Thursday, December 4, 2008

Yes Amanda, There Is A Belly Clause


If it's just a publicity stunt, then it's sheer brilliance conceived by lords of evil marketing genius. If it isn't a publicity stunt, then Dresden Dolls fans are witnessing a real world enactment of every music industry cautionary tale that ends with "record labels are soul-crushing monsters."

I'm talking of course about Amanda Palmer and her fabulous belly. This chick and her velvety midriff have set fire to the part of the Internet that rails against double standards and pop culture's killing of the feminine ideal.

Here's what happened. Amanda Palmer, the sultry chanteuse who usually performs with drummer Brian Viglione as half of The Dresden Dolls, has released a solo record, Who Killed Amanda Palmer? This is her third and final release to satisfy her record deal with Roadrunner, and along with the deal came a video for the latest single, "Leeds United." It's a catchy romping sing-along rocker set to a very polished video filled with beautiful people. Stylistically, the video looks like like a scene from a David Lynch film. And some shots flash Amanda's bare tummy under an open jacket.

Amanda, as frank with her fans as she is in her song lyrics about asshole boyfriends and drunken shenanigans, blogged about what happened next. Right before departing on yet another European tour, Amanda was told by her Roadrunner A&R muckety-muck that she looks too fat in the "Leeds United" video, and that they wanted to digitally alter her body to “be more flattering."

Now, having hobbed and knobbed around the Boston music scene since the 1990s, I know Amanda Palmer. We've hung out in the back room at shows. We've slept with at least one guy in common. I've sat with her over drinks. Hell, I used to go to Dresden Dolls shows at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, capacity 105, when there were less than ten people in the room, and I kept on going to see them up through their latest CD release at the Orpheum -- sold out, thank you very much, capacity 4000 and light years from those long ago sparsely-attended shows. And ever since the early days, Amanda has a)had that little belly and b)been absolutely fucking drop-dead gorgeous. If you don't know her up close, well, remember Madonna in the 80s? Before she got all hard-bodied and manly? When she was still soft and pretty, writhing around in the low-slung belt in the "Lucky Star" video? That's exactly what Amanda's belly looks like. She has the lovely, curvy body of a healthy, beautiful and desirable woman, by any standards.

Rather, by any standards except the same kind of wrongheaded fuckers that airbrush away Beyonce's thighs, Adele's ass, Janet Jackson's waist, and only shoot Ann Wilson from the neck up.

Roadrunner officially denies that the whole thing is a publicity stunt for "Leeds, Unlimited." So does Amanda. History may never know for sure, but my Spidey sense tells me it's real.

Amanda's response to Roadrunner? "I told the label I wasn’t changing anything." Though Roadrunner backed down and the video was released un-retouched, the label owner is doing his best to make her feel like she's failed through non-compliance. "He said he thought it was a shame that someone as smart and talented as me could not make a commercial record that they could sell," she blogged, "and he thinks that someday I’ll see the light and write some better songs." She asked to be dropped from the roster. Roadrunner has until June 2009 to decide whether or not to drop her. (This is funny stuff -- if her baldly autobiographical lyrical themes are any indication, idiots don't decide when to drop Amanda. Amanda decides when to drop THEM. Except in "The Jeep Song," she got the short end of that stick.)

Amanda Palmer is not a manufactured, plasticky pop idol. It is not what she's going for, and that's key to the appeal of the Dresden Dolls for their legion of fans. And speaking of her fans, they've started a blog of their own. At last count seventy pages long, Rebellyon.com is chock-a-block with fans who've taken photos of their own bellies, most bearing "Fuck you's" to Roadrunner.

Amanda's belly has become a viral web sensation, and no doubt because it not only underlines, yet again, the role of so many women in rock (pout pretty, be skinny, dance around and let the boys play the instruments). But it also illustrates the plight of many artists with a vision, many of whom have entered some kind of bargain with the likes of Roadrunner and have encountered demands to compromise that vision. Do they cave for the sake of getting the big prizes, money and fame while being reduced to a caricature of themselves? Or do they stand fast and put their whole true selves on the line for art's sake, belly and all? "I'm a guy. I know what people like," the A&R rep said. With its overtones of subservience, it's as fascinating to us as "The Merchant of Venice" was to its scandalized Elizabethan audiences, and because the antagonist here wants to quite literally hack off a pound of flesh. Maybe two.

