tended to symbolize, the implication being that Oasis represented an authentic honest working class while wanting to be the upper class, while many other bands in Britpop merely wanted to criticize the middle and upper class, attempting to identify with the lower class.

I never thought I would say this but I think I just wrote a piece on how the career trajectory of Oasis symbolizes death. This wasn't quite what I envisioned in discussing a band that appeals to my interest in anthemic rock which is usually celebratory, but I suppose any story with a linear arc only goes in a single direction, forwards, and nothing lasts forever. Well, as long as you don't have to listen to me play any of these songs on the guitar it'll be fine.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Thoughtful & Hilarious, Which Is What I Always Wanted School To Be Like: Thoughts on Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

I guess Aziz Ansari is mostly known for his work in the entertainment industry, but for his book Modern Romance he took his comedy skills and used them to comment on dissertation level research he did with the help of a sociologist. They collected mass amounts of field data from different countries about dating, in a time where texting and social networking technology is so prolifically intertwined in our lives. It's thoughtful and hilarious, which is what I always wanted school to be like.

He draws some conclusions about modern dating based on his data, so there's some good advice about dating. And even though I'm married and am not looking into dating, nor would I consider an open marriage, I can still appreciate this book; you don't have to be the representative sample of the research to enjoy its results. Also, it made me think about the fact that I didn't grow up or date in an age where much of my own communication was done via texts (I got married in 2002), so it was pretty eye-opening to see how that type of technology configures into dating now.

There are two really good quotes I enjoyed in this book.

This first one is in regards to the shift away from "companionate" marriage (such as arranged marriages where you might learn to love the person, or perhaps just finding a decent person to start a family with) to the soul mate marriage (marrying someone because you love them and they're what you consider to be your "soul mate"), (page 24):

"We want something that's very passionate, or boiling, from the get-go. In the past, people weren't looking for something boiling; they just needed some water. Once they found it and committed to a life together, they did their best to heat things up. Now, if things aren't boiling, committing to marriage seems premature."

It's pretty Fiddler On the Roof-y, all like, you know, the first time I met you was on our wedding day, for twenty-five years I've cooked your meals, milked the cow, given you children, I suppose I love you -- you sort of learn to love the spouse you end up with.

Sidenote: Has anyone made a drug called "Fiddler on the Roofie" and what would it do?

But honestly, I think if you meet someone and the water is boiling right away, even if you're extremely compatible, there are moments where the water is not boiling, or if it is, sometimes it's boiling with anger. After all, people are people, and even if they're "soul mates," arguments are still going to happen. It reminds me of something John Lydon wrote in Anger Is an Energy, about his wife, who is the love of his life. They have a deep intimacy and intense love, but they also have some crazy arguments. Lydon wrote about their relationship, "When you really love someone, you can practice hate in an enjoyable kind of a way," as if to say that when your bond is strong enough, you can power on through the arguments in a constructive or even enjoyable kind of a way.

Along the same lines of cultivating a deeper relationship, I also enjoyed another quote in Modern Romance (pg 247). It's advice about getting to know someone by properly investing in a person, giving a potential mate a fair chance before moving on to someone else, as is particularly common in on-line dating:

"Think about it in terms of the music of Flo Rida. When you hear his latest song, at first you think, Goddamn it, Flo Rida. You're just doing the same thing again, song after song. This song is nothing special at all. And by the tenth time you hear it, you're like FLO!!! YOU'VE DONE IT AGAIN! THIS IS A HIT, BABY!!!

In a sense we are all like that Flo Rida song: The more time you spend with us, the more you see how special we are. Social scientists refer to this as the Flo Rida Theory of Acquired Likability Through Repitition."

I can appreciate this. There are certainly songs, movies and albums that have taken a while to grow on me. I think music is a good way of talking about acquired likability. Sometimes I need to hear a something a few times just to make sense of it, especially if it has really complex or jarring harmonies. I think the acquired likability in terms of people is not that far removed from the "devil you know" theory; even the jerk you know is better than the person you don't know. That's why on Angel Wesley Wyndam-Pryce hired Harmony Kendall to be Angel's personal secretary, even though Harmony is clearly the enemy. Even the vampire you know is better than the unknown job applicant for a supernatural detective agency that you don't know. Why is that the example I came up with? I have no good answer for this.

