Better?

Fortunately, I don’t normally get a lot of trouble on Twitter. But yesterday, one of my friends was talking about how People has this new initiative to get women to share their dress size so that we can all see that beauty comes in every size or some such nonsense.

The thing that struck me about it, though, is that, because it’s about beauty, the women whose pictures are included, by and large, are striking “beautiful” poses while dressed in “attractive” ways while holding up the number that represents their size (because I guess they all have access to more consistent sizing than the rest of America?)

I rolled my eyes, because, of course, we can’t just have “You’re fine at whatever size you are,” because what’s that sell? We have to establish what a “beautiful” body at that size looks like, so even if you make peace with being a size 16, now you can feel anxious that you’re not the right kind of size 16 because you don’t compare to the chicks People has deemed properly representative. And buy the products necessary to relieve your anxiety. That’s the point.

Pit women against each other, set us up to compare ourselves to each other, and then sell shit based on the anxiety that unwinnable competition produces.

But it also struck me that there can’t be any eating disorder specialist who would endorse putting pictures of women up with some number attached so that other women can see how they stack up or if they need to try harder to get to the “right” number or be extra cautious about not “letting” yourself get to that undesirable number.

So, I tweeted at People something to that effect.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. A dude I don’t know @-ed me and some other dude I don’t know. No message. Just drawing other dude’s attention to the fact that I exist and then other dude began hurling insults (though most insultingly, really stupid insults) at me.

A dude sent another dude after me. The first dude, I assume, was monitoring the replies in the People twitter feed to see who had “wrong” opinions and needed to be dealt with.

Can you imagine?

I don’t want to downplay how creepy this is and I do feel a little weird now having come to the attention of a person like this.

But overall, I find this so ludicrous it’s almost delightful. If society is going to have arbiters of what is and isn’t okay to talk about and who can and can’t participate in those conversations, shouldn’t those arbiters be super awesome? Shouldn’t they show great discernment and judgment?

But no! There’s some dude whose set himself up as arbiter and he monitors the People twitter feed.

I will listen to wisdom from my betters, but the dude who monitors the People twitter feed, as evidenced by the fact that he monitors the People twitter feed, is not better than me.

The Black Tapes!

It comes back today. I packed my lunch so I can huddle around my phone over lunch and listen to it. I’ve also been enjoying the shit out of this season of Tanis.

But I want to know what Strand has been up to.

A Touch of Home

I stumbled across the Small Town Horror podcast this weekend and there’s not yet a lot to it but it seems pretty fine based on what there is. I’m going to give it a chance anyway.

The thing I love about it, though, is that, even though it’s set in Minnesota, the dude’s accent is a dead ringer for my Uncle M.’s Southside accent.

The Emptiness of a Song

There’s a certain kind of emptiness you can hear in some songs. I was thinking about that on my walk with the dog this morning. It’s one of the things that I viscerally dislike about the Velvet Underground.

It’s one of the aesthetic things that’s hard to talk about. But there’s something about the sound of the room I don’t like. It’s empty in a way I can’t stand. There’s a kind of hollowness in it. A kind of sharp hollowness.

I associate it with New York, but that may be unfair. Except you can hear that same kind of hollowness in this song.

So, I’m not alone, I don’t think, in associating that kind of space in the song with New York.

Last night, I had to talk myself out of buying the Chess Records box set, but as I was listening to the previews of the songs, I realized, interestingly enough a lot of those old Chicago blues also have a kind of hollowness to them, but one that I experience as warm and pleasant.

And it made me wonder if it might indeed be a known quality of either the recording studios they were using or how they set the band up in them or even how the track was mixed.

I’m not sure if this even makes sense and I certainly don’t hear it in all songs, but sometimes there’s a kind of sharpness to the space around the music that I really dislike and sometimes there’s a warmth in that space that I do like. But I’m not sure what it is that I’m experiencing or where in the mix it’s located.

But it does make me wonder one thing. Is this why I’m all in for The Doors? Yes, I intellectually get why they’re terrible. I don’t care. I love them. Every ponderous, belabored over-poetic, too full of their own genius part of them.

All their songs have that warm room feel.

