Friday, August 27, 2010

Kevin Barnes (Of Montreal) Interview

This is the Q & A transcription of an interview I did with Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes for the CURRENT issue of Jettison Quarterly.

-How do you define your art? Is each song a separate work of art, or is it more Of Montreal as a whole?

“I like to think of it as a creative journey through my whole life. I want to always find new inspiration to help me grow artistically and change. Change is very important to me. Even though it can be kind of confusing to people because they don’t know what to make of certain mutations. They can think of you as one thing, and it’s what they like and it means something to them, but then you change and they don’t understand it anymore. And they kind of feel like you’ve betrayed them. In some instances, people want their artists to be predictable. If you go to the grocery store and you always get a certain kind of peanut butter because you like it a lot and you always want it to always taste the same, if all of a sudden it’s changed to taste like salsa, you’re going to be upset.”

-When you were a kid, did you want to grow up to become an artist?

“When I was a kid I wanted to be an athlete. I didn’t really have any friends for a long time because I lived in sort of a weird area, so for whatever reason I didn’t have friends my own age. So I’d go a lot of role playing, fantasy games by myself. For football I’d play by myself—being the announcer, being the quarterback, being a defender and tackling myself. I was totally emersed in these weird sports fantasy games.

I guess it evolved into something artistic when I started playing music, but it was the same sort of deal. I didn’t have any friends who played the kind of music I wanted to play, so I just had a cassette four-track and would put songs together one instrument at a time and make something closer to my own vision. I just really really love the creative process of how transportive and empowering it is to take me from someplace mundane and boring to somewhere exciting.”

-Of Montreal’s albums are great, but they could be more like a promotional item themselves. Would you agree that the main Of Montreal event is your live show?

“Not necessarily. When I make a record, that creation is extremely fulfilling. I love recorded music and music history, I don’t really go to live shows very often. To me, the recorded side is the most important part of this, but live shows can be very fulfilling too because it’s more communal.”

-Your concerts are all about spectacle. How big and fantastic do you hope to get? Are you beyond the Flaming Lips in terms of sheer enormity of stage presence yet?

“People compare our live show to the Flaming Lips, but it really has nothing to do with them. It goes so farther back. David Bowie, Alice Cooper and Kiss, so many people who came way before Flaming Lips. But what we’re trying to do is create something. We can’t do this on every tour because we finance everything. We use tons of money, but it’s worth it to us because it’s so fun. It feels more exciting and challenging to put on something magical that has visual elements. When I’m recording I’m all by myself and I feel like I’m not really connecting with the human race, I’m in this sort of bubble. But when we do these live performances it’s very much communal and collaborative. Everyone I work with is my friends and family, like my brother or friends from years and years ago. It’s great for all of us to have something to care about and focus a lot of positive energy into.”

-I think it’s safe to say that Of Montreal, while still on Polyvinyl, has transcended beyond the “indie” bubble. Your band is pretty huge these days, but do you still feel a connection with the independent art scene?

“That’s all it is. Just because it’s a little more successful commercially or whatever, it’s still not like being as successful as Beyonce. It’s still underground. And the underground scene is great now with all the blogs and new ways people can share music and exchange ideas.

When we first started, we were definitely as indie as indie gets. But the only way you’d hear about us was because maybe two or three magazines wrote about this kind of music. Or if someone had the album in their car. It was a word of mouth thing. The music we were into was anachronistic in a way. I mean, we were into vaudeville and the Gershwin brothers, things people our age had no interest in. Maybe there were people back then that would’ve been into it, but now people are able to transfer their interests with others much quicker, and it can spread to further reaches.

We spent six years being completely obscure. We’d only get like 100 people at our shows. We’d play that way for a long time, like six years. Our band kinda broke up, but I wasn’t really done. I still had more that I wanted to explore. I had a sort of rebirth on Polyvinyl, came back to life recording all these new kinds of songs.”

-How important is fashion to you? Or, how important is it to Of Montreal?

“Anybody who creates in a visual art probably has a sense of fashion because they want to create a sort of aesthetic. I definitely don’t want to go out on stage wearing something that anybody could buy at Sears. It’s a combination of things, I want it to be interesting. Everything that we’re doing, we don’t want it to seem too common. I’m definitely interested in fashion, but I don’t really care what other people are wearing. I just want to be wearing something interesting when I’m on stage. I think there’s great potential, and that it’s a really interesting art form. But that other side of it, like people who want to wear Dolce and Gabbana like it matters to them. That’s so embarrassing to me. Designer brands are so embarrassing. I like to wear outfits by designers who are working independently, and are just passionate about what they do.”

-How awesome was it to have your album co-produced by Jon Brion?

“He’s a great musician. He’s totally coming from the right place. He loves music as much as I do. He has such an incredible music memory. He knows how to play pretty much any song he’s ever heard. It’s staggering. So if I ask him, “hey play God Only Knows on ukulele” he will.

It was definitely intimidating, because I’m such a hack. I can barely play any instrument, but he’s such a virtuoso at everything. But not in a superficial or egotistical way, it’s completely connected to his soul. He’s such a soulful player. It’s very eye-opening and inspiring, it motivated me to become a better musician and connect with music in a deeper way.”

-And how about Janelle Monae?

