The Joy of Joe

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It’s been said that a mob movie without Joe Pesci is like Christmas without Santa Claus. In one of those nice churns of a metaphor, last Christmas I discovered a little Yuletide recording by Pesci, a very special cover of ‘If It Doesn’t Snow on Christmas.’  There are some sample lyrics below, but really, on the page they do little justice; the pleasure, as especially with Pesci, is all in the delivery. Do yourself a favour!

Santa’s just as nice as he could be

There’s just one fuckin thing that worries me:

If it doesn’t snow on Christmas

How’s fatass use that sleigh?

I love the bit just before the fade where he riffs with the children after their chorus. Aye, nice kids. Where the fuck you get em from, a jail?   Oh, Joe Pesci. What a beautiful animal you are.

One of the greatest people I know used to see a shrink; a proper psychoanalyst. In the naughties. Rare, no? Anyway, after years of talking to the wall that faced his sofa, she decided to see a different kind of therapist. Maybe a CBT type? You know the type. ‘Imagine your anger as a tangible character.’ ‘A character?’ ‘Yeah, something you can relate to, but also a flat character. A caricature, if you will.’ My friend subsequently began to imagine her anger as Donald Duck and, lo and behold, her elevated contempt for humanity descended to a manageable level.

What is it, to smile at our own rage?

I think the thought experiment worked because Donald Duck is allowed to get angry. Perhaps that’s why so many children, deep  in their uncorrupt hearts, prefer him to his more iconic counterpart because, unlike Mickey, Donald actually expresses himself. Perhaps the price for this permission is his incomprehensibility – that cacophony of quacks as he stomps on his sailor’s hat. Despite, or perhaps because of his unintelligibility, Donald successfully registers injustice, humiliation, rejection, resentment: all writ large, in technicolor. An animated foreign correspondent, his tantrums transmit news direct from the frontline. The frontline of Disneyland. You know it kids: you don’t really get what you want. No one is listening. Shit isn’t fair. Yep, life blows. 

Ever watch a child’s eyes when you’re bullshitting them? The glazing, the cloud of disappointment that blows over as they watch you? It’s something shameful. Kids long for the truth, maybe even more than Disneyland.

I took my child to Japan the other day. We actually went to Tokyo Disney, and I was surprised by the fact that after a couple of hours of rides and caramel popcorn I really wanted to stay, and he, a newly minted six year old (it was the day of his birthday), asked to go back to the apartment. Anyway, during our stay in Japan we spent a lot of time with a very sweaty, very sweary, and a very brutally honest young man, who, as an aside, joked (sort of) about founding a support group for people that can’t help speak their mind. Assholes Anonymous.

My son has always loved him, but the platonic crush deepened over the holiday. Sample conversation starter: ‘Hey,’ pressing him into a vending machine at Koenji station. ‘Will you say the F-word. Please?’ It’s quite possible that this exact phrasing has never been formulated in the history of the English language. Say the f-word, please?

As unprecedented, or at least, unusual as this formulation may sound, isn’t it really what we are all saying when our faces light up at the sight of Joe Pesci losing his shit on Scorsese’s mob flicks? I just watched Casino, in which he squeezes a troublesome mick’s head in a vice until his eyeball bursts. The mick finally gives up the name of the protected person in question. CHARLIE M? YOU MADE ME POP YOUR FUCKIN EYE OUT FOR CHARLIE M?! Nobody does it better. Pesci is my Donald Duck. Say the f-word, Pesci. Please?

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Prefix ex-, suffix -gate

EastPillarDamage02

There are many things we don’t know; here is one of them. Why did my ex-, the father of my son, drive his 4WD through the security gates of my house only to stop just short of the living room window, abandoning the car to leg it for god knows where?