I can't wait to hear the song Amanda's going to write about THIS asshole.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I'm Not Going To Bed

(November 04, 2008)
 
GAH, I can't stand it. Goddamn it Florida, you fuck this up again and there'll be hell to pay. I will boycott oranges and Mickey Mouse and I will come down to your penis-shaped self and hurt you. And Ohio, with your...what DO you have there anyway...well whatever it is, I'll boycott that too if you fuck this up.

I know I am not going to bed, that's for sure

I went to bed in 2000, the year of the hanging chad. I woke up to find that Bush had...kinda...won. Katherine Harris (remember her?) announced George W. Bush as the winner in Florida by around 500 votes. Later in the month it was revealed that a ton of illegal votes were counted, and a ton of legal votes were not counted. Gore would have won Florida. Gore DID win Florida. Bush did NOT fucking win that election. Not that I was a huge Gore fan. But, like they say, the devil you know (or in this case, the devil you know will at least take care of the environment and dependence on foreign oil). Republicans stole the Presidency of the United States in 2000. That happened, and we all let it.

I went to bed in 2004 too, the year of the Provisional Ballot. When I finally fell asleep I had no doubt that John Kerry would win; because how could he not? Because, is everyone in the country mentally ill? Because how could they re-elect Bush? Come on, America. But I woke up and Kerry had conceded. The spin doctors said he didn't have enough legal recourse to contest losing. Really? I can still recall the astonishing New York Times and Rolling Stone articles that carried the stories about the malfunctioning voting machines and the American ex-pats not getting their provisional ballots on time, and this:
"The reports were especially disturbing in Ohio, the critical battleground state that clinched Bush's victory in the electoral college. Officials there purged tens of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls, neglected to process registration cards generated by Democratic voter drives, shortchanged Democratic precincts when they allocated voting machines and illegally derailed a recount that could have given Kerry the presidency." (Rolling Stone, Nov 2008)
I woke up the next day, but I haven't yet convinced myself it's not a nightmare I'm having. So, I'm not going to bed.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sister Joan

(August 30, 2008)

The College of New Rochelle was founded in 1904, so it had been in operation for barely thirty-nine years the year Dr. Carson graduated with the class of 1943. She was tiny and pale, and something was wrong with her health (which she never once referred to) that caused her to need a cane to get around. Her difficulties seemed like some kind of affliction with her joints or bones, but also she often broke into violent coughing fits in the middle of teaching, leaving her wet-eyed and breathless.

But she dressed in bright colors, always with a scarf tied jauntily somewhere, and maintained a funky short, spiky haircut. She could zoom around the campus despite the cane, her lurching style of walk and flying scarves making her easily identifiable from a distance, like some small, exotic bird.

Dr. Carson taught intense, colorful courses on the romance and metaphysical poets, on Ovid and Shakespeare. One of her courses turned out to delve so deeply into the raunchiest of the literary classics that we students started to refer to it as "sex class." Thanks to Dr. Carson's sex class I could write a book that points out all the naughty bits in Shakespeare's sonnets, Donne's epigrams and Coleridge's letters. Kinda like those websites that tell you when to stop any movie for boob shots.

Being an alum, she'd entertain us with stories about HER years at the College of New Rochelle. Out of these stories it emerged that she had been a nun. The college was founded by the Ursuline nuns in 1904, we all knew that, but didn't put two and two together...sure, the first generation must have turned out...well, nuns. Educated ones. Dr. Joan had been SISTER Joan, but had quit.

A raunchy ex-nun was teaching us the sexy parts of the classics. Classic.