“Definitely one of the greater meetings I’ve had over the past couple years was meeting Janelle and her art collective, the Wondaland Arts Society. There are so many creative people in that collective, and I became very close friends with a lot of them. I’d send them my songs, exchanging ideas and get their feedback. They’re very encouraging and inspiring.

When they were creating Archandroid I was working on False Priest.

I’m an avid reader, and so I could talk to them about people I wasn’t familiar with before. Just a great exchange of ideas.

Janelle is such an amazing performer and vocalist. A lot of indie rock’s attitude comes from the punk rock attitude of “you shouldn’t really be a great musician, it should all come from a spontaneous place.” But it’s all so cynical too. I remember feeling very suspicious of anyone who was a virtuoso with their instrument. Like, instead of playing from the heart they’re playing intellectually. I came from a more cynical place, but Janelle is not cynical at all. It’s all about positivity and empowering one’s self and your audience. And also taking great pride in the production and presentation. So it felt great to meet someone like that who cares so much about their art, and it makes me think, “ok, am I doing that? How can I become a better performer?” Because I’ll be playing shows with her and I don’t want to be upstaged.”

-Of Montreal almost feels like the musical equivalent of sexual liberation. Is that intentional?

“Definitely recently it’s been more connected to sexuality. My early stuff was intentionally asexual. But for the last, like, five albums, they’ve been more sexually inspired. I think it’s because a lot of the music I’ve been getting into lately like funk, R&B and soul music is very much a physical and sexual style of music, so I guess it comes across in Of Montreal naturally.”

-The final lines on False Priest are painfully blunt (“you’re wrong, and you’re ill”). Who are you preaching at here?

“It’s directed to the human race, to myself and everyone. We spend so much time thinking about this abstract concept and giving it a character. But it’s funny, a lot of people think of God as this primitive creature, emotionally. Sort of flawed. We don’t think of him as anything in life. At least for me growing up Catholic. The god of the catholics is not enlightened in any way. It’s very savage and cruel and small-minded. And this thing doesn’t even exist, it’s just this invention. So why don’t we care about each other more? I feel like, even if we do believe in God, it would be honoring to God to care about each other more. If God is creator, of course you care about your creation. You don’t want your creation to be suffering and killing or hurting one another in your name, that’s just absurd. So the message is that we care for each other. That’s the most important thing. The concept of spiritual obligation to some abstract creator shouldn’t be that important.”

-How do really feel about Carl Jung?

“I’ve actually never really read much of him!”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

CHIRP Playlist (8/25/10)

This is the music I played on CHIRP last night between midnight and 3 AM, Chicago time.

12:01AM Land of Talk Hamburg, Noon from Cloak and Cipher (Saddle Creek)

12:05AM Five Letters Tha Kee Tha Tha from Disco Italia: Essential Italo Disco Classics 1977-1985 (Strut)

12:10AM Reporter Lab Test from Time Incredible (Holocene)

12:17AM Grizzly Bear Alligator from Horn of Plenty (Kanine)

12:18AM Sonic Youth Sunday from A Thousand Leaves (DGC)

12:23AM Douglas North Cook The Spirit Over the Deep from Tanakh (self-released)

12:30AM Bibio The Ephemeral Bluebell from Vignetting the Compost (Mush)

12:35AM Magic Kids Skateland from Memphis (True Panther Sounds)

12:39AM Johnny Cash Busted from At Folsom Prison (Columbia)

12:41AM Bound Stems Andover from Appreciation Night (Flameshovel)

12:48AM Akron/Family River from Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free (Dead Oceans)

12:50AM California Wives Photolights from Affair EP (self-released)

12:56AM Turrks Bone Orchard from Bisbee (Deleted Art)

12:57AM James Blackshaw All is Falling Pt 5 from All is Falling (Young God)

1:02AM The Beach Boys Heroes and Villains from Smiley Smile / Wild Honey (Capitol)

1:05AM Bottomless Pit Summerwind from Blood Under the Bridge (Comedy Minus One)

1:09AM Plastic Crimewave Sound Holy Barbarian Blues from Boombox Explosions (Galactic Zoo)

1:14AM CFCF Raining Patterns from Continent (Paper Bag)

1:20AM Rita J Body Rock (Remix featuring JC Brooks) from Body Rock single (All Natural Inc.)

1:24AM Mos Def Auditorium from The Ecstatic (Downtown)

1:30AM Miles Davis Dr. Jackle from Milestones (Columbia)

1:36AM David Karsten Daniels & Fight the Big Bull On Fields from I Mean to Live Here Still (FatCat)

1:41AM Electric Light Orchestra Telephone Line from A New World Record (Jet)

1:45AM !!! AM/FM from Strange Weather, Isn't It? (Warp)

1:51AM Ra Ra Riot Too Dramatic from The Orchard (Barsuk)

1:56AM Franz Ferdinand 40 Ft from Franz Ferdinand (Sony)

1:58AM Nirvana Mr. Moustache from Bleach (Geffen)

2:02AM Coil Sea Abyssinia from Coil Sea (Thrill Jockey)

2:09AM Autolux Kissproof from Transit Transit (TBD Records)

2:14AM The Kinks Act Nice and Gentle from Something Else by the Kinks (Castle Music)

