Talking about Girl Talk, The New York Times feels it’s necessary to explain that hip-hop uses sample loops, but then throws down At times the album sounds like a cleverly programmed K-tel compilation. Aren’t more readers familiar with how rap works than the TV compilation album parent company?
Girl Talk is already planning his final show: a 2012 Mayan ruins party to last 24 hours. “It’s the day when solids become liquids and liquids become plasmas,” he says, and I have no idea what that means. —Rosecrans Baldwin, Aug. 14, 2008
Ever since I saw The Five Obstructions a couple years ago, I’ve been a fan of Jørgen Leth’s short film The Perfect Human. Perhaps more than a fan. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched it, maybe a dozen. Not that there’s much story: A man wearing a tuxedo gets dressed and undressed, shaves and dances, eats a meal of salmon, and mourns the woman who left him. That’s it. But it’s perfect. Which is the point of Lars von Trier’s Five Obstructionsthat Leth’s film is too good, too inhuman, and it needs bruising up. Von Trier challenges Leth in a sort of Scandinavian sadistic joust to remake it five times, each time according a new set of rules. Here’s the trailer in case you haven’t seen it:
I love small perfect thingseggs, lemons, shopping malls, handguns. Brenda Dickson and Beaver. The strip of road from the seafood restaurant in Manarola, Italy, to the hotel on top of the hill. And good short films. Here are six in case your casual Friday includes some leisure time for cinema.
The Perfect Human, directed by Jørgen Leth
See the man face the camera. See the woman brush her hair. See how delicious that boiled salmon looks.
Draftee Daffy, directed by Bob Clampett
Nazis and the draft as interpreted by Looney Tunes.
Office culture doesn’t differ much country to country. People send each other videos, and we watch those videos when we think no one’s looking. In France, the videos are sometimes a bit steamier than you’d expect from Jane in accounting, but more often they’re cute rather than hot. Here for your Friday diversion are the videos currently making the rounds of one office on the Champs-Élysées in Paris:
24 in Paris
Eye of the Kangaroo
Food Court Musical
Who Needs a Movie?
No Idea About this One
Absolutely Not Safe for Work Unless You Work in France
Looking back on advertising, it is easier to unearth the hidden messages marketers embed in otherwise clear and plain copywriting. For example, look at what they are really saying in these old cigarette ads.
You too can be Queen Elizabeth on the couch, a cuban plantation owner, a lazy furniture mover, or two people rocking themselves to a slow, cancerous death.
This woman is not a woman. She may look like one, a beautiful one, long and cool, but in fact, she is a cigarette. You want to smoke her, admit it.
The man thinks, this man here will share his cigarettes with me. His wife seems to find me attractive. I hope my wife doesn’t come down the stairs and find us. Oops!
This man thinks, darn, I missed the bus. Hey, that billboard’s talking to me. Look, that guy’s going to sleep with the singing lady. Go get her, guy. Oh, he’s just having a smoke. Wait, that look he is giving me… maybe he is going to screw her, after all. Lucky.
Girls, prepare yourselves for a life of enslavement. Boys, you know what to do.
French people get the Eiffel Tower. We get cigarettes.
Weirdoes are actually the conformists, seeing how they conform to weirdness. But not the Camel man.
If an opera singer can smoke, so can you.
If an actress with ethics can smoke, so can you.
If I smoke, I too can look young and attractive, and sound like Estelle Getty.
In high school, I spent a lot of time in the AV department. It was where the geeks, gays, weirdoes, and Goths hung outplus the theater types, straight-edgers, pot-smoking jocks, Kids-era ravers, and a few normalsall because a librarian named Magoo let us sit at her desk, store our books in spare drawers, and make out in the back room in exchange for doing her job for her: delivering TVs and VCRs to classrooms when called upon.
Perhaps every high school has a crowd of kids who’d like to wear berets. For us, opera and jazz were cool. The Rocky Horror Picture Show was cool. Musical theater was cool, even Rent, at least until all the rest of the school started to go see Rent, and then it absolutely wasn’t cool. Where Saturday Night Live was cool, Monty Python was cool, Weird Al and Eddie Murphy were cool; pretty much any group or performer who combined music and comedy (early Barenaked Ladies, early Adam Sandler) and could be swapped around on cassette was appreciated.
Thus, my crowd was the crowd whoif it had been available at the timewould have recorded every minute of Flight of the Conchords on VHS, written up the scripts at three in the morning, photocopied and bound them, and then memorized them between class. The kids these days have the internet to do all of that, and so do we.
