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

Tuesday, December 30, 2003


I had never checked to see if Cut My Hair was available at amazon.co.uk, but had needed a small version of the cover for my sig on the Oni board (Amazon.com not having said thumbnail, due to the Look Inside program). Sure enough, it was there, as well as a cool little review posted just recently.

I've noticed a spate of Cut My Hair reviews on Amazon in the last couple of months, actually. It's kind of cool. The book keeps finding people, despite no real marketing push for quite some time. It has a life of its own, the little monster.

Current Soundtrack: Suede, Singles

golightly@confessions123.com * The Website

Monday, December 29, 2003


Okay, the holidays have passed, and it's time someone makes a confession to Confessions. Last summer, some unknown person bought a copy of Joy Division's Heart & Soul from my Amazon Wish List. I saw it in the purchased area. But then it never arrived, so I e-mailed Amazon. They said they could not tell me who ordered it, and that the person had it shipped to a different address, possibly to deliver the package in person. No one ever did. It's been several months, and folks who I thought it might be have denied it. So, who was it? You don't have to give it to me. Whatever I did to piss you off and decide not to, 's cool. This is for my own rapidly declining peace of mind.

Current Soundtrack: The Coral, Skeleton Key EP

golightly@confessions123.com * The Website

Saturday, December 20, 2003

LIFE Vs. THE LIFELESS: THE TOP MUSIC OF 2003 (according to me)

I do this every year. Sure, it's follwing the herd, since who doesn't do an end of the year recap, right? But, I do because I like it. I like keeping lists, I like tracking things. Music is about the only area, though, I feel I can do such a thing, since I can follow it with a much more comprehensive passion than I can, say, movies, prose, or even comics. You'll likely disagree with a lot, but then, you'll have to start your own blog, won't you?


1. Black Box Recorder - Passionoia/ Luke Haines & the Auteurs - Das Capital: The year belonged to Luke Haines. The popmaster simultaneously dug into his back catalogue, re-envisioning the cream of the crop from his first two bands as orchestral pomp and circumstance, lending a classical backdrop to his misanthropic world view. And on Black Box Recorder's third album, he dug deeper into the psyche of a hormonal music fiends, lending a sultry and slightly dangerous air to Bacharach-styled ditties. Long may he rave.

2. Blur - Think Tank: People love to count this band out, and with guitar god Graham Coxon finally disappearing up his own ass, the remaining trio decided to explore theirs without him. What they discovered were some new rhythms, a little bit of freedom, and a record that smashed the art into pop (it's usually the other way around) and started to rediscover their fire. Underrated, as per usual, Blur triumphed.

3. The Coral - The Coral/Magic & Medicine: Channeling the Animals and Pretty Things through an anarcho punk spirit, these British boys spit their debut out stateside just before serving up their sophomore effort in the UK. This meant a double dose of freakbeat for the dedicated. Sure, they have handfuls of sloppy flaws, but that's what makes The Coral work. Only a band who doesn't give two fucks would put two of their best songs--"Not The Girl" and "Like a Leaf to a Tree"--on their b-sides. Righteous.

4. Erasure - Other People's Songs/ Martin Gore - Counterfeit2/ Mandy Moore - Coverage: Something must be wrong if three of my favorite records in a given year are collections of covers. Erasure leant a high-gloss techno feel to classics from Phil Spector, Elvis, and Peter Gabriel, and did so with a surprisingly un-ironic lisp. Martin Gore, on the other hand, was a bit more earnest, ferreting out the dark parts of Nick Cave, Julee Cruise, and Lou Reed songs and casting them in deep, electronic suits. Finally, Mandy Moore, the pop princess nearly least likely to, dug up Blondie, XTC, and Elton John, and did so just for the sheer joy of song. If nothing else, this proves music needs a few more visionaries.

5. Lost in Translation - Original Soundtrack (with music by Kevin Shields): Sofia Coppola and I could have been mates in high school, it seems. We probably had a lot of the same records. Revisiting the otherworldly sounds of "shoegazing" provided the perfect film soundtrack for the other world that is Tokyo, and with my headphones wrapped around my ears, it transports me out of mine.

6. Mya - Moodring: Pop R&B with a positively pro-femme attitude. Not afraid to be spunky and fun, a bit bawdy, and even get a little sentimental (songs called "You" can be pretty tough; Mya's rates). Points off for containing the obligatory appearance from Sean Paul, but regained for getting Missy Elliott's best production this year, the single "My Love is Like...Wo."

7. Spiritualized - Complete Works Vol. 1/Amazing Grace: While I generally leave compilations off my list (and this year, there were a ton of great ones; just see below), the first Spiritualized collection was just too damn good. Collecting every stray track released on singles around the first two albums, it shows a band full of ideas and an unrelenting will to refine them. As a great counterpoint, Amazing Grace is a rough-hewn effort, recorded with a straight-ahead passion. 2003 saw both sides of Spiritualized--the sacred and the profane--and it was damn good.

8. Bubba Sparxxx - Deliverance: Timbaland wins the hiphop prize this year, transforming his also-ran white boy rapper into a true MC, giving him a catchy landscape where country & western samples are plowed next to heavy beats, harvested for a cash crop of banging tunes. It's actually harder to stay prejudiced against this record than to give in and admit it has the most clever and inventive production for the year. There but for the souls bared above, this would be on top. As it is, it dominates its genre, having several hundred pounds and a big pair of overalls more than the competition.

9. Kylie Minogue - Body Language: Oh, Kylie! Was it that you thought the party was a little crowded, and you decided to make a record to scare some of the Johnny-come-latelies away? Or was it that you wanted to teach them that no, it's really okay to dance? Because Body Language follows up your massive hit of two years ago by taking a challenging route down electric avenue. Every song here, from the snake-like slinkiness of the opener, "Slow," to the innuendo-laden "Chocolate," and resting back at the beginning with the raise-your-hands-jump-up-and-down anthem "After Dark," eschews shiny pop for futuristic sparkle--with you recasting yourself as a breathy Brigitte Bardot. Some people can't seem to dig it, but we never invited them anyway, did we?

10. Faye Wong - To Love: The Chinese chanteuse has more albums in her back catalogue than just about anyone here, but she sounds just as fresh as the day she started. Continuing an unbeatable track record that has seen her edge ever closer to a creative zenith in the last several years, To Love balances techno adventures against emotional ballads with an ease that only an artist that knows exactly what she is doing is capable of. It doesn't matter that she sings in another language, you're going to feel every syllable. This is Bjork if she were as cute as you really wanted, mixed with the elegance of a classic cinema star--and all merely a vessel for a smooth and beautiful croon.

11. The Raveonettes - Chain Gang of Love: You know that bit at the beginning of "Be My Baby," that Phil Spector drumbeat that makes you sit up and listen whenever it creeps through the speakers on your car radio when you're listening to the oldies station? This is an entire album of that! Fuuuuuuuuck!