Why is it that my two favorite quotes in the book have to do with heating up things over time? Good question! Well, one of the points Ansari makes based on his research is that a good way to develop a relationship is investing time in a person before writing them off, which seems like wise advice to me. However, I must admit that there is the smart ass voice in my head that says "Get to know someone so you can have adequate confidence that you've made the right decision in writing them off." Perhaps it's worse when someone dumps you after they get to know you because they have a fully informed opinion of your loserness. It's almost like that voice in my head is saying this:

If someone spends 5 minutes with you and writes you off, you can say they're the asshole. If someone spends 5 years with you and writes you off, you can say you're the asshole. They have their evidence to build the case of your assholery. They have legitmately gotten to know the real you and are able to fully judge you. That smarts!

I'm a little embarrassed that this is rapidly turning into what sounds like an entry in Bridget Jones Diary.

Now, rationally I understand relationships are two way streets, and sometimes they don't work out, and it's not all one person's fault. I used to go to a therapist who did a lot of couples counseling, and she said that she thought the three things that cause stress in marriages tend to be time, money and sex. So those things can obviously figure in to relationships as well, and they're complicated topics. One thing I took away from that was that it's a good idea, when people get married, to have one joint account for things they share, like rent, groceries, utilities, dining out with each other. Each partner though, should have their own bank account for personal expenses, like clothes, gifts, music, luxury items, etc. That way there's no arguing about finances. To this day my husband and I do this and it has always worked out for us. I advise everybody to do this as well.

Aren't you glad you read this? Because I'm sure you were really tuning in to hear about how my husband and I organize our finances. My credit history! One for the ages.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Elegance of Nothingness and A Slice of Reality Loaf

I enjoyed considering what types of parallel universes could be theoretically possible as per Brian Greens's The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos. Some suggestions included a universe that's really multiple universes (a multiverse) each separated by different "bubbles," a universe where we're really just a computer program (sort of like The Matrix does Tron does the ol' metaphyscial how-can-we-disprove-we're-not-just-a-brain-in-a-vat situation), or my favorite: reality is a big loaf that we're really just seeing is one slice of it. It gives the term "homeslice" a whole new meaning. Also, the idea of thinking of reality as one big loaf made everything so adorable I just couldn't handle it, especially because I think of my cat as a loaf, so of course, a cat loaf reality IS CLEARLY THE MOST EXCELLENT THING EVER.

cat loaf multiverse
I enjoyed reading this book right before bed in the hopes that I'd have some real awesome dreams. However, I have to take pills that help me sleep, and they kick in quicker when I lay in bed and read, which means that I often don't get much read before bed. I should add that falling asleep getting loosey-goosey on medication is probably not the most optimal situation conducive to consuming a book about physics. That being said, I can only blame the sleeping pills for so much. This book wasn't exactly all easy to get through for me. It took me a long time to get through The Hidden Reality. Even if I was totally awake, there were parts I had to re-read over and over to understand them. I didn't let that stop me, especially considering there were many parts that were conversational that I very much enjoyed, but I'll be honest, there were parts that I don't know how much of it I can truly say I fully understood.

I always have a few books going at once, which is helpful in a situation like this, where the book is a bit more challenging. It helps me from getting too frustrated. Sometimes I'll go read other stuff for weeks and then come back to a book. For the most part, the only books I tend to be monogamous to and only read without some other book action on the side, are fiction books. I can read fiction faster without interrupting them with other books (I guess I get sucked into the narrative, the last two books of fiction that I enjoyed very much being Catie Disabato's The Ghost Network and also Gareth P. Jones' No True Echo), but science books, unless they're super awesome (like books by Mary Roach or Diane Ackerman), those take me longer. Sometimes though, a book of any genre will pull ahead in front of the pack and demand all my time, ones where I'm like, No, I don't want to go out, I want to stay home and read this book, as I get further in, and it will take the lead because after the initial beginning investment of a hundred pages or so, I'll get pulled in more, and that will take the lead until I finish it, while all the other books get put on the back burner. (Recently the book that pulled ahead was John Lydon's Anger Is An Energy: My Life Uncensored, which is miles ahead of his last book Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs. Perhaps this is because he is also significantly older and wiser. I was sad when the book was over. My mom used to say that she was sad when she finished a good book because it was like losing a friend, and I know exactly what she meant.)

