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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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Thursday
Nov032011

In Which Joseph Cornell Transcends Personal Nostalgia

Inside the Box

by ALEXANDRA MALMED

The American artist Joseph Cornell's sister recounted that his first experience with the cosmos was one of fear. After examining the winter sky from a window in their childhood home, Cornell began to physically and visibly tremble. He was overcome with a gnawing anxiety concerning the concept of infinity.

Cornell spent his life in New York, where he filled his notably isolated days with walking and journaling. The altar-like boxes that he composed using bits of paper, postage stamps, things made of glass, and natural objects (egg shells, dried plants, and shells) echo this life of solitude and incessant collecting. In his studio he categorized his accumulations of oddities by type (compasses, feathers, glass spheres, tiny jars, etc), and kept them in small boxes until their proper placement in one of his safe-haven-black-holes of assemblages became apparent. The objects that he collected, mostly through scouring secondhand stores, were literally fragments of other people's memories.

And yet Cornell somehow saturated the objects with his own spirit, so that once vagrant things became personal and sacred. I have had a few small paper jewelry boxes of things: a thinning beaded bracelet that I wore every day for three years, a wooden “moon ball” that a boy gave to me during the very rainy winter of my freshman year of college, a tangled, ropey scrap of my baby blanket, a gifted and still unwrapped ginger candy, the skeletal remains of a daisy chain I made at the Neem Karoli Baba ashram in Taos, a milky, fake-looking rock from a mountain by my parent’s house, and a piece of ivory card stock, embedded on one side with the peeling remnants of a pressed pansy and, on the other side, a drizzling of spidery, frantic birthday wishes for my first birthday. The message on the card is illegible save for the word MAGIC.

When I was younger I often worried that someone would find these boxes of treasures, assume that they were weird collections of trash, and throw them away. But now I think that Cornell’s use of such otherwise banal objects proves that these entities can emanate some sort of power (or at least significance) that exceeds mere personal nostalgia.

Early on, Cornell developed a fascination with astronomy and became familiar with celestial maps and the studies of Galileo and Copernicus. In addition to maps (his favorite) and drawings of the sky, he collected over 100 books on astronomy throughout his lifetime. Eventually, he went on to introduce astral images and concepts from this self-education into his collages and three-dimensional assemblages. This stayed with him.

And so the majority of Cornell’s boxes, ostensibly "about" astronomy, also concern his fear. As we look into the intimate dream worlds of his boxes, we become aware of the potent relatedness of our internal fear and our external surroundings. Fear and the external are universal and, it turns out, distinguishable but indivisible.

Our fears tend to feel more isolating and more personal than anything else, and yet by acknowledging and sharing them, we can (even if just for a moment) overcome them. The boxes, which rarely contain traces of palpable autobiographical imagery, feel personal and even vulnerable despite the strength of their lyrical compositions. Cornell's use of astronomy — a practice, concept, and colossal physical presence — communicates a certain level of unspoken trust to the viewer. Revealing fear’s looming internal presence to another person is perhaps the most intimate of all gestures.

I have come to defenselessly love only a few people in my life. I can clearly remember the individual moments in which I knew that each of these friendships could turn into something involving real, exposing love. The individual people have very little in common, but my recollections feel mostly the same — perhaps because each took place during a very vulnerable exchange of words concerning our fears.

Last summer in a dark underground bar in Santa Fe a near-stranger severed the thick mindlessness of catching up by telling me about his once-suffocating lifelong relationship with anxiety. I immediately felt as though I no longer needed to maintain the jovial, untroubled acquaintance shield that I seem to wear more often than not. I no longer felt the need to take slow, careful sips from the can of Pabst we were sharing. We later admitted that that neither of us really likes to drink.

I was stripped of the usual feeling of intimidation I felt around him and wanted to physically push my weight and warmth againt him because words didn't feel convincing enough to tell him how much of my life I had spent feeling the same way. Thus feeling of closeness to him has stuck to me — relentlessly, and in a very significant way — despite time and the languid stretches of land between New Mexico and New York.

The act of demonstrating the concept of infinite space and time within the boundaries of a box — a structure that references art history (compositional grids, museums), shelter, and human confinement — was important to Cornell. Doing so is, perhaps, a means of suggesting the possibility of incarcerating or at least binding our innate fear.

The images he uses of constellations were cropped by necessity, and yet even these small clippings of cosmic images communicate the idea of something that is boundless. Cornell’s journal entries reflect this concept: he tended to write about small, precise day-to-day moments that, for one reason or another, had a profoundly transformative effect on his life.