12. Alicia Keys - The Diary of Alicia Keys: I've only had a short time to go over Alicia's confessions, as it was one of the last records released this year. But since she put it in my hands, I haven't wanted to let go of it. This is soulful and funky and sensual--all the things Prince used to be, but without the pomp and circumstance, without hiding behind his freaky persona or wishing he were a rock god. Her debut was a simple affair, not overdone; this disc ups the ante and shows she knows how to turn a meal into a banquet and not cook too much. Bless.

13. Britney Spears - In The Zone: Also known as the album I will get the most shit for having on my list, even more so than the record that follows it (and sometimes, I am sure, because of the record that follows it--for how dare I place Britney ahead of Chris!). But you can all piss right off. This record is fantastic. While Kylie beats the youngster to dance record of the year, when was the last time we had two great albums from disco divas in one twelve-month span? True, you need to skip the first two tracks and replace them with "Answer" and "Don't Hang Up" (available only on various import versions), but when you do, get ready for a CD of many moods. There are the bangers ("Toxic"), the chill out ("Early Mornin'," produced by Moby ("sell out!" they cry, "again!")), the string drenched ballads ("Shadow," "Everytime"), a new wave rocker ("Brave New Girl"), and even an ode to masturbation ("Touch of My Hand")! Now you can whack off to Britney listening to her talk about whacking off, and possibly imagining that she is doing it, too, by imagining some fan doing it while listening to that song. Or is that just me?

14. Dashboard Confessional - A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar: If I gave an award for most pretentious title, this album would get it; same, though, if I gave an award for the disc I didn't expect to be here. Frequent Confessions readers will be aware of my recent conversion, my conquering of prejudices against this band--and this here is the proof I meant it. Your preconceived notions really no longer apply. This is a rocking album that, yes, will wear its heart on its black-clad sleeve, but the music is smooth and catchy, with Carrabba's voice soaring where it needs to and getting gravel-scarred and sad on the next go-around. And when it's done, I want to hear it again.

15. Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Master & Everyone: Will Oldham is pretty hit and miss for me, and he seems to only really hit under the Bonnie "Prince" moniker. His music is a sparse form of backwoods country, obsessed with sex, death, and religion, and how the three inevitably mix. This album has a lot of songs about relationships. They may be of many kinds, but somehow it all sounds like love when Oldham's gruff whisper is the messenger. His lyrics are hard-won and deeply felt, and when he strikes a chord, it stays struck.

16. David Bowie - Reality: What can I say? The guy still has it. Since the release of Outside over half a decade ago, Bowie has been on a real roll. Cast in the same vein as Heathen, Bowie's post-Gabrels period shows a new love for rocking songcraft. "New Killer Star" is his best single in ages, and he turns out fantastic covers by George Harrison and Modern Lovers (easily topping the original there, which normally I wouldn't give the time of day). The man loves what he does, and it shows.

17. Relaxed Muscle - A Heavy Night With...: Pulp's Jarvis Cocker steps back from the high-shine of his brilliant band to do something a little more dirty, a little more twisted. Sporting an early Wax Trax influence, he takes the piss out of the current state of macho music, and manages to put a spring in the step at the same time.

18. Elvis Costello - North: I recently traded e-mails with a friend and we talked about how neither of us could get into Robyn Hitchcock. I called him Sub-Costello, part of a British school that was impressed by its own cleverness, but unlike their sensei, never got past that point. Elvis has more emotional latitude than the legions he spawned, something this gorgeous collection of quiet, romantic ballads illustrates perfectly.

19. Tricky - Vulnerable: Tricky visits some dark places, and sometimes he get lost, but he always is following his own muse--or at least searching for it. You have to respect that. Teaming up with the first vocalist since Martina to really deserve her microphone stand, Tricky once again sounds like he did when he debuted a decade ago. Full of piss, vinegar, and the occasional flight of fancy. His beats are heavy, and his backdrops are stark. Like Costello for the electronic age, many try to imitate him, but none of them can. (Features amazing covers of XTC and The Cure, as well, keeping in with the theme of 2003.)

20. Kelis - Tasty: While Kelis' albums are usually a bit bottom heavy and begin to lose steam by the end, Tasty does the best of any of beating that. Which, yes, is damning with feint praise, but really, I'm just trying to say she's figuring it out. This works 95% of the time, and you gotta love an album that goes from telling guys to cut the sexual gossip ("Keep It Down") to ordering them to indulge their wildest exhibitionist fantasy ("In Public") and is brazen enough to put the songs back-to-back--all the while keeping it funky and smooth. "Milkshake" was easily the sexiest video of the year, too, beating out a lot of pop tarts.


It should be noted that this year, there were perhaps more excellent compilations than any other in recent memory. And more often than not, they were souped-up packages with extra discs, DVDs, or some kind of cool booklet. Ones I couldn't stop listening to came from artists like the Pet Shop Boys (they had two!), Suede, Inspiral Carpets, No Doubt, Primal Scream, R.E.M., Chemical Brothers, Erasure, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Weller, and Ride (the awesome colletion of BBC sessions, Waves).

Noteable for the worst album of the year was Madonna. Her American Life travesty was pompous and, worse, flaccid. Her recently released EP Remixed & Revisited showed how off base she was from a production standpoint by allowing three of the album's cuts to be remixed by artists with more of a pulse left (though, "American Life" itself was proven irredeemable). Sad to have seen someone that was once so good become so self-important. And here I was all ready to give this position to The Strokes or Black Rebel Motorcyle Club.



1. Kelis - "Milkshake": The Neptunes have always seen something special in Kelis, and while previous efforts have gotten close, this is where the genius really shines through. A raunchy bounce propels the year's most suggestive vocal performance into the groin of every man, woman, and child in earshot. They just wanna love our brains, and if we dance in the meantime, that's excellent, too.

2. The Coral - "Dreaming of You": A throwback, to be sure. To the Mersey Beat scene, to Eric Burdon and the Yardbirds in Blow Up--but damn, does this song capture something. Coming in under three minutes, it doesn't waste any time on any sound that doesn't count. Right to the heart of pop.

3. Suede - "Attitude": Sadly, the band's swan song. Double sadly, it shows them getting groovy, experimenting with rhythm, and taking their sound in directions they've been promising for a couple of years now. As an epitaph, this can't be beat. Lyrically, it's Suede to a T--a little bit of attitude, a little bit of something rude, a little bit tacky, too. A decade on a 45.

4. Relaxed Muscle - "Billy Jack": Absolutely absurd, and fantastic as a result. Cocker does little more than summarize the '70s vigilante movie over a disco line-dance shuffle. Brilliant.

5. Kylie Minogue - "Slow": Where Kelis pushes you against the wall and shoves her tongue down your throat, Kylie twists you up in satin sheets and rolls over you, back and forth, nice and...slow.

6. Black Box Recorder - "These Are the Things": Arty disco ticking off life's mundane moments, and how they lead into, perhaps, the less mundane aspects of interpersonal relationships. Cold, yet sexy; pop, yet brainy.

7. Blur - "Out of Time": The ache of a breaking heart sets an acoustic guitar vibrating, and the result is soothing, tender, and just a tad bit painful. Blur can be lovely when they want to. We tend to forget that, and perhaps that's what occasionally makes them so sad. I guess good on us, then, eh?

8. Dashboard Confessional - "Hands Down": When your heart is done breaking, you can remember what it was like when you first fell in love, the rush that made it worth it. Purists may prefer Chris Carrabba's acoustic original, but the electric guitars are the perfect vehicle for the explosive feelings, the charge that leads to elation, and taking a skip off the front porch of your original romance.

9. Bubba Sparxxx - "Deliverance": A rap song distinctive for its acoustic guitar and melodic hook, Timbaland inches his protege towards something new with more honest lyrics and a scope free of the bling-bling limitations of the mainstream.

10. Oasis - "Songbird": The Beatles? Yes. But why not?

11. Erasure - "Solsbury Hill": If Peter Gabriel ever sounded this carefree when he recorded his own stuff, I might actually buy his records.

12. Saint Etienne - "Soft Like Me": Classic Etienne with a groove that bubbles just under placid, quiet whispers from Sarah Cracknell, and a spoken word/rap guest spot that matches the trio's measured cool. An amorphous single that is breezy in the spring, sunny in the summer, wistful in autumn, and crisp in winter.

13. Timbaland & Magoo/Missy Elliott - "Cop That Shit": Knicking a beat from the Neptunes that sounds like someone pounding their fists on a broken Casio, this hiphop trio rails against a thieving musical culture that bites styles and bootlegs tracks, simultaneously warning them to get out of the way while taking their followers with them.

14. The Coral - "Don't Think You're The First" - As odd as "Dreaming of You" was catchy. This is a kiss-off, a wake-up call, and it's more slithery than their propulsive rock stuff. Thinner, so it can slide in under the door and slice your ears. Pop always had a superiority complex.

15. Robbie Williams - "Come Undone": Robbie has the best sense of humor in pop, and when he turns it on himself, it's positively wicked. A look at the dark side of fame, with Mr. Williams narrating what it's like for the rich and bratty to let loose, and how much they might regret it come morning. Though, really, the sound of falling apart is far more memorable than actually being part any day.

16. Mya - "My Love is Like...Wo": Fun, sassy, and unashamed. Missy lays down the beat, Mya picks it up and celebrates herself.

17. King Adora - "Kamikaze/Nothing To Lose": Trashier than Placebo, more tart than Xtina, less cash-flush than The Strokes, these lipsticked boys keep their tunes cramped and sweaty, and wield chainsaw guitars that cut a jagged path out of your speakers.

18. David Bowie - "New Killer Star": "Ready, set, go!" he said, and then he did. This could fit in easily with Ziggy-era rockers on the inevitable future greatest hits repackage.

19. Justin Timberlake - "Rock Your Body": Oh, right. Like you didn't sing the falsetto bits every damn time it was on. Liar!

20. Pet Shop Boys - "Miracles": Narrowly defeating Placebo's sugar push of glamtastic paranoia, "This Picture," this anthem of atmospheric dance pop is the second song on the list to be a throwaway from a greatest hits collection--proving some bands' rubbish is another's dream 45.


Winner of my award for great single that tumbled down my chart faster than any other is Outkast's Andre 3000 and "Hey Ya." Only Beyonce was more ubiquitous this year, and her "Crazy In Love" had the same problem as "Hey Ya," but not nearly as bad. These songs are all middle. They always allude to where they are going, but never arrive. Beyonce at least changes up the hooks, but Andre 3000 sticks on the same line and never wavers, and eventually you realize that "Hey Ya" is a wisp of a song, not really there at all. See him perform it live a couple of times, and you realize it further, as he does the exact same thing he does in the video--every time. Somebody needs to put Outkast back together again, for not just their sake's, but ours.

All in all, it feels like a pretty odd year. A lot of what stood out were throwbacks, either to rock or to disco, with covers nearly ruling the roost (and one soundtrack looking at a non-movement that stopped moving ages ago). Doesn't necessarily mean it was a bad year, as a lot of stuff I wanted to write about had to be left off the list. But the critics have been pulling their "something is around the corner now that pop/rap-rock/whathaveyou is dead" for some time now. If they're right, it ain't here yet; if they're wrong, then maybe were just settling in to letting music be music and not worrying about the rest of it.

(Pssst! If you want to read what I thought last year, then check here. Interesting to note that the Neptunes didn't rack up as much for me this year (though 2 1/2 singles is pretty good), and Missy Elliott's album, This Is Not a Test, was in the low 20s and thus missed the list.)

Current Soundtrack: The Beautiful South, Gaze

golightly@confessions123.com * The Website

Friday, December 19, 2003


Updating clearly went off the rails for a few days there. I wish I had been busier working, but really it was a lot of getting caught in the maelstrom of Christmas. Early parties this year to accommodate travelers, etc. I have had several things that I have wanted to upload here, but just finding the stray moments to focus on it has been elusive. I did finish Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, & Emo, and I liked it a lot. The final section moves away from the music and looks at online communities, taking the DIY aesthetic to its extreme, with sites like this one giving any kid who so desires a voice. Nice stuff. I posted a review on Amazon, which goes thusly:

As a writer myself, and one often accused of being too obscure with his musical references, I had no choice but to enter NOTHING FEELS GOOD with a bit of an open mind, knowing that Andy Greenwald faced a challenge with me and that I had to extend him the same courtesy I would want extended to me. Greenwald was writing about bands I couldn't care less about, and some I openly hate. I didn't own a single record by any of the groups featured. He had a tough job ahead of him.

So, it's a real testament to Greenwald's abilities as a writer that I was completely sucked in. A foreknowledge of bands like Jawbreaker or Thursday is not required, because Greenwald is going to explain them to you. He is going to tell you what the music is like and contextualize it, put it in a framework that will hip you to why these bands have so many devoted fans. Sure, you can hem and haw about the name "emo"--but the author does too. It's a term for a subculture that doesn't want to be tagged or codified, and it's a subject that is wrestled with by this book. And once we get past that, Greenwald cracks it open and unveils the positives of a movement that often gets derided, revealing why it works for the people it works for and its place in our modern age.

If there is anything to complain about when it comes to NOTHING FEELS GOOD, it's that Greenwald does his job TOO well. He made me think every one of the bands discussed wasy fantastic. Sadly, I sampled a lot of it, and for the most part, it failed to live up to the wonderful images Greenwald created in my head. However, his electrifying portrait of Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba was quite seductive, and I couldn't shake it. It pushed me to approach the material fresh, and now I am a fan and have sought out whatever I could find by the band.

