24 April 2008
I worry that performance is a dying art.
I was more patient and enthusiastic when I was younger, so I’ve been to enough shows to know that there are two categories of performers: those who have the magic and those who don’t. I’m not sure exactly how to describe the magic except to say that I know it when I see it. Unfortunately, I feel like I’m seeing it less and less often. There are plenty of awesome bands that are competent performers, but it takes something over and above making good music to really work a room.
It’s interesting that once a band has achieved a certain reputation, people seem afraid to admit when they aren’t so hot live. While it’s often true that liking a band can be enough to make a lackluster performance fun, are we so cowed by our own adoration that we can’t admit when a band simply isn’t worth seeing?
Case study: I saw a criminally bad performance by Okkervil River (a band I otherwise like) the other night. My god, they sucked. At times, I felt like I was listening to a high school band jamming in someone’s garage. During an entirely inappropriate slow number toward the beginning of their set, my disgusted companion (unfamiliar with their music) commented that the song sounded like Damien Rice. And Will Sheff was so affected and ridiculous that, a few minutes later, my companion whispered that he reminded her of Bono.
She wasn’t wrong on either count.
They were so bad, in fact, that I later googled reviews of their live performances to see what the rest of the world thinks. Imagine my surprise when I read reviews of the same tour (the same show, in one instance) that waxed on about their greatness. It was hard to believe that these people were talking about the same band. Did they genuinely believe they were great? Or did they feel obligated to pretend like they were?
The New Pornographers were better, but they were entirely without joy. Also, they attracted one of the lamest audiences I have ever seen in my life. (To take one example, the unpleasant girl standing in front of me had one of those purse-backpacks from the early nineties; I was tempted to steal her wallet just to teach her a lesson.) Performers with the magic can take you outside yourself, causing all the d-bags around you to melt away. As it was, the band and the audience were so unengaged that an outsider might have guessed that we had gathered to watch a speech or something.
Similarly, I was interested to read reviews of the Colin Meloy show I attended. It seemed like people really responded to Laura Gibson, the opening act, who has a nice voice that wasn’t enough to make up for my impression that she sucks at life. This was a woman who, between songs, spoke in the saddest mousy monotone you’ve ever heard about how she doesn't have an internet connection at home and thus was amazed, during her downtime on tour, to discover the miracle that is Wikipedia. For fuck’s sake, even those people who don’t believe in television know about Wikipedia. I think it’s the lamest kind of elitism to wear a willful lack of knowledge about popular culture as a badge of honor.
As for Colin Meloy, I’ll grant that he has the prerogative to take certain liberties with his solo performances. I’m sure that one of the reasons he tours alone is for the opportunity to goof off a little. I admire his sense of humor, but I also think that it holds him back as a performer. He was rarely able to make it through a song without interrupting himself with a joke; it seemed difficult for him to find the sweet spot. For whatever reason, he was unable to lose himself in the moment, and as a result I was unable to forget that I was sitting next to a thirteen-year-old girl accompanied by her mother. Even though I genuinely believe that he is a national treasure, and I would probably pay to hear him belch the alphabet, I can’t say that I left completely satisfied.
However much we admire one band or another, it’s our responsibility as a paying audience to point out when performers fall short. Does that sound mean-spirited? A few short weeks into my thirtieth year and I’m already a curmudgeon.
20 April 2008
While I felt ten shades of shitty, there are worse ways to spend your time than watching Deadwood. Actually, it might be the perfect thing to watch when you’re ill. It’s Shakespearean in the best sense of the word, hyper-literary and stylized but not so dense that you can’t keep up when you’re high on cold medicine. O, to talk like the people of Deadwood, where even the whores are eloquent! Watch this show.
The good news is that I’m feeling better, and my triumphant return to the world happily coincides with two shows—the kind where you go forth and rock, not the kind that you watch in your sickbed—that I have been looking forward to for a very long time. Hurrah!
Hopefully, that means I can resume posting all the hard-hitting news from my normal life (i.e., my apartment beyond the sickbed) very soon.
14 April 2008
Now, even though my torso aches from coughing, my throat is raw from the same, and my head is so stuffy that I still can’t hear anything, I’m so fucking grateful to be upright that I staggered directly to my desk to deliver this important message: evidently, being thirty means that a normal cold can, without warning, morph into unholy superflu that will knock you on your ass faster than a broken hip.
The one thing that has offered me any relief during these dark days has been slathering myself in that vile Vicks mentholated plasma goop, which has the added benefit of making me feel like a pioneer who is one step away from the leech cure. The other day, as I was applying a fresh coat, I remembered a story my mom used to tell me about her grandmother.
Back in mom’s day, people were uncivilized, which meant they allowed their elders to rot and die among family instead of quarantining them in nursing homes. Poor mom had to share a bedroom with her eighty-year-old grandmother, who, just after her nightly toe touches, would reach into her economy-sized jar of Vicks and snarf down a fingerful of the stuff before she turned in for the night.
Mom isn’t sure if that was Grandmother C’s secret to longevity or if she just really liked the taste of Vicks.
While it’s upsetting to know that I descend from plasma eaters, the sad thing is that if I thought for one minute that stuffing a wad of Vicks down my gullet would make me feel the slightest bit better, I would do so with gusto…perhaps with a Vaseline chaser for good measure.
06 April 2008
I'll admit I was a little worried at first, even though it was immediately obvious that Lincoln Karaoke is rad. Of course, I felt a bit uncomfortable when the owner showed me how to work the porn channel. (I told him we preferred the animated dancing people.) But when I heard the strains of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" from the next room, I just knew that everything would be okay.
Even so, the first song was a little awkward. I suggested we warm up to "part-time lover," and ended up singing it by myself. Where's Krissy when you need her?
