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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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Friday
Oct192012

In Which We Hate The Way We're Speaking To Each Other

Post Mortem

by DICK CHENEY

It's not polite to say who died on Downton Abbey. Most people don't even know. Their lives haven't changed as a result. We love people, especially wealthy individuals, in the specifics, since we sense we may become them. In the abstract, they disappoint us.

this guy

My other favorite show is Sons of Anarchy. Except for the Exorcist-like horror involved in watching Gemma Teller (Katey Segal) have sex scenes with Jimmy Smits, who plays a pimp on the show, it's fantastic. I spent the entire hour flexing my knuckles and lamenting that I'm too old to get on a bike. It would probably end more like this:

The first rule about Fight Club is that you never get on a motorcycle with someone wearing a Duke t-shirt. But we were talking about the death of Opie.

It's impossible to connect the phenomenon of a maudlin young motorcyclist (Ryan Hurst) dying in prison to save his boyfriend with the economy, except to say that watching the members of the MC mourn their large, closeted friend, all I could think of was how much money they saved on the funeral by having it themselves.

basically, your father is an idiot Lady Mary

I was gchatting with someone the other day who was telling me how boring they find scripted television. I explained that was probably because they couldn't see the sychronicity between Branson putting his wife between himself and the British government, and the president doing the exact same thing with Hillary Clinton.

She signed off in a huff and e-mailed me the entire Supreme Court opinion on Roe v. Wade. Having friends on the other side of the aisle is like being married to Lady Mary (tell me when you tire of these comparisons). Everything they think of is completely without regard for the economic realities of the world.

I can't even imagine what it would be like to gchat with Matthew Crawley, probably like sucking on a tootsie roll pop that has asparagus at its center.

branson, you disgust me

No one has done more to diminish the cause of Irish independence than Julian Fellowes. I haven't been this mad since South Park eclipsed the boundaries of bad taste and did a storyline making fun of how Bane sounded in The Dark Knight Rises.

Sorry, my mind is wandering a lot lately. It's a function of old age, and the relentless attacks on Mormonism in the mainstream media. I really don't understand this. One group of people believes in a supernatural human being who is supposed to return to Earth and save the world, and another believes a slightly different version of this myth, but is absolutely crazy for thinking this way.

The only thing worse than that is how many times I'll be writing, "The only thing worse than that" in this essai. The only thing worse than that, though, is how every single joke on Mike & Molly is still about how fat the male in the relationship is. It's bullying, and I find it disgusting. That's his natural build.

buy a large bed please

Doesn't it feel like they're making the bed look especially tiny? My only real problem with scripted television is that every single person on it is completely caucausian. Last night I found myself rewinding the trailer for Alex Cross just to interject a little diversity in my existence. The idea of Tyler Perry as a hardboiled cop hunting Jack Shephard from Lost is beyond my dreams. It makes me think of a Jhumpa Lahiri short story, that's how completely amazing it is.

the answer to Lost was a bright light coming out of a cave. Never forget.

Once I was in a country club where the hazing ritual involved watching all of the Madea movies in chronological sequence while you kept getting messages on your phone saying, "They passed another tax on capital gains!" The fact that no one finds it the least bit strange that Matthew Fox could convincingly play a serial killer should tell us something.

"Brickleberry"

The mere idea of Lost usually reduces me to tears. To cheer myself up I watch this show Brickleberry, which takes place in a national park. The point of Brickleberry is to be offensive, and make jokes about subjects that other shows won't touch. In theory this is an interesting concept but (1) Family Guy has been on the air for over two decades and (2) 90 percent of the jokes are simple racism. (The black character is named Denzel. Haha. Get it? If you don't, you're a fucking square.) (The other ten percent of the jokes are about women and gays.)

You start to understand why my liberal gchat friend hates scripted television. That is, until you watch the finest show airing on any network, The Thick Of It.

Malcolm Tucker and Rebecca Front on "The Thick Of It"

You know how Parks & Recreation pretends to be a show about politics, but is really just a larger forum for the writers of the show to copy down all the funny jokes they read on the internet and have comedians act them out? I can't believe they did an entire election storyline with Leslie Knope, and then occupied her time with solving the obesity problem in Pawnee and feuding over a bathroom. Not even I have that little faith in government.

Ben and December

Here is what all the punchlines on Parks & Recreation revolve around: Leslie is energetic, Ron eats free-range meat, Chris is depressed, Andy is stupid, April is a bitch, Adam Scott has a large head for his body.

