Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dreamgirls

How could a musicologist not like this movie?

Well, there is one reason not to: jealousy. I've taught and TAed a lot of popular music in the past few years. In our classes we tend to focus a lot on the black/white color line. And this being a sensitive issue, we go to great trouble to present issues that get at the heart of this divide in particularly interesting and complicated ways. For instance, the phenomenon of cover songs in the fifties, or the dueling aesthetics of Motown and Stax in the sixties. Both of these issues show how complicated it is to have a "black" or a "white" aesthetic in popular music, and how such aesthetics are always mediated by market forces, by politics, and by individual personalities.

We go to great lengths to teach our students these issues. We spend a lot of classroom time and energy on them. And then comes along a movie that not only teaches all this basically as well as we do, but succinctly, and with style. Not unproblematically, of course, but just because the movie makes its own biases clear--soul music/black authenticity good, disco music/white inauthenticity bad--it nevertheless presents the issues in a fairly reasoned manner. I can tell that for the rest of my life I'm going to be referring to Dreamgirls in class, and that makes me jealous.

There is a lot more to be said about this movie. I really enjoyed it, although it was hard to turn off my musicological brain at times (for a movie that hates disco, they sure wrote a lot of faux Motown numbers with that patented disco accented riding hi-hat beat). But I want to point out one more thing, in addition to my own consuming jealousy. The truly tragic figure in this movie is not Jennifer Hudson's character, but Beyoncé, who plays the faux Diana Ross character. I've long claimed that Beyoncé is the Diana Ross of her generation. Like Diana, she doesn't have a strong voice. It is not that it is an unpleasant voice, but it is not particularly forceful in the way that the American public likes its black women singers. It wasn't a coincidence that her manager parents set her up in a girl group to start off her career; her voice was not strong enough to stand on its own, and the close harmony singing of Destiny's Child was necessary to provide her with vocal support. Even when she went solo, Beyoncé's producers overdubbed, reverbed, digitally altered, and otherwise provided the support necessary. Her first single sounded just like Destiny's Child, except with three digital Beyoncés instead of one Beyoncé and two friends.

Diana Ross, of course, was much the same story. As the movie shows, she had a light and somewhat colorless voice. Berry Gordy's great innovation was not just to put her as the front singer of the Supremes, but also to write music that pitched her voice unnaturally low. If you listen to some of the Supremes/Primettes early music, you can hear her singing in her original high pitched voice, and it is not particularly attractive. Pitched low, however, her voice became sultry. Recall "Where Did Our Love Go," for example, their first big HDH hit. Add in great production and the best backing band in the world, and you don't even notice that her voice isn't doing much.

So that's the history of Diana Ross's voice, courtesy of a class on Motown I TAed last year. The tragic thing about Dreamgirls is that it forces Beyoncé to perform Diana Ross's weaknesses while inhabiting a body with the same weakness. And the movie goes to great lengths not only to show that Effie White is a better singer than Deena Jones, but that Jennifer Hudson is a better singer than Beyoncé Knowles. I don't know if that was what Beyoncé was expecting out of making this movie. Poor woman.

But go see it! Alex Ross approves.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

December 25th, jet lagged

Merry Christmas, y'all.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Scrooged

Ashland has an amazing theater scene. You've of course got the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is one of the great American regional theaters. OSF has three theaters which together produce 750 showings of 11 different plays each year. But OSF is not the only game in town. There is the Oregon Cabaret theater, the Camelot Theater Company, Oregon StageWorks, and then a well-respected theater department at Southern Oregon University. Hey, if Terry Teachout loves this town, how couldn't you?

I say all of this because even in a great theater scene, things fall between the cracks. And last night I saw one of the most dreadful theatrical spectacles I have ever seen. It was a musical version of A Christmas Carol, and let's just say that the second act kicked off with a Cratchett family rap. You know, Tiny Tim, played by a precocious nine year old choir boy, started things off by tapping his crutches to a "hip hop beat", and then one by one each Cratchett family member took his or her turn rapping about Christmas spirit. All completely unironically. The music was by the notorious choral arranger Kirby Shaw, the book by his wife, and apparently it was a world premiere. I wonder what the word is for the last time a work gets produced? World Conclusion? World Finale? World Demise?

Off to DC tomorrow. Cross your fingers for a fog-less Medford and a snow-less Salt Lake City.

Update: Fog in Medford. Flight delayed four hours. Argh.

Update too: After being on hold for an hour, managed to get a later flight to Dulles. Arrived in DC forty-five minutes before Christmas!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ode to the Hot Tub

What did I do this evening? Let me tell you. It's going to be fascinating.

My parents' new house has a hot tub. Although they are not necessarily the sort of people you would expect to have a hot tub, they have had actually had two, out of the five houses they have owned. When I was born, they lived in a little cottage in Mill Valley, Marin, down the street from a redwood grove. My mother commuted to work in the City via the Sausalito ferry. Side note: Apparently there was a pretty swinging singles scene on the Sausalito ferry back in the day. The boat had a bar, and the Friday evening commute could get pretty raucous. Rumor has it that my uncle, who lived on a houseboat at the time, used to ride back and forth several times in one evening. But that's completely unsubstantiated.

Anyways, I think it was basically a zoning requirement that little cottages in Marin in the seventies had to have a hot tub. So my parents had the redwood barrel pictured below. As you can see, I enjoyed hot tubs from an early age.
Hot Tub Baby

I still love hot tubs. I know, who doesn't? But I really like hot tubs. I think partly it is because I am rather tall, and so there are few bathtubs out there in which I comfortably fit. Denied the everyday pleasure of immersion in hot water, it becomes a rare treat when I find a body of water small enough to heat up, but large enough to fit me. I could spend hours in a hot tub, staring into space, letting my brain cells slowly leech away into the water.

Unfortunately, my parents moved out of this house when I was very young, and I was without hot tub for many years. These were rough years in the hot tub-less wilderness. When my parents moved to Oregon a few years ago, however, the new house they bought, otherwise fairly staid, came with a large and luxurious hot tub installed in the back yard. I wasn't there when they moved in, but apparently my sister, who shares my love of the hot tub, got it up and running within minutes of arrival.

It's very cold in southern Oregon right now, with highs barely breaking 32 degrees. We've been trying to get the hot tub working all week, but it appeared to be too cold for the cranky propane heater to turn on. Yesterday, though, my dad finally got it running, and by this evening it had finally worked its way up to an appropriate temperature. So tonight, when my parents were taking the puppy to his weekly puppy class, I finally made it out for my annual soak. As I said, it's quite cold, about 29 degrees when I ventured outside. So I scampered out in a bathrobe, propped the cover up against a bush for a makeshift privacy screen--to wear a swim suit is not exactly in keeping with the hot tub spirit--and started the process of lowering myself into the scalding water. Despite my love of hot tubs, I am not very good about immersing myself in water of extreme temperature, either hot or cold. So it was a tenuous few minutes where I was perched on the side of the tub, my lower half in 100 degree water, my upper half in below freezing air.

But I eventually made it all the way in. And it felt wonderful. I think I might be ready to get back to writing my dissertation now.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Oregoniana

With apologies to my friend and Oregonian apologist Regarding, want to hear a story that will make us Californians feel a little better about our state government?

Jackson County, Oregon, where my parents live, is about to shut down all of its public libraries. Not trim staff, not close branches, but close down completely in March. How did this happen?

1. The state of Oregon has no sales tax.
2. 55 percent of the land in the state of Oregon is owned by the federal government, which does not pay property taxes.
3. All that federal land comes mostly in the form of National Forests.
4. Back in the day, the Feds used to give local counties in Oregon a percentage of the money made from timber in those forests.
5. There is no longer a timber industry.
6. After the collapse of the timber industry, the Federal Government agreed to still give Oregon counties subsidies. This money was pretty substantial--$23 million to Jackson County last year, as I understand it.
7. What with the Republicans, and the war, and the general federal desire to end subsidies to industries without powerful lobbies, these subsidies are ending next year. (Hey, somebody has to pay the Midwest to grow corn!)
8. Suddenly, Jackson County has $23 million less than it used to. Does it cut the Sheriff's department, or the public libraries?
9. In anticipation of this problem, the county votes on a parcel tax which would provide money to continue funding the library system at its current level. This tax was rejected by 60% of the voters.
10. So that's it. No more public libraries in the county. My mother is a volunteer at the Ashland library, a beautiful Beaux Art facility with a brand new addition. In fact, a recent county bond measure had actually built a bunch of new library facilities throughout the county, providing community spaces and information access to a very rural and working-class part of the state. All of this is going to be gone in March.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Archive and the Repertoire

A few nights ago, thanks to the munificence of Jewel Dakini, Mary and I were treated to a free ticket to see Jeffrey Kahane and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra play through three Mozart piano concertos: 16, 18, and 25. It's part of their Mozart year effort to play all 23 piano concertos, come hell or high water. And I have to say, it tends towards the former. Kahane is an amazing performer, of course, and it is a good ensemble. There is nobody I would rather see run though all 23 concertos. But... number 16? I had never heard, or heard of, this one before. Of course, I am the furthest thing removed from a Mozart person, so that's not saying so much. But looking through the Mozart books I happen to have at hand, it seems I am not alone. Charles Rosen tells us that it "is difficult for many listeners to appreciate...this is not the Mozart we love." Neal Zaslaw's Compleat Mozart mainly focuses on the fact that it was published in his lifetime, and an annotated copy he sent to Nannerl has one of the few written-out examples of Mozart's own ornamentation. Maynard Solomon just tells us that it was one a series he composed to bring in some money in 1784. From hearing it once, I can tell you it is a pretty dull piece of music.