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For those who haven’t seen it, Flight of the Conchords is a show on HBO about two guys from New Zealand trying to make it as a band in New York. Frequently, they burst into song, and the show becomes a music video for a few minutes. If you don’t like the following clip, you won’t like the rest, either.
Sometimes, it’s about the music. Often songs are catchy enough that I’ll hum them to my wife, and then on the subway to tourists, and then to my co-workers who ask me to please shut up.
And sometimes, it’s about the comedy. For example, when Bret one day is feeling down and Jemaine tries to cheer him up with compliments.
Or perhaps it is a girl who needs a compliment:
But most of the time it’s about culture, about two guys from New Zealand being mistaken for Brits, or, less frequently, Australians, as they encounter America. Before they had their HBO show, Flight of the Conchords visited Austin and made a documentary for New Zealand TV about South by Southwest, A Texan Odyssey.
They also claim, during an HBO special, to have invented hip-hop. I believe them.
Finally, my top top favorite, since I live in France: Jemaine and Bret try to woo two women at a coffee shop by becoming French, or at least their version of it. Oddly, the scene’s shot in the actual coffee shop that was across the street from our old apartment in Brooklyn. I’ve shown this clip to several French people here in Paris, and only two thought it was funny.
You’ve heard about dances sweeping a city. Well, Paris, she’s full of teenagers with gelled spiky mullets and tight jeans, throwing down like it’s West Side Story cast by American Apparel executives and choreographed by Kanye West on ecstasy. We’re about two months away from Gwen Stefani’s next album featuring these guys:
But it’s no joke: Boys really do throw down on the Paris streets. I’ve had several sightings around town of teenage kids, the kind who seem intimidating and dangerous when they’re bearing down the sidewalk at me, suddenly explode into dance with no soundtrack or cue, the city their rave, the streets their disco.
Two weeks ago, my wife and I wandered by accident into the techno parade in Place de la Bastille. There were a lot of dodgy guys, age 40 or so, who wanted to sell me something, or possibly steal me something. Otherwise the crowd was hundreds, thousands of young people. They’d climbed up the monument, and were hauling friends over the barrier fences by their shirts. And they danced everywhere. This same stupid dance that has no soul to it, just arm trickery and planted feet, I thought, like that kid who can flip a coin back and forth across his knuckles. But I only lasted 10 minutes, and they stayed all night drinking beer and twirling glowsticks, an interminable part of whatever was coming unstoppably next. Why Sarkozy hasn’t grown a mullet yet is probably a style regulation, seeing how Techtonik is exactly what he wants to see more of in France: home-grown innovations the world’s never seen before, from private development to a public embrace.
My father visited last weekend. Saturday evening, on our way out to dinner, we passed a record store mobbed with kids. They were waiting outside for something, and while they waited, they danced. There wasn’t even any music. More kept arriving. They’d put down their backpacks, check their hair in the shop window, then start doing that snaky thing with their arms. Another block, we saw kids on the steps of a post office dancing in place, seemingly unaware that there were a hundred of their comrades around the corner. The music came from a cell phone perched atop a mailbox. I counted about a dozen of them: skinny kids and fat kids, blacks and whites, mostly boys but also two girls. It was twilight on a Saturday. The neighborhood was quiet except for this one tinny beat. No on talked, the kids just danced. And for as little as they moved, the tails on their mullets were already sweaty.
No U.S. Open coverage was complete without pointing fans toward YouTube, where up-and-coming Federer replacement Novak Djokovic was caught impersonating his peers in the locker room. With good reason: There was nothing else to talk about. Sports with levity, now there’s a story.
Djokovic’s good, but only because people expect tennis players to be thick and haughty, not wry. That’s why Robin Williams is invited to celebrity tournaments. But Roddick’s been doing this for years and deserves his due.
I think I prefer my funny people funny, and my people who deserve their chains yanked grinning and bearing it and wondering whether all press is good press is really true. Witness this old footage of innocent Beckham and pixie Spice in the hot seat with Ali G. Insults that would normally deserve a crack in the face get squirms.
Some insults sportif do get cracked back, deservedly. When I watched this video the other morning of one College Humor employee pranking another, it ruined my day until lunch. If you haven’t heard it yet, the story goes that Friend A embarrasses Friend B by humiliating him andeven moresohis girlfriend on Yankee Stadium’s JumboTron and later in front of millions of internet boobs like you and me. Friend A deadpanned in an interview elsewhere that he now feels kinda bad about that. Generous of him.