I found a most peculiar carnage when I returned home after a morning of errands. The black electronic gates dangled in the air from split hinges, and my neighbour’s wall was smashed, a mess of flaking white paint and dusty weatherboard. Broken mirror sparkled against splinters of plastic along the length of the drive. And at the end of the drive sat that square Ford Maverick, which hadn’t had a right to be parked there for about three years. If I’d had any semblance of cool at the time, I would have remarked to another witness that I didn’t know what I was looking at.

I know very little and fear very much. Think of fear as a front-loading washing machine, with its little mechanism that prohibits the opening of the door until all of the cycles have completed. The panic cycle saw me call my son’s school straight after I called the police. Had his dad picked him up early? He hadn’t been picked up? He was still in class? I broke down in grateful, wasteful sobs on my neighbour’s fence, waiting with my friend for the police to arrive. Don’t go in there, they had said. The apologetic and ashamed cycle was next as I told my ex’s dad I was sorry. He was sitting on the couch, looking grey, red and sensible, a sad Santa Claus, or perhaps, Colonel Sanders, after being interviewed by the police. He was always a good boy. There was the hyper-alert cycle, during which I had to change all the alerts on my phone because the old ones made my hands shake whenever I received a phone call or text message. I would double-take every time I saw a white male, approximately 5 ft 8, in any public place. I would lock the doors from the inside of the car whenever I drove anywhere. I don’t know why I’m using the past tense, I am still double-taking and door-locking.

But what is a washing machine used for? asked another friend, on hearing my analogy. Not, what is it like to be in there? I had to take the point that there was no point in thinking about what it’s like being in there, that thudding, accelerating fear machine. Don’t you come out of a washing machine better? Or at least, cleaner? Isn’t that what your metaphor is about? 

Have I been cleansed? What has been atoned?

It’s amazing how facile the binary becomes. Suddenly it’s an unequivocal situation. He’s the aggressor, the respondent. I’m the victim, the protected person.

It’s very strange. I am not the nicest person. I am no weakling. I don’t say this emptily: I have been cruel, duplicitous, manipulative to others, and in the past, to him. Somehow this is no longer so? I have an official document that describes me as a ‘protected person.’ And so now, the old question is officially taboo, impossible: what did she do to provoke him? I am the protected person. I have been cleansed.

Yeah, I was in the washing machine for a while. A proper housewife’s cycle. Matters weren’t much improved by the fact that I’d returned to the city of Perth; sadly for me not even the ‘City of Perth,’ but the far-flung outskirts across the City of Cockburn, the parched family seat. I had in fact extended my stay as Melbourne was considered unsafe. The police looked for Simon (for that is his name), arrested him, but were unable to interview him about the incident, for reasons still unknown to me. He was taken to the psychiatric ward of the aptly named Northern Hospital for an assessment and then released the next day, also for reasons unknown to me.

I hear there is to be a Royal Commission on the effectiveness of Intervention Orders in the coming months. I wonder how many women will say they felt less safe after their order was activated. Simon tried to contact me once while I was in Perth. I freaked out and called the police to report what I’d been told would be breach of the order, only to be informed that the order hadn’t yet been served.

Let me see, said the young constable, easy-breezy on the line. The kind of seconds that elapse while someone searches for and opens a file on a computer elapsed. The order is not in effect. You see, it has to be served in order to be in effect. Why wouldn’t it be in effect? Hadn’t Simon been to court? I felt stupid for not understanding. And then I felt stupid for somehow trusting an administered system.

Many inconvenient, unpleasant surprises lay in store for me during the holiday period. I don’t mean to detail them all here, or anywhere else. In fact I mean to forget nearly everything.

But I do want to remember the moment I felt like the washing machine was nearing the final cycle. Do you know that decelerating sound? The pitched-down phase began the morning I woke up, still in Perth, and scratched a new mosquito bite. The benzo-clouds parted for a moment, and I giggled. There was a new word. Not a high impact word, more of a creeper. But there it was. I smiled again. Simongate. Why had it taken me so long to name the situation? And what a lovely name for it.

