A post about Sara Quin’s post about Tyler the Creator

Well, thanks to Sara Quin’s blog post/open letter to the music industry, I’m finally listening to Tyler the Creator’s recently released and much-hyped Goblin. I’d been procrastinating for over a week, ever since a leaked copy found its way into my iTunes. I just wasn’t very excited to hear it. Fair to Tyler or not, the excess of hype–particularly among indie rock types who don’t seem to have much enthusiasm for any non-Odd Future emcees–turned me off. Also, I really haven’t felt like hearing some kid rap about raping women. It’s just this mood I’ve been in.

I’ve only listened to about a fourth of the album, so I’m not going to attempt an assessment of its merits, but I don’t think I actually need to plow through the whole thing (it’s long, Jesus) before writing a reaction to Quin’s post. I have to go to work in a couple hours, so in the interest of timeliness, I’m just going to go ahead and share. If you haven’t read Quin’s post, please go read that first.

First, I’m absolutely with Sara Quin so far as the necessity of critiquing the misogynist and homophobic content of Goblin. Like Quin, I am also disturbed by many critics’ and listeners’ thoroughly uncritical and enthusiastic reception of every smart ass lyric this kid spits. I am glad that she and other cultural critics are voicing alternate analyses. Based on the bit I’ve heard, I have mixed feeling about this record and Tyler’s strengths and weaknesses as a songwriter, lyricist, and rapper, but that’s really neither here nor there for the purposes of this post.

I am largely empathetic to Quin’s frustrations with Tyler’s uncritical popularity amongst people who fancy themselves progressives, despite his violent misogynistic lyrical fantasies and frequent use of homophobic slurs. I am glad that she is speaking out against the acceptance of misogyny and homophobia in the music industry. However, I am quite troubled by some of the theoretical devices she employs in order to do so.

Quin opens her post with a pair of questions:

When will misogynistic and homophobic ranting and raving result in meaningful repercussions in the entertainment industry? When will they be treated with the same seriousness as racist and anti-Semitic offenses?

Whoa, there. Does Quin really believe racism is treated more seriously in the entertainment industry than homophobia and misogyny? Just, like, in general? I can’t even begin to fathom how one could viably make such as assessment of even the music industry as a whole (let alone the entire entertainment industry), as I see a whole lot of racism that isn’t taken very seriously. Just off the top of my head, upon reading these sentences, I immediately thought of cuddly indie duo Ching Chong Song, a white band who named themselves after a racist slur. While some of their shows have been met with protests organized by Asian-American student groups, who made it quite-clear to the band that their name was, if somewhat anachronistic, still plenty offensive. The band responded by calling their critics “stupid petty retards”, retaining their racist moniker, and going on about their career without further public incident. For a couple years now, I’ve been pretty dismayed by how unseriously this momentary controversy has been treated. But this anecdote doesn’t even scratch the surface of the systemic racism around which the US popular music industry has been built, from day one. The fact that Quin doesn’t see this as clearly or often as misogyny and homophobia doesn’t mean its not there. It’s often easier to recognize oppression that negatively affects us directly than that which doesn’t.

I also found it curious that Quin would stipulate that anti-semitism is verboten in the music industry, or at least taken seriously across the boards, in a piece attacking the acceptance of a rapper known for celebrating Hitler and calling himself a Nazi. Just sayin’.

I’m going to ramble a bit, but this is the takeaway: we do not have to compete in the Oppression Olympics in order to argue that misogyny and homophobia are unacceptable and must be taken seriously. What’s more we should not, if our goal is to combat oppression in general, not just the kinds that hurt us most personally. Doing so is actually counter productive, as it both needlessly divides people who could be allies (it divides many people right into little bits–I wonder how Quin would feel if asked to chose which is worse, homophobia or sexism) and obscures the intertwined, intersecting workings of oppression.

So I’m a little worried when I see people I follow on twitter eagerly spreading this link around as a tonic in the midst of Tyler-mania.

Quin goes on to write:

No genre is without its controversial and offensive characters- I’m not naive. I’ve asked myself a thousand times why this is pushing me over the edge.

