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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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Tuesday
Nov142017

In Which Taylor Swift Becomes A Stranger

Iconoclasted

by JANICE LEVENS

Reputation
Taylor Swift
producers Max Martin and Karl Schuster
November 10th on Big Machine

When evening comes, I go back home, and go to my study. On the threshold, I take off my work clothes, covered in mud and filth, and I put on the clothes an ambassador would wear. Decently dressed, I enter the ancient courts of rulers who have long since died. There, I am warmly welcomed, and I feed on the only food I find nourishing and was born to savour. I am not ashamed to talk to them and ask them to explain their actions and they, out of kindness, answer me. Four hours go by without my feeling any anxiety. I forget every worry. I am no longer afraid of poverty or frightened of death.

- Niccolò Machiavelli

If Taylor Swift is anything like the person depicted on her new album Reputation, she is the most devious, complicated, multifaceted person ever to exist. Let us take our time with a line from "I Did Something Bad", which I believe in the end represents everything this woman is concerned with: "I never trust a narcissist, but they love me." Such a statement implies that every single association Swift has with other people is deceitful in some way. This admission is startling on another level, since it prizes the latter section of the clause over the former. The beginning of the lyric is a preference, the ensuing clause is a state of being.

Of course there is the possibility that this, like so much else on Reputation, is tongue in cheek, or simply written by one of the many co-writers Swift has worked with over the years. On Reputation, Jack Antonoff and the producing-songwriting team of Karl Schuster and Max Martin are present to work in the confines of Swift's familiar sound. But the lyrical voice is distinctly Swift's own, and the message is completely fucked up:

I stay when it's hard, or it's wrong
Or we're making mistakes
I want your midnights
But I'll be cleaning up bottles with you

Again, if this is true, it's desperately sad and twisted. If it's only a conceit, the expression of it is somehow worse. I know that massive amounts of money and adulation are capable of changing a person, but altering them to this extent is potentially what happened to Lady Macbeth. Of course, no one ever said Lady Macbeth is boring, and Swift is intent on focusing this aspect of her personality. On "Dancing With My Hands Tied" she explains, "I'm the mess that you wanted." Uh-huh.

But no one could ever think Swift was, or has ever been a mess. So that part is a lie, and probably a lot else on this album. Swift's last album, the more enjoyably pop 1989, sold ten million copies, and Reputation attempts to put it in the dust. The more considered, low-key elements of that album are completely submerged here, with Swift more often sounding like mid-career Madonna than any iteration of herself.

There is something dated about Reputation, which suggests that the 27-year old is becoming very old, very quick. The orchestrations are generally limited, leaving the focus on Swift's sharp, bouncy voice, which is at its best when breathily intoning in something like speech. "Dress" is her most complete and exciting track in this vein, explaining, "I don't want you like a best friend," hinting at a story she refuses to tell. Instead, we receive the following blandishments:

Even in my worst times, you could see the best of me
Flashback to my mistakes
My rebounds, my earthquakes
Even in my worst light, you saw the truth in me
And I woke up just in time
Now I wake up by your side

It would be compelling to watch Swift take on various new themes in her work, including authentic estimations of loss and love. Instead Reputation is an extended revenge fantasy on no one in particular. "I'll be the actress starring in your bad dreams," she blurts out on "Look What You Made Me Do."

When Niccolo Machiavelli retired from private life, he wrote his signature work, The Prince. The entire time he was longing to return back to politics, since it was what brought joy to his life. In The Prince, he explains that such a person must be able to change his views at a moment's notice. He isn't able to be honest, because it would mean losing his ability to defeat his rivals, and kill them when he can. This was what Machiavelli called virtu. I feel like Taylor Swift is articulating a new philosophy along these lines, which is essentially a return to the old.

Janice Levens is the music editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles.


Monday
Nov132017

In Which We Display Modesty As A Form Of Arrogance

How to Behave

The final diaries of Søren Kierkegaard occupy themselves primarily with an extended discussion of faith. Søren viewed most things through the lens of Christ, usually disdaining the paltry efforts of organized religion to represent the god he felt inside of him. Over his lifetime, he composed over 7,000 pages of journals on this and various other topics. His extended thoughts on his own belief may interest believers and non-believers alike, but he was much pithier and less sacrosanct about other aspects of his life.

A serious misogynist, Kierkegaard had largely abandoned relationships with women near the end of his life. It had gone wrong once, and he refused to let it happen again. His relationship with the media, as reflected on below, could hardly be said to be better. He sees himself so definitely that at times he does not even realize how dead-on balls accurate he is. The highly edited extracts below from his last years on earth display modesty as a form of arrogance, ascended to highest ideal.

It is commonly thought that it is cowardice to flee from the world and enter a monastery.

Now perhaps it is sometimes the case that such a man doubts whether he can endure the bestial laughter and ridicule, the persecution and maltreatment which may result from his having to express the 'spirit' in the midst of animal creatures.

But the matter can be regarded from another side. Such a man flees because he does not have the heart to upset the others, of whom he knows very well that he will never entirely win them to his view, and so he will only be a torment to them. Would you not much prefer to be rid of a man who speaks only of one thing, of dying, of dying to the world?

+

My task is so new that in Christianity's eighteen hundred years there is literally not one from whom I can learn how to behave.

When I die, there will be something for the professors! These wretched rascals! And it does not help, it does not help in the least, even if it is printed and read over again. The professors will still make a profit of me, and they will lecture away, perhaps with the additional remark that the peculiarity of this man is that he cannot be lectured about.

+

If I were a father and had a daughter who was seduced, I should by no means give her up; but if I had a son who became a journalist I should regard him as lost.

+

Evil is always more horrible the longer it lasts. Cannibals kill a man and eat him - and that is that. It lasts only a short time and when it is over, there is as it were a hope - till the next time - that the cannibal become a different man, might become better. But the priest and the professor make their preparations (with cold calculation) once for all to live on the sufferings of those saints. They get married on the strength of them, they beget children, they organize an idyllic and thoroughly enjoyable life. They live on the torment of the saints.

+

Is moral philosophy not, like astrology and alchemy, a science which has to do with something which does not exist?

+

Everyone who has a little experience knows at heart that this is a rotten world. But just as it is the done thing in a prison to keep a stiff upper lip, as it is also regarded as the cleverest thing to do, and to pretend one is having a good time, and as it is in consequence the custom in prisons to tease and torment the man who lets it be seen he is suffering, so with the whole world or with mankind in the world. In general, anyone who wants to understand human life as the whole would do best to study the criminal world - this is the really reliable analogy.

+

Surely not even my bitterest enemy would deny that I shall acquire a certain renown. But I am beginning to wonder whether I will not become renowned in a quite different sphere than I have hitherto imagined - namely, as a naturalist. For I have discovered, or at least made a very significant contribution to the natural history of parasites, I mean priests and professors, those voracious and prolific parasites, who even have the effrontery (unlike other parasites) to try and pass themselves off as the friends and disciples of those whose sufferings they live on.

+

What a woman is most afraid of, where she feels that her being and her power are annihilated, is when she has risked the utmost in seduction, and it ends with the laughter of her opponent. And strangely enough, wherever they get it from - presumably from instinct - women seem to suspect that so far as I am concerned, just when they make the greatest efforts I would burst out laughing - and no woman will risk this at any price.

Alas, there is some truth in this, that it could end with my bursting out laughing. But the reason is neither my great virtue nor my great spirituality but - my melancholy.

+

The daily press is properly calculated to make personality impossible. For it has the effect of an immense abstration, the generation, which has infinite power over the single person. It is a means which was unknown in former times. For in former times the battle between a personality and the abstract was not so immensely disproportionate as now, when an individual who is impersonal and scoundrelly can use this fearful weapon against the single person.

+

Most men do not have enough self-esteem to be able to assert themselves in the face of other men, so their self-esteem demands that they have some people who obey them absolutely, whom they have entirely in their power, so that they also feel that they are the man and the master. These people are children. God pity what takes place in family life! What brutality and what egoism are hidden there. Is is unfortunately only too certain that the parents usually need more upbringing than the children.

+

When his mother is cursing him, Richard III, in order not to hear her curses, turns to the drummers and says, "Strike up the drum." Is it not so with us all? There is something in us we do not want to hear.

1854

Thursday
Nov092017

In Which John Cage Believed He Was Not A Writer

Eating His Words

by MARK ARTURO

I have no piano now. But that doesn’t bother me much. What I want is time.

John Cage thought he was not a writer. This is a scary thought, because I sometimes wonder what kind of writer he could have been if he gave up music and focused on writing full-time. There is a whole class of people who spent their entire lives pursuing one thing when they should have focused on another talent they had. For example:

Mark Wahlberg (waste management)

Jesus (community manager)

Damian Lillard (rap music)

Thom Yorke (pro-Israel advocacy)

Maybe my list makes this sound like a distinctly male problem, but I guess this would also apply to Joan Didion, who would have been a hell of a full-time model.

Back to John Cage. Mr. Cage's letters are completely unself-conscious, which is the mark of every great correspondent. He never bothered censoring himself, since there was nothing terribly bad in his heart. He would go off on people when necessary though. Since he knew a lot about music, and most people writing about did not, he felt it was his duty to educate them.

I appreciate your interest in my work and the trouble you have taken to write the enclosed article. For many reasons, however, I am certain the publishing of this article would not serve either your or my best interests. People are accustomed to saying that anything printed about anything is “good publicity”; such a point of view doesn’t interest me. I am anxious that the article you publish be accurate as to facts and present some true and sensible critical evaluation of the work in percussion and its objectives. I have not really delayed answering your note; I have instead written several letters to you, each of which attempted to point out the errors in your article. I have decided, instead, that it would be better for you to write a new article entirely; and that I could best help you by giving a brief statement about facts and objectives. 

I think he was a lot more generous in person. He married a woman, then spent the rest of his life with Merce Cunningham after she divorced him because of all the gay sex. His love letters condense ardor into a fine, tempered feeling, that pulsing with an orgasmic joy of infatuation. He makes love into something so tangible it could be held on the tip of my tongue.

My own feelings towards you were always those of wishing to flow in where it looked like water was absent (mixed with an inherited missionary attitude, itself not practicing what it preached). At any rate I feel very free that you are loving.

I don’t know when it was that I found out how to let this month go by without continual sentimental pain. It’s very simple now, because I’m looking forward to seeing you again rather than backward to having seen you recently.

For Merce he saved his most exquisite remainders.

My whole desire is to run up and down the sea coast looking for you.

Send me some little twig or a hair from near enigma or a piece of grass you touched and sunbathed with, mon prince.

Cage usually condensed his formal writing into the form of anecdotes. It was an aspect of his overall respect for how form shaped his thoughts and ideas. In his private writing, he drops this entire pretense, and it is disappointing to know it is a pretense. As a vehicle for theoretical thoughts about subjects like politics and man's place in the world, the terse aphorism remains very effective. Cage usually pared these observations with choreographed dance by Merce. He was a stickler for detail on any project he pursued, even if the eventual outcome of the project was something as hilariously conceptual as 4'33".

Silence is generally conceived as Cage's first and best book, even though all his other collections of essays revolve around roughly the same topics. His view of the world has held up very well today, because while it does put faith in a variety of odd places, like Schoenberg, Zen Buddhism, and the I Ching, it never settles on any one of them more definitely than the other.

It is important to bring the concept of random chance into my life, and I am usually bad at allowing such things to happen. Arnold Schoenberg had a fear of the number thirteen and then he died on Friday the 13th. I think my main fear now is putting everything I have into something, and it not working out. If you only let a part of yourself, into the venture, maybe you will be like John Cage was with writing. You will have published books, but you will not have said anywhere near enough.

Mark Arturo is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan.