A personal diary keeping people abreast of what I am working on writing-wise.

Friday, December 05, 2003


For my reading, I am sticking with nonfiction for the time being. Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, & Emo by cutie-pie boy author Andy Greenwald. I am about a quarter in, just getting through the first section. But Andy gets some of the highest compliments I can pay a writer: reading his work makes me wish I could write better about music; and I couldn't care less about the bands he is writing about, yet I want to keep reading. In fact, I actively despise some of them (Sunny Day Real Estate? Puh-leaze!). Yet, I am still finding the subject matter fascinating. He even got me to snag a copy of Pinkerton off of my office mate.

The thing that roots the book is the fact that he is writing more about a subculture, what makes up this society of music and music fans, than he is about The Promise Ring or whoever else. A knowledge of the music isn't necessary to get what he is talking about, because what he is talking about is bigger than each individual band or song. Plus, Andy contextualizes each aspect enough that as an outsider, I can get it. It also helps that the emotions expressed by emo, the things that its fans find in the music, are pretty basic and universal. I have already lost count of how many times an interview subject has said, "It sounded like that record was recorded specifically for me." And what music fan hasn't experienced this sensation?

In fact, some of his interviewee confessions reminded me of my own past, as a teenager and a college student, struggling through insecurity and indecision. My first internship, right out of my first year at university, was interning in the ad writing department at Warner Bros. Records. My boss was a nice woman, but often very detached. I didn't know what to make of her. On one side, she was this cool lady who had gotten her first kiss as a young girl from Bill Wyman backstage at a Rolling Stones concert; on the other, I spent many days trying to get her drunk mother off the phone, because I was forbidden from putting her calls through. At 19, I had already been estranged from my own mother for several years, but was ill prepared for an old woman raving, "I've bought a bottle of sour mash and you tell her I'm going to drink it all, and she knows what will happen." (Perhaps, I think for the first time, this inspired Mason's mother's alcoholism in Cut My Hair?) On my last day there, the company had a luncheon for the interns who were leaving, and each intern was accompanied by his or her supervisor. I sat with my boss, and we talked and ended up on the subject of why I had been picked for the assignment, and that related to music. She told me how her troubled teen years were spent hiding at night in her room with a radio, tuning in stations from out of town to hear Bob Dylan. Not unlike myself trying to get my hands on Morrissey twelve-inches. It was something I wish had occurred earlier in the work session, because it might have made us both able to enjoy my being there more.

Anyway, the prose of Nothing Feels Good is extremely conversational. Andy isn't getting bogged down in being overly scholarly, and instead comes off as if he is simply explaining these things to you over drinks--and he does so without being pretentious or cloying about it. Which isn't to say his writing isn't inventive. His equation of online chatrooms to rock concerts is actually quite brilliant.

Who wouldn't want to make out with Andy Greenwald? (I hope he quotes me on his next book. "Who wouldn't want to make out with Andy Greenwald" -- Jamie S. Rich, currently homeless author of Cut My Hair [this is in the future when I am a spectacular failure])

It amused me that reading on the bus this morning, getting the lowdown on how kids discover Dashboard Confessional, I was listening to the new Pet Shop Boys three-disc collection, Pop Art. Pet Shop Boys couldn't be further from emo. Everything about their sound is synthesized, and their lyrics are rarely as bald-faced as seems to be the norm for this subgenre. And Neil Tennant has staked his claim as the most unemotional singer in pop music. He sings every word as plainly as possible--which actually allows him to create a blank canvas for his listener, to find the feeling for themselves. The fantastic part of that is, it can change depending on your own disposition at the time. Consider their cover of "Always On My Mind." Depending on your ears at the moment, it could be an emphatic insistence, or a sorrowful lament. He could be stating his case to his spurned lover or simply confessing to a martini. This style is entirely unique to him, and if there is any justice, will make him one of the more important vocalists of the final decades of the 20th century. I can't think of anyone else who takes such a dispassionate, disconnected approach, at least not with the same effect. Nico, maybe, but I don't think she can ever really remove the sorrow from her voice. Lou Reed, at times, particularly in the '80s and '90s, but his seems more of a storytelling affect and a lot of times it's hard to term what he does as singing. Plus, I think for both of them, it is a sign of their vocal limitations, whereas Tennant is using his instrument with deftness and skill.

I must say, though, now that Andy has hipped me to the band Rite of Spring, it could add another meaning to the Pet Shop lyric, "I feel like taking all my clothes off, and dancing to the Rite of Spring" (from "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing"), if one were so inclined.

In one my last posts, I ticked off a list of things I needed to do. They were all done by noon on Monday. I can really motor when I put my mind to it. Unfortunately, the rest of the week has been taken up in Christmas-related buggery. I finished my required shopping on Tuesday, and will make final decisions for people on my "maybe" list today. And tomorrow may be my last Christmas party--people are getting them out of the way early this year.

Thanks and joys of cheer to the folks who have bought stuff through my Amazon links, too. There have been some interesting books purchased through my site, and one copy of Finding Nemo on DVD. It doesn't tell me who bought what, so it's sort of fascinating to see what kind of random things show up.

And since I haven't said it enough lately, Kelly Sue DeConnick rocks. She is like my Babe Paley.

Current Soundtrack: The Coral b-sides; Muse, Absolution

golightly@confessions123.com * The Website

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