So, in other words, there doesn't seem to be a lot of reasons to play this piece. I know, I know, that's musicological hearsay. But I think that's the thing--is there a musical reason to perform this? Or is it simply necessary to play it because it completes the set? Do we play because we enjoy playing it, or listening to it? Or do we play it simply to reaffirm the canon in the most extreme sense: not only is it only played because Mozart wrote it, but furthermore we only play it because it is one of his numbered piano concertos. If it was not by Mozart, and if it was one of his piano/orchestra pieces not given an official number, we'd never have to hear it again.

Last spring I was in a seminar which was lucky enough to have Diana Taylor of NYU come give a guest presentation. Taylor's book The Archive and Repertoire has caused many waves in the field of performance studies. Its basic idea is that performance, defined broadly, is an important repertoire of knowledge and memory. Traditional histories are defined by the static existence of the archive, the official history of events and actions. The idea of an embodied repertoire gives a powerful new voice to alternative histories.

At her presentation at my seminar, Taylor was asked why she chose the term "repertoire." She replied that it seemed to imply a sense of flexible possibilities, as in the OED definition "the entire range of skills or aptitudes or devices used in a particular field or occupation." In conversation afterwards, I pointed out that in the world of classical music, repertoire has a much different meaning. It refers to a set of musical works: either of a certain kind ("the nineteenth-century symphonic repertoire") or those pieces a performer is able to play ("My repertoire includes the Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Berg violin concertos"). There is a similarity between Taylor and Classical Music's usages, in that it refers to a set of skills of a sort. But in classical music those skills are not flexible tools, they are skills restricted to performing a very specific piece of music. In fact, in the first sense of repertoire used by classical music, as a set of works of a certain kind, there aren't any human performers anymore: the repertoire is not embodied skills, but abstract musical works. Whereas Diana Taylor's notion of the repertoire is about listening to an alternative set of knowledge, the classical music sense of repertoire is about preserving the archive--those canonical works that "we" have ideologically chosen over the past several centuries, at the expense of other histories and people.

Why do we play Mozart's 16th Piano Concerto? Is it for the archive, or the repertoire?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

On Domesticity

My partner flew in from Barnet last Monday. Her last rotation of the year--Emergency Critical Care--is over, and for the next two months she is supposed to be doing a series of short internships at veterinary clinics, as well finishing up her research project on equine physiotherapy. These two weeks she is working at TLC, the veterinary clinic of choice for Los Angeles musicologists.

I've meanwhile been finishing up the quarter--running review sessions, proctoring a final, lots of grading, and tying up the usual loose ends. Ordinary, but also unusual. For the first time in a long time, Mary and I are living and working together. This has rarely been the case over the past five years. We have spent a fair amount of time together, of course, but necessarily this time together occurs when one of us is on vacation. I'll visit her in Barnet, and hang around town while she is off fixing animals. She'll visit me here in Los Angeles, and hang around while I torture undergraduates and go to my own classes. So as odd as it seems, it is actually quite nice, and quite special, to be living and working together. She goes to work, I go to school, and we come home at the same time and cook dinner. Weekends off are actually weekends off, and there is nothing wrong with lazing around and relaxing in the evening.

So this is domesticity, and I like it a lot.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Poetry Friday

For some reason, I have been in the mood for the metaphysics. So with a hearty exhortation for everyone to go read Richard Rambuss's Closet Devotions, I present to you some John Donne to celebrate the last day of the quarter, when we all feel a bit battered indeed.

Holy Sonnet XIV: Batter My Heart (c.1635)

Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee,'and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to'another due,
Labour to'admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely'I love you,'and would be loved faine,
But am betroth'd unto your enemie:
Divorce mee,'untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you'enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Graduate Students and Service

There has been a flurry of discussion on academic blogs these past few days about the subject of academic meetings: how burdensome are they actually for faculty? How does one run a good meeting? How much does service count for tenure? Why do some faculty end up with more meetings than others? And so on.

I haven't yet seen any graduate students chime in on this, so I thought I would add my two cents. We all know that most doctoral programs do a much better job of training the research, rather than the teaching, side of being an academic. Yet, from what I gather from this discussion and from my own professors' whining, service seems to make up a huge part of the daily life of being an academic. But that is one skill that is almost completely absent from our training. When does a graduate student learn how to behave at a meeting? To write a report? To lead a meeting? And probably most importantly, when do we learn how to juggle these three simultaneous academic roles, rather than just the two we juggle now?

In my program, we have a few opportunities for graduate students to develop service skills. There is a student representative to the faculty who "gets" to sit in on faculty meetings every two weeks. There is a small group of 2-3 grad students who administer a visiting speaker series. A few brave students have volunteered to serve on university-wide committees, or have taken leadership roles in our TA union. (Don't forget to vote to authorize strikes this week, kids!) And probably most significantly, our department sponsors an online journal, completely run by graduate students. This last opportunity is probably the closest experience to actually being an academic in a functioning department. We have weekly meetings, there are tasks to be accomplished outside of those meetings, and there are opportunities for leadership. I'm currently one of the editors of the journal, and although sometimes the whole thing seems awfully silly and amateur, it's easy to remind myself that learning to keep a meeting on track (I find Dean Dad's advice very useful), to delegate responsibilities, and to be a responsible adult about the whole thing are all skills I need to develop if I want to have a happy academic life.

But doing any of these service tasks, as a graduate student, requires a fair amount of initiative. It's certainly not a requirement of the program, and although there is some mild pressure to help the department out when things need doing, it's hard to fault people for not volunteering to spend their busy time doing often-pointless work. I don't really want my program to require service for graduate students, 'cause that seems like it could be a disaster. But it is something I think we grad students need to keep in mind--come real life, we're going to be thrust into the world of service, and that's something we need to prepare for as much as research and teaching.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

1,000 Words on Marie Antoinette

I'm a big fan of Sofia Coppola's movies, so I'm surprised at myself that it took this long to go see her latest, Marie Antoinette. I waited too long, it turns out, so I had to go see it at a late-run showing at the Laemmle Sunset. Now, I like this theater a lot. It does very adventurous programming, has a student discount, and the staff are friendly. But the seats, man, the seats! My long legs don't quite fit in the space allotted, and I always spend the whole movie squirming around trying to get comfortable.

So, the movie. Every movie by Ms. Coppola has the same basic story arch: we know from the very beginning that things will end in tragedy. In The Virgin Suicides it's the titular death of all the sisters. In Lost in Translation it's knowing that ultimately Bill Murray will have to leave Japan and Scarlett Johansson. In Marie Antoinette...well, we all know what happens to her. But in each case, the inevitable tragedy is delayed for the entire movie. When it finally comes, it seems sudden and unprepared, despite the fact that you've been lolling around for two hours waiting for it. It reminds me of the end of Charles Ives's first symphony. By the end of the fourth movement, you've been pushed and buffeted by multiple layers of dissonant and seemingly unrelated music, constantly being teased as if the end is near. On the very last page of the score, the pace is picking up yet again, and you're sure that the thing is going to end any moment. And then you get this gigantic cadence (overlaid with a trumpet playing "Reveille", because, you know, it is Ives after all) and you just know the end will be any moment now. And then Ives does indeed end it, but with a gigantic cluster chord played at fortissimo by the entire orchestra, a chord that contains 11 notes--every single possible chromatic note, that is, except the B flat which would resolve the cadence. The piece has indeed ended, but it doesn't feel good. When the mob storms Versailles in Marie Antoinette, you obviously knew it was coming, but this fulfillment of an expectation doesn't feel good.

Another classic Sofia device is tension between extreme presence and absence. Her movies are full of sensory overload. The colors are vivid, the music loud. And yet, in each movie, there is some crucial missing element. In Lost in Translation, this was the famous whispered dialogue at the very end--Bill Murray leans in to whisper something in Scarlett Johansson's ear. It's clearly something important to the narrative, but it's a busy Tokyo street and you can't hear them. In Marie Antoinette, it's the sun. At several key moments in the movie, Kirsten Dunst watches the sun rise. In each moment, the sun is always just outside the frame. All we see are reflections--on water, on glass, on her face. There's nothing so iconographic as the sun, and it is hard to imagine any filmmaker, painter, or photographer composing a frame of sunrise that did not put the sun at the very center. In Marie Antoinette, having been bombarded with sensory overload for two hours, you feel this absence more strongly than almost anything else.

I don't know much about film studies, but I imagine it would be pretty easy to do a feminist post-structuralist reading of Coppola's work. You've got the non-traditional narratography, the privileging of surface experience over interior depth, the representations of consumerism that lies somewhere between critique and celebration. These films are nothing if not full of jouissance. If I might pull out one more annoying musicological metaphor, however, there are elements of this film that make me think of the arguments my advisor makes in his book on minimalism. Many feminist critics have celebrated the jouissance of minimalist music, its ability resist a heterosexual erotics of music--rather than Beethoven making you work really hard for an hour before finally giving you release at the end, minimalism just gives you endless bliss. That's the standard reading. My advisor, however, points out that a lot of minimalist music does actually have plenty of discrete moments of release. To be blunt, it's not, in other words, that minimalism has no orgasm or one long sustained one, but that often it has dozens of small ones.

