For weird, synchronistic and untraceable reasons, I got Flesh for Fantasy, above, there, stuck in my mental earholes earlier in the day. When it was released, I was in high school, and had eclectic taste even then. But though I respected Idol’s presence and abilities as a songwriter and singer, it didn’t seem particularly special.
Now, through a lens of 35 more years of listening to music, it’s scintillating. There are beautiful tones and colors on guitar and guitar synthesizer both. The song is very dynamic, rolling from the sneering shouts of the chorus, to the soft whispers of verses. It’s not characteristic of much music then or now, when so much production isn’t allowed to breathe and rest, it’s balls-to-the-wall sound and—if you’re lucky—silence.
An advantage of age often mentioned but not appreciated, maybe, is wisdom. Along with that is a sense of perspective. Things look different through a lens of decades. Art of all kinds can be reassessed like this. Sometimes things you thought were great turn out to be paper thin. And—if you’re lucky—some things turn out to have great depth.
Somebody linked Holly Herndon’s Godmother on Twitter months ago, and I was an instant convert, sorry that I hadn’t found her before. Herndon recently finished her music PhD, and her sound is a kind of amalgam of vaguely recognizable traditional cultural forms of uncertain origin. It sounds weirdly familiar, but I can’t place specific influences.
There’s an emphasis on rhythm and voice. Herndon and her collaborators pile vocal tracks atop one another in a dizzying stack, though production remains remarkably unmuddied.
There’s also something disturbing, unnerving about both songs and video. Herndon uses programmed manipulation to chop up lines, in some cases letting a trained AI feed impressions back into songs. It’s all heady and fresh, and I’m very on board.
I don’t know why I haven’t ever seen Father John Misty’s music video for “Date Night.” It’s my favorite from his album God’s Favorite Customer, and this weirdness is all the better for racing by in under three minutes.
Jim Henson did a pilot for a proposed show in 1962 called Tales From the Tinkerdee. Typically brilliant and gloriously silly, it features Kermit as a minstrel who sings his lines as well as his songs.
Speaking of weird and silly, there are tons of Kids in the Hall sketches I think about now and then, and some I still am not sure I fully understand, but love them anyway. “Potato Salad,” a paean to domestic goddesses and the disorientation of daily mundanity resonates, but also makes me laugh really, really hard. Bruce McCullough’s recurring housewife character is both inane and charming.
Paul McCartney’s slightly vertigo-inducing video for “I Don’t Know” is one of my favorite tracks on his new album, Egypt Station. It’s not a great album, and could have used some trimming, I think, but there are gems, and this is one. Paul often gets dismissed for, well, silly love songs—specifically by John Lennon, there—but mostly by those who consider he’s forever cranking out sunny fluff. But he’s got a darker side, his share of gloom, and those songs are found throughout his oeuvre.
It seems a piece with some of his later work where he addresses being older, having a sense of his own mortality. Self-examination is important for all of us, especially those of us making things. We put our hearts into the work, and without knowing the dark side as well as the light, we aren’t approaching it with our complete selves.
Moving brings out all the emotions. For me, it’s not all stress, all the time. I’ve always brought a sense of melancholy as well, sorting old letters, books, photos, notes, objects long hidden in a box that never got unpacked from the last move.
I want it to be Vanpire Weekend’s “Cousins,” but of course it feels like (brilliant) Ethan Gruska’s remote-gas-station-lit “Teenage Drug.”
This is a useful, and I think harmless, if not even helpful, kind of nostalgia. Feeling the past while you actively head toward the future.
NOTE: This post was originally crafted for Jun 13, but I found out later that some electronic mishap or other wiped out most of the text and links leaving only the partial draft unpublished, so I’ve tried as best I can to remake it.
If you haven’t seen The Carters’ (Beyoncé & Jay-Z, after the latter’s surname) new video, “Apeshit,” it’s a wonderful and powerful repurposing of The Louvre for the video. I’ve seen some shade thrown and trash talked about their lack of formal education, but Jay and Bey’ are avid art collectors and clearly know what they’re doing.
There are plenty of breakdowns online about the art and symbolism, but I wanted to point out a couple things I saw that I haven’t seen noted. The video takes place almost entirely within The Louvre, as staid and haughty an institution as exists in the art world. Its unmoving structure, for the most part consisting of neutral and white surfaces, is subverted by movement and color, mostly women of color, at that. Dancing in front of the Coronation of Napoleon by David is defiant, for sure, but also resonates with Beyoncé’s oft-labeled nickname, Queen Bey. She and Jay-Z lay claim to all the cultural heritage of the West, while simultaneously calling out the white-centric focus of canon past. Movement and music are not parts of the art world often celebrated by museums, and here we see a beautiful correction.
The final scene, too, is stirring, as the two artists join hands in front of the Mona Lisa, in effect declaring themselves “in,” members of the art world as much as any other. It’s a measure of their success and confidence in their considerable abilities that The Carters could rent out The Louvre to make this video. It’s a greater measure that they take pride in showcasing, critically examining, and paralleling the art inside, too.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.