My office in Paris is on the Champs-Elysées. Recently the streets were full of Scots in kilts wearing wraparound sunglasses, taking in the sights. Turns out the lads were in town to wipe France in football, which everyone knew about except me. Go figure. I’m still learning about football, at least about its culture of zealots. Three weeks ago my wife and I caught a French national league game in the same stadium where Scotland took its win, and it was exactly like this:
Half the time it’s a Nazi youth rally, the rest of the time you grimace and grind your teeth and smoke. And alcohol’s banned, because otherwise people would kill each other. No joke. Turns out, though, soccer has its lighter moments too.
Finally, there’s rugby, the other big sport in France, a game of complex rules and points but with the simple idea that it’s OK to thumb another guy’s fanny. The New Zealand team is well known for intimidating its opponents at the beginning of a match with a Maori dance. I’ve been thinking of starting this around the office. Before we pitch a client, we all stand in front of the conference table and chant arcane, mysterious phrases like interface synergy and user-generated content, and then we boil the project managers and eat them.
My wife loves to dance and so do I, but Paris, where we live right now, isn’t much of a dancing town, especially if you like R&B. Paris is a techno city. Occasionally a bar or club will have a hip-hop night, but mostly hip-hop is relegated, I’m told, to tough-guy bars in the suburbs or the black music channel (its real name) on TV.
Hip-hop in Paris is more for 18-to-21-year-olds, a co-worker told me recently. Techno is adult music.
This was the guy I’d been pointed to at work for tips on bars and clubs. It was last Friday, and my wife badly wanted to go out that evening. We stayed in instead, drank a lot of wine with a friend, listened to the type of records no one plays in a city full of adult music, and ended staying up late searching for the latest dance crazes on YouTube.
My favorite is the Aunt Jackie. I don’t know how much of a dance is involved in performing a handclap and then knocking your knees together, but the song is catchy.
More fun than the official dance videos are fan home movies, doing their own thing.
Aunt Jackie follows on the footsteps of last year’s Chicken Noodle Soup, a milestone in my family. My father-in-law loves Chicken Noodle Soup. He sings the chorus incessantly if someone brings it up. If you’re picturing a skinny bearded white southern doctor gunning his Chevy around North Carolina back roads while bobbing his head and repeating chicken noodle soup under his breath, when he’s by himself, you’ve got it about right.
I used to be a big drum and bass aficionado. This was during college, when people still bought CDs, and suckers like me bought imports for 30 dollars because certain musical strains, like jungle, had yet to reach these shores. There were also dances to import; some that I brought back from clubs in Cape Town, where I’d been studying, to rural Maine barn parties didn’t quite translate, even if they did look straight out of The Breakfast Club.
The music you hear in Chicago when people are stepping (granted, judging only by the soundtrack on this video) sounds a little like drum and bass to me. My Molly Ringwald Juke probably wouldn’t stand up in a contest, but I could probably be coaxed into trying, with enough champagne.
By the way, toe wop? Toe wop. Right here is what you call queen of the top-notch toe wop, and you would not want to battle this woman down from her mantle.
My wife, who used to work for a big dance company and knows about these sorts of things, thinks I can take all this and chuck it when you submit to the majesty, the undeniable-mega-force of anything starring Lil’ Britney. And she’s right. Lil’ Britney is about the best thing going. You start with Lipgloss
then you graduate to Umbrella.
MTV is all over this, of course, for inculcation and big bucks. Dances From Tha Hood teaches, notarizes, and edifies, though I have yet to see it pop up on MTV Europe. Perhaps my wife and I will just hit the clubs one night and I’ll be adult enough to stick to what I know.
As mentioned in last week’s features, Sacrifice and the first Letter From Paris, TMN chiefs Andrew Womack and Rosecrans Baldwin are currently traveling away from New York to their other loves, Austin and Paris, respectively.
As an exercise in sharing their new homes with each othercities that the other one has never visited before, not even once, and only has vague ideas aboutBaldwin and Womack each picked several songs they find reflective of their new towns, clichés and all. Below are why they picked them, and then each one’s responses to the other’s songs, picturing faraway places through sound.
(The Morning News, it should be noted, will continue to keep its headquarters, operations, and heart in New York, as will Womack and Baldwin, probably forever.)
Andrew on the songs he chose: I spent 25 years trying to get the hell out of Texas, and it took seven in New York before I yearned to go back. It’s this longing that’s probably to blame for my more recent appreciation of (gasp) country music, which was just bound to happen and I’m as surprised as you about that. I’m immensely proud of the state’s musical history, and the number of exciting Texan artists whose work has provided the soundtrack to all your favorite car commercials.
Rosecrans on the songs he chose: I was tempted to go with classics. The welcome song I heard when I arrived in Paris three weeks ago, in the airport near the taxi stand, was an old Yves Montand sawhorse, but only a few hours later, at a cafe near our apartment, they were playing a reggae cover of Radiohead as we walked in.