I bring this up because in Marie Antoinette, Coppola does not actually just sit back and let the pretty colors and loud music wash over you. Although I would probably need to see it again, I do sense a structure in this movie that is just as top-down, push-the-audience-around as Beethoven. It just uses the non-traditional elements I outlined above to do so. I'm thinking in particular of the mob scene at Versailles. For the entire movie we've been treated to this very loud soundtrack that combines late 70's and early 80's new wave and punk rock with fairly authentic mid-18th century music, like Rameau. The music is a crucial part of telling you what to think, and with the opulent sets and costumes forms the major part of the sensory overload. That said, the loudest noise of the movie is actually the sound of the mob when Kirsten Dunst opens up the door on her balcony. The sound of the crowd is significantly louder than the already-loud music we've been listening to. It was a shocking moment, and one that was not arrived at by way of the plot--the mob came hours ago, and it is no secret what is going to happen. And the main visual imagery is another absence--for several shots, the camera focuses on specific individuals in the mob, but never their faces, just the backs of their heads. Coppola is using the presence vs. absence tension to shock us. We're being manipulated, but not in a traditional movie way.

I have to say, I like it.

Humanities R Us

Today is the big UCLA vs. USC football game, and my undergraduates are all a-twizzle. There are pep rallies, bonfires, even a vigil to protect the campus mascot from dastardly deeds. A number of my students are in the marching band, so they are all out in Pasadena today, performing great feats of lung-foot coordination and some milder feats of musicianship. I wish them well. **

Speaking of these two august institutions, there was an interesting story in the current LA Weekly by Justin Clark about their academic rivalry. Predictably, the two schools are constantly poaching professors from one another; in one incident, USC even tried to hire away five members of the UCLA linguistics department in one fell swoop. A lot of the competition has to do with USC's attempt to rehabilitate its academic reputation as the former University of Spoiled Children my Stanford alumni parents always warned me about. In the past few years, USC has gone from #46 to #27 in the rankings, almost tied with UCLA, and presumably they have their competitive eye on the NoCal schools as well.

Most interesting, however, is the the shifting status of the politics of this rivalry. Back in the 1960s, there was a stark difference between the two campuses: USC watched the growing "disintegration" of its urban neighborhood--and by "disintegration", we actually should read "integration"--with suspicion and hostility, seriously considering a move to join Pepperdine up in Malibu. UCLA, meanwhile, became a hotbed of student activism thanks to a fairly liberal school administration.

Forty years later, though, things have changed: USC has invested heavily in its surrounding neighborhoods, and has come to view its urban location as a major draw. UCLA, thanks to Proposition 209 and the gradual depoliticization of the UC system as a whole, has become increasingly less diverse: enrollment of black students is down to offensive levels, the student government is now controlled by an conservative (and explicitly white) slate, and Westwood is now a bland marketplace of chain stores and dull restaurants. This change, of course, mirrors many larger changes in American politics over the last forty years. Once upon a time, conservative power rested in the Republican "old money" WASP areas of Pasadena and Downtown--USC territory--whereas the largely Jewish and Hollywood-funded Westside was Democratic and liberal--UCLA. That distinction is pretty much gone nowadays, replaced by much more fragmentary and temporary political alliances. UCLA's enclave amongst the ritzy towns of Beverly Hills and Bel-Air increasingly has the feel of a gated community, while USC's urban location allows it to engage with the outside world on an ongoing basis. Obviously there are many complicating factors, and it will take a long time for public perception to catch up. But I think we've only seen the beginning.

Anyways, the one thing this article doesn't talk about it is how central the humanities are to some of these academic and political rivalries. USC has for the past few years been making a point to hire a broad range of very exciting humanistic scholars--just since I came to town, they've hired Judith Halberstam, Josh Kun, Alice Echols, Karen Tongson, and Bruce Smith. More that I'm probably forgetting about, or haven't heard about. UCLA? Not so much. Yeah, they brought in Sue-Ellen Case a few years back, but that was a no-brainer. Can anyone think of any other exciting senior hires? Even if there are some examples, there is nothing like USC's campus-wide commitment to bringing in these amazing humanists who are all on the forefront of their respective fields. These are people who publish a lot, do the actual teaching of their students, attract top grad students, and are genuinely committed to the social mission of an urban university. Top scientists might bring in a lot of research money, but they rarely contribute to the intellectual life of a university as a whole.*

The thing is, developing a talented faculty in the humanities is really cost effective. Let's be honest, we humanists have low expectations when it comes to institutional support, and we work for cheap. A recent New Yorker article points out that when Duke University wanted to raise its academic stature, they realized that for the price of one middling scientist's salary--not to mention all the labs, support staff, etc--they could hire three or four humanistic scholars at the very top of their field. And for Duke, it totally worked--despite that institution's somewhat checkered history, and location away from the usual centers of academe, it is still has one of the great English Lit doctoral programs in the country, and one of the best university presses. This seems to USC's approach, and assuming that they come through with sustained institutional support--not to be taken for granted!--I bet it will work wonders.

In other news, I highly recommend watching all eight minutes of this cartoon version of the Communist Manifesto, assembled from classic Hollywood cartoons. What could be more LA? Via Billtron via Sushi Pajamas.



* I don't say this lightly; my partner was a chemistry major in college. At a small college, the sciences faculty are often integral to the community, and that's a great thing. At a large research university, however, much scientific research takes place in hospitals and institutes far removed from anything that might be considered "education."

** My god! We won! I could care less, but that was kind of cool!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

In Other News

It is currently the one week of the year when it is cold enough that I have to wear socks at home.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tuesday Tunes

It's been pointed out to me that the last five entries in a row on this blog were about animals, more or less. While I am slightly obsessed with my cats, and love giraffes and my parents' new dog very much, I am actually a musicologist, and do spend most of my time thinking about music. So, in what I hope will be a regular Tuesday feature of this blog, I want to take a moment to discuss a favorite song. This week, that song is an obvious choice for those who know me. In fact, when I was teaching History of Rock and Roll this summer, I had an extra credit question on the final exam which read, "What is the greatest song of all time?" This was not a subjective, or defend-in-an-essay question. There was only one right answer, and I had warned my students earlier in the quarter that they needed to write down in their notes that this song was the greatest song of all time, and be ready to regurgitate this answer for the final. So, what is, objectively and empirically,* the greatest song of all time?

The Shirelles, "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" (1960

I'm not, of course, the only person to love this song so much. In our classes here, we usually teach this song in conjunction with Susan Douglas's lovely essay "Why the Shirelles Matter." Jacqueline Warwick's forthcoming book on sixties girl groups will no doubt discuss it excellently as well. The basic point that these authors make is that although the usual annoying rockist scholars of popular music studies tend to view the period 1959-1964--after Elvis joins the army, before the Beatles invade--as a fallow time in popular music, it's actually the period when we get unusually rich and complex music aimed at teenage girls. This song is a great example--rather than being sentimental about love and boys and things, it is quite frankly discussing sexuality and teenage romance as a meaningful experience:
Tonight you're mine completely
You give your love so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes
But will you love me tomorrow?

Is this a lasting treasure?
Or just a moment's pleasure?
Can I believe the magic of your sigh
Will you still love me tomorrow

Tonight with words unspoken
You said that I'm the only one
But will my heart be broken
When the night meets the morning sun?

Compare this with Patti Page's marriage advice for girls, published the same year, and you can see how unusual it is to treat this subject so forthrightly and frankly. And not only is it frank, but it is subtle and emotionally rich--the song's only two and a half minutes, but it feels like this microscopic moment of decision is stretched out for symphonic ages.

But it's not really about the lyrics, of course. And although the songwriters, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, knew how to craft a fancy-pants chord progression very well, it's not even really about that either. I agree with one of Douglas's points that actually it's all about the timbre: the heavy reverb on the lead vocal, mixed all the way front. No saxophone or distorted lead guitar, just those lovely strings, that shimmery quiet guitar, and above all, Shirley Owens's throaty, heartfelt vocals. The violins represent hopefulness, and when they break off for their solo moment, you really believe that it's going to work. But every time Shirley sings, it's heartbreaking. You hear that voice, and you know what is really going to happen in the morning, no matter what she is saying. But then there is the ineffable: it makes me really happy to listen to this song. It's sad, it's heartbreaking, but...the pain feels good, in an endorphin-rush-after-a-tattoo kind of way. I just wish I could put my finger on how the music does this, technically speaking.

It's a sad song, and it's a lovely song, and it is the Greatest Song of All Time. If you haven't listened to it recently, go get a copy, find a quiet place, close your eyes, and enjoy.

*Objective and empirical because I am a musicologist, and I say so.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

More Thanksgiving



Click the owl for more pictures of Thanksgiving at my grandparents. Including, by popular demand, The New Dog. Unfortunately, being rather squirmy, he wasn't very good at sitting still for a picture. Biting my ear, very good at that.

