Recent Cultural Happenings will be a semi regular series collecting recent findings in the cultural realm that I’ve experienced, mixed with reappraisals or new vantage points of stuff I’ve always known.
As the dog days of summer peter out in a desperate wheeze, I hadn’t realized that Tuesday’s hellacious cloud outpouring would not only bring about a respite to the constant 90 degree humidity, but also sort of symbolically point me in the direction of what I’d been discovering in the past few weeks. Weathermen would characterize the violence of such a storm as the atmosphere releasing all the pressure from the humidity in the air, but us poets know that something altogether different has been in the cards. Here is the environment speaking to the the dying of our season and the eventual welcomeness of autumn artifacts. If the fall is the most welcoming of all the Chicago seasons* then I’d understand why summer clouds would cry so; it won’t be able to make this physical an impression on us until we trade our sweaty brows for shivered fingers and visually apparent breath in November.
I’d been nudged in this direction when the Red Aunts compilation Come Up For a Closer Look was purchased on a whim months ago when I thought the cover indicated tunes we’d find interesting. I haven’t found that impression to be off base; the nineties riot grrrl aesthetic matches the fearlessness of the tracks inside, each brimming with their own distinct energy. They range from the Ramones-esque swiftness of the pop driven ‘The Things You See, The Things You Don’t’, to 90’s underground DIY sensibility of the shout and response ‘Alright’. The band supposedly learned as it went, but the lack of chronological order argues directly against this; their joyous rancor as polished (a relative term here) on tracks from their debut album (1993’s Drag) as the ones culled from their 1998 Epitaph swan song Ghetto Blaster. It’s the opening track, ‘I’m Crying’ from Ghetto Blaster that so enraptured me this week; it’s the longest track on the comp at almost four minutes (3:55), and every bit of it is a slide guitar feedback frenzy. The title implies emotional catharsis, and perhaps that’s what’s had after this emotional a release, but the crying bit could be as much the eyes draining amid a tantrum fit as they are reaching a better state. The guitars intermingle and seem to agree on this point as they leave the amps a smoking rubble pile at the songs close. Regardless where the tears come from, it gets constant play in my ears, a scant 4 inches or so from my (mostly) tear free orbs.
Celestial shenanigans seemed assuredly at play when my next discovery—and this one comes with a bit of embarrassment lads—leapt forth with a(nother) rocker lamenting crying your eyes out when I finally tracked down a Cynics record (their supposed masterpiece, 1989’s Rock ’n’ Roll). I say ‘embarrassed’ as this seems the type of stuff I should have cut my teeth on years ago but am only finally getting to it now. Oh well, why cry about it when instead we can just be happy I’ve finally heard Michael K’s screeching wail and Gregg Kostelich’s garage riff boogie. I’d come to the conclusion that they are every bit what the cool kids in Calgary promised by the time track seven exploded at me. Appropriately titled, ‘Cry, Cry, Cry’ finds the Cynics moving around like the Stooges on Raw Power. Iggy is who I first remember doing the ‘Ugh’ as a genuine lyric line somewhere in their earlier 1969 self titled album (he does it enough that it’s irrelevant to point it out from just one track), a trait he carries through their next two albums. Michael K seems to get more of a kick out of it— remember he’s coming after both Iggy and Eric Carmen’s Iggy vocal-rip ‘Ugh’ on the Raspberries ‘Ecstasy’ single from 1973 [he’d almost managed the trick on the previous single, ‘I’m a Rocker’ earlier in the year]). For a song promising a floodgate they seem to be having a hell of a time otherwise. And for the record I’m right there with them, hitting repeat as I avoid the tissues completely, the guitar buzz sawing away in one of the most infectious riffs I’ve ever heard. (Our chief major rock event recently was seeing La Luz sashay into the neighborhood and do a wild surf-rock set at the Empty Bottle on Saturday the 5th. We loved it, save a few trolls who mistook the beach vibes for Headbangers Ball.)
This all culminated with a Sunday matinee of Alex Ross Perry’s new flick, the thrilling psychological horror film, Queen of Earth. Perry’s 2014 Listen Up Philip remains my favorite American made film from that year, and this one is already fast tracked the poll position for this countries 2015 output. It was clear to me by now that the stars and the heavens were aligning when the film opened to Elisabeth Moss’ tearful face in extreme close up. The film that follows, which masquerades as a week in the descent of a young women bottoming out in painful depression while on refuge in a friend’s family summer home, actually shows a year in and out of flash back as we see characterizations wash away (in tears) as new vantage points are shown with shoes on other feet. The unknowing, unsympathetic nature of those living in tranquil happiness towards another amidst a personal hell is hinting at, as are a litany of other tantalizing threads. Some are left fraying in the summer breeze as a mere sketch, others a more explored finished product. The whole is both a throwback (the Seventies Kodak photography along with the design of the titles will leave an attentive audience humming; same for the atmospheric soundtrack that mixes amplified sound effects with a xylophone drenched orchestra) and a declarative new work; Alex Ross Perry has managed more in 2 years than we’ve gotten from Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach and Woody Allen (et al) in the last 20. (my last film viewings were a couple of sci-fi revisits devoid of tears completely; 1980’s mental The Visitor [which set out to be an Exorcist rip-off but didn’t make me think of that film once] and Elio Petri’s wonderfully mod The 10th Victim from 1965. It’s a little bit cheeky by the end, but by then you should have already been won over by its innumerable charms)
Perhaps the only break from all this sobbing was last weeks revisit of John Waters’ gross out classic Pink Flamingos, where virtually no one cries (save us when a poor chicken is needlessly slaughtered in the first reel) and we’re all better for it. There’s all the melodrama of a teenage wet dream in the Waters aesthetic but none of the emotional side affects. Rather than cry, grown up teenage wannabe Divine seeks bloodletting revenge and ultra camp sauntering victory laps. To the victors go the spoils, and here a tiny little dog out for a walk is there to s(p)oil on cue in the vicinity of Her Highness, so that she can rightfully claim the title of ‘Filthiest Person Alive’. The film had already resolved the dispute on/for the throne, but Waters and Co. make sure we’re left without any doubts in the films memorable epilogue. (For me, the inclusion of Frankie Lymon’s ‘I’m Not A Juvenile Delinquent’ over Divine’s stealing-a-steak montage is a highlight, as I feel Lymon’s vocal delivery to be as good as it gets in the pop form. Plus, the Robins’ ‘Riot in Cell Block #9’ use tricked us into thinking the gunshots at the songs opening passage where actually Divine’s cohorts opening fire on the recently arriving cops. It plays that way, and when the cops are eventually ambushed, murdered and gobbled up by the partygoers we’ve witnessed one of American Seventies cinemas truly transgressive and pro-revolutionary moments.)
*this seems the case if for no other reason then one can throw on their Harrington and sip a Porter, finally relieved from the unsympathetic nature the Summer months have on the admirers of heavy English beer(s).