Saturday, June 24, 2006

More Proof That The British Are Better Than We Are

1. Shameless, a a BBC series about a fractured but loving family, headed by a drunk, quixotic deadbeat dad, living in a Manchester council estate. Sort of like Mike Leigh meets Trainspotting meets The Office. The show is based on the creator's own experience growing up in a council estate in the seventies. Thanks to MP for lending me episodes 3 and 4 of season one, which I just watched--season four begins on the BBC this coming January. Hen parties, bad teeth, smoky carpeted pubs, bleached hair, gold necklaces, Fred Perry polo shirts, high ponytails, Robbie Williams songs, hooded sweatshirts, countless cigarettes, shaved heads, raging hormones, stolen toddlers, fake weddings, high (chav) lunacy: I can't get enough.

2. The National Health Service has a 24-hour hotline that provides British citizens with nurses on call to answer medical questions. It's called NHS Direct. Now, the actual experience of using it might actually be like calling up 911 only to be put on hold, but I certainly wish that there was something other than the Internet to turn to when my doctor's office is closed and the emergency room is a bridge too far. But even the NHS Direct website is a model of clarity and thoroughness--as a former fact-checker who's slogged through many a health piece, I wish I'd found it before today. Here, a link to its question and answer section, wherein we are given permission to drink while on (most) antibiotics, and told how to gorge yourself on birth control pills to avoid getting your period on holiday. Our puritan FDA and NIH would do no such thing. Oh, and on the first page of the website there's a headline touting a survey on British sex habits with this tag line: "What have you lot been up to?"

3. This regular feature over at the Guardian's Culture Vulture blog. Every week the paper announces a theme--the sun, fathers, jealousy, fashion, etc.--and asks readers to write in nominating the best songs addressing those themes for a top ten list. There are often songs mentioned that I've never heard of; it sends me taking notes. Also, the guy who writes the column, Dorian Lynskey, is witty, smart about music and everything else, doesn't ghettoize or fetishize the obscure, and, thank goodness, like most British newspaper culture writers, doesn't seem to take himself too seriously. Newspaper writers seem to be allowed to write over there. You'll never find him churning out thought pieces on reggaeton or mash-ups, is what I'm saying. Enjoy.

4. Ok, ok. Proof that the British are just as bad, if not worse, than we are. Just finished watching England play Ecuador, and spotted an anorexic-looking Victoria Beckham in the stands, wearing huge shades and a hairdo that seemed like a wig. She looked like an Olsen twin with a bad fake tan. Chav Princess! Like so:

Thursday, June 22, 2006

On The Ferris Wheel, Looking Out On Coney Island...

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father Figuring

Daphne Merkin, writing in the Times magazine today:

I am not nor have I ever been a daddy's girl, one of those lucky women who grow up convinced of their daughterly adorability. The kind of woman, that is, who is always tilting her head in expectation of male attention and might be found girlishly sitting on a man's lap when the party heats up — like the writer who recently admitted that because she was raised by a father who thought she was "gorgeous" ("not just pretty or attractive," she added, "but perfect"), she sees herself as incontestably (and unobjectively) desirable.

I suppose you could say that I am a--I hate to use the phrase, so I won't, and will say instead that I have always been my father's daughter. Meaning: work-fixated, ambitious, solitude-desiring, (fairly) stoic, emotionally detatched though violently sentimental when the occasion arises. But I do not tilt my head in expectation of male attention, and you will never find me sitting on someone's lap when the party heats up. My father's love allowed me to go about my business: being a tiny grind who, until eight years ago, would have no idea when someone was flirting with her, and had herself no idea how to do it. My father never made my sister and I feel that we had to be anything other than what we were. Many of my friends were and are loved dearly by their fathers, and it has not made them vain coquettes. In fact, just the opposite. Actually, even if they weren't, they're still wonderful women. In the end, I think, we raise ourselves. My mother and her sisters were all daddy's girls (now I can use the phrase) and it just made them, I think, gracious and hilarious women and talkers. Or perhaps the ease with one's female self imparted by a loving father is what Merkin is getting at, only she's unable to talk about how else that confidence might express itself other than flirting.