Note to self: those thirty undergraduate analyses of a Chopin prelude ain't going to grade themselves, mister.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Lions and Tigers and Bears



No dead rats, this time, but lots of giraffes. I've been going to Thanksgiving at my grandparents' house in Napa Valley for almost twenty years now, and each time, there is some sort of activity to keep everyone occupied for the day after. Wineries are the obvious choice, and we've done that a few times. Obviously, this was less fun when I was under 21, but some of the wineries are kind of cool even for kids--one, I seem to recall, has a gondala ride up to the top of the ridge. We've also gone to visit the Calistoga Geyser, the Petrified Forest, even the Napa Valley Wine Train. For the last one, my grandfather had to go incognito in my baseball cap and my mother's sunglasses, since local residents officially disaprove of the train.

This year was no different, and my grandmother bought us all tickets to go to Safari West. It's a 400 acre wildlife preserve that breeds and raises a bunch of endangered African species. I'm not sure where they stand in the hierachy of such parks--they are a private organization that makes money off of tours and visitors staying in authentic South African tent cabins, but they seem to be accredited by all the right people, and eschew fancy lions and elephants in favor of more mundane elk and gazelle whatsits. With the exception of three cheetahs, its all herd animals. But I definitely liked the giraffes. Who doesn't like giraffes? Giraffes are great.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Turkey, Puppies, and Rats

Thanksgiving is upon us. Tomorrow, my cousin and I are driving up to my grandparents' house in Napa Valley, where we'll be doing The Meal with my mom's side of the family. I'm looking forward to clean air, good food, meeting The New Dog, and of course, time with the family.

Of course, last year, this same plan ended up with me nose to nose with a dead rat while crawling underneath the house attempting to install a satellite dish. But high hopes for this year!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sunday evening with a cat in my lap

It's nice to take the weekend off. I've finished a chapter, a fellowship application, and a bunch of grading, so I thought I deserved some relaxation. These past two days, I've cleaned my apartment, done laundry, spent some quality time with the cats, gone grocery shopping, cooked a big heap of pad thai, and watched a good chunk of the first season of Battlestar Galatica. I've resisted BG for a long time, since science fiction tends to bore my eyeballs out. But I watched a few episodes this fall, and have to admit it's pretty good. Then tonight, I had some friends over to eat the aforementioned pad thai and watch Goonies, which I had somehow never seen before. I think it is a slight generation gap--the movie came out in 1985, so even though it was a kid's movie, I was just a little too young to see it in the theater, or appreciate it fully if I had. So I'm glad to have filled that pop cultural gap.

My favorite line from the movie, apropos of the characters trying to play a melody correctly on a special skeleton keyboard in order to open a secret door: "I can't tell... if it's an A sharp or if it's a B flat!" "If you hit the wrong note, we'll all 'B' flat!"

Despite this relaxation, I am getting excited for my next chapter. I'm glad that my dissertation involves several different genres of music--getting sick of the music I study is less of a problem than it could be. I'll post more about this chapter soon, but suffice to say, I spent all day today listening to the Moonglows, the Orioles, the Ink Spots, and the Coasters. Mmmmm.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Poetry Friday

Who doesn't love a little Roethke on a Friday evening in November?

“For an Amorous Lady”

“Most mammals like caresses, in the sense in which we usually take the word, whereas other creatures, even tame snakes, prefer giving to receiving them.” From a Natural-History Book

The pensive gnu, the staid aardvark,
Accept caresses in the dark;
The bear, equipped with paw and snout,
Would rather take than dish it out.
But snakes, both poisonous and garter,
In love are never known to barter;
The worm, though dank, is sensitive:
His noble nature bids him give.

But you, my dearest, have a soul
Encompassing fish, flesh, and fowl.
When amorous arts we would pursue,
You can, with pleasure, bill or coo.
You are, in truth, one in a million,
At once mammalian and reptilian.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Life in the Ivory Tower

Want to see something fun? This will really make your day. This is a video of UCLA campus police tasering a student in the campus library. You can read the full story here. The best part is when the kid, a 23-year-old student, is on the ground in handcuffs screaming in pain, and they tell him to stand up or they will taser him again. That's just slightly better than the part where a bystander asks an officer for his badge number, and he tells her "Shut up or I'll tase you." Good times.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Fellowship Collage

Fellowship season is in full swing. These past few weeks, my classmates and I have been up to our necks in sample chapters, "narrative timetables," "relevance to broader humanistic inquiry," and finicky online applications. Take your project, the proposal for which you slaved over for months and which is about 26 pages long, and boil it down to four pages. Take your beloved 55 page chapter, and cut it in half. Cobble together a two page "sample bibliography," wondering which books will make you seem smart, and which are passé. Fellowship season is all about chopping yourself into little bits, rearranging those bits as instructed to do so by a mildly fascistic fellowship authority, and somehow trying to inject a little bit of life into the mix

There are ups and downs to being an Americanist. There are less fellowships for us to apply for, for one thing. If you want to go do archival research in Europe, there are tons of funding opportunities. And while I suppose it is a little easier and cheaper for me to go to my archives, it's actually not that easy or cheap, and I wouldn't mind support. At the same time, a friend of mine has a fancy fellowship to spend time in a foreign country, and the paperwork is just astonishingly arcane and intricate. So, you know, ups and downs.

I finished my main fellowship today. Another big one to apply for in January, and another in March. Here's hoping that some referee somewhere finds the relationship between music and McCarthyism so unbearably fascinating that they want to shower me with piles of money.

The good news? Now that I've done this, it is officially time to really move on to my next chapter! I love me my John Cage, but I'm looking forward to writing about music I can hum to when driving to school. Music of Changes somehow just didn't cut it.

Monday, November 13, 2006

On Blue Books and Movie Stars

Los Angeles is an odd place to be an academic. You know how there are some cities that are safe havens for academics? Obviously, a lot of those cities are college towns. I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for a year, clearly a place where my species feels comfortable. Walking around Cambridge, you know that the people on the street understand you. If you were to tell someone you were a graduate student, they understand what that means: that you're poor, over-educated, pretentious, and socially awkward. They don't judge you (much), because they have a slot in their brains where they can place you. Even in a non-college town like New York City, there is definitely a niche for academics. You see a slovenly-dressed person grading a stack of blue books, you know who they are. You see an older man with a comb-over and a tweed jacket, you know what he is.

The citizens of Los Angeles just don't have that slot for us. This town--or at least my corner of it--is so dominated by the Industry (and there is only one!) that anybody who does something different will always be an oddity. When I meet people in bars, they are always fascinated by the fact that I am getting a Ph.D. When I pull out exams to grade at my local coffeeshop, heads across the room look up from their screenplays and stare at me. There are actually a lot of academics in Los Angeles--UCLA, USC, Cal State LA, Cal Tech, and a lot of smaller places--but we are completely subsumed to the Hollywood monster. Sometimes I wish I lived in a city where I had a place.

Of course, if I was in Cambridge I would not, as I just did tonight, have looked up from my pile of blue books at the Sunset Boulevard Coffee Bean to see Eugene Levy, Christopher Guest, and Jamie Lee Curtis walk by on their way to the premiere of For Your Consideration, followed by a swarm of paparazzi. Take that, Cambridge.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Week in LA

It has been a good week for celebrities. Last Friday, during the conference, I saw Brian Baumgartner at the Century City food court. The American version of The Office is one of my favorite shows, so that was pretty exciting. More exciting, however, was on Thursday, when I saw Morgan Freeman. I was walking to lunch on campus, and he was standing there being interviewed by a reporter. Cool!

Coolest, however, was today. While shopping at Collar and Leash, our local pet supply store, I had a discussion on the merits of different kinds of cat litter with Anna Faris, of Scary Movie, Lost in Translation, and My Super Ex-Girlfriend fame. I've always thought she was pretty cool, and it turns out she was nice in person too. Unfortunately, her cats are having trouble finding the litter box. She ended up going with some special litter that is supposed to attract cats; I went with our usual sawdust pellet standby.

Speaking of naughty cats, Pablo and Carlos have figured out a clever way to express their annoyance when Nikki or I don't feed them breakfast at an appropriately early hour. The hallway outside our bedrooms is wallpapered with New Yorker covers, so when they are hungry in the morning, they start eating the covers. Every morning I wake up to another pile of scrap paper outside my door, and another empty spot on the wall.

Maybe I'll talk to my good friend Anna for suggestions.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

News of the Day

Things One Should Read:
  • For a Veteran's Day feature, the San Francisco Chronicle had the bright idea to interview one of those veterans who often gets ignored on this patriotic holiday--in this case, the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It's totally fascinating to hear Ferlinghetti talk about his experience in WWII, which included chasing Nazi submarines in a little wood boat, and visiting Nagaskai six weeks after the bomb. Read it here.

  • Steven Soderbergh is apparently making a movie using primarily 1940s movie-making technology: old lenses, only boom mics, incandescent lighting, etc. Using the technology forces him to use certain angles that you don't see much anymore, and forces to actors to speak loudly and with precise diction. Basically, it's historically-informed performance practice for film! Richard Taruskin must be spinning in his grave. Oh wait, he's not dead.

  • One More: It's not the most intelligent article in the world, but our local weekly the Citybeat has a cover story this week on undocumented students at UCLA. A little depressing, but worth a read, especially for those of us in the teaching profession! We really often have no idea what is going on in our student's lives. Here I am hectoring my students to tell the difference between Schubert and Beethoven, and they are worrying about where to buy a fake social security number so that they can work and not be tossed out of the country. Man.

