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Alex Carnevale

Features Editor
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 Examine Quentin Tarantino's Skull

Dark Rider


Django Unchained
dir. Quentin Tarantino
180 minutes

Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) has a lot of money and is very, very bored, a position Quentin Tarantino has been able to identify with for some time now. Tarantino loved genre films as a young one; now he remakes them as if their conventions were high literature. He reminds me somewhat of how Charles Dickens reinvented the early serial drama of his predecessors into a somewhat more serious treatment of his place and time. In its sheer exuberance and energy, Django Unchained makes everything else released this year look amateurish and dull.

Dr. Schultz tracks down Django Freeman (Jamie Foxx) because he believes the slave can identify individuals with a considerable bounty on their heads, the Brittle brothers. He purchases the slave and promises Django freedom if he complies with Schultz' instructions. Most slave narratives have a white man making such a vow at one point or another, but Schultz keeps his word, and after Django helps him kill other white people, including Don Johnson and Jonah Hill (couldn't he have eliminated Emma Stone while he was at it?), they team up to assassinate more whites with bounties on their heads. The outfits they wear during their hunts are absolutely magnificent.

Tarantino gave into his more comedic impulses in his hysterical two-part revenge fantasy Kill Bill. It was still strange enough to make the films it was parodying seem normal in comparison. Django Unchained is not nearly as risky, for it must necessarily take its major subject - slavery - at face value. It is only near the very end of Django, when Jamie Foxx's horse is doing a humorous, Mr. Ed-style tap dance after eliminating the plantation where he finds his wife Hildy (Kerry Washington), when Django Unchained fully embraces the whimsical satire that all of Tarantino's films inevitably become.

Casting was once Tarantino's forte, but now his friends are actors, and it's more important to find work for his buddies, along with the token comeback role for a guy like Don Johnson, than find the best actors for the role. Waltz is basically reprising his role as a disturbed Nazi from Inglorious Basterds, except now he is on the other side, playing a bounty hunter who returns the corpses of wanted men for cash. Dr. Schultz seems to be more excited by the danger his profession entails than the potential monetary rewards. (Again, the parallel to Tarantino, whose use of the word "nigger" completely subsumes the dialogue of Django Unchained, is obvious.)

Waltz' overall diction and facial expressions are virtually unchanged from Basterds. He is good at what he does, but about halfway through Djano Unchained, when the two bounty hunters arrive at the plantation of Leonardo DiCaprio, you realize you are as sick of him as Django is. Schultz does not really possess the right kind of personality for the reserved Foxx to play off, and later scenes where Django purses his objective alone are filled with a more exciting kind of tension. We do not want our black hero's vengeance encumbered by a white man any more than he does.

DiCaprio himself, portraying plantation owner Calvin Candie, is far and away the most talented actor in Django Unchained, and like most of Tarantino's villains he gets the best lines. (His teeth are revolting and perfect.) Calvin Candie's own second is a simpering, aged Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the role of the black man loyal to the plantation. This, DiCaprio explains at length, is because African-Americans have a part of the skull which renders them more submissive than whites. Jackson's role is mostly played for comedy, and its only difference from the traditionally offensive roles of blacks issued in films from the early part of last century is that the actor behind the role voted for Obama.

The rest of the cast gets little in the way of screen time. As Django's wife, Kerry Washington is painfully muted. She is the only one slave who experiences tortune in Django Unchained as a slave. Sure, one man is torn to death by dogs, and another is beaten to death in a staged fight to the death, but that is not slavery. Slavery is not violence alone; it requires duration.

Mostly, the blacks of DiCaprio's not-so-idyllic Candyland lounge about, not working the fields or feeling the lash of the overseer. Washington's scars, when displayed at a particularly eventful dinner, are the only evidence of violence present. Her screams do not make us shudder when she emerges from the salty hotbox where she is punished for fleeing, and her anguish, or anyone else's, is never offered at length.

