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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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Wednesday
Dec072011

In Which We Ride On God's Great Motorcycle

Love of Leather and Country

by DICK CHENEY

Sons of Anarchy
creator Kurt Sutter

I always wondered what happened to the British kid in Undeclared. (I assumed porn.) Then I was gchatting with Grover Norquist last year, and he was telling me about his favorite show, Sons of Anarchy. On Sons Charlie Hunnam portrays Jackson Teller, the vice president of his motorcycle gang and the practitioner of the worst American accent outside of Simon Baker. Grover bought me the show's first three seasons on DVD as a thank you present for a bunch of jokes I wrote him about Ezra Klein. That gift changed my life.

where are all the girls, did they attend West Point or something?

At base, Undeclared and Sons of Anarchy showcase essentially the same concept. Both concern groups of friends a little too overeager to explain how virulently heterosexual they are, adding up to something of a these ladies protest too much, methinks type situation. Each show concerns a counterculture not commonly exposed to the mainstream light; in the case of Undeclared the fact that college is a gigantic scam perpetuated by Fredric Jameson and Judith Butler, and in the case of Sons of Anarchy the fact that a motorcycle gang is basically an enigmatic cover story for a bunch of guys to ride on big metal phalluses.

I never understood the appeal of a motorcycle before, and I still don't. For a show concerned only with people devoted to the speedy vehicles, Sons of Anarchy hardly ever shows the members of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original (SAMCRO) admiring or enjoying their motorcycles. As transport, the devices are convenient because they can be ridden fast and hidden easily, but these jockeys don't seem to care much for their steeds. They're more into quietly serving out jail time and absolute monogamy.

"Do they force you to read The Daily Beast in here?"

Hunnam's Jackson Teller had a high school relationship with Tara (Mad Men's Maggie Siff) that engendered a love that never abated. Despite the fact that he turned into a drug-running, guns-abusing freak like his father, she's still attracted to his hard pecs. Even after he cheated on her with an adult film performer, she was still fine with it and raised his children without complaint, then went to her job as a hospital surgeon. And that's not all!

Listening to the British Hunnam pridefully spout the various details of the arms trade is about as believable as imagining that a University of Chicago educated doctor would ever copulate with him, but that's part of the fun of Sons of Anarchy. As the show's current season came to a close, the union has been so insanely ludicrous that the Sons of Anarchy writing team has the couple communicate only through cliché, as with this charming exchange from the penultimate episode of the season:

TARA: Tell me you love me.

JACKSON: I love you, Tara.

(pause)

Do you love me?

TARA: If you make it stop I will.

(pause)

I love you Jackson.

Jesus, did none of these people watch Tell Me You Love Me? Clearly not, or they would have cast Adam Scott as a rogue biker named Frederick de la Santos and I wouldn't have to watch him tongue kiss Amy Poehler anymore. Why not embark on a crossover episode, like when Urkel hit that girl on Step by Step with his car?

the fact that Ed Bundy remarried is the cherry on top of this situation

Jackson's mother Gemma Teller is played by Married... with Children's Katey Sagal as an aggressive, controlling presence in the lives of her son and husband. She reminds me of my wife Lynne if every third sentence out of Lynne's mouth was, "Don't hurt my baby." Her ongoing feud with Drea de Matteo was the highlight of the show's first season, although the fact that Drea did not get naked and that they never showed her shooting up heroin or bearing Jackson's baby somewhat lessened my interest in the storyline. 

"Tell me what you really thought of the second Hellboy."

