Friday, August 22, 2008

A Book Club Question and My Response...


You've got me curious. You've read a lot of books, watched a lot of movies, listened to a lot music, viewed a lot of television, and you seem, from what little I know intimately (that is personally) about you (and granted what I do know is based solely on thread posts), to like nearly everything. But it only makes sense that you'd not be too fond of at least a few examples from each genre. Is this true? If so, what are a few books, movies, etc. that have curdled your insides with their worthlessness?

Cyniclad, hmm. Weeelll. First I want to apologize at answering you with such a ridiculously long response. I don't blame you if you are not inclined to read the whole thing. But know, that I took your question to heart...and viewing and reading is something I take very seriously...and my philosophy around such. Maybe we should exchange e-mails as I have taken up so much space here at the forum. Sorry. (I think I've actually managed to post a longer comment than the redoubtable Ken, Peter or Bob kindred souls in marathon forum posts! heh!)

Yes, I guess it does seem like I like everything, heh heh. I am actually a massive snob. I do not like totalitarian agricultural economy or name-calling or big-box stores. I think totalitarian agriculture is a desperate matrix for survival in lessening resources so I can see how it developed, but I don't like how it dominates the way we make a living or share resources. Name-calling either of an article, human activity, product or each other has reduced so many potentially interesting discussions and human relationships to petty brief chit chat. And big-box stores colonize land instead of offering residences above them and send profits to central offices and only a few personal pockets rather than the community they are supposed to serve. I am not crazy about politics either, especially politicians...although there have been some community leaders and civil servants I admire here and there. I blame totalitarian agriculture on our allowing a system that lets politicians think they are leaders, rather than civil servants.

I tend to be a person who is interested in nature and human activities. I just find life very fun and the things that humans do, for the most part, absolutely fascinating. I find things far more interesting to think about in general than my own personal taste.

I can't say I was always like that though. I went through a phase when I was an early punk that I rejected almost any thing that didn't come from or associate or was in tune with the punk aesthetic. Henry Rollins has discussed how fascist this trait for rejecting so much of popular culture in the punk movement was back in the day. I couldn't find his quote, sorry, because he says it much better than I can.

But there was a time when I rejected the music my parents listened to, I didn't like the Beatles or the Eagles Barbra Steisand, country-western, opera, or anything "over-produced" in music. Fortunately this phase didn't last that long. I had fallen into a nihilistic funk if you will. I was reading Nietzsche and existentialists. I was listening to Crass, The Swans, Sisters of Mercy, Joy Division, The Birthday Party, Bauhaus, Black Tape For A Blue Girl, Throbbing Gristle. I saw The Clash five times during this period and they are probably still my most nostaligic "favourite" band. I immersed my self in "art house" films. I thought Disney sucked.

I was a sprocket long before Mike Myers portrayed how hilarious we were back then. Or the Prince of Abyss.

I don't know exactly what happened, I kind of just bored myself out of it. It was intensely poetic time of my life, studying art and poetry, nightclubbing. And then I just realized...hey I find a lot of things really fun.

Fortunately, I was influenced by friends, who were musicians, housewives and a variety of sods and pisspots who taught me about music history and introduced me to a variety of movies. And forunatly, I was young and not stuck in a rut. I've sen many people get stuck in such a rut. There are all kinds of mindsets that are the death to insightful reading, viewing and criticism.

I still mostly, when alone listen to my goth and punk roots.

I have also always been what might be stereotyped as a "people person". I am really a lover of meeting people and one of my favourite past times is to hang out, shoot the shit and drink coffee. That has always been my lifestyle. I am really into hearing what people do, how they spend their time and what they are interested in. And I love big fat discussions.

I have a group of friends that share this past time with me. And each one of them is massively opinionated too. I have a friend Mister Anchovy who is kind of like, forum webmaster Rick Wallach separated at birth. In attitude. He mainly focuses his listening to folk music, say Bob Dylan and obscure accordion music: he is bewildered at the popularity and media machine of Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears. (but he is a "go-to" guy when it comes to folk traditions) It makes no sense how we became soul mates. Our friendship began over arguing about Eva Hesse and Di Chirico and Philip Guston etc etc. And music and movies. From our first studying art and music and such...we have always had massive discussions. My friends do not agree with me on just about everything. I have hardly any friends who like U2. And they are one of my favourite bands. and my friends don't always understand my rejection of totalitarian agriculture. Most of my friends think I am nuts...and well, I think so too, ha ha. But friends don't care if your socks don't match. And over the years we have learned how to have disagreements and long running discussions despite many of our differences. Friends don't care if your socks don't match. And... my friends and I being so opinionated...we joke that we are friends because no one else wants to hang out with us. one point I had a kind of personal moment when I realized hey, I like stuff why am I restricting my life to one kind of music. My friends music was important to me. Other people's interests are very important to me. As I studied painting I realized, it doesn't make sense for me to hang on to "favourite colours". There is no room in art for favouring colours over content. Is it true, form follows content?

