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Category Archives: california

It hasn’t been a great couple of months for blonde alt-rock icons who meant the world to me when I was thirteen. First, Courtney Love reconstructed Hole to release Nobody’s Daughter, a meaninglessly brash update of the heartbreaking and raw solo demos that floated around the internet last summer. What has been lost from the post-rehab versions is the sense of vulnerable humanity that pulsed within the warm guitars, the open spaces of the songs, and Courtney’s disheveled croak which actually enhanced the tales of burnout and decay and hopeful redemption. In the Hole record, that croak sounds weak and thin when backed by pseudo-grunge guitar crunch, and with new songs (or rewrites of the old ones) that contain lyrics full of silly bluster; where once Courtney Love sounded as if she was staring her demons in the eye (finally!), she now sounds as if those demons are insignificant and barely worth attention.

This new iteration of Nobody’s Daughter is unfortunate because it really could have shown a new Courtney Love—an honest, poignant, sympathetic, and artful one—instead of all this hollow bluster. She really is a fantastic writer; if only she’d get out of her own way more often. Hey, Courtney: rock music is dead—at least the kind that you want to play—so do you really want to make a record that sounds like it should be played on radio stations that pump out Chevelle? Next time—if there is a next time—stick to the warm SoCal 70s acoustic guitars. They worked a lot better, and made you sound like a real person.

She’s done a lot of terrible or confusing things, but worst of all (for me) is what she did to “Pacific Coast Highway.” The original is right up there with “Malibu,” proving that for all her faults, Courtney Love is a tremendous chronicler of Los Angeles.

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Liz Phair is getting laughed at—AGAIN—for her terrible music decisions, leading people to think that the music itself is terrible. This happened most recently in 2003, when she wrote and recorded a handful of songs with The Matrix (responsible for at least two of Avril Lavigne’s best songs) on her much-derided eponymous major label debut (I myself think the record is cynical and a little cringe-worthy at worst, but contains some exuberant and occasionally touching songs).

Phair is now getting mocked for releasing her new album Funstyle—rejected by her record label, which does have a point—on her website, including the head-scratching “Bollywood,” an honest-to-God rap over a faux-bhangra beat that details how she began to work as a television composer (or something?).

Look, there are other songs here—songs like “Miss September” (which wouldn’t sound out-of-place on Whitechocolatespacegg) and “Satisfied” (a song that Taylor Swift could do wonders with if she rewrote the lyrics, proving an earlier point, though isn’t it weird that Swift is now a better writer than Phair?)—but the weird joke-songs like “Bollywood” and “Smoke” (which seems to poke fun at her post-Liz Phair career) and “Beat Is Up” (a send-up of Chicago ladies and their self-help gurus) and “U Hate It” (appropriately the final song on the album, which is hilarious and also contains the immortal lyric “I think I’m a genius/You’re being a PEEN-IUS”) will garner all the attention. As they probably should, and certainly Phair wouldn’t want it any other way.

Because look: how long has Phair been a troll? Let’s not forget that Exile in Guyville was a deliberate response to not only the Rolling Stones, but all of Chicago and dude-centric indie rock to boot. Her Girlysound tapes contained the cowfucking diptych “California” and “South Dakota.” So these new songs, as far as intent goes, are really nothing new. You could say that even her foray into glossy pop was a large-scale trolling in line with Guyville, but directed at a much larger population. Taking all this into account, Liz Phair may actually be the world’s most successful internet troll, with Funstyle as her latest salvo.

Does this make Funstyle a good record? Absolutely not. But like Zappa, like Metal Machine Music, it makes for an interesting listen (of course, because Liz Phair is a woman with a certain reputation, the assumption is that there is no semblance of thought behind her artistic intent, which is bullshit: songs like “Bollywood” and “Smoke” are too galling and knowing—too self-conscious—to be anything less than the kind of pop-art statement that makes Lady Gaga look like the shallow pretender she is; hey “Little Monsters,” this is how you do subversion). Which is more than you can say about Somebody’s Miracle—to quote Pitchfork, “Now [that] is a terrible Liz Phair record.” Funstyle is the sound of Liz Phair not giving a shit, and daring you to do the same. The fact that you are angry or bemused or interested or appalled only means that Phair—loser that she may often be—has won again.

