Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Things That Have Either Pissed Me Off or Troubled Me Over the Course Of Today

Lightening round. Let's start at the beginning. Fuck it, let's start with some batting practice.

-The first website I visited today was Pitchfork Media, where I read possibly one of the most bloodboiling sentences in the history of music criticism. Whilst lauding Ellie Friedberger's Last Summer as one of the best albums of 2011, someone by the name of Bob Mittchum secreted this flabbergasting bit of counter-factual, recent music history:

Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger aren't twins, but in the context of the Fiery Furnaces, it's not always easy to tell their sensibilities apart. This year offered a litmus test of which sibling is responsible for what, as Matthew released a series of hard-to-bear solo-instrument experiments while Eleanor released this pop gem-- a reminder of the Furnaces' broad appeal before their grandma scared almost everyone off.

Yeah, 2005's Rehearsing My Choir really "scared almost everyone off." Is this guy kidding? Pitchfork scored the next three Fiery Furnaces albums in the mid-to-upper 7s; I've seen Fiery Furnaces play at DC's spacious 9:30 club and at the same stage at Bonnaroo where MGMT and Vampire Weekend performed. Both shows were, shockingly, post-2005! No one was "scared off" by a little-heard experimental dalliance that represents a whopping 1/9th of the Furnace's official discography. Yes, it's true that the Blueberry Boat is the only Furnaces album to score over a 9 on Pitchfork--but it's also true that Blueberry Boat is, in most people's minds an order of magnitude better than every other Fiery Furnaces album. And it's also true that the Furnaces are something of a cult item, and that Rehearsing My Choir didn't really change any of their fans' perceptions of them.

So what could possess this guy to conclude that the Furnaces' career was derailed by Rehearsing My Choir? I don't think Mittchum is being lazy here. Neither do I think that he actually believes what he's writing. I think he's a music critic, and that music critics and critics in general feel it's their privalage and their duty to impose a sort of over-arching theory of everything upon the public consciousness (example: Nirvana killed hair metal)--and I also think that some and in some respect all of these theories are total bullshit (example: Nirvana killed hair metal!). I also believe that writers who believe it's their duty shoehorn huge volumes of tangentially-related information into a coherent, believable narrative are also prone to shoehorning small volumes of tangentially-related information into a coherent, believable narrative. The story of a single band is just as vulnerable to a critic's errant mythologizing as the story of entire genres or entire historical periods.

That's what's happening here. A writer at the most influential music outfit on earth just decided that the Fiery Furnaces were a plucky indie pop outfit who threw it all away on a career-scarring experimental misstep of Metal Machine Music-like significance (see what I did there?). And Lo, his word became flesh. This is why people hate Pitchfork, and why I recently got into a Twitter spat with a grown adult (who writes movie review for The Washington Times, I should add) who actually, unironically believed that Pitchfork is responsible for the proliferation of Dubstep. Pitchfork views itself as the kind of publication that's entitled to narrativize the whole of musical culture in real time, and we are too timid or brainwashed or uninformed to question them. The result: terrible, counter-factual music criticism cropping up in the most widely-read Pitchfork feature of the year.

-Has anyone noticed that HBO Go is the worst-designed and glitchiest media player possibly ever? It crashes, it pauses mysteriously, it flashes a "Press ESC to exit full-screen mode" notice whenever you're in full-screen mode that no human mortal can remove, at least on my girlfriend's computer. There's no "play next episode" feature. Sometimes the color gradient changes, such that a richly chromatic flash-back to late-60 Newark in the "The Sopranos" looks like the fly-worn print of a mid-70s B-movie. Sometimes the audio is out of sync. Sometimes I feel vaguely cheated, like HBO knew that people would pay like anything for the right to watch every hour of every original program ever aired on HBO (other than "The Larry Sanders Show") and that they held the exclusive right to offer such a service, and therefore decided that they could afford to cut back on the quality of their product without incurring any fiduciary consequences. And then I'm like wait a second, I don't even pay for HBO Go. Why does it's shittiness rankle me so much? Why?

-This. I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard that Jaromir Jagr had been traded to the Capitals. I was in like 8th grade at the time, and I was listening to Sportstalk 980 on the Bose in my house's living room, and Al Kokin or someone was like "we have breaking news, and get ready cuz you're not gonna believe this. The Washington Capitals have traded for Jaromir Fucking Jagr. You know, the guy who barbecues us in the playoffs every year? Oh, and guess who we traded for him THAT'S RIGHT CHRIS BEECH, WHO YOU HAVE NEVER EVEN HEARD OF. The Pens are moving to Nashville next year after all! Stanley Cup, baby. Might as well tell the engraver to start practicing his Konawalchuks."

OK so that's not what Al Kokin really said. The point is that the Jagr trade was supposed to usher in a hockey renaissance in DC. Instead, it commenced a five-year nightmare, much of which I witnessed in person, since by like 2004 the cost of an upper-level ticket at the MCI Center was like, $15. I have a Jagr jersey in my closet at home, and I'm not sure why I haven't burned it yet. I think it I wore it to a Caps game I'd get gently ribbed, if not outright jeered at by my section-mates.

-A few minutes ago, a Talent Acquisition Opportunities Manager or whatever the hell the big investment banks call their human resource drones called my girlfriend to set up an interview. Thanks to the world being on the brink of financial catastrophe, she recently lost her job at another, different big investment bank and is now seeking further employment. Did Friday work for her? Or better still, could she meet a Talent Acquisition Opportunities Director with regards to this exciting and lucrative career opportunity?

She could not. At least not on Monday--the girlfriend's grandmother is very ill, and only has about a week left to live. The girlfriend will be in Norfolk, Virginia on Monday. Monday will not work because of, as she put it, "a death in the family."

I could almost hear the TAOM's lips bunch into a sympathetic furrow, not because lip-bunching has a distinct or even detectable aural signature, but because, for the sake of my own faith in humanity, I just have to believe that every human being is subject to some sort of completely visceral, completely human reaction upon the first-hand news that another human being has departed this earth. What I didn't hear (and you can hear like every word of every conversation held on a Blackberry so long as you're within like 10 feet of the thing) was an "I'm sorry to hear that." For this TAOM, death is no different from traffic or a delayed flight or any other uncontrollable circumstance that could prevent a potential target from attending a face-to-face. I just have to believe that this guy had some reaction to the news of "a death in the family"--but all I can do is believe, since the fellow offered no evidence of any reaction whatsoever.

Investment banks are like cathedrals. Their headquarters are spires of hope and progress that reach skywards, towards the heavens, and when I look up at the soft granite pediment of Credit Suisse's clocktower or at the glacial, sloping peak of Bank of America's midtown offices, I'm reminded that the Kingdom of God really is within me, and that prosperity and comfort and the salvation it offers are attainable so long as I can find it within myself to achieve them. But cathedrals are dehumanizing. They make you feel small and powerless, which is why I prefer the cramped and unadorned quarters of the Joseph Caro Synagogue in Tzfat to the loftiest and most spectacular Gothic masterpiece. That phone call, and that lack of an "I'm sorry," that lack of any discernible reaction to the news of a potential employee's family member's death--it's a reminder that the higher the spires loom, the smaller we all are in comparison.

Today's song: a fairly normal-sounding Fiery Furnaces song from 2007.

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