Cornell’s employment of astronomical images and concepts was not hindered by his fear — in fact, his boxes seem to confront the very notion. Ultimately the boxes are actually able to diminish fear’s magnitude and power by placing it in the context of other internal realities of the human mind — namely, imagination and knowledge. Take the box Cassiopeia 1, in which Cornell subtly brings our attention to every aspect of the stars. Here we have frayed, thinning fragments of paper marked with the "dark cloud." The Australian Aboriginals paid careful attention to not only clusters of stars, but also to the sky’s use of negative space in the formations of the Taurus’ stalwart head and the very beautiful but vain Cassiopeia.

Cornell was deeply fascinated with feminine beauty — despite his reclusive, lonely existence, he was frequently consumed by periods of slow, deep longing for numerous ballerinas and Hollywood actresses. History and mythology are referenced, of course, in Cassiopeia 1, but they are re-appropriated within the context of the box.

Between Cassiopeia and the Taurus is a picture that seems to offer a hand in explaining stellar lineups in a high school textbook. But then even science becomes merely an element of a poetic collage, because all of this is surrounded by the heavy presence of a creeping, peeling ivory wash. This white emphasizes the medium of paint and the artist’s hand. It connotes decay, flatness, change, perhaps even earth itself. It provides a smothering contrast (in both subject and appearance) to the dreamy, wispy navys-and-blacks in the piece. It does not feel clean, empty, or spare, as white often does. It seems to be hiding once-exposed layers and secrets of the box. And there is so much of this thick, severe white.

Cornell was said to have spent great expanses of time looking for images in chipping paint on New York walls, just as one does with Magic Eye posters. That he was able to utilize the same method of subjective seeing, be it of images in flaking paint on forgotten surfaces or in that which he was most afraid of — the infinite cape of a sky with its snags of cosmic points, is perhaps the conceptual nucleus of his work. Cornell would see, then create, then demonstrate the possibility of infinity within the small and the possibility of reining in the boundless.

Alexandra Malmed is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. This is her first appearance in these pages.

"Where You Are" - Gavin DeGraw (mp3)

"Stealing" - Gavin DeGraw (mp3)

"You Know Where I'm At" - Gavin DeGraw (mp3)

Wednesday
Nov022011

In Which We Invest Everything In Lou Reed

Try It At Least Once

by HANSON O'HAVER

"I would cut my legs and tits off/ When I think of Boris Karloff" is how the Lou Reed/Metallica (henceforth: Loutallica) album, Lulu, begins. Immediately it's clear that this album is going to be something of a head scratcher. This is solidified :50 into the song, when Metallica's James Hetfield enters and begins repeatedly singing the words "Small town girl" in his best Nickelback impression.

By the time Lou Reed sings "Me I'm happy/ 'cause I got my little nappy" and you wonder if that's slang or if the aging Mr. Reed is genuinely happy because he got to take a nap (maybe Laurie Andersen plans lots of activities?), you have two choices: put on Loaded (or Kill 'Em All, depending on which band brought you here) or drop the 'hows' and 'whys' and just go with it. If you at all care about interesting music, choose the latter option. Remember that image macro that made the internet rounds a few years ago of the bear surfing on a shark, shooting a gun with the text "Meth: Try It At Least Once"? Loutallica is kind of like that.

Lulu has been called Lou Reed's follow up to Metal Machine Music, his 1975 album composed entirely of four LP sides of guitar feedback. His motives behind Machine — was it a "fuck you" to fans? To critics? His label? — remain unclear, and he doesn't even claim to like it ("If you made it past Side 1, you're stupider than I am"). What's critical is that it was released into a totally different market.

In 1975, a listener could only afford to buy a finite number of records, which meant that they looked to record reviewers (see: Robert Christgau's Consumer's Guide) to tell them what was good (e.g. worth their money). In 2011, music is free; the only investment is the time it takes to listen. Which means: it's less important that an album is good in the long term investment sense (Lulu mostly isn't), and more important that an album is interesting to the point of being worth listening to for however long you choose to listen (Lulu definitely is).

While critics usually talk about how interesting an album is in the text of a review, there's really not a uniform system in place to reflect this in any given score. This is the fundamental problem of music criticism in 2011: How can critics give an album one score that reflects two different criteria? For example: Lulu is both sonically worse and infinitely more interesting than Wilco's latest, the bland but competent The Whole Love. Which gets a better review?

More realistically, Lulu is the follow up to Berlin, his 1973 rock opera filled with drugs and sex and spousal abuse, an album whose depressiveness is only matched by its ambition. It's also a sort of follow up the onstage banter during the live Take No Prisoners version of "Walk on the Wild Side", in which he talks shit on music critics. A key line in a Lulu's second track (and first single), "The View", is "For worship someone who actively despises you", a sentiment that either describes a relationship between the song's characters or critics' relationships with Lou Reed.