Oh yeah—”Bollywood” at the very least showcases better white-girl flow than anything in Ke$ha’s oeuvre. Also? That part where she goes “CONNNNNTRRRAAAACCCT” all evil-like reminds me of that skit in “Dre Day.” Finally: “I was trippin’ lookin’ at my portfolio” is possibly the funniest opening line to any song that has ever existed. God bless you, Ms. Phair. Just, you know, try to write a fucking song again, at least once in a while

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Speaking of Ke$ha, how terrible has pop radio been lately? There have been exactly zero good songs this year that have gotten any play. Lady Antebellum’s crossover “Need You Now” was the one bright spot earlier this spring, though its debut on country radio in late 2009 disqualifies it from contention (Justin Bieber’s creepiness and Ludacris’s embarrassment also disqualifies “Baby”).

At least last summer had a few certified summer bangers, no matter how terrible (“I Gotta Feeling”), slightly douchey (“Best I Ever Had”), or marginalized (“You Belong With Me,” “Party in the USA”). This year we are relegated to Katy Perry, a singer/personality so abhorrent she can’t even make a song about the superiority of California girls sound even remotely listenable or fun.

Highlight of the year so far: Miranda Lambert’s month-long country chart-topper “The House That Built Me.”

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I don’t know if it’s my SoCal homesickness, but lately I’ve been listening to two indie rock acts (GASP!) from Southern California who slather reverb and fuzz onto their specific genres. San Diego’s Wavves and Los Angeles’s Best Coast have struck a laidback breezy vibe that reminds me of SoCal beach lounging; Wavves with surf-inflected punk-pop and Best Coast with their vaguely girl-group sound. Of course, being so typically indie, the production makes both acts sound like absolute shit, obscuring the fact that some actual tunes are buried underneath all that pretension. Wavves’s Nathan Williams is hot but douchey, which is perfect for a Southern California boy, and his voice produces the exact kind of obnoxious whine you’d expect (I keep thinking Cobain crossed with someone else I can’t quite place; maybe a bit of Pete Shelley?). “Green Eyes” has the great punk line “My own friends hate me/But I don’t give a shit.” And Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino could actually be a force if she matured beyond indie aesthetic; songs like “When I’m With You” showcase an actual songwriting talent and vocal presence sorely lacking in much of contemporary indie rock (including Wavves).

And if their aesthetic and their locale weren’t enough to have me conflate the two acts, here are their recent album covers:

I CAN HAZ FUZZPOP.

…after setting foot in Los Angeles did some guy come up to me and be SUSPICIOUS.

A six-hour-plus flight that included a stop-off in Denver to refuel WTF which meant I hadn’t had a cigarette in eleventy thousand hours and my head was pounding and I was frantically searching for my ride and this dude stops me and says, all friendly-like, “I love your haircut where are you from?” HANDSHAKE WILL NOT LET GO OF MY HAND.

Now, being a Californian, I figured he obviously had one of four things in mind:

1) He wanted to fuck me (he was old white and bald, which is some kind of unholy trinity; if only he’d been fat)
2) He thought I was some Axl-fresh-off-the-bus hayseed and was trying to hustle me
3) He wanted to put me in the MOVIES
4) He wanted to take me to the San Fernando Valley and put me in THOSE KIND OF MOVIES

Anyway I said all brusque-like, not even thinking, “I’m from New York I’m sorry I’m BUSY.” I guess I’ve become a douchebag New Yorker in my five years away. When I’m in New York, I’m from California; when I’m in California, I’m from New York.

But whatever I just had a DOUBLE DOUBLE ANIMAL STYLE FROM IN-N-OUT so I’m good.

Kill me, for I have related to something said by Sarah Vowell. Not that I hate her or anything, but holy God is that voice annoying. Stan and I once had a conversation wherein we came up with people who look exactly like their voice. Sarah Vowell was my best example. Stan’s top two were Wallace Shawn (which I agree with) and Woody Allen (after which he immediately asked, “Is that anti-Semitic?”).

Anyway, I was listening to her appearance on KCRW and was all CHUCKLEZ I FEEL THE SAME WAY!!!! when she talked about being offended by “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” That song always terrified me when I was a kid, like Santa Claus was this malevolent womanizer who would steal my mom away from my dad and consequently during kindergarten we were told to leave our shoes outside our class so that Santa would leave candy in it (????? Is this an Irish thing? I went to Catholic school) and I started crying because I HATED Santa. (Also: I cried all the time in kindergarten)

Also she played this song that equates California as The Promised Land, so I guess Sarah Vowell is better than me because I didn’t know it existed:

And just for good measure, an oldie-but-goodie. ABBA AS DRUNKS:

My favorite part is when Agnetha forgets the words and just MAKES SOME NOISE. Like a drunk!

On Wednesday I was TICKLED TO DEATH when I realized how many friends I have in New York are going to be meeting up out-of-town in the next week or so. Kate and George are meeting up in Cincinnati or whatever city that’s in Ohio; Stearns and the roommate are going to bro out in Vegas; and Stan, Beth and I are meeting up in California. Basically this is why New Yorkers are douchebags: they leave the city to hang out with other New Yorkers.

We have vague plans of hanging out in LA, driving down PCH, going down to San Diego maybe (if so, I may pick up a friend’s acoustic guitar so I can terrorize everyone with MY COUNTRY SONGS), and the thing that Beth and I spazzed out about all day yesterday: the Salton Sea. Beth and I maybe think Stan might not be so happy that we have planned the entire itinerary, but whatever we’ll just nag him to death and he’ll concede, right?

The towns near the Salton Sea are full of crazy insane people, which would make sense if you think that the entire area smells like dead fish. The area was thought to be an up-and-coming Palm Springs, and so it is now full of the detritus of failed American capitalism. Empty abandoned motels and outdoor spaces and rusty cars in the water. There’s a documentary I’m dying to see–narrated by John Waters–called Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea. Here is the trailer:

Basically, the people there remind me of the citizens of North Haverbrook.

A collection of my favorite images of the Salton Sea and its surrounding towns:

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A rusted car in the New River, near where it enters the sea.

GOD I AM SO HUNGRY AREN’T YOU?!

Mud volcanoes!

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Salvation Mountain (that is not a drawing), located in Slab City, built by this guy, who was featured in Into The Wild as himself, spouting Jesus love messages to Emile Hirsch and a bewildered-looking Kristen Stewart. The best thing about that scene is that it was not written and he was not acting. That is actually what he’s like. I cannot wait to meet him.

There are some absolutely fantastic pictures captured here as well.

I was talking to someone about the Salton Sea and how excited I am to see it, and I was met with a look of vaguely repulsed shock. The intimation being “Why would you want to go there?” The reason, to me, is simple when you look at those pictures. This is part of our weird America, Lynchian images made real–a breathing microcosm of lives marginalized and pushed out of society, of the failed promises of American prosperity. I want to go to there.

The Salton Sea is only 30 miles east of San Diego. I love California.

There is nothing prettier (winter division) than a New England snowstorm.

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See? OH, WAIT A SECOND THAT IS ACTUALLY IN PALMDALE, CALIFORNIA.

Yes, there have been snowstorms in southern California. The fact that there can be chill and frost in SoCal is not entirely unprecedented; in fact, January 2007 saw this happen:

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But this recent storm is just RIDICULOUS. I mean, there is snow in the desert. SNOW in the DESERT, YOU GUYS.

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I hope this is still happening when I get to California because I WANT TO SEE SNOW IN THE DESERT, I MEAN WHAT?!?!?!?!? Now, if only it could snow on the beach then I will surely die from immense naturefuck glee.

On a related note, I leave New York on Sunday, and it is supposed to snow. I really hope this doesn’t mean massive delays OH GOD, I’ve only experienced one previously and it was also flying out of New York during the winter and my flight was delayed three hours which doesn’t seem so bad except you sit in fucking JFK for three hours and you can’t smoke and everyone is pissed and looks terrible, jesus.

To this day I wish that my parents hadn’t moved from our teeny tiny apartment in Culver City to a big house in the hills of a suburb whose name was only chosen because Orange was already a city, but if the move gave me my astounding intellect and cutting wit by allowing me to go to one of the finest public schools in America (it didn’t, because going to that high school was one of the least intellectual circumstances I’ve been in), then okay.

According to LAist, the only other Silver Medal school in Los Angeles County was our rival high school. Who knew that being stuck between the 10 and 57 and 60 was so conducive to WORKING BRAINS.

I bought my plane ticket to California today, hurray. I emailed my dad to tell him so.

Dad wrote back: SO YOUR DATE OF ARRIVAL IS THE 21st?????

me: yes.

Dad: ok…we’ll c u then.

…because I need the fucking money in order to travel back to my anti-gay marriage writing-discrimination-into-the-constitution home state. Oh, but it’s so beautiful there!

It’s an interesting concept and I’m all for the gay community mobilizing in such a widespread way and good for everyone who “calls in gay” today. I’m not actually convinced that this is the right vehicle, though. First, it’s ONE DAY. African-Americans didn’t take the buses for like eighty years in the 60s. Also, linguistically this sort of connotes “gay” with “sick,” no?