Wheels

IMG_0109

I’ve got my afghan yarn back in so I’m making these wheels again. I need fifty-six. I have twenty six. So, it feels like it’s going well. I just really hope I’m not secretly fucking up these wheels, too, but I keep counting to make sure I have sixteen spokes, and there are, so that’s what it should be.

I remain a big fan of this yarn for its soft, squishiness and its weirdness.

I woke up early to purchase “Lemonade” so I can listen to it at work and marvel to be living in a time of geniuses.

I read the credits on the song she did with Jack White. It samples Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” so they get writing credit on the song. I noticed that Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe did not. It makes me wonder if this is one of the songs that Zeppelin ripped off and never had to make right on. I know Willie Dixon eventually got them to own up to what they’d done–and by that, I mean, get some money out of them for the use of his intellectual property, but I don’t know if other folks were able to.

The fact that Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe don’t get writer’s credits on the Beyonce song does worry me about that.

But I love the “gal I love, stole her from a friend, joker got lucky, stole her back again” aspect of Beyonce getting Jack White’s help to steal a song that Led Zeppelin stole.

But I do keep thinking of Willie Dixon, whose influence is so heavy on rock music, and who I think is utterly forgotten except by music nerds. Is justice come in the fact that most people who listen to Beyonce’s album aren’t going to know who the fuck Led Zeppelin was? My kind of music nerdery can’t accept that. I want people who love Beyonce to get the thrill of hearing Zeppelin for the first time and then getting the thrill of hearing Dixon or Minnie or Robert Johnson.

I want them to have that lightning shaped epiphany of seeing how art travels through time.

In Which I Say an Unkind Thing

I know “better” is subjective, but all day yesterday, I kept seeing people refer to some exchange where someone asks Eric Clapton what it’s like to be the world’s best guitarist and Clapton supposedly answers that he doesn’t know, why don’t people ask Prince?

And I get that people are floundering for some way to pay Prince a compliment and we don’t have good ways of talking about people who are extremely talented at whatever instrument they put their minds to. In terms of that kind of ability, there’s Prince and Barbara Mandrell and…um…yeah. That’s all I can think of.

But come on! Who are these people calling Eric Clapton the best guitarist in the world in the first place? It’s not like it’s 1. Prince, 2. Eric Clapton. And not that Eric Clapton sucks. He doesn’t suck. He’s quite good. But let’s be reasonable.

If you think Eric Clapton is the best there is, you’ve not listened around enough.

Not Everything is a Metaphor

It’s long bugged me that the Wikipedia entry on “Black Betty” claims the song is about everything but what it is at face value. It’s a gun! It’s a hearse! It’s a whip! It’s a liquor bottle.

Here’s my guess, though. I think “Hammer Ring” was a well-known work song.

And then I think something happened, a real thing, to a woman named Betty and, when the men wanted to sing about it, they adapted and adopted “Hammer Ring” to serve their needs. Whatever those guys told the Lomaxes about it, that’s on the Lomaxes for believing it. The subversive, transgressive truth, I think, is in the lyrics.

Let’s go with James “Iron Head” Baker’s version:

 


And let’s give the lyrics a try:

Oh, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Oh Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where you come from? Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where’d you come from? Bam-a-lam

Well, I come [unintelligable, maybe cross the channel?] Bam-a-lam

Well, I’m going to Texarkana. Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, what’s your number? Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, what’s your number? Bam-a-lam

Well, one hundred and fifty, Bam-a-lam

Damn hundred and fifty, Bam-a-lam

Oh lord, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Lordy, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Black Betty had a baby, Bam-a-lam

Black Betty had a baby, Bam-a-lam

And the damn thing’s crazy, Bam-a-lam

Damn thing’s crazy, Bam-a-lam

Now she put his head in gravy [?] Bam-a-lam

Now she put his head in gravy Bam-a-lam

Oh lord, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Lordy, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where’d you come from? Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where’d you come from? Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where’d you come from? Bam-a-lam

Black Betty, where’d you come from? Bam-a-lam

Oh lord, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Lordy, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Now the baby had blue eyes, Bam-a-lam

Now the baby had blue eyes, Bam-a-lam

Well, it must have been the Captain’s, Bam-a-lam

Well, it must have been the Captain’s, Bam-a-lam

Oh lord, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

Lordy, Black Betty, Bam-a-lam

 

There are some weird things. Like when she dips the kid’s head in gravy? Is that a way of saying she put some kind of poultice on him or maybe a plaster?