She was also a criminology expert and could talk expertly on what motivates humans to commit crimes. We bonded, I was in her office every week. She was the best mentor. I had taken a bunch of Criminology courses by then, and Intro to Psych, and I was all fired up to seek out a career in Criminal Psychology. I could envision myself figuring out, using a blend of social science (background, family life) and psychology (interviews, profiling) what makes a criminal become a criminal.

 Dr. Carson didn't think I had the right kind of personality and said I shouldn't be "in that element." I guess we'll never know! 'Cuz I didn't go for it. Followed Sister Joan's advice. But I kept reading all the books written by criminal profilers and all the theories about the more famous serial killers. I wonder if there's something else I can do with all the years of knowledge I've amassed on the subject of "the criminal mind."

Maybe THAT'S the book I need to write.

Or...is thirty-something too old to go back to school?

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Provisional Ballots Are The New Hanging Chad

(November 03, 2004)
 
It's now 5:02 and I can't stop listening to NPR's live coverage.

254 to 252.

It's all up to Ohio. A-fucking-gain.

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Ode to Star Market

(...or, How I Didn't Get Sushi Last Night And Made This Up In The Car On The Way Home.)

Star sells sushi a la carte, that's why I'm bound to go there
Otherwise I stay away from Supermarket Nightmare 
Homeward bound this dusk from GiantSuckingSound.com
A big enormous yen for sushi hit me like a bomb

"Do I dare?" I asked myself, approaching Porter Square
This time of night, without a doubt, a monster lurks in there:
Writhing, ugly, slow and crass, a teeming steel and rubber clot
Evil, angry...what, you ask? The friggin' Porter parking lot!

Dreams of maki and wasabi danced around my hungry head
I steeled my nerve and gripped the wheel and gunned it straight ahead
"I am going to park this car," with all the grit that I could muster
(Note to self: Never heed your inner Colonel Custer)

I took a breath; I'm all alone and no one has my back
Angry lady almost rammed me with her giant Cadillac
I should have bailed, I knew the score, but damn! I wanted sticky rice!
If not for that I'd not have risked my sanity to sacrifice

I chanced another round in hopes a space would open up
Saw Soccer Mom in Minivan flip off Dude in Pick-up Truck
Chick in Audi terror-stricken, Man in Beemer idled
Warning signals from myself, "You're getting homicidal--"

Abort! Abandon Porter Square, forget about the snapper!"
Oaf in Camry! Taurus Loser! Subaru Brake-Tapper!
I finally made out and home, to contemplate my foolishness:
How much did I want that fish, and how much did I need that stress?


Thursday, October 4, 2001

Mass Transit

Mass Transit is one of those special entries that I had always planned to use as the basis for a short story. Here I crossed paths with a stranger on a bus, and I've never stopped thinking about this man. In a way, I'm glad I waited, because when I do write this short story, I believe I know the conclusion. It took me eleven years to learn it, is all. Had I tried to finish the story in 2001, I would have only been approximating what I now know. Hey, getting old isn't so bad. 

Mass Transit
(October 04, 2001)

An articulate male voice spoke softly. It said, "That is one interesting outfit."

Sighing, I looked up to see the owner of the voice. I just knew that one of these guys was going to start talking to me. That's what happens when a lone chick in a fringed gypsy dress, pink shades, pearls, and Doc Martens shows up at the bus stop outside a VA facility. Only one other woman was waiting for the bus, standing apart from the group of vets, haggard and extremely pregnant in a man's oversized Harley Davidson T-shirt over pilled black Walmart leggings. 

The person that had peeled off from the pack to appreciate my attire was younger than the rest of the men. The voice accompanied the kind of face that looked vaguely like someone I'd seen before. Familiar and forgettable. Unlike most of the others, he was clean-shaven and did not give off any noticeable odor, except for that of stale cigarette smoke. He was appropriately dressed for the warm weather in a bright short-sleeved shirt and khaki pants. The other ex-soldiers and forgotten war heroes that cling to the VA hospitals like ducks to a pond were scruffy, bearded, layered in flannel and denim, despite the afternoon heat. Jackets over flannel shirts over T-shirts. None spoke. Most were smoking, including the person addressing me.