Sagal's first serious dramatic role is a mixed bag. (I'll be scrambling my metaphors a lot in this paragraph.) Her ongoing marriage to show creator Kurt Sutter has hardly engendered goodwill among the fanbase, and including her original music was another fly in the ointment. The fact that her husband (Ron Perlman) beat the shit out of her and all she did was frown a lot constituted the final straw for me, however. Sagal actually enlists her son to kill her husband, but he has to leave him alive because of the CIA. Fortunately this storyline doesn't seem likely to go all Boardwalk Empire but I still get kind of creeped out by the way she looks at Hunnam.

just tell everyone you got into INXS there for awhile juicyEven when Sons of Anarchy gets silly, like when they debuted Tom Arnold as a wacky pornographer, the show usually redeems itself. There are actually many moments when Sons of Anarchy crosses conventional lines, such as when valued club member Juice tried to hang himself from a tree with a steel chain. You don't often see a suicide attempt on cable television these days, although god knows the British host of The X Factor should give it a shot. Also, there should be a specific viewer warning for having to see Ron Perlman's exposed belly.

To join the Sons of Anarchy, a member has to get a back tattoo. If they leave the group, they have to get it inked over or removed. I believe the Church of Scientology and the Heritage Foundation have a similar policy. The most common method of leaving the SoA is by death, and this season's death march has already claimed club founder Piney (William Lucking, not that it matters now). Ron Perlman shot him in the chest with a shotgun because he had an incriminating letter, setting up the weathered veteran as the show's biggest heel.

Also on the death list was poor Herman (The Shield's Kenneth Johnson) whose main crime was being cast on the doomed NBC version of Prime Suspect. Most of The Shield, Deadwood and Oz have taken their own place in Sons of Anarchy; you'd be surprised to know how few actors there actually are in the world, maybe 600 total not including Tom Cruise or his wives. They get thawed out of cold sleep every Tuesday.

get it????

Last night the show's many concurrent storylines converged in a not-so shocking season finale. When we had last left club president Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman), he was lying motionless in a hospital bed after being shot in the stomach by Piney's son Opie (Ryan Hurst). Instead of actually having the balls to kill off the most famous actor on their show, Sons of Anarchy creator/actor Kurt Sutter (below as incarcerated member Otto Delaney) chickened out and left Clay alive.

Jackson Teller had long calculated a plan to leave his club in the dust, move to Portland and start up a bed & breakfast with his wife. Instead, in the season's climactic finale scene, he ascended to the presidency of his little club. He explained the change of heart by saying that it would be one thing to simply abandon his club, but another to destroy it completely. I sympathized with him for the first time then because it's the same way I feel about having to watch the second season of Game of Thrones. Then again, how could it be as bad as A Dance With Dragons?

Jackson's tough decision is the exact same as Kurt Sutter's. When you make a beautiful piece of art, the second hardest thing to do is to leave it behind entirely like Larry David and Seinfeld, but the most painful thing to do is turn it into something unrecognizable. Sons of Anarchy lost its way a little bit this year by not changing enough in seasons past. Any character, no matter how finely drawn, becomes stale after we see them in identical situations over and over again. Consciousness change through repetition is only another myth perpetrated by the American political process.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He last wrote in these pages about The Walking Dead and Boardwalk Empire. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.

"Honey Girl" - Jolie Holland (mp3)

"Little Birds" - Jolie Holland (mp3)

"The Devil's Sake" - Jolie Holland (mp3)

 

Tuesday
Dec062011

In Which John Lennon Is Split In Two

Was It Just a Dream?

by KATHRYN SANDERS

One morning in August of 1973, Yoko Ono walked through her apartment in the Dakota into the office of the Lennons’ 22-year-old personal assistant, May Pang. Yoko closed the door and sat down. She lit a Kool. She told May that she and John weren’t getting along, which wasn’t a surprise to anyone who had been in the company of the Lennons during that time. She said she knew John would start seeing other women, and she was worried he would choose poorly, picking someone who would only use him. “You don’t have a boyfriend,” Yoko continued. May balked; she had no interest in John. He was her employer. He was married. “Don’t worry,” Yoko said, between puffs of her cigarette. “I’ll take care of everything.”

Shortly afterward, John pursued May and they began a sexual relationship, shacking up in May’s studio apartment on the East side after evenings spent recording and mixing the album Mind Games. Despite the new dimension to their relationship, May continued working for the Lennons, helping John finish the album and acting as a gofer for Yoko. John was still officially living with his wife at the Dakota and it was starting to cramp his style, so in October, he and May headed to Los Angeles under the guise of promoting the album while staying in various friends’ homes.

