Howard Stern’s Birthday Bash
Ten years ago it would have been Beetlejuice, Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf, Fred the Elephant Boy, Henry Hill, queefers, squirters and porn chicks. Now it’s Robert Downey Jr, Lena Dunham, Barbara Walters, Katie Couric, Louis CK, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Sarah Silverman, and even a birthday video from Kathie Lee Gifford. Hard to feel like an underdog and an outcast when everyone you’ve ever insulted, feuded with or ignored lines up to kiss your ring. Music-wise this was an unending nightmare for me, but perfectly in tone with Stern show tastes: Train, Adam Levine, John Mayer, Jon Bon Jovi — introduced by Chris Christie! — John Fogerty and a Steven Tyler/Slash/Dave Grohl supergroup. Jewel, displaying the humor and personality she never puts into her own music, won the night with a version of “Silver Nickels and Golden Dimes,” the song Howard wrote in sixth grade. Highlight of the night, and indicative of Howard’s interviewing skills, which have never been sharper: a 30-minute Q&A with Letterman conducted in front of a rowdy, 15,000-strong Manhattan Ballroom crowd — at one point host Kimmel had to quell the more voluble element with a brusque “Shut up, you rapists!” — that had all the intimacy of two men in a darkened studio. His Sirius contract is up in two years. I hope he leaves us wanting more but know (and also sort of hope) he won’t.
Wacklemore’s tragic text to Kendrick Lamar apologizing for robbing him of his rightful Grammy and being too scared to tell the watching millions of his unworthiness was a strong indicator this was going to be a banner week for Caucasian Shame. Then Jane Pratt’s xojane.com site published a piece entitled “It Happened To Me: There Are No Black People In My Yoga Classes And I’m Uncomfortable With It.” I’m sure by this point you can recite it in your sleep, but here are a few delicious extracts: “A young, fairly heavy black woman put her mat down behind mine. It appeared she had never set foot in a yoga studio…I saw the fear in her eyes snowball into panic and despair…Because I was directly in front of her, I had no choice but to look straight at her every time my head was upside down…over the next hour I watched as her despair turned into resentment and then contempt. I felt it all directed towards me and my body… I thought about how yoga’s been shamelessly co-opted by Western culture as a sport for skinny, rich, white women…what could I do to help her? If I asked her to articulate her experience to me so I could just listen, would she be interested in telling me about it?…I got home from that class and promptly broke down crying.” If that was a joke, it was a brilliantly observed piece of character comedy. If it wasn’t, it was still a brilliantly observed portrait of its author. The internets agreed. Parody posts — ”I’m The Only White Woman In The Twerking Class!” — proliferated. It turned into the “Harlem Shake” of white guilt. The editor who commissioned the post and witnessed the barrage of mockery it inspired finally stepped up to offer her defense. The xojane person, who identifies as a curvy black woman, spoke of the discomfort she felt on vacation with her white friends and the white privilege of their bodies. The yoga piece, she felt, summed up her experience. Except, xojane editor, you didn’t stumble unwittingly into a yoga studio.You had known and socialized with a group of people long enough to take an extended trip in their company. I would suggest you were less a victim of white privilege and more of bad vacation planning. As for Jen Caton, the author of the original post, she can expect, at the very least, a ton more writing assignments, if not a publishing deal for her oversensitive memoirs. And now you can feel outraged about white privilege.
Two Hot K-Pop Singles
I’m a sucker for assembly line pop and South Korea has an approach to manufactured music that is both vibrant and disturbing. Production companies scoop platoons of bewildered young people off the streets, incubate them for two years, plastic surgerize them, break their individual spirits until they’re tirelessly dancing automatons– the singing tends to figure low on the list of desireable qualities– and then puts them on a punishing schedule of recording, touring, endorsing products and appearing in their nation’s nightly pop shows and soap operas. It’s a dehumanizing process but somehow oddballs, eccentrics and loose cannons manage to not only survive it, they also make exciting records.
Gain, from the group Brown Eyed Girls, has K-pop’s dysfunctional psychosexual relationship niche all sewn up. The video for her debut single saw her clinging to her departed lover’s ankle for most of it’s 10-minute duration. Her new bossa nova-tinged “Fuck You” is equally tormented.