2:17AM Verma Sarvanasa from Verma (Plustapes)

2:23AM Beach House Walk in the Park from Teen Dream (Sub Pop)

2:27AM K-X-P 18 Hours (Of Love) from K-X-P (Smalltown Supersound)

2:32AM Camu Tao Fonny Valentine from King of Hearts (Fat Possum)

2:35AM Radiohead 15 Step from In Rainbows (XL)

2:40AM The Mothers of Invention Who Needs the Peace Corps? from We're Only In It For the Money (Rykodisc)

2:43AM Ancient Greeks The Reason I Won't Drive Down That Street from Departure Suite (And)

2:47AM Of Montreal Hydra Fancies from False Priest (Polyvinyl)

2:53AM Reds and Blue Island Breeze from Son of the Stars (Addenda)

2:57AM Beirut St. Apollonia from The Flying Club Cup (Ba Da Bing!)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sufjan is an Insentive Name

Surely you've all heard by now that Sufjan Stevens has released a new EP online. This is exciting news for Sufjan fans everywhere, but I would urge you to think twice before paying the 5 dollars to download the music. It was not even 10 years ago when Islamic radical extremists destroyed the World Trade Center on September 11th, and already we're going to support a man named "Sufjan" as if nothing happened on that tragic day?

It may sound like a good idea at first. Many believe that supporting this man's music will help heal the wounds left by the terrorists, but come on people, we do not live in a vacuum. The fact of the matter is that this album should be released under another name, something with less Islamic connotation than "Sufjan." Or, the album should be released in a different format. EP also brings to mind other Islamic names. Ep Shiraa. Ep Sadaar. It just hits a little too close to home.

Think of the families who suffered and lost their loved ones in that tragedy. Out of sensitivity towards them, refrain from supporting this so-called Stevens. And be warned, some sources have indicated that Sufjan's middle name is Usama. Sufjan Usama Stevens? Doesn't sound like the kind of artist I want singing our national anthem before a baseball game.

Many of you may be asking, "but is Sufjan a terrorist?" The facts here are foggier than we should be comfortable with. First of all, he has never outright condemned Hamas. Should we support someone who isn't clear in his separation from terrorism?

And many of us have heard that Sufjan is actually a Christian. Well to that point, where is his birth certificate?

Look at the last two tracks on All Delighted People, Arnika and Djohariah. Does anybody know what those words mean? I don't, but I'm not sure if I want to find out.

It's too soon, Sufjan. Even if you and your album have no connection at all to terrorism, your name reminds of Muslims, which in turn reminds of 9/11. So please, for the sake of the families still having nightmares about towelheads riding camels into their homes and stabbing their children with those big curved swords from the movie Aladdin (by the way, Sufjan's name actually means "comes with a sword." Coincidence?), please, change your plans and release your album somewhere else.

As a New Yorker, you'd think Sufjan wouldn't be acting in such poor taste on this issue. He lives in Brooklyn, practically two blocks away from Ground Zero! Is he even an American? Was this 50 States project all a huge cover-up for his Islamic plan to take over the music industry and lull us all into submission with his indie-folk-pop harmonies and "beautiful" melodies.

And if I can speak to Sufjan directly for just a moment. Mr. Stevens, have some tact! If you really love your fellow New Yorkers, you'll change your name. Sure you have a constitutional right to whatever name you want, but this issue goes deeper than political freedoms. This is an issue of the heart, and with the release of this album your heart seems to say "This is an issue of freedom, not misguidedly ignorant and possibly racist emotions." And to that I say, boo. Boo to you, Sufjan.

We had to kick a different folk-singer "Stevens" out of the country, and if Sufjan doesn't change his tune, he'll be joining Cat Stevens with Uncle Sam's boot print on his ass. Take your Islamic propaganda somewhere else, YuSuf.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

CHIRP Playlist (8/18/10)

Solid show last night. Thanks to any and all who listened. I felt best when I was playing Swedes (new Jens Lekman AND Robyn last night). But I also received an email from listeners in Austria. Throw in some Roots of OK Jazz: Congo Classics 1955-1956 and it was a pretty international night.

12:00AM Sleater-Kinney You're No Rock N Roll Run from Metro: The Official Bootleg Series, Vol. 1 (Metro Chicago)

12:02AM Jens Lekman The End of the World is Bigger than Love from unreleased (Secretly Canadian)

12:07AM Pinetop Seven Fringe from The Night's Bloom (Empyrean)

12:13AM Animal Collective Leaf House from Sung Tongs (Fat Cat)

12:16AM Freddie Gibbs National Anthem from National Anthem single (Decon)

12:20AM Crystal Castles Untrust Us from Crystal Castles (Last Gang)

12:25AM Blind Pilot The Story I Heard from 3 Rounds and a Sound (ATO)

12:29AM Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin My Terrible Personality from Let It Sway (Polyvinyl)

12:32AM Dirty Projectors Rise Above from Rise Above (Rough Trade)

12:38AM Fleet Foxes Blue Ridge Mountains from Fleet Foxes (Sub Pop)

12:43AM The Appleseed Cast On Reflection from Low Level Owl, Vol. 1 (Deep Elm)

