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Alex Carnevale

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Mia Nguyen

Reviews Editor
Ethan Peterson

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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In Which We Are Taken Aback By Bold Greetings

by amy stein

Blue Line


There is a stretch of the blue line train route that rushes out of the tunnel after Belmont Ave and balances precariously between the branches of Interstates 90 and 94. The platform, while completely immobile, seems to shift to and fro underfoot. Cars rush past deafeningly, and even if it is not windy, it is all you can do to stay upright.

Once a week I find myself standing on this island, huddled below the heat lamps. There is rarely anybody else on the platform. There are only cars, blowing in and out of the city, and half-empty trains lurching down the track. I have never gone further down the line than this stop and it feels like the very edge of the world.

It is the loneliest place in the city.


I rarely remember my dreams, but this morning I woke up in a cold sweat with the memory of being chased by a starving tiger. I also remember waking myself up from that dream right before the feline sunk its teeth into my face, afraid to leave my bed for a drink of water in case it was lying in wait. Then, in those moments between 4:15 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. I dreamt again, this time of cockroaches crawling underneath all of our sofa cushions because we had left a few crumbs out on the coffee table. It was so very detailed that I remember the distinct crunch every time we gingerly sat down to watch television.


I’d like to believe that, much like the infamous “Carolyn Keene”, Harold Bloom is really just a pseudonym for a group of individuals who did not have enough talent to make it big on their own but were able, somehow, to attach themselves to some greater ideal, one that sleep and nutrition-deprived college students would later cite extensively in their papers.


A couple of weeks ago I decided that I would not spend my money on eating out unless I had specifically made plans to eat out with someone else. So far, it has been a great decision for me.

Today, though, I have an apple and chicken noodle soup with me for lunch. The chicken noodle soup isn’t really soup anymore because much of the broth evaporated or else the noodles soaked it all up, and all I can think about is some sort of sandwich smothered in tomatoes and pesto and melted mozzarella.


Coworker: Do you know, I thought this the first time I met you, you look a lot like—

Me: Shosanna Dreyfus?

Coworker: Yes!

Me: You're the 18th person to tell me that.

Coworker: You've been counting?


Peruse the shelves of your local drugstore to find an opaque bottle of castor oil; fill the bottom of a clear glass vial with this slow, thick substance. Then, cover it with twice the amount of either olive or jojoba oil (olive is by far the more economical choice, and works just as well). Finally, add a few drops of lavender and rosemary essential oils. Shake well. At dusk pour a quarter-sized amount into your palm and rub your hands together gently to warm the mixture. Smooth it into your face beginning at the temples. Breathe deeply; the lavender and rosemary soothe away anxiety and smell like the south of France. Let the oil rest on your face for a few minutes and then douse a clean cloth in warm (not hot!) water. Gently apply the cloth to your face, not wiping the oil away as much as letting the warmth coax it out; do not hesitate to leave a bit in your skin.

Repeat the ritual every other night, alternating with a simple warm-water cleansing. After repeated use your skin will glow naturally. You will never need to buy cleanser, make-up remover, or moisturizer again.


Do you ever grow weary of your own perspective? — of the mistakes you fall into, the biases you lean towards simply because you are only ever looking out your own eyes?

by amy stein

For many years my mother would switch around all the furniture in our living room once a month. While it was still in her possession, she would even move her piano around the room on its wheels and we would help by picking up the bench with its wobbly legs and placing it reverently behind the instrument. Other things — cushions, picture frames, side tables — moved around the room as if in some sort of dance. Christmas afforded Mom the opportunity to change everything around so as to open up the appropriate space for our tree; at the arrival of summer, our kitchen table moved closer to the doors of the terrace so we could dine al fresco. All this she did primarily by herself although my father helped her when she needed to move a large cabinet.

We responded with an incredulous “Again!” each time it happened, although it was secretly delightful to discover our living room all over again. The furniture seemed new, cool to the touch; for a brief disorienting evening it seemed as if we were guests in our own home.

What belongs to you has very little to do with whether or not you spend money or time on it. I am discovering more and more that for most things in my life, I feel the same level of attachment that I do for historical monuments or other tourist attractions. They belong to me in the same way that they belong to the rest of the world, and they are not more mine than anybody else’s.

