COLUMNS

  • Music

    The Mekons

    IT’S A COMPLIMENT to say that virtually everything in the Mekons United catalogue reads like a practical joke. Of course, there really must be a Polk Museum of Art in Lakeland, Florida, where THE MEKONS—that rowdy, collectivistic, erstwhile punk band founded in Leeds in 1977—hung their group-made paintings and other visual and verbal effluvia this spring. But despite the catalogue’s posh design and the genuine Mekons CD slipped in the back sleeve, Mekons United gleefully begs to be interrogated for its authenticity, if not its authorship.

    This is, no doubt, just as the band, or more exactly its

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  • Music

    Table of the Elements

    AT A TIME WHEN many are describing vinyl as thoroughly “auratic” (in Benjamin’s sense), recording labels are attempting to make CDs “unique” through any number of desperately ingenious packaging ploys (using cardboard and metal, among other materials). Atlanta-based label TABLE OF THE ELEMENTS is clearly ahead of the game: putting a conceptual spin on the “inauthenticity” of CDs, the label has gone back to the hardest form of hardware: pure, chemical substance. Fans of avant-garde and atonal music are still referring to two recent releases—by Chicago’s Gastr del Sol (the brilliant collaboration

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  • Music

    Two Dollar Guitar

    Way back in the era BCD (Before Cobain’s Death), when alternarock had barely begun to rule the world, some people were already sick of all that . . . Zepness. So they went in another direction altogether and invented something called slo-core: bands like Low, Mazzy Star, and TWO DOLLAR GUITAR made music that had a lot more to do with early blues, bummed-out country, and Joy Division during their heroin days than “yo, my dick is sooo big” guitar theatrics.

    Two Dollar Guitar, the Hoboken, New Jersey, band made up of former Half Japanese member Tim Foljahn, ex-Das Damen bassist Dave Motamed, and

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  • Passages

    Meyer Shapiro

    MEYER SCHAPIRO, WHO DIED on March 3 at the age of 91, enjoyed an adulation that may in his later decades have been as taxing as it was rewarding. Intent younger art historians asked him time and again to recount the genesis of the extraordinary publications with which he began his career in the ’30s; to rehearse his simultaneous commitments and interventions (in such journals as New Masses, Art Front, and Marxist Quarterly) in the politics of the Left during the Great Depression, Popular Front, and anti-Stalinist schisms; to recall his warm and abundant friendships with giants (and peers) in

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  • Film

    Trainspotting

    IN BRITAIN, POP CULTURE and drug culture are almost synonymous these days. From Oasis’ anthems of coked-out glory-lust to Pulp’s number-one hit “Sorted for E’s and Wizz” (a brilliantly ambivalent evocation of the dream and lie of rave), from the ganja-delic paranoia of Tricky to jungle’s journeys into the dark side of Ecstasy culture, British pop is all highs and lows, uppers and downers. Other sectors of the culture industry lag behind music in reflecting what every British kid takes for granted: the sheer omnipresence and banality of recreational drug use. Which is why Irvine Welsh, chronicler

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  • Music

    Tortoise

    Bongload. Try saying that word a couple of times, let it roll around on your tongue: bongload, bongload. . . . Listening to TORTOISE, you get the feeling that the guys in this Chicago band use it a lot (both the word and the stuff). If this sounds like a criticism, it’s not, really: the oceanic, spaced-out instrumentals that comprise their three albums (1994’s Tortoise, 1995’s Rhythms, Resolutions & Clusters, and the recent Millions Now Living Will Never Die) simply happen to be the perfect accompaniment to the rustling of plastic baggies and the muffled inhalations of bud appreciation; to the

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  • Music

    Klezmatics

    I first heard the KLEZMATICS’ Rhythm + Jews (Flying Fish) over breakfast with five gay men in a purple-painted pad on Haight-Ashbury. Track one featured demonic yells and an Arab drum, track two a medley of “NY Psycho Freylekhs”—Imagine “Hava Nagila” in overdrive. The third track was a tender love song to “feygele mayn,” “my little bird” in Yiddish. Feygele is also slang for homosexual, my first inkling as to why the Haight-Ashbury house drank in the Klezmatics with their morning coffee.

    The name of their first album, Shvaygn=Toyt (Piranha), rendered the ACT UP slogan “Silence=Death” in Yiddish.

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  • Music

    Palace

    Under any name (PALACE, Palace Brothers, etc.), Will Oldham’s music has always been vital for exploring the weird phenomena of desire and doubt (and their similarity). On Arise Therefore Oldham shows that even this late in the day these subjects still have vast territories left to chart. His plangent voice has never been more lustrous or lusty, recalling fading newsprint photographs, old porn, the dazzle of late-spring mornings still crisp with frost after a night of sweat—in short, the bittersweet postcoital rush, when the one in your bed has just left you to yourself for who knows how long.

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  • Film

    Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol

    THE SLEEK PAIR OF dark glasses sitting next to my computer keyboard has teeny portraits of mass murderers embedded in the sides of its plastic frame. Get it? They’re “dark” glasses, made in Austria, of all places, and available only at Moss, SoHo’s echt design store. These stark, degraded images are silkscreen-derived, off-register, generations away from whatever reality they could be said initially to represent.

    Hmm. I don’t see any women in this lineup. These glasses, like so much else, would not have been possible without Andy Warhol, and wearing them, or any other pair of shades, would much

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  • Music

    Velvet Underground

    THE VELVET UNDERGROUND made their first public appearance with Andy Warhol and others at the New York Society for Clinical Psychiatry’s annual banquet for 1966. Warhol, David Bourdon has written, had been invited to lecture, but decided instead “to entertain the group with two of his movies, Harlot and Henry Geldzahler, and the Velvets’ music. . . . Soon after the main course was served, . . . fiercely amplified rock music . . . drowned out conversations. Nico . . . groaned incoherently into the microphone. On stage, [Gerard] Malanga threw himself into his strenuous whip dance, while Edie Sedgwick

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