Poetry Friday

I'd like to share something about myself. I don't think it's common knowledge; in fact, it's rather personal. It's my favorite poet. A person's favorite poet tells you a lot about them. I'm not sure what exactly my choice says about me; so it always makes me a little nervous to reveal it. But here goes: William Carlos Williams. There. Now you know.

A Widow's Lament in Springtime
William Carlos Williams, 1921

Sorrow is my own yard
where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before but not
with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.
Thirtyfive years
I lived with my husband.
The plumtree is white today
with masses of flowers.
Masses of flowers
load the cherry branches
and color some bushes
yellow and some red
but the grief in my heart
is stronger than they
for though they were my joy
formerly, today I notice them
and turned away forgetting.
Today my son told me
that in the meadows,
at the edge of the heavy woods
in the distance, he saw
trees of white flowers.
I feel that I would like
to go there
and fall into those flowers
and sink into the marsh near them.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Good and Bad

I'm glad the New York Times is teaching its reporters how to write good:
A protracted recount in Virginia is a scenario that many voting experts feared, with control of Congress hinging on a razor-thin margin in one Senate race, bringing a replay of the bitter litigation of the 2000 presidential election, which resulted in a drawn-out recount and bitter litigation.

In other news, how do you know when your veterinarian girlfriend has become jaded?

Me: How was your day?
Her: Good and bad. We killed several of my patients today, but on the plus side that means rounds won't take as long tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Change is Gonna Come

Almost didn't exercise democracy today! My plan was to vote in the evening, once I got home from school. Jewel Dakini and I left at 6:30 pm, which should have been plenty of time to be home before the polls closed at 8, but there was staggeringly unpleasant traffic, and it took us over an hour to get to WeHo. By the time I dropped her off and found parking, I had five minutes left to vote, and also to deliver Violet Vixen's absentee ballot. (I'm hoping that in the future, every single person I know will have a blog so that anytime I recount a story I can link to every single person.) But I made it, and there were no lines, thank goodness.

My voting was along the expected lines. No on the annoying Props. 83 and 85, yes on the bond measures, the cigarette tax, and the alternative fuel thingy. Also, no on that measure that would have forced the legislature to put transportation taxes towards repairing roads--if there is anything I learned from my mother's career as a school board member, it's that state propositions are a bad way to allocate funds. I skipped the judges since, really, who has any idea, and voted a straight Democratic ticket everything else.

When it came to governor, however, I took the opportunity to indulge in a bit of caprice: I didn't vote for Democratic candidate Phil Angelides. Which is not to say that I voted for Herr Schwarzenegger, because believe you me, I am not looking forward to a lifetime of having students looking at the diploma on my office wall and seeing Arnold's signature. No, I voted for Peter Camejo, the Green candidate.

Now, I don't know a ton about Mr. Camejo. I feel like I have heard a few inklings of negative stuff about him, and at any rate, i definitely don't support the Green platform all the way. But voting Green was a wonderful feeling. When I first registered to vote, days after turning eighteen in 1998, I was a committed supporter of third parties, and gleefully registered as a Green Party member for my maiden election. Remember 1998? Things were so hopeful. Yes, the Republicans controlled the House, and yes, the Monica Lewinsky scandal had broken a few months earlier. But still, having lived under a Democratic administration ever since I was twelve years old, it was hard to imagine the evil that lay ahead. One could imagine that greater change was possible, and that one's convictions, rather than fears, could be the source of my vote. Don't worry, by 2000 I knew the jig was up, and voted for Gore.

But I still remember that feeling of optimism when I first registered to vote, and could actually vote for someone whose politics I agreed with. That really hasn't been possible since then. Like every other leftist, I've compromised, and compromised. And I don't regret it at all, because these political times have required it. But in this election, where Governor Arnold was headed towards a landslide, and the Democratic candidate had run a sniveling, unpleasant campaign, it felt great to be able to vote Green. And I could do so not just because my vote was a throwaway, but because once again, I'm feeling optimistic.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Conference Hangover

The day after an academic conference is akin to the day after a drinking binge. (Or so I imagine, mom.) You wake up with a hangover, literal and metaphorical, with no sense of what has happened for the last few days. Your belongings are scattered everywhere, the fridge is empty, and the cats are looking at you with a wounded look in their eyes. If the police showed up and accused me of murder, I could probably be pressured into a confession.

Man. This past few days was the annual meeting of my esteemed professional organization, held here in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, this non-anonymous blog is probably not the proper location to discuss the ins and outs of the conference. Saw some good papers, saw some bad papers. Schmoozed with lots of famous scholars, caught up with old friends who I only ever see at these things. Wasn't giving a paper myself, this year, so no pressure there. I watched several friends go through the job interview process, and I can't say I'm looking forward to that next fall.

Speaking of next year--so, I'm working on my application to a fellowship for next year, due in ten days. I've got my dissertation chapter all done, which was the main segment of the application. I look at the fine print, and read this: "Include a polished, substantive chapter of your dissertation (that is neither the introduction nor the conclusion) of not more the 25 double-spaced pages."

25 pages?!

What kind of diss chapter is only 25 pages? Mine is 53, and I am told that anywhere in the range of 40-60 is typical for my discipline. And note that they do not want a 25 page section of a chapter; they specify a 25 page chapter. Am I supposed to cut down and make a special version of this chapter just for the fellowship? Mind you, nowhere in the materials for this fellowship did they mention a page limit for the chapter. It was only revealed when you log in to upload your proposal. Argh!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Payday on the Sunset Strip

Yesterday was the first of the month, which means payday in these parts. And as is my custom, I went up to the Tower Classical on Sunset to part with a percentage of my paycheck. As we all know, Tower is going out of business, and like most, I feel ambivalent. On the one hand, Tower was the first monolithic chain store to come along and drive independents out of the business. On the other hand, in these days of Walmart as the nation's largest music retailer, one gets nostalgic for the days of big bad record store chains--at least they specialized in music! And Tower, to its credit, has always maintained a strong commitment to classical music. Although I am definitely not nostalgic for the waning power of the canon--as some commentators have been--I did like that a large corporation was willing to maintain a small space for music that is not commercially viable. The Tower Classical I used to frequent was a great store--not as gigantic a selection as Amoeba, but perfectly decent, with a knowledgeable staff. Oh well.

At any rate, this Tower has now made it down to 30% off, which means that the FLUX Quartet recording of Morton Feldman's String Quartet No. 2 was only forty bucks. Haven't listened to it yet, but I'm excited. Not that I will listen to the whole thing, as it is about six hours long--the package comes with one version cut up into five different CDs, and then a version on one DVD so that you could theoretically listen to the whole thing in one sitting. I actually was around when FLUX was recording this--they did it at Wesleyan my senior year. I didn't attend any of the taping, although I can't remember why. It was definitely a big event at the time.

Walking back home, I happened by the Viper Room, the legendary club on the Strip that used to be owned by Johnny Depp. There was a small pile of flowers and candles outside, and a small sign that informed me that October 31 was the anniversary of River Phoenix's death from a drug overdose, on the curb outside of the Viper Room.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Thoughts for the Evening

  • I am surprisingly sad that Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Philippe split up.
  • I could listen to the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack all night long.
  • Pablo has an eye infection, and twice a day we have to stick two different kinds of paste in his left eye. So he kind of hates me for a chunk of each day, but luckily he also has a very short-term memory.
  • Welcome to the coolest google maps hack you have ever seen, courtesy of my friend Pete.
  • I'm thinking of sending in an abstract for a paper on pop hits of this past summer. From blog posts to academic paper...we'll see.
  • Grading...oy. Beethoven's 9th refuses to leave me alone.
  • Do you know what's ironic? The Blogger spell check doesn't know the word "blog."
  • My fifth college reunion is this next spring. That's a scary thought.
  • Why won't my room magically clean itself?
  • The annual national meeting of the American Musicological Society is this weekend. It is in Los Angeles this year, which is fun, although parking at the conference hotel is $30 a day. I didn't make AMS last year; the last I went to was the one in Seattle. It was one of the most fun times I ever had a conference. Six of us stayed in one hotel room, and in all honesty, my friends and I were the life of the conference. Fueled by free booze pilfered from Princeton's party, we managed to be the last ones to leave two nights in a row. The second night, we straggled up to our room, and watched Paris Hilton's One Night in Paris while doing cartwheels and headstands in our pajamas. That, my friends, is how conferences should always be.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Poetry Sunday


Carlos has reminded me that I forgot last week's Poetry Friday. And not only that, October 7 was the 50th anniversary of the publication of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl." I have always thought that Carlos's name was a Hispanicized version of Karl, as in Marx, but I just remembered that Carlos is also the name Kerouac gave to Ginsberg in On the Road. And given that we suspect Pablo might be a Neruda, perhaps we need to re-think Carlos's alter-ego.

At any rate, in honor of all these things, I present a lovely poem by Ginsberg, written like "Howl" in 1955. It's a little long for a blog entry, but I think it's worth it--although again, I'm really not enjoying the difficulty of formatting poems correctly in Blogger. You can find this in Selected Poems, 1947-1995.

"Sunflower Sutra"

I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry.

Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed, surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of machinery.

The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves rheumy-eyed and hungover like old bums on the riverbank, tired and wily.

Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust--

--I rushed up enchanted--it was my first sunflower, memories of Blake--my visions--Harlem

and Hells of the Eastern rivers, bridges clanking Joes Greasy Sandwiches, dead baby carriages, black treadless tires forgotten and unretreaded, the poem of the riverbank, condoms & pots, steel knives, nothing stainless, only the dank muck and the razor-sharp artifacts passing into the past--

and the gray Sunflower poised against the sunset, crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke of olden locomotives in its eye--

corolla of bleary spikes pushed down and broken like a battered crown, seeds fallen out of its face, soon-to-be-toothless mouth of sunny air, sunrays obliterated on its hairy head like a dried wire spiderweb,

leaves stuck out like arms out of the stem, gestures from the sawdust root, broke pieces of plaster fallen out of the black twigs, a dead fly in its ear,

Unholy battered old thing you were, my sunflower O my soul, I loved you then!

The grime was no man's grime but death and human locomotives,

all that dress of dust, that veil of darkened railroad skin, that smog of cheek, that eyelid of black mis'ry, that sooty hand or phallus or protuberance of artificial worse-than-dirt--industrial-- modern--all that civilization spotting your crazy golden crown--

and those blear thoughts of death and dusty loveless eyes and ends and withered roots below, in the home-pile of sand and sawdust, rubber dollar bills, skin of machinery, the guts and innards of the weeping coughing car, the empty lonely tincans with their rusty tongues alack, what more could I name, the smoked ashes of some cock cigar, the cunts of wheelbarrows and the milky breasts of cars, wornout asses out of chairs & sphincters of dynamos--all these

entangled in your mummied roots--and you there standing before me in the sunset, all your glory in your form!

A perfect beauty of a sunflower! a perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence! a sweet natural eye to the new hip moon, woke up alive and excited grasping in the sunset shadow sunrise golden monthly breeze!

How many flies buzzed round you innocent of your grime, while you cursed the heavens of the railroad and your flower soul?

Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a flower? when did you look at your skin and decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive? the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive?

You were never no locomotive, Sunflower, you were a sunflower!

And you Locomotive, you are a locomotive, forget me not!
So I grabbed up the skeleton thick sunflower and stuck it at my side like a scepter, and deliver my sermon to my soul, and Jack's soul too, and anyone who'll listen,

--We're not our skin of grime, we're not our dread bleak dusty imageless locomotive, we're all beautiful golden sunflowers inside, we're blessed by our own seed & golden hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by oureyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision.

Done

Well, sort of. I left two sections incomplete: a few paragraphs in the middle, and probably another 2-3 pages at the very end. But I have solid 48 pages, and that's enough to get good feedback from the reading group. I'll keep adding and revising tomorrow, get comments from the reading group on Tuesday, and then send off the completed first draft to my advisor by the end of Wednesday. He promises to get me comments within a week, at which point I'll meet with other members of my committee to get whatever feedback I can, and then it is off to the fellowship people on November 15.

I feel like I should have some eloquent thoughts on what it feels like to have basically completed my first chapter--as a friend just pointed out to me, I'm now 1/5 done with my dissertation! But...I feel too drained to be eloquent.

But not too drained to go sit in a coffeeshop, get a large cappuccino, and starting grading undergraduate papers about Beethoven's 9th. Life marches on.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Final Push

Apologies to those whose emails I don't return, phone calls I don't pick up. By the end of today, I'm supposed to send out a draft of my first dissertation chapter to our department's reading group. I've got a lot written, but also lots of little spots to fix and loose ends to tie up.

I realized last night that it is not actually so strange that this chapter is so hard to put down on paper. Not only is it my first chapter, but it is an entire chapter devoted to one piece of music, a piece that is four and a half minutes long. And that four and a half minutes is, of course, four and a half minutes of silence. Fifty pages discussing four and a half minutes of silence? In retrospect, I can see why I'm having trouble wrangling prose together.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Treat Myself?


Amazon apparently has a low opinion of what it takes to make me happy.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Patti Page's Guide to Marriage


In honor of a friend of mine who just got engaged, I present Patti Page's "How to Be Married and Still Live Happily Ever After," from her amazing 1960 self-help book for teenage girls Once Upon a Dream. Which, of course, I own an autographed copy of. There are explanations after each of these tips, a few snippets of which I have included.

How to Be Married and Still Live Happily Ever After

1. Be feminine
("I read somewhere that sixty per cent of American husbands get their own breakfasts while their wives stay in bed. To me, this is a sign of trouble.")

2. Don't protest if your husband takes you for granted.
("I don't know why so many women take this as an insult. All it means is that your husband is comfortable with you, trusts you and never questions your loyalty to you...personally, I think it's one of the highest compliments a man can pay a woman.")

3. Don't meet your husband at the door each night with the story of YOUR day.

4. Control your jealousy.
("The one way to get a man to come home every night and want to stay there is simply to make your home the place where he enjoys himself the most.")

5. Don't be too interesting.
("I think you'll find, when you're married, that it isn't nearly so important for you to be interesting as it is to make your husband feel that he's interesting.)

6. Share something bigger than yourself with your husband.
("It's essential that you share some interest, hobby, career--anything to give you a common objective. Usually, of course, that something bigger than yourselves is children.")


Keep in mind, though, that Patti's husband was probably gay (Elvis's choreographer, c'mon!), and they divorced in 1972.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Ouch

Walking to my car today, I got stung by a bee on the bottom of my foot. I was wearing sandals, and I guess the bee flew between sandal and foot mid-stride, and his dying act before being squished was to sting me.

Also, I drove by the most amazing accident on the way home from school: on the curvey part of Sunset Blvd, the #2 bus was halfway up the hillside, about to tip over, and a fire hydrant was geysering water a good twenty feet into the air. Pretty impressive! It looked like a scene from Speed.

In more important news:


HowManyOfMe.com
LogoThere are:
53
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Bunny Cage

I discovered something today that made all the expense and hassle of this trip instantly worth it.

The nickname that Xenia Cage called her husband?

Bunny.

That's right, John Cage, the pillar of mid-century modernism and the stern, ascetic father of experimental music, was affectionately called "Bunny" by his wife, or "B" for short. Maybe that's why he left her for Merce Cunningham.*

Seriously, it has been a productive trip. I'm actually glad I made it so short, as the archives are much smaller than I expected. The correspondence from the 1950s fits in one thick manilla folder. I had no problem taking detailed notes about all of it in one solid day of work. And I was relieved to find that there was nothing too shocking--most of my ideas about Cage are still intact, only now I have lots of details and evidence to back those ideas up. So that's a good thing.

Cage is still so slippery for me though. The man was so, so careful never to reveal anything about his personal life. I have now been through five different archives related to Cage, and I still have little to grasp on to: the Wesleyan papers, which contain mostly correspondence and rough drafts relating to his books, the Virgil Thomson papers at Yale, and the M.C. Richards and David Tudor papers, both at the Getty. All of these collections are voluminous, and all are places where one would expect to find at least some correspondence from Cage that might be at least a little personal, and deal with at least a little of his private life. But, no. None to be found, so far. Lots of polite letters home to his parents, lots of business correspondence. The most revealing correspondence was a series of letters from Xenia to some friends back in San Francisco. I don't think it is a coincidence that these letters surfaced after Cage's death, and were connected people outside of Cage's immediate circle. Those who were close to Cage clearly protected his privacy--even in their own intimate letters to each other, such as in David Tudor's letters to M.C. Richards which discuss Cage in only the most oblique terms, even as they gossip about everyone else.

Interesting. Very interesting. I should probably stop before I blog my entire chapter! Tomorrow I will poke around a bit more, and than I am having lunch with my cousin who goes to school here. Then home, and the race to write this damn thing takes off in earnest.

* Lest I sound like one more Xenia-basher, I want to go on the record as saying that I find her to be utterly charming and fascinating. Why has nobody ever done any work on her?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

My Bus Redeemer Liveth

The bus is a harsh mistress.

There is nothing worse than trying to use a public bus in a new city. No matter how prepared you are, no matter how many maps you study and internet planning thingys you consult, there will be some local custom that messes things up--especially if you are like me, and refuse to ask for help. A few years back, I was in Seattle to give a paper at a conference. Being my frugal graduate student self, I attempted to take a city bus from the airport to my hotel. Getting from the airport to downtown was easy, and I successfully boarded a second bus that looked like it should take me right by the hotel, up by the space needle. I had memorized the names of a few cross streets to look for, and as the bus made its way uptown, I carefully noted that people seemed to be pulling the stop cord in the normal fashion.

So when I saw one of my cross streets, I reached up and confidently pulled the cord, doing my best impression of a jaded Seattle-ite commuting home from a long day at work, albeit with a suitcase. As soon as I pulled, every single head in the bus swiveled around and looked at me like I was an alien. What had I done? Somebody had literally pulled the cord in the exact same manner one block earlier, and yet somehow, I had done something different that made me the object of bus-wide scorn.

About thirty minutes later, when the bus had, instead of stopping for me, made its way across a body of water, left the city, and seemed to be entering a forest, I sensed that perhaps I might be on an express. About forty-five minutes later it finally stopped, and everyone got off, looking at me sympathetically. I tried my best to pretend like I had intended to get off in Alaska, but soon had to slink across the street, still in full view of all the other passengers, to catch the bus coming back the opposite direction to Seattle.