“Hello Mr. Bossman I’m calling in gay because I’ve got seven cocks in my mouth and *ACHOOO!!!!!* ugh semen keeps coming (heh) out of my nose and I’ve got a fever at 699 degrees.”

That would be like the best illness ever, really. Unfortunately I’m single and at work.

Using the Bible as an argument for gay marriage, effectively exploring the reductive myopia of the Christian Right’s arguments. Newsweek?!

It’s quite interesting so please read it. I know that I’m going to read it approximately 115309 times before I fly home to California and have to see all my Republican family members who voted for Prop 8, and I will probably get drunk and bring this up all SHOUTY and will need some talking points so that I don’t sound like an incoherent boob.

Also I wrote this sad defeated little slobber on Fuckbook after Prop 8 passed, boohoo. It’s long and maudlin.

That’s what she said.

I mean, it’s hard to not be ready when the wind is blowing at you in seven thousand different directions cutting through your big coat and stupid wool hat (+ dumb ear-flap thing) that leaves your hair a stupid crumpled pile of limp blah and thermals and two pairs of socks and mittens and gloves and whatever the hell else you need to put on in order to not resemble a walking frozen hot dog when it’s ball-shriveling season in New York. In other words, I’m going to California, hurrah mid-sixties holidays.

Christmas also means listening to the Phil Spector Christmas record, easily the best Christmas record ever released because you can listen to it year-round and not want to kill yourself. Seriously, it’s that good. I mean, look!:

1. White Christmas – Darlene Love
2. Frosty The Snowman – Ronettes
3. The Bells Of St. Mary – Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans
4. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town – Crystals
5. Sleigh Ride – Ronettes
6. Marshmallow World – Darlene Love
7. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus – Ronettes
8. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer – Crystals
9. Winter Wonderland – Darlene Love
10. Parade Of The Wooden Soldiers – Crystals
11. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – Darlene Love
12. Here Comes Santa Claus – Bob B. Soxx And The Blue Jeans
13. Silent Night – Phil Spector And Artists

Any record with that much Darlene Love is top-shelf A+ Jim Beam Black Label type shit. The presence of Darlene Love also signals Christmas due to her annual appearances on Letterman singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” My favorite version, sentimentally, is from 2000:

What makes the performance so powerful for me is the use of the USAF’s Singing Sergeants and the shots of the soldiers watching the performance via satellite. The song is elevated from its standard tale of heartache and abandonment to become a subtle comment on global and personal implications of war and militarization through the sheer simplicity of the images. Previously, I’d never thought of any possible reason for the lover’s absence in this song other than general falling-out-of-love-ness. Watching this for the first time socked me in the gut; much like listening to this song for the first time, all over again.

I mean, this song is so good that Mariah Carey bit its steeze for “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” which is pretty clearly her best song and best, most unaffected (ha, its still WAYYY affected, but in a way that works with the fake Wall of Sound) vocal performance. This song is so good that THIS HAPPENED!

If I remember correctly, this aired on the same show that featured “Lazy Sunday,” which became the big hipster geek internet fad joke–and rightly so–but this to me was far more clever than ZOMG WHITE PEOPLE BE RAPPIN ABOUT LAME MOVIE@!, mainly because the pastiche of Spector is tremendously spot-on, and the fact that Darlene Love is the ACTUAL SINGER. At first I was floored, thinking, “How the hell did they get someone to sound so much like Darlene Love?!” Because NO ONE sounds like Darlene Love. Darlene Love is the greatest pop singer that has ever lived. I was impressed when I found out it was really her, imitating herself and her reputation. She’s able to poke fun of herself as Christmas tradition while paying tribute to it as well, with grace and humor and dignity. Clearly, Robert Smigel knew what he was doing in getting her to sing this song.

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is probably the peak of her career, and maybe even Spector’s, and that’s saying a whole helluva lot.

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I really wish Darlene Love had a bigger career. Her story is fascinating, and obviously there’s her cannon of a voice. I won’t go into the ridiculous bullshit that happened between her and Spector, but I feel like his biggest musical crime was depriving her of fame and glory and reputation, as well as the world of MORE OF HER. As crazy huge a fan I am, I really only have a handful of songs that she released under her name, the Crystals/the Blossoms, and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. I would love to hear more, and I know they’re out there. All I want for Christmas is more of you, Darlene Love. Come on home.

Bonus! Darlene Love talkin’ some shit on Spector, GLORIOUSLY: