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This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Tuesday
Mar172009

In Which This Is What We Should Talk About When We Talk About Love

chris-brown-rihanna-fight1

Stop In the Name of Love

by Meredith Hight

The assault caused Robyn F ’s mouth to fill with blood and blood to splatter all over her clothing and the interior of the vehicle. Brown looked at Robyn F and stated “I am going to beat the s–t out of you when we get home! You wait and see!”

-- the police report on the night of Chris Brown’s alleged assault on Rihanna

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You want to say, this is unbelievable. How could he do that?

A few weeks later, and they are back together. How could she stay with him? You want to be surprised, but the truth is, you find this not altogether surprising. How it hurts to watch it all unfold, though — because you know what she is feeling. You know why she stays. She loves him, despite it all. And he loves her. They are young, they are confused, and they think they have found themselves in what feels like love.

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I waited for Gloria Steinem, Anna Quindlen, Elizabeth Wurtzel, Naomi Wolf, someone, to write the seminal essay on the Chris Brown and Rihanna incident, about what it means. I wanted to hear a clear voice, to parse through the media’s breathless reaction to every report about Diddy’s beach house or the supposed duet, a primer on domestic violence, someone who will adamantly but not righteously condemn abusers. I haven’t seen it.

Oprah came close with her special on domestic violence with the sometimes obnoxious and occasionally insightful Tyra Banks. But I wasn’t entirely satisfied by the show, in part because the phrase “domestic violence” makes me cringe a little. Violence is violence is violence. Deeming it “domestic” seems to suggest that it’s a personal, private matter, of the home and to be dealt with by those in relationships.

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To start, Oprah was clear about a couple of things. Love doesn’t hurt, and a man who hits you once is going to hit you again. But she also did not condemn Brown directly or specifically, which I actually appreciated. Tyra explained how she became involved in an emotionally abusive relationship, even at a time when she was at the height of her career as a supermodel.

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Tyra’s self-esteem was low, because a man had recently rejected her. She felt if she did not “win” this other man in particular, then, she was a failure —even though he was abusive and controlling.

The cultural expectation that you are not complete unless you are coupled, combined with applying a Type A personality to your personal life, is what can drive this feeling of failure, especially for women. I have held on to men, just for the sake of wanting to make something work. “Making it work” works for Tim Gunn on Bravo. This does not work in relationships. Especially when you realize you have been accidentally dating gay men.

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Regardless, the real point of Tyra’s example is that there is a reason women enter into these relationships. Lifetime movies would lead you to believe that this could happen to any woman, at any time. That entering into a relationship with an abuser can happen as easily as meeting the man of your dreams at your neighborhood grocery store.

I disagree, and though I have no psychological training, no personal experience in having been a part of an emotionally or physically abusive relationship, I want to explain why.

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As Oprah said, when you stay with a man who abuses you, it’s “because you don’t think you’re worthy of being with a man who won’t.” Most women (and some men), get involved in these relationships because they lack a sense of self, of worth.

But again, there’s a broader point. We have come to believe that most abusive relationships involve an abuser and a victim. But the fact of the matter is, an abusive relationship involves two victims.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqVCPLFjNhw]

Chris Brown talked about how scared he was as, from the impressionable ages of 7 to 13, he witnessed his mom being hit by a boyfriend. Asked what he learned from that experience, Brown said: “When a woman in love, she do anything.”

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What Brown took away, is that if a woman is in love, she is willing to be hit. She is willing to endure abuse. For some women, this is sadly true. They believe that love validates them, makes them worthy and renders them whole, and the idea of losing that love, is terrifying. So, they stay.

I sympathize with these women, but I also find this infuriating. I have had enough of “love” being cited as a reason by women for accepting and enduring abuse and neglect.
Those feelings are just feelings: they are not a reason, especially if the way a man has actually treated a woman is not taken into account.

As Brittany, who also appeared on Oprah, said of her abuser, “He was the first guy I felt like, really understood me. And that really, I connected with.” The same guy is in prison now because of the abuse he inflicted on her, which included throwing her out of his apartment, naked in the night and shoving a shirt down her throat to suffocate her. She is pregnant with his child.

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Men in these relationships seem to know the power of these “feelings.” But these men want and need love, too. Often they have not had a model for a normal, functioning and healthy relationship, but that doesn’t take away the very basic human need to be loved — and it is in this sense that they are a kind of victim, too. Not knowing the appropriate way to love, they seem to seek an all-consuming love. At the slightest threat to that love, to their control, they can become physically violent.

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Let me be very clear. Abuse is absolutely, never acceptable. But when I consider how or why it happens, it seems to come down to a power struggle for love, between the two involved in the relationship. Which neither of them can really give to the other, because neither of them even knows or understands what real love means.

It does not help that we are as a culture swept up in a hopeless romanticism that seems to supersede the reality of relationships. Which is to say, they can be hard, and it is a lot of work, to bring two lives together – and that feeling, the romance, is the easy part. Life is far more complicated than any of those feelings.

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We can judge Rihanna, or Chris Brown, or their publicists, the media, and righteously condemn violence. We can say, she should leave, he should be ashamed of himself, and he could have killed her. And we’re not wrong to say that. But what we should talk about is real love. How we need examples of that, in our culture, in the media, in our lives. Especially for those who grew up in an abusive environment.

Love means never needing to wipe the blood from your mouth after he’s hit you.

Meredith Hight is the senior contributor to This Recording. She tumbls here.


"Bitch, I Love You" - Black Joe Lewis (mp3)

"Hate That I Love You" - Rihanna ft. Ne-Yo (mp3)

"I Do Not Hook Up" – Kelly Clarkson (mp3)

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

Marshall didn’t need hot tips.

 

Podhoretz vs. Buruma.

 

Love to drown.

Saturday
Dec272008

In Which We Note The 13 Personalities That Mattered The Most in 2008

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The Top 13 Fascinating People of 2008

by Sarah Lynn Knowles

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R.I.P. 10 Things I Hate About You star Heath Ledger, who's now one of those figures that everybody remembers where they were/what they were doing when they learned he'd died. The list goes: JFK, Princess Diana, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson (TBD). Me, I was "between projects" at work when my pal Ray e-mailed about an AP text that'd come through marked "Breaking News."  

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For me, one huge highlight of 08 was standing up front for a She & Him day performance at SXSW, thus confirming how totally unfair it is that one person gets to be so many different kinds of talented/beautiful.  But despite her obvious singing talent, Zooey Deschanel still swears she didn't have the courage to put an album together until M. Ward encouraged & convinced her she could do it. Isn't that messed up?  Doesn't it make you think, like -  Do *I* have a pursuable hidden talent that someone could call me out on?  You guys, should we make a resolution right now to do that for each other?  Like, let's say Yes Man is our day job, and "Volume One" is our passion. I can be M. Ward to you, and you can be M. Ward to me.  In 2009, let's tackle that scary "Volume One" talent we've considered, but never took seriously.  Fascinate ourselves & such.

"Take It Back" - She & Him (mp3)

"I Was Made For You" - She & Him (mp3)

"Blach Hole" - She & Him (mp3)

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In late 2008, browser histories containing instances of PUPPYCAM allowed large conglomerates to simply and fairly lay off barely contributing workers.

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At three different points this year, I tried to purchase Bon Iver tickets only to watch them sell out in under a minute. This guy was a virtual unknown a year ago, and now he's charging $25 a pop for huge NYC venues 3 days in a row. Seriously, he's a fantastic testament to how a person can turn a heartwrenching break-up into art so gorgeous and lucrative. We could probably all benefit from a period of forced isolation in middle of nowhere, couldn't we?  In 2009, let's really give ourselves the opportunity to "get it all out there," as it is apparently the key to world renown and mad bling.

"Beach Baby" - Bon Iver (mp3)

"Woods" - Bon Iver (mp3)

"Babys" - Bon Iver (mp3)

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I can sum up my "fascination" with Sarah Palin pretty easily: Remember just after her VP nomination, when journalists interviewed her about her reaction to McCain asking her to be on the ticket? They wondered how long she'd mulled the idea over, how long it took her to decide to accept. And Sarah Palin was all, "I did not hesitate.  There was nothing to think about. I said yes immediately." That is precisely why bubbles of hatred for this woman still live inside me.  

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Heck yes you did, girlfriend!  That glass ceiling is all kinds of cracked up now.  

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2008 was the year I became very "fascinated" with James Franco. I mean, listen, I own a worn-out Freaks and Geeks boxed set just like the rest of you, and I've seen Spiderman, sure. But this year, you guys?  I don't know. I've heard that sometimes it takes people years to truly grow into themselves & become the person they were "meant to be." I think 2008 was that year for James Franco. Especially with him enrolled in a creative writing program now, smoking pineapple weed & writing stories about his feelings. Damn. Wanna read you, James Franco. 