12:50AM Herbert Something Isn't Right from Scale (!K7)

12:54AM Matthew Dear Shortwave from Black City (Ghostly International)

12:58AM Black Moth Super Rainbow Melt Me from Dandelion Gum (Graveface)

1:02AM The Poison Arrows Popular Look from Newfound Resolutions (File 13)

1:07AM Cut Copy Strangers in the Wind from In Ghost Colours (Modular)

1:13AM Man Man Poor Jackie from Rabbit Habbits (Anti)

1:23AM Blue Giant Reasons to Cry from Blue Giant (Vanguard)

1:26AM Ola Podrida The Closest We Will Ever Be from Belly of the Lion (Western Vinyl)

1:30AM Elsinore Breathing Light from Yes Yes Yes (Parasol)

1:35AM Rocky Votolato Red River from True Devotion (Barsuk)

1:38AM Versus The One and Threes from The One and Threes (Merge)

1:43AM Muddy Waters My Home Is in the Delta from Folk Singer (Chess)

1:47AM Phosphorescent A Picture of Our Torn Up Praise from Pride (Dead Oceans)

1:52AM PVT Waves & Radiation from Church With No Magic (Warp)

1:55AM Battles Dance from B (Dim Mak)

1:59AM Swiss Dots Security from Glaciers (Vinahyde)

2:03AM Volcano Choir Island, Is from Unmap (Jagjaguwar)

2:07AM Blue Sky Black Death Institution from Third Party (Fake Four Inc.)

2:14AM McLusky She Will Only Bring You Happiness from The Difference Between Me and You Is That I'm Not On Fire (Too Pure)

2:18AM Nganga Bolole Ya Mwasi Oyo from Roots of OK Jazz: Congo Classics 1955-1956 (Crammed)

2:21AM Head of Femur Great Plains from Great Plains (Grey Day)

2:27AM Ami Saraiya Tangleweed from Archaeologist (self-released)

2:30AM Blitzen Trapper Furr from Furr (Sub Pop)

2:35AM Tom Waits Poncho's Lament from The Early Years, Vol. 1 (Manifesto)

2:40AM Drivan Shamashalam, Shimshilim from Disko (Smalltown Supersound)

2:44AM Robyn Hang With Me from Body Talk, Pt. 2 (Konichiwa)

2:51AM Flaming Lips, The Watching the Planets from Embryonic (Warner Bros.)

2:55AM Grass Widow Tuesday from Past Time (Kill Rock Stars)

2:57AM Stars of the Lid Apreludes (In C Sharp Major) from And Their Refinement of the Decline (Kranky)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

You Missed Out: Crystal Castles

Either the Congress Theater has sound issues, or Crystal Castles, or maybe even both. I don't like having to twist my neck to glare at the sound board guys, but I was shaking my head at them in disapproval all too often tonight. But, maybe I should have been giving the dirty looks to the band.

Tonight's Friday the 13th show was a perplexing experience. I thought there would only be one or two openers before Crystal Castles, but instead there were over four. All of them were DJs. Mashups of Lil Wayne, Phoenix and Daft Punk, you know, the usual. Each set was nearly an hour long, more than enough time to bore everybody at the Congress. When those sitting in the balcony didn't get "off their asses" upon hearing one of the DJs (Destructo...) play Vitalic, he called them out and mumbled something about "this place is dead as shit..."

Seriously though, four DJs shouldn't be the opening acts for Crystal Castles. Crystal Castles is more punk than dance. No thanks to whoever made this decision, putting Chicago's 17 and older crowd through a lot of unnecessary thump thump thump tha-thump before the SQUEEEE-EEEE-OOOO-EEEE of the headliners.

So no, you actually did NOT miss out on this one. If you haven't seen Crystal Castles before, my guess is that any past tours of theirs were probably better than this one.

I don't care who brought the issues with sound tonight, because it didn't sound good either way. Who wants to watch a show and ask themselves, "is it supposed to sound like that?" If you've ever had to ask this question, you've been to a bad show. Because even if it WAS supposed to sound like that, well, if it didn't appeal to you, then it just didn't work. Your taste in music is subjective, and you only have to enjoy what you want to enjoy.

Was her mic off?

Did they not turn the drums on in the house until the second song?

Is that bass, or the random rumblings of an earthquake?

What is that sound and where is it coming from?

And this electro-punk front-woman really needs to spend less than half of the set lying on the stage. You're not rocking that hard, girl. Take a nap before the show with the rest of us.

I hate to say these things, because Crystal Castles' debut full length is great, and their follow-up album is even better. Ironically, they're one of my favorite bands to play whenever I'm DJing. So, I guess that's where they belong. For me, Crystal Castles is best in small doses, especially when between The Field and Ratatat.

But hey, maybe the teenagers like it live and sloppy. They were dancing their asses off during Crystal Castles tonight. And I will never tell the kids to stop dancing. Maybe I'm just a cranky old man now, doomed to the balconies for the rest of my rock and roll days. Well, at least there are comfortable seats up there.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

CHIRP Playlist (8/11/10)

An interesting thing happened on my show last night. I played a cluster of songs that were jolly with profanity. Each time though, it was a complete accident. I hope I don't get in too much trouble, but hopefully you never hear the F-word on my show again, and I apologize to anyone who was offended. Of course, you may hear Jens Lekman singing F-word at some point, but that's as far as I'll go. Other than that, a decent show. I felt the effects of less preparation. And I think I do better when I don't alert people of my show from Facebook. So from here on out, just listen in if you can. No more reminders.