"The View" is also the most jarring song on Lulu and inspired numerous jokes, perhaps the best among them being "I didn't know Lou Reed worships his fans." Get it? (Because people hate it.) That "The View" was released as the album's single is proof that either the artists involved in the album have no desire for it to have any sort of success (with fans or critics), or that they have no idea what their fans want. It's also not hard to imagine that Lou Reed knows it will be received terribly and that Metallica doesn't, as evidenced by Lou Reed saying things like (to GQ) "I've loved Metallica since I was a kid."

Artist Seldon Hunt told Pitchfork editor Brandon Stosuy that Lulu sounds like Woody Allen yelling a joke in your ear at a Limp Bikzkit concert; "The View" sounds like Woody Allen and Limp Bizkit singing a round. Lars Ulrich hits a cymbal for the duration of the song, and it culminates in James Hetfield yelling "I AM THE VIEW I AM THE TABLE I AM THE VIEW I AM THE TABLE I AM ALL THIS I AM THE ROOT THE PROGRESS THE AGGRESSOR I AM THE TABLE I AM THE TEN STORIES I AM THE TABLE I AM I AM I AM I AM I AMMMMMM." It's nutty.

There are things I want to say about every song on Lulu: "Iced Honey" is a genuinely great song. Were it the only Loutallica song, people would be freaking out about how good it is. "Junior Dad" sounds like the title of a long-lost Mr. Show sketch. It's 20 minutes long, and the back half is just a keyboard drone. The second silliest moment on the album comes near the end of the song, when the music gets quiet and Lou says "Get the coffee, turn the lights on/Say hello to junior dad". The silliest moment is at 3:30 during "Pumping Blood", when Lou yells "C'mon James!"

I have thought about Lulu more than almost any other album this year, with the possible exception of Drake's Take Care.

Hanson O'Haver is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in New York. He tumbls here and twitters here.

"Mistress Dread" - Lou Reed & Metallica (mp3)

"Iced Honey" - Lou Reed & Metallica (mp3)

"Satellite of Love" - Lou Reed (mp3)

Tuesday
Nov012011

In Which We Start Dating Elvis Presley

This is the first in a two-part series.

An Elvis Timeline

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

Thanks to Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen's supremely detailed 1999 book, Elvis, Day by Day, the trivial details of Elvis Presley's life are open and accessible to any inquiring fan. Guralnick and Jorgensen used letters, receipts and financial records to tell Elvis' story. Things were gangbusters for a while there.

January 9th, 1935

Elvis' stillborn twin brother Jesse is buried near Tupelo, MS.

June 1st, 1938

Elvis' father and uncle arrive at Mississippi State Penitentiary to serve a three year prison term for forging a check.

September 1st, 1941

Elvis enters the first grade.

March 10th, 1943

Vernon Presley quits his gig at the Pepsi Cola Bottling Company in Tupelo.

October 3rd, 1945

Elvis places fifth in a children's talent competition at the Mississippi-Alabama state fair, singing "Old Shep," a song about a poisoned dog. He receives $5.

at Graceland in 1957

September 3rd, 1948

Bullies cut the strings of Elvis' first guitar. His fellow eighth graders raise enough money to buy him new strings. In a few months, Elvis' family moves to Memphis.

September 20th, 1949

The Presley family moves into the Memphis Housing Authority projects. Their two bedroom apartment is $35 per month.

September 20th, 1950

Elvis' grades continue to drop, although he receives an A in English. The following summer he gets his first job, operating a drill press at a company that produces rocket shells.

February 1st, 1952

Elvis' mother Gladys gives up her job as a nurse's aide because the family is making too much money to qualify for public housing. She later went back to her job when Elvis became so tired he fell asleep during class.

February 26th, 1954

Elvis starts dating 14-year-old Dixie Locke. They mostly go to double features at the drive-in.

October 2nd, 1954

After recording a few tracks, Elvis makes his first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry and quits his job at Crown Electric.

January 3rd, 1955

Elvis buys a car to transport himself and his band from gig to gig. It is a used 1951 Cosmopolitan Lincoln with a rack on top for the bass.

March 23rd, 1955

Elvis flies on an airplane for the first time for a New York audition in front of talent scouts. They laugh in his face.

February 22nd, 1956

After touring constantly over the past year and a half and recording his first professional singles, Elvis collapses from exhaustion outside a show in Jacksonville. He is twenty-one years old.