There are some really good quotes in The Hidden Reality. One that I enjoyed was about the unified theory (the idea that there's some theory or equation that can explain, like, everything). The author had a conversation with a philosophy professor in college who told him (pg 337):

"Let's say you find the unified theory. Would that really provide the answers you're looking for? Wouldn't you still be left asking why that particular theory, and not another, was the correct theory of the universe?"

I know I'm not covering any new ground here when I say that we can all pretty much agree that science doesn't really explain everything we want it to; it only disproves things that are not true, and an explanation is only a theory until it is proven false. And then the disproven theory isn't even a theory, it's just an explanation dead in the water.

Does this mean we can't have confidence that our explanations we accept as being the current up-to-date answers are correct? This makes me sad, that we can't ever really be 100% sure that we're right about something, and that probably we'll never know all the answers. I'm always afraid I'm going to die before I ever get any real satisfactory answers about things. Specifically, I'm afraid something tragic will happen to me, like a bridge will collapse when I'm on it or something, and that not only will I not live long enough to get some real explanations to big questions but also that I won't live long enough to find out what happened to Agent Cooper in the Black Lodge, which will supposedly be answered when Twin Peaks reemerges in 2017.

Accepted theories getting proven wrong over time is only a few degrees removed from the theory suggested by Mac on It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia when he says, "Science is a liar sometimes." He labels a series of past scientists who have a bunch of right answers but get some parts wrong, as a "Bitch!"

How are we ever supposed to get to the bottom of anything?
No matter how on the money some theories are, inevitably parts of them end up on the cutting room floor because newer developments illuminate more answers, which means I don't have 100% confidence that I will ever get some solid answers.

Another interesting point The Hidden Reality makes, is about how bizarre it is that the universe exists at all, considering how much energy/time/space is required for that to happen. On page 339 he had a very poetic angle on somethingness and nothingness (pardon the liberties I took shortening the quote):

"But because nothing also seems so vastly simpler than something -- no laws at work, no matter to play, no space to inhibit, no time to unfurl...Why isn't there nothingness? Nothingness would have been decidedly elegant."

It's kind of fascinating that there is anything at all really. But I can totally understand this. I'm continually shocked when shit gets done, just shocked that somebody accomplished something. When a building gets built, an event gets planned, a road gets paved, an operation happens, or any kind of project really, I kind of marvel that somebody followed through on something. I feel like getting anything done takes so much work and it's such a struggle, especially considering how easy it is to lose momentum when something is taking longer than you expect. I'm in a perpetual state that's a cross between laziness and low-grade helplessness, so I can appreciate it all the more when somebody makes something happen. That's why it makes sense to me that we should find it shocking that the universe exists at all, because honestly, that'd be so much easier for the universe, to just not exist at all. It would be considerably less effort. It's kind of amazing that the universe continues to expand, considering how hard I know it is to just, well, keep going. Indeed, nothingness would have been "decidedly elegant," because being a slacker is so much easier.

Another point I'd like to add in talking about this book, and I'll just say it: one might argue that I'm intellectually lazy. I want explanations for things, but I don't want any actual equations. How many people get into astronomy and then lose interest in it because they have to learn physics? I'm sure I'm not the first asshole to fall in love with stars exploding and the rings of Saturn, only to realize that to really study that stuff you have to do things with numbers and equal signs, which makes me go, "Nah, fuck it." Sure, I'll watch Cosmos and love it, but if you want me to do anything beyond marveling at the universe, like actually do some math, I'm out. I bet lots of people secretly think I want answers! But I don't want to do the work to fully understand them!