John wanted to do two things in LA – he wanted to sing on an album of songs that inspired him to become a musician, and he wanted to produce another artist. He wanted to make music, but he didn’t want to make John Lennon albums. For the former, he enlisted Phil Spector to produce his oldies record, and the latter, he chose Beatles’ pal Harry Nilsson, whom Lennon once called his “favorite American artist.”

While preparing to record, John and May moved to a house in Santa Monica. Many of the other musicians were also friends who stayed in the house with them – Keith Moon, Klaus Voormann, and Ringo Starr, among others. Yoko called every day, usually multiple times, talking to John about everything from where she went shopping, how she was suicidal, her solo career, how she had a boyfriend. She wouldn’t say who it was, but John quickly guessed, and was right – David Alan Spinozza, a session guitarist who was working with Yoko on her latest album.

It was during this time in L.A. that John began giving interviews to promote the album. May saw first-hand the immediate difference between the public and private John. Public John was hilarious, warm, witty, brilliant. Private John could be these things, but was also moody, dark, and sometimes violent, particularly when he drank. John dealt with his fear of women by allowing them to manipulate him, and he dealt with his anger over that by manipulating men.

It is relatively well-known that John had issues with women. In art school he asked his first wife Cynthia for a date. After she told him she was engaged to someone else he walked away before turning back around and shouting at her, “I didn’t ask you to fuckin’ marry me!” Left by his mother at a young age and raised by his domineering Aunt Mimi, young John was constantly torn between longing for a hippie and a tyrant.

It is easy to see how Yoko’s extremism and intense attitude towards work appealed to John, especially in the wake of his post-Beatles uncertainty. Lennon was a man of many faces and Pang saw it early on in Los Angeles. There were several “scary drunk” moments where he exploded, crying, throwing things, shouting that nobody loved him. How sad to think that his most basic fear, and his deepest feeling about himself, was that no one loved him for just being John. He thought everyone loved “John Lennon” and acted accordingly.

The sessions with Phil Spector were a legendary nightmare. Phil would have all of the session musicians show up at once, though that was inefficient and the costs were exorbitant. Spector himself would show up hours late high on amyl nitrate and wearing costumes, as a doctor in scrubs one day, as a karate sensei the next, always with his gun visible in his hip holster. The sessions turned into parties soaked with booze, and musicians would mill about with nothing to do, those both hired to play and drop-ins, including Mick Jagger, Elton John, and Joni Mitchell with Warren Beatty (“Yet another of Joni’s trophies,” according to John). In one of the early sessions, John got so drunk that he grabbed guitarist Jesse Ed Davis and kissed him on the lips, and then punched him as hard as he could leaving him sprawling on the ground, John staring at him in disgust and calling him a faggot. This was one of the tamer scenes at the Spector sessions. He apologized to friends who called the day after, explaining, “It was a bad dream that has passed.”

Recording with Harry Nilsson wasn’t much better. John had cut back on alcohol but Harry was always a hard drinker. His vocal chords were so damaged at that time that after he’d sing, there would be blood on the microphone. Harry didn’t want to tell John, for fear he would post-pone their sessions. Harry went to see a doctor in Palm Springs, and John and May went along with him. That night, after many drinks and when they were all in the hot tub, John grabbed May’s throat and quite possibly would have strangled her to death if Harry hadn’t leapt to her defense, pulling John away.

To finish Harry’s album, John decided they needed to go back to New York, where he felt he would have more control of both Harry and himself. He asked May to stay in Los Angeles, but several weeks later, called and said he missed her. She flew to New York. May had been worried he was seeing other women, but as a mistress herself, had little right to call out that behavior.