“They are just things,” my parents taught me, when we moved from place to place and left more and more in our wake. But I have begun to find it difficult to escape from this mindset even in relation to people and experiences. I do not know if this is the epitome of unwellness or if it is mature; I remember crying for a pretty calico cat that my father took back to the pound because she could not accompany us on our move, but the years that separate me from that child also spunkily create distance between me and loved ones in airports as if there were no thread of feeling between us.

I do not think I will stay here forever. I have high hopes of finding a place that I will make mine or settle into. Realistically, though, I have barely been living in my current apartment for four months and I am already considering other neighborhoods and various methods of paying for heat. I quell the growing restlessness by moving pictures around, by planning to create a new reading nook, by sitting in different corners of the room. Searching out apartments in neighborhoods closer to the lake, I feel guilty and excited at the same time.

Removing yourself from any place or thing feels like a betrayal at first, and then the wounds close and the guilt only flares up in rainy weather. After I threw a penny into the Fontana di Trevi, I knew I would eventually return to Rome. When I do it will not be returning home or to some ideal of a fixed state; it will be a revisiting of what once flourished and then crumbled. We are better off different than we were yesterday.


Sneaking into meetings late with trays of mini pastries and fruit, meetings to which I am not invited but come to bearing food, is most embarrassing. The projector casts a blue glow on my mess of curls and I feel suddenly as if I am seven feet tall and enormous, that my hips are in the way of everything. My hands begin to shake; the platters rattle, the mini pastries fall out of their semi-perfect arrangements. I have no need to be sorry because it is the person delivering the pastries who is at fault, but I feel all eyes on me, accusingly, anyways.

Before leaving Los Angeles I went to the FIDM end-of-the-year fashion show with a friend and agonized for a few minutes beforehand about what to wear.

“Remember,” my roommate said kindly, “this is not about you.”


I'm really glad my mother taught me nail polish remover will remove candle wax from various surfaces, because otherwise I’d be in trouble right about now.


At the escalator I am taken aback by a stranger's bold greeting. My fingers brush my own coiffure, wondering if the gentle twists at the nape of my neck or the abundance of bobby pins suggest mornings spent in stark Baptist sanctuaries, the smell of stale coffee, the air whispering with the sound of paper bulletins filled with song sheets, empty envelopes for the offering plate. I contemplate waving back; imagine jumping the last two feet that separate us to catch up. She might promise to call later in the evening, to discuss casserole options for an upcoming potluck. A thousand lives whizz by on the tracks.

I feel unbearably weary. Some of it is good weariness; the weight of love, of trust complicit with the most satisfying of friendships. Some of it is the weariness of crying myself to sleep because I could not write something I wanted to write well. The last cobwebs of thought before slumber remind me, You can write something, but sometimes, you are not supposed to.

You can live one way, but sometimes, you are not supposed to.


by amy stein

Before I woke up, I had moved into a studio apartment approximately the size of an airplane lavatory that smelled like a dingy roadside motel. The bed and the small expanse of counter were plastic; the floor was linoleum. I thought to myself, “Good, this will be easy to clean.” I brought with me a tiny all-black cat with a white face and boots. We spent three days there together before I realized I had not fed him nor provided a litter box. He looked at me disdainfully, made a move to bolt whenever I opened the door. We sat together in complete darkness as there were no lights save for his luminous green eyes. Nobody else came.


There is a yellow orchid on my back porch.

Every Wednesday I nestle three ice cubes into the soil and rotate the pot ever so slightly to the right so that the plant will grow evenly in the sunlight. When I get home from work and it is droopy and unhappy I turn the hot water on in my shower and set it just outside the curtain, on the edge of the sink, until my little bathroom is so full of steam that all I can see are the bright yellow flowers and the little hard green buds trying to open.

They bloom at night.

Why can I not trust that this other person does not hurt me on purpose? And even if they do, that they are full of good intentions towards me? And even if they’re not, that I cannot expect them to be? Forgiveness (and love) have a lot to do with trust in the other’s spirit, in their desire to do good by you even when it doesn’t always happen.

My father keeps telling me that you have not forgiven someone until you have done something good for them. And I am full of words and sweet intentions but there is little good left in my hands.


In an early morning dream, I asked a friend which of my items of clothing looked worst on me. She unabashedly criticized all the pants I have with lower waistlines. “They give you a muffin top.” She went on to tell me that the look was so offensive that Hugh Jackman had complained.

I was so embarrassed I had to wake myself up and try on all of my pants to make sure it wasn’t true.


Verizon has inexplicably locked me out of my voicemail, because apparently none of the dozens of number combinations I have attempted in the past few weeks work. I seem to remember using my birthday month and day as the password. Now I have ten unheard voice messages and absolutely no way to get ahold of them.

Perhaps the problem lies with me, in my inability to remember a combination of letters or numbers that will somehow crack the code to my life. However, I’d like to believe that there is not enough room for human error in this system. People keep telling me to write my passwords down somewhere, and I keep asking, “Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?”

It’s not a good enough secret if you have to write it down.


Over the next fortnight I attempt an experiment in which I withdraw twenty dollars at the beginning of each week, and spend only that amount on myself.

A foggy Saturday morning I spend praying on the brown line; nothing is quite so easy as having faith on an elevated train. My headphones run like beads through my fingers. I find myself wishing for the simplicity of a command. Not praying the rosary or anything coherent, but moaning to any divinity who will listen, I receive miraculous signs: Sedgwick is next, doors open on the right at Sedgwick. Standing passengers, please do not lean against the doors.

I notice a proclivity in my relationships towards people born in June. Summer birthdays end in fireworks at the beach. I break two glasses at work and throw the pieces over my shoulder into the trash can. When I notice superstition curling up around the radiators at night or in the tea leaves at the bottom of a cup, I rinse it out with the truths I am most uncertain about.

When you lose someone close to you, most people assume that you want to be left alone, when that is generally the last thing you want. I find that I am not sure how to ask for help, so I carry all my groceries alone.

by amy stein

I'm making note of the already-sweltering heat at 7:30 a.m., the way the perspiration gathers on my abdomen underneath my dress, the way the ice melts in my tea before I walk two blocks, how the cup sweats and drips onto dusty toes, the heaviness of the air which makes every whisper seem like a shout and every shout foggy, how my curls double into more curls with each half-mile, how Tom Skilling promises this will be the hottest day Chicago has seen in six years.

I am making careful note of these things so that I will remember them in February.


We swam to the surface. Immediately in front of us was a rocky shoreline decorated with people in evening wear. The sun was going down in the background. I wanted to dive down immediately to retrieve the bicycles (they had been pulled into the soft, mucky sand at the bottom) but you insisted that we reach the shore. A few men at a table, garbed in tuxedos, played cards and looked on as you dragged yourself out of the water. There was a strange moment of recognition that is particularly fuzzy. I think you started running away from them, and I dove under water so that it would seem as if I had never been there. They saw me, however, and began shooting a machine gun after me. I got hit twice in both legs, but the bullet holes were only the size of freckles. I kept swimming. My bicycle was floating past, and I grabbed it. I wondered how I would manage to get it out of the water without help. When I surfaced, I was next to the beach, but it resembled the ledge of a pool. I rested my cheek against it, exhausted, but you were there, and helped me pull the bicycle out of the water. Blood was running down my legs. The holes were near my ankles, perfectly aligned like bug bites. I woke up on my back with all the covers off. I spoke to you for a moment before I realized I was alone.

Today I saw a woman sacrifice her sunglasses for a place on the train. Closing doors knocked them out of her hand as she squeezed into the last available spot, and they landed with a clatter on the platform. We stared. “Oh shit,” she said. “Oh shit!” She made a move as if to jump out of the train. I saw her debate, behind the silver half-circles of her eye make-up, sweaty hands pushing back blonde strands of hair.

There was only a moment during which she might have stepped off the train to retrieve them, but as it was, the doors closed right as she reached the end of her debate. “Oh, well,” she laughed breathlessly. I imagined her walking in the Loop without sunglasses, ducking behind buildings, a slim wrist thrown up for shade.