Actually, the whole point of this post was to brag that today, en route to do some reasearch at Northwestern, I managed to navigate by public transportation from Midway Airport in Chicago to a cheap little motel in Niles, Illinois, via two subway lines and one suburban bus line. And this time, I pulled the cord, and the bus gracefully coasted to a stop right in front of my motel.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Query

Does anyone out there actually enjoy Clint Eastwood movies? I don't care how "good" they are. I'd see Wimbledon over Million Dollar Baby or Flag of Our Fathers any day.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Poetry Friday

When I was in ninth grade, a freshman in high school, I had an awakening. See, when I was a child, I read a lot. Kind of obsessively, really. When my mom used to take me to the library, I seem to remember that we had a rule that I could only check out a certain number of books at a time, because otherwise I was liable to check out dozens of books. And I still remember looking at the shelves in the children's section, and being really frustrated that there were no more books I hadn't read. If all else failed, I would go over to the handy World Book Encyclopedia my parents had bought, choose a volume, and sit down with a bowl of cereal and start reading.

But at some point in middle school, I stopped reading quite so much. Actually, maybe that's not true. But in craziness of being thirteen years old, reading stopped being such a fundamental part of my identity. I was making half-hearted attempts at being popular, I was learning to play the guitar, I was growing my hair long. Reading didn't overwhelm my life the way it used to.

In high school, tossed and turned by new people and new experiences, I felt a little bit of an identity crisis. And I soon realized that part of my problem was that I had fallen behind in my reading. So I went to the school library, and started looking for new stuff. I think the first book I picked up was Walden Pond, but soon I turned, like every other teenager in the world, to the Beats. Howl came first, I remember reading it aloud to myself in a corner of the library. Then On the Road and Dharma Bums, and the Viking Portable Beat Reader. Never really got into Burroughs for some reason.

So anyways, this is all to introduce the poem for this Poetry Friday. After reading Dharma Bums, I wanted to be Gary Snyder like nobody's business. I still have the copy of Turtle Island I bought in ninth grade, and this was my favorite poem from it. Blogger isn't letting me reproduce the spacing correctly unfortunately, but this'll do.

"Bedrock"

Snowmelt pond warm granite
we make camp,
no thought of find more.
and nap
and leave our minds to the wind.

on the bedrock, gently tilting,
sky and stone,

teach me to be tender.

the touch that nearly misses--
brush of glances--
tiny steps--
that finally cover worlds
of hard terrain.
cloud wisps and mists
gathered into slate blue
bolts of summer rain.

tea together in the purple starry eve;
new moon soon to set,
why does it take so
long to learn to
love,
we laugh
and grieve.

Venus in Fur

All the music blogs are talking about it:



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I think I need to explain to my non-musicological readers that "Venus in Fur" is a Velvet Underground song, which like most of the Velvet's stuff uses long drones. Like the kitten does, you see...nevermind.

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Second update: apparently, this video has removed from YouTube due to copyright violations. heh!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Inevitable Dissertation Post

So, here's the thing about my dissertation. I would really like to write it in two years. This seems reasonable to me, and is in keeping with my department's time-to-degree expectations. Theoretically, this is supposed to be a five year program: two years of coursework leading to an MA, and one year of specialized coursework leading to a dissertation proposal and subsequent advancement to candidacy. I've managed to stick to this timeline, although the constant bureaucratic hurdles have not made it easy.

But that then leaves you two years to write your dissertation. Which sounds fine, but I have run into a complicating factor: ideally, one would like to have a fellowship for their last year of dissertation writing, so that you don't have to teach while you are finishing up and applying for jobs. For me, that would mean getting a fellowship for next year. However, fellowship applications are due in the fall and winter of the preceding year, i.e., now--the first one is due November 15. And these applications all require you to submit at least one completed chapter. To summarize, in my mind this means that if I want to finish in two years, I need to have completed a dissertation chapter by November 15, and it needs to be Good.

I am somewhat optimistic that I will be able to do this. I've done a lot of research, and have written a good chunk. I've given myself a November 1 deadline at which I need to have a fairly polished draft to distribute to committee members for revisions. I have two more research ends that need to be tied up, both of which will be hopefully solved next week with a quick trip to Chicago and a even quicker trip back to the Getty.

It means, though, that I need to write. A lot. And I am finding this difficult. The subject of this chapter is a topic that I have been working on since I was a junior in college. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on it. I have written several seminar papers on it. I have given several conference papers on it. I have published on it, I have been cited on it. I know this topic.

And yet, writing everything I know about this subject down, in the form of a dissertation chapter, is extraordinarily difficult. I am pulled in two different directions: on the one hand, I despair at fitting everything into one chapter, and mercilessly cut down excess points that seem tangential. On the other hand, I find myself questioning every single little point, checking every fact, re-thinking every argument, knowing that this time, above all, everything I write needs to be right in some fundamental way.

Phew. I can do this. I just need to stop thinking, and start writing. My goal is to write ten pages today. I'm hoping that by blogging this goal, I will have to stick to it!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

In memorium


My family's cat, Timothy, passed away today. He was seventeen and a half years old.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Turtles and Puppies

I'm a little emo myself, having just dropped Mary off at the airport. But I have to say, this is indeed the saddest thing ever.

But if missing turtles make you sad, I have a solution. I was intending to show a cheer-inducing picture here of my family's dearly departed dog, Webster, as a puppy. But just as I was searching for a picture, I received an email from my father with the news that they just got a new puppy today!

Meet Cascade. Be sure to go to the second page of pictures, as there are some snapshots of Casey meeting our cat Timothy, who has outlived three dogs and is gunning for a fourth.

Poetry Friday-ish

Dr. Crazy has a tradition of posting a poem every Friday. I think I need more poetry in my life, so I'm going to to do that too, even though I'm already a day late!

This poem is by Frank O'Hara, and was written in 1958. I first read it as an undergraduate, having been assigned it by my favorite professor in a course on gay and lesbian history. It's a lovely poem, but also a beautiful political statement.

Ode: Salute to the French Negro Poets

from near the sea, like Whitman my great predecessor, I call
To the spirits of other lands to make fecund my existence

do not spare your wrath upon our shores, that trees may grow
upon the sea, mirror of our total mankind in the weather

one who no longer remembers dancing in the heat of the moon may call
across the shifting sands, trying to live in the terrible western world

here where to love at all’s to be a politician, as to love a poem
is pretentious, this may tendentious but it’s lyrical

which shows what lyricism has been brought to by our fables times
where cowards are shibboleths and one specific love’s traduced

by shame for what you love more generally and never would avoid
where reticence is paid for by a poet in his blood or ceasing to be

blood! Blood that we have mountains in our veins to stand off jackals
in the pillaging of our desires and allegiances, Aimé Césaire

for if there is fortuity it’s in the love we bear each other’s differences
in race which is the poetic ground on which we rear our smiles

standing in the sun of marshes as we wade slowly toward the culmination
of a gift which is categorically the most difficult relationship

and should be sought as such because it is our nature, nothing
inspires us but the love we want upon the frozen face of earth

and utter disparagement turns into praise as generations read the message
of our hearts in adolescent closets who once shot at us in doorways

or kept us from living freely because they were too young then to know what they would ultimately need from a barren and heart-sore life

the beauty of America, neither cool jazz nor devoured Egyptian heroes, lies in
lives in the darkness I inhabit in the midst of sterile millions

the only truth is face to face, the poem whose words become your mouth
and dying in black and white we fight for what we love, not are.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Judy and the Beach

According to my little Sitemeter widget, which tracks visitors to my blog, readership has blossomed to a whopping 33 unique visitors a day. Why is this? Is it the trenchant commentary on Beethoven, Kandinsky, and the perils of British horse farms? No, 90% of the visitors to my blog come here, apparently, by googling the phrase"What does Fergie's song London Bridge mean?", whereupon they are directed to my epic exegesis of said song, which unfortunately comes to no solid conclusions. Sorry kids. That, and a bunch of people doing image searches for Boston terriers are being directed here, for no reason I can fathom. Pablo does indeed look like a Boston terrier, but no pictures of Boston terriers are to be found here. Just one slightly loopy looking cat.

Anyways, today I tried to achieve the perfect day for an academic living in Los Angeles. That is, I attempted to combine, in one day, a trip to the beach, and a lecture by Judith Butler. The beach went great--we went to Will Rogers, and spent a happy two hours splashing around. Unfortunately, the equally important Judith Butler aspect of the day was unsuccessful, as the the lecture hall was so full we couldn't even get near the door. Apparently, the entire world is dying to hear Judy speak about "Sexual Politics, Torture, and the Secular." I did get up on my tip-toes and actually saw Butler (greyer hair than I expected), so I can at least now say that I've seen her. My friend who arrived earlier and made it inside the hall reported that the talk was great, even humorous. So I'm actually quite sorry to have missed it, especially given how awesome her recent work has been. Incidentally, did you know that Butler's first teaching job was at my alma mater? Forward-thinking institution that it was at the time, Wesleyan didn't think it prudent to offer the future Smartest Academic of the World a permanent position. But for a brief shining moment in the mid-eighties, it was possible to take her course "Philosophy of Sex" concurrently with Henry Abelove's course "History of Sex," with frequent campus visits from then-unknown Eve Sedgwick, who was up at UMass-Amherst adjuncting and finishing Between Men. My non-queer studies readers might not appreciate what that all means, but trust me--man, that would have been cool.