That being said, even though I don't have any particular fascination with numbers, there are a couple really good quotes about the subject of math in The Hidden Reality. On page 341, Greene writes:

"A couple years ago, in a public debate...I said that I could imagine an alien encounter during which, in response to learning of our scientific theories, the aliens remark, 'Oh math. We tried that for a while. At first it seemed promising, but ultimately it was a dead end. Here, let us show you how it really works.' But, to continue with my own vacillation, I don't know how the aliens would actually finish the sentence, and with a broad enough definition of mathematics (e.g., the logical deductions following from a set of assumptions), I'm not even sure what kind of answers wouldn't amount to math."

I love this, it's to say that math is just explaining the experience of the world, which is why I loved when he wrote a few pages later (pg 344), "Reality is how math feels."

Is there an equation that would explain how I feel like getting things done is so often lugubrious and time-consuming? Is there a reality in which I'm in a different slice of the reality loaf and I get satisfactory answers to things? How do they get the cat to pose for the camera with the bread on it's head?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Mix Tape #11 Download

http://www.lizmasonisawesome.com/http___lizmasonisawesome.com/Sounds/Entries/2015/7/29_Dance_Dance_Party_Party_Workout_Mix_Tape_11_Download.html

Here's a link to stream or download my most recent mix. Technically it's a dance mix for working out, but I also find it good for running or just sort of well, partying, whatever party means to you.

This particular mix is 21 songs in one hour. Totally not intentional. Some songs are pretty short but with others, well, it's just that when I stream stuff together I cross fade, so the beginning and ends of songs are a lot less drawn out. And if a song is awesome but has parts that are a bit of a drag to dance to, well out those parts go. It's like just taking the money shots of songs I like. What a nice image to plant. You're welcome!

I DJ under the mixmaster moniker MC Escher for Dance Dance Party Party (DDPP), where I am also a “den mother” for the Wednesday night sessions here in Chicago. It's a one hour dance party for the ladies. This was my most recent mix for the session on 7/29/15.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Performances Coming Up

I made this flyer! I do love clip art! Champagne and sardines. Breakfast of champions!

Two shows I'm performing in this week:

1. Blue Ribbon Glee Club, Chicago's punk rock a capella choir: Thursday, July 30th at Martyrs, with Spears & Gears (Britney Spears steampunk cabaret cover band), Eli August at the Abandoned Buildings.  Facebook invite here. I'll be performing in both BRGC and Spears & Gears.

2.  Blue Ribbon Glee Club with The Siderunners and Warsaw Vices, Monday, August 3rd, Cafe Mustache. Facebook invite here. I'll be performing in both BRGC.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Populist But Also Idiosyncratic: Onto The Next, Next Level


Although most things other than printed matter don't sell well at Quimby's, occasionally people consign CDs and records. We do sell a CD and a record by Milwaukee rapper Juiceboxxx that must have been consigned with us around 2006 or so. I don't remember the exact date; I'd have to go back to work at sit down in front of the computer and take a look. Around that time a couple of my co-workers were folks that did a lot of DJing, and so it does not surprise me that we had more to sell at the time that might have been music-related. It tends to be that whoever is employed at the time puts their stamp on the store by reaching out to artists who are in their sphere of interests and acquaintance. Because the store sells a lot of items on a no-risk pay-as-it-sells consignment method, the store sometimes ends up reflecting the interests of the folks working there (at least to some degree).

Quimby's also sells a lot of art comics, some of which are by Providence, RI-based collective Fort Thunder and their brethren/sistren Paper Rad that garnered acclaim with hip comics enthusiasts and was included Whitney Biennal. At some point Juiceboxxx had some involvement with Fort Thunder; I think he may have dated somebody involved in that art scene and sort of incorporated the art and spirit of it as part of his own artistic expression. He uses Thunder in a lot of song titles and on his blog writes about how he's in the Thunder Zone, etc. It makes sense that Quimby's sells these types of comics as well as music by an artist that in some way has some artistic links to the comics.

The reason I bring the link up is because of the book I read recently, which was Leon Neyfakh's The Next Next Level: A Story of Rap, Friendship, and Almost Giving Up, which incidentally yes, we do sell it at Quimby's. I read it because I was sent a sample copy by the publisher (Melville House). They contacted the store to tell us one of their authors was going to be passing through town, and would it be OK if he stopped into the store to introduce himself. It's a thing publishers do.