I think walking into a movie theatre or an art much more powerful when one tries to just learn.

And I do believe in life long learning. At the risk of sounding hopelessly Oprah in a hostile environment, heh heh I love aha moments. And I love transformative art...and surrender is part of that process: of viewing, making and discussing. In my opinion. In my personal experience.

To just open up and see where the narratives take one. Plus, I just plum find it fascinating to expose myself to an art show. I don't ever read movie or art or book reviews. Sometimes I will cut them out and save them to read later after I've seen for myself. Many critics now have kind of resorted to a Seinfeld mentality of criticism. Revealing a plot and dismissing particular shallow traits in their observations (can't date her she has "man hands" "eats peas with only one pea on a fork"). (I loved Seinfeld show, but not because they are cool, but because they were funny because they were all disturbed and not well-adjusted and of course they all had to land up in jail..where else?). The trend I see in criticism has lost the flavour of how does one feel about the characters, story, and turned into a more "rational" approach to studying and commenting on art, books. In my opinion, a critic actually needs to have as vast an imagination as the art and books they critique.

Now, Steve, you ask me to share movies or books I found "worthless". You know, that really defines the difference of approach I take. I am a people person. I really enjoy life and nature. I just don't see something people do as worthless. It seems so negative a way of approaching the vast history of objects and stories people share.

Nothing about human life or activity is worthless to me. It might be horrific (war and cruelty) it might be shallow or incomplete in it's intent...but worthless?

No I think it's possible to even find some value in a weak movie or story. I am also thinking there is a value in "bad art". I was turned on to the The Museum of Bad Art recently (thanks Wes). The existence of this museum makes perfect (and often funny and even touching) sense to me.

Part of the human condition is the urge to make or lay claim to something. To try to share something important...and as humans...we make mistakes. Those mistakes are as fascinating to me as the successes.

There are all kinds of books and movies I don't like. I read On Beauty with a book club last year. I thought it was a failure. For one the characters were all rather unlikable...but not in a purposeful manner. And I believe Zadie Smith made a huge oversight. She introduced a stolen painting in the novel...and totally didn't use such an excellent plot device. The stolen painting was wrapped up as an afterthought. I dod however like Francine Prose's novel Blue Angel more and I comare them because they had similar content and settings and themes.

I once read a book I really really hated. A friend had wanted me to read it so we could discuss it. I read it. And I said, I will never read another book by that author. Yuck! I didn't like the style of writing, I thought there were actual sentences that sounded phony.

See, I am suspicious of phony things and people.

Then... months (years?) later someone mentioned a book they thought I would enjoy. I love novels with adventure, action, intense styles and often taboo subject matter, interspecies's not a "rule" but it's a preference for me. So they said, this book had animals, the ocean (I love ocean adventures!) and some other aspects I look for in novels. Yes, I was totally interested in this book.

Oh no. It was by the same author of Self the very same author I said I would never read again!

Steve, I am a Buddhist and there is a word we have called "lila" and it is when the universe plays a joke on you. It is often a sense of fun and testing for the practitioner. And really, I tend to not take "reality" or "realism" as seriously as some folks in North America and Europe. My meditation and study of both Hinduism and Buddhism has likely been a force on how I feel about reading and viewing.

What a lila!
It turned out that in fact, I LOVED The Life of Pi and even went on to get several awards. Shows what I know about myself.

My likes and dislikes are not always the way I move through the world of reading and viewing.

I don't like Margeret Atwood. I've often said I would rather drink a glass of saliva than read another of her books. You know, and yet she is so immensely popular. I know it's me, and also I know she writes interesting things. I do happen to like her novel Surfacing. I thought it was really I also read that when I was a kid...and the subject matter stills interests me.

I used to not liek Julia Roberts. Although she is gorgeous on camera and has a lot of charisma...I used to not like her acting style. I wasn't a fn of the movie Pretty Woman. I prefered the dark anecdote, Whore by Ken Russell.

Then she blew me away in her role in My Best Friends Wedding. She really touched me with her portrayal. And although I am not a superdooper fan of Pretty Woman I have become a fan of Roberts.