You know, it's okay to have a person who has more than one aspect to his personality. It's called a fully-fleshed out character; the show's writers might have seen it in passing during the ninety seconds a day they peel their heads away from their iPhones. The only thing more embarrassing than this season of Parks & Recreation is having to read pathetic Emily Nussbaum essais about how much she worships Amy Poehler or how she doesn't want Parenthood to get canceled. Grow up.

Peter Mannion's aides on 'The Thick Of It'

I guess now that I am "retired", politics just bores me. Art lasts for a substantial duration, blog posts slightly less long. Does anyone remember the Whigs? Or what a dick Andrew Jackson was? I can't muster the energy. It's easier to just look to television for escape. That's why there is no better place to rest your head than the considerable problems of the British.

Unfortunately, most of middle America can't understand a single word said in Malcolm Tucker's Scottish accent, so they watch The Walking Dead instead.
 

The only thing worse than that is. There are people everywhere, when I wake. I have no right to judge them. Wake me up after the election.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in an undisclosed location. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about intercourse between Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley.

"Fear Is A Man's Best Friend" - Field Music (mp3)

"Heart" - Field Music (mp3)

Thursday
Oct182012

In Which We Trace Our Fear Of Flying

Interims

by RACHEL SYKES

Years later, I traced my sometime fear of flying back to the journey between Frankfurt and St. Petersburg. I had never flown before and, besides, I was flying alone. But these facts did not account for the fear itself; I still suffered from an obliviousness which could pass for youthful bravery. Until we neared St. Petersburg, I felt for the first time the fervent calm of journeys spent mid-air — delicately balanced between the known and the next. It was only as we descended into the city that the plane jolted, forced to fly up at a harsh and sudden angle. Over the intercom, the pilot announced that we had been about to hit another plane.

On the next flight I took, out of Russia some months later, I sat beside a friend who was in fits of giggles. “What's so funny?” I asked him.

From his pocket, he drew a lighter, shaped like a gun. The Russian police found it less amusing as they searched us, bribed him, and threatened not to let us fly. Back on board, my friend, unashamed, spent the flight leaning across to me and, whilst knowing my nerves, periodically whispered: “Oh... I don't think it's supposed to make that noise.”

I travelled back to St. Petersburg seven years, almost to the day, since I had left it. Taking my first flight from London to Frankfurt, I held the faded St. Christopher's that my grandma had given me seven years previously. It was cheap, the coating was flaking, but I rubbed it back and forth and guided it round my neck, briefly wondering if I should pray, briefly wondering when I'd needed to pretend I was religious.

Slowly, my mind sifted through all the flights on which I had performed the same routine. As we circled Frankfurt, I tried not to think of the descent into St. Petersburg. And when I looked out of the window, focussing on what might identify the new country beneath us, I was distracted by how recognisable the woods around the city had become. I couldn't remember ever having seen them before, but the colour of the trees felt familiar. The woods were exactly the same, I just didn't have the memory.

With five hours to wait in Frankfurt airport, I could only watch as people walked around me. Listening to music didn't seem to help; it felt like the songs only dragged me backwards. When you listen to headphones daily, you invest each destination in the same, solitary beat. When leaving somewhere, and especially if waiting in terminals with machines that claim to fly, filling my ears with these sounds tugs me back too sharply amongst the places I have just left. Feet step in the rhythms of the route to work; my heart taps the pulse of the person I'm not supposed to be thinking of. Under headphones, you are too set in the problems which songs doctor in a day to day routine.

So here, in Frankfurt, I listen to people talk and watch how they hold their food. I think about how they place their feet on the ground in front of them and wonder how they pick their clothes in the morning. I steal their identities. There's a woman, to my left, who is reading Peter Pan in Spanish to her toddler, as her husband and other children sleep on the bench. I write a page about her, but only two sentences about the man, 41, and woman, 27, who sit cross-legged and in suits, iPads on their laps, accidentally spilling empty pill bottles and stethoscopes over the floor of McDonalds.

Some hours earlier, my housemates wrestle several pieces of work out of my suitcase. This is a holiday, they tell me; take fresh eyes and fresh reading. Do not take notes. Remember that this is not the same trip, it is not a return. There is nothing for you to achieve.