I'm not sure I would necessarily have moved the book up to the front of my reading queue unless Melville House hadn't sent the author to visit me as well as a sample copy of the book, but I guess that's what publishers want, right? It stands to reason that a publisher would send a sample copy of a book to the person in the bookstore who does the ordering. I'll be honest though: I get sent a lot of sample copies of things from lots of publishers and distributors, and I don't necessarily read them all. If it does catch my fancy, I'll read the book and then sometimes get jazzed about it. Maybe I might even even blog about it. Then if I think it's a good fit for the store, I'll order it to sell because I think the customers might like it too. I might even pimp the book in some way to customers if I'm really into it, which might help sell the book (but not always). This is all exactly what publishers want to happen, and the entire time I am acutely aware of this. Well, guess what? If the book is actually good, then I don't mind this manipulative courting of me as a book orderer and seller. All of this being said, the sample copies of books all the publishers send aren't necessarily always good, and sometimes even if they are, and I order a title for the store, it might not necessarily sell. Sometimes we return books if they don't sell, and it might break my heart because it's a great book. I should also add that often great books sell well in the beginning but eventually the sales taper off because it's not new anymore, and all the people who are going to buy it from us have bought it. What can I do? The public speaks with their pocket books.

So anyway, Melville House sent me a sample copy of Leon's book, which at the time wasn't out yet (but is now) and then a few days later the author stopped in, who, among other things, is a reporter for Slate. (This particular publisher has sent authors to introduce themselves in the past, and they tend to be fun, arty people who write books that for the most part I like. I feel obligated to add that one time we did an event with a Melville House author who was French and who wrote a kind of steampunky book, and when he did the event he didn't know that the event was one where people were expecting him to read from the book. I guess the French tradition is only to sign books, n'est-ce pas? So I guess he was sort of taken off guard. Mon dieu!)

The The Next Next Level started out as an essay in the literary journal N+1, the very issue I have in my bathroom. I hadn't made it to that essay yet. In fact, that copy of N+1 has what in the magazine distribution industry call a "faced" cover, meaning that when a newer issue comes out, the covers of the previous issues are sent back to the distributor to prove they didn't sell, the price of which, is credited to the bookstore's account to use against future due invoices. That means the bookseller can take home the old issue with the missing cover. This also means I am perpetually an issue behind in all my magazine reading. If I have a faced mag or lit journal, I consume it with a much more sort of laissez-faire approach; I might get miso soup all over it at the kitchen table while reading it, or I might read it only when I'm in the bath, maybe getting water all over it. Sometimes it gets mildewy before I even get to finishing it. If I get to finishing it. That issue of N+1? Still haven't finished it. But I have gotten to that article since then.

When I met the author, I was charmed by the author's description of the book. He stopped by before the store opened, and we had a really nice talk. It was one of those discussions that I came away from it intellectually stimulated and totally inspired. Like, you know, Radiolab got mentioned. You know, one of those discussions. The perfect mix of highbrow and lowbrow, where the book was really just a jumping off point for a juicy pop-culture-and-this-is-how-it-relates-to-life sort of things, some of which I wish I'd written down after he left. Why don't I write down this shit right after it happens? And then later I remember so little of it. After I have a good discussion with somebody, I need to go write it all down before it falls away. But life does not unfold that way. I was at work, for one thing. (But! Also! Another point! Why do I always feel the need to document stuff? I've always been this way. I remember once as a kid deciding that it was important that I write down all the animals I could think of. And then I had anxiety about how overwhelming of a task it was. What was I going to do with the list anyway? Submit it for review to The Atlantic?)

BUT ANYWAY (again), ("anyway" should be tattooed on my body somewhere; it is my anchor for pulling me back into the main point of my articles, essays and conversations), the author told me about the book, which comes out of his personal experiences with Juiceboxxx, who he knew growing up as a teenager in the music scene in the Midwest. Leon goes on to have a very adult-y adult life and Juiceboxx continues onto an arty artist life. There's stuff about what happens when their paths cross and then don't cross and then cross again and so on. And it's kind of a coming of age book too. Later, after I read the book, I realized the book is kind of a meditation on living a life of art versus leading the life of one who consumes the art.

