There’s a new Deep Purple tribute album coming out shortly (is this the year of tributes? what’s going on?). Anyway, the lineup isn’t all that inspired, but I was curious to see what the Flaming Lips would do with that song
As with their recent reinterpretation of Dark Side of the Moon, this cover is respectful and utterly disrespectful. Musically the song is pretty accurate. Well, the notes are the same. But the style is very different, kind of wahwahed delicate chords–no heavy bass or anything. But it’s the vocals that are the contentious point–he recites the entire song (which kind of works because it is a story) in a stilted, faux British accent.
The second verse has a very computerized voice singing an autotuned melody along with the recitation–sort of a harmony but not. This voice continues through to the chorus (which the main vocals also simply recite).
I appreciate the Flaming Lips’ approaches to popular songs, but this version renders a big loud song kind of anemic. Which is so weird because the last few Lips albums were so loud and bass-heavy. I listened twice, I probably don’t need to listen again.
So, this is yet another tribute I won’t be buying.
[READ: August 22, 2012] Don’t Get Too Comfortable
I’m already making good on my promise to read more David Rakoff. Indeed, as soon as I heard that he died, I put this book on hold at the library. The strange thing about this book is that I feel like I read parts of it already. I don’t feel like I read the whole book because some things were unfamiliar to me, and yet there was a strange feeling of déjà vu throughout the book. But I looked in the front of the book to see where these essays had appeared and I don’t read any of the magazines where they initially showed up. And while I like This American Life, I don’t really listen to it very often. So either I read this book seven years ago or these pieces are inspirations for other pieces I have read (which is possible–two or three articles in here reminded me of things that A.J .Jacobs has since done).
So this collection of essays takes place during the early 2000s, George W. Bush’s first term (not the happiest time to be a gay Canadian living in New York). But in addition to the first essay which is all about his quest for citizenship, it seems that Rakoff was now gainfully employed as a freelance writer. Most of these essays seem to have been requested for magazines–like they sought him out to write them. So his fame was clearly growing. And, again, like A.J. Jacobs, he seems to have been picked as a guinea pig for certain pieces. I don’t really know if this is a “genre” per se, I mean lots of un-knowledgeable people have gone into new experiences to write about them (insert inevitable David Foster Wallace reference here–but of course he wasn’t the first either). But Rakoff’s subjects in the last couple essays seem to be closer to what Wikipedia calls Jacob’s “stunt” journalism.
- “Love It or Leave It”
This article is a good introduction to the book. It sets time and place and Rakoff’s mindset as well. Rakoff has been a Canadian living in the US on a work visa for ages. But (and I love the sort of taunting first line): “George W. Bush made me want to be an American.” Mostly because since 9/11, there was a major crackdown on immigrant status, so why not make it legal since he lived in New York all the time anyhow. This article shows the Byzantine process for becoming a citizen. And he wonders how people who don’t speak English as their first language ever make it through the process. Like this question, which took me a pretty long time to puzzle through as well: “Are you a male who lived in the United States at any time between your 18th and 26th birthdays in any status except as a lawful nonimmigrant.” I parsed it out a few times and it eventually made sense, but wow. Rakoff later repeats the four questions he was asked during his interview: “What do the stripes on the flag represent?” [easy]. “What were the original states called?” I found this question to be hard because I assumed the answer was colonies [it is] but I started to second guess myself–was there some kind of group name like the Pentateuch or the Great 13 or something? “What is the judiciary?” This question also struck me as difficult in that it seems like it could have a multitude of answers. I assume there is some kind of rote answer that is expected, and I assume it would have something to do with courts and making laws. “Who takes over if the president dies?” And I love that Rakoff actually said to the Agent: “Dick Cheney, God help us.” The rest of the essay talks about Rakoff’s temperate feelings about the citizenship switch and about voting in general and, most sadly, about the depressing day in 2004 when his vote didn’t help to turn the election.
