Republic of One

The personal blog of Colin Brandt, Ukrainian Organic Mic Mechanic

Monthly Archives: March 2011

I, for one, welcome our new Fembot overlords.

I’ve been listening to the new Britney Spears album at a clip that is completely embarrassing.  Sometime on the bus ride home last night I was struck by how every pop starlet can be summarized by their relationship to the words “fuck” and “awesome”. What, do I mean? See below. Is this an April fools joke? No, I actually frantically wrote this down so I wouldn’t forget. Does that make me a giant loser? Probably, but I thought of it first so screw you.

The Madonna Theory of Fuckawesome

Every female pop star’s image and music can be summarized by their relationship between “fuck” and “awesome”. Using a combination of these two words, you can summarize any For examples, please see below (credit to Jody Rosen of Slate for the genesis of this idea re: Beyonce)

The new Britney Spears album is amazing. It’s as if she took elements of everyone above, went to her producers and said – I WANT THAT ONE. The weird thing about it, at least to my ear, is that it doesn’t sound derivative. It just makes you realize how much this batch of pop stars aped from Britney (and, of course, Madonna before her). And some of the tracks are off the chaiiin, yo. I could listen to the dubstep dance break on “Hold it Against Me” 700 times in a row and still find new, weird shit going on. It’s so amazing that while we all bitch and whine about how derivative and samey some of this music is, some of it is just so amazing. The producers on these tracks deserve so much credit for that. Dr. Luke alone has created so much of the pop music on the radio these days, it’s ridiculous, and props to him – you know he placed a bet with Max Martin a couple of years ago that he could turn anyone into a pop star, no matter how dumb, trashy and strange-looking they are. And now we have Ke$ha.

Remaking or Covering Psycho?

I was reading Don Delillo’s White Noise a little while ago; the story is bookended by two scenes in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. They discuss a real-world piece of art, 24-hour Psycho by Douglas Gordon. The piece is basically Hitchcock’s original, slowed down to two frames per second, so the film takes literally 24 hours to watch from end-to-end. The book discusses how the alteration of the movie has an effect on the viewer that combines the distortion of time with the contemplation of individual frames, a sort of slideshow that disrupts the suspense in the film but replaces it with a different kind of feeling:

The less there was to see, the harder he looked, the more he saw. This was the point. To see what’s here, finally to look and to know you’re looking, to feel time passing, to be alive to what is happening in the smallest registers of motion.

This got me thinking about the way canonization happens – how certain bits of art become permanent, mandatory components of our cultural language while others seem to wither and desiccate until they vanish. Psycho is a legendary movie – considered influential and terrifying, even to modern audiences. A movie with that much resonance carries with it a huge amount of expectation upon viewing. Here’s what’s weird – I like Psycho, but the movie is actually kind of ruined for me. It’s ruined because the first time I saw it wasn’t the original Hitchcock version – it was the 1998 remake. Now, the remake is pretty unique because it is shot-for-shot – literally every scene is blocked and shot identically to the original, with different actors and slightly different sets. And it is just awful.

There are so many things wrong with Psycho 1998 – Anne Heche fills the role of Janet Leigh’s character, and displays that strange Hecheiness she has that makes you think she is the human-form representative of a race of oatmeal-based life forms that are due to invade our planet at any moment. There are some god-awful bits of CGI that fill in for when Lars Von Trier couldn’t find a faithful adaptation of the original set or characters. As bad as those are, however, nothing compares to the horror (and not in a good way) of Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates. I know that Vince was once considered a respected dramatic actor, but watch this scene and tell me you don’t think at some point he’s going to go off about maple syrup or motorboating.

Honestly, it’s funny how 20 pounds heavier makes him 137% funnier.

What’s so crazy about film is how you just can’t cover it. Remakes of originals in film just seem derivative or outright copies. I’ve been trying to think of an example of a great movie “cover”, and I just can’t think of one.

So what is it with music that makes it more prone to covering? Lord knows there are some terrible covers (and cover bands) out there, and people are going to have great music tainted by bad covers the same way that Psycho got tainted for me. Last Friday I saw a band at the Rose and Crown whose interpretations of terrible 90’s songs were primarily built around replacing all instances of the words “women” or “lady” with “bitches” or “bitch”. This, sadly, was not performance art.