By the end of the discussion I had with the author, I was like, Maybe I better go spend some time with this music and with this book, and Leon said he would send me some links to get the real flavor of the music (I guess Juiceboxxx's amazing live performances are what really pulls people in initially), one of which was a Juiceboxxx performance on Chicago community access TV show Chic-a-go-go (one of the many projects of zinester/writer/auteur Jake Austen). This performance made me laugh, because one of the many awesome things about Chic-a-go-go is the fact that it's a kids show with performances that are kid-friendly but not necessarily directed at kids, the upshot being that punk bands will play but there will be little kids roaming around all over the place during the performance, often not necessarily even paying attention to the performers, which makes for hilarious and surreal viewing.

So then of course I looked/watched/listened to Leon's links and made a Spotify playlist, listened to the Juiceboxxx stuff we had at work (OK, maybe not the record; I'd have to lug that home where the turntable is, and I never think of it when I'm at work). It reminded me of a more sort of right-brained MC Lars, and there were some excellent jams that are definitely going on some future mixes. But even if I didn't like the music I probably still would have liked the book, because like really good writing, even if the topic isn't something that jazzes you, if the writing is compelling it doesn't matter. That Nick Hornby book Songbook? Great writing about music. Great writing, period. But the actual songs when you listen to them? Meh. But I'm alright with that.

There are many hilarious and pithy things in this book: the description of the difference between "genius" and "critic," how the author's wife leaves the room whenever he start talking about Juiceboxx, and the discussion of what name to exactly call Juiceboxxx (Juice? Mr. Juice?) (In an e-mail to Leon I suggested Olivia Newton-Juiceboxxx. I should add that Sir Juice-a-lot would also be awesome.)

When I told Leon that I found parts of the book really funny, he thanked me and said that it does not come naturally to him, which I found endearing. He also, in his book, talks about something else he doesn't feel natural doing, and that is dancing, which although I am a dance maniac, I still enjoyed his writing about it. On page 85 he writes:

Part of the problem might be that it strikes me as deranged and unethical to be moving around in ways that basically force the people in my immediate vicinity to imagine me having sex. The rest is that it's not in me, just like loving "Raw Power" isn't in me, as if I'm missing the receptors necessary to truly connect with music and with other people using nothing but my "body."

As you can see, I can't even use that word without putting scare quotes around it. It just feels gross to me, and reminds me, in an ironically visceral way, of how left out I have always felt in situations in which I was invited to undergo some physically transcendent collective experience.

Yessssss!! While it is true that I LOVE dancing (and even help run an all-lady dance party on Wednesday nights), it is also true that I am never comfortable where dance parties turn into everyone running in a circle during one of those new-folk-clap-along-jamborees, because it makes me super self-conscious that I'm supposed to look like I'm feeling ecstatically joyous; the self-consciousness I feel during it is more potent then the joy I'd supposedly be getting out of it; I can't seem to get out of my head on those type of scenarios. And I totally understand how for some people, it's really uncomfortable being commanded to dance, especially if you don't do it regularly or don't have a lot of moves in your arsenal.

I will also add that I'm not into being imperatively commanded to clap along/hoot/holler when a performer demands it from the stage. (I will only clap and hoot and holler of my own accord, thank you.) I will never respond when a performer asks for the ladies in the house to scream or when they shout, "I CAN'T HEAR YOU." I don't do call and response. Call me entitled, but I paid to see them, not to interact with them. That is, interact with them in any way other than enjoying their performance.

On page 87 I love this discussion of "dance punk" bands like LCD Sound System and how they're popularity was interesting because it suddenly became cool for indie rock fans to really "have fun" in a way that was about dancing, as opposed to just enjoying the music (although yes, I do like LCD Sound System). This made Leon feel guilty because he didn't enjoy dancing, which somehow made him feel like he wasn't enlightened. He felt a little betrayed by alternative culture. Here's the part I really like:

...The day I realized that the imperative to only ever follow your gut and never think about anything amounted to a kind of bullying -- was the day I finally became a well-adjusted, happy adult.