And what of the glasses? Are they like the mittens abandoned in January that mysteriously melt with the snow? Will somebody kick them into the tracks, steal them, throw them away?


I could love anybody in an airport for their foreign tongue, for their smart trench coat.


Down the street from my office a man leaves his blinds open. His desk is consistently messy. I tally up the damage when I walk past, before I cross the railroad tracks: one untouched glass of water with speckles of dust floating in it, three pens with chewed lids. What most intrigues me is the giant box of raisins that sometimes rests on the edge of his desk but now, oddly, on the windowsill. Not many people eat raisins because they love them. Some, like myself, put them in their morning bowl of oatmeal because there is something about raisins and milk. Some hate them but eat them because intestinal traffic is slow. I wonder which kind he is. Why has he moved the box from his desk to the windowsill? Did he eat too many and make himself sick? Did their uselessness cause him to exile them in a fit of righteous constipation?


To describe the process of barring someone from our lives, we call it “cutting out” or “cutting off”. The violence of this, as well as the idea that we can disregard a person — exclude them, remove them like we might remove a limb — does not ring true. You could not cut off your finger and not miss it. Subtly, the phantom remains. Rather it is like diving into the deep waters of yourself, and pulling someone out. There is beauty and darkness and truth at the bottom of this river; there is also fear, and there might be a monster or two. You say, come back to this appealing light. Here, the water is not so heavy. Here you can tread, disregard the profundity pulling at your feet. Remain at the surface where you are safe, where I can curl away from you to the places you no longer wish to visit.


How is that I can walk ten miles most Saturdays at a fast pace, and come home feeling on top of the world, but as soon as I run half a mile I feel like dying?

Kara VanderBijl is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. You can find her website here. She twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about the spirit animal. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

by amy stein


In Which We Journey To The Jacuzzi Beyond The Wall

A Weird, Complacent Feeling


Thrones. Right before something you will remember occurs, or immediately after it happens, there is a sensation. Previously undescribed in the literature outside of Kathy Acker and, at some length, Proust, this urge contains two parallel desires:

1) To undo what has taken place, in order to restore events to their previous berth;

2) To go wild in celebration at the very simple idea that the world is changeable.

It's always like that for Jaime Lannister. He's a punch bowl full of regret, a lion with eleven manes. He loves saying the word wildfire even more than his beneficent little brother.

Quickly, before you know it, something hard becomes very soft. A politician (any politician) enters office with the promise of closing an infamous prison, where criminals in an ongoing war are incarcerated because of presumed danger to society. When this politician hears of their tales, he could end their lives with dark purpose, prolong them with an even greater absence of mercy, or set them free.

People are always whining about Ned Stark's lessons, but at least he picked one and went through with it. Tywin Lannister, at his core, is a similar creature. When Tyrion asks Grandma Tyrell to fund the wedding, she changes her mind and agrees to pay half the cost. Tywin would never make such a concession, no matter its actual merit. It's more important to say what you're going to do and go through with it; that's the type of person that can really be trusted.

the hand of the king's office leaves something to be desired

Tywin Lannister and Grandma Tyrell had an extremely high level meeting. For some reason they had never actually met before; do you find this believable? As believable as someone caring enough about Bran Stark to find him in the wilderness and guide him to his bastard half-brother? As believable as the idea that Littlefinger's revenge on Catelyn Stark now extends to marrying off her identical-ish daughter to the only bookkeeper in King's Landing worth a damn?

"...you're marrying an accountant."

Tyrion had to break the bad news to his girlfriend and his wife at the same time, which is never easy. He should have led with "where do whores go" or maybe his material about Jamie telling everyone his betrothed was a prostitute, god knows he hasn't got enough mileage out of that story. Peter Dinklage's arsenal of resigned or cautious facial expressions will be sorely tested with this engagement.

I think there's more on redtube along these lines
It's always a pity when the only glimpse of Joffrey we get is him putting a crossbow bolt through Varys' ginger spy. The guy's had like three lines of dialogue; usually all they let him do is giggle when he sees blood.

