Sat 10 Jan 2015
Tue 16 Dec 2014
In lieu of the fact that there are no substantial Asian American film actors or politicians or athletes (outside of Tiger Woods), or at least ones whose political opinions might matter to the average filmgoer — or if there are, no one seems to have bothered to ask them — I’ve gone ahead and written my own reasons why The Interview is already a stupid movie. I’ve had these ideas ever since I saw the poster several months ago, but thought to finally write them given the Sony hacks.
1. They use Hangul, the Korean written language, in the poster. But it isn’t there because they think Koreans will actually read it — in the mind of these guys, there aren’t any Koreans in the United States. Either that, or Koreans are genetically humorless and would never understand why it’s funny to have the words “We Will Start a War” painted on bombs. The Hangul characters are merely a stand-in for a generic Asianess, or North Korean-ness, regardless of the fact that South Korea does, indeed, use Hangul. As one commentator (link below) points out, several film projects in the past started with China as the baddies, but switched to North Korea at the last second because, well, there simply isn’t a market there. But splashing Hangul on a poster, with the assumption no one can read it, is like making a movie about Hitler and littering with quotes in French and Spanish simply because of the similarity of their alphabets. Granted, it’s hard to make a movie poster that will be funny in two languages, but this Shepard Fairey pastiche, using Hangul merely as a decorative device that is encoded to read “Bad North Koreans” (just as the hammer and sickle signified bad communists in the past) just states what Koreans (not to mention Asians) already feel about the mainstream media: we have been deleted, we don’t exist. (Koreans are, by the way, fiercely proud of their written language, invented in the 15th century under the guidance of King Sejong. That, and kimchi.)
2. North Korea is a live situation. North Korea isn’t a country blanketed by the mists of time, nor is it an Orientalist fabrication or (as in past, much funnier political comedies, like The Mouse that Roared) an amalgam of several countries, but a complex, frighteningly opaque political entity that — most especially to Koreans — feels something like a wound that won’t heal. Half the population of the Korean peninsula is starving; North Koreans are incurring genetic changes due to the near-constant state of famine, and many of these North Koreans have close relatives in the South. The movie is a cheap shot about killing the leader of a country that most Americans only know about through other media (films, video games, occasionally the news). Most Americans can’t even name the years of the Korean War, nor even know that 36,000 Americans died there (and something like 2.5 million Korean civilians). There still hasn’t been a substantial movie, soul-searching on the level of say Apocalypse Now or Platoon, about the Korean War (unless MASH, which I really liked, counts). (There are a lot of conventional war movies that take place in Korea up to about the early 60s, then MASH, then nothing.) I don’t mind harsh satires about evil people; I just don’t see the joke in one about two bumbling Americans killing him because he can’t speak English without an accent (guaranteed, though I haven’t seen the film, Kim Jong-Un speaks with a terrible accent).
3. It stars James Franco. This might not seem like a big deal, but I can’t help that that smug grin he wears (or which he wore during most of the terrible Academy Awards) when he thinks he is engaging in some great meta-artistic project — some high concept video, for example, where his insider status as a star somehow provides us plebs with insight into Three’s Company or, even more perversely, some pseudo-intellectual take on someone a bit highbrow who he claims has impacted his work, such as the poet Hart Crane — infects this project as well. While I doubt he will be performing fellatio in this film (that, actually, would be genius), I can’t help but sense his utter tone-deafness to the nuances of pop art in the film poster. But there is a more obvious point to be made, which is that he’s a terrible actor — usually pretty good, if overdetermined, in technique, but no good at working with scene partners. He sucks the air out of nearly every scene he’s in with people (for instance, for my money, while he was great eye candy in Milk, he was way out of league on the same screen as Sean Penn, who was simply generous and helped Franco look good). Maybe that’s why people liked him in that movie where he is entirely alone and cuts off his forearm. But he has never really been truly funny as far as I know (he was just very handsome and likable in Freaks N Geeks, kind of a Fonz for the Dawson’s Creek age, but let the others get the laughs). He’s no Robert De Niro. If I thought there were a chance for humor in this movie as there was (though not tons of it) in Team America, I’d be far more lenient.