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The braniacs behind Olympics coverage generally do a pretty fine job of humanizing athletes, providing back stories so it's not all medals and blowing horns, etc. The cameras focused on Michael Phelps's Mom during his record-breaking laps were a pretty ridiculous instance of that. I mean, can you even imagine being Mrs. Phelps?  What it was like to watch all that record-shattering and be able to think, "That kid, you guys?  Came out of ME. This body right here, these genes." Fascinating. Especially since he's dating that Asian prostitute now.

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Oh, hello, Mr. Mad Man, Jon Hamm. Where'd you come from all of a sudden-like?  Take-the-world-by-storm-Land? You're everywhere now, and weren't last year. But hey, listen: I'm pretty OK with it. Group me with the other bajillion Americans who find you charming, handsome, and worth the wait.

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If anyone's wondering why "that kinda boring" Fleet Foxes record garnered so much critical acclaim, please just shutup and see them live. Absolutely nuts. Harmonizing voices like angels, honestly. This isn't something I would joke about. I saw them in a giant venue, which was packed shoulder-to-shoulder. Midway through, guy wanted to try singing solo without the microphone, and asked the crowd if that was okay. We shouted back for him to go ahead, but even with a voice so strong and gorgeous, nobody thought he could really pull it off, you know?No one that room moved an inch or made a sound. Those 4 minutes were the most moving of my whole entire year.  

"Drops in the River (live)" - Fleet Foxes (mp3)

"English House (live)" - Fleet Foxes (mp3)

"White Winter Hymnal" - Fleet Foxes (mp3

tinafey-scrawl

Tina Fey is the one spot where me & Barbara Walters's fascinating people lists overlap. It's a good, proud feeling when somebody wins an award who has honestly come such a long way & truly deserves it. The Palin stuff was important and fantastic, obviously, but besides & before all that: Tina Fey is damn savvy, works hard, and is nobody to joke about.

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Did I get all choked up and cry when Michelle Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention? Yes. Yes I did. I'm not ashamed. Her father had multiple sclerosis, and so does my Dad, and hearing her talk about it was like, whoa.  Michelle Obama understands me, my background, and the reasons I work hard.  Michelle Obama understands this kinda thing is what being an American is all about. Michelle Obama also turned down Barack's request for a date like 100x, which is also something I deeply respect.

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This is just like in high school when Kurt Cobain died and I'd really only heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and got super into Nirvana only after reading 900 articles about why the loss should/did affect so many. Not that they're directly comparable -- just that I hadn't picked up any of David Foster Wallace's books until after his tragic turn of 900 articles. But now I've read the articles, and have the books sitting here. And there's a particular brand of regret from the viewpoint of a fan who got into the game too late.  

Sarah Lynn Knowles is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. Her blog is here. She last wrote in these pages about summer readings.

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PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING


The best and worst of reality television.


Links were the man in your marmalade.


The writer’s strike is now in the rearview mirror.

Friday
Nov282008

In Which We Put A Little Something In Our Lemonade

You can enjoy our aesthetically pleasing series about pin-ups and photosets here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Inside the Pink Palace of Jayne Mansfield

by Molly Lambert

One of the funniest things about the internet is that no matter how much better it gets, how much more intellectual or culturally valuable, its primary use will always be pornography. I think of the web as an encyclopedia with a dirty magazine shoved inside.

We may get some hits for poetry but our top search term is usually Jayne Mansfield. Which leads me to believe that the majority of the internet is dirty old men whose last cultural masturbatory touchstone is Jayne Mansfield. I also imagine that they are using a library computer to search for naked pics of Jayne, and that their bathrobes are flapping open.

With all the focus on Lindsay Lohan's terrible embarrassing decision to display her freckled mams in New York magazine, she recalls not so much Marilyn Monroe as Mansfield, who became more well known for her publicity stunts than her acting. Jayne may have originated the photographed purposeful nipple slip, though it's hard to tell where such an ancient trope began.

Marilyn Monroe based her own Gold Digging Blonde screen persona on her favorite actress, Jean Harlow, with aspects of their mutual hero Mae West. Madonna based herself on all of them, and Anna Nicole Smith was the embarrassing drunk girl who eats all the cake at the party.

Jean Harlow, foreshadowing Christina Hendricks

Jayne Mansfield is the real predecessor to today's media attention hungry harlots like Britney Spears, and Lohan. Or as Emily Gould's rival pub quiz team called her, "Sad Eyed Lindsay Of The Lohans."