There’s a sketch in the loveable sketch-comedy show, That Mitchell and Webb Look, where the two actors play ‘themselves’ in a caught-between-scenes scenario. David Mitchell plays Mitchell in downtime, relaxing with a newspaper in a director’s chair.

M: ‘I was just going to say that my eye was caught by this whole scandal in America!’

W: ‘Ooooh, the scandal in America. Yeah, that is interesting. That must be the biggest scandal since Watergategate.’

M: ‘Isn’t it just Watergate?’

W: ‘No. That would mean it was just about water. No, it was a scandal, or ‘-gate’ (that’s what you do with a scandal, add the suffix ‘gate’) at the Watergate Hotel. So it’s the Watergate Scandal or Watergategate.’

Simongate. I sent my best friend, who now lives in Japan, a short message about this neologism by email. The event now had a name. Naming something steals power from it. It is a small power, to be sure, the most minor increment up from pretty abject powerlessness, but still, this had something. Precious little for all the pressure it was up against. A lame joke. A transposition of a grammatically contentious suffix that felicitously reverted to the literal. I spoke with the same friend by phone later that day. I told him that this joke was the first time I’d felt really normal since the day it happened.

You don’t really seem so into my new term, I teased him. Yeah, not bad. The old adding the -gate suffix to something bad or scandalous. Ah, you don’t get it. Don’t you see, he literally drove through the gates. Simon smashed the gate. Simongate.

He trilled like a girl, or a drag queen. What a laugh. Oh right! 

Before the washing machine some other bad stuff had already started to happen. I crashed my car. I left my favourite hat on a tram. I smashed my phone. My boyfriend told me he ‘didn’t know’ if he wanted to be in the relationship anymore. (He did know: he didn’t want to.) Looking back now the thing I mourn most is that hat. God we had some good times together. How many bodies of water, in how many cities and towns? The kind of brown that goes with everything. The kind of hat that will get in chlorine, then crumple in your bag for a few days, then still come out smooth for the next road trip or non-straight wedding. An everyday hat for any special occasion.

Anyway, before any of that stuff even happened, before summer, even, I’d been taking all these notes for an article I’d felt compelled to write. It had not been solicited and I hadn’t sought publication for it. Yet I worked on it daily, compelled, unusually for me, to comment on a culturally relevant topic. Something about the link between first-world born jihadi entering Syria in droves to join ISIS and boredom. A partial view on boredom and violence. I’d planned on making the obligatory visit to Perth over summer an opportunity to experience the local boredom, hoping to draw from a well-spring of memories there of a hopelessly boring childhood. Or what I wish to remember as one.

Due to the events of Simongate, which transpired on the day before the flight out to Perth, these research aims were entirely disappointed. I was never bored. I was scared, tired, anxious, occasionally even manically happy (flipping pancakes on Christmas Day). Even along that eminently doomed stretch, Scarborough Beach Road, passing Glendalough Station, my hands shook on the steering wheel, under the magnificent heat of the windshield and that relentless blue sky. An extended stay in Perth. Bleaker words are seldom spoken.

I ask myself all kinds of questions now, in the confused calm of late January. What if all I achieved in this life was being thin? What is the difference between ‘violence against women’ and ‘violence’? How do suburban jihadi from Western Sydney fill their time on the long flight to the Northern Hemisphere? Do they watch the in-flight movie? Which movie?

The friend who elucidated the washing machine analogy also said this in response to the Charlie Hebdo story. What if everyone just stopped talking about terrorism? I mean, completely stopped?

The Clouds

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On my way home from the library this morning I had a psychic radio moment, where a spontaneous thought was immediately followed by a song that exactly summed up the thought, so much so that it should have come before the thought and indeed, produced it. Put simply, apropos of nothing I thought of a man. And then I changed the radio station. And then his favourite song came on. I turned up the radio and thought about the band (INXS), glancing off the thought that the past must be a pretty powerful aphrodisiac if it can make me wonder what that particular Raskolnikov is doing right now. Sorry, Raskolnikov! I’m sure you’re not complaining as much these days. I hope the weed is mellow, and the dumpster food varied and plentiful, wherever you are!