"I think so," he continued evenly. "I think it is a very interesting outfit. Do you work here?" he asked, pointing at the VA hospital.

"No, I work over there," I answered, gesturing somewhat vaguely towards where I think Technology Park Drive might be -- I don't have a very good sense of direction. "This is the nearest bus stop back to the city," I added unnecessarily. 

"Do YOU work here?" I asked, for lack of anything else to say. The 62 bus chugged into sight.

"No," he said, pinching with two fingers to break his Marlboro cigarette just above the point where it was burning. I stared, fascinated, as he squelched the glow with bare fingertips. "I," he flicked tobacco shreds to the ground, inspected the extinguished cigarette tip, "am a bum." He put the cigarette into his pocket. "And, I'm good at it." 

The cigarette that he was saving for later is almost all the way smoked down. I mulled over what cigarettes cost these days. I didn't know. Watching this homeless man saving a remaining puff or two for later, knowing full well that I'd have stamped that butt beneath my boot, I felt the guilty twinge of the myopic privileged. Like everyone else I know, I complain about my demanding job, the hectic pace of my life, always a million things to do, constantly battling encroaching clutter in my apartment. But it all rings hollow when you meet up with poverty at the bus stop. I felt sure that this man knows the price of a pack of smokes exactly to the penny.

With the 62 bus finally grinding to a stop, expelling a noxious cloud, the door opened and we all lined up to climb in. I was not surprised when this man sat next to me as though Providence had decreed it. 

"How does my face look?" he asked, gingerly feeling his cheekbone under his right eye. I peered closer and noticed a bluish puffiness. I told him it's hardly noticeable. I asked what happened.

"I just got kicked off the ward for fighting," looking out the window as we pulled away from the VA. "One of the staff hauled off and hit me. They don't believe me that he started it. They're like cops. They stick together." After a minute he added, "That's the second fight in as many days." Ignoring the stares of the black passengers, he described a rowdy scene from yesterday that culminated with "kicking the ass of a black guy in the park." 

"I bought him a drink. He hit me. I have a black belt in karate. I don't like to fight, but I had to roundhouse kick him. There was a ring of black people cheering me on. The guy was a bully. White guys don't usually fight back in a situation where everyone around is black. But nobody is safe from a bully. What do you think of this shirt?"

"It's like Magnum P.I." I said. "Yes," he agreed, "it's a Hawaiian shirt. It's linen. This is an eighty dollar shirt. I prefer to dress well. These colors, I can wear with black, tan, green...actually, anything but blue will go with this shirt."

He told me that that on November 1st he'll have a job, an apartment, and a car. He also told me that he was a drug addict. He had forty dollars, and he was taking the bus to Back Bay to get crack.

"I wouldn't know how to buy crack to save my life," I told him. 

"It's everywhere," he said. "Bums on crack can spot other bums on crack. Crack addicts know where to get crack." 

He looked at me as if deciding whether or not to continue. I made my face neutral, leaving the decision up to him. "Water," he said, apparently deciding to tell me all about it," always finds its own level." 

We chugged through residential neighborhoods, past a used-looking shopping center. He gazed out the window impassively and described a downward spiral where crime and drug use alternately become each other's cause and effect, until everything else in life is gone, and any means to get drugs is acceptable. In California, he worked as a smuggler.

"A smuggler."

"Yes. I smuggled across the Mexican border."

"What did you smuggle?"

"Mexicans."

The bus stopped to admit a horde of high school kids. Staring at each one in turn, he went into great detail about the false-bottom trucks used to transport Mexicans across the border, and how he only did it because he was desperate for money to buy more drugs.

I told him that I know someone who, when he was young, got arrested in South America for drugs. That the Ecuadorians had tried aversion therapy on him, like Alex in A Clockwork Orange. "It doesn't seem like that would work for humans," I added. "Why not?" he said. "The human brain is extremely suggestible. Aversion therapy is very effective." He went on to describe Pavlovian examples of aversion therapy that have been written up, interrupting his train of thought only to point out which of the high school kids were high right now. "It's in the eyes," he said. "That one. At the end." 

