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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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Entries in miley cyrus (4)

Wednesday
Oct162013

In Which We Listen To Miley's Breakup Album Extensively

Dancing with Miley

by ALICE BOLIN

Driving into Hollywood this August, I listened to Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” on repeat, the perfect soundtrack for a girl moving to Los Angeles with “a dream and her cardigan.” “Look to my left and I see the Hollywood Sign,” Cyrus sang, and I looked to my left, and there it was. Everything was shiny and exciting, fancy cars raced by on the freeway, and there were palm trees.

If I tell you how less than two months later I would be listening to Cyrus’ new album Bangerz on a packed LA city bus at six in the morning, clutching my backpack and trying not to fall asleep on the hour-long trip to my food service job, implicitly making a connection between the reality of my move to Los Angeles and the debaucherous turn Cyrus’ music has taken, well, that parallel would be an oversimplification.

For one thing, we’ve got to remember that after “Party in the USA” became her biggest hit, Cyrus commented that she had nothing to do with writing the song and hadn’t wanted to release it as a single, and furthermore, despite what the song’s chorus said, that she had never heard a Jay-Z song. In an interview promoting her film The Last Song, seventeen-year-old Cyrus said that she hadn’t finished the novel The Last Song was based on and that her favorite book was The Catcher in the Rye. I should mention that The Last Song’s author, Nicholas Sparks, was present at the interview. And are we forgetting the time when Cyrus had The Smiths lyrics as her twitter bio (“I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does,” of course)? Because I’ll never forget.

Cyrus has always had not only a rebellious but a trollish streak. So we’re all so surprised when the video for her song “Wrecking Ball” makes use of the most literal possible image, a wrecking ball, and is as overtly, humorously sexual as possible, with Cyrus, directed by famous perv Terry Richardson, swinging around naked on the wrecking ball and sensually licking construction equipment? Without its outrage-baiting video, “Wrecking Ball” is just another of the generic power ballads that Dr. Luke probably produces in his sleep. Cyrus’ singing on the track mimics Britney Spears and Rihanna’s robotic vocals, which are so abrasive that their ballads can be physically painful to listen to. I mean, no offense.

The extent that Cyrus has modeled her career on Spears’ cannot be overstated. Both were child actors on the Disney Channel who had “America’s Sweetheart” personas to get out from under. It doesn’t take a genius to free associate on the phrase “shocking VMAs performance”; thanks to Spears and Madonna, simulating masturbation on the VMAs stage is a time-honored way to shake a virginal public image. And Spears and Cyrus are both from the dirty south — in Vanessa Grigoriadis’ 2008 Rolling Stone cover story, “The Tragedy of Britney Spears,” chronicling what she calls “the most public downfall of any star in history,” she reports that Spears’ drink of choice was “the Southern rap scene’s ‘Purple Monster,’” a mix of “vodka, Red Bull, and NyQuil.” On “SMS (Bangerz),” a song on which Spears makes a guest appearance, Cyrus sings, “Must be the purple/Got up in my brain.”

Maybe this is why much of Bangerz is synth pop that is, to my ears, “so 2010.” Cyrus set out to make an album of explicitly sexy club bangers similar to those on Spears’ albums post-Blackout. Some of the songs on Bangerz sound like they could have been written for Spears, especially “Do My Thang,” a house anthem with a heavy 808 beat featuring Cyrus rapping about being a Southern belle. But the only song on Bangerz that is actually about sex is the fun “#GETITRIGHT,” a creative and playful track in which Cyrus sings, “I’ve been laying in this bed all night long/Don’t you think it’s time to get it on.” I assume “#GETITRIGHT” will be a single because of that bullshit hashtag, and it will probably be a hit.

But the real problem with the Bangerz concept is not that it’s derivative. It’s that Cyrus’ heart isn’t in it. You would expect an album of club music to be jubilant, but other than “#GETITRIGHT” and the album’s lead single “We Can’t Stop,” Bangerz is pretty depressing. The actual bangers on Bangerz feel rote, with their obligatory lame guest verses from rappers like Big Sean and Nelly — it is like Cyrus’ mind is elsewhere. And in the album’s angsty ballads you get a sense of what’s distracting her. In September 2013 Cyrus broke off her engagement to Australian actor Liam Hemsworth, and Bangerz ends up telling the story of the rise and fall of their relationship. Cyrus set out to make a party album and made a breakup album.