I think I'm writing because I think a lot about my father, and fathers and daughters, and am proud to be his daughter, and I feel that, as usual, Merkin has it all wrong. She is making a generalization about the female based on her own specific cold-father experience. Her and Maureen Dowd, with the blind assumptions and tiny focus groups. She doesn't say anything of use about the topic, and the damn piece seems like it's 4,000 words. She goes on at length about her own experience, and name checks a few famous father-daughter duos, but doesn't bother really thinking hard about any of these examples. She could have meditated on: King Lear and Cordelia! Or Miranda and her father in The Tempest. Or Austen's fathers, sometimes dotty and hapless, sometimes wise. Emma and Mr. Woodhouse! Mr. Ramsay in To The Lighthouse--there's something there, but it's been ten years, and I can't remember! Forgive me. I read the piece last night, quarreling with it, and this morning I heard Loretta Lynn on the radio singing "Coal Miner's Daughter," and thought, now there's a story about paternal love. It's just not all about being able to flirt. Sometimes it's about making sure things don't fall apart, and that there will be shoes for the kids to wear come fall, after they spent all summer in Butcher Holler going barefoot. I think my argument is breaking down because I'm about to get the flu.

What I woke up to this morning was this song by Tanya Tucker called "The Man That Turned My Mama On." From 1974. I thought it was the Dixie Chicks for a minute. It was surreal: who sings songs about the mystery that is parental romance? And actually uses the hair-raising phrase "turned my mama on" to do it? Here are the lyrics. Get some Kleenex.

I wish I'd known the man a little better
that turned my mama on
he must have been a heck of a man
'cause mama was a lady don't you know

Mama was no prude but she was proper
never wore her dress too short
she didn't care if you did
but she'd have never taken a drink
Grandma Kate did the best she could
To see mama grew up right
so she'd be fittin' one day for courtin'
and to wear some gentleman's ring

I wish I'd known the man a little better
that turned my mama on
he was always laughing
and singing the right sweet song
I wish I'd known the man a little better
the turned my mama on
He must have been a heck of a man
'Cause mama was a lady don't you know

I hear he came to town one day
in a rusty old '49 Ford
selling lady's shoes and assorted greeting cards
he was killing good looking
and easy to like
and turning all the ladies' heads
but he saw mama first
and Lord knows how some of them travelin men are


Mama seemed to forget the things
that Grandma Kate had always told her
she ran away one night with a traveling man
they bought gas at Rita's truck stop
and drove to Dasota County
but he brought her home with a ring upon her hand
mama's told me how the fever took him
when I was barely five
but I remember him pitchin' me up
and catchin' me
and I love to sit and listen to her
tell me about my daddy
she says he thought the sun would surely
rise and set in me

I wish I'd known the man a little better
that turned my mama on
he must have been a heck of a man
'cause mama was a lady don't you know
I wish I'd known the man a little better
the turned my mama on
He must have been a heck of a man
'Cause mama was a lady don't you know

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Reader, I Married Him

Found this online. Joyce Carol Oates brings it re: Jane Eyre. Someone who cranks out five novels a year should not be able to write this wonderfully about other novels.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Radio, Radio

I am so sad that I've only been able to fully explore the glory that is WFMU in the last few years. I could never get it in my previous apartment, but thank God for the explosion of the Internets and the invention of listening online.

My favorite on-air personality is Monica. Fridays, 12 noon to 3 PM. Here is a (non) paid promotion.

So far today she's played Los Zafiros, a Cuban vocal group from the fifties, Teddy Pendergrass, snippets from an unidentified high school talent show whose theme seemed to be "A Toast to the Boogie" from a record called Schoolhouse Funk, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, and the Polish American String Band. There's also been patter from a 1961 Judy Garland show at Carnegie Hall and last week's Tony Awards. (The tiny little showgirl in me eats that sort of thing right up.) Other shows have included Blossom Dearie, Camera Obscura, Prince, Soul II Soul, Johnny Cash, The Jubilee Gospel Team, and Barbara Mandrell. And lots and lots of amazing, why-I-have-I-never-heard-this-before jazz, standards, folk, pop from other lands (which is NOT world music!), country, gospel, soul, funk, and R&B. I believe Monica co-founded Tommy Boy Records and hails from Illinois, which explains why the show has the feel of a broadcast curated by Rosalind Russell as Mame, Prince handmaidens Wendy and Lisa, a vestal virgin tending to the vaults of Smithsonian Folkways, Stax and Okeh records--hosted by Joan Cusack.

Also, I love that for the last few shows she's been giving shoutouts to some DJs on 98.7 Kiss FM-- the Best Variety of Old School and Today's R&B. Which I turn to when the indie rock has enervated me. Especially on Sunday afternoons, because of Felix Hernandez and his soul music paradise, which is otherwise known as "The Rhythm Revue". The man's favorite books are William Carlos Williams's Paterson and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man--?!? On Saturdays he does a version for aficionados on WGBO from 10 AM to 2 PM. Also because where else am I going to hear, uh, Jill Scott? And ads for the theatre event that is Issues: We All Got 'Em: The Stage Play? Oh. Here.