That is not the kind of movie Tarantino is making, which is something of a shame, because Quentin is the best technical director working today. He has abandoned his unnerving, electric habit of using long shots and pans that so set him apart from his fast-cutting peers in his early career, trading it in for a more flexible style. At times he seems to be even making fun of much imitated moments in his earlier efforts, repeating his most famous nausea-inducing pan from Reservoir Dogs as he circles around a group of Scottish slavers that includes himself, 100 pounds heavier than when Quentin Tarantino first cast Quentin Tarantino in Reservoir Dogs as the slender Mr. Brown.

Roots this is not. "Slavery is not a spaghetti western," Spike Lee informed us, as if this were in doubt. There are few spaghetti westerns played for laughs. Django Unchained is a slavery comedy, plain and simple.

Here we find a reminder of what slavery was, without the evidence of degradation over time that distinguished it from mere oppression. Maybe that is just as well. White audiences have never tolerated an extensive reminder of their ancestors' foibles; much easier to simply witness the murder of slaveowners and feel superior and glad as blood cartoonishly spews from their bodies when Django executes them. It is not dissimiliar to the congratulatory feeling that Zero Dark Thirty offers at the violent execution of Osama Bin Laden. At least Django does not throw a lively party and announce a press conference afterwards. We cannot help our enjoyment at watching evil people die, but nothing offers more diminishing rewards.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here. He last wrote in these pages about Rebecca West and H.G. Wells.

"Freedom" - Anthony Hamilton & Elayna Boynton (mp3)

"Who Did That To You" - John Legend (mp3)


In Which We Meet Someone New And Ill-Advised

The Weight of What Happened


I began 2012 with a literal lump in my throat.

The doctors at the Duane Reade clinic I went to did not know how to remedy it. They gave me horse pill antibiotics and steroids to take on a staggered schedule but nothing stopped the swelling. “Call 911 if you can’t breathe,” one concerned doctor said, but how I was supposed to make the call if I couldn’t breathe he did not explain. For weeks my fever soared, eventually getting so high I hallucinated several extra characters into the short story collection I was reading. Late on those early February nights, a guy across the country sent me drunken texts I could barely decipher but in my haze I answered them anyway, surprised, in the morning, to see what dialogue we had in each of our respective stupors produced.

On Valentine’s Day a doctor stuck a needle in my throat and drained what had turned out to be an abscess. Afterward I sat in the Hot & Crusty on First Avenue, my hands shaking from dehydration and in relief, while I downed bottles of Vitamin Water. When I got home my first grad school acceptance was waiting.

I knew by March that I’d be leaving New York in the fall. I treated the departure as imminent, pacing up and down Fourteenth Street counting every step, every sentence. That whole spring I hovered mentally somewhere above Ohio, equidistant between where I was and where I was supposed to be going.

2012 was the first year since I was a teenager that I didn’t have a boyfriend but I had something better, I had my friend Jeanne. One, two, three nights a week, she’d come over after work with a bottle of wine and groceries and we’d cook dinner together and curl up on the couch with our plates and glasses to talk through the minutiae of the last 24, 48, 72 hours. It was a routine I’d shared with several boyfriends but I didn’t remember it feeling as complete as this for so sustained a period, the full bellies, full hearts, and full conviction that no one, anywhere else on the island of Manhattan and beyond, was having as much fun as we were.

For a long time I had assumed that the people who got you through the night and brought you breakfast the next morning were the people you dated, because for a long time for me they were, but this year, for the first time since romantic relationships became a possibility, I began to understand the inadequacies and limitations of that particular arrangement. Now it seems to me that there are people who sustain you and people who sleep with you and often those are one and the same, but just as often, maybe even more often, they are not. I confess that it is these latter love stories, the platonic ones, that interest me now more than any other.