Finally, this evening, a trip to the theater. It's Mary's birthday in a week, so her mother got us tickets to see the LA production of Doubt as an early present (Thanks, Phoebe! Great seats!). I will let my more eloquent and theatrically-inclined roommate review the play when she goes to see it next week, but we both thought it was really terrific. Crisp and intense.

Enough for now. I've been a bad TA recently, so I need to go do the reading that I've been telling my kids to do. E.T.A. Hoffman on why Beethoven is his boyfriend. Tomorrow we're doing Ludwig's Piano Concerto No. 5, the "Emperor." Ironic footnote? I first performed this work when I was a last chair violist with the Oakland Youth Orchestra, circa 1996. The soloist was a young pianist in the area, who later went on to Juilliard, and is now... a classmate and friend of mine! Small world.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Goblins and Elephants

The first musicology I ever wrote was my senior year in high school. In AP English we read E.M. Forster's Howard's End, and I was very taken by the passage in chapter five where the family attends a concert of Beethoven's Fifth. When they get to the third and fourth movements, Forster illustrates the personality differences between the two siblings, Helen and Tibby, by showing how they listen to Beethoven differently:
Helen said to her aunt: "Now comes the wonderful movement: first of all the goblins, and then a trio of elephants dancing"; and Tibby implored the company generally to look out for the transitional passage on the drum.

Helen goes on to analyze the third and fourth movements quite extensively in terms of goblins and elephants. The goblins creep about the universe, "with increased malignity," until Beethoven scatters them about the universe.
He brought back the gusts of splendour, the heroism, the youth, the magnificence of life and of death, and, amid vast roarings of a superhuman joy, he led his Fifth Symphony to its conclusion. But the goblins were there. They could return. He had said so bravely, and that is why one can trust Beethoven when he says other things.

Today I got to teach the Fifth Symphony for the first time. Just the second movement, and after a lengthy review of German Idealism--as Hedwig says, "You, Kant, always get what you want"--we only had time to discuss the augmented 6th chord at about m. 28. It's just a little bit of harmonic trickery, the Gb of the violins in previous measures re-spelled as F#, now the raised 6th of the augmented 6th chord. And augmented 6ths always lead to the dominant, which in this case is G major, the V of C major. So thus, with this one quick little re-spelling we are suddenly launched into the world of C major, the eventual gusts of splendor and superhuman joy in the last movement.

The professor of this course wanted us to point out the augmented 6th here because it is one of many ways in which these C major moments poke through. However, technically speaking, a moment like this isn't "real." We aren't actually in C major for more than a few measures, and it is just a little bit of trickery that makes us feel momentarily assured. But you know, that's just a bit of annoying Beethoven-ness. Beethoven wants you to feel like nothing is real unless you've worked hard at it. It's got to be built from the ground up, and you've got to feel the pain along the way--and after a solid forty-five minutes of Beethoven, you've felt the pain! There's no quick fix.

Beethoven's probably right, but I don't like it. I think he is asking the wrong questions. Beethoven, and the rhetoric of hard work and discipline, doesn't pay enough attention to small gestures that might not be a gust of superhuman joy and the magnificence of life and death, but nevertheless accomplishes no small amount of work of its own. Earlier today, Mary and I were listening to a bunch of recordings from the Kronos Quartet 25th anniversary box set; an excellent investment, incidentally, if one is looking to blow some money! One of the CDs is a recording of Morton Feldman's Quartet for Piano and Strings. It clocks in at seventy-nine minutes of near-stillness and quietude, the music almost imperceptible at times. It does have its own ethic of discipline and hard work, since after all it does require an enormous amount of physical effort to play so quietly. But rather than Beethoven's model of extreme ups and downs, with goblins and elephants, the Feldman quartet models a life of quiet pleasure and appreciation for subtle beauty. And if music was a world, I'd much rather life in a Feldman string quartet than in the Fifth Symphony. Hard work just can't be sustained forever, or if it can be, it is at the expense of pleasure. I've definitely done a lot of hard work this year, and although it's gotten me to some good places, it's not going to get me everywhere.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Wake Me Up, Before I Go-Go

You know, it's good to be back in Los Angeles. I always forget how pretty our campus is, even when my new parking assignment has me wading through the school marching band practice to get to the department. And even though I have been driving the five miles back and forth to school now for over three years, I still don't really get tired of the drive. For one thing, how many people's daily commute includes not only the site of Jan (as in, Jan and Dean's) horrifyingly ironic 1966 car crash at Dead Man's Curve, but also the public bathroom where George Michael was arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer? Pretty cool, I think.

Plus, last night, at the local greasy diner, I had a seared ahi tuna sandwich. I don't think greasy diners anywhere else in the country have seared ahi tuna sandwiches.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

London Bridge is Falling Down

On our last day in London, Mary and I took a break from surveying horses to go down to the the Tate Modern to see the big Kandinsky show. Snap review: I like Kandinsky; who doesn't? It seemed like a fairly thorough overview of his work, with an impressive number of major paintings. The exhibition subtitle was "The Path to Abstraction," and there was indeed a predictable emphasis on his chronological progression from early impressionist landscapes to the more abstract stuff. I'm not sure that was particularly enlightening, but I did like one room where they displayed one of his major paintings alongside all the sketches and studies for it. I imagine it is rare to see all those parts together in one place, so that's neat.

Kandinsky is not what I want to talk about today, however. Because on the way to the exhibition, we got off at the London Bridge tube stop. And thus, two songs immediately entered my head, one old, one new:
London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down
London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady.

and then,
How come every time you come around
My London London Bridge want to go down
Like London London want you to go down
Like London London be going down

The first is a nursery rhyme, the second is from this summer's hit song "London Bridge," by Fergie, on her first solo outing. Fergie's version, of course, has been the inescapable hit of the summer. The first time I heard it, it sounded to me like it was the same basic idea behind Fergie's hit with the Black-Eyed Peas, whose chorus goes "My hump, my hump, my lady lady lumps." Which is to say, it pushes inanity to the point where it becomes so shocking you can't help but be attracted to it. As such, it was in the same vein of songs like Kelis's "Milkshake," or maybe some tracks by 50 Cent.

But man, "London Bridge" has been everywhere. I have to ask myself, what else is interesting about it? I mean, for one thing, there is the fact that it wears its intertextuality on its sleeve, which is the academic way of saying it rips a lot of other songs off. There is the lyrical allusion to "Me So Horny," which, interestingly enough, can be found in two or three other pop songs on the charts right now. There is the more subtle nod to Missy Elliot, particularly the Missy of "Work It." (Really, go listen to the Missy track--it's hard to tell the two apart, except that of course Missy can eat Fergie for breakfast any day.)

Then there is the issue of historicity. I've blogged about this before, and it is something that a number of critics have noted about Top 40 music right now. It is the "simple" idea that under postmodernity, our sense of history has collapsed. As Fredric Jameson writes, it is a sense of "historical deafness," punctuated by "a series of spasmodic and intermittent, but desperate, attempts at recuperation." Of the pop hits of this summer, I would put John Mayer and Jessica Simpson's tributes to, respectively, Curtis Mayfield and Madonna into this category of recuperative attempts.

But London Bridge? Hard to say. There is, of course, the titular object. As is well-known now, both the cover and the video for this song feature Fergie dancing in front of a bridge in London (see above). Unfortunately, it's not actually the London Bridge, but rather the Tower Bridge, a Victorian construction that is very pretty and elaborate, and suitably old-looking (the Victorians could collapse historicity like nobody's business), but is unfortunately quite different from the London Bridge.

The London Bridge is a much more pedestrian affair. As any Wikipediast will tell you, it has gone through three main incarnations. The "Old" London Bridge was a gothic stone construction that crossed the Thames from 1029-1831. As the nursery rhyme tells us, this bridge was falling down and the enterprising Victorians put up a replacement in 1831, the "New" London Bridge. This bridge was then replaced in 1973 by what most call the "Ugly" London Bridge, the current incarnation pictured above that is essentially a freeway on-ramp plopped over a river.

But what is fabulously postmodern about the saga of the London Bridge is that the "New" London Bridge was not destroyed. No, in a triumph of late globalized capitalism, it was sold to the highest bidder, taken apart brick by brick, and then reassembled in a new home. And that new home was none other than Lake Havasu, Arizona, where today it is surrounded by blonde coeds flashing their breasts at the Girls Gone Wild cameras in the shadow of the poor old London Bridge.

Which finally brings us to the ultimately unanswerable question of this song. At a party I was at tonight, the claim was made that Fergie's "London Bridge" is part of a trend of recent popular songs which celebrate powerful female sexuality, a trend that stems from Christina Aguilera's album Stripped and perhaps some fin-du-millennium hip-hop by Missy Elliot and Lil' Kim, music widely seen as representing a turn away from the de-sexualized ideology of Britney Spears, the boy bands, and "Genie in a Bottle" Xtina. The argument was made that the lyrics, which do indeed seem to involve somebody performing sexual acts on the singer, somehow represent a positive vision of assertive feminine sexuality. On the more performative sound, Mary pointed out to me that maybe it isn't the lyrics, but the ferociousness with which Fergie launches into the chorus that gives us an attractive sense of power. But how does this all tie together? From medieval London to Girls Gone Wild, from "Hit Me Baby One More Time" to "I'm a Slave 4 U"?

So yeah, it's a complicated text. If anybody has any other ideas about it, let me know.