The skinny boy he was blatantly pointing at, as though the kids were on TV and wouldn't notice being discussed so openly, had a wild head of dreadlocks, and glazed eyes. The boy sank into a seat and leaned over, head nearly between his knees, eyes closed. A waifish girl in a thrift shop halter top settled next to the boy and spoke urgently into his ear. The boys eyes remained closed.

"Yes," the man said, as though a question had been answered. "Aversion therapy is very powerful. But so are drugs."

"Where are you going to go now? Another VA?"

"First to Back Bay. There is a Starbucks where I like to sit and have coffee, and watch the people go by." 

I told him I didn't like Starbucks coffee. "Dunkin Donuts tastes so much better. Starbucks coffee tastes burnt." 

"You think that, but that's because you're like most people who don't understand coffee. Coffee is like cheese. What's the easiest cheese to get people to eat? Sure, American cheese. But that doesn't mean that every now and then you don't want a nice sharp Cheddar or a tangy Swiss or even a Brie or Camembert." 

We were getting closer to town. My thoughts began to drift towards dinner plans and evening relaxation. Maybe I'll make some iced tea. He was telling me that he was a Botanist, he used to grow coffee. "Dunkin Donuts coffee is a blend. There are many different kinds of cultivated coffee. The genus of coffee is coffea, c-o-f-f-e-a. But there are different species. The blending process makes a generic-tasting, mild coffee. You're not really tasting it the way you would if you had a cup of, say a nice Sumatran roast. The roasting brings out the essence of the bean." 

After Starbucks, he's going to take a bus to Cape Cod. "People don't realize it's a lot nicer off-season. Once the tourists leave."

The bus pulled into Alewife station and lurched to a stop. The doors wheezed open and everyone jostled to file off and into the station. When we reached the sidewalk, I turned around. The man didn't seem to be in any particular hurry to get anywhere.

"What's your name?" I asked. 

"Jason," he said. 

"Well Jason, um...good luck with everything."


He nodded. He'd already pulled the mostly-smoked cigarette out of his pocket. As I walked away toward the inbound train and home, he lit it.

Sunday, January 21, 2001

Unpresidented

(January 21, 2001)

Junior's in the White House. It's all over now but the strip-mining.

Don't misconstrue the fact that I slept through the inauguration this morning as apathy. I do care about the future of this country. I just didn't realize that Magnolia was a two-taper when Hub put it on last night. I didn't get to sleep until almost 4am.

From the bottom of his heart George W. Bush thanks the American people for putting him in the White House. Georgie, from the pit of my stomach, you're welcome to it. The hope is that you don't do anything that can't be undone four years from now when your simpering, whining ass gets thrown back to the ranch.

For most of the country the Presidential election was a choice between the lessor of two evils. Throughout October and November, I found myself giving advice to the dazed Democrats who were going with the "halo effect" theory. Those were the voters who, however illogically, lumped Bill Clinton's sex life with Al Gore's politics.

I said, "If you're choosing between the lessor of two evils, how about going with the one you haven't tried already." Another Bush in office? Have you been licking windshield wipers? When Junior says that a woman's right to choose is unconstitutional, I feel sick. More so when he simpers that the Bill of Rights says it's okay for street gangs to carry guns and kill you. Add scary health plan ideas, shortsighted energy plans...it's all too familiar. It's all so Reagan/Bush

Not that the Gore leadership would be any better. Any self-respecting American at least wants to put some trust in their leader, and who would trust that guy? Personal integrity is Clinton's problem too, and even Clinton supporters agree that lying under oath is a no-no. And when it comes to integrity Al and Tipper-- because face it, when you get a President you get the spouse in a package deal-- are the original karma chameleons. I don't even mind Al's mercurial politics, actually. Situations change, socially and politically, that would result in a person legitimately flip-flopping on a belief. That does not bother me. What bothers me is that he denies doing it. Just own up. Just say, "Yes, I supported that bill in 1982, but then I realized that it had an effect on health care I hadn't foreseen...."