I turned off the street and remembered that no one can really claim a special relationship to that band, especially not that song. It’s one of those universal situations. So special that it’s nothing special. ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ is good in the same way, I don’t know, the light off the moon is good. I mean, we can talk about these things, but where will that take us other than more surface appreciation? Of course the point is that in the surface lies the chiming beauty; forget about deep connection. I mean, by all means, let’s talk, but let’s not expect too much from our talk. Our talk about INXS. I’ll make wine from your tears.

Speaking of chiming beauty, I saw the Clouds the other day. Now that’s a band you’ll never hear on the radio. As I stood to stage left at the Corner, predictably stuck behind one of those stupid wide pillars, sipping a beer that tasted like carpet, it struck me that my thinking had been all wrong. My thinking had been this (and this is probably just what I’ve often told people): the Clouds are one of those bands that probably would have been really big if the festival circuit had been as developed back then as it would later become. Interesting, catchy pop songs, genuinely independent girls, tough hard playing, heartbeating, Australian belters. But as I stood there at the show, a scary couple of decades later, the fans all seeming like they had babysitters and desk jobs at NGOs, I realised: it’s actually very strange that this band ever got as big as they were. Oh, and if the tone of this post seems mean, that’s because I’m probably just jealous of people with babysitters and desks at NGOs.

The Clouds have a very distinctive sound: lots of dissonances based around 4ths, which seem borrowed from medieval and early modern music. Lots of breakdowns into 6/8 or 3/4 time. Very tight arrangements based around weirdo chord changes. A shitload of attitude. ‘The right attitude‘ quipped my friend, whose cousin, Raph, is the Clouds’ drummer, smiling his way through blissed-out fills. I remember seeing them at an all-ages show at the Fly by Night in Fremantle, Jodi and Trish swinging their guitar and bass like giant schlongs, so dapper and swagger without being butch, somehow virile rather than sexy. Very musical without being nerdy, or showy. ‘Pure,’ said Raph’s cousin.

There’s something very honest about guitar music. Especially when no one’s shy. ‘It’s nice to hear women sing properly,’ I commented to Raph’s cousin. She told me that Trish’s mum was this great country singer and suddenly the storytelling aspect, the narratorial character of songs like ‘4pm’ made sense.

I’m a bitter, twisted soul
With my hand behind my back
I feel my shiny silver blade
Love on my right hand
Hate on my left hand
God at my command
But they don’t understand

The two sets the Clouds played the other day were immaculate, album-perfect. And the only reason this matters is because through this virtual copy of the past (and incidentally, Jodi looks exactly as she looked when I saw her play in 1996) I was able to transition from nostalgia to time travel. It was like breaking a physical law, or a universal taboo. After intermission I passed a middle-aged couple engaged in an ersatz waltz; I presume they’d seen the band when they met in their uni years, a story like that hovered around them as they smiled into each other’s long grey hair. They were remembering hearing it all the first time, while hearing it exactly as it was the first time. ‘This shouldn’t be allowed’ I thought to myself. Memory is obscene. It should remain private, obscured. As I stood there during the sets, refusing to finish my Carlton draught, the waves of pleasure I felt during certain chord changes and bridge distortion reminded me that I was no different from this waltzing couple, forgetting the horizon to wallow in the shallows of memory.

Post script: Neither Raph’s cousin nor I could remember the fourth person on stage that night, a tall man shredding away between Jodi and Trish whom they called Dave. Dave? Who the fuck was Dave? The lovely thing about memory is that it omits what’s not necessary. And the trouble with time travel is that it’s too accurate.