But I think the important thing here is that this is obviously not symbolic. The prisoners who sang this work song were singing about a white guard who had a child with a black woman, quite possibly through rape. If her number being 150 is supposed to tell us she’s a prisoner, then it’s a flat-out rape.

Now, obviously, black prisoners couldn’t tell white people that they were teasing their white guards about wanting to fuck black women. But shame on musicologists for striving to find any explanation other than the obvious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Less is More

There’s this moment, if you’ve ever had the unhappy opportunity to sit through Taking Lives, when Angelina Jolie is wearing a robe and it slips open to reveal her upper thigh. I could probably find fifty pictures of Angelina Jolie wearing less than that on the internet in the time it’s taken you to read this paragraph.

But it’s still a moment I find really charged and erotic in ways it’s hard for me to completely understand.

I was reminded of that when we were watching Spy and there’s this moment at the end when Jason Statham takes his arm out from under a sheet and again, it’s just his arm and it’s not like you don’t see his arm in every movie. But *pow*.

I’d like to understand more about what’s going on there. It seems probably like more a poet’s concern than a story-writer’s concern, but it’s still fascinating to me. Are there certain things–a flash of thigh a well-crafted shoulder–certain words, even–though I don’t know what those would be–that short-cut straight to the brain and set off an “Oh, my, wow” response without needing more than just those fleeting glimpses?

Water

This weekend, I realized that I have always thought that “Callin’ Baton Rouge”

and “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Day Light”

were the same song. On my walk this morning, I was trying to think about how young I must have been to make this mistake and never realize I’d made that mistake. Pretty damn young, I think. Because, in my head, those are the same song.

But listening to them now, it’d seem like I might assume that they were related songs, like two parts of the same story. So, whenever the conflation happened, it had to happen before I was telling myself stories, I think.

Anyway, all this is preface to say that it’s worth listening again to “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight,” if you haven’t in a while, because it’s both a really good song and then, somehow, a really weird piece of poetry hiding in a pretty straight-forward narrative.

I mean, you think you’re listening to a song about one thing–a girl trying to run off with a stranger–and the nature of the road and of young girls and traveling men.

And then it ends with “Oh there ain’t no way to stop the water.”

(It occurs to me that the single above might not end that way, but check out Emmylou’s version.)

There’s been nothing explicit about water before this point. And yet, that lyric comes and I feel like maybe I’ve misunderstood the whole song. I listen again and I feel like there’s some mystery at the heart of the song that I can’t get to.

It’s just brilliant.

Morality

I’m enjoying the shit out of season two of Daredevil, even though the trial sequence was bad enough to almost ruin it for me, but I’ve decided that the show’s immorality is starting to wear on me.

I don’t normally care if a show is immoral or not. But this one is really hung up on morality, so it seems weird that it is so gutless about whether what Daredevil’s doing is moral or not. It seems, I think, to have skipped asking itself that question. I mean, yes, Matt asks himself that question in the first season and settles on an answer, but Matt is a madman.

Does the show think that what Matt’s doing is right? If we’ve skipped ahead to asking if Matt’s approach is better than, say, The Punisher’s, then the question of whether what he’s doing is right seems to have been settled. But I can’t help but feel that the moral thing for the show to do is to never let the viewer stop asking him or herself if Matt’s actions continue to be moral or were ever moral to begin with.

Which is weird because everyone else in the show seems to have a moral code, some of which have a moral dilemma at their core. Karen wants the truth. Foggy wants to do good. Elektra wants to be good. Frank wants to find the people who killed his family and have his revenge. Karen has some lie she can’t live with. Foggy has to defend a guy he loathes. Elektra murders people. Frank may ultimately find that some decision he made put his family in harm’s way–and then what? Kill himself?

But what does Matt want? I honestly don’t think the show has decided. And, since it hasn’t decided, it can’t effectively make the argument that what Matt wants is right, which, presumably, if he’s the hero, is the argument the show should be making. Or, if it wants to be a more grown-up show, it could do a better job of arguing that Matt is undermining at every step his ability to get what he wants. Which, upon reflection, may be what it’s trying to do… but it’s just not getting there for me.

