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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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Saturday
Jul132013

In Which We Never Understood It Until Now

Return to San Francisco

by DAN CARVILLE

They landed without much effort. A man inspected the plane and called out to his co-worker, "I am so tired. The morning is an afternoon."

Max found a cab without much trouble. A blinking light on the dash bothered him to no end. The cab driver said, "Without a witness, there's not much to do. You wait for hour, but it's a happy kind of waiting, absent the pressure I thought I would feel."

A culvert trickled water. The house creaked and settled at an angle. He opened every closet to be safe. The caretaker stopped by, rapping on the door with a wrinkled knuckle. He told Max how to turn on the water, to be sure to lock the fridge. The man took a call, and quickly became heated. "Put it back wherever you got it," he screamed.

Picking up a package of hot dogs at 7-11, he spotted an old "friend" who recognized him instantly. "Max!" He could not place his friend's name, but he soon realized it was not necessary - any other synonym would suffice. Eventually he said it: it was Richard. A few of Richard's friends came back and drank all the beer in the fridge, the one he could now not remember how to close. When Dana called to tell him she was coming over, Max kicked them all out, saying, "The jetlag is always worse than you can imagine."

She did not stay long, and appeared substantially more interested in the house than anything else present. Feebly, Max heard himself offering to dogsit for her. She touched every wall with her red fingernails. Before she left he said, "There is a fascination with repeating yourself that I have never been able to understand until now."

In the morning he woke early, but not early enough to view the rising of the sun. All Max recalled of the previous night was her thighs. Could not imagine what kind of work she had done to make them look so smooth, like the crests of waves. When the mailman delivered a few circulars and a book of coupons to the house, he took off a hat with a picture of John Lennon on it and said, "The blue lagoon is closed today. Some kind of problem with shrapnel in the air." Max could only nod as he drove off.

Max walked around the city, up and down it really, quickly getting myself far more lost than he intended. A cadre of Colombians were staging a festival; children oscillated on bouncy castles for as far as Max's eyes could see. Mothers tried to decrease incrementally the velocity of their descent, shouting, "A careful churl comes to no sorrow, slow, slow, slow," in a language he could only half understand.

A crowd had gathered around a magic act on the esplanade. The magician looked young for his skill level; his moustache was obviously fabricated. At some point during his demonstration, the magician shouted as loud as he could that the painting he was about to make disappear was an American classic.

In the daylight the house resembled the burning end of a cigarette. The temperature dropped, and he had packed nothing to insulate himself against any kind of cold. He called the caretaker but the connection was indistinct. All he could hear was a woman breathing very heavily before she said, "March in single file. When we arrive you can eat it."

He thought of calling Dana, but remembered the events of the previous evening with more clarity. Her expression had only been familiar to him at first, but he had difficulty placing its meaning completely. Now, as he placed his phone inside an old drawer, he fathomed what it was: the same expression he had seen on his sister's face at their father's wake. He pulled the phone out of a drawer and called a number. He said to himself, but also to the house, "A mercurial phantom rides a long way. Come now the snow, the dithering in the artifice, to me if not to her as well. I could sit here, but I wait."

Dan Carville a writer living in Brooklyn.

Paintings by Hadas Tal.

"The Best of Friends" - Glass Towers (mp3)

"Tonight" - Glass Towers (mp3)

Friday
Jul122013

In Which We Eat Pot Brownies With Tao Lin

photo by Sharokh Mirzai  

Self vs. Author

by CASS DAUBENSPECK

Tao Lin stays awake in his apartment 2-3 days at a time, taking small walks outside to buy expensive vegan snacks while high on Adderall and Xanax. When I visited him at his studio apartment in Kips Bay, I liked the feeling that everything inside his space was there because it had once been brought in by someone else, for an unknown purpose (a kiddie pool, overturned in the kitchen – a kite, broken in a pile on the floor) not because it had passed a test before being admitted. I liked the feeling that nothing had been scrutinized after it was used, then rendered useless and thrown away. I liked the feeling that Tao did not give a shit about the mess. Or about how anyone perceived life inside his house.

I have a secret sympathy for the misanthrope. I get the hoarder. I understand the mad desire to hold on to every piece of accumulated material, to stay alone all day in a cool, dark apartment among one’s things. So I have always had benign feelings of admiration for writers like Tao Lin. I recognize the safety of indoors, and the fear of losing something precious simply because one deigned to enter the world beyond social media.

photo by Sharokh Mirzai

When I first introduced myself to Tao Lin, I was 21 years old and still using Hotmail. I’d read one of his stories and e-mailed him to tell him I liked it. “I don’t have many friends,” he had said. “I don’t like being around more than one person at a time, usually. Or I don’t like people that much generally. I don’t know.”