And Tipper. Oh man.

Every time I look at her I think of it.

You know what I mean.

Come on, sing it with me...
    "I knew a girl named Nikki I guess you could say she was a sex fiend;
    Met her in a hotel lobby masturbating in a magazine..."
It all started with Darling Nikki,, from Prince's Purple Rain. I fucking LOVE this album, it's genius. It sold ten million copies, and the movie made 60 million in two months. When Doves Cry was Number One for five weeks and the biggest selling single of 1984. (1)

Well, one of those ten million copies made its way, unfortunately, into the hands of one of the four or five or six Gore children.

That's another thing. For people so supposedly environmentally-minded they sure bred a lot.

Well, Tipper overheard this song one day and, instead of just taking it away from her OWN child as inappropriate, decided to take ALL TEN MILLION COPIES away from EVERYONE IN THE WORLD. (2)

In what can only be described as blatant criminal misuse of pillow talk to turn the gears of the political power machine, Tip and her babbling coffee klatch of other bored senators' wives gathered and formed a Nazi-esque coalition called the Parents Music Resource Center. The PMRC got all their husbands to suddenly start passing all kinds of outrageous regulations that somehow they thought the music and arts community wouldn't recognize as good old fashioned censorship.

But censorship is what it was, however prettily they wanted to dress it up. They demanded that record companies refuse to release any music these wives would deem "unwholesome." They demanded that music stores make completely subjective decisions about what music to stock, relegating anything that mentions sex or drugs to the dustbin.

One good thing about my parents, they did not for one second buy into the PMRC bullshit in the least. We grew up with Marvin Gaye's "You Sure Love To Ball" and The Beatles "Why Don't We Do It In The Road" and a million other songs the Washington Wives would probably have wanted banned. Sex in rock? Why Tipper, you don't say?

My clearest recollection of the PMRC is Frank Zappa addressing Congress. The man super-heroically stood up and said what everyone was thinking. His statement is reprinted in a terrific autobiography called The Real Frank Zappa Book. Frank railed eloquently about the unacceptable situation wherein the opinions of a few, who happen to have special access to legislative machinery, are infringing on the civil liberties of everyone in the name of protecting children. My favorite sound bite, "What if the next group of Washington Wives demands a large yellow 'J' on all material written or performed by Jews, in order to save helpless children from exposure to 'concealed Zionist doctrine'?" (3)

Despite the efforts of Frank, John Denver, Dee Snider and others, the record industry caved on portions of of the PMRC demands. Today there are Tipper Stickers on music with explicit lyrics. But at least the music is still ALLOWED TO BE MADE. Can you imagine? Legislation about what any artist can and cannot create?

But as soon as it started to look like Al Gore would run for VP, Tipper backed off and Al, who'd previously been "supportive" of this censorship foolishness, pretended that he hadn't been. Deplorable. Disgusting. Had he admitted that he got caught up in the movement because his daughters were young and impressionable, and had he said that in that moment his "dad" instincts took over, he could have explained his change of position. But don't deny that special access to legislative machinery was the only reason the PMRC gained any traction at all. Bitch, please.

So. How about Canada? People move to Canada all the time, right? Toronto is a GREAT city...

(1) Purple Rain sales stats from CNN

(2) In one of those rare "Eureka" moments, something became clear about this Gore kid and what the big goddamned deal was in the first fucking place. Jay Leno had two of the Gore kids on during the campaign, talking about how great their dad is, and if you missed it, you missed the younger one telling Jay that her older sister was wild when she was a teenager. Staying out all night, sneaking around, damaging the car. A ha...I see. THIS is the girl that caused all that bullshit. She was a little slut that her mother couldn't control. Oh yeah, I'm sure it was because of SONG LYRICS.

(3) Frank Zappa quote from The Real Frank Zappa Book. Out of print, try half.com

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