Rock Gods #70: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

HoodNi, the famed national rapper (we know our readership; many of you who follow the most obscure white indie bands and have a passing familiarity with nearly all Top 40 artists still require a qualifier like “famed national” when it comes to rappers. Work on that, will you?) is, according to the tabloids, engaged to a woman who comes from this very city. He’s been visiting often, and because the occasions are longterm romantic, he’s apparently been traveling sans posse. Since he’s traveling light, and since this is the sort of scene that tends not to fawn over celebrities, HoodNi seems to feel free to step out on the town with relative freedom. He’s been spotted at D’ollaire’s (in the “VIP area,” but still…), at such diverse eateries as the Varsity Diner, Vaud’s Vegetarian and Ville Europa Ristorante. Those who’ve had exchanges with the reportedly clean-living “Metamorphosis” hitmaker describe him as “a regular guy”—in love….

Human Blockhead at Hamilton’s for the midweek crapfest… Open mic at the Bullfinch will feature Beautiful Assistant and Sword Through Boy… D’ollaire’s has some kind of accountancy convention. Seriously…

Melissa Leo sure can act

The appalling thing about someone saying “Fuck” on television is not the word itself, which has been around for centuries and is exactly the sort of thing people say when they’re excited. No, it’s the lame responses which get unnerving.
At least four Saturday Night Live cast members, for instance, have uttered “Fuck” in the show’s 35-year history: Paul Shaffer, Charles Rocket, Norm MacDonald, Jenny Slate. Sometimes it was acknowledged broadly, other times the show just moved on. Cheri Oteri said “Shit” once and there was a show-closing gag about her having to put money in the Swear Jar.
The funny thing is that the possibility that someone will swear—or giggle, or cry, or fall down—during a prepared routine is exactly the danger element that the “live” label on a TV show is pushing.
Scripted sauciness and double entendres are encouraged. The Oscars had a scripted bit about how suggestive the titles for some of the nominated films were: Like Winter’s Bone—object of the same ridicule several weeks ago on Saturday Night Live. There were continual comments by the hosts about how this year’s edition of the show was meant to be younger, hipper and edgier.
Yet when Melissa Leo happened to use “Fuck” among the thousands of other words in her very long acceptance speech, decorum trumped edginess. The hosts were duty-bound to acknowledge that a standard had been breached.
No one’s accusing Leo of deliberately downscaling the event to give it an amiable earthiness. But it’s kind of appropriate that she did, since this years Oscars show was really pushing the “casual conversations in evening wear” envelope. What ruined the moment was not her language but the lame attempt to apologize for it while still pretending to appear cutting edge.

Rock Gods #69: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

Another high-concept academic concert treat last week, just before vacation begins at the college on the hill. Frieda Bettany, a Feminist Studies major with a minor in Bullfinch band-watching, presented “The Other Foot: Dance Dance Epistemology,” in which the scholar strove to provide “the underlying tenets and belief systems of synthesized dance music.”
Half of the show consisted of Bettany reading a thesis paper while a boombox blared behind her. But then she turned off the classroom lights, switched on one of those spinning mirrored balls your parents danced to, then played and sang a whole set of self-penned ironic dance tunes to illustrate her thesis—that dance music is based on a iron-clad pre-set system of tribal beliefs which exaggerate gender stereotypes and impair more refined social relations.
One of the songs simply switched all the gender references. Others were purposefully vague and still others indiscriminate. Bettany knew her field of study, and said straight out that there was a whole other culture of gay and bi songs out there, but that those “semiotic signposts” were not erected at the overwhelmingly hetero-sexually minded dance halls where she did her fieldwork. Indeed, Bettany knew her studies were geographically specific to this area, and that her conclusions would be different even if she had studied clubs in other counties in the same state. She even did a musical riff on that—her entirely credible, intellectually underscored disco love ballad “A Night Like No Other.”

We know what you’re thinking now while shaking your booty beneath a textbook-filled backpack: You don’t need a Masters candidate at a lecture hall to tell you that club dance nights reduce us to embarrassingly base impulses. You can get that knowledge, plus a free drink pass, for $5 at D’ollaire’s any Wednesday or Saturday.
Well, we’ve simplified the thesis, obviously. And we can’t properly convey our surprise and delight at Frieda Bettany’s performance skills, which she’s kept under the proverbial bushel until now. That’s why we’ve petitioned to have her repeat the “lecture” after school break ends. If we can’t get D’ollaires itself, Hamilton’s or the Bullfinch will do.
Bottom line on this booty treatise: Personally, we enjoyed it more than we’ve ever enjoyed hanging around a dance club. We don’t exactly see ourselves in that mirror ball, but we’ve always liked a little self-reflection with our social intercourse, and Frieda Bettany gave it to us.