Summer came absurdly early, a series 80 degree days in March, a sweaty April and dead hot May. Everything was a blur of Keds and whiskey and the acute sense that time was running out, even though there were still months left. I did crunches and squats in my living room, imagining that physical strength would insulate me from the changes I dreaded. In the evenings I carried six-packs down Metropolitan to my friends’ backyard, doing bicep curls with the bottles, as if that made a dent in the damage I was doing, physically and otherwise.

Some late afternoons between jobs, I sat on the steps of a statue in Washington Square Park, sweat dripping down the open back of my dress, texting with that guy, typing out things we didn’t really mean. Each message from him was a present I was slightly frightened to open. He asked me to meet him in Barcelona. I didn’t have the money but I was buzzed on premature summer, on pre-emptive nostalgia, on all that was before me, so I entertained the idea for a while. We each were deeply compelled toward some part of each other but it was not a complete feeling and even I, even then, was aware of that.

I spent most of June on jury duty down at 80 Centre Street. On lunch breaks I ate hard-boiled eggs and gchatted the boy I did like in a complete way, the one who walked me home when I was sidewalk-wavering drunk and bought me breakfast in the morning. “Just because someone doesn't adore you the way you want them to, doesn't mean they don't adore you with all they have,” he typed at me, and it took me a while to understand the unspoken part of that sentence, which was: “But that still might not be enough.”

In early August I drove to Iowa with three suitcases and two lamps. Moving to a new place is the pits. But there are moments when the misery starts to crack and something good shines through: certain fall strolls up tree-lined Summit Street, those first conversations with people when you finally get to the meat of things, the routines you learn to construct for yourself. At the beginning I called Ellen “My Iowa best friend,” but after a couple months I dropped the “Iowa” part.

For months I was deeply, viscerally, hair-tearingly lonely there but I knew I wouldn’t leave, that this loneliness was a productive and necessary one. When you are alone, as I am, there is fundamentally no choice but to keep yourself going, to put on your sneakers and run, to soak the beans and cook dinner, to go to the coffee shop and work. This confirms a conviction I have long had that, with a few specific exceptions, the things you are most afraid of are the things that are actually best for you.

All fall, my dad called me every Saturday, like he used to when I was in college, and I’d always be at a coffee shop reading, like I was in college. The anthology I was often reading from was one I’d owned for seven years. Reading your old marginalia is like talking to an old boyfriend––you see how your way of thinking has changed since you were last acquainted. Incidentally, the narratives of real life are often more interesting than the narratives of fiction, although in 2012, for reasons obvious and abstract, it was hard for me not to believe that all narratives were fundamentally fictive.

By this time I no longer gchatted much with the boy who bought me breakfast. The guy with the texts had temporarily quit drinking and stopped messaging, but he e-mailed me every time there was a tragedy in New York. There seemed to be a lot of those just then. The week I finally got around to framing and hanging a photo of my friends and I in the Rockaways, taken in June, was the same one the very beach we laid out on was washed away.

Around Thanksgiving I told the texting guy he had to stop drinking for good. “I’m never going to be able to do it again, am I?” he asked me, as I walked him up and down the cold early winter sidewalk, after I’d pulled him out of a bar down by the river. “No,” I said, “And you’re going to feel much better.” But how did I know that? How did I know anything, and how had I gotten here, into this role? I was realizing, about then, that when you spend time with people who drink a lot more than you, as I had been for the last few years, you alone carry the burden of remembering: they will not recall the things that were said or proposed, the plans that were made and the ones that were abandoned; those will instead sit solely on your shoulders. This hadn’t before bothered me, but sometime lately it had begun to feel heavy, that weight of what happened, and bearing it by myself.

He bought me a pizza with French fries on it for my troubles but eating it felt like the end, and it was in fact the last meal we shared. He was fine because he didn’t remember anything. I spent a week under the covers, trying to figure it all out.