Jayne with Groucho Marx (as George Schmidlap) in WSSRH

Jayne made two great films with Frank Tashlin, a former Warner Brothers animator who branched out into directing films. The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? channel the manic sight-gag heavy energy of Looney Tunes into live action. And Jayne Mansfield is a human cartoon, a caricature of voluptuousness to make even Sophia Loren jealous.

"Bagascia..."

Mansfield was a Playmate of the Month in Playboy, in February 1955 (preceded by Bettie Page and succeeded by Marilyn Waltz). Mansfield won several beauty contests while living in Texas, including Miss Photoflash, Miss Magnesium Lamp, and Miss Fire Prevention. The one title she turned down was Miss Roquefort Cheese, because it "just didn't sound right."

Frequent references have been made to her very high intelligence quotient. Mansfield advertised her I.Q. as 163, spoke five languages, and was a classically trained pianist and violinist, but such intellectual abilities were inconsequential to her career. Mansfield admitted her public didn't care about her brains. "They're more interested in 40-21-35," she said

Jayne married bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay, and they had a daughter, Mariska Hargitay, who stars as on Law & Order: SVU as the totally awesome Detective Olivia Benson. Mariska founded a foundation for sexually abused women and has her own perfume called XO, M.

In 1963 Mansfield became the first mainstream American actress to appear in the nude with a starring role in the film Promises! Promises! Photographs of a naked Mansfield on the set were published in Playboy

In one notorious set of images Mansfield stares at one of her breasts, as does her male secretary and a hair stylist, then grasps it in one hand and lifts it high. The sold-out issue resulted in an obscenity charge for Hugh Hefner which was later dropped.

By the late 1950s, Mansfield began to generate a great deal of negative publicity due to her repeatedly successful attempts to expose her breasts in carefully staged public "accidents." Her bosom was so much a part of her public persona that talk-show host Jack Paar once welcomed the actress to The Tonight Show by saying, "Here they are, Jayne Mansfield."

Early in her career, the prominence of her breasts was considered problematic, leading her to be cut from her first professional assignment, an advertising campaign for General Electric, which depicted several young women in bathing suits relaxing around a pool.

Throughout her career, Mansfield was compared to the reigning sex symbol of the period, Marilyn Monroe. Of this comparison, she said, "I don't know why you people like to compare me to Marilyn or that girl, what's her name, Kim Novak. Cleavage, of course, helped me a lot to get where I am. I don't know how they got there."

Marilyn Monroe as vamp Theda Bara, for Richard Avedon

Jayne Mansfield's reliance on the racy publicity that had set her path to fame would also prove to be her downfall. Fox did not renew its contract with her in 1962. Even with her film roles drying up she was widely considered to be Monroe's primary rival in a crowded field of contenders including Mamie Van Doren (whom Mansfield considered her professional nemesis).

Jayne Mansfield being Classy.

Mamie Van Doren is alive (!!) and has a sexy blog (!!!!).

In 2008, at age 77, Van Doren and her husband, Thomas, maintain her popular and controversial web site. Here she sells autographed "nipple prints" and homemade short films starring herself, such as 'A Girl and Her Banana.'

Classy classy Scarlett J. Boobsalot

Jayne's ridiculous figure made inevitably her a cartoon of a cartoon, despite her considerable intellect and acting skills. She accepted it and became the living embodiment of the kind of intense pink girliness Julia Allison aspires to, with a similar emphasis on spectacular racks. "I don't know how they got there!"

Sophia Loren. NSFW. I'm straight but I can't stop staring. So hot!

Marilyn, Jayne, and Jean all died tragically. Jayne in a car crash, Jean of kidney failure, and Marilyn of an OD. Part of what is so morbid and gross about Lindsay's photo shoot is the death trip aspect of it. Cancel my subscription Lohan, I am over your issues.

Jayne's Heart Shaped Headstone with the engraving "We Live To Love you More Each Day"

Siouxsie & the Banshees wrote a song called Kiss Them For Me about the death of Jayne Mansfield. It alludes to the Cary Grant flop co-starring Jayne as a ditzy bimbo in her last real role. The Siouxsie song is awesomely spooky. The video makes reference to Jayne's heart shaped pool at her Pink Palace.

Jean Harlow

I think Kenneth Anger put forth the rumor in Hollywood Babylon that Mansfield was decapitated. It's untrue, as are reports that Jayne was a member of Anton LaVey's Church Of Satan.

