September 28, 2004
Food in a Box

Wendy has been writing a book. Mazel tov, as we say, or would say if we were Jewish. She's also been experimenting with prepackaged meals, with mixed results. Oddly, about the same time I read an account in the UK Observer about a similar experiment with even less successful results:

What attracted me in the first place was the belief that it would make eating very simple, so I wouldn't have to waste time thinking about food. But the odd effect was that I actually thought about food for most of the day. Moreover, I seemed to invest far more emotion in it than usual - thrilled by a muffin, dejected by a fish.

The B&W elves are still a mite under the weather; posting will continue to be sparse for a while.

Posted at 11:08 AM
September 21, 2004

Like cold turkey, jet lag has got me on the run. That is, if "on the run" means lying on the couch in my bathrobe, trying fruitlessly to stay awake past 8:30 p.m., and waking up bright and shiny at 4 a.m. Moreover, I am noting jet lag's other deleterious effects, like not wanting to eat, which is easy to ignore, and not wanting to think, which is not. So posting will not be up to its usual standard. In the meantime, here's a vacation photo of some lovely Kentish sheep.

Posted at 06:57 PM
September 08, 2004

B&W is going on vacation. Back Sept. 20 or thereabouts.

Photo to contemplate during the pause:

Franklin Park Conservatory, Columbus, Ohio

Posted at 09:40 AM
September 06, 2004
A Trope So Large I Cannot See Past It

I guess it was only a matter of time before someone decided to make a documentary about indie rock. So we have "Songs for Cassavetes," which spotlights a handful of West Coast-based bands in the late 1990s. I wish it had been a good movie, but it just isn't. It makes indie rock look "important," but no fun, and the scene I remember hanging out in, going to shows, buying records, and socializing and writing about--was both important and fun.

The film intersperses live concert footage with interviews focusing on the bands' musical philosophies. It's not clear why the bands were chosen, and we don't find out much about these peoples' backgrounds. We do, however, learn a lot about the indie "ideology" from the basics of DIY to the ramifications of "selling out." The interviewees themselves are a mixed bag. Some of them are woefully inarticulate. Others are articulate, but they don't have much new to offer the debate (for instance, I'm still waiting for the certificate that verifies that I've paid my dues enough to never have to be lectured by Sleater-Kinney about the evils of capitalism again).

This may be partly the result of the decision to rely largely on musicians for commentary, perhaps from the belief that they are somehow embodying John Cassavetes' patronizing assertion that "In this country people die at the age of 21. ...My responsibility as an artist is to help them past 21." Ironically, we don't see the bands making a difference in peoples' lives. We don't hear from people who would be best equipped to explain why the music is important--fans or supporters, zine writers, college radio programmers, and so on.

That's a shame because indie rock was always a high-context environment. Taking it seriously often required educating oneself in a lot of unwritten customs and traditions. So documenting or "explaining" it is more challenging than it might seem at first. What makes this film even more difficult in this respect is the poor quality of the band footage, which is often muddy and in many cases partially inaudible. So as an introduction to the subculture, it's a difficult sell. And as an anthropological document, as E. has pointed out, it's of limited use because the participants are not very well identified. In many cases we don't know the names of everyone on camera, or in a band, and it's not always clear who's speaking.

The film also lacks an authoritative narrator, which might have provided some much-needed context. For instance, the band Further makes some embittered observations on major label economics. But these would have been strengthened if someone pointed out that most peoples' opinion on this topic was first and most effectively informed by Steve Albini's 1993 Baffler article, "The Problem with Music," also popularly known as "Some of Your Friends Are Probably Already This Fucked." Calvin of K Records is cast as an elder statesman of sorts (an odd choice for someone whose public persona has been based on being a kid who never quite grew up). I loved Calvin's band Beat Happening and I was excited to see him on film. But even he makes some statements that seem half-baked. His assertion that music is meaningful for what it says, not the way you say it, doesn't ring true considering the innumerable mini-tribes that punk rock broke into, each with its own poster children, fashion statements, and subcultures of choice.

It'll be interesting to revisit this movie in 10 years and see how it holds up. The film's grainy black-and-white cinematography gives various cities a timeless, nostalgic quality, but it also seems to suck away the scenery's life. Even the bands don't seem to be having much fun; in some cases, everyone seems exhausted. The scenes I liked the best are shot in Olympia, covering the Yo-Yo studios and the occasional Yo-Yo fest. Apparently there's a parade every year that brings out the scenesters and the neighbors alike. We see Yo-Yo founder Pat Maley and friends marching in the parade, an all-too-brief moment in the sun. Indie rock as I knew it had lots of moments like this, and some of the best times I can remember were when the scene and the world came together, even if it was only for an afternoon.

Posted at 02:02 PM
September 02, 2004
Elves (Was a Hero to Most)*

B&W received word lately that some readers consider its content overly "serious." I admit that the state of things lately has made the B&W elves a little dour. (But let's be serious here. How dour can this place be? It's run by elves, for god's sake!)

Anyway, no one can be too serious with Robyn Hitchcock around. So this week I watched Storefront Hitchcock, where I heard him tell this lovely tale:

I was in a hotel once, standing there with a hangover, about to check out and there was this Muzak playing that was really bugging me. I asked if they could turn it off, they said no and when I asked why not, they said, 'Because it's pleasing.'

*Whoops, misspelled "Elvis."

Posted at 08:01 PM