If protecting your community is important to you, then you need to be a part of that community. Matt puts his community at arm’s length. So, why does he care about protecting it?

 

Collaborating

I guess I’m not done thinking about The Black Tapes or Tanis yet. I want to learn the trick they use all the time of leaving a kind of blank space of innuendo for the reader/listener to collaborate in the story with them.

It’s there in the “affair” Strand and Alex may be having/may have had, which is never alluded to in the text of the show, but happens wholly in the inflection of the text. Like, they create this unspoken something and they leave vague signposts pointing to it and then they leave it to their audience to decide what’s going on there.

And, like we talked about yesterday, there’s something similar going on in the way they set the stage for the assumption of Alex’s possession.

And like, with Tanis, I think this trick is even more explicit. Nic goes…someplace, right? But then he can’t remember what all happened while he was there. So, we’re again circling around something unspoken and trying to guess what’s in that blank spot based on all the clues surrounding it.

To me, the hardest part of this trick has to be that you need to know where your story is going and you need to rightly judge which parts you can count on your audience to fill in, but you need to leave plausible signposts along the way that clue them into what you might not be saying, BUT you need to not make those signposts so obvious.

I appreciate that the people making the podcasts are playing it straight–like those really are real podcasts and their involvement is as real, non-fiction podcast makers. But man, I would also really love to know who they are because I would LOVE to ever hear them talk about their craft.

Pacific Northwest Stories

The Black Tapes: There’s a glitch (or there was, anyway, the folks on Reddit are making it sound like they removed it) in the Squarespace ad where Alex repeats herself in slightly different phrases that, when it comes, is so fucking unsettling I had to pause the podcast and walk around a little. I’m fascinated just by the ways they put their stories together, how they make things creepy. The Squarespace ad was so brilliant because it felt like a moment where Alex’s falling-apart was so bad that it had leaked into the framework of the show, instead of just staying in-narrative.

The other structural thing they did that I thought was brilliant is that very, very early on in the show, I guess it must be in the first episode, before things settle into being about Strand and his black tapes, they mention that they’re going to look at people who do lots of different things. They specifically mention geocaching.

Then this episode starts with them “re-piloting” the series and interviewing a geocacher. This, to me anyway, has the effect of bringing past episodes directly into mind. This is reinforced with the re-introduction of Tannis Braun. And then the knocking.

Oh, wait, maybe I’m actually talking about the same narrative technique. They are, I think, making good use of the expectation of sets of three. We hear three recording “glitches” with Alex–the knocks, the voice, the Squarespce ad. Then there are three call-backs to early episodes.

So, without explicitly saying it, it sets up a kind of line of thought for the listener–something unnerving is happening involving Alex; think of earlier episodes. And she states explicitly in earlier episodes that she’s terrified of being possessed. They barely have to show us anything strange with Alex–just that she can’t sleep and it’s making her feel weird–but they’ve left us the right kinds of things to allow us to jump to the conclusion that she’s possessed.

That level of control of the subtext is something I’m really envious of.

Tanis. Whoa. I genuinely don’t know what to say about it. I think they nailed the landing. So, so good. I now want to go back to listen to the whole thing and see what I think.

Tiny Gloating

I keep forgetting that I wanted to make this point. So, Chris Stapleton remade George Jones’s “Tennessee Whiskey” (well, Jones made it famous, but anyway).

George:

I one-hundred percent recommend just watching George’s face through this whole performance. He just has such great expressions.

And Chris:

Okay, you all know that I had a belief that Gretchen Wilson could have salvaged her career with an album of country standards (I, myself, was especially keen on her doing “I’m Going to Hire a Wino” which I think would have been brilliant).

I thought it was such a good idea I even pitched it to someone who was, at the time, in a position to rip the idea off from me and do something with it. I would not have minded! It would have been worth it just to have the album!

But, boy oh boy, did I get told what a stupid idea that was and that nobody wants to hear artists doing other people’s songs anymore. The fans don’t know old songs so they don’t care about them. Labels, in fact, have forbidden covers on albums unless you’re a “niche” artist.