But somehow, the strangeness of the woods spins parallels between this point and every moment in which I have previously sat, aimlessly waiting. Remembering these interims seems like remembering nothing at all. The layovers in another language, with a currency I'd forgotten to get, with words I never intended to have. Sometimes I'd slept on top of my backpack in a country I'd forgotten by the time I woke up. Already worried about knowing the right Russian, I order coffee and forget the German for anything at all. Hurrying out of security, I leave my rucksack open and, reaching a table with my drink, spill a satchel-worth of pretentious notebooks and biographies over the sleeping children.

These interims typify the first world problems I point out to myself on a daily basis. And ordinarily, I worry less about them. But seven years after I took my first flight to Russia, it seemed difficult to grasp that I was returning by the same route. And besides, there is something about the sterility of airports that encourages self-analysis. I self-consciously keep scrapbooks and notebooks all year round, but when we are forced to pause we all generate parallels, we all look for patterns to reconcile memories with the accumulation of years.

In the airport, I write about the people who pass by me prematurely dressed for the beach. They wear bikini tops and straw hats and are already disappointed in the DJ booked for their arrival. I begin also to notice what is different about me. There may not be one cell of my body that is the same; I am certainly three dress sizes smaller and have four more piercings. There is one grey hair in my head, a head which has been dyed ten times more and has an extra bump on one side of it. In seven years, I have broken my own heart once, and had it broken for me once more. But I still wear the same dark and wonky glasses, and sit too often on the floor. I walk with my head slightly down and my mouth slightly open, a trait which my mum pointed out to me on the way to the airport in 2005.

Before the decision was made to go to Russia the first time, I had become obsessed with Russian novels. Morosely dragging a tattered copy of Anna Karenina around with me, mouth slightly ajar, I sat in pink flared trousers and read it for the whole of one summer. My unfalteringly Catholic grandmother noticed how slowly it took me to read. She told me that I had become involved in immoral practices - I caught her trying to swap it out of my school bag for her copy of Pride and Prejudice.

That summer I turned sixteen and changed schools. I still hadn't finished the novel by the time September rolled around. But that autumn, I met a girl in music class and we bonded over a shared and unlikely near death experience in which we had both swallowed marbles. Being prone to melodrama even at a young age, we had quickly, separately, accepted that day as our day to die, had uttered our final words and said a quick prayer. The marble had popped neatly and easily back into the palms of our hands. My friend remembers me dolefully unpacking my school bag at the beginning of the new term, attempting to cram Anna Karenina awkwardly back into the top. “I haven't finished it yet,” I said, at which point she claims that I extended a pointed finger ominously in her direction: “But I will.”

I'd always thought that if I could work out what took me to Russia in the first place then I would figure out a little more of myself. It seems, at least in part, to be a wilful belief that Russia is a home for eccentrics and that I could belong amongst them. In my mannered quest for an identity, I told my English teacher I would go to Russia, instead of university. With very little self-awareness, I was convinced that this would be shocking. She knew better and was, thankfully, used to ridiculous teenagers.

She laughed, and she said, “That is because Russia is the country of your dreams.”

When I changed schools that summer, it had begun to change my life. I had teachers who humored my stroppy temperament, who allowed and encouraged me to think, who let me be ridiculous and indulgent. But even by eighteen, when I left, I wasn't quite ready. Even at a new school, even with the encouragement to do what I wanted, I noticed how far I was behind. The people around me were richer than I was; they were cleverer, better read, better dressed, and thinner. Even as I started to want things for myself, it felt as though I was chasing other people's ambitions.

It's just a thought that catches up with me, on the floor of Frankfurt airport, as I think about how bright the trees around the city seem to be. My mum still remembers me as a child back then, hiding beneath a head of hair which one hairdresser would later tell me held twice as many follicles as a “normal person.” I was looking back over a suitcase twice my size, struggling to see under the weight of my fringe, and looking anxiously for someone I knew. But when I had passed through security seven years previously, I had felt so unafraid. I had figured out that I was about to go somewhere, to do something, which I had not inherited from the people around me. No matter how false this could only have been, as I sat and tried to remember the Russian for “maybe,” it seemed as if no time had passed at all.

Rachel Sykes is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about the road. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She tumbls here and twitters here.