I emerged around my birthday. There was a clarity to the Iowa air that day and a clarity to my thoughts, too: if my early twenties had been characterized by a harried sense of caring — maybe a little too much— about everything, it seemed I had now entered a phase of caring a great deal, but only about one thing. Bars held much less interest to me now than what went on at my keyboard. There were boys —there would always be boys, this I finally understood with some mix of excitement and apprehension —but they had receded into the background, into the occasional phone call. The blurry moments before sleep that I had previously spent thinking about them were now occupied with thoughts of essays I had yet to write, of books I was reading, of what I would do when I sat down at my computer the following morning. My dreams took place at the keyboard; I awoke with sentences fully formed.

There are moments, still, when I miss three whiskeys on a weeknight, the chaos of someone new and ill advised, but not all that much. The metrics I employ now to judge my days are radically different. When I read things I wrote earlier in 2012, it feels suspiciously like foreshadowing for what was to come, just as this bears, no doubt, some sign of what’s ahead.

I write now back in New York, from an apartment high in Prospect Heights with views of Manhattan. The Empire State Building, gleaming red and green, is so small and remote that it disappears when I bring my finger in front of my face. New York is unchanged in a way I had not anticipated — and that makes me laugh; what had I expected would happen? — but to my surprise and some pleasure, I find that I am not.

Lucy Morris is the contributing editor to This Recording. She is a writer and translator living in Iowa City. She tumbls here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. She last wrote in these pages about living alone.

"Super Bien Total" - Sade (mp3)

"Paradise (Ronin remix)" - Sade (mp3)


In Which We Read The Remarks Of Housewives



This time last year, I was recovering from a stay in the hospital by reading The Feminine Mystique. I had found an old copy among several novels on the floor of my grandma’s spare room; it was mine, I guessed, dropped sometime in between shifting old texts to book sales. That winter, I had taken leave from work and was reading anarchically, giving my attention to books I’d never had time for and to others I did not even think I should read. Friedan was one of the former, and I read the remarks of housewives, quietly and oddly, as my grandma fussed and tidied her kitchen:

But what can I do, alone in the house… It is easier to live through someone else than to become complete yourself.

The noise in the kitchen was always accompanied by a choir on the radio, a relic of a machine held together by tape, which had survived the 1950s with my grandma. Removed from where I lived my life as I chose, it proved difficult to sit amongst books I had never opened, reading things I might never have read. And though I questioned Friedan’s idea of completeness, I thought about the slope to living vicariously, as I tried not to think about the lives my friends continued without me. Vicariousness appeared to be a sense of wonder, formed in the gap between expectation and reality, something which might be mistaken for self-helplessness. Friedan saw it as a fear of possibility. As she rattled her pots and pans, as she was happy I was home no matter what the circumstances, I wondered if my grandma had ever lived vicariously herself.

That winter, if I felt sad about where I was or what had brought me there, I read the bits of poetry I had copied into notebooks as a teenager. My grandma didn’t approve, telling me that poetry only led to dark thoughts. She offered me ginger wine and documentaries about pregnant teenagers in its place. But after taking the wine, and leaving it by the side of my bed, I would read lines from Frank O’Hara, the ones which seemed like a tonic to the vicarious, though they read equally like a mantra or the blurb of a tumblr:

Grace / to be born and live as variously as possible.

I knew that “Grace,” standing alone on the line, referred to O’Hara’s friend, the artist, Grace Hartigan. That line is suspended between descriptions of Hartigan’s paintings and, for all its quotability, makes an uneasy link between the dynamics of their friendship and O’Hara’s poetic effect. Teetering over the sentiment of the phrase that follows, “Grace” is universal, a symbol of all relationships. Both singular and infinite, it is not just O’Hara’s desire, but hers, theirs and ours, which lives to experience as variously as we are allowed.

If friendship is a vow of constancy, then the relationship between O’Hara and Hartigan is harder to grasp alongside the wish to live in variety. But if this is a complicated way of talking about relationships, it isn’t a mournful one. For O’Hara, part of his identity is formed in his companionships; identity is reciprocal, dynamic, and creative.

I am writing, then, about friendship, but also about a word.