Along with the Freys, Joffrey gets the most unfair rap of anyone in the Seven Kingdoms. I mean the guy repels Stannis Baratheon's fleet, is able to make a very generous and inquisitive woman attracted to him, and he didn't have to throw his daughter's illiterate best friend in the dungeon to make it happen.

boo hoo you have to marry a beautiful, generous gay man, he is betrothed to a ginga

Rhetorical questions are the refuge of cowards. I had an instructor, when I was first trained in intelligence work, who told us to never ask a rhetorical question, because it was a distinctly Western appendage. In other parts of the world, the person who asks a question they don't want answered is considered relatively rude.

still trying to get the memory of Stannis Baratheon's wife stillborn babies out of my head

On occasion, a question that appears merely a polite gesture can have greater significance, most often when it is asked of the god. It's unclear who exactly Melissandre plans to bring back from death; maybe Aegon Targaryen? If not, the concept of "light" has never been a more confusing symbol in any fictional work, applied as it is to about half the factions in this Thronesing.

bran this will be you. shut your face bran.

Thoros of Myr is identified as Peter in early Christian literature. The Brotherhoods Without Banners stuff is not to be trifled with, these guys all have serious long personal backstories. They care for each other maybe a bit too much. It was weird how Melissandre read Arya's fortune, doesn't she usually charge for that? "We will meet again" is pretty dumb.

do they not have foreplay in the south Jon Snow???

Actually a far worse symbol was a never-ending, phallic wall that the wildlings climbed, at length. Jon Snow, to me, really elevated his acting skills. He basically used a grimace as his main featured expression and agreed with whatever his ginger girlfriend was saying the rest of the time. There was still a lot of loneliness there. I guess she felt like she couldn't trust him. I wouldn't know.


The political machinations surrounding Littlefinger's departure from King's Landing eluded me. Clearly something very bad is going to happen there, something to put his own life at risk. He wanted to take Sansa with him; but he wanted even more so to punish her for not wanting to be with him. There's a Chris Brown joke there somewhere, but I'll leave the racist and bigotry to Howard Kurtz because it comes more naturally to him.

It's hard sometimes to realize that Sansa and Arya are of the same uncaring and uncooperative mother, who basically allowed them to flee to the winds of time for no reason. Despite the fact that she's been in King's Landing for years now, Sansa is not even the least bit wiser. This is proof positive that GRRM has never met an actual living teenage girl, who can sniff bullshit out more quickly than her dire wolf.

"put Hot Pie's belly out of your mind"

Meanwhile, Arya is telling an archer how to shoot arrows, or a priest about how to show mercy, or a smith about how he should be her family. Her emotions are just everywhere, and yet she gets a noticeably better reaction from the surrounding world than her passive creature of a sister. If you want something, it's best just to take it. It's because of the sensation I described; the very human urge to see what happens. People, even the best ones, get tired of both saying and hearing the word No.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He has composed a steak sauce meant to mimic the blood of Theon Greyjoy. It was roundly mediocre.

"The Three Of Us In The Dark" - Carly Simon (mp3)

"Take Me As I Am" - Carly Simon (mp3)



In Which She's A Poet And Her Name Is Justice

Janet, Looped


So rough, so tough, out here, baby / California knows how to party. / In the city, City of Compton, they poplock.

— Ronnie Hudson, "West Coast Poplock" (1982) 

Kendrick Lamar is rap's undisputed champion of the moment. A rapper’s rapper and winner of MTV’s “Hottest MC” title, he’s also a commercial force.  In March, the Compton native charted Top 10 for the first time with "Poetic Justice", assisted by a Drake verse, and the sampled voice of Janet Jackson. The song's title is an allusion to the 1993 Jackson / Tupac Shakur (bka 2Pac) big-screen vehicle.

Lamar was six years old when Poetic Justice was in theatres. The film was seen then as a curious sidestep from John Singleton's directorial debut, the explosive, if unsubtle Boyz N The Hood, two years earlier. That movie, preceding films like Menace II Society and Juice (which also starred Shakur), and coming on the heels of New Jack City a few weeks prior, was a famously important moment for New Black Realism. If it was manipulative, it was also undeniably political and had an impact on the national conversation about racial tension and inner city gang violence, which was at a boiling point. The year in between the two films saw the Rodney King riots and Lamar's hometown in flames.

