Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Moe Tucker: Tea Party Activist

Is Moe Tucker a mama grizzly? Here's the background:
In April 2009, WALB-TV aired a story about a Tea Party rally in nearby Tifton, Georgia. About two-and-a-half minutes into the feature, one "Maureen Tucker, Tea Party Supporter" was quoted as saying, "I'm furious about the way we're being led toward socialism. I'm furious about the incredible waste of money, when things that we really need and are important get dropped, because there's no money left."

Eighteen months later, the news story somehow ended up posted on YouTube, and the blogosphere started buzzing. Could this actually be Moe Tucker, former drummer for the Velvet Underground, one of the most influential and iconic rock bands of all time? All signs pointed to yes. It certainly looked like Tucker, and it was well known that she'd moved to southern Georgia with her family decades earlier. The Huffington Post confirmed the story by reaching Tucker at home; she wouldn't discuss the matter or her political views any further.

For a few days - practically dog years in Internet time - the reaction was swift and furious. Liberals declared themselves depressed and shocked that one of their idols was caught on tape speaking out against a Democratic administration. Some conservatives, meanwhile, congratulated her on her courage and welcomed her to their presumptive fold next to noted right-wing rockers Johnny Ramone and Alice Cooper.

We were curious to know more from Tucker herself, so we tracked her down and asked for an interview. She agreed to answer some questions via email.
Read the interview here. Short answer is that she thinks poor people shouldn't have five pairs of shoes, unions shouldn't be helped by the government, we shouldn't build turtle tunnels, and all politicians are liars and cheats.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Stephen Colbert Advanced? A Reader Wants to Know

Got a note from Kathy, who asks:
Do you think Stephen Colbert is an Advanced Genius or merely a genius? He is a best-selling author, Emmy and Peabody award winner, has his own virtual country (the Colbert Nation) and his own TV show. Yet his recent appearance before Congress has caused many people to ask "What was he thinking?" Others have said he was making a mockery of Congress. And this is a man who has:

a) Skewered President George W. Bush TO HIS FACE at the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2006;

b) Made the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED as a "member" of the U.S. speedskating team at the Vancouver Olympics;

c) Had a treadmill in the new wing at the International Space Station named for him;

d) Had his head shaved by General Ray Odierno while entertaining US troops in Iraq.

Need I say more? Has this man raised satire to heights never seen before or what? I rest my case.
At first I sort of dismissed the idea that Colbert could be Advanced. Great, sure, but Advanced? Then I started to think: he was a part of the brilliant Dana Carvey show, which was underappreciated and misunderstood. He has been doing great stuff for 15 years. He was Tea Party (if satirically) before the movement began, so he was ahead of his time. He is religious. He has embraced technology (see space treadmill). And he went solo, leaving The Daily Show for his own program. These are all good things. The only issue is that everyone respects him, or at least all of his original fans,who are the ones that must be betrayed.

I will say that his counter rally to the Stewart Rally to Restore Sanity could be seen as an almost Ralph Nader-like undercutting of what could actually create serious conversation about whether we have all gone crazy. I kind of wish he weren't doing it, so that's kind of promising. But really, he's yet to make his base mad and no one would argue that he has lost it.

I think that if anything he is an Advanced Irritant for the reasons Kathy listed above. He went in front of the President of the United States and showed him no more respect than the comedians showed Chevy Chase at his celebrity roast on Comedy Central. Jon Stewart accused "Crossfire" of hurting America, but he wasn't in the same room with them, as I remember, and regardless, those guys were clowns.

His latest appearance in front of Congress was arguably even better because he was there for a serious cause that he really believed in, and yet he stayed more or less in character the whole time. For people who think James Franco is doing some chancy stuff, let's seem him be "James Franco" during a hearing in front of a judiciary subcommittee.

If he wants to Advance, he can, but until then, he'll just be the second funniest guy from South Carolina currently working today.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Annoying Critics' Tricks: Zach Galifianakis Edition

A.O. Scott has a review of "It's Kind of a Funny Story" in today's New York Times. Here's the annoying part:
Mr. Gilchrist is a friendly, somewhat tentative screen presence, but Craig has enough intelligence and humor to be both an agreeable central character and a charming guide to life in the adult psych ward. (The teenage ward is closed for renovation). He has a morose roommate named Muqtada (Bernard White), and a chorus of would-be mentors, the most important of whom is Bobby, a soulful, scatterbrained schlemiel played, it is almost redundant to say, by Zach Galifianakis.

Mr. Galifianakis is everywhere these days — the most in-demand tubby comic sidekick since the heyday of Jonah Hill, which I guess was about six months ago. Mr. Galifianakis’s Gleasonesque movements and deadpan, behind-the-beat timing serve him well in this role, as does his ability to seem completely in earnest even when his actions and utterances are bizarre or nonsensical. Bobby is credibly troubled, neither a holy fool nor an over-the-top goofball, and his moments of wisdom are as believable as his bouts of instability.
Why would Scott feel the need to make such snide remarks about Galifianakis when apparently he is good in the movie? And I really don't see why he feels the need to insult Jonah Hill. Or is he insulting filmmakers who use him? Or us for liking it? Or society for quickly changing our preference for "tubby comic sidekicks"? The review is perfectly fine without this bit that adds exactly nothing to our understanding of the film's quality.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Annoying Critics' Tricks: B. R. Myers Edition

