A few good things

Well, I can’t report on the new writing escapades because the writing thing happens after the blogging thing and, incidentally, after my brain has fully powered up for the day, but I can just comment on all the books and films and music I’ve been enjoying lately.

Which, thankfully, is a lot.

I mean, I usually keep one foot in the stream (not that I’m up-to-date—I seem to stumble onto my favorite things years if not DOZENS of years after it was first pronounced awesome. BUT the world is large, and I’m pretty sure it’s 3 dimensional rather than 2, so you can wander in your own direction at your own speed, right? Also, if we’re talking about pop music, I think there’s a critical cooling period that must be observed before an idiotic song becomes slightly faded and can be enjoyed with a little side salad of irony. And YES, you know I’m talking about you, Marc Anthony.)

Lost my train.

OH. Was saying that I try to keep one foot in the stream, but lately I really dropped off. Didn’t read anything for a month, didn’t listen to music. Sort of an arid winter here abouts.

Am mercifully back to my usual, however, and lately all the lovelies in the top picture as well as some forays into new music… which brought me to this fantastic music video. And let it be noted that I sort of love music videos. I don’t watch very many, because I’m pretty unthrilled with the super sexual ones (or the violent stuff. If the choice is between Grammy and prison, I usually vote prison). And that seems to be the major theme of many, so yeah I don’t watch a ton.

But also yes, I enjoy the unselfconscious ridiculousness. Because you have to be pretty shameless to star in a music video, right? I mean, the whole lip synching whilst making artsy faces thing is kind of fascinating. I can’t even imagine, to be honest. I think I would feel sort of uncomfortable in my plastic space pants and feel (more or less) foolish, eventually edging off the set with a sort of apologetic and baleful look at the director.

I am fascinated by people who don’t.

And in that vein, you really have to check out MIKA’s vid for his single “Rain.” I think it’s the most exuberant marriage of Shakespeare and video game sounds I’ve ever seen. Take a look and then tell me you don’t think of EVERY production of Midsummer‘s you’ve ever seen as this unfolds. And YES, it gets much more awesome as it continues. Wait for the fireworks. Literally.


Awesome, right?


Little Changes, Big Results

I worked at a coffee shop this morning. I’ve never really tried to do that before. I always figured the music and people and smells would distract me, but I drove to our local Caribou this morning, got myself a coffee and a breakfast sandwich, and worked for 2.5 hours.

Carl was right.

Sometimes a change of scene helps.

I’m working on a short article right now that started as an op-ed piece about my generation and divorce—and I guess the subject hasn’t changed even though everything else has had to shift as I do more and more research on the topic and realize that most media sources (and people) are operating with really outdated truisms.

Like the old chestnut about half of all American marriages ending in divorce. Yeah, that was never true. That one started as a gloomy projection if 1970 trends continued.* Which they didn’t. Divorce rates have actually been steadily declining since 1980, and yes some of that has to do with marriage rates also declining, but not all of it. I would have to look at the quote to be sure of the exact wording, but it looks like women who are college graduates and marry in their mid-twenties and later have around an 80% chance of making it.

Those are pretty encouraging odds.

I saw another study about Gen Y (18-35 year olds) showing that young people today rank parenthood as more important than marriage. So even while our odds of staying married are better, we seem to be less likely to “believe in” marriage.

I find all of this fascinating.

… Been typing this while waiting for my hair to dry so I can dash out and run some errands. Got to get a new blinker light for our car and really MUST stop at Target to peruse the new spring stuff. But the hair is still damp, so I’ll just let you know that we saw a movie called Animal Kingdom last night.

Which you would expect to be sort of gorgeous and full of cute animals.

Not so.