Years go by. This happens. I laugh.

Country Radio

At least one country station in rural Tennessee is playing Justin Timberlake’s “Drink You Away,” which I think has to be a result of there still being some local programming people AND his appearance with Chris Stapleton.

I also heard this song as I was driving the backroads of Tennessee and I was like, “Damn, this is going to be stuck in my head.” I’m a sucker for a good sing-along song. I did kind of wonder if someone this young, when she mentions Hank, means Sr. or Jr. Then I wondered where she was hearing either of them on the radio. But anyway, I like this song and I’m sad to learn that it’s getting caught up in the whole “But is it country?” debate. This is a good song. If it’s not country, who’s going to play it?

The Veil

I watched The Veil last night on Netflix and it’s kind of terrible, but terrible in a way I really enjoy. Like, you go the whole movie not quite sure if it’s working, some not-good-storytelling stuff happens, and then some really fine story-telling stuff happens and you think, man, if they stick the ending, this movie is going to be amazing.

But, if you paused the movie, say to go to the bathroom right when you had that thought, while you were peeing, you might ponder “What would a stuck ending look like?” And when you realize you can’t come up with one that quite satisfies you, you realize it’s not a good enough movie for the movie makers to have come up with one either.

And, ultimately, than ends up being true.

So, I guess, spoiler alert from here on out.

The movie is basically Jim Morrison/Jim Jones meets The Wicker Man. Except The Veil starts from a position of disgusting you with its occultists and then moves you into a position of kind of sympathizing with them. Except… except I’m not sure everyone working on the movie got that. So, the ending trades a lot on the occultists really being evil instead of just really zealous. And that’s a shame. I think a more unsettling ending would have been if it had just stuck with more ambiguity.

Like maybe if the occultists did everything they did but, instead of killing the daughter of the FBI agent, they let her in on their immortality (and the fact that they killed all her friends to achieve this form of it), she’s then left to know the truth but not be able to do anything about it, because who would believe her?

Then her guilt would parallel her father’s–he came to the cult and it resulted in everyone’s deaths. She came to the compound and it resulted in everyone’s deaths.

I would have liked to have seen them restart their cult.

Killing her just seemed like a kind of weird cop-out and not nearly as horrifying as the revelation of why the occultists died.

Thomas Jane played the head occultist and, if Wikipedia is to be believed, he wrote most of his own lines, to make the character an occultist, not a fundamentalist preacher. Perhaps they should have also given him a go at writing the ending.

But, y’all, he is fantastic. Every time he’s on screen, you wish you were watching just the movie about him. His character, I thought, was a perfect mixture of creepy and really compelling. I mean, watching him on screen, I realized I would be very susceptible to a cult with a guy like that trying to do the things he was trying to do–especially if he was having the kinds of success he was having–at the head.

Which was interesting because I’ve never really understood how people get caught up in cults. I mean, I understand it intellectually, but I haven’t before had the understanding that comes from “Oh, yes, I see how I could get caught up in this.”

Anyway, I think it’s a not-great movie, but it’s totally worth watching for being partially great and Thomas Jane’s character being a revelation.

Please

As you guys know, I am deeply in love with The Black Tapes podcast and its close cousin, Tanis. This week on TBT, Strand, the grouchy, brilliant skeptic whose whole purpose in life, it seems, is to poop on all of the supernatural fun of the show (but who keeps the mysterious, unexplained black tapes in the first place), has returned from some kind of manly breakdown, a scruffy mess in need of help from Alex, our plucky protagonist, in the search for his wife.

He begs her. “Please.”

He says that word, “Please,” in such a way that I’m swooning a little, like some Victorian in a too-tight corset, just thinking about it.

So, a lot of people, people who enjoy TBT, give it some shit for the not-stellar voice acting. I disagree in that I think it’s a deliberate style choice, which either does it for you or doesn’t. I don’t think it’s poor acting. I have lots of reasons for this belief and I’m right.

But my main reason is that there is something going on between Strand and Alex. Well, no, it’s over, whatever there was. That’s obvious both in the text of the show (in that he hangs up on her and then vanishes) and in the way he says that “please,” the way you beg an ex-lover for something, the way you use that quiet voice, that desperate voice, the one that says “Remember how vulnerable we were in private? I am that vulnerable now and I need you.”