And isn't that the sort of reaction music writing should inspire?

In addition to writing freebies for a huge website conglomerate, I've been pounding away at the second volume of a manga I still can't talk about, and trying out for a gig that is an extension of the manga thing. So, it's not all been champagne and Fiddle Faddle.

Once I finished Andy's book, I went straight into a critical study on Wong Kar-Wai that James bought me for Christmas last year. Simply titled Wong Kar-Wai, it features three essays on his films (though it was published before In The Mood For Love), each taking a different approach at dissecting his style, finding what makes him stand apart from the other Hong Kong directors and why it works. Perhaps the most interesting theory advanced was that Kar-Wai's films seem jumpy and a non-linear because his storytelling is in a constant state of revolt. Common moments are always attempting to subvert the mechanics of plot, and images are always trying to express themselves as they are, as opposed to what they might be made into. When you add all of his films up, Kar-Wai has only been making one movie all along, each an additional piece of a larger whole. Hence, despite the sequel to Days of Being Wild never being made, we do get the main character from that sequel invading the film's final scenes.

That's about the only theory the filmmaker himself seems to agree with. Wong Kar-Wai is rounded out with an interview with the man where he bats away any attempts at scholarly context on the part of the interviewer, and reveals himself as an unassuming artist who relies more on instinct and personal feeling than any grand scheme. He is also a true maverick in a film industry obsessed with the bottom line, bucking the idea that one flop should end your career. It's also refreshing to hear someone doesn't want to work in Hollywood.

My only complaint about the book is that, despite some nice, sturdy printing and a picture-laden layout, the proofreading was terrible. There was an inconsistency to grammar style and laziness in typesetting that seemed rather daft given the rather haughty approach of the work itself.

I have many new books that have come as a result of this Christmas, but most of them are more nonfiction pieces, and I have a yen to get a little fiction in me. So, I've started rereading Breakfast At Tiffany's. Ah, how I've missed Ms Golightly...

[It took me three days to write this post, if that tells you anything about my fractured mind.]

Current Soundtrack: No Doubt, Boom Box: Everything In Time (B-sides, Rarities, Remixes)

golightly@confessions123.com *
The Website

Tuesday, December 16, 2003


My Faye Wong article got shot down. The reason given was the music section is full. Dunno. It's always hard as a freelancer to not forget what it's like to be an editor, and every time I get turned down for stuff, I want to say, "No, really. What was it? Are you just being diplomatic?" I mean, good on them for being fair and I don't wish them grief. I am behind their need to do their job smoothly; it's my own cynicism from sitting in that chair. You, kids...you have no idea.

So, anyway, here is the article I was writing. I never found the ending. You can just imagine that, I suppose. Perhaps me in a fiery car wreck, dead dead good.

Faye, looking at a copy of Cut My Hair smirks, "Really? People pay for this?"

I have many sensory memories of my trip to Beijing. The sweet and tangy smell of sliced onions, the sourness of sugared apples on a stick, the smarting cold of the ice when I slipped and landed on my ass. There is also the stinging in my eyes from the countless dusty shops we went into, looking at bootlegs of CDs and DVDs. The most pointed element of that memory, though, was approaching the wall of Faye Wong to claim some of her albums as my very own.

Despite the fact that the Chinese actress/singer is one of the biggest stars in Asia, most of you are probably wondering who the hell Faye Wong is. A portion of you probably know who she is and don't realize it. You ever see Chungking Express? You remember the girl who used to sneak into police officer Tony Leung's place and alternate between secretly cleaning his apartment and playing with his airplane toy while listening to "California Dreaming"? That was Faye Wong. She also sang the Cantonese Cranberries cover that appeared on the soundtrack.

Or you 4AD Goths might have heard her on one of your Cocteau Twins records if you're obsessive enough to have tracked down the Asian release of Milk & Kisses. That's not Elizabeth Fraser singing alone on "Serpentskirt." That other voice, that's Faye Wong.

The Beijing trip was a fortuitous one for me and my desire to learn about Faye. I had only discovered Wong Kar-Wai the previous summer, through the Criterion DVD release of his brilliant 2000 film, In The Mood For Love. It became a movie I instantly started recommending and passing on. I even bought a copy for an artist friend, and she returned the favor by sending me a copy of Chungking Express. Just as I had been an instant Wong Kar-Wai convert with In The Mood For Love, I completely fell in love with Faye Wong in Chungking. Kar-Wai must have known that he had achieved that perfect intersection of casting and script. Why else give the character the same name? What he captured on film was like an X-ray revealing the soul of the actress. Like Billy Wilder capturing Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, or Kate Hudson embodying Penny Lane in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous. We had gone beyond what could be written and photographed, into things that can't conventionally be expressed.

From what I can gather on the internet, Faye Wong became a pop star at an early age, but what wasn't exactly happy with how her career was being handled. Given the moniker "Shirley Wong" by her label, she was stuck in the usual young singer's conundrum--she had a desire to create art, but had sold her soul into a business. Unable to choose her own material or the direction of said material, she took her first chance to break away and moved to New York. There, she recharged her energies before returning to her native land to take control of her music and go on to superstardom. While her popularity in China has wained since the start of the new century, she has achieved new fame in Japan and signed a massive deal with Sony. Her first album in that deal, To Love, was released in November.

The accuracy of these internet legends is unknown to me. I have seen several conflicting bios, and this is my own distillation of it, the Faye Wong crash course of international myth.

The first Shirley album.

My speedy education in popular Chinese music occurred, for the most part, in the backs of taxi cabs. The bulk of the tunes I heard were ballads, and it seemed that the men in particular had a thing for wringing the maximum emotion out of every song, and not usually for the better. We're talking schmaltz. While many of the female singers had this problem, as well, I noticed that there was more variety to the production styles, including electronic sounds and moods akin to trip hop.

Unfortunately, when searching for a Chinese artist's material, it was a bit hard to make heads or tails of what was available. As I said earlier, when I had made up my mind to buy some Faye CDs, I was faced with an entire wall of them.

The best fan site online for Faye Wong is Josh's Fayevourite Faye Wong Page. Josh, a fan living in Toronto, keeps exhaustive databases of news, releases, and translated lyrics. According to his discography, there are 46 official Faye Wong albums, including numerous compilations. None of what I initially bought myself in Beijing, outside of a VCD of her Budokan concert, was an actual release, but dubiously compiled bootlegs. Something I was unaware of at the time.

Listening to music in a foreign language is a little like looking at abstract paintings. It's a whole different level of artist-to-audience communication. You're not going to get it exactly on the first glance, and even once you think you've figured it out, you're relying on instinct, on educated guesses, and most importantly, how it makes you feel. In that sense, singers could arguably find their best audience in countries that speak an entirely different language. Ever see a video of Duran Duran playing someplace like Italy, where girls with hairy armpits sang along to every word of "Save a Prayer" as if their lives depended on it? Chances are, they didn't have any idea what Simon Le Bon was talking about in a literal sense, but they knew for damn sure how their bodies were reacting to the music. Isn't that really more pure of a listening experience than being hung up on what exactly a particular line means?