Fortunately, almost everyone came around a few songs later. That is, everyone except for A, who sat in the corner drinking hard liquor all night and only chimed in during "Piano Man" because I absolutely insisted. For shame, sir! No one is that cool.
So was the best moment when S sang "One" by Metallica? When D sang "Every Rose Has Its Thorn"? When J & V sang Neil Diamond? When we all sang "Faith" by George Michael?
No, I'm pretty sure the best moment was right at midnight, when A said, "You just turned 30...while singing 'Paradise City.'"
"...and dancing like Axl," I replied.
04 April 2008
Most Embarrassing Moment #3: lame things I do in secret
I read my horoscope most days despite the fact that I think people who are into astrology are flaming fucktards. I read the daily, weekly, and monthly forecasts, including the abbreviated and extended versions.
Sometimes, if I’m really worried about something, I’ll consult both msn and yahoo. Occasionally, when a horoscope seems particularly right-on, I will catch myself nodding along as I read, as if to say, “Yes, it seems as though things are really looking up.” Other times, when the forecast is grim, I comfort myself by remembering that astrology is fake.
Other lame things I do in secret include, but are by no means limited to, reading cnn.com and ew.com, using my pen as a microphone when I’m singing at my desk, and watching Sex and the City.
On the plus side, I do not have a tattoo of my zodiac sign. I’m thinking about getting a dolphin tat, though. Maybe two.
03 April 2008
Of course, I know it’s much too late to turn back now.
Most Embarrassing Moment #2: the elementary years
In the end, I just couldn’t decide which was worse: the time I pissed myself in second grade, or the time I split my jams one year later.
In retrospect, second grade is probably a little late in life to be pissing yourself during a spelling test. Of course, I didn’t realize that developmental truth until it was far, far too late. I didn’t need to read Mrs. Cannon’s spidery handwriting-filled letter to my parents to know that I had shamed the family. (I guess she wasn’t sure if they would actually notice when I came home soaked in my own urine. Maybe my childhood was worse than I remember.) No, the shame set in way before that, when that sadistic bitch called me out in front of all of my classmates, daring to ask why I wouldn’t leave my seat to get my coat at the end of the day.
I didn’t budge, but everyone knew something was up. I can’t remember who figured it out first, but the accusations were flying fast and furious before I came up with the brilliant excuse that I had stepped in a puddle. Unfortunately, it had not rained in weeks, and no one was fooled. (I should have said that I had stepped in one of those urine puddles, but I didn’t become a crafty liar until later in life.) At that point, I feel sure that Mrs. Cannon was considering transferring me to the retard trailer where my school held special ed classes.
Had it not been for Karen Smith, the dirty poor girl who nobody liked, I might have sat in my defiled desk forever. But Karen, god bless her, brought me my coat when the bell rang. And then, the next day, everyone forgot that I was a big fat pants pisser and went back to making fun of Karen for being poor and dirty. And that is when I learned an important life lesson: children are terribly cruel, but they also have blissfully short memories.
Moving on to third grade: I’m not entirely clear why I ever owned a pair of jams, those brightly colored Hawaiian-themed shorts that were popular in the eighties. While my mother was the evil mastermind behind most of my lame looks throughout that decade (including the bull dyke bowl cut I sported until I was 8 or so), I suspect that those jams were my own damn fault. Even now, I can remember exactly what they looked like—turquoise with big pink flowers.
Truly, they were awesome.
Unfortunately, they were not very well made, because on Field Day (the annual event where classes competed against each other in outdoor sporty-type activities), they split wide open during a race as we were passing water balloons. I mean, we’re talking a huge hole right in the ass of these shorts.
Let me just tell you, when you’re a chubby child with a bull dyke bowl cut, the last thing on earth you need on fucking Field Day is a big hole in the back of your jams.
The last thing I remember is standing in the girls’ room with Mrs. Priester, the teacher’s aide, who stapled the jams back together. Stapled. With a stapler. Surely, she didn’t send me back outside like that, but the sad fact is that I’m not even sure; evidently, I have so firmly repressed this memory that what happened next will forever remain a mystery.
Fuck you, Fairmont Elementary School! In just a few days, I’ll probably forget you ever existed.
02 April 2008
I know you all wish you could be here, but worry not: you can still go to this karaoke site and record me a song of your very own. I promise you that I will treasure it forever.
In related news, I have decided that turning 30 means that I can finally let myself go and stop fighting the shame-loss phenomenon. To prepare myself, I am launching a new series wherein I reveal some of my most embarrassing moments from the last three decades. You can look forward to a new shameful revelation each day up through the 6th. (I meant to start this a few days ago, but I’ve been busy, you know, enjoying the last days of my youth.)
Most Embarrassing Moment #1: the karaoke scandal of 2006
In honor of this karaoke-themed post, I have chosen an especially humiliating experience to share with you. It was September of 2006. My then-boyfriend was in South Korea, where karaoke is a big thing. Once, when he was having a hard week, I decided to record a song and send it to him as a sort of sweet joke. So I chose a silly song and recorded it, complete with customized pet-name lyrics. To top it all off, I posted the song with this picture of myself posing like a retard:
Oh, the shame. How it burns.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. Imagine my horror when, a few days later, my ex pointed out that other people had listened to my song, a possibility that had never even occurred to me. What’s more, they left feedback. bluelikeyou of California said, “You have a great pure sound!” tazman47 of Texas said, “Great job. Like one said earlier, pure voice! Turn your music down and use your great voice and better mic. Sounds good!” WTF?
While they were kind enough to give me 4.5 stars, I have never quite gotten over it...
...that is, until now.