Well, just thoughts that have been circulating in my head for a while. I’m surprised no one’s mentioned any of this in the press.
Here are some related pages:
So, in the end, I’m totally in favor of the Sony hacks — it’s like a Christmas gift for me. And the fact that their executives are being revealed as racist and misogynistic — all great. I’m hoping that it’s some spin-off of Anonymous or LulzSec rather than North Korea doing the hacks. I just don’t understand why, in a time of inspired political comedy (like on the Daily Show, etc.) this is taken as interesting. I wasn’t much of a Borat fan, either, maybe I’m too sensitive to ethnic stereotyping of that nature much as I love to speak in funny accents.
Fri 18 Apr 2014
Tue 8 Apr 2014
[Here’s a very old translation, now heavily revised, I first did when I was 21 at Bard that I’m posting just because David Lehman just published a new translation of this very amazing poem. I took a dig at Lehman’s translation on FB for which I must apologize, but I think mine’s fun, flows pretty well, preserves some of the rhyme scheme and gets at some of the wavering between ecstasy and abjection that is in the original. Basically, the more translations of this poem, the better.]
You tire in the end of this ancient world
Shepherdess O Eiffel Tower your flocks your bridges bleat on this morning
You have had it with the antique living of the Greek and Roman
Even the cars here have an air of the ancient
Religion alone has remained new religion
Has remained simple like the hangers at Port Aviation
You alone Christianity in Europe have avoided becoming ancient
Most modern European it is you Pope Pius the Tenth
And you whom the windows watch whom shame makes reticent
You do not enter the church this morning you will not be confessing
You read the posters the catalogues and the pamphlets that loudly sing
Here there is poetry this morning
For prose the journals and magazines
You read the nickel installments of the Adventures of the Crime Police
The portraits of famous men in a thousand diverse titles
This morning I see a pretty street whose name I forget
Fresh and proper the sun is its dawn trumpet
The workers the directors the beautiful stenographers
From Monday morning to Friday four times a day they must pass here
In morning the sirens cry three times
A raging clock barks around noontime
The murals the lettering of the signs
The plaques the notices like a parrot squawking
This industrial street how I love its returns
Situated as it is in Paris between the Rue Thieville and the Avenue des Ternes
There is the young street you are nothing but a child
Your mother dresses you in her blue and white style
You are very pious and with your best friend René Dalize
You love nothing more than the ecclesiastic pomposities
It is nine o’clock the gas burns low
And blue you leave the dormitory by a way that you only know
You pray all night in the chapel of the school
For there lies the amethyst adorable and eternal
Turning forever the flaming glory of Jesus Christ It is
The lily we all cultivate
It is the torch of light red hair that is never laid out by a wind
It is the son pale and flush of the sad mother
It is the tree always blooming in all your prayers
It is the twin dooms of integrity and eternity
It is the star of six branchings
It is the God who dies on Friday God resuscitated on Saturday
It is Christ who climbs the sky higher than all the aviators
He holds the world altitude record
Pupil Christ of the eye
Twentieth pupil of the centuries it knows why
Becoming a bird this century like Jesus climbing the air
The devils down in the pit are raising their heads to see what is there
They say he imitates Simon Magus of Judea
They say that he is a flier but he is hardly a frequent flier
The angels hover around this pretty hoverer
Icarus Enoch Elie Appolonius of Tyana
Float around this primitive plane
They swerve to let pass sometimes the transports of the Eucharist of Saints
The priests who climb eternally are raising the host
Without even folding its wings the plane comes down
The atmosphere is buzzing with the flight of a million swallows
Streaming in from the side are the falcons ravens owls
From Africa the flaming marabous and flamingos
The Roc bird celebrated by storyteller and poet
Soars by and holding in its talons the skull of Adam le premiere tête
The eagle sinks with a shriek from the horizon
The small hummingbird from America is sent
From China come the pihis long and supple
Who have but one wing each who fly in couples
Then there comes the dove immaculate soul
They escort the bird-lyre they lead the ocellate peacock
The phoenix the funeral pyre which it bore from a self-same wedlock
In an instant spreads its burning ash
The sirens leave behind their infamous canals
All three arrive and all three singing beautifully
And all the eagles phoenixes and the pihis of the Chinese
Convene around the flying machine
Now you are in Paris in the crowds all alone
The herd of buses low at you around they roll
Anguish and love press at your throat
As though never again could you be loved
Were you to be living in ancient times you would probably enter a cloister
You frighten yourself quickly you find you’re whispering a pater noster
You scold yourself your laughter rings like a fire from hell
The flickers of your laugh illume the base of your life’s well
It is a painting hung in a somber museum
Sometimes you look at it closely that you may see clearer
Today you walk in Paris the women have all been bloodied
It was and could I forget I would it was the decline of beauty
Surrounded by high flames Our Lady ogled me at Chartre
The blood of your Sacred Heart devoured me at Montmartre
I am sick of having to hear the blessed words
The malady I suffer is a syphilis of flayed nerves
The image that possesses you that you survive insomnia and anguish
It is always near you that imagery that passes
You are on board ship now on the Mediterranean Sea
There are flowers the entire year in every lemon tree
With your friends you make a journey in a barque
One is from Nice one from Menton and two are Turbiasque
You examine with fear the octopi in deep waters
Through the algae swim the fish the emblems of our Savior
You’re in the garden of an inn on the outskirts of Prague
You sense a great happiness a rose is on the table
So you observe instead of writing your prosy fables
The rose chafer asleep in the heart of that rose
Horrified you see yourself depicted in the Saint Vitus agates
You were sad enough the day you saw them to maybe take your own life
You resembled Lazarus maddened by the light of day
The hands of the clocks in the Jewish Quarter are going the other way
Slowly you retreat back into your life
To climb up the steps of the Hradcany to hear the night
In the taverns they sing Czech songs
You are now in Marseilles amongst a milieu of melons
You are now in Coblence at the Hotel du Geant
You are now in Rome in a medlar tree from Japan
You are in Amsterdam with a young girl you find pretty she is ugly
She wants to marry her lover now a student in Leyden
One can rent rooms in Latin cubicula locanda I remember
I was there for three days already and spent just as many in Gouda
You are in Paris with the examining judge
Like a criminal he hands you an arresting sentence
You have made the sad and joyous voyages
Before you were familiar with falsehood and the age
You suffered love in your twentieth and thirtieth years
I have lived like a fool and squandered my days
You dare not look at your hands and I always feel like crying
For you for her that I love for all you find terrifying
You look your eyes full of tears at the poor emigrants
They believe in a God they pray the women nurse their infants
They fill the halls of the Gare Saint-Lazare with a horrible stench
They have faith in their star the Sage Kings
They hope to earn argent in Argentina
To return to their home country to live there like kings
A family drags a red eiderdown quilt like you carry your heart
The eiderdown and our dreams seem like irreal arts
Some of these immigrants remain here and abide
In the Rue de Rosiers or the Rue des Ecouffe in a pig sty
I often see them stealing night air from the streets
They move themselves but only rarely like chess pieces
Most of all there are the Jews their women wigged
They rest in chairs deep in the bowels of their boutiques
You are standing at the counter in a skeevy bar
Drinking cheap coffee surrounded by the down-and-out
The night you spend in a spacious restaurant
These women are not wretched they have their cares
Even and the ugliest one makes her lover suffer
That one is the daughter of a constable from the town of Jersey
Her hands which I don’t see are chapped and gritty
I cannot evade the sadness of her scarred womb
I humble my mouth at the laughter of another girl entombed
You are alone the morning has come
Milkmen clink their bottles on the road
Night departs like a beautiful Métive
It is Ferdine the false or Lea “the attentive”
And you drink the alcohol boiling like a life
You drink the eau-de-vie that is your life
You are walking to Auteuil you want to go on foot
To sleep among your fetishes from Guinea and the Ocean
Another form of Christ they are an entire other credence
It is the Christ inferior Christ of obscure expectations
Sun neck sliced
Wed 12 Feb 2014
This came out a few weeks ago before I became the spokesman for Hollywood poetry by actors/actresses. Available for free download!
Tue 14 Jan 2014
Sat 10 Aug 2013
This was the original cover concept for my recent book of poems “Viva Miscegenation,” just rediscovered it on my hard drive. Couldn’t use it because I couldn’t get permissions for the photograph. Liked the idea a lot, a book of poems designed like a jazz CD insert.
Mon 29 Jul 2013
Here’s the selection of “lost” Los Angeles poets and first paragraphs of the intro that I edited and wrote for Paul Revere’s Horse. Included are poems by the Mexican poet Dantés, Nora May French, Olive Percival, Julia Boynton Green, Virginia Church, Alice Fowlie Whitfield, James Boyer May, Curtis Zahn, the music critic Peter Yates, John Thomas, super-masochist Bob Flanagan and Michélle T. Clinton.
Poetry in the United States is focused in two major urban centers, New York and San Francisco. While other cities have developed poetry “scenes,” it is these two cities that seem perennially able to renew their poetic identities, with fresh influxes of young writers and a substantial group of older, decidedly “established,” mentors to maintain a sense of continuity with previous generations and their aesthetic strategies. Other cities, such as Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, also have a number of writers with national reputations, and their traditions are old and deep, especially in the case of Boston, but none of them have risen to or maintained the status of a pole of activity, at least since the time of the New Americans, when an axis seemed to develop between New York and San Francisco. Of course, it is impossible to determine the exact parameters of a “major poetry city,” the term itself being inelegant, and writers in these cities (and others, such as Austin, Seattle, Lawrence, or Atlanta) don’t often sense a lack, or if they do, it is a productive one. However, these writers usually recognize that they are not in one of the cities associated with poetry—they identify as underdogs, loyal to their local scenes and perhaps even energized by their marginality.
A city not often counted in any of these rubrics is Los Angeles. One of the largest American cities, once dubbed the “city of the future,” it is legendary for its highways, the movie industry, miles of quasi-suburban “villages,” racial strife and wild economic disparities, and general air of being an outpost on the tail end of the country. It has also managed to nurture and sustain a number of poets who have attained national reputations, but nonetheless the city hasn’t acquired, to most eyes, an identifiable poetic “style” that illustrates to the readers of its poetry what the city means as an intellectual, artistic center, a stark contrast to the various styles of visual art—including the pop-inspired works of Baldessari and Ruscha, the architecture of Richard Neutra, the found art/assemblage aesthetics of Wallace Berman and Edward Kienholz, the performance art of Chris Burden, Paul McCarthy, and Mike Kelley, and the murals of ASCO—that have identified L.A. for decades. There are many reasons for this—there really aren’t many “older poets” active on the scene, for example, and many Los Angeles writers are quite happy to be working without an active local “tradition” anyway—but I won’t go much further on speculating why this is the case.
Mon 8 Jul 2013
I was asked by Marissa Lopez, my colleague at UCLA, to write the introduction to a symposium (really just a public chat session with music critic Nikki Darling and Jose Maldonado of the Sweet and Tender Hooligans, a Smiths tribute band) concerning Latinos and Emo, probably because of my love of all things Morrissey. This is it, pretty light stuff and written rather quickly but I hope you like:
Introduction to Lat/emo
May 31, 2013
Over the past three or so years I’ve been researching the LA post punk scene, collecting whatever free music is or was available online, going through the used record bins at Amoeba and Counterpoint and various other places in LA, and making a ton of online purchases at sites like Discogs and Musicstack.
My interest in post punk as a genre of music was spurred by Simon Reynolds Rip It up and Start Again which charted the histories of such bands as Joy Division, Devo, The Associates, Scritti Politti, Pete Ubu and others that formed on the cusp of, or in some cases prior to, the punk music explosion of ’77.
My knowledge of LA music, outside of the mainstream either of the early 70s (Fleetwood Mac, Tom Waits, Jackson Brown, etc.) and of the later hair metal era (Mötley Cru, Guns n Roses, etc.), was mostly confined to some punk and hardcore, and even at that it was quite limited — Black Flag and X might have been the only LA punk bands I could have named when I got here.
Soon I discovered such lost gems as the Screamers, Suburban Lawns, the very obscure Null and Void and the even more obscure Wild Kingdom — whose only recording was published as a flexi disk insert for a music fanzine (Brad Laner has a rip of it on the website for his radio show).
From Pasadena, most of Wild Kingdom was made up of Latinos — you can see them on YouTube from their appearance on Peter Ivers new wave theater (the sound is awful) — but that is only worth noting for the rather elaborate pompadour, leather jacket and suede shoes of their lead guitarist. Wildly experimental, I don’t hear too much Chicano influence in their music; the track, “Roma/Destiny,” starts as ebullient space music with one of the most unusual drum beats I’ve ever heard, to something like carny music, then back to space music again.
[The video below is from their appearance on New Wave Theater with horrible sound. The track “Roma/Destiny,” their only studio recording, is a thousand times more interesting but you get a sense of their appearance and instrumentation here.]
I focused on post punk also because that’s kind of the music of my youth — and not punk, which predates me a bit and besides was a little too aggressive for my sensitive poetic soul in my teen years (I was also an MTV kid, and punk never really broke there). So my goal, really, was to uncover whatever music in LA that matched up with that post punk aesthetic — experimental, sophisticated but still DIY, at once political and concerned with emotions and solitude, and wildly imaginative (costumes, make-up, synths and videos shot in exotic locations — and which didn’t make it across the country to New Jersey.
I was surprised at how many musicians of color — Latino but also a fair amount of Asians (Dianne Chai of the Alley Cats, Susan Rhee of Susan Rhee and the Orientals, a woman who goes by the name of Cyrnai) and even black presence (notably Pat Smear but also a ska band called the Untouchables and, of course, Fish Bone) — were on the scene, if not at the start, then later.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, it was really in the Latino music (with the exception of Fish Bone) that one heard a real cross cultural mix — not in every song, perhaps, but overtly at moments and maybe as a subtle undercurrent of pining after, or critique of, the American Dream that is buried deep in the mix and the lyrics but which decidedly reflects the attitudes of generations of Latino US culture. Not nihilism but an allusive poetry, not just critique from the outside but politics from within the margins.
East LA had its own club, The Vex (started by Willie Herron of Los Illegals) partly to address the fact that most east LA bands outside of the Plugz and, later, Los Lobos couldn’t get gigs on the Strip. The Vex clubs became a meeting place for the punk bands and the more traditional Mexican music that had a young audience (a good compilation of this music is Los Angelenos – the Eastside Rennaissance, which includes the Plugz, the Brat among other obscure acts).
Probably the Chicana musician most associated with the LA punk scene is Alice Bag, born Alicia Armendariz, front woman of the band the Bags. I haven’t read her autobiography, Violence Girl : East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage, A Chicana Punk Story, but reviews show her story to have been, indeed, quite violent and not a little inspirational.
Bag might better remembered as a great charismatic figure in the early days of punk — she did in fact wear bags — though the recordings of the music I’ve heard (mostly live tracks) seem to fit the punk, and not post punk mode I was looking for. She’s featured in Penelope Spheeris documentary about the LA punk scene The Decline of Western Civilization though after the band had broken up — she left music to become an educator.
But I think the most important bands for the purposes of a conference on Latino emo would be the Plugz and the Brat. The Plugz were far more accomplished — their first LP, Electrify Me, which features their punk version of La Bamba (which figured in the Repo Man soundtrack) was full on electric guitar-bass-drum punk. I’ve lost my copy of this LP so couldn’t review it (neither the Plugz nor the Brat feature — surprise! — on Spotify).
Their second, Better Luck, features better production and more accomplished songwriting — Tito Larriva, their lead singer and songwriter, could fit easily among the “angry young man” post punk generation of the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello — as well as the inclusion of horn sections, entire songs in Spanish, complex harmonies, and pastiches of various styles of music such as reggae, a kind of jerky Devo-ish beats, jangly pop and traditional Mexican.
Larriva’s lyrics are poetic, including humorous reflections on So-Cal life in the 70s such as waiting on a gas line — the outro to that tune pleads “Don’t light a match! Don’t light a match! Don’t light a match!” etc. — watching unattainable, if slightly sketchy, girls on a hot day on the street (which he recorded for an important album of spoken word poetry in LA), the tale of an American who “took the bait” (I think a critique of mindless capitalism), and somewhat gruesome evocations of having a brother involved in violent street crime, slot throats and all.
This sort of mix seems not inimical to Morrissey himself, who could often mix politics, ethics, infatuations with the life of crime and erotic longing in a single song. Larriva — who also had a great voice, not the most versatile tool but distinctive, an urban existentialist singing through the clenched teeth of a gangster — went in to form Cruzados, Tito and Tarantula and others and he is also known as an actor in Roberto Rodriguez films and elsewhere. He’s also scored films.
Lesser known is Teresa Covarrubias, lead singer of the Brat (other members included brothers Rudy and Sidney Medina), which only managed to record an EP for Larriva’s own label, Fatima records. Covarrubias is described as being introverted and yet dynamic on stage – one website states: “Covarrubias remembers that sometimes audiences were surprised by her off-beat yet alluring stage presence and didn’t expect much from someone so petite, brown and seemingly timid.”
Covarrubias’ lyrics (I’m assuming she wrote them, I don’t have credits for the LP) could also vear from the political to the personal quite quickly — one song called “The Wolf” has as its refrain “The wolf and the lambs… we are the lambs” and sings of “democracy laced with hypocrisy” while “Attitude” could be a high school anthem — it seems entirely about declarations of personal identity, an emo theme if there ever was one — and “Starry Night” is a love song.
The structures aren’t quite as sophisticated as the Plugz — very much four part punk (one track clocks in at 54 seconds) with some X influence — but are terribly effective, especially due to Covarrubias’s clear but expressive voice rising over the hard electric din (it resembles Belinda Carlyle’s in this way, a little flavorless but, in juxtaposition to the intense lyrics and clanging music, just right), some nice rhythm guitar work and background vocals. It would be truly a loss if they were able to work past this early sound in later years and yet never found a contract.
Los Illegals are also a hugely important East LA band but maybe I don’t see their connection to emo as clearly. Formed as a wing to the art/political collective ASCO, they seem a little less personal, less vulnerable than the Plugz or the Brat. No less imaginative – some of their songs have a sci-fi apocalyptic or noirish intensity — they are never personally introspective, though of course I think introspection of a sort — social introspection based on communal fear and rage? — lies at the heart of their most satiric songs, like The Mall and Guinea Pigs.
Besides, I’ve spoken long enough! I’m eager to learn more about the infamous Latino fanbase for the music of the Smiths and Morrissey — it all makes sense to me now but I confess it was surprising when I first learned of it back in new York!
Wed 26 Jun 2013