For six years I “got to know” Tao through the internet, through emails and gchats, and then a week ago, I went over to meet him. He asked me to come around 4 p.m., a little after he woke up. When I arrived the door was propped open and he was sitting at a rectangular desk in the small studio. There were no lights on, except for the gooseneck lamp clamped to the mirror in the bathroom, emitting an eerie reddish glow on the doorway, and the melting shadow of sunlight coming in through the apartment’s only window.

photo by Sharokh Mirzai

The room was crammed with broken things: lamps, piles of hangers, old clothes, huge blankets, and what looked like a collapsed tent. “That was from my ex girlfriend,” he said, in the kind of hushed, uncertain staccato that is his voice. Piles of dishes, unfinished art projects, scissors, tape, and envelopes, black plastic bags filled with who knows what, barricaded his desk and the surfaces around it. There was the distinctive sound of water dripping as I took a seat on a cluttered sofa and offered him a Tecate from my bag. I didn’t know what made everything so uncomfortable. He said “there’s beer,” and opened the refrigerator and took out a Wolaver’s.

Perhaps even more apparent than the commanding aura of hoarder tendencies in the place was a sense of absence - the apartment’s evocation of all that had been excluded, had failed to capture Tao’s interest enough to be brought in in the first place, which are probably most of the things of “good taste” or the things we see in stores and in one another’s houses. Tao’s apartment was not “comfortable” by any conventional means, but there was something comforting about an environment from which “disorderly actuality” had not been removed. I was pleased by the success of my plan. I felt that being inside of Tao’s apartment allowed me to understand him better.

photo by Sharokh Mirzai

“What did you think of my book?” Tao asked, after we had been sitting there holding our beers for ten minutes. “Most of the reviews were negative.” I asked him about the fish on the wall, cut out of newspaper, and the broken lightbulb next to the Natalie Imbruglia CD on his desk. “My ex girlfriend gave that to me.” He stood up and went over to the tiny refrigerator and pulled out a rectangle covered in aluminum foil. “Someone sent these to me,” he said, and started breaking up small pieces of pot brownies, holding the freezer door open with his elbow. I took two 1x1 pieces and chewed them around and washed them down with Tecate. The conversation moved on, and I did not say I had tried to read the book twice but couldn’t finish either time.

photo by Sharokh Mirzai

“Do you think memoir is more authentic than fiction?” I asked.

“No. I mostly just think in memoir that person is lying.” We sat together on the couch and signed in to Twitter.

“Don’t you think,” I asked, “men tend to write fiction instead of memoir when they want to write about themselves, because of ego?”  “No,” he said.

“Really,” I said. “Why do men hardly ever write memoir?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Why don’t you write memoir?”

Under my twitter handle, Tao typed in the appropriate amount of characters letting people know we’d be heading to KGB bar for a reading, and then he added hashtag #potbrownies.

photo by Sharokh Mirzai

A cab dropped us off outside 8th Street Organic Avenue, a boutique vegan grocery store with pristine white shelving and a hospital vibe except for the smell, like fresh cut lawn. This is the place Tao goes pretty much every day after ingesting Xanax, to buy a chocolate mousse, a coconut yogurt parfait, and a green juice, which costs him $31. “This is so good,” he said, showing me a coconut mousse from a wall of containers that looked exactly alike. We walked several blocks to KGB bar and pushed through a crowd of people waiting to get in the theatre on the floor above. Inside, it was very dark and cool, and we sat in the corner. “I eat the Xanax first because it makes things taste better," he said, eyeing his green juice. I expressed my need for water for the second time in two minutes. “Oh shit,” Tao said, peering into my face, holding straw paper limply between his dry lips. It was the first time in three hours I’d heard him speak in a normal tone of voice and it scared me. A guy came over and shook my hand. Tao said “he saw Twitter, he saw the hashtag, don’t worry" as if that made any sense to me. I was starting to feel like I couldn’t see anything clearly. It took a lot of effort to figure out how I was supposed to leave.

This is what real life looks like, they tell us. This is the job of a writer – to vanquish mess – to inhabit the studio apartment, or the Lower East Side bar of actuality, to pick out a few elements with which to make a story, and consign the rest to the garbage dump. It is wrong, then, to assume that in the presence of a novelist, the experience of them will be the same as how you experienced their stories, as you were reading them. But for Tao Lin that is true. With him in person, no small awkwardness is spared. Images of panic-inducing chaos crop up frequently, not just as metaphors for the failure or absence of meaning, but as advertisements: for his own depression, sense of floating, meaninglessness.

photo by Sharokh Mirzai

During the three or so hours we were together, I became drunk and high and moved into a sort of panic, and Tao was fucked up on any number of pills he had taken, plus beer, plus green juice plus another beer, and it was just like his book Taipei. It was just like we were in that book, on our way to some party, susceptible to great mischief and misunderstanding along the way. Barely moving his mouth, he asked if the photographer would stop taking pictures soon, because he was getting too fucked up. I said “What?” not hearing him, or remembering we had been taking photos this whole time.

photo by Sharokh Mirzai

For some years – five or six – Tao was a living person inside my head. For his entire life as a published author, he has been a living person coexisting with his own literary persona. Tao does not do well with it, I think. I do not do well with it, and when I left him at the bar, I left with the memory of someone I quite liked, but felt angry at, and was now worried about, the same way I would worry about a brother in the hospital, or a friend going through a breakup. All the impressions and ideas I have ever had about Tao had been accumulating over the years, and now none of them added up. Riding home over the Williamsburg Bridge, I blamed Tao for being himself, for being just like the characters in his books, because he was violating my creation.

As an author of fiction, his great subject is the tension between falseness and reality. To him it seems there should be nothing but the present. There should be no dividing line between reality and parody of truth, no shield in real life or fiction that says life is not fucked and death is not near. He doesn’t write, as some authors do, to invent a world in which things that are pristine and mythical and inconclusive are the dominant matters of concern. He does not wish to pick out parts and dispose of the rest in order to make a story.  He imposes narrative on his own life - all of it – and the stories are concrete, and they are sometimes boring, and, as with Taipei, they drag. His work says, this is what it is, right here. I am showing you. Everything adds up. “Real life.” And yet, there is a sneaking suspicion, just as I have right now, writing this, that I am missing something. The novelist, even as he tries not to, exists in two forms - both himself, and as author -  and one cannot know for sure which side of him - the one that sleeps through his flight and misses his book readings, the one that ingests many drugs, the one that fell in love so hard he eloped, the one that shamelessly self-promotes - is putting on a show or being earnest. And that is the mark of a good fiction writer: the one that never lets us fully accept the work. The one that leaves us questioning if we really understood what we just read, and how much about life, about people, about the author, we can really ever know.

Cass Daubenspeck is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer and editor living in Brooklyn. She can be found in many bars. She interviews people about their private lives here. You can find her twitter here. You can find her website here.

Photographs by Sharokh Mirzai

"Oregon Trail" - Bad Banana (mp3)

photo by Sharokh Mirzai

Thursday
Jul112013

In Which We See What Katy Perry Feels About Everything

Ongoing Dream

by RACHEL SYKES

Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream is three years old next month. The album, which sold 2.6 million copies in the US alone, and 6 million worldwide, was only the second in history to have five number one singles (the first: Michael Jackson’s Bad), keeping Perry in the top ten of the airplay charts for a total of 71 weeks. This week also marked the first anniversary of the film made to document her success. Katy Perry: Part of Me is part biopic, part concert film, released over the weekend of July 4, 2012 and premiered with an array of Pepsi sponsored, US-themed outfits.

On July 4, 2013, Perry was draped in more stars and stripes, in an Instagram of her reunion with John Mayer. Dressed in matching outfits and locked in an embrace, the couple’s heads are turned away from the camera. It’s an image that is both strikingly intimate and playfully coy. Even the photographer seems unsure of how close they should be.

The caption, “Whose broad stripes & bright stars?!”, alludes to the same mystery: who are these people and how are they so recognisable that they can communicate through the backs of their heads? 

As Susan Sontag once wrote of the camera, on Instagram we are ever more “a tourist in other people’s reality”. And in the great tradition of the pop-umentary, Part of Me is another exercise in the construction of intimacies. We, the fans, gain access to the breadth of Perry’s career, beginning with her teenage years as gospel singer, Katheryn Hudson, and ending with the behemoth California Dreams Tour, 11 months long and 124 dates wide.

“This film,” Perry said, “you’re going to see it from my best friend/buddy perspective; you’re going to see exactly what I mean and feel and think about everything.”

You’re going to see it all, and you’re going to see it in 3D.

In claiming to show us everything, however, Perry shows fissures in the curation of her image. Part of Me portrays her transformation from preacher’s daughter to professional glamorama with a trajectory so smooth that it jars.

What’s more, her anti-bullying mantra, most palpably observed in the self-celebration of ‘Firework,’ comes through in the oddest of ways. “Thank you for believing in my weirdness,” she yells from the stages of different continents - but that is the weirdest thing she will say throughout. It is the task of imagining her as an outsider that proves the most bizarre - Part of Me is a wholesome movie, for a wholesome audience, which carries no hint of the blackout centred party girls, awkward lovers, and teenage runaways that her songs so frequently refer to.

The poster, for example, shows Katy, her hair flowing freely bar the cutest of hair clips, as she sings obliviously into her hairbrush. Reflected in the mirror is her on-stage persona, hair now bright blue, décolletage spruced up, in a sparkly pink tutu and lilac silk gloves.

The reflection is a hybrid: Hollywood starlet, ballerina, and cyber princess all in one. Her ‘real’ self is all American, the girl next door surrounded by battered ornaments and faded wallpaper. The comparison is simple: there is nothing she has that you cannot achieve. But what she is is a polysemy, a performance of different identities, of different fantasies, that allude to possibilities without a glimpse of a reality that is anything less than polished.

Similar claims to normalcy were made in the early days of the Spice Girls, who grossed $77 million from their 1997 mockumentary, Spice World. There was something ramshackle about the band, although this was as highly cultivated as Perry’s coiffured sexuality.

But they were a bunch of girls who had no talent in particular, their performances reeking of Tia Maria stained lyrics sheets and last minute rehearsals. All five had worked their way through odd jobs and bit parts and made no attempt to hide their ambitions. Geri was a former Turkish game show hostess; Victoria had decided to become famous after watching the musical, Fame.

As with Perry, there were contradictions in their claims to authenticity but these were more pronounced because they couldn’t dance, couldn’t sing, and they definitely couldn’t act. And whilst the media accused them of illegitimacy, the public didn’t follow. Their first single, ‘Wannabe,’ was released in June 1996. By August 1997, the Spice Girls had filmed their movie and signed over twenty sponsorship deals. The Spice Girls sold records from their ‘normal’ personalities, and Spice World accentuated the personalities that they sold.

In Part of Me, however, Perry is caught somewhere between a pop music of aspiration and of the everyday. She claims to be both the girl singing into her hairbrush, and the embodiment of old school glamour. Her commercialism is so complete that it’s almost admirable; even the movie’s title seems resigned to her commodification. But although she tells us that she will be showing us “everything”, Perry seems more than aware that her image can be divided into segments.

But what is disturbing is imagining how Perry might conflict in the minds of younger girls. There are the lollypops which equate her sexuality with a literal consumption so phallic that it’s embarrassing even pointing it out. Then there’s ‘E.T.’, which I think of because my housemate delights in repeating the lyrics back to me:

“Infect me with your love? Fill me with your poison?”

“Take me, ta-ta-take me / Wanna be a victim / Ready for abduction?”

I am talking about childhood, but also about authenticity, a term which is often applied to popular music in order to find it lacking. In the 1920s, critics used the idea of authenticity to attribute relative values to jazz and pop; in the 1930s, between black and white jazz; in the 1960s, between rock and teen pop. The musicologist Elizabeth Leach suggests that although the musical markers for authenticity change between decades, the implication is always the same – “the authentic music is more real because it is less designed as a commercial venture.”

In this respect, Katy Perry can’t win. As a pop musician she is already defined as an effigy of the inauthentic and as one of the world’s most successful pop stars, she can only perpetuate the rot, so inscribed is she with the protensions and retensions of both the music industry and rock music’s dominant authenticity.

The idea of authenticity is thankfully so vague that people quite wisely stay away from it. Yet it will always be bandied around when discussing pop songs with indie kids. Pop music is commercialised bollocks, they say, with no depth and little meaning. Where’s the integrity in Justin Bieber? 

These men (for they are men) use ‘pop’ as a swear world. Pop music is so aggressively attacked because of the reaction it provokes in young girls, so readily dismissed because it so firmly embraces the temporary as to be unsettling. But pop music is a shot, a talisman, or a lover, and should be defended as such. I’ve heard half-hearted defenses that describe it as escapism, but it has to be bigger than that. Pop music is incantation, the invocation of something larger than yourself, the affirmation that follows you like a flashback through the day. Don’t fob me off with guilty pleasures, because that isn’t real - pop music’s effect is no slighter for its immediacy.

Why I listen to pop music is another matter, but this sentiment is something that Perry knows too well. The movie’s opening song, ‘Teenage Dream,’ went through a series of drafts before it was finally recorded and released in July 2010. Perry and her co-writers knew that they wanted to explore the feeling of being forever young; the first draft of the lyric was written about Peter Pan which all decided was too devoid of sex.

Focusing instead upon the emotions of becoming a teenager, Perry had the verse perfected, an ode to finding a love in which you can finally admit vulnerability. Without make up, without a punchline, she says, “I let my walls come down”.

The chorus was written after meeting future husband, Russell Brand, yet Perry defaults back to clichés: “You make me feel / Like I’m livin’ a / Teenage dream / The way you turn me on.” By the middle eight, the teenage dream has changed completely. Perry is no longer living her dream, she has become someone else’s: “I’m a get your heart racing / In my skin-tight jeans / Be your teenage dream tonight.” The shift in agency may be a slip, missed in the process of drafting and redrafting. But what was so securely conceived as a song about Katy’s personal reveries, becomes a song in which she is an object. It becomes, like all things concerned with Perry, both strikingly intimate and provocatively coy, both reality and fantasy combined.

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.