Monday, February 28, 2011

Weekend Links

The Apostate - In last week's New Yorker, Lawrence Wright profiles of Paul Haggis, (who wrote Million Dollar Baby and directed Crash), how he became a Scientologist, and how the church's practices disgusted him to such an extent that he became one of the first high-profile entertainers to leave the fold. Its discussion of Scientology is fascinating, its description of the obstacles that the litigious cult (sect? I refuse to call it a religion) erects before any writer who tries to attempts to write anything other than the most ridiculous puff-piece is even more interesting. The article is 26 internet "pages" long, and every one of them is worth reading. We've always liked Lawrence Wright, but he's been so consistently excellent for so many years (his The Looming Tower is still the best book ever written about 9/11) that he has really become a national treasure.

The Stutterer - on Slate.com, Nathan Heller discusses stuttering, in light of the success of the now Oscar-winning film The King's Speech. Its the best general-audience article about stuttering we've ever read, and you should really read it, even if you don't have a close acquaintance who stutterers.

A writer named Kay S. Hymowitz has written a book entitled Manning Up, about how female empowerment has resulted in a generation of men who only want to play Madden and go to Vegas with their bandmates, points she made in her promotional Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, "Where Have All the Good Men Gone?" You know, the good men - the ones who work hard, get high-paying jobs shortly after leaving school, begin a long-term relationship with a woman, get married, and buy houses by the time they turn 30. Or something. As you might imagine, it has already generated reaction pieces from such thoughtful commentators as the guys "Askmen.com"

Once again, the AV Club live-blogged the Oscars, and, once again, it was hilarious.

If you do follow Rob Delaney on Twitter, it is time to start.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Let's Jog It Out!

Self-consciousness was invested in 1997, shortly before Radiohead released OK Computer. Before that, celebrities routinely made fools of themselves on television, or ridiculous home-exercise videos like "Phil Simms' NFL Workout" (1987). You would have thought that, even in 1987, somebody might have said to him: "you know, Phil, something tells me that making a video where you and a bunch of other butch, muscular guys with moustaches and sideburns sweat profusely while doing aerobics to heavily synthesized dance music probably won't age very well," but, if they did, Simms didn't listen. That's actually for the best, because this video is spectacular.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Rick Santorum, Come Out of the Closet. Nobody Will Judge You. But Please, Come Out of the Closet . . .

Rick Santorum, the discredited former junior senator from Pennsylvania, recently went on the record as saying that the history of the Crusades "has been corrupted by the American left who hates (sic) Christendom (sic)," further adding "They hate Western civilization at the core. That's the problem."

Hey! You know what this reminds me off? It reminds me of that one time when Rick Santorum became a national joke when his name became a euphamism for the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is the result of anal sex.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Random Recommendation: Wino Woman

Friend of the blog Wino Woman has a fun website/blog for smart people who don't know a lot about wine, but are looking to learn more. We love her slogan: "There's a wine for that!" - whatever "that" may be. Check it out.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Most Illegal Thing We've Ever Seen

Thanks to friend-of-the-blog Gay Matt Schaub for passing this along. I did not grow up a fan of wrestling, but who can't appreciate a guano-crazy scene like this?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Weekend Links

The AV Club interviewed Thomas Frank, one of the most interesting cultural critics working in America today.

The Great Gatsby is now an old-fashioned NES-style 8-bit video game. Its not . . . particularly close to the book, but its a hell of a lot of fun.

In the New York Times, Virginia Heffernan discusses cafe culture, and its adjustment to the age of the e-reader. (Thanks for the words: Wormbook)

A website called "Cool in New York" has compiled a list of the best chicken wing specials in New York City, organized by day of the week.

The Awl analyzed the ratio of books written by men to books written by women that get reviewed in The New York Times, and finds that reviews of books written by men outnumber reviews of books written by women by almost 2:1.

And, finally, Radiohead, one of the CSD's favorite bands, released its new record this week. Its first single is "Lotus Flower":

Friday, February 18, 2011

Against Me!, "Because Of The Shame"

The year 2010 was a terrific year for new music: A-listers like Kanye West, Arcade Fire, The National, and The Walkmen all delivered outstanding records, old-timers like Mavis Staples and Sharon Jones became relevant again, 90's indie bands like Superchunk and Versus released their first albums in years, and bands like Sleigh Bells and The Dum-Dum Girls went from total obscurity to stardom in months. Only recently, in the relatively quiet early months of 2011, have we had the chance to revisit some of the many albums, released in 2010, that did not attract as much attention.

One such album is Against Me's White Crosses. It may not make many of you reorder your top ten lists, but a couple of its songs will get stuck in your head and stay there. "Because of the Shame," an excellent post-punk track with enormous pop hooks and sing-along choruses, would fit between The Hold Steady's "Weekenders" and The Gaslight Anthem's "American Slang" on a 2010 mix tape that would sound everybit as good as the gym as it would as the soundtrack to an early summer barbeque.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The New Pornographers, "Moves"

The New Pornographers' video for "Moves" was released about ten days ago, so many of you have seen it by now, but I still can't get over how good it is. Full of send-ups of music-bio-pic cliches, a clever assortment of indie musicians and indie comedians cast as members of the band, and more self-effacing jokes that a full-length Albert Brooks feature, "Moves" is one of the funniest music videos I've seen in a long time. Julie Klausner as Neko Case? How did they not think of that before? The video inspired me to revisit Together, which, like each of the previous two New Pornographers' albums, has, in the words of the AV Club, gone from "ho-hum, another good New Pornographers' album" to "holy shit, how did they do that?" over the course of ten or twelve listens.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Will Farrell Can Feel It In His Plums

Add this expression to your . . . what's the expression? Lexicon? Collection of regularly used idiomatic expressions? Either I can see no possible situation in which things could go badly after saying it.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Strokes' "Under the Cover of Darkness"

The Strokes, long-time favorites of ours, have recently confirmed rumors that their new album, Angels, is being released on March 22nd. The album's first single, "Under the Cover of Darkness," has been posted onto YouTube:


For reasons I don't entirely understand, The Strokes seem to be one of those bands that is easy to hate. Some see The Strokes as a bunch of rich kids from upscale Manhattan neighborhoods, and thus not credible as outsiders or punks; others have never gotten over the fact that they were hailed as rock saviors before their first album ever hit the shelves, so much that, no matter how much success they achieve, they could never live up to the hype, or change music as it was expected they would.

In my view, none of those criticms are The Strokes' fault. Their first two albums, Is This It? and Room on Fire, are fantastic from start to finish (Is This It?, in particular, is a classic). Their most recent album, First Impressions of Earth, though watered down by a few skippable songs, nonetheless had a full album's worth of very good ones. I think that certain critics and music snobs dislike them - or, at the very least, refuse to give them an honest listen - because they're popular (so popular, in fact, that the label "indie" is rendered all but meaningless) and because of their aforementioned image problem. But there aren't more than ten bands that, in the past decade, have released three albums as good as The Strokes have, and we eagerly await their fourth.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Scattered Thoughts on Steve Martin's An Object of Beauty

For somebody as closely identified with Hollywood, Steve Martin certainly knows his way around New York. Martin's latest novel, An Object of Beauty, is as much a love letter to New York as it is a novel. It has been described as a satire of the art world, but it is not a top-to-bottom Wolfeian satire as much as it is a contemporary comedy of manners. In Martin's novel, the art world intelligensia that attend Sotheby's auctions, shop at uptown art galleries, eat at overpriced Chelsea restaurants, and act cool in edgy artist's lofts are all faintly aware of the ridiculousness of their lives. But since when has something's ridiculousness kept people from earning or losing millions of dollars on it - especially in New York?

The novel is narrated by Daniel Franks, graduate of the Nick Carraway/Rai Merchant Memorial School of Passively Observant Outsider Narrators (NCRMMSPOON?). Franks is a former college classmate and one-time lover of the beautiful and ambitious Lacey Yeager, a high-status, low-paid Davidson graduate trying to make a name for herself in the fast-paced world of New York art dealers. Lacey is a serious art historian, but her real talent, unknown to her at the beginning of the novel, but quickly realized, is manipulating wealthy older men into overpaying for paintings. Lacey makes a few intelligent moves that get her up the ladder at Sotheby's, jumps ship to work for a prestigious Upper East Side dealer, meeting the world's wealthiest art collectors and visiting some of the world's best art museums in the process. Lacey's success at work - and the extravagant lifestyles of the art collectors she meets - whets her appetite for the finer things in life, and, through Franks's bittersweet descriptions, we learn that a beautiful person like Lacey was never long for the twenty-something world of secondhand furniture and East Village walk-ups, even if she has to cut a corner or two in order to make it north of 59th Street.

The good timing and fictional coincidences that benefit Lacey's career early in the novel foreshadow the real-world tragedies that threaten to derail it later on. (Once you get a couple of chapters into the novel, you're realize that this isn't a spoiler.) Martin's use of literary devices is commendable, but, at times, it seems as if he is struggling too hard to be serious. At its best, Martin's characterization, and charming, good-company writing style make the book a pleasure to read. In fact, those parts approach, and arguably reach, the level of artistry for which he more awkwardly and self-consciously reaches in other parts of the book. Martin only gets into trouble when he tries too hard. Consider this scene:

There was among them - five of them now - a sudden, communal silence. They stood motionless for several seconds, as though the desire to remain still had coincidentally struck each of them at exactly the same time. These were thoughtless seconds. The object was not for sale, not for trade; it had already ascended. It was for them only, to be seen by them only, as though the artist himself had placed it before them, a holy thing. The object seemed, in this brief encounter, sentinent. It sat quietly, and everyone was quiet. It spoke in silence, because that was the language of the moment.

"Well," said the director, "thank you, Sylvie." Sylvie picked up the picture and started in motion, a double whammy of beauty.


I could have done without the "double whammy of beauty" line. Its clearly an attempt to put a button on the scene, but, after the preceding paragraph's quiet, reverent tone, that kind of exit line just reads like a bad joke. Unfortunately, there are several other awkward trasitions like that throughout the book.

Despite my reservations, I still recommend An Object of Beauty. Other than the narrator, all of the major characters are real human beings, not types, and the little details of auctions and gallery openings are clearly drawn from Martin's decades of art collecting. Martin - and, eventually, his characters - believe in the importance of high art, while recognizing that, at the end of the day, our understanding of art is shaped as much by the tastes of bored rich people as it is by the inherent value of the art itself. Perspective like that is always welcome.

One final note: the hardcover edition contains full-color reproductions of twenty of the important pieces of art discussed in the book. They are printed in the middle of chapters, on the pages in which they are discussed, rather than collected together in the middle of the book, the way that photographs in a biography are printed. It adds a lot to the reader's experience, and must have cost the publisher a great deal of money. A less famous author than Martin would never have been able to persuade his publisher to make that kind of investment, andAn Object of Beauty is much better for it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk

I just introduced a friend of mine to The New Pornographers, and her enthusiasm has gotten me on a little bit of a New Pornographers' kick as well. I've said this before, but I just love their musicality - their live music shows how free of studio tricks and production their songs are; its just a bunch of off-beat musicians who enjoy making music together.

On this version of "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk," you can tell that the NPs know how good they sound - they're smiling from ear to ear the entire time. The drumming and hand-clap percussion sounds great, and Neko's in top tambourine-playing-hippie form.

Fortunately for us, that wasn't the New Pornographer's only great late-night performance last year. They sounded just as great playing "Crash Years" on Jimmy Fallon's show. Check out how into-it the audience gets, dancing and clapping like they're at Coachella. Late night television needs more musical performances like this - after all, rock music is supposed to be fun.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

emo entertainment thoughts

I like Katie Perry's "firework" even though it sounds so calculated that I suspect it is the output of a corporation's "Operation: Create a gay club anthem".

I think Neko Case might just be songs of experience to listen to after work.

Last week's Community made me wish I had played more dungeons and dragons and that I watched more Community.

The National Perform "Conversation 16" on David Letterman

Brooklyn's most beloved DILF and the rest of the guys in The National were on The Late Show with David Letterman on Tuesday night, performing "Conversation 16." The acoustic limitations of the Ed Sullivan theater notwithstanding, the band sounded pretty good:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Sweet Part of the City

One more from Sunday night's show:

The Hold Steady at the Music Hall of Williamsburg

I saw The Hold Steady commemorated their 8th anniversary as a band by playing Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg on Sunday and Monday nights. The MHoW is a much smaller venue than they typically play, but the crowd was enthusiastic and clearly knew most of the words to THS' entire set, so it must have been a little bit like what The Hold Steady's early shows looked like - just a sweaty room full of serious music fans wearing rock band t-shirts and flannel, pumping their fists and holding aloft the occasional crowd surfer.

The Hold Steady started their encore with two favorites from Separation Sunday, "Hornets! Hornets!" and "Your Little Hoodrat Friend." I think the guy in front of me experienced Nirvana during "Your little Hoodrat Friend"'s long guitar outro.