Honestly, reading this, I asked myself the same question. While I definitely think Tyler and Odd Future’s pseudo-shocking misogynistic and homophobic (and pro-Nazi) content is worthy of discussion and critique, I also don’t find it particularly notable in a broader musical-historical context. Unless something that actually surprises me pops up later in the album, this is absolutely nothing new or unusual for pop music. It’s the same old same old, which is part of what’s so depressing about it. It’s notable this spring, at least on the Internet, for sure, but I actually can’t relate to Quin’s selective horror. Especially when her self-reflection leads her here:

Maybe it’s because in this case I don’t think race or class actually has anything to do with his hateful message but has EVERYTHING to do with why everyone refuses to admonish him for that message.

Whoa, whoa, whoa there. Really? I’m not exactly sure what all Quin is trying to say here. Let’s take the first part first: “… in this case I don’t think race or class actually has anything to do with his hateful message…” Whose race and class? Tyler’s? Is Quin explaining that she’s not suggesting Tyler is homophobic and misogynistic because he is black and comes from whatever class background he comes from? Why is she preemptively defending herself? I guess because race and class supposedly have “EVERYTHING to do with why everyone refuses to admonish him for that message.” Aside from the fact that Tyler has been admonished, so not everyone refuses to do it, this is also bit cryptic (again: whose race and class? And how exactly do race and class have “EVERYTHING” to do with Tyler’s presumed free pass?), but I think I know what Quin is getting at. Earlier in the post she explained:

…is Tyler exempt because people are afraid of the backlash? The inevitable claim that detractors are being racist..?

So I guess she believes that Tyler is gets a free pass on misogynistic and homophobic lyrics because he’s black? Since when is that how this works? Since when has being black given artists a universal force field of protection against being criticized for being misogynistic and homophobic, or anything else? Did Quin miss the congressional hearings on “gangsta rap” back in the ’90s? How about when congress did it again in 2007? I can believe that there may be a few misguided souls out there whose confusion about how to best be PC in this situation leads them into silence, despite being troubled by Tyler’s lyrical content, but just how widespread can this phenomenon be? How central is it to Tyler’s popularity with critics and audiences? I would guess its quite peripheral, if existent at all.

More insightful is the end of the quoted sentence above, which I truncated. In addition to being afraid of being called racist, Quin posits that people may withhold negative judgement of Tyler because:

…the brush-off that not “getting it” would indicate that you’re “old” (or a faggot)

Well, sure. Everyone wants to be hip, tough, and on the winning team. But is it that critics and audiences are scared of being among the unhip masses of gay oldsters who don’t “get” Tyler, or is it that they actively enjoy the feeling of inclusion that comes from being on his side? You can be old and on his side, as many critics are, or gay and on his side, as plenty of gays (including Syd the Kid of Odd Future fame) are, you just have to tolerate his homophobia, misogyny, and adolescent self-absorption. I understand that wanting to be cool and being scared of being uncool may be two sides of the same coin, but I find it strange that Quin repeatedly focuses on the fear. I think people who like Tyler’s music largely do so because they actively enjoy Tyler’s music, not primarily because they’re scared to say otherwise.

Which leads to another question I have about this aspect of Quin’s thesis: Since when does the music industry need the fear of being called racist in order to fail to stand up against misogyny and homophobia? Maybe people aren’t giving Tyler a pass because he’s black, but because we live in a homophobic patriarchy. I can’t help but think of Julian Assange here, how quickly so many righteous defenders of Wikileaks (notably including famous career feminist Naomi Wolf) turned into rape apologists when an ugly portrait of their hero’s sexual politics began to emerge. Those on the left who refused to toe the Lying Sluts line were raked over the coals. Scratch a progressive, and you’re frighteningly likely to find misogynist.

Or, to bring it back squarely into the music industry, look at famously white rapper and best selling recording artist of the aughts, Eminem. Almost exactly two years before the release of Goblin, Mr. Mather’s released his really crappy comeback album, Relapse. Its general crappiness (and it was really crappy, I mean, even Eminem himself admitted as much on his follow up, Recovery) was partly due to its boring, repetitive, stupid lyrics that frequently described graphic fantasies of stalking, raping, and murdering women. Over and over again. Including real women who actually exist in the real world who Eminem mentions by name. It is a truly juvenile and vile piece of work, sprinkled with plenty of homophobia as well, which is made all the more appalling by the fact that Eminem isn’t a kid toying with shock value tactics he’s too young to know are already played out, he’s an adult who played out these themes himself on superior albums at the beginning of his career. While Tyler is still a kid playing Johnny Rotten, Eminem is one of the biggest stars on the planet, an archetype unto himself, and twice Tyler’s age.

