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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 These Are Angelic Figures

Felt Works


I imagine Lorna Simpson's days are not filled with the sort of thoughts that occasionally plague my own. She is a mother and an artist. The execution of her ideas is the catharsis needed when confronting the world. I imagine she thinks clearly of the world and sees it for what it is. Lorna does not ask why; she asks how. It is not a question of knowing, but rather a question of explanation. I ask why things are the way they are. She says, this is the way things are the way they are.

I spent Tuesday afternoons in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, thinking about what was to come next. It was the summer after my college graduation and I was underemployed and soaking up the last days of independence in the city before moving home.

There she was, part of a broader constellation. She was there all summer on the third floor and I could not forget her words not of wisdom, but of validity. The truth of Lorna Simpson’s art is not that it is too painful to understand, but that these things - the struggle for personhood, violence, femininity, feminism, and the black female body - were of importance and of reality.

When we talk of the "black struggle," we talk of the black male struggle. There is no differentiation between man and woman in black racial politics. We treat blackness as all-encompassing. Variations of lived experience are irrelevant. Differing narratives (of life black and male vs life black and female) are too complicated for the majority. But she knew of the reality, that our experiences are colored and multifaceted, that our lives are insectionally-bound two steps below what is seen as most vital or critical.

Lorna's most provocative works don't rely solely on the body. The body can tell much, but it is the black woman's body that was born to tell everything. Skin is colored with history, curves are exaggerated and hypersexualized. There is also the nose. There are also the lips, too full. Sexual, not sensual. Meant for the pleasure of others, inhabiting a purpose beyond the body of their owner and instead answering for lust and lechery. There are the eyes, absorbing the world from a young age, quickly and bitingly.

In one of her earlier installations, below a photographic work are the words, “She was no more exotic than the sparse room she posed in.”

I began to write this down and saw I instead wrote, “She was more exotic than...” I went to exoticism first, feeling the subjugation of the body was to be Lorna’s first directive. The phrase appears in Screen No. 4, an installation of gelatin silver prints on wooden accordion screens. I let my everyday play a part in shaping the idea of Lorna’s work. Sometimes these ideas are right, but more often, she rejects the complacency of expectations. She was not exotic. She was no more exotic. It is you, that other person, that assumes otherwise.

Like most of her figures, she is wearing white. We do not see her head nor her face. We never do. That is not what it is important. But we do see the skin – deep, rich, brown – and we do see the white, a perfect contrast. Sometimes, the white acts as a means of inscribing a different narrative to her subjects. These are angelic figures. They are pure and good and true, even if you can’t believe it.

 The words too are familiar to my lived experience and to the lived experience of many women around me. These white blouses and dresses and other clothing affirm the purity of these statements. Lorna is not being provocative. She is being true. Lorna is not trying to just get a rise out of the viewer. She is telling you that this is as true as a clean white shirt, a crisp piece of clothing and also the “value” of the absence of color. Take this as best as you can. Take this and know that it comes from a place of reality.

In Three Seated Figures, she wrote, “her story/each time they looked for proof.”

In Figure, she wrote, “figured the worst/figured legality had nothing to do with it/figured she was suspect/figured there would be no reaction.”

In Square Deal, she wrote, “That story doesn’t square with yours, try and square the two.”

Lorna refines her words up to the last moment, which is why they complement the images, but often stay with the viewer much longer than the image. Memory is tied to strong visuals, moments in real life that were tangible and seemingly never ending. Words can resonate much more deeply. Words are universal. Phrases help draw parallels to our own lives and the lives of others around us. I can potentially relate to the image I see before me, the reflection of a life that is not like my own. I can most certainly relate to clean and exact diction. When there are no characters, I am left to insert myself into the story.

In Untitled (A Lie is Not a Shelter), she wrote, “a lie is not a shelter/discrimination is not protection/isolation is not a remedy/a promise is not a prophylactic.”

What are the things we tell ourselves to make sense of the world? A lie is not a shelter. A lie is not cover from the truth. A lie does not make up for what is not there. Discrimination is not protection. Discrimination is not safety, is not cover, is not security.

This was the first Lorna Simpson work I remembered vividly long after first seeing it. I saved the image, kept it safe on my desktop as a reminder. A lie is not a shelter. My sophomore year of college, I began to see a therapist and at the end of the year, I assumed I was cured. When I thought of change of the mind, I thought of a completeness that came not unlike the end of a class or the end of a semester. I’ve gotten as far as I need to go and that is that, I used to think. Four years later, I began to see another therapist.

The year after my college graduation, I worked at the museum. Many days were spent in front of the computer, but some were not. If one were to ask me what I did during the day, I would not know what to say. There was talking and emailing and handshaking and site visiting. None of that feels succinct or accurate. What I remember most is that, like with any job, I needed a break and I took those breaks a floor or two below our offices in the building. Those breaks were spent in the galleries, wandering from room to room, aimless of the lost seconds and minutes and hours spent surrounded by mini mazes and viscously-rich paintings, multi-colored light installations and light, airy mobiles. I lack that time now. I don’t work in that kind of environment now, and images on the screen, while temporarily emotionally valuable, lack the strength of seeing something in person. I could consume Lorna in heavy doses. I stood as close to her works as possible. That was me, learning. And now I take it all in and hope it has even a fraction of the same effect.

I like that her subjects’ hair is a little wild. Who are these Black women who wrap their relaxed hair at night and look fresh and beautiful in the morning? I look nothing like that. I am strong like this woman, but my hair is a little real. I am vulnerable in physicality. I am not “on.”

I love that she (and her characters) straddle two worlds. In one work, a woman’s dress is clean, but something is amiss. She balances too different containers of water: one plastic and flimsy, one steady and metal. Or rather, one cheap and unassuming, one valuable and classic. In another work, she sits, hands placed to the side. Every image looks the same, but a closer examination reveals levels of strength in one shot and levels of vulnerability in another. The hands are calm, and then they’re sturdy, and then they’re firmly grasping.

In my writing, I vaguely talked about my obsession with the body, with its machinations, with its changes and the struggle for control. It was a way for me to work around the truth of my own assault. These were lies of omission. There was a truth that I did not want to touch. There was a truth that I saw and did not feel safe claiming. These lies were not shelter for what I knew to be true, what I struggled with internally for more than a decade. A lie is not a shelter and Lorna’s work speaks to the mind because her work comes from the mind. She creates what she knows. Her truths are clear because the truth is real and valid.

I write about the connection to Lorna’s work and the Black female experience because that is what I know. I wanted to write that her ideas are bigger than that specific experience, but that derails from the universalities and commonalities in the way we live. Not all things are the same, but many are. What has always stuck out to me in Lorna’s work is the struggle to be heard. Many works tell of discussion and dismissal. It is not that there are two sides to every story, but that there is the side to value and the side to dismiss. There is the side to understand and the side to argue against. There is what can only and most certainly be true, and there is the rest.

My initial instincts are to go to what is worse in my own history in relation to what I read in her works, but I realize now that this struggle of the voice and the struggle of perception is one that builds from the youngest of ages and from the most miniscule of situations. I think about the desire to express my ideas at work. I think about chastisements of being too “combative,” too “outspoken,” too “crazy,” or too “hostile.” I think about the Sweetie’s and Honey’s and Girl’s of the world. I realize this desire to say something and have it matter, to say something and have it validated with worth and importance and the supposition of truth is bigger than I ever imagined. These feelings and struggles and frustrations are everywhere. They infiltrate everything. They are everything.

Brittany Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about six months of sequins and upcycling. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Nothing Here" - Holy Other (mp3)

"Inpouring" - Holy Other (mp3)


In Which We Dance To The Music Of Amy Sherman-Palladino

Head Of Buns


creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Lamar Damon

Michelle Simms, 37, is a Las Vegas showgirl. She never takes her top off, at least in public, and complains good naturedly about superior financial compensation for those who do. It is not that Michelle (Sutton Foster) is unwilling to sell herself, it is implied throught the remarkably, comfortingly familiar first season of Amy Sherman-Palladino's Bunheads. She is simply holding out for the right price.

Over the past few years, Michelle's dancing and general grace has attracted a persistent fan, Hubbell (Alan Ruck, Cameron from Ferris Bueller's Day Off reconstituted as a 54 year old shoe magnate). Each time he visits Las Vegas on business, he brings Michelle flowers and gifts. Because she is somewhat starved for other admirers, she allows his affections to persist, until one drunken night, she agrees to marry him and move to his home in California. The fact that it overlooks the ocean is explanation enough.

Neal Stephenson once observed that "no man is more comprehensively doomed than him whose chief source of gratification is making favorable impressions on some particular woman." After Michelle and Hubbell are married in a Las Vegas chapel, they relocate to a small coastal California town where he lives with his mother Fanny (Kelly Bishop, formerly Lorelai's unctuous mother on Sherman-Palladino's previous series, Gilmore Girls). On his way to meet them at a local bar, he dies in a car accident, leaving everything to his new wife.

Instead of telling Fanny to find other lodgings, Michelle graciously cedes the main residence to her and moves her things to the property's sizable cottage. She is unhappy, but nowhere near as unhappy as she was before.

Her mother-in-law runs a dance studio where the eponymous bunheads tout their wares. Dance is a wonderful art, but the ideas it gives young women about their bodies are so destructive they largely render the art impotent except in the most outstanding cases. Fretting over the size and shape of their instruments is routine for the four teenagers who constitute the rest of the show's main cast.

Sherman-Palladino writes the young women as the adults they inevitably are, which means these bunheads are more brimming with life than their Disney Channel peers. Just as on Gilmore Girls, the exaggerated rapid fire dialogue is at once completely ridiculous and wholly realistic. It is a joy to simply listen to Bunheads without images, in wonderment at the mind that created such unmistakable voices.

Unlike Aaron Sorkin, with whom she is so frequently compared, Sherman-Palladino has a real grasp on why people who talk too much talk too much. Every character does not sound exactly the same, although to be honest they all do resemble their creator to varying degrees. Parsed out line by line, Sherman-Palladino's scripts approach the intoxicating rhythm of iambic pentameter. Since she is always showing off, she is never showing off.

The women of Bunheads are unmistakably not from this generation. The fact that they feel a genuine connection with an older woman whose idea of dance is performing The Nutcracker is retrograde enough on its own. Teens don't obsess over cell phones, and generally seem to disdain technology. None of the girls are having sex, and only one is in a relationship. Above all, this is about utility. It was a lot simpler to write a dramatic plot when every person in the world could not get in touch with every other person instantly via text message.

Sherman-Palladino's portrait of America is mostly white, entirely secluded from the actual world we live in. (A dancer of color appears suddenly in the show's eighth episode, as if she suddenly remembered.) We are not on Earth, we are on Amy's planet, and it is enough that people try to explain themselves to one another — explaining the world is a task she leaves to other artists. The self contains everything in Bunheads; objects, places and ideas are simply the apparatus that surrounds them. Thematically, dance is a natural extension of this rule.

Yes, the protagonists on Bunheads are astonishingly self-centered. This is the only modern thing about them. They do not think about the news, except possibly gossip in US Weekly or whatever is happening in their tiny hamlet of Paradise. Michelle's interest in social concerns only stretches as far as trying to get a supermarket chain to move into town  because there is nowhere to get coffee. Politics is the area of a flip remark or casual joke, it is not serious.

In the episodes that follow her husband's death, Michelle considers a variety of relationships: a fabulously wealthy and attractive hermit, a boytoy surfer/bartender, a Jewish director. Men are scarce in Paradise, CA, but that does not mean that Sherman-Palladino does not accord them any importance. They exist as moons or satellites, ever present, but not always in view. Sherman-Palladino is actually incredible at writing males; she exhibits a rare empathy for their plight in her world. Since all the women on the show are so obviously her, males allow Sherman-Palladino to flex her creative muscles, and the archetypes she creates for them — some sad, others unexpectedly joyful — are like no others on television.

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 Showtime's The Real L Word.

"Take It With Me" - Tom Waits (mp3)

"Picture In A Frame" - Tom Waits (mp3)


In Which Very Little Is Equitable In The Fifth Form

Lunch Line Realism


They are Scholastic paperbacks from the 1980s, approximately 150 pages, their covers featuring an illustration bordered in a bright color, and since I was a child they have appealed to me more than almost any other object. Even now I often buy them in Goodwills and used bookstores, especially if they seem off-brand, a little sad: because some of these books — The Babysitters Club, notably — took off, while others — ever heard of Sleepover Friends? — languish in bookstore-free-box limbo for all eternity.

I was in a thrift store in the strange, tiny town of Ronan, Montana when I came across Barthe DeClements’ 1985 novel Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You, whose title struck me immediately as both bizarre and bizarrely honest. I bought the book for fifty cents and read it dutifully: it’s the story of a sixth grader named Helen who can’t read and acts out in serious ways, like spray painting her school, because of her learning disability. It’s about ineffectual authority figures and what it means to be a “bad kid.” It’s a totally sad and totally good book.

It wasn’t until after I read Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You that I realized that it is by the same author as one of my most obsessed-on books from childhood, Nothing’s Fair In Fifth Grade. It’s difficult to describe the plot of Nothing’s Fair In Fifth Grade: in Google Books’ synopsis, “Overweight Elsie Edwards, new to Brier, Washington, steals lunch money in order to buy candy and Jenny has to decide whether to risk her popularity with her friends in order to help the troubled new girl.” Or taken another way, on the Scholastic website: “A group of fifth-graders must deal with an overweight classmate who steals everyone's lunch money to buy candy for herself.”

Both of these feel so wrong. The first paints Jenny as brave and valiant, risking her popularity, and the second paints Elsie, the overweight classmate, as the villain. Especially for children’s books, DeClements’ books are remarkably morally ambiguous: the kids in Elsie’s class are brutal to her for her weight, but she does steal from them, making some of them feel justified in disliking her. Jenny eventually becomes Elsie’s friend, but it takes her half the book to discover any compassion for Elsie.

A short synopsis also gives the book too much of a coherent, climactic arc. Nothing's Fair In Fifth Grade is humdrum and episodic — we hear about Jenny making dinner with her mom, playing with her cat, and babysitting her younger brother. There are also amusing 1980s mundanities like Elton John records and Mork and Mindy; Jenny’s mom has to get a part-time job and her dad bitches quaintly about having to make his own dinner. The plot is so quiet as to be almost inaudible, but DeClements gets away with it because the book is so emotionally true — it isn’t boring because it feels real.

When I was a kid I ate that shit up. All I desired was a protagonist whose emotions I could project into and experience; plot could get in the way of my lingering in the fantasy. This is related to my childhood love of sequels: Sister Act 2, Beethoven’s 2nd, and, especially, My Girl 2. (I should mention that Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You is not a sequel to Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade, but it is something of a spin-off: it features a few of the same characters, but only peripherally.) While first films tediously focused on introducing characters and having stories that made sense, sequels could dispense with character development and focus on hijinks and gratuitous love affairs. Sequels felt low-pressure: first films are tense where sequels are loose, their pacing haphazard, as if they have nothing to prove.

My ideal book offered no novel historical setting, no supernatural elements, and characters who were superbly average — but while Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade and Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You are low-pressure, they are also serious. They’re a few steps less bleak than K-mart realism (Target realism? J.C. Penney realism?) for ten-year olds. DeClements was a school psychologist, and this is obvious in her books: they often focus transparently on the underlying issues that make kids misbehave and the problems teachers and parents have when dealing with troubled children. The questions involved are fraught, and Declements doesn’t attempt a unified answer. There’s something axiomatic here: that Declements’ books, like childhood, betray surprising complexity. They’re the kind of books I want to liberate from garage sales and flea markets, wonky, earnest relics that supply weird, honest joys.

Alice Bolin is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Missoula. She last wrote in these pages about the bad movie club. She tumbls here and twitters here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Nothing Is Impossible" - Chad VanGaalen (mp3)

"Weighed Sin" - Chad VanGaalen (mp3)

Enjoy The Perils Of A Literary Childhood At Your Leisure

Elena Schilder and The Babysitter's Club

Lily Goodspeed and The Golden Compass

Helen Schumacher and Little House on the Prairie

Jane Hu and Walk Two Moons

Kara VanderBijl and A Wrinkle In Time

Hafsa Arain and Harry Potter

Lucy Morris and Bruno and Boots

Dayna Evans and The Diary of Anne Frank