Watching Shelley Duvall

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From the backseat of a two-door, four-seat Ford Fiesta (or was it a Festiva?), I listened to the talk of my fellow travellers. They were chatting in that loose, unstructured way of happy friends who have spent some continuous time together. ‘Hey Crumbs, you know what you wanna read? You wanna read Moby Dick.’ ‘Nah, man, I tried to read that about a year ago.’ ‘Not for you?’ The car was parked on the Stradbroke Island ferry; facing the island, we were on the return trip, travelling backwards towards the mainland. The atmosphere was sleepy after three days of beach. On the first day we’d seen humpback whales breaching and dolphins surfing along the island’s eastern coast. I closed my eyes. The recommender was explaining why he loved Moby Dick, or rather, why it was good. ‘It’s not for any literary reason…’ I opened my eyes. The sky was overcast, a bit sharky. Two of the holidaymakers were scientists, and I wondered how an analogous statement might sound. ‘Yeah, I think childhood vaccination is good. But not for any scientific reason.’ But no, this is a stupid analogy. And besides, I myself nearly always like books ‘not for any literary reason.’ I’m not certain that my studies, and rather obscure career, have ever provided any particular reason for why I’ve thought or done anything to do with books. More telling than that comment was the tacit response to it in the car, the lack of any kind of request for further explanation illustrating an acceptance that the speaker of course, naturally, should not recourse to ‘literary reasons’ to justify taste or interest. Naturally: the position is a given. If the study of literature doesn’t provide any reason, if the sense of its irrelevance is general, pervasive and monumentally casual, what is the point of the discipline? Is there any service the discipline supports other than pointless mental exile, which I briefly acknowledged in the reflection of the window of the Festiva (or Fiesta)?

I read somewhere that Shelley Duvall (3 Women, The Shining) had wanted to be a scientist; that growing up her hero was Marie Curie. I read that she never trained as an actress, and that Robert Altman, who discovered her in Texas, instructed her to simply be herself, or not take herself too seriously, to just be in the moment, something like that, in front of the camera. No theory. Be in the moment. Whenever I see her movies two things strike me. First: she’s a star-maker’s star. Like John Cazale, she’s a weird combination of inimitable and forgettable, a freak that flies under the radar. Playing one-on-one against Sissy Spacek or Jack Nicholson, she provides this deeply charged space for her co-star to deliver the god-like performance. Her psychic generosity is immense. Second: watching her is a physical ordeal. I think there’s something really sick about my fascination with on-screen thinness, and worst of all, I suspect I am in the majority regarding this cultural spectacle. There’s something about extreme thinness that is visually hypnotic, like a puzzle we can’t figure out. How can that be a body? A woman’s body? Something like that. I’m also enthralled by Duvall’s hysteria, her hyper-domesticity (think of those wonderful recipes she catalogued as Milly in 3 Women); these excessive identities are utterly linked in my mind to the visual cue of her spectacular thinness.

Maybe this seems like so much posturing. But there’s a fabulous protest embodied by Shelley Duvall that gets me every time. She’s the ultimate weakling, a tearful, high-pitched loser, famously bullied on set by Kubrick and Nicholson. I read that she cried for a year and a half while shooting The Shining. She’s anti-strong; everything she represents is against the idea of the strong woman. Against, and perhaps a protest. But what’s wrong with the strong woman? What could be more feminist, more equal, than a tough, resilient female role model? It’s what we always hear: there aren’t enough strong women in cultural representations (film, music, political offices). There aren’t enough strong role models. The ideal strong woman is a warrior: she goes to war and fires an arrow just like she goes to work and fires the arsehole. That’s how strong she is. And that’s great, I suppose, if you’re telling a story in the heroic era. But I reckon the strong woman is a big fat lie. Rather than standing for modern ‘equal rights’ as such, the strong woman is a flat character consistent with the pre-modern imagination. She doesn’t really doubt, or wonder, or wander in the twin realms of inertia or overexcitement. She doesn’t have the psychology to pretend to be something she’s not. Where is her personhood, her round character? Where is her insecurity, her metaphysical angst? Where is her damage, the thing that makes her interesting? I like Duvall because her hysteria, her thinness, her spectacular self-effacement are brilliantly anti-heroic. A brittle emblem of anti-strength, she embodies trauma and crisis and bad faith and alienation and everything else modern. ‘Hi Tom,’ says Milly as she passes her neighbour’s pool party. She receives no response. She’s been saying it all movie. She continues past the group and takes a lounge by the pool. It’s night-time. She reads a magazine. She waits for someone to talk to her. She’s hard to watch, and she makes everything interesting.