Also indispensible: This Is The Modern World With Trouble. Thursdays, 9 AM to 12 PM, WFMU. In her own words: "A viking ship appears on the horizon, a likeness of Loretta Lynn carved into its bow. Rare birds flock together to sing Francoise Hardy as soul hits. A sunset of blips and bleeps fills the air."

Consider this my own very small way of paying tribute to actual humans selecting and playing all sorts of records in real time. Satellite radio and Jack FM are not the answer.

This Man Brings You The Bands That Could Be Your Life.

Fever Caught. Or, The Elegance Is Killing Me.

I've been having a hard time thinking of reedemable American cultural product--redeemable things about America other than Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln--and these World Cup photos are making it even harder. I'm sure all the players are thugs with craven fake-tanned hussies for spouses named Chardonnay, per the awesomely lurid BBC drama Footballers' Wives, but I'm not so sure when they look like they could play the lead in an Pedro Almodovar or Fernando Meirelles film, play guitar like Seu Jorge, and/or dance with the Bolshoi when they're not leaping into the air or racing down the long field. Per Mlle. Prunes and Prism, they are indeed muffintastic. The last picture is an Ecuadorean player wearing a handmade Spider-Man mask in tribute to a recently deceased teammate. Would A-Rod or Kobe Bryant do something so silly out of heartbreak and solidarity? Yeah, I didn't think so.

Also, this, from a Times piece about an Argentinian victory, brought tears to my eyes:

Argentine fans, starting to sense something special, were deafening in the closed-roof stadium with chants of ''Ole, Ole'' and ''AR-gen-tina, AR-gen-tina.''

Another screaming serenade, with Diego Maradona swirling a blue-and-white jersey above his head and joining in, also rang out over and over: ''Vamos a salir campeones, como en '86,'' or ''We're going to be champions, just like in '86.''

Maradona helped Argentina win that last title, and watching this rout, it's not difficult to start believing it could happen again.

Tevez, who is only 22 and a coming star with 18-year-old Messi, praised the teamwork -- the deft passes and perfectly timed shots.

''When everyone does it together, it's like that,'' Tevez said.

It's like a Sesame Street sketch, no?

But finally, an image of a fan being subdued by police to remind us that while the Europeans may have cornered the market on most everything noble and good, they also invented...the black boot of fascism!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Anne Frank

would have been 77 today.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Court Street

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

My Mother, Ladies And Gentlemen.

Yesterday I called my mother. She was getting ready to go to the funeral of a church friend's son. "Oh, forget it," I said when she asked what I needed. I was just calling because I've been tearing off large chunks of the day and sleeping. Do I have a thyroid problem? Should I stop eating sugar and flour? Do I have diabetes? Do I have Asian bird flu? In comparison, it seemed a pretty silly thing to worry about. I was still alive. There might be sitcoms later to watch. "No, no," she said. "Let's talk." So my mother indulges me. During the conversation, I hear some plastic phone noises, as if the cord is twirling around in its socket. "What's that?" I say. "Oh, it's just the phone. You know, the antique Princess phone I've got in my bedroom." Pause. "You know, an antique Princess. Just like me." We had a good laugh over that.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Chuck Palahniuk, Pastoral Counselor. Or, If I Could. And Make A Deal With God.

Headline and abstract found at the Guardian:

Till death us do part
We're all doomed in the end - so when a character in a horror movie is sent brutally to their grave, it should be a great source of comfort to us, says Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk.

Now I know what I'll do when I feel really bummed about mortality--my own and that of those I love. I'll rent The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Then I'll feel all better. Thanks, Chuck. You're so wise. And so superfreaking cool, with your edgy, bloody oeuvre.

In the immortal words of Kiki, she of the insane pretend lounge act known as Kiki and Herb: "People die, ladies and gentlemen. And that is all you need to know." I suppose I prefer my home truths delivered by a man in a wig doing cabaret versions of New Order and Radiohead songs, accompanied by some raging piano.

Above point accompanied by a photo of Kiki raging:

The following Kiki and Herb moment goes out to my sister and the proprietess of Prunes and Prism especially, but it's New York, it's summer, and I figured everyone would enjoy a Kate Bush song performed on a fire escape.