Monthly Archives: December 2006

Follow the Money

All The President’s Men

I’ve been watching All the President’s Men lately and trying to come up with a theory for it. I want to say that twin events, All the President’s Men and the election of Jimmy Carter, stand as the final two-pronged assault of America’s political counterculture.

Which is to say that they were the parting shots of (and monuments to) the whole countercultural movement, just before its unilateral surrender to the forces of music videos and product research.

They were big events for 1976, which—let’s face it—was the year most of us were born. But of these two bicentennial landmarks, I want to say that ATPM has proven to have the lasting positive influence. Nobel Prizes notwithstanding.

I’m talking only about the movie, not Watergate itself, and certainly not Woodward and Bernstein’s reconstruction, All the President’s Men the book (which I do have plans to read now in the near future). The power and influence of this movie comes from its lionization of the reporter as one of those archetypal countercultural figures typical of ’70s Hollywood golden age, a contemporary Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or a mildly employable Easy Rider.

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Inland Empire, David Lynch, and the MySpace Pages of the Dead

Just saw Inland Empire, and of course, well, so. So. Mulholland Drive was, relatively speaking, a controlled and linear masterpiece. It gave you two-thirds of partially plausible narrative before clamping down with the mindfuck. This new one just takes the mindfuck and smears it all over the story from almost the first digital frame on. But the set pieces that follow are virtuoso. Lynch, as you know, didn’t even write a script, he just filmed whatever came to him. Its tagline is “A Woman in Trouble”—that’s not a storyline, that’s a theme to riff on. Talking it over with John afterwards, we agreed the movie was one long cinematic jam session.

But IE does have its own impenetrable logic. Laura Dern opens a door near the end and everything somehow clicks in spite of itself. Of course the bunnies are in that room, you find yourself thinking after being spun in circles for three hours. But then there are no bunnies in the room. That’s because they live in another dimension! The best Lynch-logic moment was the neighbor’s cameo, walking out from behind the tree with a red light bulb in his mouth. Lynch, helpfully, cues a flashback to the blinking red lamp from forty-five minutes earlier. Yes, it all makes sense now.

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Christmas Cube

The last few holiday seasons have seen a rapid development in Christmas light technology. Half a decade ago, icicle lights replaced old-style string lights as the stand-out holiday product. Next came net lights, which introduced the second dimension into Christmas lighting, allowing the decorating customer to blanket entire surfaces – say, a bush – in a single gesture.

Betty’s net

The next holiday craze would logically be to just add another dimension to the Christmas light’s n-space. In other words, the time has come for three-dimensional holiday lights, the Christmas Cube.

A 10 light x 10 light cube suspended in space above a cold suburban lawn would present an exercise in perception that would be measurably more enlightening than the standard flashing-lights and glowing plastic reindeer fare. And it could be accomplished by assembling together n number of net lights, where n is the length and width of a square set of net lights. (Easy!)

I’ll be doing it myself on the back porch as soon as I’ve saved up the money. The grid of a single net light forms one side of the cube, shown here in its purest graphic form:

Fig 1
Flat Net

By lining up 6 of the above grids equidistantly, we achieve the idealized mathematical cube of Chrismas lights:

Fig 2
Cube

But this is no mere exercise in chasing the rising tolerance for entertainment of America’s credulous but jaded middle class. If we could translate this homemade prototype into a professional, patented Christmas product, using a wire material that holds its shape but was flexible, we could take the surface of the cube and perform all sorts of operations from the fields of topology and differential geometry.

We could make a catenoid.
Catenoid

We could make a pseudosphere.
Pseudosphere

A similar experiment was included in last year’s LA MoCA exhibition Ecstasy: In and About Altered States, which means the form has verifiable psychedelic applications.

See its write up at We Make Money Not Art

Oasis

There was an all-Oasis tribute on MTV2’s Subterranean the other week, with a Noel Gallagher interview (fast forwarded through that bit), in nominal celebration of their greatest hits album Stop the Clocks. But it was a good opportunity to revisit these monsters of rock ten years on, before they started sucking.

Their video exemplar is probably Champagne Supernova, fully capturing the mid-90s artlessness that rocketed them to the top. Not only does it feature all the standard adolescent rock-worship tropes that were Oasis’s calling card: listening to mix tapes, lava lamps, psychedelic light projections, but right after the first verse, they cut inexplicably to a montage of dancing girls, with moves ripped straight out of a Soul II Soul video.

Champagne Supernova

Soul II Soul

I don’t intend this to sound dismissive. What made Oasis such a phenomenonal band was exactly this lack of polish. They didn’t know how to dress, their haircuts were straight period piece re-creations, and they certainly couldn’t make a quality music video.

But this echoed the simplicity of their songs. Their lyrics bypassed storytelling entirely. Instead, they directly communicated worn rock and roll mythology, standard aspirational truisms of Hallmark-level yearnings. “Maybe I just want to fly / I want to live I don’t want to die” — standout lines from “Live Forever” — expresses exactly the same sentiment as 1998’s “I Believe I Can Fly,” a song that not only captures a blunt sentimentalism on the Jean Teasdale level but was the soundtrack for Space Jam, a Looney Tunes movie whose inspirational message to kids was that they could win their freedom from Martian overlords by playing basketball, if only Michael Jordan is there to do it for them.

Oasis’s songs are not songs in themselves as much as they are primers for songs. In the almost perfect way that they can swell emotion in the transition from verse to bridge before the release of the chorus—take “Rock ‘n Roll Star”—so they couple their music with lyrics that unapologetically reinforce music cliches, a template for youthful rock and roll posture. “It’s just rock and roll” is a refrain that is fraught with meaning. Not insightful meaning, but useless, wholesale meaning, the baggage a catchphrase picks up through overuse as it burrows into your unconscious. I know the combination of glamour and weariness that “it’s just rock and roll” conveys, just like I can identify with the yearning to fly and be immortal, just like I know deep down that “we’re going to uncover / what’s sleeping in our soul.”

Unfortunately for the long-term prospects of the band, this ability to mainline into the deep structure of rock songs was exactly the cause of their later albums’ mediocrity, because it left them no room to innovate. Rather than use chord changes or new melodies to develop their sound on later albums, they relied on gimmicks like morse code intros and helicopter noises.

Their fruitadelic, Cool Britannia visual palette wrapped Oasis’s whole project up in a pop-culture national image building campaign, a British counterpart to Kid Rock’s antics with American flagpoles and dancing girls at the 2004 Superbowl. In the footsteps of the Beatles and the Stones, they happily took on the role of cultural spokesperson. See Noel walk around with a Union Jack guitar slung over his back, during a song celebrating the values of fraternal loyalty and determination, and it is clear that Oasis are the Rudyard Kipling of the mid-nineties. “Hey, eighteen-year old. You’re going to live forever. Stay close to your family and dream big.”

Acquiesce

Kid Rock

God – remember when the competition of Blur v. Oasis was painted as an English class warfare on the level of our Red State/Blue State divide? At the time it felt like Oasis won the battle, but Blur won the war. And just like Damon Albarn in his eclectic post-millennial projects transformed himself into a sort of musical-entrepreneurial Al Gore, so too does it sound just this side of plausible that George W. Bush and the Gallagher brothers might have snorted coke together back in the nineties, sometime between the first Texas governorship and the release of Be Here Now.