The Pop Metaphor: Part 2

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The paradoxical entrapment in an accelerating metaphor is no better expressed than in the lyrics of the heavy-hitting hit-maker, Sia.

 

I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose

Fire away, fire away

Ricochet, you take your aim

Fire away, fire away

You shoot me down but I won’t fall

I am titanium

You shoot me down but I won’t fall

I am titanium

 

I wonder what it feels like to make art that doesn’t drift off-point. Contemporary pop is not a flaneur form – I feel like the people that either create or consume pop would like to think of themselves as diligent, hard workers. People you can count on to get the job done. Of course, successful singer-songwriters like Sia are not just workhorses. They’re also, and mainly, incredibly gifted, and there’s a lovely predestined aspect to Sia’s songs that make the lyrical choices seem obvious, nearly facile; it’s as if the songs have always existed. There’s making it look easy, and there’s making it look like you didn’t even do anything at all – the sprezzatura ease that comes to very few. True knack for metaphor – abstraction with clarity and reach – is incredibly rare.

 

‘Titanium’ exemplifies the privileged place that themes of resilience and survival take in contemporary pop songs. Why do metaphors to do with survival resonate with the collective consciousness? What are we surviving? Survival itself (and the scene of destruction the word implies) is not a trope unique to our times (see ‘I Will Survive’) but it’s certainly a trope that dominates current music that arguably no other trope does. From the media judo of Destiny’s Child’s ‘Survivor’ (written in response to a journalist’s likening of the ever-changing membership of the pop outfit to an episode of Survivor) to recent number ones including ‘Titanium,’ ‘Roar’ and ‘Chandelier,’ survival has grown to occupy much space in the global soundscape. Everywhere: a sonic stamp of aural affirmation. In spite of everything, we are going to make it through this slog. But what is this slog? What is the vague, unmentioned force, which is apparently putting us all through hell? Often, because the conveyers of the message of survival are generally women, female audience members seem emboldened by the music, to take away something in the spirit of personal and sisterly empowerment.

 

I sometimes feel pop’s a little bit like opera, where the soprano always dies. Pop is a little like how Marilyn Monroe must die. She kind of did have to – I can’t really think of how else her story could have ended. As much as her death is the height of something truly awful, as much as it saddens me to think of, – well, that’s narrative logic. The beautiful soprano, the magical starlet, the female icon can’t survive the narrative. To die beautifully in Puccini is to have succeeded . If you are Mimi or Ciocio-san, you have achieved the height of beauty – and at the height of this beauty you face and embrace ultimate destruction. Is feminine destruction the ultimate patriarchal success story? What’s so awful about being in a success story? Laterally, in pop young women are constantly renewed – the older stars blow out in Vegas, the younger ones morph out of Disney confection – fixing a blurred, eternal image of fecundity and desire somehow emptied of any specific icon.

 

What does pop music’s voicing of survival have to do with this narrative of destruction? Telling the world ‘I’m a survivor,’ or ‘you’re gonna hear me roar,’ or ‘you shoot me down, but I won’t fall,’ certainly draws attention to a plight. These women are under attack. Really! Listen to them! You don’t even need to listen to the words – listen to the music. The rhythm splits into smaller and smaller subdivisions. Filter sweeps. Pumping synths. Forceful kick drums. Compressed vocals. No human stands a chance. I have no trouble being convinced that this music, while not quite a cry for help, is absolutely a drawing attention to a scene of destruction. An Act 3 scene – the woman is on the edge. I’m not sure that the announcement of triumph in ‘I got the eye of the tiger’ should be taken at literally. Well, of course I don’t mean literally literally – unless Katy Perry gouges feline eyeballs in her free time. But at face value, the representation that these pop figures are actually surviving anything doesn’t convince me.

