Thoughts #2

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Do you ever have that feeling of living at a different pace than others? You move along your trajectory of life, and reach out to a friend on their trajectory (via phone call, text, messaging, whatever) to catch up for a second.  They’re special to you for some reason, and even though you and they must part, the shared moments are worth the heartaches that follow.

That brief merge of trajectories prods emotions within a friendship, reviving the memories of a shared past.  You move in unison for a moment; it’s like riding a train and, as you stare out the window, another train whoosh on its way by.  After it’s gone by, is it a sadness that hits you? emptiness? That whooshing still rings in your ears, and the moment stretches far beyond the parameters of ordinary moments; you recall the past and consider your future. Will your path converge with your friend’s again? Will you veer off, slipping further away and eventually out of their reach? Or is it easiest to empty your mind and ride the train, to ride blithely wherever it may be going.

Then that moment ends.  You’ve caught up, or they’ve answered the question you asked them in the first place, and that’s that.  They speed on their path and your away on yours, eyes ahead towards the future but your mind back where you left your friend. Mystified or enlightened, you carry on.

-BD

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Are you Man Ray? Oh, and this week’s discovery

So I was fucking around yesterday morning and this beaut came up on my phone:
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A CLASSIC SpongeBob Squarepants moment, from one of the episodes I still remember well even though I last watched it years and years ago.  This stuff always makes me laugh; the rude, effective humor, the stupidity that’s also relatable in a time where it feels like not knowing something (who such-and-such an artist is, what someone means by a word or phrase) is a crime.  I can’t believe that SpongeBob has stayed with me as long as it has, but I’m happy and kinda proud that my friends and I can still quote dialogue from it.  Relatable in its rudeness and abruptness, there are also sudden flashes of insight, in this case about body politics and feminization of a villain.  Yup, SpongeBob deserves the attention and admiration, and memes like the one above keep all that alive.

I talked all this over with a good friend, just this afternoon, who’s a qualified SpongeBob historian in her own right; neither of us had thought of Man-Ray’s laughing belt as a metaphor for Christian-like purity and female body-politics.  Here’s the belt, by the way:

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Man Ray has this belt on that tickles him whenever he does bad things, and it continues to tickle him until he stops doing those bad things.  It’s a preventative measure, right?  It’s a basic metaphor of preventing evil through both laughter & loss of free will.

Now there’s no standard-issue chastity belt to my knowledge (though the ones from Mad Max: Fury Road are the go-to example in my mind), but there have to be certain features for such a thing to fit the category.  First, as a belt, it should go around the waist; second, it should lock or otherwise be something the wearer can’t just take off; and finally, it should be a preventative device located around the groin or genital region.  Now, this Man Ray episode first aired as a Nickelodeon cartoon in the early 2000s, and I don’t know what’s on the channel today but back then the creators couldn’t fully and frankly discuss sex and body politics, but they do place the laughing belt where one would normally find a chastity one and, in spirit and basic design, echo the imagery of other chastity belts.

If the wearer of a traditional belt (historically a woman) tried to do what was considered “bad” (have sex), the belt would prevent her from doing so, right?  That’s just what the laughing belt does to Man Ray.  It also feminizes him, the villain, while he wears it; as a man, good or bad, he is limited while he wears such an item.  He doesn’t have total control of his body, doesn’t own it like men sans-chastity belts do, and becomes this giggling, helpless, sexless victim; it’s a funny and surprising moment for a Nickelodeon cartoon to be putting across.

What does this tell me?  That my past has use and meaning, stuff to be proud of and bring up again.  Grad school may feel like the stress of a demanding girlfriend without the payoff of, uh, body politics, but it instills some good habits.

Also: found out this past week that I have a minor allergy to long-hair cats.

-BD

Thoughts #1

Currently in week 6 of the spring semester.  Definitely “in the shit” if you can dig a ‘Nam reference or “in the weeds” if you’ve worked in and understand restaurant lingo.  I have a paper due Thursday, a presentation next Tuesday, and another paper next Thursday… But, ironically, I still try to make time for blogging.  In appearance, this just seems like piling more work onto school stuff, but this is actually a release.  All the pent up thought and feelings that accrue during the semester can be let out here… No, this post isn’t directly pop culture-related.  But this is the life of the English grad student: we read constantly, absorbing authors’ ideas and writing out reactions, and then write in conjunction with the reading.  It’s all generic though, it occurs a certain way because that output is held up to an academic standard.

Grad school is a learning experience.  Being a student is living as a walking, breathing sponge, trying to soak in so much thought and input that the writing aspect seems at odds with that first goal.  And yet here, blogging, this feels like really putting knowledge to work.