I am not a fan of classical music. I find it depressing. I was introduced to classical music through movie soundtracks. I love 2001, Clockwork Orange, Indiana Jones, Star Wars (the movies as well as the soundtracks). So..I don't hate classical music, and over the years I've gotten way more familiar and enjoy much of it. But I don't generally choose to play it say, around the house, or for a party. It depresses me, like my actual metabolism heh heh.

I watched a movie the other day called In The Land of Women and it was okay. I was a little uninterested during the movie and that was sad. It had some humour...but it had the potential to be a lot deeper and funnier considering the interworkings of the characters, the subtle humour, and the heavy subject matter. And the untapped talents of the actors like Meg Ryan and Olympia Dukakis. I have never walked out of a movie, but I almost thought about not finishing this one. I love the actor Kristen Stewart (the daughter in Panic Room the teen hobo in Into The Wild) I think she is utterly compelling onscreen. I can't look away from her. And so far in her young career a awesome actor.

I am not crazy about chamber music or duelling string ensembles.


L.M. said...


That's actually a question that I would never have thought to ask you, you've always seemed clear on your preferences, though your questioner is correct, you don't go into detail that often about it.

About changing evolving tastes, I'm amazed at how much stuff I've loved that I was somehow sneered out of admitting to in my younger years. No such problems now, I'm not guilty about many of my lowbrow pleasures anymore.

mister anchovy said...

It is true that I like all kinds of folk musics, including various American folk traditions such as Old Time and Appalachian music, the African American stringband tradition as exemplified by ensembles like the Carolina Chocolate Drops, country and western music, cowboy music, Creole, Zydeco, and Cajun music, Tex-Mex, and Norteno down in Mexico, Bluegrass, Portuguese folk music, Basque music, Roma Wedding music, Klezmer, West African drumming, shanties, the wonderful Newfoundland accordion music, Quebecois music, Maritime fiddle music, Forro, Samba, Vallenato and more, including American 'singer/songwriter' traditions which include people like Weird Bob, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Ian Tyson, Ramblin Jack Elliott, Woody Guthrie and Tom Russell.

It is true that accordion is featured in many of the musical forms I like best, but in fact, I came to love the accordion via the musical traditions rather than by seeking cultures that feature accordion in their folk musics.

I also love jazz. I grew up on a healthy dose of Dixieland, and later discovered players like Monk, Mingus, Roland Kirk, Ornette Coleman and the amazing Sun Ra Arkestra. I also enjoy some acid jazz and various forms that nudge hiphop. I especially like to crank jazz in the studio when I'm working. When I grow up, I want to learn to play clarinet.

I was a teenage blues freak, and still like blues a lot, although I'm very particular about the blues I listen to these days. I'm a blues snob for sure.

I enjoy and listen to many kinds of pop music, from what I call rock and roll to funk and soul to old punk tunes to older Doowop tunes to Tin Pan Alley standards to people hanging on the fringes like Tom Waits. That said, I don't listen to much music on the radio because many stations that play music seem to have a very narrow playlist structure.

Your post implied that I listened to a pretty narrow spectrum of music, by lumping "folk music" together as if it was a style. I thought about that, and I don't think that's really true. Perhaps it seems that way to people who see pop music in its many forms as normal and everything else as obscure. It may also be because I'm an opinionated crank. I'm not sure. It seems to me that we are blessed on this planet with such a diversity of musical traditions, it would be a shame to not explore some of them.

I don't think the number of units sold is a measure of how interesting music might be. Once in a while, I hear very interesting music that has been successfully mass-marketed, but mostly I hear music that has been designed to appeal to the greatest demographic possible.

I don't think I'm really bewildered by the success of performers like Brittany Speares or Amy Winehouse. The mechanics of the music industry are clear enough. So is the cult of celebrity we see every day. Here in Toronto, even the news hour features a celebrity gossip section. Even our local news-talk radio station now features Perez Hilton's syndicated gossip spots. I suppose I wish things were different, but wishing won't make it so.

What I think we've lost, and what the recording industry over the past 90 years or so has in a way taken away from us, is music we play in our community. I started to really work at learning to play music after I turned 40, and I think started playing in order to take some of that back. I heard a guy playing Portuguese folk tunes on a button accordion on his porch and I thought, this guy's doing something right, or at least something I like.