But there was something going on between them. I think it started when they went on a trip together and we heard it in the way he asked her if she was going to leave the recorder running.  And we’ve heard it in the way she calls him “Richard” when she’s annoyed with him, like she can’t believe their physical intimacy didn’t buy her a level of trust with him or make him take her more seriously.

i don’t think there’s anything in the context of the show–no words spoken–that confirms the affair. I’ve listened to the whole thing twice now.

The affair, to the extent it does or doesn’t exist, is a story being told in the ways those actors say ordinary words in what passes for mundane conversations.

That’s a remarkable piece of artistry.

Trigger Warnings

We were talking about this over on Facebook, but I wanted to talk some about it here, too. I like trigger warnings. I loathe the demand for trigger warnings.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying, “Brace yourselves!” in any situation in which you can reasonably guess someone might like to know he or she should brace themselves. We don’t pick on people for needing handrails to climb steps or make fun of places that put out signs warning you when the floor is wet.

I just can’t and will never see anything wrong with giving people a head’s up about what the content of something is. I mean, no one laughs at people who look at a movie poster and say “Ugh, yuck, I can’t handle horror.” We see that it’s good to know what kind of movie it is so that they can avoid it, so why is it so funny and annoying if professors put content notes on their syllabi? I don’t and will never get it. It seems like a nice courtesy.

But I’ve been around on the internet a long time and I’ve seen the ugly fights that feminists have among themselves. I’ve seen the same old provocateurs reappear over and over. My friend lost her job to an internet shit-storm that could not be stopped, even after the original shitter realized he had shit in the wrong direction. I have seen the ways that people work themselves up into a righteous belief that the asshole thing they’re doing is justified, is deserved.

And that aspect of trigger warnings pisses me off.

Every internet shit storm I have ever seen stir up goes like this: Someone does something or says something. Someone else says, “How dare you? That was so stupid because…” (At this point, though it’s a fight, everything’s fine. But the atmospheric conditions are ripe.) Then someone (maybe the someone else, maybe one of the someone else’s backers) says, “You should have known that was stupid.” And then a group comes to think that, since you knew it was stupid and you did it anyway, you were the aggressor and, as the aggressor, you must be dealt with. (Even now there’s still the potential for it to be okay.) Then the crowd becomes convinced that you should have known they would find it offensive. And then the shit-storm is on.

The fuel of the shit-storm is when the crowd becomes outraged that you did not anticipate its reaction.

Once that dynamic is in play, the monster is loose. You are in trouble because you couldn’t guess ahead of time what some strangers wanted from you. And you will continue to be in trouble because there’s no way to guess what they want from you, what would appease them.

Like I said on Facebook, this is the thought-process of an abuser, the idea that everyone around you should be anticipating your needs and meeting them. And, in that regard, it’s the thought-process of an abused person to believe that you are to blame for the shit-storm in some way because you didn’t.

And I have seen trigger warnings used as a measure of whether the content creator (what a terrible term) has properly anticipated the needs of strangers. I have seen the absence of trigger warnings or a missed trigger warning used as a reason to bring down the shit-storm (like, if a story says, “Trigger warning: rape, incest, child abuse” someone angry because it doesn’t also say “child rape” as if you couldn’t have discerned that from the other trigger warnings).

I will never be okay with this use of trigger warnings. I don’t think anyone is obliged to provide them. I don’t think it’s wrong not to provide them.

I think a lot of people in our culture feel best (safest, most secure) when they are in control of others. I think they go to great lengths to put themselves (or to try to) in control of others because it’s soothing to them–either being in control or punishing others for not letting themselves be controlled.

I find that dynamic really troubling. I don’t think trigger warnings are to blame for it, of course, but I think the rise of the internet shit-storm is a result of it, for sure.

By the Name of Polly Anne

I think so much about this song, all the time. It’s not just the way that women’s suffering and death gets turned into art that gets enjoyed (and by me, too, I’m not letting myself off the hook) with no regard for the women at the center of it. It’s the idea of someone going and getting these women. If I think about it too much, it makes me cry, the idea that there is someone who recognizes that something bad has happened and who goes and gets them. Even though they’re dead. This getter doesn’t let them get lost.

