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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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Friday
Jul222011

In Which Our Clothes Pop Off When We Double In Size

Born Free

by LAUREN BANS

Captain America: The First Avenger
dir. Joe Johnston
125 minutes

Chris Evans is extremely attractive. Not in a sexual way, but in a glossy I wonder if I threw chewing gum at his chest it would bounce off? kind of way. Looking at him is like looking at a Chippendale calendar or one of the bright plastic desserts on the after dinner tray waitresses bring over to tempt you - incredibly appealing but infinitely replaceable.

with Hayley Atwell

Even his double first-name name, albeit totally fake (but whatever, postmodernism, blah blah blah), is a Zangwillian wet dream. I don’t care if this guy got his American visa yesterday, he is America incarnate.

Hence, Chris Evans is Captain America. We’re supposed to believe this is some sort of movie acting, when really it’s just analogous to The Switch. You know, Jason Bateman is Ryan Reynolds. Ryan Reynolds is Jason Bateman. Like my friend Devin says, "Why would anyone make a movie about them switching bodies when they’re already the same?"

Hugo Weaving as Red Skull

Luckily, that’s the goal in Captain America. For the good of the country, a small outcast allows himself to be injected with a military scientist’s crazy growth serum (think: steroids on steroids) and goes from an individual to an ideal. His body explodes in size. Basically America creates a Frankenstein of Aryan perfection to fight the Nazis. Because that is the way we roll. We will steal your fascist standards, and then have them literally punch you in the face.

Note: Whatever technology they used to render Chris Evans small in the beginning is brilliant and amazing and Peter Dinklage better warn his agent. Though I am still very upset that Captain America's pants did not explode off during the super-sizing scene. It’s not right. His thigh 2.0 has the circumference of one of the smaller Great Lakes.

If you can stomach the tongue-in-cheek-so-we-can-get-away-with-it jingoistic tone (like all post-9-11 comic book movies have), Captain America is actually really good.

There’s only one moment when the rhetoric goes over the top in a way that veers on obnoxious. Captain America is engaged in fisticuffs with Red Skull (the Nazi’s abominable mutant) who, employing the Darth Vader flattery techinique, tries to get Captain America to switch sides. Like: You're special! Join forces with me. We will control all, etc. Captain America responds, "I’m not special. I’m like any one of those other guys out there." I mean, fuck you dude. You're seven feet tall and your arm alone could feed a family of nine. There's nothing like false modesty to make you really happy for the current "Army of One" branded rampantly narcissistic patriotism.

Lauren Bans is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about Fast Five. You can find an archive of her writing at GQ here. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

"Rapture (live)" - Evaline (mp3)

"Hours (live)" - Evaline (mp3)

"There There (live)" - Evaline (mp3)


Thursday
Jul212011

In Which The License Plate Said Fresh And It Had Dice In The Mirror

Born and Raised

by DAYNA EVANS

My first real American Halloween, my brother and I dressed up as Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones from Men In Black. You can see the problem with this already.

I insisted that I would be Will, so my mom slicked back my hair and drew a thick, black mustache on my face in eyeliner. We wrapped toilet-paper rolls in tin foil to represent the memory-erasing “neuralizers” and wore baggy black suits of undetermined origin. These were probably the worst Halloween costumes in history, with the exception of the year that my friends and I were “homeless” and just wore sweatpants.

There was no way in hell that anyone would know what we were, but we took this holiday as newly-minted Americans very seriously and so we remained undeterred. The rules of Halloween, as shown in the movie Hocus Pocus, were that a cute face got you candy and the elaborateness of your costume was somewhat inconsequential, though dedication was always encouraged. We came home that night with pillowcases stuffed with foreign candy and the British Isles began to seem like a very faraway place indeed.

If you were under the impression that America is just a jazzed-up version of England with different sports and a shorter history, I’d like you to think about Halloween.

Every October 31st, little children and their mischievous older siblings wear disguises and run around their neighborhoods in pursuit of free candy, which grown adults dole out happily. Then these children take this candy home and devour it, leaving the undesirables (Sugar Daddys, Circus Peanuts) for their parents. What the fuck is this about?

I learned about trick-or-treating from Hocus Pocus, which made my British imagination believe that every suburban town in the United States looked like Salem, Massachusetts. We celebrated Halloween in England but there was never the same level of fanfare — usually it’d be a dull party with eight kids drinking too much sugary squash and going to bed with stomachaches. I don’t remember ever dressing up.

In 1996, when we were relocated to the not-so-New-England-looking suburbs of Philadelphia, my brother and I were encouraged to approach perfect strangers while cross-dressing in ill-fitting suits and ask them to give us stuff. And they would oblige. My love affair with America had begun.

1989 in Leicester

The gray-haired lady whose name I don’t remember held two silver coins, one in each hand.

“This is a nickel,” she said as she raised the chunky circle with Jefferson’s face shining back. "And this is a dime." Much more nimble, I thought. "A nickel is worth five cents and a dime is worth ten. And a quarter" — she reached down and presented the silver piece in her palm — "is worth twenty-five cents. Like a quarter of a dollar."

I shifted in my seat, feeling slightly patronized, though I knew that that afternoon I planned on inspecting a handful of change to test myself on the various names.

The next task was a little harder. The gray-haired lady had made a list of words that were spelled wrong, which she handed to me and said, "These are the correct spellings."

Was this a trick?

"You may be used to spelling certain words one way but we do it another way here."

I looked down at the list. It was long and had some words on it that I didn’t even know, but the ones that I did looked like weird cousins of themselves with letters deleted and transposed.

Color, pajamas, center, organize, traveled.

"Uh." I looked at the gray-haired lady, bewildered.

"Just try and memorize them, okay?"

Must memorise, I thought.

1991 in Leiceister

England and America are bound by certain commonalities. We speak the same language, we share the same flag colors, and we both are fond of sports-related riots. I have always seen America as the younger teenage brother of England and that's why I loved it so much when we first moved — juvenile excitement is everywhere.

The first time I ate ice cream out of a plastic baseball cap, I knew that America had an edge. Who decided that for supreme enjoyment of ice cream, a baseball cap should be turned upside down, miniaturized, and enrobed in plastic? An American. This was one of the greatest joys I’d ever known until I had my first encounter with pancakes.

I wasn't ignorant enough at age 8 to have not ever heard of pancakes, and I may have at one point even eaten them, but in no way was what I knew of pancakes remotely similar to what I would experience.

When we first moved to America, we lived with my uncle for a few months until my mom bought a house. My favorite uncle is a master pancake-maker; he manipulates batter into the fluffiest, sweetest, perfectly round and circumferentially exact pancakes. Pancakes are a thing here, which I learned rather swiftly and with no complaint. A stack of Bisquick pancakes topped with Aunt Jemima’s syrup is one of the hardest things to look at and say "No, thanks." Seven a.m. couldn't come soon enough when I was living there — seven a.m. was the pancake time. The great, wholesome pancake time.

When people don’t speak the language of their new home country, it’s not uncommon for them to pick up a lot of its nuances by watching television. It makes sense — not only do you get to hear the accent and see a less stiff version of the language than a book could show, you also get to see the new culture acted out. Though I already spoke English and needed no phonics assistance, I was a large proponent of this practice when I was younger.

I watched TV to find out what the hell an American was and how best to become one. When I would watch Sesame Street as a young girl living in an old British home with the original 250-year-old ceiling beams and a greenhouse, I believed my house was actually on Sesame Street. I have been told that most kids think this way, which is the magic of the show, but most kids don’t confuse their antique gold-gilded door chime in the perpetually chilly and dark foyer for a lively front stoop framed by window boxes of geraniums. I believed I was American before I had even left England.

My favorite TV shows when I moved to the States greatly influenced my understanding of American culture. They were all the 90s standards: Step By Step, Martin, Family Matters, Full House, Hanging With Mr. Cooper, and that weird show Dinosaurs, which I guess didn’t help me understand America but did freak me the fuck out. They all donated some key information — uncles are creepily affectionate, there is always drama at Thanksgiving — but there was no show that quite defined Americans to me more than The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

I wrote a 10-page paper in college about Will Smith. Looking back on this now, it was with certainty one of my best undergraduate achievements, marginally edging out my multimedia presentation on Shakespeare’s similarities with the Animaniacs. The paper reflected on how his presence in rap was essential for the progression of more legitimate hip-hop to go from underground to mainstream. Reflections like these remind me a cantaloupe with legs could get a liberal arts degree.

Given my insistence that I be allowed to dress up as Will Smith when I was 9, then 12 years later wrote a paper defending his legitimacy, it should be obvious that I have a slight fascination with him. A guy I dated my freshman year in college sent me a digital canvas portrait of Will Smith that has hung in every apartment I’ve lived in for the past five years. It is one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Not to mention, he sent it to me anonymously months after we’d already broken up. For fifteen minutes, I speculated that maybe it was Will himself who had delivered it, knowing what a huge fan I was. Once I sleuthed around enough to figure out the real sender, I admit to a level of disappointment that probably is not natural.

I watched episode after episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It was something about Will Smith’s simultaneous arrogance and empathy that made him seem so American to me. He wasn’t tight-lipped but he wasn’t necessarily impolite; he was funny and personable and warm. He was a guy who didn’t fit in with his surroundings but was making it work while occasionally failing, like when he used Carlton’s handspun silk pocket square as a tissue. It was his persona that I emulated and envied as I grew up surrounded by Yanks.

Looking back, channeling a 6’2” black man who played a loud-mouthed prankster with NBA aspirations on a television show about L.A. was one of my more misguided decisions. When he turned 38, I threw a Will Smith­–themed party in my college dorm with balloons and crepe paper; I wore a backwards neon hat and Nike dunks. That may have been the weirdest thing I have ever done.

I was drunk in a bar with two British friends when we got into an argument over which city was cooler: New York or London. Obviously, this is typical conversation for the metropolitan twenty-something douchebag, so I’m sure you can imagine what was said ("Uh, The Strokes, dude." "Have you seen Alexa Chung?") but at some point, there was a shift that made the disagreement much wider. Four or five pints in, in a state of belligerent twenty-something douchebag disarray, I found myself arguing that it wasn’t just New York that was better, it was America. Like, I was actually doing this.

My friends rolled their eyes and retorted with bland indifference. I became heated, saying things like "it’s just funner [sic] there." They even remained calm when I said that they were lucky Shakespeare was British because he was their "only defense." (I’m not even quite sure what that means.) There was no weight to anything I was saying because I obviously believed both places have their merits or I wouldn't have gone back to England several times since I’d moved. But the less they responded to my attacks, the more I wanted to prove that I was right. So finally I said what I’d wanted to say all night: "Brits are like Americans, but with less swag."

Dayna "I'm a patriot" Evans: 1, The Commonwealth: 0.

Dayna Evans is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about summer reading.

"Santa Fucking Claus" - Johnny Foreigner (mp3)

"Tru Punks (Whiskas remix)" - Johnny Foreigner (mp3)

"JFNV" - Johnny Foreigner (mp3)

The new EP from Johnny Foreigner, Certain Songs Are Cursed, was released on April 18th and you can purchase it here.


Wednesday
Jul202011

In Which Norman Mailer Ruins Marilyn Monroe For The Rest Of Us

North Korea, South Korea

by ALEX CARNEVALE

When Norman Mailer wrote his 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe, entitled Marilyn, he called himself a psychohistorian. It was his sworn duty to interpret the events of Monroe's life, a task conferred upon him by one of her photographers, who found her the most captivating female subject he had ever represented on film. Mailer wrote, referring to himself in the third person,

At the end, if successful, he would have offered a literary hypothesis of a possible Marilyn Monroe who might actually have lived and fit most of the facts available. If his instincts were good, then future facts discovered about her would have to war with the character he created.

To fill in the facts, Mailer slides into the role of play-by-play broadcaster. Marilyn's was an easy birth, he crows, as though he was peering between her mother's nether regions and grading the smoothness of the exit on a sliding scale. He writes off her father, who ignored Marilyn and later wouldn't take her calls, as the ghost that turned her into the sort of person she was.

He reenacts Marilyn's abuse as a child, giving it the texture of fiction, and presents it as a fait accompli, like any abuser. Throughout he styles his portrait in the present tense, reminding his audience of why the genre of literary biography is so intensely small, highlighted as it is by James Frey, Greg Mortensen and Mary Rambin.

with Arthur Miller

In 1944, an Army photographer noticed Norma Jean and demanded to take her photograph. He was the first to fetishize her, but at least he did not inscribe his obsession in a literary biography. Mailer reveals that "to kiss her is to drift in a canoe," and that Marilyn washed her face 15 times a day. Just 15? Did you want to up that figure to twenty?

It only feels like Mailer spends half the book describing how he imagines Marilyn made love:

She was certainly, by more civilized report, pleasant in bed, but receptive rather than innovative, and somewhat ceremonious - like a geisha, as though the act was a tender turn in a longer passage, and food and conversation and easy laughter were also part of it. A tender description of her by a lover who had not been in love. "Of course I cannot say how she was with other men," he remarked, but she was always just a little remote with me. And very friendly. I liked her."

He finds over fifty men who share some spiritual connection to this woman. Their common thread is that they either wanted to have sex with her or they had sex with her. Afterwards, the men evaluated her in every aspect. The magic of a pin-up lurked deep in their hearts and made an undeniable impression. Did you ever wonder why they ask Penthouse centerfolds what their favorite flavor of ice cream is? It's like that.

After she died in 1962 at the age of 36, Pynchon wrote, "Southern California's special horror notwithstanding, if the world offered nothing, nowhere to support or make bearable whatever her private grief was, then it is that world, and not she, that is at fault."

It takes Mailer 60 pages to get to his inevitable examination of Monroe's intellect. He wants to approach it in a roundabout way because his delay draws attention to how little the subject means to the proceedings. "So what, she was a dunce," he seems to be saying, "this is just another aspect of her I'm feeling very entranced by."

He tells us that "despite her wit, she was not overbearingly bright, and if intellectual ability is comparable to weight lifting, she lifted no weight." It's moments like these which make you realize Norman did not make a habit of checking his metaphors with a friend or colleague. Later, Mailer writes: "She is a lover of books who could not read."

Mailer's theme is that men keep letting this innocent fawn down. Of one competitor for Monroe's affections, he writes, "He is by general description a man of some musical culture and the best of good manners. It is obvious he cared enough for Marilyn to cultivate her possibilities." And on and on.

After the biography was published by Grosset & Dunlap, Arthur Miller came close to suing Mailer, claiming he made up slanders and inserted them in Marilyn's mouth. Miller became convinced that Mailer was in fact recasting himself as Marilyn.

Every compliment to her is then easily read as such, but I don't know about this. Would he then breathlessly recall how great Marilyn was about giving early morning blowjobs when she was in a relash? "Sex on the way to work was the imprimatur of devotion in a Hollywood affair." (Yes, there is a paragraph that concerns this in Marilyn.) There should have been a glossary by sex act, but such exquisite touches Mailer saved for his book-long facial of Picasso.

Confronted with Miller, Mailer charges the playwright with being anti-intellectual: "He is also ambitious, limited and small-minded, an intellectual who is often scorned by critics outside the theater for his intellectual lacks. Nor has he developed to meet such criticisms. He has virtually a terror of the kind of new experience that might open his ideas, so she is enough new experience to last him for a lifetime."

In the beginning and in the end, Mailer cannot really comprehend why Marilyn did not fight back against her abusers. He says that if it had been him, he would have just killed the offending males perpetrators of a crime against a young girl.

In her notebook she wrote one day, "What am I afraid of? Why am I so afraid? Do I think I can't act? I know I can act but I am afraid. I am afraid and I should not be and I must not be." This holds a special emphasis for Mailer, because he construes this as a literary come-on: that she requires him to exist at all. In other words, the ideal subject.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here and twitters here. He last wrote in these pages about Transformers: Dark of the Moon. You can find an archive of his work on This Recording here.

"Always Afraid" - Crystal Antlers (mp3)

"Two-Way Mirror" - Crystal Antlers (mp3)

"Fortune Telling" - Crystal Antlers (mp3)

"Way Out" - Crystal Antlers (mp3)

Two-Way Mirror, the most recent album from Crystal Antlers, was released on July 19th and you can purchase it here.

Pinned Up

Karina Wolf on the insides of Audrey Hepburn

Ellen Copperfield on the hazy sexual appeal of Tom Hanks

Pauline Kael on the faces of the stars

Durga Chew-Bose searches for the real Mariel Hemingway

Almie Rose finds Grace Kelly refreshing and approachable

Molly Lambert on the pink palaces of Jayne Mansfield

Alex Carnevale describes Warren Beatty in love

Molly Young on Keira Knightley's subjective beauty

Will Hubbard on an anechoic Jane Birkin