B.R. Myers reviewed Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Here are the annoying parts, or, at least, some of them:
The language a writer uses to create a world is that world, and Franzen’s strenuously contemporary and therefore juvenile language is a world in which nothing important can happen.
It's difficult to tell if Myers is objecting to the use of contemporary language or just using it strenuously, but "contemporary" does not necessarily mean "juvenile, even if you put the word therefore before the pronouncement. Furthermore, important things can happen in a world built of contemporary or juvenile language. Critics enjoy noting that a work of art violates some universal rule, making it inferior. This despite the fact that many great works violated some rule or another. For instance, not many writing instructors would tell you to stick a bunch of details about whaling into your novel that is about much more than a whale. But Melville made it work.My point is not that it is unfair to say that something has made choices that the critic doesn't agree with, but it is not enough just to say, "the author did this, therefore the book sucks." There are no universal rules. (I know what you're thinking.)
The same narrator who gives us “sucked” and “very into” also deploys compound adjectives, bursts of journalese, and long if syntactically crude sentences. An idiosyncratic mix? Far from it. We find the same insecure style on The Daily Show and in the blogosphere; we overhear it on the subway.
The first part of this is a list of adjectives that I suppose are to be taken as pejorative, but Myers gives us no reason to think so other than a snarky tone. Then he brings up a pop culture reference, which according to him makes a work of fiction unserious. Guess it's okay for a review. But anyway, is there something insecure about The Daily Show? And are the show's writers known for using compound adjectives? And if I hear one more person erupting into bursts of journalese, using long if syntactically crude sentences, I'll explode! By the way, not everyone reading the review lives in New York, so what's the "we" business? How about "one" or "New Yorkers"?
Emphatic lines of dialogue continue to appear, chat-room-style, in capital letters sans exclamation marks: “I KNOW IT’S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN.”
First the blogosphere, now chat rooms! What does Myers have against the Internet anyway? And why do we have to know what something sounds like when we read it? Maybe Franzen is challenging you to use your imagination or has created some unique? Maybe not, but the mere fact that Myers can't imagine it doesn't make the technique a bad one. One more thing: my personal rule is that people who say "sans" are unserious, and therefore this review is completely bogus.
Why was Freedom written? The prologue raises expectations for a socially engaged, or at least social, narrative that are left unmet. Too much of it takes place in high school, college, or suburbia; how odd that a kind of fiction allegedly made necessary by America’s unique vitality always returns to the places that change the least. Franzen clearly has little interest in the world of work. (The same applies, incidentally, to whoever edited the novel.) Of the four main characters, only Walter has a real job, about which we learn nothing until it becomes a matter of traveling around with an admiring young assistant. (American novelists never tire of the student-don romance; they just dress it up in different clothes.) Walter is constantly holding forth on issues he has researched, but not dramatically experienced. They are entertaining tirades, but this is not what fiction is for.
Myers doesn't tell us what fiction is for.
When Joey and a girl fly to Argentina, Pirates of the Caribbean is playing on the seat backs in front of them. Facile, yes, but Franzen knows his market. Many people who eschew great books for the latest novels do so because they want precisely this kind of thing. (Every new book we read in our brief and busy lives means that a classic is left unread.) These readers want a world that is recognizably their own in every trivial particular, right down to Twitter, even if the book says less of real relevance to their lives than one written a century ago.
And now Twitter! Myers not only imagines what Franzen's "market" is, but what they want. He also knows it is inferior to what it is they should want, and that is: to read old books. I'm going to finish with a thought about that ridiculous line, "Every new book we read in our brief and busy lives means that a classic is left unread." Is he saying we should read only classics? Do we need to be told beforehand that a book is good before we should waste our time reading it? And who defines classic? And what reader hasn't had the very same thought (should I be reading Balzac instead of Stephen King)? Myers would have us discover nothing on our own, ignore contemporary writers who have the audacity to write about what they see today rather than pretending those things don't exist because it violates what "should be" featured in a work of fiction.

I think that sucks, dude!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: It's Okay, Even With All-Star Jams

I've started doing a weekly column with a site called Death and Taxes. The first entry is about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here's a taste:
Every year when Hall of Fame nominees are announced, I hear the same two complaints: “so and so isn’t rock and roll” and “there shouldn’t even be a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” These reactions reveal something interesting about rock and roll: no one can say definitively what it sounds like. Though most would agree that Elvis Presley was one of the first rock and roll singers, his music was as diverse as that of this year’s nominees. Even in the early Sun sessions—rock’s nativity scene—Elvis did a version of “Blue Moon” that is less rock and roll than just about any Donna Summer song. Aerosmith, the Police, Joy Division, the Doors, Devo, they are all recognized as rock bands, and yet they have almost nothing in common.

Of course most of us recognize that rock and roll means different things to different people, and for the most part we’ve made our peace with it. So instead of trying to define the genre in terms of chords, time signatures, or lyrical content, we have decided that the one thing all rock and roll must have is a spirit of rebellion against the establishment, or The Man. Therefore many reject the premise of the Hall of Fame because putting rock and roll in a museum is an admission that it has been officially annexed by The Man. But this makes very little sense, and here’s why:

Go to the site to find out why. (Lame trick, but it wasn't totally on purpose.)