So how did critics and audiences react to Relapse? They ate it up. It was one of the biggest records of the year, selling many many many times over what Goblin ever will. Rolling Stone gave it 4 stars. The generally more scrupulous Entertainment Weekly gave it an A-. It was nominated for three Grammys and won two–GRAMMYS, people. You know, the awards given out by the old, respectable, out-of-it fogeys of the RIAA? They lapped it up. They gave rap album of the year to a collection of songs celebrating jerking off to Hannah Montana, raping and murdering Britney Spears, and making fun of Samantha Ronson for being an ugly lesbian.

I was utterly dismayed by this reaction, as someone who enjoys a lot of Eminem’s music and respects his talent, despite his often very problematic lyrical content, I knew the album blew, even though I’d hoped it would be good. Yet all these fans and critics were too invested in the myth that it was the great comeback the world had been waiting for to see that it wasn’t, let alone criticize it for being one of the most over the top pieces of misogynist music to ever hit the Billboard charts. It seemed that these gross retreads didn’t bother anyone else as much as they bothered me, it seemed like they didn’t bother anyone at all. I’ve actually come across a lot more critical discussion of Tyler for promoting homophobia and misogyny around the release of Goblin than of Relapse-era Em (Marshall Mathers LP-era Em is another matter. The Marshall Mathers LP is also a less offensive and much better album than Relapse.)

My point in writing all this is not to nit-pick away Quin’s arguments about why Tyler’s lyrics and cool-kid status are problematic, I agree that they are. But I also think that it is extremely problematic to assert that 1-misogyny and homophobia are bigger problems than racism (at least in the music industry) and 2-Tyler gets away with metaphorical murder in large part because he is black. These assertions are not only problematic, they are not true. They serve to bolster systemic racism by hiding it, while at the same time pretending there’s some variation of “reverse racism” at play where there is none. I highly doubt this was Quin’s intention in writing the post, but inten is not the be all end all (I don’t necessarily think Tyler is consciously trying to perpetuate homophobia or promote rape, either.)

There is no need to do this in order to critique and fight against misogyny and homophobia. I am glad Quin has spoken out despite her fears. I sincerely hope that both she and those her piece spoke to and for will open up their analysis to make room for opposition to all forms of oppression, without privileging one over another or obscuring the actual power dynamics in play.

Now Streaming on Netflix: Maid in Sweden

I guess I should put a Trigger Warning on this. This post will be about a 70’s sexploitation movie that has rape in it. A lot. So if that’s not what you want to read about today, or ever, skip this post.

Round about 2:15 am this morning, I found myself tiring of the Arrested Development marathon I’d instigated. I was unsleepy, and looking to prolong my Roku-induced comfy narcotic cocoon. This is how I came across Maid in Sweden, a 1971 “Romance” starring Playboy model and “Swedish sex bomb” Christina Lindberg that Netflix thought I might like. It looked hilariously dated and ridiculous. I was reminded of my misspent youth watching Troma and forgotten, heavily censored incoherencies of the ’70s on USA Up All Night. I missed Rhonda Shear.

Yes, perhaps Maid in Sweden was the perfect viewing choice for 2:15 am on a Saturday morning. Customer reviews had granted it an average of two stars. The secret to the doubling of the number of stars the film actually deserves is revealed right on the cover art:

Lindberg is very pretty. And, unlike many US productions not filmed in Sweden, she is as naked as promised through much of the film. Perhaps Maid in Sweden wouldn’t have been on Up All Night, actually. After cutting all the nudity, They’d be left with about 25 minutes of unbearable dance and ice skating montage sequences set to swingin’ sixties generarock. All the songs were by the same set of dudes you’ve never heard of, who weren’t even given the dignity of a one-off band name in the credits. Instead, there was a list of crappy songs and the explanation that they were “sung by [list of random dudes].” So I guess the instrumentation I’d heard was accomplished not by bass, guitar, drums, and occasional sitar, but human voices. This may be the single most amazing fact about Maid in Sweden, but I’m not sure. There’s some stiff competition (lol!)

Maid in Sweden concerns Inga, a naive teenage farm girl (really) played by Lindberg. Despite the title, she is at no point employed as a maid. She does, however, receive an invitation from her older sister, Greta, to visit Stockholm and stay at her groovy flat. Inga is very excited about this. She removes her shirt repeatedly in preparation for her arrival in the big city. The big city is fun times, but also confusing and scary for virginal Inga, as Greta Lives With Her Boyfriend. She also drinks, smokes pot, and Has Sex. Sometimes in view of Inga. I’m fine with the rest of it, but: EW. Come on, Greta, are you really going to invite your sister to travel all the way from your family farm just to traumatize her?

Well, yes. The film contains the minimal structural necessities of a coming-of-age flick, but is primarily a series of old school, soft core sex (and rape, more on that later!) scenes, interspersed with dreary montages and occasional stilted, superfluous dialogue. I probably should have muted it, the thing might have been more effective as a silent film. I found myself just resenting the oft- incomprehensible line readings of horrible dialogue. Not funny-horrible, boring horrible. The trailer gives you a pretty good sense of exactly what you’re in for:

Wait, I lied. The bad dialogue looks disproportionately amusing in the trailer.

But about the soft core scenes, which battle it out with Lindberg’s breasts themselves to be the film’s essential raison d’etre: does stuff like this even exist any more? Fairly graphic, full frontal (ladies only, all you see of the dudes is their butts. Which is fine, cuz these dudes are gross) sex scenes that contain no creativity or penetration, but otherwise are just flat-out porn. The film was almost charming in it’s anachronistic cliches, and its visible pubic hair, and far out “Sex is fun! Smoke pot! None of this makes any sense!” message.

Then it got all rapey.

Greta’s live in boyfriend is the immediately repellent Carsten. He was the creepy blond dude in the trailer, trying to get Inga to smoke pot because it’s “relaxing”. He is played by Krister Ekman. Greta is played by Monica Ekman. This raises all kinds of uncomfortable questions that I don’t wish to investigate. From the moment of her arrival, Carsten leers at Inga a lot, usually while “teasing” her in some mean spirited, borderline abusive manner. Inga gets gross glimpses into his sex life with her sister, and is I guess supposed to be both frightened and intrigued. It’s hard to tell, what with the lack of logic, writing, and acting. Needless to say, Inga’s psychology barely exists, let alone makes any sense. She begins having sexy rape nightmares, and thus discovers masturbation, which could be…fine. Sexploring rape fantasies in soft core could be okay, but this shit makes no sense. It has nothing to do with any human-like, real or fictional teenage girl’s fears and desires. It does have a lot to do with the targeted viewers’ desires to imagine raping attractive teenage girls, or watch others doing the same. This scene bugged me because we’re supposed to be seeing Inga’s fucking subconscious, but it has nothing to do with her as a subject. Neat trick, that. Comparatively speaking, though, I was actually not that horrified by the exploitative, poorly shot and edited nightmare/wet dream sequence, even with its nauseating kalidescope f/x and equations of drinking beer with inevitable attempted gang rape and forced lesbianism (really). That was, comparatively speaking, ok. At least it was somewhat novel.

What really creeped me out was when Inga is then actually, repeatedly raped. First by some D-bag friend of Carsten’s, with whom Carsten and Greta semi-explicably send her off into a date-rape trap. And after he rapes her, they start dating! Then the awfully edited young-love montages start up. So many minutes of decent grade film were lost to Inga and the rapist strolling around the countryside, making moon-eyes at one another, all set to that same interminable non-band’s ear-rotting abominations. I still have this one recurring theme (Inga’s?) stuck in my head. Not cuz it’s such a catchy ear worm, just because it was repeated so. Many. Times. I mean, I assume that’s the soundtrack to romantic montages, I fast forwarded. Inga and the rapist also have poorly shot (but seemingly consensual) sex a lot.

Eventually pervy Carsten ends up home alone with Inga, and gets the opportunity to spy on her taking an extra-foamy, slow-motion shower. As you might expect, he eventually bursts in and rapes her. Greta comes home and catches them in the act (in which, at this point, Inga has apparently become an enthusiastic participant, natch.) Greta is sad and Inga goes home, no longer a girl, not yet a woman. Actually, by this film’s logic, I guess she is a woman.

As Whoopi Goldberg might say, of course none of this is “rape-rape”! Partway through each assault, Inga suddenly stops fighting and yelling “No! Stop!”, and starts groping some skeezy Swedish dudes ass while appearing to enjoy herself. The film equates rape with sex, there is just no distinction. I mean, these rapists aren’t even “troubled” or naughty (well, Carsten is, but he was cheating on his gf by raping her sister!) they’re just doing what needs to be done for everyone to loosen up and have a good time. Inga’s initial rape is portrayed not only as not-terrible, but as the greatest thing that’s ever happened in her life. It’s her big sexual awakening, and this isn’t The Story of O here, folks, this is a good old, all-American, Swedish sexploitation romp. Rape was just the necessary way for any two people to have sex for the first time back in the 70’s, at least in Sweden, did you know? Historic, geographical sex fact! It always ended up being a great time for everyone, so no harm, no foul. It’s not even sexist, cuz ladies can be rapists, too! [see: rape nightmare/wet dream sequence]. But they can only assault other ladies, of course. Men can’t be sexually violated, silly!

The message is basically a patriarchal twist on “all sex is rape” + rapists know best. It is, to put it mildly, an abominable message.

Fantasy themes of rape in porn, soft core or otherwise, are theoretically fine in and of themselves. But this shit was gross in its pandering to, reinforcing, and celebrating of horrible hegemonic myths of women’s inherent lack of sexual agency. While feminist and other liberatory movements have made cultural inroads, clarifying the difference between sex and rape, a scary number of people still believe that ladies are all naturally submissive and actually want to be raped even, if they don’t realize and need to be raped-in to it. Lots of people, probably mostly dudes, fail to understand that while plenty of people of all genders can ethically and healthfully enjoy role play or fantasy involving “rape”, actual rape is actually, always, completely wrong and horrifically damaging. It continues to confuse and fascinate me that an adult human being could not comprehend that fantasizing about about rape or happily choosing to engage in submissive scenarios is kind of the opposite of being sexually assaulted. If you have fantasies, they are your fantasies, if you choose to be submissive, you’re (hopefully) making a choice based on your own desires. That’s empowering. Actual rape takes away your choice, is actively opposed to your desires, and is, by definition, always, a violent and violating act. I can’t believe I just had to type that out. But this is what its come to with Maid in Sweden.

At least there are more and louder voices in the mainstream explaining what should be obvious truths than there were in 1971. I wonder how this film was received in its time. The whole sex/rape/fantasy/reality confusion thing was such a disaster then. I mean, at least now you might have to go to a frat house to hear the kind of blatant “Yay-rape, it’s not so bad, why not just try to enjoy it?” talk that used to be all the rage amongst supposedly leftist, activisty dudes [perhaps I should do a future “Now Streaming on Netflix” about Fritz the Cat, I’ll have to check if its still streaming]. To hear that shit now you have to go all the way to…Whoopi Goldberg on The View. IDK, you guys, maybe I’m off, but making “tasteful” (yes, my internet research has, mortifyingly, turned up usage of that adjective in reference to this rapeathon) soft core rape-porn in 1971 seems even scarier than if there was something like this on cable today. Maybe just because its so dated and corny that it’s hard to imagine creepy guys looking at it as an instruction manual (they have actual, modern, un-kitchy manuals now. God, I’m depressing myself.) But at least now, some of Maid in Sweden‘s fans point out that one should not take the rape-turns-to-fun message seriously, or as anything other than a fantasy. Well, one person said something like that. Perhaps more typical was the position this IMDB reviewer/Maid in Sweden fan took:

Inga gets exposed to sexual pleasure during a rape scene, which I’m sure many will object to. She’s being raped but half way through she realizes that sex is something good and I’m sure some might see this as sexist or even worse but I don’t think any deep messages where trying to be send with the scene

Now that we’ve got that clarified, let me treat you to a non sequitur: though IMDB has no record of this, I recall seeing a credit given in the opening sequence to “Mike Hunt”. Also, as IMBD has archived, director Dan Wolman chose the nom de filme “Floch Johnson” for this project.

Despite the fact that Lindberg doesn’t really do much acting in this, she has a nice screen presence and photographs amazingly in the parts where the camera was operated properly. It is true that she is very hot. I can’t really blame anyone for wanting to look at her boobs. There are worse things to build a movie around than giving viewers the opportunity to do this. BUT: said movie didn’t have to be as wretched, creepy, and hateful as Maid in Sweden. It’s a fucked up movie. I watched it so you don’t have to.

If I’ve somehow stoked your curiousity, be prepared to employ your >> button. It’s boringer than I’ve probably made it sound.

Whither the van?

The Shondes‘ van was the closest thing I have ever had to my own vehicle. It has moved furniture, bounty from exuberant grocery shoppings, and all manner of large, heavy, unwieldy objects to my home. It has moved me all kinds of places, from The Movies to Coney Island to a funeral.

Now the Shondes’ van has been really, truly, finally stolen. In addition to the sad fact that it will never take me or my stuff anywhere again, there’s also the truly awful fact that the band now can’t go anywhere. They can’t get to crucial destinations. These include the remote, out of town recording studio where they have sessions booked to work on their new album. Or Austin, TX, where they are supposed to play SXSW. This is a problem.

Anyone who has been in a band or is close to those who are or have been can likely muster up a vicarious sense of panic and doom. The prospect of being suddenly van-less when set to go somewhere important, somewhere with all your huge gear, somewhere requiring a van for transport is something no band ever wants to contemplate, I’d wager. It’s a devastating blow.

If you have a dollar or more to spare, please donate to the Kickstarter account they’ve started to fund The Shondes’ van 2.0. They’ve already reached over 60% of their goal, through the kind and generous donations of people who recognize how bad this sucks. Most of this was raised through smaller donations–$3, $5, $10 bucks. Every bit really does help.

You can watch the video below, in which the band explains more about their crisis:

Here’s the music video I made for them a million years ago, back in The Van’s heyday:

Come to think of it, I have a bunch of footage of The Van, with which nothing has ever been done. Pity both my video HDs ‘asploded. Hmm.

RIP Ari Up

Where to begin. It’s been a few days and I’m still sad, still a bit shocked, still listening to The Slits a lot, but the latter is nothing new. I always listen to The Slits a lot because they continue to be a reliable source for joy and inspiration. And they’re always just a lot of fun.

Ari Up

I’m sorry I didn’t see Ari Up live more, I took her constant stream of New York shows for granted. I did see a reincarnation of The Slits open for Sonic Youth’s live presentation of Daydream Nation a few years ago. I was delighted by Ari’s undying punk spirit, spitting in the eye of confused, misogynist hipster who were horrified to see a woman in her 40s unapologetically jumping around the stage in a flippy little skirt while singing odes to shoplifting. Ari Up exuded boundless love for her audience and herself, at the same time as flipping off all the bullshit surrounding us and within us.

A friend recently asked why I single out Vampire Weekend for criticism for cultural appropriation when the entire history of pop music is of the same. It would be an injustice to the question if I tried to fold a real response into this post, but a short answer is: compare Vampire Weekend and The Slits. The difference (besides one being boring and the other revolutionary) is a matter of sincerity and respect. With the encouragement and mentorship of Don Letts, the Slits began incorporating reggae into their punk rock, creating a mind blowing new sound with all kinds of interesting and complicated implications. While one could critique The Slits and Ari Up on grounds of cultural appropriation, their orientation towards the music that influenced them was more one of sincere engagement and exchange than opportunism, gimmicks, and entitlement.

You can hear the difference in the music. The music still moves me so much. The funny thing is, when I first started listening to The Slits as a high school Riot Grrrl, I liked their earlier, dirtier, straight-forward Punk Rawk more than the reggae stuff. At that point I really connected to loud messy guitars and cared less about rhythm than the energy with which one hit the drums. I loved the first half of In The Beginning and tended to skip the second. Everything reasonable I read about punk history was like “Cut, Cut, Omg Cut is the classic of classics” but when I first heard it, it was like the premiere performance of Rites of Spring. My brain just couldn’t make sense of it–how was this punk rock? That delightful puzzle is what has kept me listening for more than a decade, new gifts unearthed each time I hear these songs.

Apart from the Slits contribution to The Punk Rock, where would pop music be without them? The lineage runs directly into so many vital artists–Bjork, M.I.A., Madonna…

Almost everything I love about Ari Up can be heard on The Slits cover of “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”, a song that by all means should be a gimmicky train wreck. Instead it’s transcendent.

“New Town” is one of my favorite songs on Cut. Budgie (better known for Siouxie and the Banshees) is drumming here, and while he was only briefly a Slit, I wanna give him his due because I fucking love his work on this:

“New Town” is a great example of Ari Up’s imaginative and emotionally resonant lyrics.

Since we’re on it, here’s another of my favorite Slits songs, “Shoplifting”. This is a beloved Peel Sessions version, more up my high school alley. Ari was just a young teenager herself:

Here’s the song as performed by a recent incarnation of the group less than a year ago:

“Ten quid for the lot? We pay fuck all!”

A good in-depth look at The Slits can be found in Zoe Street Howe’s Typical Girls? The Story of The Slits.

M.I.A. Again

This quote from a recent Time Out London interview is getting a lot of internet mileage:

…Oprah seemed really pissed off with me. Also she made this huge speech at the ball praising Lady Gaga and about how she [Lady Gaga] is helping Americans to be the best of themselves. There’s millions of other Americans who represent that for me. Is [it] about numbers? About how much you’re selling? Is it truly about the journey? Because [Lady Gaga’s] journey isn’t that difficult: to go from the fucking Upper East Side to a fucking performing arts school and on to a stage at the museum of fucking wherever. That journey’s about four miles.’

Most of the internet thinks this is notable because

1. M.I.A. supposedly dissed Oprah

2. Gaga/M.I.A catfight continues!

3. More evidence that M.I.A. is OOC and needs “a time out

This is a predictable shame.  There was other way more interesting stuff in that interview.  Like:

‘I thought my [New York Times Magazine] cover was gonna be a part of… America’s campaign to soften the “them” and “us” thing. That’s what I thought I was being used as a tool for. That’s what I’m fucked off about: it felt like they were embracing the other and stabbing the other in the back at the same time.’

I read another interesting piece about M.I.A. last week, in Rolling Stone. It contains this quote:

My approach to politics is that I never said I’m smart, but why aren’t I allowed to write about my experience?…Why can’t I say, ‘Oh. my God, my school got shot by the government?’ I can’t say that, yet they can do it.

The piece then briefly recounts an incident from when M.I.A. was about eight years old, shortly before her family fled Sri Lanka for London, in which government troops surrounded and shot up her school, while class was in session.

Let’s backtrack to the quote people are talking about.

1. M.I.A. didn’t take a shot at Oprah.  She was obviously displeased at Oprah’s Gaga-boosting, but she hardly insulted the titan herself.  M.I.A.’s commentary regarding Oprah herself may have been gossipy, TMI, characteristically unfiltered, and unwise, but the whole “Ooooh, she went after Oprah!” meme is a little too shades of middle school.

2. The catfight meme is predictable and depressing.  Additionally, I don’t think Gaga’s notably privileged upbringing voids her artistry, if you think there’s anything otherwise worth admiring there.  That said, M.I.A. has a point.

I think US media and the internet mob are largely incapable of actually listening to what this woman is saying.

And I still don’t understand why the truffle fries fiasco was even a thing.  Even if she had ordered them herself rather than having them foisted on her by Lynn Hirschberg in an attempt to set up the singer as “hypocritical”, who the fuck cares?  Let the woman eat a fancy french fry.  Why is this a “contradiction”?  One can criticize economic stratification and still enjoy gourmet food.  Bono doesn’t get this kind of shit when he jets around wanking about third world debt relief in Armani.

Will the Real M.I.A. Please Stand Up?

Some Thoughts on M.I.A.’s new album, MAYA:

  • It’s really good.  MAYA is exciting like a mix tape (on cassette) back before you had the internet, if you’re old enough to even remember what that was like.  I used to get a lot of mix tapes when I did riot grrrl zines–new sounds from lo-fi, underground political bands.  This sounds similarly secretive, urgent, and difficult.  The pervasive punk influence appeals to a special place in my psyche, left largely undisturbed by pristine, protoolsed pop and rock.  Whether it holds up favorably to Kala remains to be seen.  It’s at least as good as Arular.  It’s an exciting, logical continuation of M.I.A.’s artistic growth.  The number of backlashy reviews disturbs me.
  • The sexist and racist meme of reducing M.I.A.’s role in her own songwriting and production dates way farther back than the Hirschberg hack job. I’m really tired of it. I’m shocked I haven’t come across a review of Xtina’s Bionic that credits Diplo for “Elastic Love” (one of the more critically approved tracks on the largely maligned album, written by M.I.A..) Why are so many invested in the notion that M.I.A. is the pretty, vacant, exotic face of a sophisticated musical operation masterminded by Smart White Men?
  • As to the negativity towards MAYA in particular: Maybe she’s being punished for not repeating Kala‘s winning formula of kaledoscopic hipster worldbeat.  People seemed to really dig that.  Maybe they were hoping Paul Simon would show up eventually and put things in order. Perhaps, despite some edgy lyrical content, Kala provided a kind of globalization lullaby anthology, we can all rock to the same stew of global sounds from places we don’t know anything about except, like, Bollywood! Or, Famine!  This album is less like that.  The musical inspiration leans more heavily towards machines and urgent, driving punk rock that gives a fuck.  As M.I.A. says on “Meds and Feds”:  “I just give a damn”.  Some people seem to hold that against her as, like most young punx, she doesn’t give a damn in the right way.
  • Journalists are justified in seeking out informed voices that may disagree with M.I.A.’s assessment that the Sri Lankan government is guilty of genocide.  Laypersons who scoff at M.I.A.’s assessment as ignorant of crazy or scandal mongering with no information other than their own emotional feedback (it’s nicer to think that things aren’t so bad, unless we somehow take pleasure in the tragedy): less so. Genocide is a  specific term, one we need to not throw around irresponsibly, and one might reasonably argue that some cases of murderous oppression of specific races or ethnicities don’t meet the criteria. Perhaps the broader “ethnic cleansing” could be more properly invoked, but when music critics and fans say “lol M.I.A. wingnut doesn’t know what she’s talking about in Sri Lanka” or whatevs, I rarely read or hear any such arguments. They seem to relish to notion that MIA is talking out of her ass much more than they are disturbed by whatever the fuck is happening in some exotic third world nation across the globe, I mean, global politics are complicated. Ignorant snark is fun.
  • Relatedly, I don’t take M.I.A.’s comments about google and Facebook being started by the CIA at literal face value, given her cheeky media side.  I could be wrong, maybe she means EXACTLY JUST THAT. Either way, the rest of her comments in interviews (and on MAYA) re: the Facebook/google issue, about our eagerness to participate in the destruction of our own rights and privacy, are quite apt and hardly the stuff of conspiracy theories that distract from the real, documented atrocities surrounding us.  She points directly at real evils, in interviews and on this album.  Why is she mocked for this?   Lady Gaga (and I like Lady Gaga) is at least as politically pretentious as M.I.A. (I would argue she is more pretentious,) makes far less sense, yet is rarely scolded for her ventures.  Perhaps because her politics are rarely more challenging than “live for your art, gay is okay, let’s go charity, fur = dead muppets” or whatevs.  Lady Gaga is wacky, but Socially Responsible so far as Liberals are concerned (the right wing obvs feels differently.)  M.I.A. is uppity!  She criticizes the kinds of Liberal fave  companies Gaga might prominently endorse in her videos!
  • Since when is it the job of pop artists to articulate clear political platforms, anyway? It may be their job (if they see themselves as political artists, at least) to make us think and feel things, and to question, and that’s exactly what M.I.A. is doing. This album appeals to me in its timely rage and confusion and noise much the way The Battle of Los Angeles or Fear of a Black Planet or London Calling did (does.) The album fits my fucking mood.
  • The Village Voice review claimed that MAYA contains “a few flares of outright hostility, like the record itself is actually mad at you. ” Huh. Interesting. I certainly hadn’t experienced it that way at all. MAYA makes me feel validated and less alone. Interesting that Rob Harvilla feels attacked.
  • I could listen to the drums on Born Free all day. That song really moves me. I loved the Letterman performance:

  • Will the real M.I.A. please stand up? Fuck it, Let’s all stand up.

    (This is a good take on M.I.A.’s infamous “Born Free” video, a video I kind of absolutely loved.  The same writer wrote a smart review of MAYA here.  Check it out.)