It’s about this drug/crime family in Melbourne, and the family’s gradual [warning! spoiler!] implosion. First one of the uncles gets murdered by the police. Then the remaining 3 uncles murder some police officers. Then the police gun down another uncle. Then primo evil uncle decided the kid’s girlfriend is a snitch. So he kills her. Then the kid starts talking to the police. Then the kid goes into witness protection. Then the grandmother comes up with this fantastic plan to KILL HER GRANDSON. Then some other crappy stuff happens. Then the kid shoots his uncle in the head.

Animal Kingdom.

Get it?

I got it, but I didn’t love it. I also didn’t hate it. I’m not a fan of violence, but the violence wasn’t graphic or gratuitous. It’s just a sad, probably fairly truthful account of how awful life can be.

And that’s all I got.

Am off to Target.

* EDIT: Although gloomy predictions are partially to blame, it also looks like the problem comes from trying to base the divorce rate on how many marriages take place each year vs. how many divorces take place. There are a couple of complicated problems with that, and if you’re curious you should go look it up since I’ll probably get it wrong if I try to explain in one sentence what it’s hard to grasp in 12. The other issue with blanket statements like 50% of marriages end in divorce (I mean, besides that fact that they might not even be true) is that it makes marriage sound like a crap shoot, when actually there’s really interesting and pretty detailed data about the factors played by lifestyle, income, age, and education in the statistics on divorce. Knowledge is power.

Documentary, my dear Watson

If you haven’t noticed, we’re avid documentary watchers in this house. I’ll watch them here and there—if I’m working out or scrapbooking or something like that—but I’m not an inspired picker. I tend to go with more obvious choices like the National Geographic specials and what-have-you.

I like those overly-saturated shots of coral reefs and cute baby cheetahs.

I’m cliche like that.

Carl usually finds the really good ones, and I know the unidentified They say you should never, ever bring the flat panel into the bedroom lest you disturb the sanctum of sleep or trouble the pool of tantric pleasure… but I have to tell you there are few things cozier than watching documentaries at one in the morning with a box of crackers between you and the cheese in easy reach.

So far the only downside are crumbs in the covers.

We endure.

We’re also happy to take recommendations. And in the spirit of exchange (and the Oscars this weekend—woot), here are some of our recent favs.

1. Exit Through The Gift Shop. I know I’ve mentioned this before, so apologies etc. But truly it’s the best documentary I’ve seen for a year at least. Funny, fascinating, weird world of street art. I’m not even into art, and I know nothing about graffiti, but I thoroughly enjoyed this ride.

2. The September Issue. Ok, I actually picked this one. It follows the staff at Vogue as they’re preparing, shooting, editing, and bickering over the September issue, the most important month for any fashion magazine. A fascinating look—not even at fashion—but at the people behind the empires: working, focused, creative, bickering, and sometimes ambivalent over the meaning of their work at the end of the day. It’s a good one.

3. Restrepo. So… I don’t know if you’ve noticed but we’re still in the USA’s longest war ever. Before you feel tempted to get huffy on either side of the equation, this documentary’s not especially political. It just follows a platoon of soldiers during their tour of duty in one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan. An amazing snapshot. Information is a good thing.

4. The Real Face of Jesus. This came out about a year ago and is a welcome update on the Shroud of Turin research out there. I don’t know that enjoyed is the right word, but we both put this one on our movie lists for the year.

5. The Cove. I’ve read articles now that question how skewed this documentary might be, but it sure is sad and infuriating to watch. It’s about a cove in Japan where dolphins are slaughtered every year… and the activists who are trying to bring the grisly truth to light.

6. I Have Never Forgotten You. Heartbreaking, interesting, inspiring, this one’s about Simon Wiesenthal, an Austrian-Jewish architect who survived the Holocaust and spent the rest of his life documenting and locating former Nazi soldiers and officials in order to bring them to trial. Not as fast-paced as some of the others, but a good one.

Those are the cream of our crop. We’re also eyeing up Waiting for Superman (education system in the USA), Food, Inc (if I work up the nerve), and a couple of others. It’ll be fun to see what wins at the Oscars this weekend and if we actually saw it. If you have any favorites, keep me posted.

Annie Lennox and the 1920s: Adventures in Cultural History

If you’ve talked to me in the last couple of months, you’re aware that researching for a new project is basically an experience of dazzling joy bordering on highs of illegal proportions, and researching the 1920s is—if possible—even more fun than usual.

No surprises there.

Was happily burying myself in WWI material, Bright Young Things, flappers, blunt cut bobs, the Ballets Russes, American jazz, insanely elaborate parties, excess, homosexuality, dying empires, National Socialism…

Somewhere in the mix two of my brothers stopped by Plyms to spend the weekend lolling on my couch and talking about books (two of my favorite activities in the world). “Oh,” said Wol. “BTDubs, you HAVE to see this music video. Do you like Annie Lennox?”

To be honest, all I really knew about Annie Lennox is that she did a song for Lord of the Rings and reminds me vaguely of the 80s. My brothers, however, had fallen in love with her because she is completely insane, and her music videos are consequently bizarre, over-the-top theatricality wrapped in hard-core irony.

What’s not to love?

So, we started watching and laughing and then suddenly it wasn’t funny so much as astonishing. I’m not much for conspiracy theories, but I imagine my excitement was probably along the lines of folks who think the Bible spells out secret numerical messages or a dedicated UFO watcher who sees a glowing saucer. Because Annie Lennox may be crazy, but she’s crazy in a way that had become incredibly familiar. She’s using all the same motifs, themes, and symbols of the 1920s aesthetes.

This is what I’ve learned about 1920 dandyism: they were obsessed with frivolity, the ballet, theatricality as a way of understanding life. They loved dressing in costume, especially if they could emulate periods of excess. They were into gender blurring, ironic cross-dressing, and lipstick for all. They adopted the figure of Pierrot—the French version of an Italian Commedia del’arte stock character, most famous for the naivete that is also his downfall (that’s what Wikipedia says, anyway). Pierrot as a essentially a clown, but a frequently heartbroken one, as his stock character lover, Columbine, is forever leaving him to be with the more alpha male Harlequin. Pierrot came to stand for the artist, a clown (entertainer) who is simultaneously a figure of comedy/frivolity and suffering/tragedy.

Ok, now watch this (I don’t recommend it, but you can skip ahead a minute if you’re very pressed for time and want the full picture fast):

Lucky coincidence? Lots of people use circus symbolism, it’s true. I love the mixture of insanity and yet… it works for me. I get the emptiness, the sense of loss, the imagery of circus clowns in an empty tent.

Oh, but it gets crazier. Check out these little gems (ok, these are admittedly long and weird, but watch the first minute or so and you get the picture).

Taken together, Lennox has played with just about every major issue for the 1920s dandies. Does that mean she’s a secret history buff? Eh, I have zero insight into that, but at the very least it shows that the dandy aestheticism is alive and well. Of course, none of the stuff originated exactly with the cool kids of the 1920s—they were consciously adopting from Oscar Wilde, who was borrowing from the fops and dandies of a previous generation, who were doubtless doing the same—modifying as they went along to suit their particular generational tastes. I just find the whole, half-hidden tradition kind of fascinating.

Makes me wonder: are there really only a handful of different ways of understanding and concerning oneself with life—and are the traditions of each passed down pretty much intact? How aware are we really of the cultural heritage of our symbols and ideas? Wouldn’t it be good to know?

Questions like that sent me on a mad scavenger hunt for 1920s symbolism in our art and music of today, which has been incredible fun, but this already getting long and ratty, so I’ll leave you with the suggestion that, if you really want to see more, you should probably check out UK band Placebo’s song “Pierrot the Clown” (it’s a rough topic, which is why I didn’t want to end on it here). Maybe will settle for this bizarrely lovely trailer for a 1960s French film called (naturally) “Pierrot le fou.”