My New Favorite Thing
Movies, magazines, and other items we fancy
Better than Beauty: A Guide to Charm
Helen Valentine and Alice Thompson
published in 1938 by Herald's Publishing Co., reissued in 2002 by Chronicle
As she gave me this book, my friend Eva remarked: "For
something called Better than Beauty, they sure do spend a lot of time
talking about beauty." True enough--we learn how "feet and popularity
are close relations" and how to freshen up a dress by putting a new collar
on it. But when Valentine and Thompson get around to charm, their advice
stops being a Depression-era version of Cosmo. They tell us to "know where
you stand on the issues of the day. Do not have the idea that you need
to be a statesman or a lawyer to know whether a certain trend is vicious
or helpful." (And we shouldn't take our stand from the paper--we are to
"read the news with an eye for pos-sible propaganda.") To Valentine and
Thompson, the woman who fails to gather her views and subse-quently "shies
away from any serious discussion" is not only "one of the most boring
and unsatisfactory of conversationalists" but also a damned fool, as "there
is nothing in the world which, sooner or later, will not affect every
human being." I don't know enough about the 1930s to say whether or not
Valentine and Thompson were parroting the zeit-geist-- maybe the creation
of the Works Progress Administration was the buzz of the hair salon. But
in 2002 their tips are often refreshingly relevant, and when not relevant
at all, they're completely entertaining.--Alexandra Ringe
Seeland double-CD set
In 1969, Canadian John Oswald recorded sam-ples of Chuck Berry and the
Beatles, then recombined them into new pieces of music that he called
"plunderphonics." Although Oswald has continued to make plunderphonics
for more than thirty years, his recordings have been difficult to find.
In 1989, the Canadian Recording Industry Association ordered that all
copies of his album Plunderphonic be destroyed. Nevertheless, Seeland
Records has recently released Plunderphonics 69/96, a dou-ble- CD retrospective
of Oswald's music, includ-ing most of the original Plunderphonic album
and an extensive interview with Oswald. The set offers a wide array of
styles and tech-niques. Glenn Gould's celebrated performance of Bach's
Goldberg Variations is reinterpreted by a faulty computer. Bing Crosby
stumbles through a pitch-bent, punch-drunk version of "White Christmas."
Elvis Presley jams with Cecil Taylor. A live string quartet plays along
with Metallica riffs in "mach." Most of the music on Plunderphonics 69/96
works as heavily ironic commentary on the originals, despite Oswald's
insistence that irony has no part in plunderphonics. But many of the pieces
tran-scend the trickery of the plunderphonic concept and are compelling
works that stand apart from their sources.--Chris Broderick
written and directed by Lukas Moodysson released in 2000 in Europe, 2001
in the U.S., 106 min., available on video
The best movie of 2001, Together is a comic drama set in 1975 at a communal
house in Stockholm. Moodysson's characters and (subtitled) dialogue will
please self-mocking lefties everywhere.--AR
50 Enron Exposed!
published by American Media Inc. (AMI), 2002
Taken at Enron parties where employees per-formed skits, these photographs
appeared in Enron Exposed!, a special-issue tabloid sold at supermarkets
and published by American Media Inc., the company behind The National
Enquirer. [Photos not available on the web] Although Enron Exposed! makes
no mention of its link to the Enquirer, it shares that newspaper's delight
in detailing the Bacchanalian excesses of the rich and famous while positing
itself and its readers as its sub-jects' clear moral superiors. According
to an "AMI special investigation," life at Enron included "Frequent in-office
sex parties and wide-spread lovemaking between gorgeous, young, on-the-make
secretaries and their wealthy bosses," like CEO Jeffrey Skilling. He left
his wife for his secretary "who was quickly pro-moted to a $600,000 job."
But in the eyes of AMI, Skilling, Kenneth Lay, and CFO Andrew Fastow are
more than the typical Enquirer fall-en idols--these guys are blackhearted
villains largely responsible for the Enron "catastrophe, in which hundreds
of innocent employees lost their jobs and many thousands of innocent investors
lost their life savings." Enron Exposed! even takes some shots at the
system, with an alphabetical list of more than 500 mutual funds that invested
in Enron and the amount of money each one lost; a map of the U.S. showing
the states whose pension funds got hit by Enron, i.e. "Texas teacher retirement
system/$24 M"; and this warning: "not only do companies take great liberties
in their accounting practices, but you can't trust analysts to protect
your investments." Besides breeding deep skepticism about the market,
Enron Exposed! urges us to blow those whistles, citing ethics expert Nan
DeMars: "The sad thing is that the whole Enron debacle could have been
prevented by people on the inside--the ordinary employees... But instead
of taking the moral high road, the Enron insiders stood by quietly, got
paid, and went home."--AR
99 Cents Plus, Shore Dollar, One Dollar Market,
Jack's 99 Cent Store, 99 Cents or Less, et al.
Here's what I love: picking through the detritus of capitalism. Here's
where I love to do it: my own local dollar store and the dollar stores
of any American town I happen to visit. Here's why: I find objects that
I never knew existed but that I suddenly adore. I'm talking about my 1st
Date-brand soap (it works, and it's not too smelly), my "hand-paitned"
[sic] rooster oil from China, my pale blue ultra-thin and therefore quick-drying
washcloths, and my nerd angel pen (she's got the halo and giant black
glasses) that doubles as a bubble wand and lights up when you write with
it. Such discoveries are made all the sweeter by the feel-ing that I'm
somehow pulling one over on the compa-nies whose products I'm supposed
to be buying. Even if I don't acquire anything of use or beauty, I always
enjoy the dollar store as a trip to the Manufacturers' Museum of Desperation
and Folly. Someone thought that a fake-gold teddy bear pin with rhinestone
eyes and a fake-silver bowtie would sell if it were labeled "Exotica"
and "New York--Paris-- Milan." Someone believed that America wanted a
pic-ture frame in the shape of a pair of pants with the spot for the photo
placed squarely in the crotch. Someone bet that demographic trends demanded
party invita-tions that say "The Divorce Is Final!" Someone real-ized
that I needed a dollar store, and that time, some-one was right.--AR
by Martha Keavney, available at badlydrawncomics.com
I became friends with Martha Keavney after reading issue #6 of Badly-Drawn
Comics. Although I can't guarantee that the same thing will happen to
you, I recommend that you make her acquaintance by buying first the new
issue (#8) and then, once you're hooked, the back issues. Here is a woman
who has anthropomorphized The Uncaring Universe by giving him a tiny little
suit and an enormous head with planets on it. Here is a woman who gives
us the ultimate dead-end job: the boss orders his worker to convert oxygen
into carbon dioxide while thinking the following thoughts over and over:
"1. I suck. 2. Where did I put my keys? 3. Better do some laundry today.
4. I'm such a fucking asshole." Here is a woman who has made a naturally-occurring
lady substance into a secret weapon. You won't be sorry.--AR
52 "Lisa's Got Hives," "Pinkarama,"
"I Believe in Killing Time,"
and other bootlegs
You might have listened to or read about "bootlegs" or "mash-ups"--music
that is created by combining tracks from at least two preex-isting songs.
The vocal track from, say, Destiny's Child's "Bootylicious," is put to
the instrumental track from, say, Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
When it works, as it does with the aforementioned "Smells Like Booty"
(http:// www.u-g-s.com/MP3) bootlegging rehabilitates crappy, overplayed
pop songs and makes them fascinating and addictive. And free--most mash-ups
can be accessed online at no charge. Although bootlegging is simultane-ously
breaking copyright law and getting lots of media attention, no one has
sued anyone yet. But the pressure is there: sites offering mash-ups come
and go, often because web servers shut them down for fear of hosting bait
for litigious record labels.
To keep up with the latest bootlegs and where to find them, visit the
message board at http://gybo.proboards4.com. For a more direct taste of
the genre, check out the mash-ups below. Of the hundreds I've heard, they're
the ones I keep coming back to.
"Lisa's Got Hives"
(http://perso.wanadoo.fr/lisalopes/special_r.htm) This mix by Conway,
featuring Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopez accompanied by the Hives, is the best
way to appreciate the Hives' derivative brand of rock: with a terrific
pop-rap vocal on top. The combination puts every white-boy rap-metal band
to shame with the unspoken ques-tion, "Why aren't you nearly this good?"
Joe Logic mixed Pink's "Get the Party Started" with the theme from Futurama.
It works so well that I, never having heard the Pink song, didn't realize
that he'd sped up Pink to twice her original tempo. I downloaded her version,
and it drags like crazy--clearly not the sound of someone who would inspire
anyone to get a party started. Download the bootleg instead.
"I Believe in Killing Time"
Go Home Productions makes great bootlegs, though they don't keep them
online very long. (They do re-post old files on request.) This one is
Cher's "Believe" mixed with Echo and the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon."
The result is nothing short of miraculous, as I swore I never wanted to
hear "Believe" ever again, ever. Ever. --Francis Heaney