Apparently Jayne's wig flew off when she was killed, leading to the speculation she'd been beheaded. Two of her kids, including a three year old Mariska, were asleep in the backseat during the accident. Mariska got a zig-zag scar on one side of her head.

Jean Harlow with Anita Loos. Loos is such an ur-Diablo Cody!

I've been reading Anita Loos's autobiography, A Girl Like I, and it's hilarious. Loos wrote the 1925 novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which was adapted in several forms. Loos wrote the screenplay for The Women and all kinds of sparklingly witty scripts and prose full of astute observations about gender and class.

Le Diable

Loos totally paved the way for heroes of mine like Amy Heckerling and Nora Ephron. But doesn't she sort of look like Diablo Cody? The emo haircut? The bottle jokingly poised above the starlet's head? I love this picture.

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording.
She tumbles here.

QUEEN JAYNE APPROXIMATELY

"This Land of Plenty" - Leonard Cohen (mp3)

"Boogie Street" - Leonard Cohen (mp3)

"You Have Loved Enough" - Leonard Cohen (mp3)

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

Is that a fat coat?

Danish got new money.

Molly’s not much of a crier.


Friday
Nov212008

In Which We Just Think You're a Dime

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On J.Lo

by Molly Young

When was the last time you saw the Jennifer Lopez video for "Love Don't Cost a Thing"? Was it recently? Do you remember what it feels like to behold a perfect visual disquisition on femininity?

The song came out in 2001 and plays mainly now on in-house TV channels for low-budget gyms. This is where I saw it.

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My love don't cost a coat

The first thing you notice in "Love Don't Cost a Thing" is also the only thing you notice, which is J. Lo's physical person. For a good minute or so, she is no more than a body. Nouns might occur to you (hair-skin-breasts-thighs) but it is difficult to register anything else. The song is white noise. The point of the video is to present J.Lo as an Ideal Woman.

Which she was, or was informally considered. And isn't considered anymore--something you can prove by looking around and tabulating how many young girls recognizably imitate her today (negligible) versus how many imitated her in 2001 (uncountable).

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Many accessories! Note expert application of bronzer.

Elaine Scarry, writing on beauty, notes that "beauty is sometimes disparaged on the ground that it causes a contagion of imitation, as when a legion of people begin to style themselves after a particular movie starlet."

At her peak, J. Lo was a particularly seductive star to imitate because of her self-embellishment. She wore dramatic clothing, lots of jewelry and extravagant makeup, all of which could be mimicked, if not replicated. (See Gwen Stefani for another practitioner of this business savvy. Associating oneself with objects is the key to branding!)

The Boricua beauty/booty from the Bronx loaded herself up with visual cues that instantly became associated with her, and which connoted her beauty while actually having nothing to do with it. Naturally, her clothing, jewelry and perfume enterprises sold briskly.

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Scrupulous grooming is a sign of wealth

The genius element of J. Lo's "Love Don't Cost a Thing" video is that it fully refutes this gambit. The plot revolves around J.Lo methodically stripping herself of embellishment, starting the video in full glamour mode and winding up, at song's end, fresh-faced and nearly naked on a beach. The camera tracks her evolution as she slips off bracelets, tosses away sunglasses, coat, and handbag, and abandons her fancy car and mansion.

The plot line of the song and video, of course, revolves around the premise that J.Lo's wealthy lover is substituting gifts for affection, when what J.Lo needs "is not available in stores." It's a funny conceit given that the ultra-dolled-up J.Lo is presumably what attracted the dude in the first place.

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Baby, credit cards aren't romance
But she's done with it. Off come the necklaces, makeup, clothes. The surprise is what's left: I woulda never pegged J.Lo for a classic beauty--so much of beauty lies in native expressiveness, and it's hard to gauge this from tabloid pictures or even films--but her image from the closing frames of the video is impossible to shake.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvjRrwR2eA4]

It's a dissociative experience, and it centers on a figure that doesn't look like Jennifer Lopez at all. The woman in the video is so beautiful, in fact, that she loses all of J.Lo's specificity and reminds one, instead, of images like Sargent's Madame X or Renoir's portraits of Jeanne Samary. You know, timeless. And with that mixture of ruthlessness and vulnerability that attends all portraits - whether by accident or not - of feminine paragons.

Molly Young is the contributing editor to This Recording. Here is her website.

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The fitting end to an exhausting saga

"All Bad Ends All" - The Books (mp3)

"Contempt" - The Books (mp3)

"All Our Base Are Belong To Them" - The Books (mp3)

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

Molly chronicles the bloodlines of the seduction community.

Tess totally lives in the future.

The wonders of the New Museum

Friday
Nov142008

In Which We'll Just Wait And See If It's Half Of What It Used To Be

Our New York series continues with Nancy Jo Sales' classic Vanity Fair piece about Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake.

Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan

The Golden Suicides

by Nancy Jo Sales

On a rainy October night in Washington, D.C., the friends and family of Jeremy Blake gathered for a private memorial service at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Blake, an art-world star acclaimed for his lush and moody “moving paintings,” shape-shifting innovations mixing abstract painting and digital film, had ended his life on the night of July 17, walking into the Atlantic Ocean off Rockaway Beach, Queens, never to return.

“I am going to join the lovely Theresa,” Blake, 35, had written on the back of a business card, which he left on the beach, along with his clothes. Police helicopters searched for him for days on the chance he might still be alive. Friends prayed that he was, talking of how his passport was missing, he had bought a ticket to Germany. Then on July 22, a fisherman found his body floating 4.5 miles off Sea Girt, New Jersey.

“The lovely Theresa” was Theresa Duncan, a writer, filmmaker, computer-game creator, and Blake’s girlfriend of 12 years.

He had found her lifeless body on July 10, in the rectory of St. Mark’s Church in Manhattan’s East Village, where the couple had been renting an apartment. There was a bowl full of Benadryl pills, a bottle of Tylenol PM, and a champagne glass on the nightstand. There was a note saying, “I love all of you.” Duncan was 40.

The last post on her blog, “The Wit of the Staircase,” was a quote from author Reynolds Price about the human need for storytelling and the impossibility of surviving in silence.

No one who spoke at Blake’s memorial service that evening at the Corcoran said anything about Theresa Duncan. Almost no one mentioned her name. (It happened to be her birthday, October 26.) No one talked about the dark stories and wild speculation that had emerged after news of the couple’s “double suicide” hit the media. There had been reports they had become “paranoid,” obsessed with conspiracy theories, believing they were being harassed by Scientologists.The Internet filled up with conjecture about government plots and murder. Something about their story seemed to capture the modern imagination, if only because no one knew exactly why two such accomplished and attractive people had chosen to make their exit.

Nancy Jo Sales archive at New York Magazine

“In the summer of 2006, I saw my brother for the first time in years,” said Blake’s 18-year-old sister, Adrienne, crying, “and I could tell he was completely different from what he had been. It frightened me.”

In their final days in New York, Blake and Duncan would seek refuge from the demons they believed were chasing them in the company of a radical Episcopalian priest, Frank Morales. Morales became one of their closest friends and confidants. He is also my ex-husband. We were married in 2004 and separated in 2006, a few months before he met the couple. The day after Jeremy Blake disappeared, Frank showed up at my door. He was visibly upset and said he wanted to talk. “What about?,” I asked. I hadn’t seen him in months. He started to tell me the story. “He slipped through our fingers,” Frank said of Blake.

blake

In a letter dated August 9, 2006, Blake and Duncan’s landlord in Venice, California, Sabrina Schiller, informed them that they had to move out. The neighbors on either side of their quaint Craftsman bungalow had told her, Schiller said, that they were “determined to seek police protection if necessary.”

A statement in support of their eviction was taken from one of the neighbors, Katharine O’Brien, 25, then the girlfriend of indie movie producer Brad Schlei. Earlier in the year, Schlei, a collector of Blake’s work, had hired him to direct an adaptation of the George Pelecanos novel Nick’s Trip.

Nick's Trip

“On the evening of May 9, 2006,” said O’Brien’s statement, “Theresa approached my bungalow and rapped on the window. Upon opening the door I was immediately greeted with the following questions… Theresa said to me, ‘Jeremy and I have started a club where we’ve found a bunch of old men and we’re letting them fuck us in the ass, and we wanted to know if you wanted to be a part of it.’ I asked Theresa if she was joking. She said ‘no’ and repeated herself. I asked if she was trying to imply something about the age difference between my boyfriend and me.” (Schlei is 41.) “She said ‘no,’ smiled, and walked away.

“That night”—a night Blake seemed to be away, uncharacteristically leaving Duncan alone—“Theresa … returned to my bungalow five or six times,” the statement continued. “Out of the blue, she asked if I was a Scientologist.… For the record, I have no connection whatsoever with Scientology, and have never been a Scientologist.”

