COLUMNS

  • Books

    Alec Foege's Confusion is Next: The Sonic Youth Story

    IF EVER A BAND deserved an expansive approach that bursts the limits of the rock-biography format, it’s Sonic Youth—one of the most pretentious (a compliment in my book) rock bands of the last decade. Sonic Youth have always consciously aimed to refract the zeitgeist in their noise swirl; they’re culture-vultures who ransack both avant-garde and trash for morsels of inspiration. Despite SY’s puerile admiration for the thoughtlessness of teen delinquents and psychopaths, this is not a dumb band; this is a learned band. Bassist/singer Kim Gordon used to write art and music criticism for Artforum

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  • Music

    Rappers' Redux

    HIP-HOP’S RELENTLESS modernity is currently in doubt. It’s not that the fierce competition to reinvent rap year by year has weakened any—viz. the recent emergence of Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, and Jeru the Damaja as claimants to the East Coast title of leaders of the Now School. But the art of representing true hip-hop is no longer the only game in town. A wave of reminiscing has flooded the house with Old School memorabilia, and back-in-the-day yearnings are the flavor of the moment.

    The most visible symptoms of this backward-looking mood are the reunion of crews like the Treacherous Three and the

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  • Books

    Art Spiegelman’s The Wild Party

    Joseph Moncure March, The Wild Party: The Lost Classic, with drawings and an introduction by Art Spiegelman (New York: Pantheon, 1994), 111 pages.

    ART SPIEGELMAN’S FIRST book since Maus is a pet project: the rescue of a long bit of 1926 doggerel he found in a used-book store (mark of a true bibliophile: he was attracted by the spine) and has now relaunched with his own artwork. March, who died in 1977, had already republished the thing in 1968 in a self-censored version (he took out the ethnic slurs considered so cool among slumming white people in the ’20s; Edmund Wilson loved using the word “

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  • Music

    the Palace Brothers

    I FLEW TO NASHVILLE. It rained a lot in my hotel room. The room filled with rain as a lung fills with air. The rain looked like sweat on the body I hired to dance before me, which shimmied with a twang and left the way a river is said to crest. On my bed, I prayed, paced between the coils, and sang “No Man Is an Island” to myself as the waters rose, a song for which I know neither words nor tune. It was a tuneless singing I did as it rained in my room in Nashville, and I rewrote War and Peace between the storms.

    Streets in Nashville were desolate, storefronts downtown desolate. Desolation seemed

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  • Music

    Drag City

    THE CHICAGO INDEPENDENT RECORD-LABEL Drag City has two major claims to fame: 1) it discovered critics’ darlings Pavement and Royal Trux, only to weather the inevitable cannibalization of those bands by bigger labels (Matador and Virgin respectively); 2) much as Sub Pop was considered the home of grunge, Drag City is known as a hotbed of lo-fi, the kind of cheaply recorded sound that dates back to the Velvet Underground and was revived by Beat Happening in the mid ’80s. Technically, “lo-fi” refers to the process of recording songs on inexpensive four-tracks, like Liz Phair did before she signed

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  • Books

    Frederic Jameson’s The Seeds of Time

    “WE ARE ALL TIRED OF IT.” This was Fredric Jameson’s peremptory reply when he was asked in the late ’80s about the post-Modernism debate he himself had done so much to initiate earlier in the decade. He was right, of course. The term, if not the concept, had degenerated into MTV lingo. But here he is, nonetheless, resurrecting the debate with a highly charged intervention.

    What has propelled him to do this? Primarily, I think, the geopolitical collapse of virtually all antisystemic resistance to late capitalism and global Americanization. In Jameson’s book, this is also the victory of post-Modern

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  • Film

    Ed Wood

    People! All going somewhere. All with their own thoughts, their own ideas, all with their own . . . personalities. One is wrong, because he does right. And one is right . . . because he does wrong. Pull the string! Dance to that . . . which one is created for!

    —Bela Lugosi, in Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda?, 1953

    AT THE BEGINNING of his strangely autobiographical first film, Glen or Glenda?, Ed Wood introduces an inexplicable framing device that, absurd as it is, may be the film’s most telling moment: he offers an aging Bela Lugosi as God, sitting above humanity, watching with disgust, and babbling

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  • Books

    The Electric Geisha

    SOON AFTER ARRIVING IN JAPAN for the first time, I tried to order traditional Japanese green tea at a kissaten (coffee shop, although the term literally means “tea shop”). The waitress informed me that they carried several varieties of “Western-style” tea to go with their French cakes, Italian ices, and English trifles, but no kissaten would serve Japanese green tea. After several more trips to Japan, I now know that there are exceptions to this rule, but not many. Mochi wa mochiya, a venerable Japanese proverb goes. If you want rice cakes, go to the rice-cake maker.

    Yet why, in a culture that

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