Given the blanket coverage around town of both Paris kitsch and Radio Nova, both seem like classics, so instead I went with songs that have played roles in trips I’ve taken to France in the last couple years, either because I discovered them there, or they were on the radio on the time, or they somehow just ended up in my iPod in time for the flight. But I did include a Serge Gainsbourg song, because it feels required, and anyway it’s a cover that’s very good for dancing.
The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Slip Inside This House
Rosecrans: Having never been there, I picture Austin as a large university town like Chapel Hill or Ann Arbor but dryer, with zany pockets, and dot-com zillionaires, with more tacos, more hippies, but cowboy hippies, hippies that customize Dells with Mac stickers, hippies in punk pants, hippies who grind on the side, hippies who hate hippies. Do Austin people have bonfires? I’m listening to this song and seeing bonfires, a lot of bandannaswhich could be as much circa 2006 as 1976.
Andrew: This song has me smiling and bouncing my head. It’s in French, toowhich means I don’t understand a word of it. Listening to it transports me into the future, to the first time I’ll try and order something at a Parisian boulangerie. There I am, grinning and nodding, comprehending nothing around me, eventually running out amidst a hail of thrown croissants.
Rosecrans: Whole Foods started in Austin, right? But I bet it’s a better Whole Foods, a friendlier Whole Foods. I bet they have greeters, like in Wal-Mart. I bet this song plays from a speaker near the greeters’ podiums, and people refer to Willie as Willie and Merle as Merle, and there’s always someone in the store who went to Merlefest the year it started.
Andrew: Ah! My favorite song from one of my favorite, unexpected albums in the past couple of years. This piece is such a favorite, in fact, I didn’t even know its name, which is how good and evocative that album (Solo Piano) isthe songs are a grand movement, I’ve never thought to parse them. Right now I’m burning CDs for my drive to Austin, and I added Gonzales to the list just now.
Christopher Cross, The Best That You Can Do (Arthur’s Theme)
Rosecrans: I have no idea why this is an Austin song, I thought it was a New York song, obviously it’s about our leaving for the moment. (Actually, Cross is from Austin, which I know is weird; more importantly, though, I appreciate the sentiment. AW) I love this song, I loved this movie; as a kid I had a strange fantasy of wanting to be a butler, which I associate with Dudley Moore. I’m sincerely really glad you’ve brought this song back into my life. That sax solo made my morning, I’m smiling as I write this.
Gonzales, Feist, and Dani, Boomerang 2005 (Comme Un Boomerang)
Andrew: We used to know a Russian kid who’d learned English from the skaters at the Astor Place cube. Rote repetition (mixed with kick-flips, one would imagine) had taught him to address everyone as dude, and to apply approval with varying generosity of the word pimp (seriously pimped out, pimp-ass shit, etc.). This song’s nonsensical repetition reminds me of those conversations. Not only are the lyrics inconsequential, but the central rap is totally pimped-out, dude.
And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Mistakes and Regrets
Rosecrans: This is the side of Austin I’m not so sure about visiting. The random drug violence, the Robert Stone side, the cartoon punks. I miss going to shows and going nuts. This song takes me back to when I first moved to New York. I am feeling inspired. Pause. I just threw a chair through the cafe window and knocked over an old man going by on his bicycle, maiming the little boy sitting on the back in gray flannel shorts, now I am eating his baguette.
Andrew: Peter, Bjorn & John are ridiculously popular I know, and I love them as well, but do you ever think their name sounds kind of like a gay leather mag from the late ’60s? Sort of like: See the tight situation Peter, Bjorn, and John find themselves in this month? No? Well surely you can agree that as with sauces and wines, there’s no proof the French invented pornography, but they certainly perfected it.
Andrew: This is totally new to me and I totally love it. Whoever this guy is, whatever he’s doing right now is way cooler than anything I’m even considering. Is it because he’s in Paris? Well, it sure doesn’t hurt.
Rosecrans Baldwin’s father played drums in The Children of Scorn, his uncle is a preeminent music scholar, and his mother’s cousin founded Island Records; his top musical achievement was to conduct the concert band in high school. His stories have elsewhere appeared in The New York Times, New York, The Nation, and on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Have a book or album for him to review?
Departure Journal, Volume One; Our Quarterly Review; A Crush Admitted; Mood Music for the Old-Fashioned Set; Video Digest: January 26, 2007; The One Song That Defines Life, for a Week; Music Inspires Memories; Our Favorite Tracks of 2006; Humbug
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