Why that’s so, I’m still thinking about.  But I have a few ideas.

-BD

The Sound of Childhood Fear: Disney’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”

And no. This has nothing to do with the fucking Nic Cage movie.

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from Disney’s Fantasia (1940) has a paralyzing effect on me. Maybe because I watched it at such a young age, and maybe because it frightened me so much at the time, but this scene sticks with me like a splinter in my mind, planted at childhood, one that digs as soon as those opening strings start going.  THAT SOUND… I mean, come on.
Even now, in the middle of a brightly lit Starbucks downtown with more than twenty people around me, I get genuine creeps while writing about it…
A black screen fades into the wizard conjuring spirits, his eyes piercing through the smoke exuding from the cauldron.
My palms start sweating, and a deep chills runs down my spine; the violin strings harmonize and pierce my eardrums.  I become five or six years old again when watching, and even though I know what’s coming I cannot tear my eyes away.  You know?

It’s a brilliant short stuffed with outright disturbing material.  In a total running time of less than ten minutes, “Apprentice” features a smoky demon, Mickey’s impish toying with unknown powers (like a child trying to burn ants with a magnifying glass), an inanimate broom rising with the strength and intelligence of a human, the overpowering creation ignoring its master in a life of its own, hubris on an astronomical scale, Mickey murdering and dismembering his first creation with an axe, fruitless attempts to undo and cover his mistakes,thoughtless & soulless (broom!)laborers bent on working to eternity, and, of course, the wizard’s outrage and reprimand for Mickey’s little experiment.  Shadows are used for dramatic effect and blinding lights flash from the screen; the whole thing is set in a dark, nameless castle, almost claustrophobic for how little one is able to see in it…
This is every one of my childhood nightmares: taking a game too far, losing control of a situation, having to cover mistakes, supernatural terrors, and the anger of a parent (I was a well-behaved kid, after all).

Then there’s the music.

Easily the most jarring element here, the music of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” as according to the movie itself, was written after the story, giving the composer time to reflect on how best to horrify children. Violins screech and sing with Mickey’s powers, cymbals clash as his broom-force takes control, horns blare in the background: it’s a singular “sound.”  I mean, not the timbre of this performance, but “sound” in the feeling of the music and its effect on me.  This is something I talk about with friends and read on music sites, but its effects still define it best:
Strings fade in, digging into ones mind like the wizard’s blue eyes.  Horns and a piano chord rise briefly, creating anticipation: expect to hear from them later.  After Mickey takes the wizard’s hat and places it on his head, he turns to the broomstick and stretches his arms toward it.  Horns blare as he reaches, holding long notes.  In my mind, I’m screaming “STOP” and he tries again and again. The broom sprouts arms; it’s like something that’s not supposed to be seen.

This is not the hellish nightmare that will come in “The Night On Bald Mountain,” which in its own right is disturbing (Disney just ain’t the same these days).  This is something worse. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is the road to hell, the sound of walking towards doom, and there’s nothing to do but watch and listen.

-BD

an experimental music zombie?!?

Man, I can’t stand it when college kids or cynical 40-somethings say things like “really creative and experimental music just isn’t made anymore.”  No, this isn’t the 60s or 70s with amazing stuff on the FM radio, but Jesus, open your minds… BOLD, EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC LIVES ONLINE.  A zombie of music’s past????

As much of a joke the Grammys seem sometimes, this year’s nominations show that some sense prevailed: a lot of creative and brave music came out of L.A. and is getting this attention.  Flying Lotus’s epic electrojazz You’re Dead has a nom for its lead single “Never Catch Me,” while FlyLo’s label Brainfeeder put out a lot of exciting music that, according to the L.A. Times, was circulating around the academy.  I’m talking about Kamasi Washington’s breakthrough The Epic and Thundercat’s The Beyond/Where Giants Roam; the spectre over all these is of course Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly, which Kamasi played sax on and FlyLo wrote and produced a track of (“Wesley’s Theory”).

I was lucky enough to catch FlyLo’s show at Coachella 2015 during the second weekend (not my youtube account btw, but that’s a good sample of the show); his singular “sound” from albums totally works in live shows.  He’s such a talented guy, and came out onstage to thank all the audience at the end… Honestly, he could’ve been an asshole and I still would’ve liked the show.  But a good attitude doesn’t hurt, and neither would a Grammy.

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I’m hoping Butterfly wins that Album of the Year Grammy not just because it IS the year’s best, but also for those cynics… Yeah, quality bold material does come out, you’ve gotta bother yourself to find it.

-BD