"Boxing Night" - Frightened Rabbit (mp3)

"Home From War" - Frightened Rabbit (mp3)

Wednesday
Oct172012

In Which Nancy Drew Is The Sleuth Of Our Dreams

Who Kidnapped Nancy?

by HILARY REID

In 2001, when I was ten years old and perched tenuously between the adventures of Nate the Great, his dog Sludge, and their weird proto-hipster friend Rosamond with the blunt-cut bangs, and the voyeuristic thrill of the 365-calorie burning sex, endlessly flowing gin and tonics, and headband-adorned low-grade drama of Gossip Girl, The A-List, and The Clique, my parents dragged me along on their intense weekend-consuming antiquing trips.

They would hunt for vintage radios, Edison phonographs, and those Kit-Cat clocks with the eyes and tails that move like a pendulum. At this point, before antique stores became a source of “unique” clothing and accessories, the shops bored me — vintage earrings and bags and coats looked like what they actually are: old.

So I started my own search. The search led to baskets full of tarnished ice skates and faded stamps in the corner of dealers’ booths, and to German steins and shining cigarette cases behind glass. It led me to musty bookcases filled with abandoned copies of John Cheever stories and failed diet guidebooks. Sorting through the old books and memorabilia was worth it though. All of this hunting was for another sleuth, the greatest girl-sleuth of all — Nancy Drew.

At the time, Nancy Drew was cool because she was eighteen and drove a convertible. She had two best friends, Bess Marvin and George Fayne, who could solve mysteries with her anywhere and at any time; a father, Carson Drew, an attorney who allowed her free reign over her adventures, and would even send her out on investigations; and a boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, a tall, athletic Emerson student, who, in a few cases, saved Nancy, but not at a higher frequency than Nancy saved Ned.

Nancy would stumble upon mysteries herself, or her father would be working on a legal case, need Nancy to run a small errand, delivering papers for instance, and she would notice something out of place. Always there was something gone awry, a small detail that needed solving. Something that only an intelligent detective would notice. That was the thing above all else about Nancy Drew — she was smart. She never flirted for a tip, but relied on her intelligence to get the information, instead. For someone who was ten-years-old and alienated from the seemingly cool, so grown-up, girl teens on television who could seamlessly flirt with any guy with a smooth early millennium bowl-cut, Nancy Drew was a relief — a girl who did exciting things because of her intelligence, not because of her ability to woo a guy.

Considering that the first Nancy Drew book, The Secret Of The Old Clock, was published in 1930, it is surprising that a character like Nancy even existed. The writers under the Carolyn Keene pseudonym invented an independent woman for whom yes, some things are scary, but never terrifying enough to deter their girl hero from solving a crime.

Her world is equally dangerous for any detective, regardless of gender or age, offering an answer — at least a fantasy answer — to the “I am a woman and should be able to walk down any alley alone at night and not be afraid, but as a smart woman, I have to be careful” predicament. In this imaginary world, Nancy never changes her plans for fear of violence. Is this viable for women today? Realistically, and unfortunately, no. But is the ideal of a life unconstrained by this predicament any more fantastical and outrageous than a mainstream media that suggests that every time a woman walks somewhere alone at night she will be raped? Not really.

For all its innovation, the Nancy Drew series does not completely escape stereotypes. In addition to Nancy’s investigative skills, the authors make a point of distinguishing her as a great seamstress, cook, bridge player, and first-aid nurse. Her two best friends, George and Bess, both have boyfriends who go to the same college as Nancy’s boyfriend Ned, making for neat ready-to-go double dates on the occasional Saturday night off from searching for thieves and kidnappers.

Even given these typical roles, Nancy and her friends stray far from the traditional expectations of women during the thirties, forties, and fifties — they are definitely not housewives in training. Even if Nancy wears a dress on all the books’ covers, she’s still shown in action, be it seconds before she climbs into a dark attic, or as she looks at some ghost-like figure (who is that guy on the cover of The Sign of the Twisted Candles, anyway?)

When I look at the covers of my old Nancy Drew books, I wish I could tell my shy middle school self, embarrassed by her red hair and freckles, to look harder at the redheaded gumshoe on the covers of the books she was reading. I was enthralled by the stories inside those great covers, yet still pined to look like the girls on the Gossip Girl jackets — long straight hair, brace-less-teeth, lips perfectly glossed and limbs expertly thin. It never crossed my mind that the tops of these girls’ heads (the part which presumably contains a brain) were always absent.

I realize that in all her peter-pan collared, calf-length wool-skirted, redhead-bobbed glory, Nancy Drew is pretty stylish — especially in the high-waisted jeans, patent loafers, and chartreuse jumper on the cover of The Secret of Shadow Ranch. Nancy’s style is classic, but always second to her “smarts,” making her timeless in a way that the tanned, glossed girls on the Gossip Girl covers could never be.