But Poetic Justice doesn't comment on or reflect a change in the dynamics of the ghetto which unfolded following the riots. It's as though a landscape of violence, addiction, poverty and broken homes is an inevitable constant. The story is framed by two episodes of violent gang crime. However, this time gang wars are not the sole focus, rather these conditions mostly loom in the background while the camera examines how four characters fail to get along. In Jeff Chang's Can't Stop Won't Stop, he describes the climate of 1992/3 South Central, and by extension, young America, following large-scale gang peace treaties and the merging of gangsta rap and pop:

The video for "'G' Thang" seemed to ask: didn't all boys everywhere just want to bounce in hot cars to hotter beats, hang out with their crew, party all night, and spray conceited bitches with malt liquor?

While a half-step in that direction from Boyz N The Hood, Poetic Justice is clearly not yet in the 1993 state of mind.

Even if it was a conscious effort to be a less male-centric project, the change in perspective is impressive given Boyz N The Hood's massive success. That said, Poetic Justice is pretty much a failure by any benchmark. While the scope may have narrowed somewhat to the dynamics of interpersonal relationships, Poetic Justice is still over-ambitious. It's a love story in which there are just two brief kisses between the two characters, and in which the grim events accompanying the origin of this romance threaten to overshadow the film's happy ending. All things considered, it has to be seen as a tragedy, despite the central romance. Nor are the half-hearted attempts at levity or comic relief very effective. It's also a road trip movie that doesn't begin until a staggering 40 minutes in. Finally, it's a movie about poetry, which doesn't make for an automatic hit, or a coherent story. (Early in the movie, one co-worker sighs to another "I'm tired, you got a poem for me?"; in what world does this happen!?) At the time, the TV show In Living Color commented on what a mess Poetic Justice was (while mocking Jackson for her lack of street credibility) in a parody skit which referred to the movie as "Not just a movie, it's uh...we don't know what the hell it is!"

So it's a little odd that Lamar would cite this work as an Important Cultural Event. But it does still deserve attention now; it's already a very different time. On rewatching the movie, I found it to be intensely interesting in spite of its shortcomings. For one thing, this era (already 20 years ago!), in which fairly direct critiques of contemporary living standards and America's basic efficacy in general can occur in a mainstream youth film, seems very distant. Also, Poetic Justice's quirks are just a lot of fun.  

Essentially, the story is this: Lucky (Shakur) and Chicago are postal workers who drive their mail truck out to Oakland. Lucky has plans to meet up with his cousin, a rap musician living there, to help work on material. Iesha, Chicago's girlfriend, is along for the ride and she convinces her hairdresser friend, Justice (Janet Jackson), to attend too. Justice has endured a rash of tragedies, and her friends are eager for her to snap out of it. (She is a poet and her name is Justice, get it? Ugh.)

The basic formula for the narrative goes 1) an ensemble fight in which everyone is shouting at the same time 2) brooding scene in which one character won't talk to the others 3) smooth jazz 4) repeat cycle. Near the film's "climax", Justice exclaims "pull over somewhere, we need to talk, I'm sick of this shit", which really should have been the film's title. Fights break out in every locale possible  the drive-in, the hair salon (more than once!), Lucky's baby mama's house, a family barbecue, and so on. Throughout, the story's heavy-duty scenes are broken up by internal monologues in which Jackson recites/composes Maya Angelou poems (oh, of course…?). At one baffling point, though, we jump from Justice hearing another poem to cycle through every other character's thoughts (That 70's Show style), erasing any last vestiges of realism. The greatest WTF scene, however, involves Janet Jackson spontaneously filing Tupac's nails while launching into an unprompted monologue about her mother's suicide.

Watching Poetic Justice is like when a lovers' quarrel gets so convoluted so as to lose all meaning, leaving you dizzy and wondering what the topic was. Except there are two couples doing this, in every pairing, for two hours. The film's view of the battle of the sexes, the last few frames notwithstanding, is very pessimistic and draws on every conceivable gender stereotype. The Justice character has to start out ice cold for the main plot device to work, but her bitterness, especially towards Lucky, whom she has just met, is so extreme that it's unbelievable and laughable. Justice is counseled by her friend to treat men as disposable objects as a kind of emotional preemptive attack (partially because so many of the men from their hometown wind up dead or in jail.)

An extreme mutually distrustful environment is portrayed, in which everyone operates under the assumption that they're being played. Iesha is a gold digger and a cheater. Chicago is physically abusive. And there is practically no scene in which a woman is not some kind of "bitch" or "hoe". (Someone should make a taxonomy of "bitch" uses in Poetic Justice). Justice stands up for herself on several occasions, signaling that there are limits to how much sexism the women can tolerate. Angelou's "Phenomenal Woman", which is heard towards the conclusion, acts as both a statement of self-empowerment and a feminist response to the obstacles she's faced, including casual misogyny. 

The film is also about escape and (frequently interrupted) progress. The characters are heading towards the party that never happens. The foursome are physically and metaphorically leaving South Central, with Lucky literally chasing his music dreams, which he hopes will let him quit his job. In some impressively overwrought mise-en-scene, their van's progress around an intersection is shown from inside the frame of a mostly demolished building as they leave the 'hood. Justice is told "you've got to move on" and to stop mourning, which can be read allegorically according to Chang's history. But gang violence haunts them at every turn, especially when finally reaching their Oakland destination. It turns out the problems of the ghetto are the same everywhere, that a holiday is impossible in 1992 California. Further, race lingers in every frame — even Justice's cat is called "white boy". In every setting  the gas station, the corner store  there are examples of white/black and latino/black tension. Whenever the party's forward movement ceases, scenes like that of a family barbecue they stop in at are thinly veiled social commentary set-pieces, both astoundingly loaded and boring. 

The soundtrack also has a lot of really interesting moments. The movie-within-the-movie that opens the film features the beginnings of a sleazy love scene set to The Isley Brothers' "Between the Sheets". As we are zoomed out to reveal the movie we are watching is taking place at a drive-in, a police helicopter passes overhead, reflecting off the screen. The music transitions to a beefed up version of the same instrumental, with Q-Tip rapping over top (the "Bonita Applebaum" Hootie Remix). Q-Tip can still be heard rapping even as his character is introduced, one of several such cases which add to the overall confusion of the film. 

The extratextual connections get even more “6 Degrees...” from here. With Justice riding shotgun, Lucky sings the chorus of Apache's "Gangsta Bitch" ("I wanna gangsta boogie, with my gangsta bitch".) The single was produced by Q-Tip, and Apache also appeared on 2pac's 1993 album. 

In another scene we hear Snoop Doggy Dogg singing "real niggaz don't give a fuck, nigga." Clearly this is Snoop in non-peace mode; the peace/party era Chang describes hasn't fully kicked in yet. 

The score for the film, like that of Boyz N The Hood, was done by Stanley Clarke. It's mostly modern, light jazz and within these compositions a saccharine theme pops up periodically, part of a melody from Jackson's "Again". The first words of her own version begin, after being teased the duration of the movie, while she is still on camera, making it even harder to suspend disbelief through the sentimental final moment between the two leads.

Kendrick Lamar, whether by design or not, appeals to many subsets of rap fandom and the broader pop listenership. His 2011 mixtape Section.80 gained him a bigger fanbase and caught the attention of many critics. In two spoken passages on "Ab-Soul's Outro" he revealed something of a mission statement:

See a lot of y'all don't understand Kendrick Lamar

because you wonder how I could talk about money, hoes, clothes, God and history all in the same sentence.

I'm not the next pop star, I'm not the next socially aware rapper

I am a human motherfucking being over dope-ass instrumentation

He then appeared on Drake's monstrously successful Take Care album (and supported Drake on tour.) For many fans and critics, Lamar's first official album actually met the exceedingly high level of expectation. good kid, m.A.A.d. city also featured his idol and mentor Dr. Dre. Lamar has been able to nod back to the heyday of West Coast gangsta rap, while also displaying the technical artistry featured in classic New York street rap. He's been able to maintain links with a hip hop lineage while also seeming like something genuinely new. He is seen as fashion-forward and has also helped bring back the (not-so-high-top) fade hairstyle of the late 80s/early 90s. On Section.80, he rhymed elaborate tales of 80's babies trapped by a slew of inherited and mutated societal challenges. good kid, m.A.A.d. city, on the other hand, predictably leans a little more towards radio-friendly rap.