So it is with Faye Wong and me. She and her collaborators may be the greatest poets who've ever lived, but I wouldn't have any idea. The closest I get to what she is actually singing is occasionally browsing fan translations, which can often be as dubious as the English subtitles on a Hong Kong film or the text of electronics manuals.

My favorite Faye Wong song is "The Moon at that Moment," off of her 1999 album Lovers & Strangers. An acoustic guitar leads a full string section. There are no drums or beat. Faye's voice is often in a higher register on the track than on her poppier numbers, or on her bolder ballads. There is a calmness to her performance, her voice sounding both resigned to her fate and wistful, as if her current situation is a fait accompli and she's okay with it. Listening to the song, I feel a sense of longing, of loneliness, and of heartache. I get the impression of being by myself, of the night. Yet I also feel twinges of hope, and the sense that there is a romance at the heart of it all, that it may pass or might already have done so, yet the memory of it lingers.

Sure, I could have it wrong. "The Moon at that Moment" could be about a pirate who has to fix a hole in his boat and does so by the light of a full moon, but does it matter? Isn't it more important that every time I hear that song, it stops me in my tracks, brings a hint of tears to my eyes, and stirs up a complex whirlpool of emotions in my chest? Do I need to know anything more than

Faye's voice is like a tractor beam. It has a warm, magnetic quality to it. I'd hate to say it's like honey, even if it is apt. There is a thickness to it, and a sweetness. It coats your ears. Her tones are different than we are used to, different than an English singer's. More right angles.

Lovers & Strangers

There are many sides to Faye Wong, just like any singer, just like any artist. Current album To Love is a good representation of where her music has evolved to, featuring an equal selection of techno pieces, big production ballads, and softer melodies. Culturally, one could argue she straddles a line between history and modernity, equally at home singing traditional Chinese numbers and futuristic dance music. It's a contradiction that reminds me a lot of Bjork, a comparison that begins to hold more water when you consider Wong's ever-evolving image and bold fashion statements. (In her Budokan concert, she spends much of her time wrapped in a plush, stuffed swan; the opening track of To Love sounds a tad like "Army of Me.") She's also been known to cover Western artists, largely other female signers, including Tori Amos, Karen White, Sophie Zelmani, and Sinead O'Connor. She even did a rather ballsy cover of "Bohemian Rhapsody" on her 1999 tour. You haven't understood grief until you've heard Faye Wong sing "I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all."

Or consider the case of 2000's Fable. A twelve song narrative composed of two parts, full of luscious orchestral swashes interwoven with squelches of electronic atmosphere. The epic allows Faye to show off, moving across the vocal register as the story hits its peaks and valleys, al the while spinning a tale of love forbidden, funneled through lyrics working with the best imagery of Asian poetry (fireflies, lanterns, princes, etc.), encompassing the dawn of time, Cinderella, and filmmaker Zhang Yimou.


If you'd like to see all the false starts and random noodling that this article went under before we got to what you see here, follow this link.

Current Soundtrack: Kelis, Tasty; Dashboard Confessional, A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar

golightly@confessions123.com * The Website

Saturday, December 06, 2003


Astute readers will have noticed the new e-mail address last time, but it's fucking up, so don't use it yet, stick to cut_my_hair@hotmail.com. If you sent me something and I did not reply--any of you--to my confessions123 addy, I didn't get it. It's been frustrating, as the mail protocol is picking and choosing what messages I actually see, while apparently the server log lists them all as delivered. Fuck the internet. Fuck it in the ear.

Last night I watched A Taste of Cherry, an Iranian film in the Cracketerion Collection. It was an interesting surprise, an existential meditation focusing on a man who wants to kill himself, and is driving around looking for someone to come in the morning and fill in the hole he is going to lay down and die in. It was one of those movies where it's a lot of nothing, really, from a plot standpoint--but yet 90 minutes goes by before you know it (plot is for suckers). I was a bit nonplussed by the ending, where a fourth-wall breaking coda was tacked on for reasons I have yet to discern--but still, recommended.

Current Soundtrack: Simon & Garfunkel, Wednesday Morning, 3AM

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

Saturday, November 29, 2003


In typical fashion, I sent off a pitch for my Faye Wong piece, but then ended up sitting down and writing it, with no idea of length or anything. With my luck, it's turning out about three times as long as what they would accept (were the mag to accept it), and I'll have to go through the heartbreak of cutting it to ribbons. Regardless, I may at some point post the several false starts and rambling bits that preceded what ended up being the version of the article I am currently calling the article (and a version that still needs an ending). I've been enjoying laboring over some writing again. It's been a while. Most of the editorials I do for Oni are done in one take, due to time. I like approaching something with a more open pace.

Anyhow, I had been avoiding reviewing Faye's new album, To Love, as I thought maybe this article would cover it more. As it turns out, I ended up writing primarily about my overall feelings about Faye's music with my sole specific focus on my favorite song of hers, Lovers & Strangers-track "The Moon at that Moment."

Anyhow, I got my copy of To Love a couple of weeks ago now, and I haven't stopped listening to it. There is a palpable beauty of a Faye Wong record. Her voice, the music, it wraps around you, as if a physical presence in the air. To Love is certainly no exception. I could just sit here and listen to how pretty it is without even worrying about any of the other aspects of it. Her voice is particularly lovely when backed by the sparse string arrangement on "Beautiful Mistake." She sings soft in the verses, just a few points of volume above a whisper, but goes higher, bolder for the choruses. Gorgeous.

Elsewhere on the disc, including songs Faye composed, there is a harder techno edge, balancing out against the orchestral ballads. The title track actually reminds me some of Bjork's "Army of Me," while the more straight-up pop songs would sound at home on Natalie Imbruglia's White Lilies Island.

Adding to her resume of impressive covers, Faye tackles the song "Going Home" by Sophie Zelmani. Unfamiliar with Zelmani's work, I downloaded the original. It has a simple arrangement, lead largely by acoustic and steel guitars, and grounded by a hook that sounds like maybe it's played on a flute. Faye keeps the flute, but adds some piano and the occasional electronic ambience. Zelmani reminds me a little of Luna, oddly enough, while again, I hear maybe some Natalie Imbgrulia on the To Love version.

As an extra bonus, To Love came with a VCD with about three minutes of behind-the-scenes footage for the video for "To Love." Wong looks fantastic, dressed all in black, and sporting raccoon eyes. Her continual fashion transformations put her on par with any western artist as far as cultivating image, staying fresh, bold, and interesting.