I think a lot about who would go get those girls. Who could see a folk song for what it is, know what it means to have your tragic loss made into someone else’s campfire sing-along. Who is strong enough to go song by song–Delia, the Knoxville Girl, the Wexford Girl, that girl behind you not being able to “forget the day I shot that bad bitch down?” She had a name, you know, that bad bitch, in earlier versions–Sadie. The girl in the willow garden. So very many of them.

I think it’s Polly, who picked up John Henry’s hammer after he died and drove steel like a man. Who else could be up for the job?

I had this idea while I was sick of a cult developing around Polly, who would greet each other when they were doing their cultish deeds with “By the name of Polly Anne.” Maybe they all wear tiny sledgehammer pendants and that’s how they recognize each other.

But I didn’t know what to do with the idea. Or at least, I don’t yet.

Rhythm

I’ve been trying to decide why this song works so well and I think this morning I finally figured it out. The words and the drum part are doing something interesting. The drum is pretty straight forward. But Vile alternates which kinds of sounds he’ll sing on the beat. If you ignore all the other syllables in the song, the syllables that hit on the beat are iambs.

I’m pretty sure, anyway.

Pop Culture Coma

Since we were both sick, we spent a lot of time watching TV this weekend. I tried to watch a “documentary” about how Courtney killed Kurt, but it had this really soothing rain sound it used to signify when we were in Seattle and damn if I didn’t fall asleep through it. I was, however, left with the opinion that, in spite of the “documentary”‘s claims, Courtney did not kill Kurt.

It’s based on one simple fact that comes up over and over again in everything ever written or filmed having to do with grunge. No one likes Courtney Love. So, if she had killed Kurt, why would a conspiracy to keep her from being charged work? People protect powerful people and people they like. Courtney Love wasn’t either of those things.

Second, we watched Jessica Jones. It could have benefited from only being ten episodes long, as a couple of the later episodes were a lot of nothing. But it was pretty good. I had been afraid to watch it, afraid it would hit too close to home, but, for whatever reason, it didn’t.

One thing I was glad they did a really good job of portraying, a thing I remember viscerally, is the way in which you’re to blame for the man’s behavior. Everything happens because you wouldn’t do what he wanted. Not just his reasoning, but the reasoning of so many people you know. Why don’t you just appease him?

And then I loved the way, after all the pressure to appease, when you do appease him, that’s taken as proof of your complicity, of your secret wanting of all of this.

The truth being that, as long as he’s focused on you, a lot of people around you will find ways to believe that you’re the one out of line. And, like they show on Jessica Jones, sometimes you will be. And yet, somehow, his out-of-line-ness is never up for the same kind of discussion. If anything, it’s seen as an equal and appropriate reaction to your craziness.

The impossibility of getting people to see what’s going on. I liked that.

We’re also still watching The X-Files. Last night, we hit one of my favorite episodes, “The Field Where I Died.” I remember watching that in college and being wrecked over it. Crying, reading Robert Browning, thinking it was so fucking brilliant.

It was so stupid. It broke my heart! I was so excited to resee it and, man, it fucking… where was all the magic?

I know things change and we are not the people we were twenty years ago, but man, I felt really estranged from my self from two decades ago.

King Kong

King Kong has been sitting in the back of my mind for a few days. I don’t know why. But I’ve been thinking how King Kong is probably, if someone wants to try to understand the fucked up way America works about race, the perfect movie.

King Kong is racist as shit. The big black ape who wants to possess the beautiful white woman as his own, even though he doesn’t really know what to do with her or, if he did, it would destroy her to have it happen. His abduction of her is a sexual abduction.

So, there you have the deepest white American fear–these animals are coming for our women and they’re dangerous and powerful and scary. Fortunately, we can outsmart and outgun them.

But from the minute audiences started watching King Kong, they started sympathizing with Kong. His death felt like an unjust tragedy. Clearly, it’s supposed to feel like a victory–We’ve defeated the monster and rescued the damsel. But, as evidenced by the fact that they rushed a Son of Kong into theaters also in ’33, people didn’t want Kong dead. They wanted to see more of him.