12:01AM Arcade Fire Modern Man from The Suburbs (Merge)

12:05AM Questions in Dialect Train No Track from The Ghost Wishes to Speak (Burnt Toast)

12:09AM !!! Dear Can from Louden Up Now (Phantom)

12:16AM Discover America Green Eyes from Psychology (Tooth & Nail)

12:19AM Maps & Atlases Israeli Caves from Perch Patchwork (Barsuk)

12:26AM Unwed Sailor Little Wars from Little Wars (Burnt Toast)

12:29AM Mystery Jets Serotonin from Serotonin (Rough Trade)

12:33AM The Rosebuds Hold Hands and Fight from Birds Make Good Neighbors (Merge)

12:38AM George Jones She Thinks I Still Care from George Jones' Golden Hits Vol. 1 (United Artists)

12:39AM Billy Bragg & Wilco Walt Whitman's Niece from Mermaid Avenue (Elektra)

12:43AM Cotton Jones Place at the End of the Street from Tall Hours in the Glowstream (Suicide Squeeze)

12:46AM Denison Witmer Castle and Cathedral from Are You A Dreamer? (The Militia Group)

12:51AM Sufjan Stevens The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders from Illinois (Asthmatic Kitty)

1:02AM A Tribe Called Quest Keeping It Moving from Beats, Rhymes & Life (Jive)

1:08AM El-P I Got This from weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3 (Gold Dust)

1:10AM Talking Heads No Compassion from Talking Heads '77 (Sire)

1:13AM Danielson Smooth Death from Tell Another Joke at the Ol' Choppin' Block (Tooth & Nail)

1:17AM Perfume Genius Lookout, Lookout from Learning (Matador)

1:20AM Detholz! All For You from Who Are the Detholz!? (self-released)

1:27AM Ester Drang Great Expectations from Rocinate (Jade Tree)

1:32AM Stornoway I Saw You Blink from Beachcomber's Windowsill (4AD)

1:39AM Dungen Familj from Tio Bitar (Subliminal)

1:43AM Curtis Mayfield Ghetto Child (demo) from Curtis (Rhino)

1:48AM The Magnetic Fields Fido, Your Leash is Too Long from 69 Love Songs Vol. 1 (Merge)

1:52AM Baths Hall from Cerulean (Anticon)

1:55AM Jammer Get It In (featuring Camalot & Shiv Lizzy) from Jahmanji (Ninja Tune)

1:59AM Rabble Rabble Baptism from Bangover (Commune)

2:03AM Sondre Lerche Two Way Monologue from Two Way Monologue (Astralwerks)

2:08AM Christoper Willits Flowers Into Stardust from Tiger Flower Circle Sun (Ghostly International)

2:15AM Damien Jurado Sheets from Caught in the Trees (Secretly Canadian)

2:20AM Sleep Experiments Dream One from Flight Takes Thought (self-released)

2:22AM Fang Island The Illinois from Fang Island (Sargent House)

2:26AM The Mantles Waiting Out the Storm from Pink Information EP (Mexican Summer)

2:32AM Half-Handed Cloud He's Not the Swindler We Are from Cut Me Down and Count My Rings (Asthmatic Kitty)

2:34AM Geronimo Design Yourself a Heart from Fuzzy Dreams (self-released)

2:39AM Interpol Evil from Antics (Matador)

2:42AM Procedure Club Feel Sorry For Me from Doomed Forever (Slumberland)

2:45AM Black Mountain Radiant Hearts from Wilderness Heart (Jagjaguwar)

2:50AM M83 Moonchild from Before the Dawn Heals Us (Mute)

2:55AM Mountain Man Soft Skin from Made the Harbor (Partisan)

2:57AM Neu! Isi from Neu! 75 (Astralwerks)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Office Space is Satire

Originally found on Judge Ye Not:

Is Peter Gibbons a hero? Does he represent workers everywhere as unfortunate souls who must toil endlessly to no avail? Did you answer yes? You totally relate to Peter, you say? You feel just like him when you’re at your job?

(sigh…) After all these years, people still don’t understand Office Space.

When Samir turns back to Peter and scowls, “you are a very… bad person. Peter,” he’s telling us precisely what we try to ignore about the main character.

Peter Gibbons is a bad person. Peter cries that the company he works for is evil, but in the same conversation suggests to his girlfriend that maybe she should steal some money from her cash register at work.

How many reviews have focused on the “sterile,” or “mundane” aspects of Office Space’s portrayal of cubicle culture? Nearly all of them. And why? Because it’s easy to see in Mike Judge’s realist-satire. His sets do not look like typical Hollywood environments. They look like our real lives, or something worse.