Remember when we were at that Michelle Shocked Show in Vancouver many years ago? She played Strawberry Jam, a song about making music in your community, in your family, in your home. She said something like, there's only 3 chords in this song, and if I can play them, you can play them too. If all of us started making home-made jam, pretty soon those corporate jam factories would be out of business. Curiously enough, that stuck with me for a long time. Michelle Shocked's story, by the way, is a very interesting one, but that's for another post.

That's why I enjoy busking too, making music in my community, making the music I want to make too. I think I could make more dough playing Neil Young tunes rather than Corridinhos and Schottisches, but c'est la vie, eh?

mister anchovy said...

P.S. I can't stand U2. Har!

Candy Minx said...

Hi L.M. wonderful to hear from you! It's funny about "guilty pleasures" and "low brow" stuff. You know, depending on what group of people one would ask...we might all be surprised what is considered "low brow"...and the idea that some people like low brow or don't is very interesting to me. Too often these tastes are formats of class and economic prefernces or out-dated ways of classing the other people in our lives. Some people think western music is low brow, some think various tv shows are low brow etc etc. I find these personal defintions pretty interesting...and I like to think what would a visitor from another planet think of these so-called distinctions.

Mister Anchovy, wow thanks for such an amazing response. I am sorry if I put words in your mouth, not my intention but you are so experienced with a lot of music that you are a good example, plus our history of such discussions. Did you like how I said our friendship is part of us being "soul mates"? I almost went and edited that out it was so touchy feely heh heh. I guess I see us a kindred souls for sure though. You are a go-to guy for much of these areas of thought. I did not mean to imply you had a narro area of listening, rather I may have been too general in not identifying folk traditions etc. As you know, I consider bands like U2, Britney Spears, Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, Sex Pistols (and more) part of the same folk tradition as blues and country and the glbal especially African influences.

And I know you hate U2, you tell me at least once a year heh heh!!!

I am with you regarding the homemade jam...and I often use that anecdote of Michele Shocked for many discussions. It hit home to me and stayed with me ever since. i have the fantasy of you, Mikedelic Brownage, Vanderheide and Asterisk each making home made jam for a soundtrack of the film I am slowing piecing together. I'd love us all to meet and have you all put some sounds down. A girl can dream right?

I don't see the Perez Hilton on radio, or children's music being the focus of tabloids as something to wish away or regret. I agree with you though that the focus on certain images and sounds as dominant in our culture is something that does concern me. It's why I loved that quote by Herzog I posted here a few days ago...

"Our civilization doesn't have adequate images, and I think a civilization is doomed or is going to die out like dinosaurs if it does not develop an adequate language or adequate images. I see it as a very very dramatic situation. For example, we have found out that there are serious problems facing our civilization, like energy problems, or environmental problems, or nuclear power and all this, or over-population of the world. But generally it is not understood yet that a problem of the same magnitude is that we do not have adequate images, and that's what I'm working on-a new grammar of images."

Underground Baker said...

What a great post and comments.

I had completely forgotten Michelle Shocked's talk about jam in the concert...but it resonates with all that I think and do regarding food (of course for me the jam is more literal than metaphorical), and most of the choices I make in day to day life, whether it is justifying a single purchase or what I try to teach my children in a given moment to what kind of work to do.

Speaking of images that tell us what can happen ... we took the kids to see Wall-e yesterday. I was sitting through the movie thinking "holy shit, this is pretty heavy stuff for the kids"."

I asked my 8 year old what he thought about the images of the earth in that movie and he said "they should have recycled more."
The movie bacame a good vehicle to talk about consumption, recycling and responsibility. Although the images were simple and direct, they were also effective.

But I am so ready for Herzog's "new grammar of images".

There is so much more to write, but I gotta go.

Candy Minx said...

Hey Babe you sexy vixen! Welcome back from your summer holidays! Isn't it funny and wonderful how all three of us at that same concert together (1989!!!) of Michele Shocked were all so moved by her words. I always think of that show and her home made jam. And it's something that the three of us also have in common is that commitment to home made things and making things ourselves from scratch. You know what it means right, neither of us fits in this society and we are luddites! heh heh!

I think seeing thigns with kids is really amazing. They often don't have the same conditions for "taste' and something liek a kids movie or tv shows is an opportunity for opening dialogue about "heavy" or difficult topics. When my daughter started watching Beverly Hills 90210...I was tolerant but next thing I knew, I was also hooked...and we began having some excellent discussions about substance abuse, peer pressure, class struggles and sex. And it was very comfortable because we were using the currency of pop culture to accomplish the communication.

mister anchovy said...

I'd make jam for your film anytime!

Wow, was that Michelle Shocked show really 1989? It seems like only yesterday...

The thing with a lot of folk musics is that they are developed in relative cultural isolation. Cajun music and Newfie music are good examples. Today in the world museum we all have instant access to everything. You could say that the bands and musicians you listed play a kind of global folk music, but to me that language isn't so useful, even if there is a really good argument to be made for that position.

Candy Minx said...

Yep, 1989. Time goes by so fast!

Wonderful perspesctive that so much of music was made in isolation and how limited geographic influences affected music forms. It's also interesting how that started to really change up. As isolation was a major facto in Cajun music...exposure became a major influence in cajun, country, bluegrass and blues getting influences upon each other...from exposure.

I guess the real pleasure of a "purist" preference is those music forms with little geographic and cultural influences...and as that changed the music changed.

Sometimes, I think an analogy for music is food. Our simple tasting...predictable foods in North America we call "comfort foods". In many ways I see the mainstream style of songs...especially for young people as related to comfort foods.

Children have very sensitive taste palettes. Often don't like tomatoes or spices. Ketchup is nice for kids taste buds because they are undeveloped taste buds and ketchup has a lot of sugar.

It makes sense to me that children like Britney Spears or the Jonas Brothers...the music is suitable to their developing palette.

I know a few adults who crave comfort foods. We have a couple friends who once a year, they crave McDonalds, or KFC. They feel it just comes over them. Or macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches. These are North America's comfort foods often from childhood. The taste is predictable and comforting.

With influences we can find Lebonese food, Indian curries and Mexican food have started to become basic food groups for exploration and enjoyment. Unless a child grows up with these various foods they are often not interested in them. Some people saychildrens taste buds actually change over the years.

The older people get, their taste buds fade and often they are more interested in spices, and often it's because they have weaker taste buds so can go for more power and flavour.

In this same you say some music has "been designed to appeal to the greatest demographic possible." We can see this in cooking and food preparation. Hospitals work on this as do childrens menus and fast food.

A lot of popular music is using simple "comfort" audio styles and melodic catches to appeal to a mass audience (either on purpose or other reasons, like to make money, or to make a song very accessible like the Beatles music?) The band Nirvana was very interested in making their style of hard rough punk and rock also have a very strong melodic backbone. Probably why they were so right for that exact moment in music history.

In some ways, Nirvana was macaroni and cheese with hot peppers and curry alternated...if you will...


Sometimes I do want a nice macaroni and's great for a group of peopel to dance with heh techno and pop music like Madonna, Chemical Bros. or U2 works great for a large group of people to dance to. Of course the guitarist in U2 is a complex musician and their music is also like macaroni and cheese with global spices added and complex riffs.

It's interesting to note that U2 was an alternative edgy band when they first began. After two or three albums they began to lose their original fans who only liked "alternative " music because they started writing songs that appealed to more people (on purpose or by accident ?) and many fans felt they "sold out".

In an opposite fashion...Bruce Springsteen was a massive popular act when he began and as his career spanned over time. I knew a lot of people who hated him because he was so mainstream. He has become "alternative" or more folk based, and many fans of early U2 now like the roots and passion of Springsteens work.

I can't say myself whether I would approach the popular music, "global folk music" as not useful. I have to think about that. The idea of a jusic as useful or not. This comes back to my experience that people do things and make things...and I am a people person so nothing people do is "useless" (or worthless) . I feel that is too nihlistic a worldview.

This idea challenges me because I know you're not a nihilistic person.

I tend to save my feeling of "useless" or "worthless" for the bad guys in the world. War criminals, drug lords, rapists, serial killers. I feel like choosing my battles on that one, rather than expanding my definition of useless to any musicians, or artists etc.

For the crappiest of crappy music is still there and made for the joy of community...and even if it's not my community say like teenagers for Britney Spears or Amy Winehouse...their music is ussually their comfort food. And as much as I think "comfort food" is not exactly healthy or is still food. Chances are those same kids will grow up and check out more flavours.

You can't put an old head on young shoulders, and why would you want to? it goes for complex music and art...the people who are really keeping the language of music diverse are often not popular even to "purists".

People like John Cage, John Zorn and Sonic Youth are the artists who have taken music to really complex flavours and recipes. But not only are children not going to "swallow" Sonic Youth...most mainstream music fans, and regular afficiandos are not interested in the pioneers and explorers of music preservation ( and exploration and extending language) like Sonic Youth and John Zorn.

The surest revolutionary tactic to ward ff the comfort food of popular music is to go out and buy a Sonic Youth record!