+

I first saw the new Nancy Drew while working at Barnes and Noble last winter. A well-meaning dad approached my register and handed the book over. I started to tell him how much I loved Nancy as a kid, but then I looked at the cover. There wasn’t my sleuth hero, but instead a stick-thin girl with long blond hair and short-shorts. The hardcover and yellow-spine were gone, traded for a flimsy paperback with “Nancy Drew” printed in a font and colors that resembled every Justin Bieber fan-mania magazine. No retro dress, no auburn bob, just a model who resembled a young Reese Witherspoon. She was an imposter.

The imposter wore big sunglasses, a low-cut baby-tee style shirt, and tiny plaid shorts, with one hand on her hip, behind slightly poked out. Perhaps her posture is meant to be viewed as “assertive,” but at first glance it looks more like a stale prom picture pose. The book was titled Nancy Drew, Girl Detective: California Schemin’. This couldn’t have been Nancy, it must’ve been some fraud who kidnapped her. The real Nancy was just off solving the crime of her stolen identity, right?

From the first page, the new Nancy (and Carolyn Keene) makes it very clear that the old Nancy, my old Nancy, is long gone. She’s left her hometown, River Heights, and is on to bigger, ritzier things. Here is the opening scene of California Schemin’, with Nancy as narrator: 

"Girls," I said, smiling between smoothie sips. ‘I don’t think we’re in River Heights anymore.’

"For sure,” George said. She raised her own raspberry smoothie glass and toasted, “To Malachite Beach!’

"Playground of the rich and famous," Bess piped up. "And now…us."

Leaning forward, I clinked glasses with my BFFs, Bess Marvin and George Fayne. The three of us were lounging on a deck overlooking the most awesome moonlit beach we had ever seen in our lives.

They go on to talk about George’s mother's connection to an event-planner-to-the-stars who made their beach trip possible, and the sweet sixteen of a pair of “celebrity twins” aboard an “actual refurbished pirate ship,” with goodie bags full of “MP3 players, diamond charm bracelets, and cameras.”

The new Nancy, Bess and George are, to say the least, expensive. Their vocab is sprinkled with abbreviations — “BFFs,” “vacay” — and the only recognizable similarity between the new and old series is Bess’s “piping in” (Bess is always “piping” in). The preoccupation with fame, money, and connections aligns the new Nancy with the fledgling socialites of The A-List, The Clique, and Gossip Girl — the focus has shifted from the mysteries themselves to the stuff that Nancy and her pals bring on the trip. There has always been an escapist quality in the Nancy Drew series, but here the new Carolyn Keene swaps the escapism of a group of fearless mystery-solving girls for a different kind of teen-girl escapism, the kind that depends on money rather than wits: total access to luxury goods and celebrity. 

Of course, the Carolyn Keenes of 2012 know what they’re doing: it is no grand revelation that Young Adult books saturated with references to designer bags, cellphones, and swanky vacations sell. I did, after all, eventually graduate from Nancy’s world of mysteries into the drama of Gossip Girl, and, as far as I can tell, the switch from crime solving to cattiness didn’t permanently damage my soul. The lust for designer goods (as the goods are always brand-named in Gossip Girl) caught on, too, although I can’t definitively say if this had to do with the books, or simply wanting to fit in with other teen girls — either way, a fourteen-year-old in pursuit of a Coach bag or Tiffany necklace is an unpleasant thought. But, like any adolescent phase, all this passed.

If there’s anything I am in pursuit of now it’s “smarts.” Smarts like Nancy’s — useful intelligence and fearlessness, gameness, prowess, whatever you want to call it — the smarts that allow her to storm into any attic, basement, or abandoned house to solve her case. Whether or not I recognized it when I was ten, Nancy Drew reassured me that cleverness and wit mattered. I can only hope that, even if it is buried under abbreviations and status symbols, this message is still present somewhere in the new Nancy Drew books. If not, there are still a few of those old hardback copies with their yellow spines and Nancy’s redhead bob lurking in the corners of antique shops, waiting to be found by the next snooping girl sleuth.

Hilary Reid is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Saratoga Springs. She tumbls here and twitters here. 

"Now Is The Start" - A Fine Frenzy (mp3)

"Dream in the Dark" - A Fine Frenzy (mp3)