March 7th, 1956

Elvis reads the script for what would have been his first acting role, The Rainmaker. His untrustworthy agent Colonel Tom Parker tells him not to show to it anyone except his parents.

June 5th, 1956

After a performance on The Milton Berle Show, the Times claims that "Mr. Presley has no discernible singing ability." Another reporter writes of "a display of primitive physical movement difficult to describe in terms suitable to a family newspaper."

June 20th, 1956

Elvis violates Memphis' segregation laws by appearing at a "colored night" at the Fairgrounds with his girlfriend June Juanico, formerly an admiring fan.

July 21st, 1956

Elvis trades in his Cadillac for a pink 1956 Lincoln Premiere.

August 16th, 1956

Elvis flies to Los Angeles for principal photography on Love Me Tender. He goes away with Natalie Wood for a weekend. She was also dating Robert Vaughn, and later said of Elvis, "He felt he had been given this gift, this talent, by God. He didn't take it for granted. He thought it was something that he had to protect. He had to be nice to people, otherwise, God would take it all away."

at his girlfriend's house in Biloxi

February 25th, 1957

In a Memphis newspaper Louis Armstrong tells a reporter, "I'm definitely gonna do a record with him. You'd be surprised at what we could do together. You ask me if I think he's good? How many Cadillacs was it he bought? That boy's no fool."

March 10th, 1957

Elvis' former girlfriend and sometimes companion June Juanico informs him she's engaged to another man.

April 6th, 1957

Villanova students throw eggs at Elvis' face, striking only his guitar. For next two months, Elvis stays at the Beverly Wilshire so he can record new tracks at MGM studios before filming Jailhouse Rock.

Elvis at the gates of Graceland soon after they were installed, April 1957

July 5th, 1957

Elvis' Jailhouse Rock co-star Judy Tyler dies in a car accident in Wyoming.

July 13th, 1957

After one of his handlers introduces him to 19-year-old Anita Wood, a beauty contest winner he saw on Memphis TV, the girl has dinner at Graceland with Elvis and his parents. He tries to get her in bed that night but she declines.

September 20th, 1957

Elvis and his band part ways after they complain to the press about their compensation. He fires his new guitarist early in 1958 after the man's friend is caught fondling a poster of Jayne Mansfield.

October 7th, 1957

Elvis attends a wrestling show and goes home with a female wrestler named Penny Banner afterwards.

Elvis and Judy Tyler on the set of Jailhouse Rock

March 21st, 1958

Elvis buys a 1956 Ford for Anita Wood.

March 24st, 1958

Elvis enters the army in Memphis and is bused over to Arkansas. Later in the week, a riot breaks out when he is spotted at a truck stop in Texas.

June 4th, 1958

During his furlough in Memphis, Elvis records material for his planned absence and continually rents out the Fairgrounds and a local skating rink for parties.

August 9th, 1958

Elvis finishes up his course in Advanced Tank Training.

August 14th, 1958

The failing liver of Elvis' mother takes her life. In six weeks Elvis arrives in Germany for his deployment.

in Germany

December 21st, 1958

Elvis brings a live-in secretary to Germany to handle his fan mail. He drives a leased white BMW 507 along with a black Mercedes sedan.

March 5th, 1959

Elvis starts dating a German actress and visits the Moulin Rouge in Munich.

April 13th, 1959

Elvis' gig in the camp is driving visitors around to celebrate the 3rd Armored Division's 18th anniversary. His army salary is $122.30 a month.

September 13th, 1959

Elvis starts dating a 14-year-old named Priscilla Beaulieu. Her father serves in the United States Navy. Her mother's infatuation with Elvis predates her own. Her parents encourage the couple. She sneaks cigarettes behind his back.

Priscilla at Elvis' departure from Germany

March 5th, 1960

Elvis is released from the army at 9:15 a.m in New Jersey. Three days later in Memphis, he meets up with Anita Wood for the first time since he left the country. When she asks him about Priscilla, he tells Anita, "She's just a friend."

April 8th, 1960

Anita Wood dyes her hair black to match Elvis'.

July 21st, 1960

At a bullshit ceremony, Elvis receives his first-degree black belt in karate.

September 3rd, 1960

Elvis pays cash for a black Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II.

October 25th, 1960

Elvis' purchase of a monkey at Katz Drug Store for $123.55 completes a collection of dogs, parrots, chicken, pigs, and mynah birds.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

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"Are You Lonesome Tonight?" - Elvis Presley (mp3)

"It's Now or Never" - Elvis Presley (mp3)

"Blue Hawaii" - Elvis Presley (mp3)