In the months prior to this encounter, the two couples—Duncan and Blake and O’Brien and Schlei—had become friendly with each other. Schlei had even signed the “loyalty oath” Blake and Duncan had taken to asking of some friends. “I just want to get this film made,” Schlei told someone.

“Theresa was acting very strangely,” O’Brien’s statement said. “She was displaying jerking body movements; her face and hands were twitching. She continued to accuse me of being a Scientologist and part of a Scientology conspiracy to defame her.… At times I would hear her cackling and hooting from the alley.

“The next day, May 11, [Blake] withdrew from the business relationship he had with my boyfriend, claiming that I was a Scientologist and that my masters in Santa Barbara (my parents’ home) were instructing me to defame Theresa.”

Schlei says that Blake later told him he could provide him with “proof” that O’Brien was a Scientologist, but he never did. In July, when O’Brien came home and picked up her mail, she wrote, Duncan “shrieked ‘cult whore’ and ‘cult hooker’ repeatedly. She was very frightening.”

In 2002, the year she and Jeremy Blake moved to Los Angeles (they had been living in New York since 1995), Duncan was riding the crest of a seven-year wave of success. Stories about “Silicon Alley’s dream girl” had appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, People, along with dozens of photographs of her looking glamorous. She had been to “new media” what Jane Pratt was to magazines or Tabitha Soren to MTV—the pretty girl, the chosen one. Her CD-roms, Chop Suey, Smarty, and Zero Zero, had been hailed as breakthrough games for girls. Chop Suey was named Entertainment Weekly’s “CD-rom of the Year” in 1995.

When she moved to Los Angeles, Duncan had a two-picture deal with Fox Searchlight and had written and directed a pilot for Oxygen Media. She had “my boyfriend Jeremy Blake”—she was always bringing him up—literally the poster boy of the 2001 “BitStreams” exhibition of digital art at the Whitney Museum. That same year, Blake had been tapped by director Paul Thomas Anderson to create a hallucinogenic dream sequence for Punch Drunk Love, and singer-songwriter Beck had asked him to do a series of covers and a video for his album Sea Change (both released in 2002).

And then, something began to go very wrong.

“Yes, it looks like New York is a good idea for a few,” Blake wrote breezily in an e-mail to a friend on December 22, 2006, announcing that he and Duncan were moving back. They had evacuated their Venice bungalow two weeks after receiving their landlord’s August letter, cramming themselves into the small office space near the beach Blake had been using as a studio. They were low on funds.

Blake wrote of how he and Duncan had been “harassed here to the point of absurdity” by people who were so “paranoid” that it made him “laugh.” He said that they had been “defamed by crazy Scientologists,” threatened and followed by “their thugs.” (The Church of Scientology has denied any knowledge of the couple.) He wrote of how New York was starting to seem like the place for them to be, a place where they could speak “freely” to “exceptional people” and get their projects started.

It was The History of Glamour—the witty, 40-minute-long animated film Duncan made while at Nicholson—that got her noticed by Hollywood. The film, a semi-autobiographical satire about the rise of an indie-girl rocker, showed in the 2000 Whitney Biennial—another milestone in Duncan’s own ascendance. (Glamour was co-illustrated by Jeremy Blake.) It’s hard, watching it now, to understand how Duncan ever wound up a suicide. Her movie is full of wry humor and silliness, and is a cautionary tale about the emptiness of fame and the corrupting influence of ambition.

The cosmic pileup was in overdrive when, in mid-January of 2007, Blake and Duncan moved into the St. Mark’s Church rectory and instantly befriended Father Frank Morales.

Morales, 58, is a longtime East Village activist, generally credited as being the leader of the New York squatter movement of the 80s and 90s. In the last 10 years, he has refashioned himself as a journalist, investigating what he refers to as “the domestic operations of the Pentagon” and the “militarization of the police.” He is the winner of two Project Censored awards (for “The News That Didn’t Make the News”) from Sonoma State University, most recently for his Internet-published piece “Bush Moves Toward Martial Law” (2006).

In short, he’s the radical left’s Fox Mulder, a man who makes mere “conspiracy theorists” look like Sunday drivers.

“My paranoia is rooted in reality,” he says, half joking.

When Blake and Duncan moved back to New York in early January of 2007, Duncan very much wanted to get the rectory apartment at St. Mark’s. It was both beautiful, overlooking the church’s garden, and bizarre, allegedly haunted by the ghosts of Edgar Allan Poe and Harry Houdini.

Morales, who saw them as the sort of people who belonged at the church—long a hangout for artists, from Andy Warhol to Allen Ginsberg—walked out of the meeting with them and assured them he would put in a good word. “Jeremy kind of looked at me sideways and said, ‘You’re a priest?’ And I looked back at him and said, ‘You’re an artist?’ We immediately liked each other,” he said.

Frank Morales

And yet, she seemed to fear that she was becoming unknown. One night, at a gathering of New York friends at the rectory apartment—she and Blake were once again throwing lively soirées—Duncan dragged out of a closet her old CD-roms and a copy of The History of Glamour. “Everybody kind of looked at each other like, Oh no, what is she doing?” said someone who was there.

Maybe it was Morales’s refreshing lack of knowledge of anything connected with Hollywood that made the couple gravitate so heavily now toward the hip pastor. Or maybe it was his knowledge of subjects which had come to interest them, which other friends of theirs considered a bit nutty. “The U.S. government invaded Iraq on the basis of lies and still some people want to deny the existence of conspiracies,” said Morales.

her death

Around seven p.m., Blake came home from work. Walking through the church garden he saw Morales and invited him up. Morales said he would join them in a few minutes.

Then, about 10 minutes later, Morales said, he noticed there were a number of police cars outside the rectory entrance on East 11th Street. He hurried up to the apartment, where Blake was in the living room, “sobbing, pounding the walls with his fist, screaming, ‘Dammit, fuck, no, this can’t be happening.’ ”

The police were with Duncan’s body in the bedroom. Blake never went back inside. He had found her on the bed. Her face seemed almost smiling. Somehow, one of her hands had traveled up toward her cheek and was frozen there, as if she had just thought of something else she wanted to say.

Some detectives arrived and began questioning Blake in Duncan’s office. Was she depressed? Was she stressed out? they asked him. “No more than usual,” Blake said, shaking his head. Did you have an argument? “No.”

Morales asked to be let into the bedroom to perform last rites over Duncan’s body. She was now on the floor, where the E.M.S. workers had been examining her. He knelt down and spoke the prayers. “It didn’t seem possible,” he said. “It seemed so out of character.”

For several hours, Blake had to wait for the morgue workers to come and take away her body. He wouldn’t leave Duncan’s office or go near the bedroom, continuing to sit motionless, “looking very withdrawn.” One cop stayed, standing watch in front of the bedroom door.

Finally, around 11 p.m., the men from the morgue arrived. (The official cause of Duncan’s death was suicide by acute intoxication due to the combined effects of diphenhydramine—which is present in Benadryl and Tylenol PM—and alcohol. The New York City medical examiner’s office would not comment on whether there were other drugs found in her system.)

Nancy Jo Sales' article on which movie is being made

his death

‘Dear All,” read the e-mail Blake sent to a few people, including his gallerist and curator, on the morning of July 12. He apologized for having to relay the news that he had “suffered a terrible and unexpected personal tragedy this week.” He then told everyone that Theresa had “passed away.”

Blake said that Theresa was “never a person to compromise,” and that he had a “clear understanding” that she had made the decision to end her life. He said that in doing so she had exhibited the same “strength” that she had shown when she was alive.

He asked his friends that they mention to everyone they spoke to of her death that she was “beautiful, generous, and lived by a code all her own,” that they not “spread more sadness in the world,” but “show respect” for someone who had loved them all.

And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate.

The blog post Duncan set for January 1st, 2008

New Beginning


And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate.

So here I am, in the middle way, having had
twenty years -
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of
l'entre deux guerres -
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind
of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better
of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or
the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so
each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate,
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what
there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already
been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom
one cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition -
There is only the fight to recover
what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now,
under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither
gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not
our business.

--T. S. Eliot
East Coker
Four Quartets

"Rent a Cop" - Blitzen Trapper (mp3)

"New Shoes" - Blitzen Trapper (mp3)

"Fire & Fast Bullets" - Blitzen Trapper (mp3)

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A series of essays exploring the history, architecture, art, film, music and culture of New York City.

Part One (Will Hubbard)

Part Two (Matt Lutton)

Part Three (Brian DeLeeuw)

Part Four (Molly Young)

Part Five (Alex Carnevale)

Part Six (Rachel B. Glaser)

Part Seven (Brittany Julious)

Part Seven (Andrew Zornoza)

Part Eight (Bridget Moloney)