Bangerz begins with “Adore You,” an extremely mushy ode to Cyrus and Hemsworth’s love, on which Cyrus auto-tunes, “You and me were meant to be in holy matrimony.” A twenty-year-old former child superstar in a high profile celebrity engagement — what could go wrong? Cue: “We Can’t Stop,” a truly awesome party song about “dancing with molly” and “trying to get a line in the bathroom,” all of that post-adolescent experimentation and wild-oat-sowing that can sound the death knell for teenage love.

On the rest of the album Cyrus tries to hold on to a relationship that’s failing. “Don’t you ever say/I just walked away/I will always want you,” she sings on “Wrecking Ball.” On “Drive,” a great, Rihanna-esque track, she sings with real heartbreak, “You said you wanted this,/I told you it was all yours./If you were done with it/Then what’d you say forever for?” These raw moments are some of the highlights of the album — they recall Robyn, our cultural poster girl for acceptable pop, and her sad dance jams. But ultimately, the opposition of the album’s provocative dance pop packaging and its sad, vulnerable content leaves Bangerz feeling all over the place.

Some of the best parts of the album are its bonus tracks, where Cyrus is less in banger-mode — its hidden triumph is the bonus “Rooting for my Baby,” a 90s acoustic dream-pop track, like some kind of Cardigans shit. Songs like this make me certain that Cyrus will not just be a scandalous footnote in the history of pop music. She can hit the notes without auto-tune, which she very intentionally demonstrated in her acoustic performance of “We Can’t Stop” on Saturday Night Live. On Bangerz it seems like she was too married to her initial Spears-pop idea, but she is an artist who has ideas and influences and is not afraid to make big, ostentatious mistakes. And she can’t stop. And she won’t stop.

Alice Bolin is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She last wrote in these pages about Lorde. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here. You can find her twitter here and her tumblr here.

"Now Navigate!" - Kevin Devine (mp3)

"You Brushed Her Breath Aside" - Kevin Devine (mp3)

Kevin Devine's double album Bubblegum/Bulldozer was released yesterday. You can find information about Kevin's fall tour here.

Tuesday
Sep112012

In Which We Revisit The Golden Age Of Something

Really Impressed With Us

Once I had a professor who seemed to have everything going right in his life. He had a beautiful home and family; his lectures were prescient and entertaining. He attracted swarms of undergraduates to his office hours. He was kind to all who knew him. His speciality was 18th century American literature, generally thought of as one of the most boring areas of art to study outside of the middle ages. (Literatures of nascent countries are almost always terrible.) Despite this handicap, he threw himself into the topic with aplomb.

The time came for me to speak with the man in his office hours. That day he happened to be setting up a new desktop computer. He was so pathetically lost I found I could never listen to any of his lectures again. He asked me what this thing did, and I told him it was the mouse. When I saw his wife in the student center the following week, I felt so sorry for her I almost cried. This is somewhat akin to the feelings I experience while reading Life magazine today.

Some of the writing in Life was very good. It was usually unabashedly nationalistic in a way you never see today outside of a People magazine feature on a returning soldier. It was so obvious to everyone that we were "the people." Often the writers offered some take on the future. No matter what it was, the development was underscored by a conflicting, opposing viewpoint. There was teaching happening, of how to be, of how a democracy had to operate.

Life could not possibly exist today because only its photographs were cynical, sometimes even humorous. They underscored the dual main missions of the publication: (1) to tell the truth and (2) to trust what you saw with your own eyes. Since the magazine could not possibly accomplish (1), it focused on (2).

Examined through the lens of normals, the past seems far less confusing in retrospect. It is no wonder some misguided people long for it. A selective memory is one cause, and the flaws in the human brain are nothing compared to the egregious snubs of a magazine. How can you keep a history of the time in which you live and ignore an entire part of the culture? That's almost as bad as there not being a wikipedia entry for Alice Gregory.

If Life had kept publishing, it would be unrecognizable, probably like a mix of National Geographic, Parade and Bill Keller columns about "the good old daze." It was already pretty silly when they gave up on it and made it a monthly. When you change how often your magazine publishes, you're showing you never knew much about why it existed to begin with.

The following actually appeared in the first 1954 issue of Life magazine. - A.C.



January 4, 1954

The morning traffic and parking problem became so critical at the Carlsbad, N. Mex. high school that school authorities in 1953 were finally forced to a solution: they set aside a special parking area for students only. In Carlsbad, as everywhere else, teenagers are not only driving new cars to school but in many cases are buying them out of their own earnings. These are the children who at birth were called "Depression babies." They have grown up to become, materially at least, America's luckiest generation.

Young people 16 to 20 are the beneficiaries of the very economic collapse that brought chaos almost a generation ago. The Depression tumbled the nation's birth rate to an all-time low in 1933, and today's teen age group is proportionately a smaller part of the total population than in more than 70 years.

Since there are fewer of them, each – in the most prosperous time in U.S. history – gets a bigger piece of the nation's economic pie than any previous generation ever got. This means they can almost have their pick of the jobs that abound.

They place in dance orchestras, and work at other jobs or go into business for themselves. To them working has a double attraction: the pay is good and, since their parents are earning more, too, they are often able to keep the money for themselves.

The teenagers here all live in Carlsbad, but the account of youth's opulent opportunities is not restricted to any one community. A young fellow like Sonny Thayer can earn $100 a week in the potash mines near Carlsbad and buy himself a pick up truck, hunting mule and all the equipment he wants to indulge his hobby as an outdoorsman. A Milwaukee high school senior like David Lenske can pick up enough money in odd jobs to buy stocks, all his own clothes and a 1946 Plymouth as well. In city after city merchants freely extend credit to teenagers.

One father, fearing that easy times may not be enough of a character builder, remarked, "They're lucky. But do they know it?" Mostly they seem to know it, even though they live with a worry they can never fully escape – the two years or more of military service for the boys and the constant talk of war that hovers over them all. A judge who handles delinquency matters voices concern over the fortunate teenagers: "I don't know if having all those cars is such a wonderful thing. Some kids make more money than their probation officers with master's degrees." But a filling station operator who hires high school boys declares simply, "They are hard working and well behaved."

Thoughtfully a Milwaukee girl remarks, "We have more independence and education than other generations have had. We are going to be able to take care of ourselves and of our world." This confidence and reasoning reflects in a generation which, having been brought up in and having worked in good and constantly improving times, will in the future expect – and work for – equally good times or better.

It is presumptuous to characterize a whole generation; yet each generation feels obliged to try it as soon as its successor heaves in sight, and the editors of Life are no exception. Our Time-Life correspondents recently made a survey of the mood and opinions of young people all over the country. That survey confirmed Steichen's hunch; this is in many respects the oldest younger generation in living memory. It is sobersided, unromantic, "mature." Since it was raised in a depression to fight one war and is now threatened by another, it could hardly be expected to be a carefree generation. But that is not the whole story.

In our survey one Texas college professor described his undergraduates thus: "They are a generation without responses - apathetic, laconic, no great loves, no profound hates and pitifully few enthusiasms. They are a wordless generation. If they have ideas they don't seem to like to rub them against other people's ideas."

"Unimaginative, yes," reported another teacher, "but they are very realistic. Security is uppermost in their minds." Millions of them seem to share the modest ambitions of a young Seattle engineer: "I'd just like to net $600 a month, and then my family would always be okay. You start earning any more than about that, and it's taxed away from you, so what the hell."

Youth's theme song seems to be, "I don't want to set the world on fire." Rather than take chances on their own, most college boys (there are of course exceptions) would rather work for a large corporation, making their way discreetly and securely up a prefabricated ladder. They seem to be most comfortable in groups and even tend to make dates by fours and sixes.

They show no strong urge either to glorify or to rebel against their surroundings. They are without public heroes or villains. They are reported to be not so wild as their parents, nor so hard working. They gripe less and hope less. They are willing homemakers and fall quickly into monogamy, more from imitation than from any moral or economic imperative. They are refreshingly free of bigotry or race prejudice; and they believe, if in anything, in democracy and the brotherhood of man. Yet they seem skeptical and incurious about the machinery and safeguards of democracy.

One co-ed says defiantly, "Who knows exactly what politics is, anyhow?" Says an Oregon college president, "They live like happy animals. I guess the Great Enlightenment of the last century has finally run its course."

A Generation of Esthetes? appeared in a 1951 issue of Life.

"Calm Water" - Milla Jovovich (mp3)

"Wide Awake" - Milla Jovovich (mp3)

 
Monday
Feb282011

In Which Your Ballroom Days Are Over Baby They Got The Guns But We Got The Numbers Gonna Win Yeah We're Taking Over Come On!

Speak Now

by MOLLY LAMBERT

We want for Taylor Swift what we want for Betty Draper, which is for her to realize that the thing she has based her life around thus far is a fucked up lie. And that when she figures out it is a lie, her life will not end, she will just get to live in Sanctuary with the rest of us. Taylor Swift believes that heterosexual men bestow all value on people, and that for women this value is based only around marriageability, but she clearly also knows how good it feels to have a number one hit (a number one heeeeeeet). Swift won't claim her own aggression because it doesn't fit with her idea of what girls are like or should be like (pretty, docile, quiet) but she is already neither docile nor quiet. 

Swift's friend breakup with Miley Cyrus reminded me of nothing so much as Sharon Cherski and Angela Chase in its snotty prudishness. Taylor also slut-shamed Camilla Belle (who "stole" her boyfriend Joe Jonas) in a song, hilariously. "She's not a saint and she's not what you think, she's an actress. But she's better known for the things that she does on the mattress." In her own mind, there is no way that Swift could or ever will be be called a slut. But the longer she is single and the more guys she dates (especially in Hollywood) Well, girl. Why does she think being a slut is so horrible? Because slut-shaming was invented and is propagated in order to stop women from claiming their sexual power. To make them think that it is men who do all the choosing, all the hunting, and that if girls have any interest in sex it is only as deer.

But Taylor is obsessive bordering on scary. She writes vengeful anthems about romantic scorn and infatuated love songs about guys she emailed and met once in real life. What is she if not a hunter? She hunts exactly as hard as John Mayer. It is just that the system is set up for him and not her, to praise his success and laugh at her failure. The system doesn't work, so fuck it. You can't win by doing it correctly. You win by breaking the system, by transforming it, by building a better one in its place. 

 

Gwyneth Paltrow reminds me of Taylor in her prissiness and privilege and certainty that her privilege will never run out, although it obviously always does as you get older, particularly for women. I enjoy GOOP's midlife crisis because it humanizes her. Because Paltrow is realizing that being a wife and mother is something, but it is not enough to make you happy if you don't also have some things for just yourself.

I also bring this up for dudes who have the now extremely common househusband fantasy. I usually tell them to read The Feminine Mystique. The problem that has no name is not just a women's problem. It is a problem for anyone who defines their identity primarily through their relationships, which is also an issue for a lot of men. 

That to define yourself primarily through taking care of others is to lose track of yourself. That the desire to take care of others can sometimes get in the way of taking appropriate care of yourself. That when you diss Dre, you really do diss yourself. 

Anyone can be a sponge (BRAD PITT). That borderline is considered female and narcissism is considered male just reflects societal expectations based around gendered stereotypes. Anyone who's seen an episode of any Real Housewives can vouch for the existence of female narcissists, and everyone has had a dude friend or ten that disappears into relationships. People aren't their gender. They're individuals.

Watching Valentine's Day (shut up/it was horrible) I was struck by two things about Taylor Swift's performance: that she delivers lines exactly like Jonah Hill, and that her physicality is just like Nomi Malone's. She is tall and gawky and she flings her long blonde limbs around with all the aggression of Nomi on the floor of the Crave Club.

Taylor Swift doesn't understand yet that her constant intense desire to fall in love is mostly just the desire to fuck everything, and that she can fuck everything without automatically falling in love. And that she can fuck everything AND fall in love. 

Why do some people cling so rigidly to gender roles? Ernest Hemingway grew up wearing a pink gingham dress and a bonnet until he was six. Charles Bronson likewise had to wear his sister's hand me down dress as a child, because he was so poor. Those are two of the all time totems of classical outlaw masculinity. I'm not trying to play classical outlaw psychiatrist but there's not NOT a connection there. Ernest Hemingway's mother was the breadwinner in his family, a talented opera singer who then gave up her career to raise children. His father committed suicide. Hmmm...

So many liberal dudes consider themselves political revolutionaries but then ignore or devalue gender politics as less important than other causes. Or they talk a good game about gender politics but then do the complete opposite in their personal lives. There was a great Mad Men episode touching on this. You think subcultures are going to have better more equal power dynamics, but then they usually reproduce the same fucked up power dynamics of mainstream institutions. It happened in the civil rights movement. It happened with hippies. It happens in indie and punk. It happens in everything when men are the only ones in recognized leadership positions. I wish that it never happened, but it does. Rather than bury our heads in the sand we must choose to engage with it, to figure out why it happens and how we can work on it.

That's why it was so cool when Kurt Cobain wore a dress on Headbanger's Ball. It was genuinely radical and revolutionary. He challenged the world to call him a fag, to ask themselves why they would be threatened by a beautiful man in a dress and why he was supposed to care. A hirsute or ugly man in a dress can be dismissed as comedic, but feminine male beauty is especially threatening to traditional masculinity because it offers the question of what exactly "maleness" is, if there is really anything particular to having a dick besides just having a dick. He forced questions on an audience that didn't want to touch those questions with a ten foot pole lest it end up in their ass. 

Likewise Courtney Love took femininity to its farthest possible outcrop and exposed how horrifying all the most desirable/accepted tropes of girlhood are. How fake and impossible it is to be pretty or quiet and how much the world requires and demands it of women. That's why Kurt was so horrified when Nirvana's audiences started to be full of the same kinds of bros he hated so much when they were still Guns 'n Roses fans. And why people who grew up Hole fans inspired by these ideas were all so horrified when Courtney started fucking with her face and body. No one here gets out alive

Women aren't afraid of becoming men, but the undertone of misogyny is that men are afraid they'll become like women. It assumes that to feel like a woman is to feel weak, powerless, degraded. But that's not what women feel like! That's just how society treats us. Men feel weak, powerless, and/or degraded every goddamn day. Misogyny allows men to separate themselves from negative emotions and ideas by attaching them to women, to a thing that they get to think they are not and could never be. 

You have to speak up. You have to call people out. It doesn't make you are a horrible shrill fun-averse harpy bitch. It doesn't mean you hate men. You LOVE men. You just also want to be taken as seriously as they automatically are. Not taken seriously for a woman. Taken seriously as a person. A person. Not as a woman. As a human being.  

There is a belief that some people have, historically men but occasionally also Ayn Rand and Angelina Jolie, that they have a divine right to power. A lifelong pass to fuck anyone they want and fuck over anyone they feel like and never have to face real consequences. It is the thing that is scariest and most fascist about the bulk of politicians and politics in general, and why Obama is genuinely revolutionary in his feminism and aversion to macho bullshit, but also why he gets called a pussy (sigh). 

It is to pretend like you are on the board of the imaginary but universal organization that tacitly endorses male dominance and ran ENRON. To side with them because it is to side with history's winners, because it is easy and requires no inquisition of the self, no possibility that you might have to change anything or give up any perks. It is to agree with Hitler because everyone else is. If you really want to renounce fascism and oppressive institutions then you have to renounce patriarchy. There is no other way.

You are never really a liberal if you treat women differently. If you hold them to different more difficult standards than you hold men to, than you hold yourself to. You are something else. You are an emosogynist. It is nothing to be proud of. This is what is so horrible and insidious about Bill Clinton and John Edwards. It's why I hate Bill Maher so much. If you deny women the same personhood you give yourself, you are not a liberal. You are not a revolutionary. You are not an outlaw or a gangster or anything cool. You are just a misogynist in a sweater and fuck you, seriously, for real. 

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Los Angeles. She twitters here and tumbls here. She last wrote in these pages about Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, and YouTube.

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