I have not heard it, but it is an interesting comparison, will track it down.
I have not heard it, but it is an interesting comparison, will track it down.
I went to Michigan State University and I didn’t write about music then but I did read about it a lot.
Miles Davis doing his version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”, from his 1985 album You’re Under Arrest. A few things very interesting about this recording to me. One, I’ve always thought this was an amazing song and obviously I’m not alone. It’s clearly something very special. And I actually like this Miles Davis version quite a bit. But I also think if I was in a Walgreens and this came over the P.A. and I heard it for the first time, I very much doubt that I would think to myself “This is a unique rendition of a latter-day pop classic by one of the great artists of the 20th century.” Instead, it would probably sound like Muzak. In other words, the thing that first gets me interested in this is that it’s by Miles Davis. Once I know that, I can start thinking about how he plays the changes and alters the melody and about the melancholy of his pinched tone. Always gets me thinking when what I know outside the sound is so important to how I experience the sound.
Lykke Li and Bon Iver doing “Dance Dance Dance” in a park in L.A. in 2009. I absolutely love the studio version of this song. She’s such a compelling performer, a little goofy and in her own world but she really seems like she believes in herself. Gotta love this kazoo solo.
I was a paralegal in three different cities, working for four or five different lawyers. It was a job that paid pretty well and offered insurance, and also one you could easily get when you rolled into a new town (something I was doing a lot at one point in my life). My last job working as a paralegal was when I was living in Virginia.
Virginia was and is a very conservative state. When I first started working at this particular law firm, one of the partners sent an email to the entire firm (maybe 50 people or so) that contained a gay joke. I was horrified, and I complained to the president of the company and he said that he understood my concerns and would take it under advisement. So believe me when I say that the during this period in time the legal profession in Virginia was decidedly old school.
I was one of, I believe, just a small handful of men with this position in the entire state. I went to a paralegal convention once and there were hundreds of people and I was one of a couple men, so I was curiosity. I didn’t mind that. People constantly asked me if I wanted to be a lawyer, and I’ll bet I got asked that question a lot more than the women (the answer for me was no.) I met the one other prominent male paralegal in my area and we bonded, sharing…I’m not sure what exactly, but both realizing that we were in an unusual position. Here and there I would work on a case opposite this guy and we often mentioned this to each other on the telephone.
My life as a male paralegal was doubly unusual because my boss was a woman, an ambitious Virginia attorney who is one of the hardest working people I have ever known. She had two children and was not married and probably worked 12 hours a day at the very least. Her life was insane. And I saw my job as helping to keep her to keep her clients happy when she was out picking up her kids, taking depositions, and whatever else she did in the five hours a night she was not sleeping.
I was often mistaken for a lawyer when I talked to clients on the telephone or in person. They would ask me for legal advice and forget that I was a paralegal, someone who was in his current position only because he’d taken a temp job a few years ago that led him here, someone with no special training or interest in the law who could nonetheless draft a brief if he needed to. And I know for a fact that my boss liked the fact that her clients thought of me kind of like a lawyer, purely because I was a man. It made us a good team, because her area of law was a male-dominated field and she was not someone to let that sort of thing hold her back.
So one day very late in my tenure at this job I found out that one of the secretaries was pregnant and was to have a baby shower in the office. Secretaries and paralegals, while technically different in most cases, are still lumped together as “support staff” in most law offices, and the lines are not always clear. In general, legal secretaries focus on common secretarial things, like typing and filing and answering the telephone. Sometimes they are actually paid more because someone who excels at these things can be very valuable to the right attorney. But paralegals tend to do things that are more in the “junior lawyer” realm like interviewing clients, doing legal research, drafting answers to interrogatories, and so on. In a large firm, a lawyer will have both, but in this medium-sized firm you tended to work with one regularly and share the services of another, depending.
So this secretary was pregnant, and I learned that “the girls” would be throwing her a baby shower. That’s how it was phrased, in person and on the invitations. And I realized that I was one of “the girls,” which is something I’d only thought about occasionally before this baby shower. And as as whimsical as I felt about my status as a male paralegal in Virginia and as many times I told clients that I was not in fact a lawyer and that the woman in the room with me was actually an attorney and she was my boss, I had in this case a much stronger reaction to being lumped in with “the girls” than I had anticipated. Since the rituals around this gathering were so gendered and I was singled out as being outside this group just by its name, I had a deep “What the hell am I doing here?” kind of reaction to this baby shower announcement.
And as much as I would like to say that my reaction was solely because I resented the infantilization of the support staff, which was also an issue, the truth is that I suddenly found being a man in this “women’s sphere” to be embarrassing, which, you know, isn’t good. I’ve thought hard about that in the years since and maybe I learned something.
And I do not like Schindler’s List.
It is to my mind Mandingo for Jews. Mandingo was a slave epic made for those interested in watching well-built black men being mistreated. Schindler’s List is another example of emotional pornography.
It is not the Holocaust we are watching. It is a movie, and the people in the film are not actually being abused, they are acting out a drama to enable the audience to exercise a portion of its ego and call that exercise “compassion.” Schindler’s List, Dances with Wolves, Gentlemen’s Agreement—these films show a member of a dominant culture who condescends to aid those less racially fortunate than himself—who tries to save them and fails, thereby ennobling himself, and by extension, his race. This comfortable theme is more than just a sham—it is a lie.