Meanwhile, covering a song can do all sorts of amazing things to your regard for the original. Jose Gonzalez’s covers of The Knife’s “Heartbeats” and “Teardrop” by Massive Attack strip the songs of their electro sheen and expose the songwriting and melodies underneath. Sinatra’s covers of Broadway standards added layers of sadness and heartache to songs that were deeply unpopular with the cool kids. Then there’s Owen Pallet’s covers of Mariah Carey.

Isn’t that what’s so great about covers? It’s like Delillo said about 24-Hour Psycho – by altering the song, changing its basic formulations, remixing, editing and playing with the originals, you not only get a new piece of art, you get a piece of commentary on the original that forces the listener to consider what it is about the original that is changed and what is the same – the “songiness” of the song. What I love about the time we live in is you don’t have to wait for canonization or critical commentary before tracks are getting ripped up, changed, altered and remixed. By giving artists license to use bits and bobs of other people’s work, we are creating an amazing feedback loop on our own culture at an unprecedented rate. There’s a fear of what this means for our culture, that originality is dead and we are just going to reuse our own detritus over and over again until it is devoid of meaning. And who knows – maybe that’s true, but as long as I’m getting James Blake’s Dubstep remake of “Limit to Your Love” by Feist, I’m an incredibly happy camper.

Seriously, watch and listen to this, preferably with some good headphones or some badass subwoofer around. Or just buy the album. It’s incredible, strange and awesome.

 

 

How my Stepdad is like CBC Radio.

When I was 14 and my parents divorced, there didn’t seem to be a lot of things that were really kickass going on in my life. I was an incredibly awkward kid with few friends. I had pretty much stopped playing sports outside of gym, and I went to a school where the value was less on core academics and more on String Art. In String Art, you banged tiny nails into premarked pieces of wood and then carefully followed a pattern to produce art. If you can imagine a Spirograph, but 1600 times more depressing, you’ve got it.

So my parents’ marriage goes up in smoke and instantly there’s this other guy named Bill in my life, and I have to figure out what in the sweet holy hell I’m supposed to do about that. To Bill’s credit, he never tried to take on the role of “Dad” or tried to assume some kind of control over me. What Bill did do was completely change my life by just being himself.

Bill is weird. Really, really weird. I know my Mom must just stare across the dinner table at him and think how has this guy lived this long without institutionalization? I’m not sure I have the answer to that one, to be honest. Bill’s initial presentation to me could be summarized as follows:

  • Until he lived with my Mom, Bill had never in his life cleaned a toilet.
  • Bill thought suspenders were totally cool, but not in ironic way – in a hold-your-pants-up kind of way.
  • Bill seemed absolutely sure he had the right answer to any question you might have.
  • Bill could cook, and could get me to eat mostly because I wanted to seem like I was cool and unflappable when presented with food that remained alive until you swallowed.
  • Bill was obsessed with public radio.

For me, all of the above couldn’t be further from my Dad. It was like the Anti-Dad had presented himself before me, and I had to learn to negotiate that. One of the first ways I did that was through the radio.

My Mom loves her country, and so long as she was in the car or in the house, it was Country 105, nonstop, no breaks. The alternative – changing the station, thus defying her will – is still pretty unthinkable for everyone around her. To escape her All Seeing Eye, I used to run errands with Bill. Trips to the furthest depths of South Calgary, looking for a hot tub part. Trips to the Asian groceries along Centre Street, picking up bottles of Sriracha and fresh crab. The very second I got in the car, the radio was flipped to Radio One and the conversation stopped. We would sit in total silence, listening to whatever was on. The topic never mattered – with the exception of the dreaded Cross Country Checkup with Rex Murphy, aka. Canada Calls In (and you wonder how they figured out how to use the phone), silence reigned until we got out of the car. Once we parked, though, the conversation started, and that’s how I learned to love Bill.