- “What is the Sound of One Hand Shopping”
This is an essay about eating very rarefied foods (in this case at the Temple of Food in Northern California). He, like the rest of us, marvels at the quest for the most ideal flavor. As he says, “I am desperate to ask the question that begs to be posed: ‘Just how fucking good can olive oil get?'” But more importantly (and this seems to be a theme in Rakoff’s work–this quest for specialness doesn’t make you better than other people: he says that he has French sea salt and extra virgin olive oil at home and “while the presence of both might go some small distance in pigeonholing me demographically, neither one of them makes me a good person.” The article morphs into clothes and housewares that cost more than some people make in a month. And in what should be the tagline of the book, Rakoff notes: “Creature comfort is not some bourgeois capitalist construct, but framing it as a moral virtue sure is.”
- “Sesión Privada”
Inexplicably, Rakoff was asked to go to a Playboy shoot in the Caribbean. It will be packaged as the DVD Sesión Privada and it sounds dreadfully dull–soft core erotica with scenes of women by themselves writhing in beautiful locations. Fortunately, Rakoff put a unique perspective on this session and even gets a trip away from the shoot into the main town. But after all of this beauty, he ends the essay with a very sad note. Don’t get too comfortable after all.
This essay is about Steve Brill a man who forages for food in Brooklyn. He also teaches a hands-on session on how to forage for food in Brooklyn. Rakoff and several game foragers go off into the park in search of sustenance. It’s a very funny piece, especially when he’s not sure which of the mushroom are the poisonous ones. And when Rakoff learns that Wildman Brill has a family and is trying to sustain them on this crazy job. Despite Brill’s best intentions even he can’t forage only–there’s no tofu trees. Rakoff brings stuff home and eats it, but he’s clearly longing for a hamburger.
- “As It is in Heaven”
This essay compares airlines. He scored one of the final flights on the Concorde, which he says was pretty great (but honestly all it is is getting somewhere faster). Then he takes a flight on Hooters Airlines. Remember that? I looked it up–it was in existence for three years from 2003-2006. He says that in addition to stewardesses (who do stewardess things) there are two Hooters Girls who look pretty and engage the crowd. Rakoff eventually asks the girls what they do when not waiting tables (oh and flying on the plane is a much better gig–they get $13.50/hr to fly but the waitressing is $3/hr plus tips): Heather has been accepted into a nursing program and is taking a class in microbiology over the summer to keep her chops up. Jennifer is in marine sciences planning to do graduate work in Australia. The Concorde was a better flight.
- “J.D.V., M.I.A.”
This is an essay about Midnight Madness a scavenger hunt done in the wee hours in New York City. I love scavenger hunts and I love reading about them, although I have to admit this one sounds very hard indeed. Rakoff is ill-suited to this hunt, not really helping his team out at all and by the time 4Am comes around (yipes) he’d rather be in bed than at the after party.
- “Privates on Parade”
Rakoff goes to see Puppetry of the Penis, a show that I had heard quite a lot about back in the day. Rakoff finds the whole thing distasteful and not terribly funny–the show lack a narrative–it’s just one thing after another with lame jokes in between. Even magicians bring a kind of narrative arc to their shows. The interesting aspect of this essay is that he went to see it in November 2001, right after the attacks and he manages to tie the timing of that to the article. It’s an interesting idea, but perhaps he takes a bit of fun too seriously here.
- “Beach Bummer”
It has been established that Rakoff does not like the beach, the sun, the nice weather. But he was given the job of being a pool boy in South Beach at a chichi hotel. It has the typically funny fish out of water scenes one might expect. Rakoff’s details really make this piece shine.
- “Morning in America”
Rakoff gets to wait with the masses for Good Morning America. Since that’s the closest I ever hope to get to the show, this was informative and amusing. And surprisingly it did not mock the people who were there for real.