THANK GOD, somebody had to say it. "Follow your gut" in the context of "just let it go and dance" is not that easy for everybody. And I'm saying this as someone who who both leads weekly dance parties and meditates for 20 minutes twice a day. I'm not denying the existence of intuition, I'm denying the effectiveness of commanding people to "just don't think about anything."

On pages 104 and 105 Leon writes about Juiceboxxx's blog (where Juiceboxxx talks about the type of music he's really into, and how detail-oriented that interest manifests: ecstatic descriptions of mixes, recorded ephemera, etc.) He uses Juice's interests as they manifest on his blog as an example to illustrate the difference between "taste" and "preferences," Juice being the rare breed of someone who has the former though most people have the latter:

As far as I'm concerned, this is pretty much the definition of having taste. And to be clear, when I say "taste" I'm not talking about refinement but sensibility: an idiosyncratic but consistent mechanism that draws you to certain things in the world and motivates you to seek them out. Most of us don't have such a mechanism: instead, we have preferences, meaning we stick our heads out of our holes every once in a while, inhale whatever books, movies, music and TV shows are in the air as they fly past us in the form of Twitter links and magazine articles, and then decide what of it we like and what we like less. This is why, ultimately even those of us who self-identify as being well-informed and engaged in culture end up being into more or less the same stuff as all our friends and acquaintances.

This is probably true for me. I think most of the time, my "preferences" rule over my "taste" (do I even have any taste? I have begun to really question that). I guess sometimes taste will win the fight when I get really obsessed with something, but for the most part I'm so inundated with different types of media offerings (books, music, movies, etc.) that just sifting through it doesn't lend me time to get obsessed with something in particular, as of late anyway. Maybe I'm just obsessed with the sifting process.

On page 129, Leon talks about Juiceboxxx DJing:

Someone on Twitter, he remembers, said recently that a great DJ "keeps the girls dancing and the nerds Shazam-ing...the point being that the perfect DJ mix is populist but also idiosyncratic.


The perfect DJ mix is "populist but also idiosyncratic." YESSSSSS. So true. On Wednesday dance mixes I've noticed that successful dance mixes are ones that have both songs or artists people might sort of recognize but make sure to not have tracks that pander -- it's a fine line. When I DJ if I'm going for a populist angle, I might pick well known artists but lesser known songs by them. If it's a song that's been played before (yes, there's a database of everybody's songs played), I try to pick a remix or mashup of it -- just some version of it that is different. People want recognizability but they also want novelty. "Populist but also idiosyncratic." I've been using this quote a lot lately. It comes up in discussion of mixes, what songs to select for performing at karaoke or with the Blue Ribbon Glee Club, just, like everything.

In a lot of books I read the topics in the book end up being just sort of case studies about whatever the overarching theme the book is really about. I assume it isn't like the author is like "I have this point to make! And this music/movie/TV show I'm writing about illustrates my point perfectly!" Most likely, they're really into something, and when they're writing the book or essay about it, whatever that overarching "point" comes to be is usually the last thing that crystalizes -- the "SO WHAT" of the piece, as one of my teachers once said, the SO WHAT being the part of the piece  that says why the point they're making is important (such as "this novel subverts the role of bla, bla, bla, which is important because culturally, we tend to" and so on). I think that may be one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much was that  Juiceboxxx was in some ways, almost incidental to some of the observations the author was making about life, media consumption, personal growth, and so on.

I think Next, Next Level is being promoted as being the sort of book that's in line with Chuck Klosterman or Carl Wilson's Let's Talk About Love, which I can totally see. It is true that I enjoy both, so I guess it would stand to reason that I'd like this one too.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

3 Songs, 3 Writers, June Edition!


The most recent flyer I made for the next 3 Songs event at LiveWire Lounge, sponsored by Quimby's Bookstore. The last 3 Songs went so well, here's another one! I'll be MCing and also performing with the Blue Ribbon Glee Club. Sunday, June 28th. An early show at 6pm! When it's over you'll have your whole night ahead of you!