“Poetic Justice”’s production, by Scoop DeVille, draws you in immediately.  Janet's voice, frozen in time, is intoxicating. It sounds a little like the chipmunk soul that Kanye West and Just Blaze were famous for producing in the early 00’s, except that Jackson's voice is left relatively untouched  that's her natural register. "In the thundering rain, you stare into my eyes…" It recalls the hypnotic effect of Timbaland's birds-and-babies beats that he used on Aaliyah records.

The song is about women, art, and possibly a whole bunch of other things  fully connecting dots is not something Lamar does very often. The sample source is not the song Jackson wrote for the film, but another of her songs from the same year, "Any Time, Any Place". The original is a straightforward sex jam, while Lamar uses it for something more complicated. Lamar had expressed his desire to have Jackson appear in the song's video, but that didn't materialize. As it is, Lamar's tribute/hero-worship extends all the way to lifting the typeface that adorns the janet album.

When the video clip for Lamar's song appeared, its parent album had already been out for some time, and this seemed like the final chapter in the "Poetic Justice" saga. But unbeknownst to me, Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip had already released a mixtape freestyle over Scoop DeVille's beat even before the song became a hit. And it's entirely about Janet Jackson. Busta recounts his crush on Janet during the filming of his video for "What's It Gonna Be?!" in 1999, while Q-Tip gives a very belated behind-the-scenes look at the Poetic Justice set.

While somewhat charming, these odes differ a little from Lamar's appropriations, as Janet is still first and foremost a sex object in Q-Tip and Busta's verses. Busta brags "we rubbed up on each other / But I'm a little jealous, Tip - your tongue went in her mouth in that Poetic Justice movie" before Q-Tip takes over, describing "me and Pac rolling L's in the trailer / both of us steady schemin' how to nail her / first movie bout to come out in the theatre". It seems reality is not so different from the world of the wannabe playas in the film.

Even less official is a fan-made Youtube blend which combines Pac's vocals from "Can U Get Away" (not an irrelevant theme here) with the "Poetic Justice" beat. The raps ride the beat so easily so as to be a bit eerie. But the female vocals of both songs' hooks clash, slightly out of tune with each other, though still in dialogue. "In the thundering rain..." "so much pressure in the air - can you get away?"  "...any time, any place."

A couple of years after starring in Poetic Justice, with West Coast gangsta rap by then firmly established as a lucrative chart formula, 2pac would release one of his most successful singles, with Dr. Dre. "California Love" was a straight up party track, and a smash. It derives it's chorus from an early 80's funk classic, Ronnie Hudson's "West Coast Poplock": "In the city, City of Compton, we keep it rockin'…". The Dre/Pac version strips the old anthem of its foreboding dualism ("So rough, so tough, out here, baby"). Lamar cites the "California Love" video as a formative and lasting influence on his music career. And it now seems Lamar is the one driving the culture, while mining his history for trends and icons to revive. Section.80 contains a song called "ADHD", which refers to the disorder in generational and societal terms.

It's not hard to see Lamar's curatorial choices as an extension of the style-first Tumblr Generation's hyper-consumption, making vague links between cultural fragments. Drake and Lamar both revere Aaliyah, with Drake repeatedly referencing her as a major influence and Kendrick devoting a whole song to her. 2Pac and Aaliyah are obvious heroes because of their early, tragic deaths, as well as their artistic output. 2Pac's first film, Juice, is well-regarded and it's soundtrack is important to hip hop history." So it makes sense that Lamar would reach back to tap "Poetic Justice. With 90's nostalgia still going strong, and revival cycles shrinking, it shouldn't be long before there’s a remake of "California Love" itself, or maybe a Poetic Justice 3D.

Luke Bradley is a contributor to This Recording. This is his first appearance in these pages. He is a writer living in Toronto. He tumbls here and twitters here.

"Poor Man's Poetry" - Naughty by Nature (mp3)