Girl group Spica’s “You Don’t Love Me” is the exact opposite. It’s all about being super-adorable. It’s also far goofier than any American group would ever be permitted to get away with.
Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe Leave Parks & Recreation
Good. I love Rashida Jones as much as any everyone else in America does, maybe more because I’m very very very vaguely related to her (so vaguely that I’m probably not actually related). But, beyond the storyline about the pit in front of her house — back when Leslie Knope was the butt of the joke rather than the widely-worshipped role model she evolved into — the point of Ann Perkins’ presence in the show, let alone the Parks and Recreation office, dwindled quickly away to nothing. Rob Lowe I’m sorrier to see go. He was the least gifted of the Brat Pack actors, which is saying a lot, but he became someone you actually looked forward to seeing. Chris Trager was a one-note character but it was a funny note played by a virtuoso. One the plus side, their departure rids Pawnee of one of its vast population of happy couples. Seriously, we don’t watch to see Aubrey Plaza smiling every week.
A Grown-Up Person Listens to Every Song on Pitchfork’s Top 100 of 2013
Here’s both an incredible feat of modern-day endurance and an amazing piece of sustained comedy. Scott Seward, a blogger and, I think, one-time music critic, is, like me, is getting up in years but still has a passing fascination with what’s current in music. Unlike me, his main area of interest is indie-rock. So he slogged through the entire Pitchfork 100.
Like me, the only things he found any merit in were the rap entries. He also comes out and says something I’ve always thought but never heard anyone actually put into words: the reason bands like Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire and the National never appeal to anyone outside of their own devoted fan-bases is they all have terrible, weak, repellent singers. It’s true. Imagine if any of these bands allowed their guitarists or their drummers or their producers to perform in a manner as half-assed as they let their singers. Would they still be on the Pitchfork 100? (Probably.) ( I can’t remember if The Black Keys were on the list but they suck, too.) Elsewhere, Seward shits on Chvrches, a band from my hometown of Glasgow that I really like. But he references Modern Romance, which is astonishing. (The mention, not the band.) I didn’t just enjoy reading Seward’s take on songs I will never hear, I was actually moved to seek one out. This one:
And talking about Chvrches:
Miley Cyrus Unplugged
Some erudite cineaste recently defended Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives on the grounds that it was the director’s deliberate attempt to weed out the hipsters and drooling Gosling fans from the audience Drive brought him. The first ten minutes of Miley Cyrus: MTV Unplugged seem like they were designed to provoke a similar response. Hate Nasty Hood Crotch Tongue Miley? Here she is with her tongue lolling out, her hand rarely straying from her crotch, her butt out, line-dancing her way through a grotesque drag queen hoedown scenario complete with dancing midget and two luckless stagehands stuffed into a horse costume. Worse, she was yowling her strip club anthems over an acoustic accompaniment which added the unwelcome stench of Mumford. But when she got back from the first break, there was no more Mumford, no more midgets and no more twerking.(Quick footnote here: the Ying Yang Twins recorded “Whistle While You Twurk” in 2000, back when the South became the epicenter of hip hop and the ability to get strippers bouncing became a legitimate career aspiration. If you’ve tolerated every rap and R&B video of the past 13 years but are moved to outrage over Miley Cyrus, I know an xojane editor who’ d be happy to commission a piece from you.) If the first part was calibrated to confirm the world’s worst fears, the remainder was a different kind of statement. It said, “In case you forgot, I’m the best singer — and worst actress — Disney ever discovered.” So true. Even back when she was doing quasi-new-wavey stuff like “See You Again,” she was a cut above Duff and Gomez. Her album doesn’t have a whole lot of listenable songs on it, but it has “Wrecking Ball,” “Adore You,” and a couple of others whose names I forget, and a cover of “Jolene,” all of which she came out and killed. And then, right at the end, a horrifying thing happened. Cyrus, who currently bears a striking resemblance to “Papa Don’t Preach”-era Madonna was joined on stage by someone who no longer bears much of a resemblance to Madonna. They lurched through a duet the sole purpose of which was to allow Madonna to penetrate Miley with the same invisible tentacle she’s previously used to siphon off the youthful essences of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, MIA, Nicki Minaj, and Justin Timberlake. It didn’t work in the past and I don’t think it’s going to work now.
Philip Seymour Hoffman