In conventional clubs: The Germanes, The Naomis and the Glorious Steins at the Bullfinch, Scum Man at Hamilton’s (two sets, more shouting) and nobody worth mentioning at D’ollaire’s… Sign up for a non-militaristic musical competition—that is to say a “Battle of the Bands” without the word “Battle” in the title, and only “peaceful” themes, scheduled for late March at the Community Center….

Books Received

Purchased, actually, at the Book Barn in Niantic, Connecticut (a veritable village of buildings lined with used books for sale) during a whirlwind visit on Feb. 23. That’s what we around here call school vacation.

Candy by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg (paperback). Again, a movie tie-in. I interviewed Terry Southern shortly before his death, and he told me firsthand how he hated the movie they’d made from his breakthrough novel (a new-bohemian social satire inspired by Voltaire’s Candide). To ratchet up the erotic elements and attract an international audience, the producer had cast a Swedish model/actress, Ewa Aulin, as Candy; Southern had hoped for more of an everygirl, specifically Hayley Mills.

Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture by Abbie Hoffman. Thank Hipness that Paul Krassner’s still around, because the works of Abbie Hoffman, despite the best efforts of several small publishers, seem to have fallen out of style. It’s a literary legacy well worth preserving, from the Steal This Book and Revolution for the Hell of It through a slew of current-events essays to this extraordinary though not entirely believable autobiography, which was published around the same time that Abbie Hoffman emerged from seven years in hiding. He would die, allegedly a suicide, nine years later.

The Black Spiders by John Creasey. When I was younger, the only John Creaseys I read were his Toff books, and I mainly gravitated to those because I’d read all of Leslie Charteris’ Saint books, and the Toff is like a settled-down Simon Templar. In recent years the only Creaseys I pick up are his Department Z thrillers, in which a secret government agency stops villains intent on world domination. The bad guys differ from book to book, yet are strangely similar in their takeover methods—plagues, poisonous gases, never explosives or firearms. In this case, it’s big nasty spiders.
Creasey was cool. Wrote hundreds of books under a couple of dozen different names (though his real name really was John Creasey). The books read fast; there’ve been TV and radio and movie adaptations, but the plots lose something when slowed down and thought over. I saw a whole gallery exhibit devoted to Creasey once in Salisbury, England, and it was the gaudiest, most glorious display of lurid paperback covers, all of them sprung from the same mischievous mind.

Carl Van Vechten and the Twenties by Edward Lueders. A short 1955 study of Van Vechten from when he was still alive and celebrating his 75th anniversary. Once considered serious competition for Fitzgerald as a premiere Jazz Age novelist, this book is already bemoaning that Van Vechten had been out of vogue for decades. It’s fun to read this in the wake of the recent Van Vechten revival that’s sprung from scholars plowing through his erotic scrapbooks and outrageous journals. His papers are housed at Yale’s Beinecke Library, which has devoted several online or glass-case exhibitions to his work. Elsewhere in New Haven, a set of Van Vechten’s photographic portraits of Harlem Renaissance celebrities hangs at the Stetson branch library on Dixwell Avenue. The photos and ephemera are great, but Van Vechten grandest ideas were in his novels (the snarkiest of which is Parties) and in his dance and culture criticism for Vanity Fair and other periodicals. He also was a pioneer of the “cat book” genre with his mewling 1920 overview of felines in literature, law and folklore, Tiger in the House.

A Mencken Chrestomathy, edited and annotated by H.L.M. As a liberal journalist of longstanding, I have been exposed to about as much H.L. Mencken as I can stand. He is still inescapable in antiquarian bookshops, and I barely look up when I see his name on a hardcover jacket. This huge collection of scattered essays, hand-picked by the legend himself won me over due to two sections in particular: The Lesser Arts (including essays on “The Greenwich Village Complex” and “The Libido for the Ugly”) and Buffooneries (which contains a hilariously deadpan 26-point set of rules to follow when visiting the editorial offices of Mencken’s journal The Smart Set). Many of the essays come from Mencken’s series of Prejudices books, which I’m still not ready to start collecting individually. But its nice to have a compendium which is more than his faux-dictionary one-liners (“Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends”; “Criticism is prejudice made plausible”; ad nauseam.) And it’s nice to get a sense of which bits of his vast output Mencken himself actually thought were worth preserving.