That, right there, is fucking America. That’s the bitter twist at the heart of minstrelsy, too. The racial stereotype designed to reinforce white America’s worst beliefs about the talents and abilities of black Americans leaves white Americans screaming for more.

The argument we make to ourselves that justifies our treatment of black people ends up encouraging sympathy for black people in some abstract way. But, as complicated as that is, it’s also too easy. Because it’s not sympathy for black people, but sympathy for black people as we imagine them. Which is why our sympathy, throughout American history, doesn’t necessarily result in improvements for black people.

There’s a special effect here, at the heart of American culture, a trick of light and sound, a series of mirrors reflecting back to us a misshapen view of reality. We act as if those misshapes are real. Sometimes our acting on them has devastating consequences. Sometimes they have unexpected good consequences.

You can’t predict how things are going to come through the fun house.

But it’s important to acknowledge that the fun house is there, I think.

Too Close to Home

My favorite thing about TANIS this week was how they dealt with the discomfort of reading history for vast conspiracies. It’s one thing to say that Charlemagne was looking for Tanis. It’s another thing to suggest that Kurt Cobain was killed over it.

But where’s the line? I find it really curious that I saw nothing wrong with giving Jack Parsons over to fiction, but I was uncomfortable with L. Ron Hubbard being used in that way, even though they’re contemporaries and, if anyone would love becoming a legend, I imagine it’s Hubbard.

I can’t say why Hubbard seemed for me “too soon.” But I thought this week’s episode, in which Nick is really uncomfortable with a conspiracy theorist who crosses his “too soon” line, did a good job of making clear that the show isn’t unwittingly pressing these buttons.

The Sound of Things

Yesterday morning, they played this song on the radio:

They were trying to argue that it was a kind of proto-rap, which is not really an argument I find that interesting. But I do think that the song has something in common with rap. Not just the rapid-fire delivery but with the joy taken in the sound of words, the playfulness with the very noise of language. These names of places are just fun to say.

I also like this song, because it reminds me that a lot of Johnny Cash songs have a kind of scary humor to them that may not always be immediately obvious. In this one, it’s only when you listen carefully, when you hear him say “I’m a killer” that you start to be very nervous for the guy who picked him up going to Winnemucca.

There is a tradition of kind of “talking” singing songs. Like, you can hear it in “Hot Rod Lincoln,” which, in my head, is a kind of brother to “I’ve Been Everywhere.”

But, clearly, this is about the noise the instruments can make and the story and the sounds of words is less paramount.

I was kind of thinking that this song, by Nathaniel Rateliff, has that same kind of joy in the sounds of words. Who knows what he’s saying? Who even cares? It just sounds like something.

Tanis

So, I’ve been listening to the Tanis podcast, as you all know. I love The Black Tapes and this scratches that same itch. Plus, I have to say, I think I’ll be less annoyed if this story doesn’t resolve at the end of the season, since it’s hard to imagine how it could resolve.

But, after this episode, I’ve decided the other reason I’m listening with rapt attention and fear is that they’re taking L. Ron Hubbard and moving him into the fictional realm. Like we talked about this morning, they’re making him a legend. And I am a little afraid for them over it. But also in awe. It feels so brave.

As I’ve been working on Ashland, I’ve been thinking that there are two realms we always live in–real and fiction. And, like the realm of the elves is said to lie just next to but often unrecognized in our world, fiction and fact lie together. Two rivers sharing the same bed, passing next to each other, influencing each other, often intermixing in ways that can’t later be separated.

Sometimes, I suspect that religion is an effort to peel away the too-close-for-comfort nature of the Unreal and set it up in Heaven or down in Hell or off in the distance, somewhere where we don’t have to worry about it. But it doesn’t move. It’s still right here, us always slipping into it without realizing it.

As it must be, because how else can you understand a soul or consciousness or this weirdness that makes us think we have a self? It makes no sense. It is the Unrealness at our very core, the story told to us from the beginning, that we have an interior life.

Which is not to say that I don’t believe in myself, my self. I believe in a great deal of Unreal things. I’m just saying that the strangeness is in us, from the start.

Anyway, I hope the Tanis folks stay safe.