In Japan, it wasn’t uncommon among the upper classes to have “wives” and “mistresses” who knew about and were cordial to each other. Yoko wanted to be the wife and made it clear to John that she was happy to allow May to remain the mistress. Yoko wanted to stay in the Dakota. She developed a shopping habit, regularly spending thousands every time she went to Henri Bendel’s, taking limousines everywhere she went. She was recording and performing as a solo artist. She was Yoko Ono, and she no longer had much use for John Lennon.

How do we know when to hold out and when to give in? When do we learn to differentiate between what we want, and what we need? May encouraged John to write, and also to stand on his own two feet; to be an adult. With May, he wrote and recorded the magical, and appropriately named, “Walls and Bridges” in record time. Yoko repeatedly told John he didn’t need to record anymore. He had already proven himself to the world. Yoko treated him like a child, controlling everything. In waffling between May and Yoko, John had to choose between becoming an adult or staying a child, the difference between his mother and Aunt Mimi.

Back in New York after completing Harry’s album Pussy Cats, John and May got their own apartment on East 52nd Street. Yoko still phoned them regularly. She initially had tried to talk them into getting their own apartment next to hers at the Dakota, an idea which May immediately vetoed. Meanwhile, Yoko’s solo album and career weren’t doing as well as she anticipated. She and David Spinozza had split up after he suggested Yoko stop using John’s money to produce her albums. He said that if she wanted to be an artist in her own right, she should stop using John’s name. She told David he was unsupportive.

Yoko called May one day and told her she was thinking of taking John back. May was scared, as she knew she was no match for Yoko’s will. In February of 1975, Yoko called John and told him she had found a cure for smoking. She herself had recently quit cold turkey. John had been trying to quit for some time. He went to Yoko’s, where he was with her and her hypnotist for two days. When he came back to May, he seemed dazed. She described him as looking “brainwashed.” He gave May a gift from Yoko, a vial of essential oil that reeked of sulfur. John had come to tell May he was moving out of their apartment and back in with Yoko. She had a month to vacate.

It is sad to think of John as being happier in a relationship that encouraged him to stay at home and not make music, to sever ties with those he loved. When John spoke of Yoko publicly, he seemed quite enamored of her, and willing to sacrifice much for the marriage. And perhaps that was part of the appeal. In being with Yoko, he could be ‘not John Lennon.’ With May, he was very much himself, seeing old friends, frequently in touch with his first son Julian, making music, living his life. While appealing to a degree, what he ultimately wanted was a break from himself. People paint Yoko as the domineering wicked puppet master who broke up the Beatles, but are we forgetting that John had a choice? He could have stayed John Lennon. He chose to be Mr. Ono.

Kathryn Sanders is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She tumbls here and tweets here. This is her first appearance in these pages.

"White White" - Ivana XL (mp3)

"Sundowner" - Ivana XL (mp3)

"Black Eye" - Ivana XL (mp3)

 

Monday
Dec052011

In Which We Are Having Champagne With You Fine People

Dolls

by DURGA CHEW-BOSE

Titanic
dir. James Cameron
194 minutes

James Cameron’s Titanic immediately prompts a series of awkward poses and bulky pomp: Rose’s half-cupped hand resting shyly on her forehead as Jack draws her naked, or the flimsy way in which she touches the brim of her boarding hat, or their kiss on the boat’s bow — gawky and oddly angled — or Jack and Rose’s post-coital embrace, his boyishly sweaty head resting on her maternal bosom. The entire film plays out like puberty — self-conscious and smug, as if clocking in future nostalgia, now.

And yet, we all watched it and we all remember it well. And for those didn’t and still haven’t, that reluctance, by some means, has joined the spectacle too.

Made for 200 million dollars, the story is of course quite simple. Wandering artist, Jack, spots engaged society girl, Rose. He’s told he cannot have her. Their meet-cute, so to speak, transpires during her failed suicide attempt off of the boat’s stern. As the ship sinks a few days later, and the two clutch its railings, Rose reminds Jack, “This is where we first met.”