- “Martha, My Dear”
This one is all about Martha Stewart (just after she was arrested) and how much he loves her. He embraces the term “art fag” (that’s Arthur Fag to you) and talks about how he can’t pass a dumpster without retrieving some treasure. I loved the inventory of crafty things in his cabinets. This also had one of the lines that made me laugh out loud the hardest, but I won’t give it away, let’s just say it has to do with teeth. He also feels better when he realizes that making little craft projects often requires “as deft a hand, probably more so, as it takes to refinish a cabinet on the super-butch This Old House. At most, it’s a difference of degree, not kind”
- “I Can’t Get it for you Wholesale”
This was the longest article in the book and it wore me down about as much as Rakoff felt by the end of it (it was also very very funny, just exhausting). Rakoff goes to fashion week in Paris and gets to see all kinds of fashion shows from a very good seat (he has a press pass and is often given second row). He talks about the spectacle and the insanity. And since I’ve been watching America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway for the last few years, there were details here that I found very interesting. There ARE buyers for couture wear. There are wealthy (often older) women who go to the shows and make a check list of the $20,000 gowns they will buy. (These ladies don’t like the younger-leaning couture at all and won’t applaud it). If you like the above named TV shows, this article (written for Harper’s Bazaar, will give you some interesting insights into how real runways (as opposed to ones made by Lifetime and Jay Manuel) really work. It also shows Rakoff as his angriest in one section! Poor Lagerfeld.
- “Beat Me, Daddy”
Rakoff interviews the biggest sadists on the planet–Log Cabin Republicans. And he can’t understand why (except that they really, really like the tax breaks) any gay men would vote for Bush.
Rakoff goes to two plastic surgeons to see what they would do for him. Rather than uncovering an expose of evil doctors who will cut you up for money, he finds two doctors who are quite ethical. The first doesn’t even want to suggest things that Rakoff could have fixed. He only wants the client to come in with a list of problems that he will discuss with him or her. His example was that if you had dumbo ears but came in wanting to fix your nose, he wouldn’t say anything about the ears. Since he knows Rakoff is a journalist (both doctors knew that, which led me to wonder if that had anything to do with what they said), he humors him with some computer changes (I wish the pictures were included). They were very minor things that would change him in strange ways. The second doctor (who you kind of thought would be a contrast because their office are so very different) proves to be just as ethical–he doesn’t even think a computer model is a good idea because it doesn’t show any artistry, He uses a picture that he psychically touched up. But again, he wouldn’t do a lot. He also, for example, wouldn’t do anything to someone after a traumatic event in the person’s life. Rakoff then discusses The Swan, remember that awful show? And how it’s nice the doctors aren’t like that.
This one reminded me of A.J. Jacobs because Rakoff does a 20 days fast. He buys a $300 kit from the web and undergoes 20 days of drinking broth. He says (like other studies I’ve read) that the first three days are hell, but by day 4 you feel pretty darn good. Rakoff never reaches the promised euphoria, and when it’s over the man he got the stuff from treats Rakoff like a failure–he didn’t do it long enough, he had the wrong attitude–what happens when your guru hates you?
- “Off We’re Gonna Shuffle”
This final article looks at the cryogenic movement. He goes to a facility that freezes your body (or jut your head) and talks to the big names behind it. The article opens at a seminar in which they speak of death as the enemy. And Rakoff realizes that the people there are a bunch of libertarians who want to act like Hugh Hefner instead of growing up. He talks to one or two people who says they can predict what will happen in the future. One says that thawing will never happen–we’d need to cure all diseases first and the technological limitations are insurmountable. Another person says that once The Singularity happens in 2030 (when machines become smarter than humans), there will be no need for bodies anymore–everyone will be brought back to life but essentially as CD-ROMs (or I guess since that was 7 years ago as cloud databases). So much for libertarian hedonists, eh? He ultimately comes down to the idea that these people who want to do this are selfish and haven’t learned a thing about life. And, given his recent death, this final paragraph seems all the more apt: “Given the choice, I’ll thrown my lot in with the rest of us whose deaths will be irrevocable.”
I really enjoyed these essays quite a lot. Rakoff’s style is light and breezy even when he;s speaking of heavy things. He has a gift for comic timing (even in print) but he;s also not afraid to get very emotional. You won’t come away from this book laughing hysterically. Although you will do some of that. You’ll come away from this book thinking about a lot of things though (and laughing at awful people).
As I feared, I am more sad about his passing now.
For ease of searching, I include: deja vu, Sesion Privada