Schindler’s List, ostensibly an indictment of the German murder of the Jews is, finally, just another instance of their abuse. The Jews in this case are not being slaughtered, they are merely being trotted out to entertain. How terrible. For, finally, this movie does not “teach,” it does not “reach a great number who might otherwise be ignorant of this great wrong.” It is not instruction, but melodrama. Members of the audience learn nothing save the emotional lesson of all melodrama, that they are better than the villain. The very assertion that the film is instructive is harmful.
It is destructive. The audience comes to the theater in order to, and leaves the theater feeling they have looked down on actions that the have been assured—this is the film’s central lesson—they would never commit.
This “lesson” is a lie. The audience is not superior to “Those Bad Nazis.” Any of us has the capacity for atrocity—just as each of us has the capacity for heroism. But the film panders to the audience. It invites them (as does any melodrama) to reward themselves for Seeing That the Villain’s Bad; and, in the Liberal Fallacy, of feeling this perception is a moral accomplishment.
The mechanism of Schindler’s List is that of “If you can’t pay the rent, then I will tie your daughter to the train track.”
The Nazis are the waxed-mustachioed villain, and the Jews are the daughter. The film is as far from Philo-Semitism as concern for the girl on the tracks is from feminism.
Two jokes I heard in Israel: 1) There’s no business like Shoah business; 2) Do you know why Hitler killed himself? He got his gas bill. Are these jokes revolting? They may or may not be, but they are legitimate attempts to use a dramatic form (the joke) to address the insoluble and oppressive phenomenon of genocide
Schindler’s List, on the other hand, is an exploitation film.
Editor Walter Murch with a quote that has wide application in creative fields.
You begin every project with 10,000 questions and one certainty. You’re bound to have the questions, but if you don’t have any certainty going into it, you’re going to be lost. By the end of the project, you end the project with 10,000 certainties, so all of the particulars have been fleshed out, but you end also with one question, and the question is the gift that you give to the audience at the end of the film, something that they have to complete for themselves.
The kicker is that you can’t know what that question is in advance, in fact you, as a filmmaker, have to be desperate to answer every single question knowing inevitably that one of this thing, whatever it’s going to be is going to fall through your fingers and fall into the lapse of the audience. Because without that question, the film is in danger to become hermetically sealed and not available to kind of transpire with the world around it.
There are filmmakers who strive for this and actually achieve it, but there is a danger that their film becomes this kind of porcelain perfection that you can admire and look at but somehow there isn’t that personal living connection. The film doesn’t need you, it is perfect unto itself, and this one question is the thing that makes ‘I need you, the audience, to help me, the film, answer this one question’. It’s kind of an umbilical cord that connects the audience with the film.
A few years back an enormously large and valuable internet company asked me to come in and give a talk to their writers about culture writing. It was nice to be asked and I said yes, but after I agreed, I asked myself: why shouldn’t they be paying me for this? This wasn’t a non-profit, or an education setting, or some kind of organization that was trying to help people out, or a favor for a friend. It was a couple hours of my time to help a company that I knew for a fact was worth billions. I was basically going to be donating my time to them for charity. So I asked for money, and they were a little confused at first but agreed and we worked it out. It wasn’t a lot but it felt good to get something. This video was the inspiration for my asking.
So far I’ve had three different ones. First it was “I Love My Dad”. Made me chuckle, and it’s kind of a nice fantasy for me, to think of a father sitting down to teach his son a lesson because my own father never did stuff like that. He also never never punched me so that I hit the floor like Mike Tyson vs. Rickey Spain, and for this I’m thankful. So it probably evened out. But “I Love My Dad” is ultimately about gratitude, which is one of the two or three most important things in life.
After that, my favorite became “I Watched the Film The Song Remains the Same”, a song that has some kind of dark magic or something. For one thing, as I guess you can tell from reading me here, there’s something very powerful in the combination of observation and reflection: I watched this, and I thought this. If I’m talking to somebody, that is often enough for me. And then it’s another song about gratitude. And the production is incredible.
But I think right now my favorite is “Micheline”. It reminds me of John Mellencamp a little bit, which is neither here nor there. But as I’ve been telling everyone around me since the day I first heard this album, I, too, saw Benji in a theater. And I very easily could have lived the rest of my life and died without remembering that I saw Benji in a theater, but thanks to this song I am thinking about it again. I’m not sure what it means but it feels important. What I really love about “Micheline” is two things: 1) When he sings “My grandma” over and over for an entire verse, because I don’t think anyone has done that in music before (at least not that I’ve heard)—the number of times he says it indicates to me that she was important to him; and 2) when he moves from talking about how she had a hard life to how, after her first husband died, she met a man in California who “treated her real nice.” The way he phrases it, you imagine maybe the first husband didn’t treat her so nice, and maybe that is why life was so hard. I get really emotional every time I hear that line for some reason. I guess because finding someone who treats you real nice is something all of us deserve but a great many of us never find. If that happens to you, you are way ahead of the game and you should be grateful.