Sure, it sucks to work in a cubicle. We all know that. It’s obvious that Mike Judge knows that as well. But the banalities are not what makes Office Space a satire. By definition, a human folly must be upheld for criticism, and in Judge’s satire the chief culprit is almost always the protagonist. In King of the Hill, Hank’s ignorance is often portrayed as moral certitude. Beavis and Butthead are declarers of all that is “cool,” while being the most unpopular and dimwitted teenagers in their school. In Extract we see a husband whose primary concern is not making his wife happy, but finding a way to achieve his own orgasm. And in Office Space, the laziest man at the office gets the biggest promotions.

What’s similar for all of these lead characters is their extreme wrongfulness. In the real world, ignorance, stupidity, infidelity, and laziness are not rewarded. In the world of satire, Mike Judge achieves comedy by reversing the effect. His characters are portrayed as heroic for valiantly pursuing their misdeeds to the fullest extents possible, but only in the context of the story. These pursuits would be foolish in real life.

If anyone ever related to Peter Gibbons, it’s only because they’ve been lazy. Peter’s excuse of it being a “problem of motivation” is bullshit. In the comfort of his own home Peter admits that he’d “do nothing” if he had the choice. And as his woozy friend reminds us, you don’t have to be a millionaire to do nothing. You’ll be broke. Most likely, a bum.

The brilliance of Mike Judge’s live-action films is how realistic they look aesthetically, yet how utterly absurd the satire is. That juxtaposition is difficult to spot at first, but it’s there every time.

The realism is what’s funny initially. The passive aggressive bosses, the red haired woman chirping “JUST a mo-mint!” and the ADD server at the Chili’s ripoff who can’t help but be disgustingly cheery at every waking moment of his way-too-positive life. It’s brutal stuff that we can all relate to, as badly as we wished we couldn’t. But that observational stuff is just one small piece of a much bigger picture in Office Space.

What is the protagonist’s desire? Certainly not to become motivated to work harder at Initech. His desire is to do nothing. He doesn’t want to care about his work. Where does this folly lead him? Nightmares, and nearly the reality of a “pound-me-in-the-ass” prison.

Of course, not every lazy person on this planet falls down the same slippery slope as Peter Gibbons, but that’s why this works as satire. None of us let our laziness become our primary motivator in life, but if we did it might look something like Office Space.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Defining Inspiration

Jerry’s family was shocked when they discovered he chopped off four of his fingers with a hatchet, and eventually died from losing too much blood. It made a sticky mess of his garage, where he was found wearing his favorite t-shirt from a 1979 Bob Dylan tour concert. There was no suicide note, but his cell phone was just a few feet away on the shelf. He didn’t attempt to make any calls.

Before taking the blade to his hand, Jerry had become overwhelmed with grief. He was a single man in his 30’s, with a steady career in accounting. Girlfriends were here and there, but he hadn’t been seeing anyone for the past few months. His life was not quite stagnant, but not much different than what most residents in a suburban cul-de-sac would refer to as “normalcy.”

Detectives searched for a reason why. There had been no history of depression or violence, nor any sudden changes in Jerry’s lifestyle. But the answer for Jerry’s gruesome death would never be known by any still living, for it remained solely between himself and another dead woman.

Jerry witnessed a suicide a few days prior to his own. A woman he had never met was walking on the sidewalk, parallel with his car. She was holding her purse with a kinked elbow, and her hair was auburn brown, like a fading tree in autumn. When he saw her, she appeared to be on her way to a lunch date, perhaps. Maybe a business meeting. Her attire looked professional and well kempt. A purple, flowing skirt and denim jacket was her final outfit.

Jerry saw these details while waiting at a red light. Suddenly, she darted into the intersection just as a moving truck was speeding to catch the yellow light. She stood squarely in front it, feet planted firmly on the ground and hands at her side. The purse had dropped to street.

When the truck hit her, it sent her body into the air. The truck’s tires squealed less than a second before impact, and the vehicle remained halfway in the intersection when the light turned green for Jerry.

He decided to drive forward, and not wait around to become a witness. But he was certainly in shock. He pondered the immediacy of the suicide. How calm and normal everything seemed at one moment, but how everything was frantically replaced with death a second later.

Why did she do it? Someone with such physical composure, what snapped in her brain that caused this woman to end it all?

Jerry’s car tires rolled slowly over the blood on the pavement. Leaving a light trail behind him as he drove. He stopped at a car wash to clean his sedan. Some blood had also splashed onto his hood.

As he washed his car, squeezing the trigger of the pressure washer with all four fingers, he felt envy. The experience this woman just had, this final experience, was one she took complete control of. Up until this point of his life, nearly everything Jerry had was the result of fortune, misfortune, or some mysterious "stuff" of life he had no understanding of (fate? God?). He realized that suicide was one action that a human can make regardless of his environment. He couldn’t choose the weather, or how tall he was, or where he was born, or when. But he could choose when to end. That is, as long as that mysterious stuff of life didn’t choose it before he did.

His fingers loosened their grip on the pressure washer. The blood had been sprayed clean off, and he was ready to finish his drive.

Of course, Jerry was troubled by all of this. He was not a stoic man, but one who enjoyed socialization at work and parties on weekends. He was not a gloomy person at all, but seeing this suicide triggered internal questions as to why he was alive.

During his drive, he wondered about his family’s likely reaction had he done the same thing as that woman. If he suddenly jumped in front of a truck, would they ask why? Certainly they would, but they would not find an answer. The best anyone could come up with might be something like “he was here, and then he was gone.”

But had Jerry spoken with that woman, perhaps he wouldn’t be thinking these thoughts at all. Perhaps she would have told him how troubled she was on the inside, and that death is not a frivolous matter. He would never know, so he avoiding putting living words into the mouth of the dead.

Her name was Etta. She was a mother of two boys, both in high school. Her husband traveled for work, and was occasionally away from home for months at a time. But they had a happy marriage built on trust and love. She did not have suicidal tendencies.

One week before her own suicide, Etta took a routine trip to the grocery store. She bought milk, bread, orange juice, a few cans of soup, laundry detergent, and some mints to keep in the car. It was an evening trip for bare essentials, occurring after dinner and before turning in for the night. The sky was almost dark, and the light poles in the parking lot were already brightly yellow.

As she sat down in her SUV, Etta noticed a young man at the edge of the parking lot near a tall bush. She thought he could have been homeless, or maybe a teenager smoking cigarettes. It was dark there; he was nothing more than a shadow.

A light flashed and a loud bang startled her. The man had a gun, and he shot himself in the foot with it. Etta saw him on the ground, still holding the gun in his hand while staring at his wounded foot, a white tennis shoe now covered with blood and dripping out the heels.

Etta assumed this was an accidental shot, so she turned her vehicle on and sped towards him. She pawed around for her cell phone on the floor of the car as she accelerated. Nobody else seemed to be in the parking lot at the time.

She shined her headlights on him, seeing his face as freckled. Later she realized it was a splatter of blood. He lifted his gun, and shot himself in the wrist. This shocked Etta, and she froze with her hands over her mouth. As horrifying as it was, she would not turn her eyes. The man then looked at her, almost impervious to her arrival. Then he looked back down at his wrist wound, inspecting it.

He lined up the wound on his wrist with the wound on his foot, and shot again. Etta shrieked. He was now lying in a pool of his own blood, straddling the boundary of the grass and the pavement. Weeds poking through the cracks of the pavement were glistening in Etta’s headlights. The young man was hunched over now, still inspecting the holes in his body.

Though he hadn’t up until this point, he now winced in pain. His eyes squinted and he clenched his teeth. He aimed the gun at his chest and fired. His body wobbled and he nearly dropped the gun. A deep wound of red on his buttoned, collared shirt nearly toppled him. After a few seconds, he attempted to point the gun at his head, but the shot missed. He tried again, and blew off his chin. Only his upper teeth remained now, the tongue hanging like a long tie against his neck.

His body crumpled down into a pile of red, wet flesh. Etta was crying. She saw how intentional this young man was about his final moments, how each shot of pain was one he desired to feel before the finalization. She turned her car off, along with the headlights.

Instead of feeling thankful for her own life, she felt repulsed by it. As she sat in her SUV, in the parking lot of a suburban grocery store, her demeanor turned grim. A scowl representing the distaste for humanity’s ability to commit suicide. She remembered her family dog, who never allowed itself to flirt with thoughts of death. The animal who lived until the day it was put down. A final decision reached not by the animal, but by the human family.

When she was a little girl, she cried when her dog died. She didn’t want to see her pet go, because it had brought nothing but joy to her family. She cried again tonight because she hated the man who looked through her windshield as he slowly shot himself to death. There was no honor in what he did, no respectability. And this is the state of humanity she now saw. She did not see people capable of love, but a species plagued by its own awareness. With each shot, this man was fully aware of his self-infliction. And deep down, Etta knew she was capable of the very same thing. She despised herself for maintaining this capability.

She decided then that her death would not be a slow one, but that it would come immediately and by her own call. Prolonging suffering was not something she would partake in, nor would a methodical suicide. She didn’t know when it would happen, but she knew there would be no time less painful to those who loved her. Death, no matter how it comes, hurts those who are not exited by it, but left to wait and suffer longer.

Why would this young man commit suicide? Why Etta? Why Jerry? Why put a name on a gravestone? Why feed a dog every day between walks? Who decides when one should be born, and who keeps parents alive? One death inspires another; it cannot be so in life.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

CHIRP Playlist (8/4/10)

First show while sick was actually quite successful. CHIRP is healthy. I feel better after staying up past 3AM than I have all week. Something about sharing good music with the community just lifts my spirits. Here's what you missed (highlights included not yet released music by The Red River and S. Carey. Plus, some excellent new local flavorings by Mahjongg):

12:02AM Best Coast When I'm With You from Crazy For You (Mexican Summer)

12:03AM Mystery Jets Alice Springs from Serotonin (Rough Trade)

12:08AM Delorean Simple Graces from Subiza (True Panther)

12:13AM Welcome Wagon But For You Who Fear My Name from Welcome to the Welcome Wagon (Asthmatic Kitty)

12:16AM Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band Cadence from Where the Messengers Meet (Dead Oceans)

12:21AM Naked Raygun Rat Patrol from Throb Throb (Positive)

12:24AM Citay Little Kingdom from Little Kingdom (Dead Oceans)

12:30AM Junip Far Away from Rope and Summit EP (Mute)

12:32AM Mew The Zookeeper's Boy from And the Glass Handed Kites (Sony)

12:39AM Friendly Fires Skeleton Boy from Friendly Fires (XL)

12:43AM Big Boi Daddy Fat Sax from Sir Luscious Left Foot... The Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam)

12:45AM Final Fantasy This Lamb Sells Condos from He Poos Clouds (Tomlab)

12:51AM Bob Dylan Tangled Up in Blue from Blood on the Tapes (Columbia)

1:00AM Male House of Ride from German for Shark (Other Electricities)

1:04AM Built to Spill Conventional Wisdom from You In Reverse (Warner Bros)

1:09AM Cap'n Jazz Little League from Analphabetapolothology (Jade Tree)

1:15AM The Red River When We Are Wild from Little Songs About the Big Picture (Brave)

1:19AM ceo Illuminata from White Magic (Modular)

1:22AM Mirah La Familia (Chris Baker, Handsome Mix) from Joyride: Remixes (K)

1:27AM The National Santa Clara from Mistaken for Strangers single (Beggars Banquet)

1:31AM To Rococo Rot Seele from Speculation (Domino)

1:37AM LCD Soundsystem Tribulations from LCD Soundsystem (DFA)

1:41AM Air Sexy Boy from Moon Safari (Astralwerks)

1:46AM Max Richter Infra 2 from Infra (FatCat)

1:51AM Ornette Coleman Congeniality from The Shape of Jazz to Come (Atlantic)

1:58AM Mahjongg Miami Knights from The Long Shadow of the Paper Tiger (K)

2:03AM The Acorn Oh Napoleon from Glory Hope Mountain (Paper Bag)

2:08AM Steve Mason All Come Down from Boys Outside (Domino)

2:13AM Bonnie "Prince" Billy For Every Field There's A Mole from Lie Down in the Light (Drag City)

2:16AM David Karsten Daniels & Fight the Big Bull Smoke from I Mean to Live Here Still (FatCat)

2:19AM Bruce Springsteen My Father's House from Nebraska (Columbia)

2:25AM The Love Language Summer Dust from Libraries (Merge)

2:28AM Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band My Human Gets Me Blues from Trout Mask Replica (Reprise)

2:31AM BARB Leo from BARB (Yep Roc)

2:36AM Tame Impala Jeremy's Storm from InnerSpeaker (Modular)

2:41AM Coltrane Motion My Heart Might Go On from Hello Ambition (Datawaslost)

2:44AM Of Montreal Disconnect the Dots from Satanic Panic in the Attic (Polyvinyl)

2:50AM Jonsi & Alex Stokkseyri from Riceboy Sleeps (XL)

2:56AM S. Carey In the Dirt from All We Grow (Jagjaguwar)

Sunday, August 01, 2010

You Missed Out: Wicker Park Fest

Is enough, enough? As great as it was to see Holy Fuck and Cap'n Jazz at Wicker Park Fest this weekend, I've about had my fill of free summer music. I know that sounds foolish, but it really does get tiring after a while. For the past two months, I've been at a street fest nearly every weekend or Monday night (Millennium Park). From here on out, I'm staying indoors. Lollapalooza sounds like a hilarious joke right now.

So where did Wicker Park Fest rank with the best of the summer street fests? Well, it's no Metronome. It's actually the polar opposite. Metronome, being the most comfortable of all the Chicago street fests, with the smallest crowds and best bands, is the reigning king for the second straight year. But Wicker Park is actually the runner-up, simply because of the two headliners it snagged for Saturday night. If only they were able to schedule the event better, so everybody could get to see both shows.

I went for half and half. 15 minutes of Holy Fuck, and then the long, crowded walk to the other stage for Cap'n Jazz. Thinking back, it's probably better that they played at the same time. It was so dense with white people, I thought I might suffocate. And had they all been at one of those stages instead of interspersed between the two, it would have been a disaster.

Holy Fuck got the crowd moving without words. Synthesizers never looped, bass lines never mimicked, the band played live electronic music. Anyone looking for reason to dance found it quickly on the south stage. I had just bought overpriced Fat Tire at 7-11, strutting it confidently past the entrance security while they kept their eyes peeled for drunken douchebags. In my CHIRP shirt, I looked all too trustworthy.

After a 15 minute walk up Milwaukee Avenue from Wood Street to Damen, I could now hear the old, mathy-emo sounds of Cap'n Jazz. The pride of Chicago's 90s' had returned, and french horns blared from the stage while former straight edge kids downed Miller Lite with their middle-aged girlfriends. It was nostalgia in the streets, especially during an embarrassing cover of Take On Me.

Kids at the front of the stage were crowdsurfing, just as they did 15 years ago. Whether it was just a reunion show, or Cap'n Jazz are back to stay, I'm all for it. Let's hope Q and Not U are next.

Oh, and Mission of Burma was better than I expected too.

Alright Chicago summer street fest season, it's been a lot of fun. It's August, the last month of summer, and we should all start looking forward to the best part of the year. Fall is coming. We will watch horror movies and wear jackets. Music will get out of the streets and into Schubas, the Empty Bottle, and Lincoln Hall. For all you looking forward to the overkill that will be Lollapalooza, at least be sure to catch Cut Copy, Arcade Fire, The XX and Phoenix and tell me how they were. I haven't seen those bands yet, and they might actually sound alright in Grant Park.