Saturday, October 13, 2007
Presenting the ninth in series of Mind Numbing Muppets - a Soundtracksforthem response to the dumbing down of the commuter newspaper. I mean if they don't educate our childern how will they ever learn to have respect for animal life? Call 1866 239 6000 now...
Number 9: Vivienne Westwood
Remember Vivienne Westwood? One of those characters who like Malcolm McLaren, scored their relevance from the notoriety earned by some delinquent and very malleable teenagers, in the guise of the Sex Pistols some three decades ago.
Not that she ever went away, but she is certainly back - back, as I read in one of those free commuter papers, to feature in what's claiming to be one of the world's biggest symposiums on the importance of democracy in today's shifting world. Good enough excuse to escapethe loony bin of the celebrity pages to pass herself off for serious comment in the world section.
Look we all know Westwood is one of those contrarians, always ready with some shock horror poke at convention on the cat walk. In later years she fell back on the forms she was meant to have shattered and now she seems blessed with the gift of spewing dinner party tripe with every intake of breath.
So for her contribution to the Metro/CBC forum on democracy, she gives some startling lessons in political philosophy - in particular the evolution of democratic thought: "the worst thing ever to happen in history was the French revolution." Ah Viv, really?
You think the woman who revolutionised fashion and left you with all those cheap punkified high street jeans and t-shirts with slogans in fake paint splatters, would have a more copped approach. But no not really - the French revolution you see, was just like some a string of soap episodes leading up to the cliff hanger - "a terrible excuse for people to affect their personal vendettas."
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Tearing down the fourth wall of the home, dramatists and novelists like John Osbourne documented the confusion of class identiy in the "pretty dreary...American age," with nothing to do but wait bored for the great bang of the H-bomb. In re-forging the nation's social contract, post war Britain and the "craddle to grave" schema of the welfare state saw political narratives rocket from traditional community relations of solidarity and struggle to an individuated relationship to the state, and then state blocs against state blocs, literature spilled into the micro cultures of the kitchen and family, and characters left with only new interior comforts in the artificial desires of consumerism and the rat race of social mobility.
Some like the Situationists argued the content of the literature was reactionary and "thirty years behind the times", failed attempts to scandalise, innocent and new to "a certain moral subversiveness that England had managed to completely hide from them." Yet it was very much a new literature, perfectly fitted to cultural theories and sociologies of an emerging new left that struggled to hold together a class identity against the tide of fragmentation. Kitchen sink is almost an inquiry into these tensions, putting the working class voice on stage in an often raucous, confused and unsteady rant against the new order. John Osbourne's Look Back In Anger encapsulates many of these tensions, in a prism of familial tensions sourced in two fold glances back to the past haunting the present and the failing marriage of Jimmy and Alison.
With his university education, Jimmy is a dangerously lit fuse of alienation and anger: disgruntled with the peddlars of social planning and progress, he has an acute awareness of the hokum of a post war shift and a distrust of the "apocalyptic share pushers who are spreading all those rumours about a transfer of power." What he sees is really a middle class escaping its own futility, one trying to make itself more relevent to the coming tide and a more refined mobile capitalism, with status more sourced in consumer goods than blood line and the stiff upper lip: "the old firm, is selling out! Everyone get out while the going's good. Those forgotten shares you had in the old traditions, the old beliefe are going up - up and up and up."
Mostly his frustration is directed against his wife, who identifies herself as a "hostage from all those sections of society they had declared war on." His anger isn't something just directed towards one individual ,or family, or the backgrounds of his various sexual conquests but against their existence as a class; some sick moribund hangover of Britain's pink stained empire in the "Brave New-nothing-very-much-thank-you." More wierdly, Alison sees herself as ironically liberated and abused at the same time to the verbal violence of her marrage, to her its a more livable alternative to "rotting away at home" in the "wicked" clutches of her overbearing parents and the still rotting corpse of pre-War society.
Jimmy's real sense of pain comes from his inabilty to "pass" in the new game of social mobility and he clings to an outdated mode of working class selfhood. But even if Jimmy does puruse his bitter hatred on this grand level it really manifests itself in the personal, the larger social stage being closed to him. Early in his relationship with Alison he wages a "guerilla war" on dinner parties and society events that he gains access using the social leverage of Alison's family: "plundering them, wolfing their food and drinks, and smoking their cigars like ruffians."
For Alison this is made real when her family came back from their colonial role in India, with everything "unsettled" and incapable of a grip of what is happening in Britain, other than a sense of disquite and sub-surface turbulence - even as it stares at her within her own relationship. But Jimmy too sees himself on the losing side of history, just like his father who returned from the Spanish Civil War where "certain God fearing gentlemen there had made such a mess of him."
Having ran the job market jungle from "journalism, advertising, even vacuum cleaners for a few weeks" he's as happy manning a sweet stall as anything else - the power dynamics are the same everywhere and the only arena he can excercise power is in his sexual relationships. He uses women as battering ram and trojan horses to poison and disgust their familes. Jimmy's hatred is Osbournes own hatred of women, its a very precise hatred of a particular sort of woman: "the royalty of that middle class womanhood, which is so eminently secure in its divine rights" that it dares affront the unstated ambitions of working class men that a new fluidity of social status puts them in contact with. In a battle of archetypes Helena tears into Jimmy: "there's no place for people like that any longer - in sex, or politics, or anything. That's why he's so futile."
Alison's father describes him as speaking "a different langauge to any of us," and Jimmy in return abuses him for "still casting well fed glances back to the Edwardian twilight from his comfortable, disenfranchised wilderness" and as merely "a good blow out for the worms." It's a battle of cultural relevence amidst the modernisation process. What Jimmy and Alison know in their bones is that the old fashioned is being flushed. Jimmy, in his cynical spite prefigures this discontent and reforging of class cultures.
Told all was utterly changed, it's dull and paintively obvious to him it that in a stifling class culture, an NHS, scholarship boys and welfare state signify a class society rather than move beyond it. Even the essence of social solidarity, and rethoric of raising all boats is frustrated and rendered null by cultures of difference and classifaction pointedly exploited by the parents of Alison. No wonder he was such an angry young man.
Rio Baile Funk always brings some excellent on the ground coverage (see the Sandrinho interview for a one of those voices seldom heard..) of that happy clappy partying taste of exotica that gets western hipsters falling over dancefloors - courtesy of it a new site out of the Czech Republic has been brought to my attention with a wicked compendium of mixtapes. Well worth a gander..
Monday, October 08, 2007
Remember my interview with the Vomito Attack heads fond of raging across Buenos Aires with spray cans in hand and that link to the Flickr gallery of street art I took while away this time last year? No? Don't worry I barely did. And then I got a request out of the blue some months ago, asking if it was okay to use some of the photos I took.
They've made their way into a forth coming hardback compendium of all those walls where the war on terror and street art met head on from 9/11 on. It's coming out on Rebellion Books in the UK next month and has the title of Street Art and the War on Terror. It can be snapped up on Amazon for the Xmas season. Whether you want to use it to flesh out the personality type your coffee table reads delicately express, or as a beer mat or a rolling tray's up to you - I'm not getting any money out of it, that's for sure - but if you need any weddings doing, just shout us like...
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Toronto loves it's rubbish. It loves it so much it's hesitant to send any of it to the waste tip. Whereas we in Ireland throw consumer durables into the nearest skip or try hide them buried under food packaging for garbage day collection, Toronto breeds an informal economy of weekend garage sales.
What doesn't sell, finds its way into crumpling cardboard boxes with the label "free" attached. Overflowing mainly with unwanted books or magazines, they rest battered outside houses all over the city every weekend. Fodder for wandering book worms, the rooting curious or shopkeepers filling their second hand bargain bins.
They say you shouldn't judge a book by the cover. In these instances, more often than not, its precisely the cover and blurb that draws you in. Images and choice words that sketch unknown authors and titles - pushing your buttons of choice, however superficially.
Wedged in between omnipotent, always out of date geek tech manuals outside BMV was The Dishwashers. A compact play in two acts, by Vancouver based Morris Panych, it sold itself well. A Vice-esque cover with a certifiably Victorian dish washing unit cast in theatrical lights, suggested the dingy glow of a pouncy hotel's hidden basement innards and working life.
Fire on a back blurb attacking the contemporary fiction of the classless society, alongside the petty tyrannies of supervisors over their own miserable domains and at two dollars - bingo.
Panych throws his playwriting lens on the everyday hidden, the dream likes states of the "off stage" service industry. Silenced and treated as unreal, these are alien places where real life is suspended and a new "non-reality" begins - one with frightening and hidden consequences that often can not be woken from.
Using eleven scenes from the very temporal world of dish washing he sketches the frustration of "falling in the hole" of poorly paid and dirty jobs. That frustration is amplified if you are Emmet, once rich and then waking to find his wealth as "numbers on a chalk board erased." In a four man play he becomes that archetype of the worker "only passing through" and our means to meet those for whom dish washing is permanent.
Moss is a pitiful old crone, 90 years old and riddled with terminal cancer, in the job "since dish washing was invented" his work is an exoskeleton keeping his fragile sense of self alive - then he is fired.
Dressler is a supervisor and thirty years hot spraying pesto stained dishes has left him bitter. His muscles flex on minutia. He tears into any hints of a personality wanting to move away from sink and up the stairs that lead to the restaurant floor and by extension, the good life. He is tormented by the taunts of the social mobility myth: "if everybody was on the top of the heap, there wouldn't be a heap."
Emmet rushes into his kingdom of piled plates, bearing a banner of hope and class war vindictive - antagonising the survival strategies of those that have allowed themselves to wilt in the face of failed ambitions. Ultimately he is the one we should identify with but Panych is more subtle.
The pathetic Dressler is a cunt, driving himself on with spiteful critiques of his underlings and forensic examinations of the waste he sees on the plates he washes: "a fillet mignon with only one little bite out of it, and a cigar tuck into the smashed potatoes. Beautiful. What an extraordinary little monument to overindulgence."
But unlike Emmet, he is going no where so he has none of Emmet's naive faith in opportunity amidst economy based on manufactured tastes and distinctions: "people need to be led to these things; like slaves to the promised land. You don't go out in search of encrusted head cheese for fuck's sake."
Dressler also gets to deliver some of my favorite lines of late: ""democracy is a lazy bitch who never did a day's work in her entire life; then complained if after a late shift, you made too much noise coming home and dropping dead from exhaustion on the sofa."
Stick that down as your email signature. When Emmet does move on, he does so with a distaste that rubs itself in the face of those he leaves behind in the dishwashing basement, the sort of distaste that perpetuates the alienation he raged against while soaping up everyday.
Panych's latest production called Benevolence plays Toronto this month. Set in an old porn theater, on seats where exposed foam wrestles with exposed duck tape and the lives of a financial district dick and winter jacketed bum dangerously intertwine.
Despite Panych's concern for low paid service sector jobs with uncomfortable hours in The Dishwashers, Benevolence is a play I won't get to see - its over 35 dollars a ticket. Maybe I'll find it in a bargain bin some years down the line.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
It's a cliché that the media was the first casualty of the Iraqi occupation, but few reacted like Dahr Jamail. Made brazen by his travels off the beaten path between monotonous jobs, he packed a cheap digital camera along with a laptop and entered Iraq to go beyond the Green Zone and embedded reporting.
The dispatches he circulated online, first through emails and then through his site, quickly grew into an essential resource for those in the west desperate for an alternative take on the war on terror. They remain today a vital channel for struggling voices inside occupied Iraq.
A collection of Dahr's work called Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq is coming out this month on Haymarket Books, prior to its release he sat down with Indymedia Ireland to talk about his journalism and the situation in Iraq.
Tell me about the thought process that drove you into making that first trip to Iraq, the resources you had at your disposal and how you coped with such dramatically different and dangerous place?
It's not every day you get tempted to a roller derby game with a free ticket, and I was hardly going to turn it down. My only expectations of the sport were rooted in bleary late night memories of a sci-fi dystopian called Powerball, where nutters wielding chainsaws whirred around a track after each other on skates and motor bikes.
After half an hour spent on transit I'm outside a high school on the outskirts of Montreal, watching promoters strain to organize a growing throng of fans panicked by rumours of sold out tickets for a Triple Threat Match play off that's set to decide the city's roller derby league final.
The contest tonight is between Les Filles Du Roi, a team of "roller skating misfits who love to knock other chicks to the floor and crack a smile when they bruise" and Los Contrabanditas, a bunch of "bootlegging betties" who escaped to Montreal after issues with US Customs to dish out some "black market brutality" or so an over blown biography claims. Inside the door, a stand sells cans of beer to fans for a couple of dollars, but most are whipping out their own from bags or starting to crack into slabs carried in with their mates.
Its only when you see a swelling audience of hipsters begin to chant along to tinny baile funk rhythms breaking across a high school auditorium PA system that you get even half way to grasping the buzz of the DIY grass roots roller derby rebirth sweeping cities across North America.
"I waited and waited for it to start here, and it didn't happen, so I started it myself. Derby has turned into a big sisterhood across the world. I was just in Vegas at Rollercon '07 and I met tons of amazing roller gals from all over the place," explains Georgia W Tush, a fan favourite in the Montreal League she helped found and now stars in.
The atmosphere is thick with pre-club land anticipatory ramblings crossed with a football match; and with so many sub cultural codes on display you'd be forgiven for thinking all the record stores had emptied out at the news roller girls were about to don short skirts and helmets.
Down a set of bare concrete steps closer to the hockey rink, two off track derby girls power a table, one gathers disclaimers from fans waiving any rights to personal injury claims, as the other tags passes on to eager wrists as people scramble for "suicide seats."
These are located right at the corner of the track behind a yellow line, an area where throughout the game the gallant spill of the chase is most likely to career violently out of control right in front of you. As Georgia describes, the injuries can be excessive.
"I've only been involved since April 2006 and I have seen broken ankles, noses, collar bones, the most disgusting bruises ever, and some mad fishnet burns. It's not if you're going to get hurt - but when."
The standard jam lasts 20 minutes and consists of five girls from each team—three blockers, a pivot and a jammer. At the first whistle, the skate starts, four from each team form a pack, while another player takes on the role of the pivot setting the pace and directing the team.
Suddenly there's another whistle and two girls begin to hurtle through the pack, they score points by lapping the track and forcing their way through over and over again. Of course, the opposite team tries desperately to take them down while their team mates guard them.
Left sort of dumbed by the circling effect of the skaters and the difficulty of following the rules I was happily distracted by the carnivalesque moments that dotted the game. They early started with a fake brawl between two of the team managers.
At half time two semi nude luche libre wrestlers emerged from the crowd, to chase each other around the ring, before being humiliatingly chased off by a demonically skating queer in a dress with wings stitched on. Eventually she gave up and grabbed a mike to provide a foul and sharp mouthed bi-lingual commentary on the game.
On the track the players are clad in short red skirts, some are ass busting dyke like, others play bookish, often with sex kitten lingerie tricks and fishnets to accompany their retro-style roller skates; some have cut their uniforms to a provocative approximation of suicide girls on skates.
This is the image obsessed over in the media and on the web, to the detriment of other aspects of the sport much to the frustration of skaters like Mia Culprit, a representative for the Toronto league of six teams and 75 players.
"Although there are the guys that go on and on about us being cute girls in skirts who fight, most people love it because we're for the skater, by the skater. We're passionate about it and it shows. People want to be involved and be a part of something like that"
Most of the players' names send mixed messages, trapped between punk zine politics and glamour rag personality. Georgia W Tush has her name spray painted across her arse stencil style like a Holy Bible era Manic Street Preacher on roller skates. She also carries her own crowd of piss taking friends from game to game. Tonight they stood at the side wielding placards inviting her to invade their bedrooms in a blend of sexual and political double entendre.
(Photo courtesy of Bubba Brown)
Laden with alter egos and theatrical characters, the sport allows its mainly twenty something participants, who like most of us, are stuck chasing ambitions in between McJobs, school, internships and the cacophonous ho-hum of the ordinary an escape.
The Montreal league's derby logo gives visual bent to this empowerment, being an image of a skating fifties waitress about to fling a skull in a patron's face.
"I think the alter-egos give derby an extra excitement during a bout. Some women live a generally normal life throughout the day, and by night there are the bad-ass of the track.," says Tush.
Then with a quickly developing fan culture outside the original mix bag base of new wave psycho-billies, punks and the queer scene, some new elements mightn't get the staged aspect of the theatrical sass, so there is the security of anonymity as Mia Culprit hints.
"I don't have to worry about any fans finding out more about me than I care to tell them. It also allows me to be someone else when I'm out on the track and live through Mia Culprit. She's a little terror!"
The sport has a growing surrounding culture that strikes like an ambiguous dance between a respectful but ironic reclamation of white trash culture and a third wave feminism busy re-assessing aspects of feminine sexuality and fifties kitsch.
Within this critical space some derby participants and fans are remarkably conscious of the potted social history of their sport, both haunted and inspired by the forgotten starlets and stories of a predominantly female sport as Mia tells me.
"This sport used to consist of a man with money dressing the girls and telling them what to do. The players knew what was coming and those women who did skate, didn't have any control over the game."
If you can remember an old Waltons episode where Jim Boy came up with some scam to win enough money to buy a type writer by dancing all night in a marathon competition, then you have some hint of roller derby's origins in working class depression era desperation.
A canny business man, Leo Setlzer, realised such dance marathons were interfering with his cinema takings, so he moved into simulated cross country roller skate races with two teams circling a track repeatedly for paying fans.
Of course the charm in this dizzying medley of repetition wore off quick for the spectator. Setlzer realised the most interesting aspect of his idea lay in dramatic collisions and falls, so with the help of a sports writer he developed a set of rules to maximise the carnage.
The fifties saw the North American public go on a derby binge, with a movie about the sport staring Mickey Rooney called The Fireball propelling its growth further. Troupes of women toured the states in exhibition roller derby games that pulled in massive crowds every night
"These were like touring punk bands lugging their own gear around the country" enthused Rebel Rockit to me, as I scabbed fags off her drunk outside a Toronto after game party.
At its height the sport featured on TV several times a week across 120 syndicated channels, with the indoor crowd record set at 19,507 at Madison Square Garden in 1970.
Just three years later the Seltzer killed off his league, due to the expense of moving teams around thanks to the oil crisis. Competing leagues continued, split along business lines much the same as the factionalism in pro-Wrestling.
Powerless players were trapped in the middle and the classic era of derby was over. Then the ad men pulled their money out.
Sociologist Paul Fussell sees it as a simple equation, "they discovered that the people watching it were so low-prole or even destitute that they constituted an entirely wasted audience for the commercials: they couldn't buy anything at all, not even detergents, antacids, and beer."
The leap of difference between that incarnation of derby and today's grassroots revivalist leagues couldn't be more pronounced as Tush explained to me.
"MTLRD is a non-profit organisation run by elected board members. We keep checks and balances by voting on major issues at general meetings. Anytime an outsider gives us fancy pants propositions, we often stand our guard and keep caution. Others realize there's a lot of money that can be made out of this, so it's always important to keep control close to home."
With a documentary called Hell On Wheels about the 2001 Austin league that sparked the current rebirth, piquing attention at South by Southwest back in March and Melissa Joulwan's anthology of Rollergirl: Totally True Tales from The Track sneaking around as cult bathroom reading, Georgina is optimistic about skater run derby.
"I'm sure there will be a league in most cities in Canada and US, and many more popping up all around the world."
Back inside Les Fils du Roi have taken the Triple Threat cup and track invading fans have built massive beer can pyramids for celebrating skaters to smash through.
Outside, as people wait for the teams to get their asses in gear to hit the after party, a cop car and a fire brigade have arrived in a hysterical over-reaction to the sight of some supporters with swirling fire poi and en masse street boozing.
The crowd of around 200 jeer them good naturedly, and some of the derby girls offer the uniforms swigs of lagar as they start to back off. I'm left to think what more evidence is needed for the momentum behind derby, than a football style roving, belligerent mob of drunk and happy fans heading into the Montreal night?
Shouts to Coach McWhopper, Mia Culprit, Georgia Tush and any one else from the Toronto and Montreal Leagues and thanks to Totally Dublin for carrying it.
About Soundtracksforthem specialises in iconoclastic takes on culture, politics, and more shite from the underbelly of your keyboard. A still-born group blog with a recent surge of different contributers but mainly maintained by James R. Big up all the contributers and posse regardless of churn out rate: Kyle Browne, Reeuq, Cogsy, Chief, X-ie phader/Krossie, Howard Devoto, Dara, Ronan and Mark Furlong. Send your wishes and aspirations to antropheatgmail.com
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