 

(The opposite of a crash landing is a smooth take off.)

The Pop Metaphor: Part 1

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I think most types of music sound good in cars, but some work better than others. And some excellent genres make no sense in there nearly all the time. Vervy, that time you made me play that gospel house mix as we drove to Northcote Aquatic centre during the day? On a Tuesday? That made no sense. That really sucked.

 

During my week-long binge of pop I discovered that this kind of music sounds perfect in an automobile. I have a really bass-heavy stereo system in my car. This is not a boon; it’s that crappy bass that makes the car sound like a rattling sunglasses case. Most of the time it’s turned on -2. Maybe all new car stereos are heavy in the bass, attenuated to pop’s soundscape, which like the body of any proper pop star has a big, non-threatening bottom, and always wears a glossy, shimmering top.

 

Firstly: it’s all very big. Fisher writes about ‘feeling as loud as the music … as though my skin is the only thing that keeps me from going everywhere all at once.’ The passage is unclear, or rather purposely indirect about whether the narrator is describing the effect of the music upon her as she drives, or the peaks of bipolar (one of Fisher’s famous afflictions), or, at a stretch, the affect plateau. The affect plateau is the banal but nonetheless beatific pleasure of everyday happiness. Ecstatic normality – an ecstatic realisation of an unremarkable reality. A woman drives her car. I remember wanting to kiss the dirty ground of Maylands at the tail end of a bad acid trip when I realised, looking at the clouds, that they no longer wanted to kill me. It was sunset. Later, friends would tell me that the problem was that we’d gone day tripping (and sure, maybe day tripping can be too much), but I still think that stuff we’d taken was poison, something not LSD. In any case, I was coming down – an inevitable process that up until then I’d anticipated with sadness because it meant the nice drugs were going away. But from this time I always felt secretly grateful for the come down, even at its most jaw-grinding and psychically brutal. Because a come down is a return to reality. Beautiful, sweet, normal normality. Humble, dear normality. Fragile, contingent, improvised reality. How do we do it, find what we all want to do and feel, agree on it, and proceed?

 

Is the car designed for pop or is pop designed for the car? Anyone who thinks of the synchrony between the two as modern forgets that this is a site of ghosts and dreams, both of which are profoundly unmodern. This brings me to my second point: big metaphor. To paraphrase Fisher – while listening to pop music in my car it struck me that this is the form for people that want to feel as loud as their music. The production and arrangements of contemporary pop are so expansive that turned up, it’s like your skin is all that keeps you from going everywhere immediately. The arrangements in contemporary pop have become increasingly abstract, as near to contextlessness as anything I can think over. Whatever the watered-down influences were – reggae, hip hop, house, rock, blues – all these referents are buried within their prior invocations, in pre-existing pop of years gone by. The form has truly eaten itself, spewing sonic cues that seem to come only from other pop songs. I listen and just think, this sounds so big, cavernous. Like a new mansion in an outer suburb, this doesn’t seem like anything but its size. All the while the lyrical tropes have become increasingly tight, controlled, and condensed. On one hand the bigness of the sound and metaphor make a grand space, a vast sound-scape for its listener. Arguably this bigness attracts those who otherwise feel small – this might explain the appeal of pop to young girls. On the other hand the lyrical condensation – caught around the one big metaphor – feels constrictive, imprisoned. The single signifier dangles in the rhythmic space (a telephone, a halo, a chandelier, diamonds, titanium) and then gets milked for all its worth. The pop star with her cascading synths is like someone stuck in an out of control elevator, soaring to the highest heights at immense speed. But she is soaring along in a box she can’t leave.