Their friendship soon turns to courtship and Rose’s mother forbids her daughter to see him, reminding Rose of their family’s dire financial troubles as she tightly laces her corset. Rose defies. The ship hits the iceberg. Jack and Rose go down with it, and as they wait for the lifeboats to return, Jack asks Rose to promise him that she’ll survive, that she "won’t give up."

Plot aside, nothing provokes our nostalgia quite like images of what Leo and Kate looked like then. Despite some bad roles, they’ve both continued to rise and work with great directors, but something about their pairing as Jack Dawson and Rose Dewitt Bukater remains crystallized. They are the Prom King and Queen of 90s disaster movies; Ben and Liv a distant second.

DiCaprio used to be much smaller. He didn’t fill out his shirts and his head was not yet square. His jaw line was sharp and flanked the contour of his heart-shaped face. As Jack, when he’d bite into a roll of bread or gulp a glass of beer, or smile breathlessly at Rose, one could see it most in his jaw. His eyebrows were devilish and no matter what he was thinking, there was always a chance it wasn’t good, though almost certainly fun. He threatened charm and mischief, both — that’s what 90s heartthrobs did. A fortune of personality! Funny props in photo shoots! Rare flashes of teeth!

Like Annie Hall, Jack hails from Chippewa Falls. And like Annie Hall, the way he pronounced his hometown endowed him with a preparedness that outdid anyone else on the boat. We trust him from the very start: “You jump, I jump.” For all we know Chippewa Falls is the land of boy scouts and tomboys. La-di-da, la-di-da...

At the time, Kate was a relative unknown. I have a distinct memory of reading a mini-piece in Seventeen where Winslet was asked questions about her co-star. We weren’t yet interested in her. Un-American, she was the opposite of Claire Danes. Kate didn’t appear dreamy and dopey, or stare longingly out of windows or stand willowy against door thresholds. She was neither long-winded nor wary. She wasn’t another Winona or a tongue-tied sweetheart like Gwyneth. Her hair was not flat. She was not a 90s waif. She didn’t seem to harvest much angst.

So who exactly was Kate Winslet? On a 1998 cover of Rolling Stone she’s wearing an unbuttoned peacoat, lace bra, and pleated skirt. The whole thing looks cheerless and uncoordinated. But inside, Winslet seems happier: one shot sultry, the other one goofy and grungy with coastal messy hair and a white Lifesaver (get it?!) cased in her cushiony lips.

As Rose, Winslet looked incredible; especially so in the second half of the film, post-berg, ice cold. Most actresses (and women) do. Think Julie Christie in Dr. Zhivago, Uma Thurman in Beautiful Girls, Joan Allen in The Ice Storm, and Kate, again, in Eternal Sunshine. Cheeks naturally narrow, lips darken, skin gets slightly severe with occasional blushes. Even in that first scene where she meets Jack on the stern, her hair appears extra red and ribbony. If you’ve never played with or petted cold hair, not wet just cold, I highly recommend it. The smell of morning shampoo and cold air is dreamy.

Her dresses, diaphanous with filmy layers of beaded constellations, with cinched waists and framed necklines, were somehow intended for lapping seawater, or to float up beside her as she wielded an axe, rudderless and storming through rising tides and flickering lights. Winslet’s great at expressing urgency and obligation. Her brow furrows, her eyes dart. I bet she’s great at charades.

Durga Chew-Bose is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She last wrote in these pages about the director Barbara Loden. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She tumbls here and twitters here.

The 1990s Elapsed Much Faster Cinematically

Elena Schilder on American Beauty

Elizabeth Gumport on Wild Things

Hanson O'Haver on Airheads

Alex Carnevale on Indecent Proposal

Emma Barrie on While You Were Sleeping

Jessica Ferri on The Devil's Advocate

Molly O'Brien on Pulp Fiction

Durga Chew-Bose on Titanic

Molly Lambert on Basic Instinct

Alex Carnevale on Singles

"Night Vision" - The Twelves (mp3)

"When You Talk" - The Twelves (mp3)

"All Apologies (Twelves remix)" - Nirvana (mp3