The great thing about Bill – and CBC Radio in general – is that they’re curious. Every program is about telling you a story, or giving you a fact, or pushing you to think a little bit about something. Can you ever say that about for-profit radio? When was the last time you turned on a Top 40 station, and something happened that changed your mind about something, other than what kind of spray deodorant to mace yourself with before you hit T3H CLUBZ? When I was 14, that happened every day and just like that, I was hooked.

CBC was my first exposure to being an adult. For the next three years, I lived in a nonstop CBC Radio world, and it absolutely saved me. Bill and I would have a serious, seemingly adult conversation about what we had heard on Ideas, we would laugh together with Stuart McLean on Saturdays, and debate the politics of the day while my Mom tried to see if she could actually detach her retinas by rolling her eyes too much. Through it all, Bill treated me like a peer, not a gawky kid who had never done anything beyond placing second in a Science Fair in Grade 6 (first loser, yaay). I love Bill for that, how he trusted me to get it, the same way I love that CBC doesn’t talk down to its audience (or at least tries not to). CBC’s quirkiness – the strange hosts, the occasionally ridiculous topics (I once listened to an hour-long program on the mating habits of a type of vole that lives on Vancouver Island) – is as much a part of its character as Bill’s weirdness is a part of him. CBC has become so interwoven in the fabric of my family, my stepbrother has even been on it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about CBC lately because I’ve been looking at how things are going for Public Broadcasting in North America, and I can’t help but worry. In the States, Congress is voting to strip NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting of all federal funding tomorrow as a consequence of a secret videotape of one their primary fundraisers exposing a left-wing bias. While I understand the ideological reasoning behind it, talk about throwing out he baby with the bathwater. NPR will continue to do fine – federal funding makes up a minute percentage of its overall budget, and I will still get my All Songs Considered, Foreign Dispatch and This American Life. Meanwhile, Congress is defunding fucking Sesame Street – the goddamn program that taught me about how to respect differences and live with others – because somebody said in a private conversation that he thought the Tea Party were a bunch of racists.

In Canada, we’re not doing a whole lot better. The CBC is suffering a death by a thousand cuts at the hands of the last four Prime Ministers, with their funding dropping by an unbelievable 42% over the last two decades. Imagine trying to run your household on half the income you presently have! People can complain about the quality of CBC programming and moan about the golden years, but it doesn’t take much more than this graph to explain to me why the CBC is in trouble.

What the CBC is trying to do right now is the equivalent of asking Bill to run a triathlon after a double amputation. With another election looming, I hope that we realize what a wonderful job the CBC is doing and how grateful we should all be for having a national service that regards Canadians as equals, engaging them in a collective conversation without the expectation that they want to listen to pablum or cut-rate advertising. If the Conservatives can spend $26 Million of taxpayer dollars on a series of ads telling us what a lovely job they are doing, we can spend a bit of time telling them not to screw with the CBC.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some podcasts I need to catch up on.

Shall we try this again?

Because I am super great at staying committed to stuff, I made this blog months ago to test out for my job; my company is using a version of Lotus Notes that still has the notch in the side for the hand-crank, and I am responsible for drafting the interoffice newsletter in a horrifying format that makes it simultaneously awful to create and even worse to read. It honestly feels like listening to the Eagles’ Greatest Hits CD on repeat while licking the bottom of your mouse until the little rubber nubs fall off. So here, I thought I would be clever and build us a private blog to use instead. The result? Analysis Paralysis, coupled with me trying to explain the internet to people whose relationship to technology is built on the backs of animated gifs of David Hasselhoff.

A perfect representation of me pitching the blog

So, yeah, decidedly mixed results.

Lately I’ve been noticing that I have some pretty great friends with some pretty great blogs, and I figured, hey – what the hell. The fantastic thing about this tool is the diverse ways that people can use it. While my last blog started out as a place for me to put my political rantings so I didn’t start doing them on the bus, it quickly devolved into 2,000-word pieces on America’s Next Top Model and coffee. I abandoned the project pretty quickly as I was getting some serious Livejournal vibes from the whole thing.

I don’t know what this is going to be, yet – I’m taking some great advice from my buddy Rhett and try to find a space and rhythm that will work for me. Anyhow, this thing isn’t ready for prime time, yet, but here’s hoping that it adds a bit of value.

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