It really is too bad that music doesn't cross borders more. Faye's material can be a pain in the ass to get over here, and it seems rare that she would be discussed in any music press. Perhaps she'll get some attention if Miramax ever finally releases Hero, which she did the theme for. (It's currently rumored as early next year, a full year after the movie lost the Oscar for best foreign film 2002). Also, with Wong Kar-Wai having finished his latest film, and Faye a featured player, perhaps next year I'll be bemoaning how she is no longer my private passion.


A couple of movies I have seen recently have gotten me thinking some about storytelling.

Last year's Neil Labute picture, The Shape of Things is interesting in that over the course of several months, he developed the story as a play with his four principle actors, and then almost immediately took them from the stage to the screen, rewriting and directing the film himself. There is definitely a staginess to a lot of the scenes, with particular chunks of the movie taking place in one area between a set number of people. On the DVD, Labute talks about the process, and also indicates by breaking out of the mold of a stage, he can show more of the story and thus create a more varied moral gray area; a trade-off for the audience interaction that he was allowed in the theatre. Near the end of the film, Rachel Weisz is delivering a speech to the audience, and when it was a stage play, that meant the actual audience in the theatre became part of the narrative.

In discussing The Shape of Things with a couple of people, I've decided it's not entirely successful in getting its point across. The best trait of the movie is that it's a film about ideas, that attempts to say something; its failing in that it doesn't do that as well as it could. In articulating this feeling, I noted that it's not that I wanted it to answer the questions it posed, but perhaps to pose them better or maybe pose the right ones. In particular, Weisz suggests that some of her actions were done in the name of art, yet there is no explanation given as to how her project actually is art. Similarly, while the supporting characters act as mirrors and counterpoints to the main couple, they don't actually get the resolution they deserve or need to drive the point of their existence home.

21 Grams is a different kind of animal, but it certainly tackles a storytelling technique I think best suited to cinema. The drama focuses mainly on three people, and how their actions intersect and not only affect one another, but the periphery characters in their lives. However, all linear storytelling is removed in favor of a slow build. Events are given out of order, and often incomplete. Like the movie is on several different TV channels, but it started at different times, and as a viewer we are jumping back and forth. I almost want to get a bit pretentious and compare it to William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom, which reminds me of a painting--it starts with the basic sketch and as Faulkner goes over the image, each time adding color, the full picture comes to life. 21 Grams is more disjointed than that, however, and doesn't work with as much repetition. But there is a kindred spirit there. And it works best in cinema because we can get smaller snatches without the luxury of being able to look back if we miss it (though, it doesn't hold true once on DVD, perhaps bolstering David Lynch's stance against chapter breaks).

And to be honest, as much as I like Memento, I think for sheer complexity of narrative, 21 Grams puts it to shame. Just going backwards seems so simple by comparison. (Though, really, both screenwriters most likely planned out the entire story in a linear fashion. The writing isn't necessarily done out of order. It's more the skill of rearranging.)

Current Soundtrack: To Love, naturally; The Beatles, Let it Be...Naked


Wednesday, November 26, 2003


Gravitation volume 7 and Truman Capote have been taking up my time. I've been going the gay way. In Margaret Cho's mother's terms, I got the gay.

Several ideas in the planning stages. I hate writing about things ahead of the game, so no details will be spilled. Funny, because I read in the Plimpton book on Capote today how he was driven to share, he had to read his stuff out loud and tell people all about it. Like he was road testing it. Anecdotally, it was related that E.L. Doctorow had noted that once he told a story at a dinner party, it was no longer something he'd want to use in his work, it was lost to him. While I am not that severe, I am not necessarily the big generous sharing writer either. One must ponder what we'd be treated to if Truman Capote lived in the blog age.

But the thing is, too, I suck at planning. I am not a preparation type person. You'd just get vague ramblings. "It starts here, and it ends here, and I know I want at least one scene in the middle that goes like this." Ooooh, neat!

Which can be a bit sucky when you owe some folks some material. Gotta get a package together for someone who has been waiting for it, gotta follow up with someone else on Monday about Cut My Hair, and still haven't done anything about that Faye Wong article. May just write it and see what they think, and if they don't dig it, print it here. (Did all this info live up to my vague promises?)

By the by, the photo joke in the previous post was inspired by the evil Jen De Guzman posting a particularly hideous picture of me on the Oni Press message board. Seeing it, I realized the sad fact that all these years of trying to be Holly Golightly, I failed to realize that I had become Truman Capote. Rather than wallow, I embrace it.

Current Soundtrack: Simpsons rerun where Homer sexually harasses the babysitter



I'm so delighted by my new outfit for the Thanksgiving holidays, I had James take a picture...

Sunday, November 23, 2003


It's been several years since I'd last seen Placebo. They've always been a fantastic live act, but I had the added excitement this time of knowing they were a different band. I'm not just talking level of accomplishment, but the fact that I knew they had taken on a touring keyboard player and second guitarist as back-up (back-up being right, as they backed those guys way the fuck up; the guitarist was often invisible behind a bank of speakers). Going from a taut trio to a fleshed-out five piece could prove quite interesting.

Of course, that interest would be postponed while waiting for Eagles of Death Metal to get off the stage. If Josh Homme, he of the overrated Queens of the Stone Age, wasn't the drummer, you'd be hard-pressed to fathom why this band was ever given a gig of any kind, much less an opening slot on a pretty decent-sized tour. Peddling boring barroom rock with a touch of Southern riffs, you'd almost think this band was ironic, what with the name (Death Metal? Not in sight!) and the lead singer's porn star moustache. But the man in charge is so bereft of charisma, and choruses like, "Shit, goddamn, I'm a man," you realize that irony is too subtle, too intelligent for this outfit (and this from me, a boy sick to death of irony in the kitsch sense). Only the lead guitarist proved to be at all interesting, but his equipment only worked intermittently. And Homme, who looks a bit like a jock normally, actually resembled Eminem with his little bandanna on. And he's a better singer than he is a drummer, which isn't saying much at all.

(While I strongly dislike Queens of the Stone Age, I am digging the single Homme did with PJ Harvey as part of his Desert Sessions side project. "Crawl Home" is a cool, sharply cut song, and the b-side has Homme leading a cover of Harvey's "The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore." Definitely curious to hear that album now.)

Thankfully, the wait between bands was rather short, and Placebo came on at quarter past ten, digging right into "Bulletproof Cupid." Brian Molko was a mighty midget, eventually stepping to his microphone like he was cornering it for some inappropriate touching. On the other side of the stage, towering over Molko in height and presence, bassist Stefan Olsdal sashayed and posed and played to the audience's adoration. As the one completely queer member of the band, he gets a lot of attention, and clearly he loves it. They even had it figured out where he could walk through the audience via the aisle separating the all ages and the drinking areas. I couldn't see, but I am sure there was much groping.