This past November, five of my closest friends casually mentioned a wish to live, vicariously, through me. In text and in letter form, then in person or on the phone, these friends reiterated their love of living and experiencing my day to days, vicariously. These five friends, all of them in long term relationships, engaged, or already married, had begun to tell me how they loved to experience my second-handed drama. But they didn’t just say it once; they said it over and again.

I am writing, here, under a series of disclaimers which would stress that my life is neither particularly interesting nor that my friends show an abnormal level of interest in it. Friendships, I know, do not occur simply to keep us close to those who mirror our behaviour, or even to show us that the most personal of anxieties are not ever solely our own. There must be some extent to which we are all living vicariously through the people we know, getting thrills from the problems that aren’t quite ours, but which we can hear fully expressed and close-up, making mental notes to never have the misfortune of enduring similar.

But to be born and live as vicariously as possible. Once it had been said out loud, it began to litter the responses to my stories, the word passed between friends like a note dropped in class.

This morning, from between two books, a letter fell out, written by a friend living overseas. “Any new drama?” she asked, in bright green ink, “You know I just LOVE to live vicariously through you.”

And, there again, written last January, a friend was living vicariously. An old friend, we had met at the after show party for a Mount Holyoke production of The Vagina Monologues, where we’d spoken about Macbeth over genitalia shaped chocolates. My friend, who we had Skype-counselled through a disastrous spell on Craigslist, where time and again she had met “the worst guy in the world,” and where, time and again, she had returned to his insults and a second date. She, now settled and suburban, who was animatedly, hopelessly, in love, three years into her relationship, was nostalgic for a time when all she had wanted was what she now had.

The vicarious seemed to shift my friends between what they wanted and what they had, before pausing on what they had once wanted. There was no malice in the sentiment, but the casual frequency with which they said it seemed striking. The word was sort of beautiful: half vicodin, half effusion. If you look at it too long, which I, in bright green, found myself doing as I dried my hair, it appears like a cross between vicar and riot: an impulse both puritanical and anarchistic.

But its connotations seem knotted. Whenever someone now says it, I see the funnel between my lifestyle and theirs expanding with each syllable, our friendship a kaleidoscope which is hypnotic from only their end. To live vicariously is to experience an emotion at a distance from the subject. It is, perhaps, empathetic, if always delegated or surrogated. It implies shock and comfort in as equal measure as gratification. Vicarious means to substitute, to have a rare, out of body experience, endured or suffered by one person so that another won’t have to. The authority is with the observer, not the subject, of course, so while they mean, I am sure, to convey how they are experiencing, imaginatively, the feelings or events of another life, the observer comes into the possession of knowledge for which the penance is reckoned by the subject alone.

In law, it means the responsibility of a superior for the subordinate.

As a power dynamic, it’s pretty dire.

A fairer preface, and one not given here, might have outlined my larger habit of storytelling. I offer information, on myself, at a rapidly increasing rate. In writing this now, in fact, I am inviting vicariousness, yet the compulsion to make stories out of the present only increases. I apologise, to friends about this, not knowing when I am abusing an ear too often.

“But that’s OK,” they say back, “You know we LOVE to live vicariously through you.”

I remember one winter my mum had had a particularly bad break-up. Her cassette tape of Jagged Little Pill never left our car. We drove round and round the countryside, listening to that album, until the following summer when she became embarrassed by the obvious wear on the tape and threw it away. My favourite song, I remember, seemed to me to be the happiest. Alanis sarcastically lists all the ways in which she doesn’t want to fix her lover, stating the impossibility of helping someone who refused to analyse themselves: “I don’t want to be lived through, a vicarious occasion, please.” I remember the word sticking out like a barb, half vicodin, half vicar, half riot. Far too long, and far too jagged, because, I suppose, it is easier to live through someone else than to become complete yourself.

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

"Cordelia" - Jo Mango (mp3)

"Every Certainty" - Jo Mango (mp3)