The early portion of the set was heavy on current album Sleeping With Ghosts, and despite the early airing of "Every You Every Me," reliant more on album tracks than hits. So we got "Plasticene" and "Black Eyed" and a surprising turnout for "Harder Faster" from the first record (the only one from it, in fact). The crowd didn't seem to mind these detours away from the expected; the energy level was high. The people who were there knew the band, was ready for them. It was an act of teasing. We knew they were going to give in eventually, but we were ready to hang on and build with it (for a band so sexual, I doubt calling this foreplay would be off-base). Then, as the set began to crescendo, they started to pepper in the singles from Sleeping With Ghosts. It was fantastic.

The main set ended with the only bum note of the night. "Special K," from Black Market Music, was a mess. There seemed to be a general lack of clarity. That song has about three hooks, and they all collided with one another, and the changes between them were nigh invisible. Plus, it sounded like they were rushing, cramming the song in and just getting it out of the way.

Things picked up for the encore. A dance-addled "Taste in Men" was transitioned into a kinetic "Slave to the Wage" by a quick snog between Stefan and Brian (hey, give the kids what they want). This was, of course, followed by the obligatory "Pure Morning," which gets more and more ragged. There's no need for perfection there anymore, to be honest. It's the big singalong, and that's all it needs to be.

I think the Crystal Ballroom assumed that was going to be it, because all the house lights came on before Placebo could start the last song. If they noticed, they made no sign of it, and unleashed their fantastic Pixies cover, "Where Is My Mind?" Oddly, it received the loudest cheers of the night, and the most audience participation. It's strange what fans will latch onto.

Current Soundtrack: Depeche Mode live in Los Angeles, 12-12-1998


Tuesday, November 18, 2003


I spent the last weekend in Savannah, GA, as a guest of the Sequential Art program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. They were having an editors weekend, and I was one of four invited. It was a pretty good time. I am not used to being pampered in my position as a comic book editor, but they housed me and fed me and lavished me with praise. The portfolio reviews on Friday were much more pleasant than most portfolio reviews at conventions—where people show up thinking they’ll get hired and told they’re a genius. These were genuine reviews, where feedback was the true goal, and we could talk one on one without all the static of throngs of fans behind us. Plus, they were timed, so it was rare that they went on too long or meandered. Each review had to be productive.

On the plane ride out, I started reading a new book. Truman Capote, an oral biography by the late George Plimpton. It’s a format I really like: a narrative strung together with quotes from various interviewees. I first encountered the style in Select magazine several years ago when they went through Blur’s career song by song. One of the best examples I've encountered is Tom Shales’ Live From New York, a look at the history of Saturday Night Live. I read the bulk of that book on my trip to China. In fact, seeing as how I started Truman Capote on a plane, it’s certainly a form that lends itself to travel.

Capote is undoubtedly a larger-than-life figure. You’d almost think that to him, his characters might have seemed terribly mundane in comparison. You could almost imagine him bored with them. His life arguably contained more fiction than he ever put on paper. If there is one thing anyone can agree on, it's that he invented much of his own history, changing it as he traveled from person to person. While most authors would have been the narrator in Breakfast At Tiffany's, Truman Capote was really Holly Golightly. This makes it all the more fitting that we would get visions of him through multiple eyes, since he presented himself as a different person to each one.

While in Savannah, I went to see a performance of Private Lives, a play by Noel Coward. It sort of fit. Two witty and urbane gay writers—and me in the South. Okay, it didn’t fit all that much. But in a passage in Truman Capote I read later that evening, they mark a date by the premiere of the play in New York with Tallulah Bankhead starring. That’s something, right?

Unfortunately, the performance was terribly mediocre. Of the four actors, only the female lead seemed to have enough verve to really pull it off. The rest of the performances felt like they were mimicking old movies. Plus, they were all wearing personal microphones. Now, I am a bit of a theatre purist, and I appreciate actors who can project to the back row. But even barring that, if you’re going to use microphones, then know how. The sound was echoey, it went in and out depending on how they positioned their heads, and whenever they embraced, it was like they stepped into a cave. The dialogue was funny, but sometimes it felt like I was fiddling with a radio tuner just to hear it.


I have to admit I find it kind of cool that I am in the 2004 Novel & Short Story Writer's Market. Granted, I’d have liked to have been featured as a successful writer, but being featured as a comic book editor in a round table interview isn’t all that shabby. (Plus, I get the book for free now! Woo!) I also like that my last four or five answers end in me either disagreeing or saying “I don’t know.” Me so smart.

Current Soundtrack: Robbie Williams, "Sexed Up," single; Kylie, "Slow" remixes


Tuesday, November 11, 2003


After I finished Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, which I absolutely adored, I decided to go in for a thinner volume. On a trip to the Sylvia Beach Hotel—an inn on the Oregon coast with rooms named after and decorated for authors; we stayed in the Hemingway and there were antlers over the bed—my friend Rebecca bought me a book at a tiny coastal bookstore. It’s by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the author of Rashomon, and it’s called Kappa. I can’t recall for sure, but I might have reacted to it since I had heard of it from Usagi Yojimbo, and I believe there was a use of this demon from Japanese folklore in Hellboy, as well.

The book was written in 1927, the same year that Ryunosuke killed himself. According to the extensive biography at the front of this edition (printed in 1970), it is believed now that the author had some form of schizophrenia or other mental disease. His mother had suffered from schizophrenia, and Ryunosuke had feared his whole life that he would inherit her madness. In her altered states, she would draw pictures of people, but they would all have fox heads. Ryunosuke picked up a similar habit, but he’d always draw Kappas—a scaly creature with a face of a tiger, but with long beaks and saucers imbedded into the tops of their heads. Interestingly, the conceit of Kappa is that the story was told to the author by a mental patient.

A satire of Japanese society, this tale of a man who tumbles into the underground city of mythical creatures is both funny and bizarre. Its narrative is written in a very casual, natural style that I have seen in other Japanese novels, including much later work like The Setting Sun by Osamu Dazai. It runs the gamut of religion, sex, capitalism, and art, all skewered by the strange Kappa’s completely absurd approach to life. It also tackles suicide, as the Kappa poet Tok ends up being a stand-in for the author himself.

The book is wonderfully strange. The scenarios in Kappaland are deliciously over-the-top. I particularly like that she-Kappa’s chase down he-Kappas and tackle them, forcing them into sex and husbandly service. Family members all get involved in the hunt when the woman sets her sites on a man, and even if the man escapes the chase, he usually ends up sick and bedridden. The style with which this is all presented is so matter-of-fact, it’s addicting. I found myself sneaking a few more pages every chance I got.

The mental struggles of Ryunosuke Akutagawa is also something I can identify with, having my own anxiety over the subject, due to some maternal incongruities. Let’s hope they don’t take me over, too. Keep an eye out, and if I start doodling raccoon people, take action. Then again, I might get a cool book about tanuki out of it.


Noodled around tonight on some more concrete ideas regarding the possible graphic novel thing I hinted at earlier. Sent it off to the possible artist for opinions.

Current Soundtrack: Primal Scream, Dirty Hits remix CD


Monday, November 10, 2003


Believe it or not, I was prepared to really not like the new Britney Spears record, In The Zone. Those who know how much I actually do like Britney—and how much shit I take for it—will realize that statement is not at all facetious. My original inclination was to be excited for a new record, but the lead single, “Me Against The Music,” seemed pretty poor to me. The Madonna bits were the worst of it (and Madonna already ruined her own record this year), but the song itself didn’t really have much live. If you consider that her first three albums were lead by “…Baby One More Time,” “Ooops!…I Did It Again,” and “I’m a Slave 4 U,” you realize that the lead single is always a corker, and if “Me Against the Music” was any indication, In The Zone was going to be a relatively flat record.

Not to mention that even I am growing sick of the current promotional machine around her highness. Britney's attempts to have her cake and eat it too by showing her ass and then acting like she didn’t know it was hanging out come off as rather ridiculous. Once, maybe, you were tricked…but not this many times. And certainly not when they showed you a picture of Angie Dickinson with her ass out and you copied it. So, if Britney is turning me off, it’s clear the rest of the world is really going to be turning against her. It’s gotten so bad, I imagine even Christina Aguilera is looking at her former cohort and thinking, “Damn, she’s getting a lot of shit.”

Bare Coverings

So, I hit play on In The Zone with my eyes closed, reaching my hand out as if I were afraid the machine might shock me. Or the way you do when opening up a mysterious package that just might have your lover’s head in it.

"Me Against the Music” is track 1, and it’s what it is. No surprise here. Track 2 is “I Got That (Boom Boom),” guest the starring Ying Yang Twins (currently all over the radio, guesting on a Lil Jon cut). They start off the song with a little skit about how hot Britney is hot, and I’m a little worried we’re going to descend into a parade of guest stars that end up marring the album by taking time away from the person that got me here in the first place (a problem normally reserved for hiphop records). As the song starts, it fares better—deep beats, a banjo sample. It’s a decent enough track, but the rapping by the Twins makes it smack of trying a little too hard—not unlike having Madonna on “Music.” No one ever needed to hear the word “crunk” on a Britney Spears rekkid.

“Showdown” begins to cleanse the palette. It’s dancier, with some odd bloops tangled around Britney’s voice…but it’s not until song 4, “Breathe on Me” that the tide turns once and for all. A sexy house song, featuring breathy vocals a la Madonna’s “Justify My Love” and “Erotica,” “Breathe On Me” isn’t like anything Britney has done before. It’s a more sophisticated dance song. Things are looking up.

This shift is confirmed by the next track, the Moby-produced “Early Mornin’,” a post-club chill out. Things get even better on “Toxic.” We’re still in the dance realm, but now we’re getting snatches of strings, and it sounds cool. In fact, they stick around a bit later for the first semi-ballad, “Touch of My Hand.” The production keeps it from straying into schmaltz, and the lyrics are more than a little suggestive. Has Britney delivered us another pop tribute to masturbation? Does she bop?

It’s clear by now what we have with In The Zone. Notice that the word dance keeps turning up? This isn’t so much a pop record as it is a dance record. These songs would be perfectly at home in a club. They’re shiny with glitter, not a heavy production gloss. Even, as I said, the well-worn ballad territory isn’t littered with predictable big sounds, but stick to the electronic squiggles and abstractions. There are also some Middle Eastern riffs on songs like “Outrageous” and “The Hook-Up.” The latter actually sounds like an outtake from No Doubt’s Rock Steady, incorporating a Jamaican influence. Points, too, for having a toaster on the song that isn’t Sean Paul.

“Shadow” is our second ballad-style number, though it sits okay amongst its more beat-oriented peers by not being too slow and maintaining a pop melody. “Brave New Girl” picks things back up with a new wave style, including the sort of talk-singing that was used on hits of the period by bands like The Waitresses.

The finale is “Everytime,” the closest to a traditional Britney slow number as we come. Yet, it makes for a nice, gentle ending point, a sweet good-bye. And lest she break convention by going to far into old habits, the harp lullaby that runs through the track gives it something special.

Despite all my fears, I really, really like In The Zone. It’s the sort of assured genre album Britney Spears should have made at this point in her career. It seems like a natural step, suggesting a bit of maturity while not completely abandoning the frivolity. I’ll be curious to read the reviews. Will it be the cool thing to hate it? I mean, Pink has a new record, so I am sure every critic will be rushing to talk about how authentic she is. Perhaps comparisons to Madonna’s Erotica are indeed apt—a time in the artist’s career where the press and the public are wanting to rein them in, they release a record that, despite some patchiness, gives a big nod to club trends of the period, and end up being totally misunderstood.

On a similar note, another pop diva that everyone counted out at one point has another record. Kylie Minogue released Body Language in the UK last week. My understanding is that North America is going to have to wait until February for it. It’s an interesting turn for Kylie, coming off her biggest worldwide success with Fever and the smash “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” It’s still disco, still fantastic, but similar to Britney, not as pop as Ms Minogue is known for. Rather, it’s slow disco, full of easygoing rhythms, laid-back funk arrangements. There are a lot of winners here—the sensual “Chocolate,” the come on of “After Dark,” the computerized charms of lead single “Slow.” The techno tinklings of “Secrets (Take You Home)” remind me of a an updated take on the Tom Tom Club sound, and Kylie’s metronomic robot vocals achieves the right futuristic feel. The little rap recalls Blondie, as well. “Sweet Music” has classic Studio 54 grooves with a little bit of Dee-Lite production, and the huskiest vocal performance since Bacall told Bogey to put his lips together and blow. (A line delivered by Britney in “Breathe on Me,” actually.)

Body Language is a wonderfully self-assured record. Kylie clearly isn’t overly worried about her success. Perhaps it’s the hard-won battle of getting to her position after all these years that she has no need to for desperation. Instead of getting caught up in the fleeting nature of fatal fame, she’s having the confidence in her music.

While I am on the subject of Pop Queens, I should also note my vast enjoyment of a Pop Princess’ latest. Mandy Moore’s Coverage is a fantastic little disc. Covering everyone from XTC to Cat Stevens to the Waterboys to Elton John and the previously referenced Blondie, she’s put together a great collection of other people’s songs and given them new life. While at times Coverage threatens to stray into over-production, it almost always escapes (however narrowly), and all in all, is an addictive listening experience. With this and covers albums by Martin Gore and Erasure, it’s been a good year for artists stepping outside themselves and into other people’s shoes. Paul Weller is preparing to do the same next year, and I can’t wait. (He already released a collection of covers he had put out as B-sides as a bonus disc in his Fly On The Wall box, but this will be all new recordings.)

Current Soundtrack: Kylie, Body Language, Dave Gahan, "Bottle Living" DVD remixes