(no subject)

truth:
I am successful but I am bluffing my way through a number of projects, big and small.
My family is hopelessly scattered across the globe and that depresses the hell out of me.
My love life is a mess and about to self-combust.
I've disappeared up my own asshole. Smarmy and inauthentic and all false bravado and bad jokes.
I am tired and afraid but I'm trying to do better.
Trying to bring it                                                                             back.  

WOFL


Wolf on the floor laughing.


I'm about 60% sure a woman was 
howling like a wolf outside my house 
in the early hours of this morning.

This is far more likely than a real wolf.

60% strange woman, 38% my mind playing tricks, 
2% a real wolf. Banshee? 
WOMHH: Wolf outside my house, howling

WOFL: tasty breakfast snack.

Wolfle: German wolf waffle. Werewaffle.
Luftwaffle. Auschwolf. Wolf War II.

That would be the best movie ever.

Maybe this morning was where 
it all kicked off, air raid sirens howling.
Waffle in schlep’s clothing. 

Now fireworks, or explosions.

Build a bunker. Build-A-Bear 
at the same time to keep your mind 
off the calamity.

I might join forces with the wolves.

You can’t lose. 
I need bigger teeth.
Debatable. 

OK, I need wolfier teeth. Fangs for the music.

withoutrings

Buenos Aires was blurring into dawn. George had been walking for an hour

on the sweaty black cobblestones

of the city waiting for night's end. Traffic crashed past him. He covered his mouth

and nose with his hand as five old buses

came tilting around the corner of the street and halted one behind the other,

belching soot. Passengers streamed

on board like insects into lighted boxes and the experiment roared off down the street.

Pulling his body after him

like a soggy mattress George trudged on uphill. Cafe Martinez was crowded.

He found a corner table

and was writing a postcard to his mother:

Die Angst offenbart das Nichts

There are many Germans in

Buenos Aires they are all

cigarette girls the weather

is lov--



when he felt a sharp tap on his boot propped against the chair opposite.

Mind if I join you?

The yellowbeard had already taken hold of the chair. George moved his boot.

Pretty busy in here today,

said the yellowbeard turning to signal a waiter--Por favor hombre!

George went back to his postcard.

Sending postcards to your girlfriends? In the midst of his yellow beard

was a pink mouth small as a nipple. No.

You sound American am I right? You from the States?

No.

The waiter arrived with bread and jam to which the yellowbeard bent himself.

You here for the conference? No.

Big conference this weekend at the university. Philosophy. Skepticism.

Ancient or modern? George

could not resist asking. Well now, said the yellowbeard looking up,

there's some ancient people here

and some modern people here. Flew me in from Irvine. My talk's at three.


What's your topic? said George

trying not to stare at the nipple. Emotionlessness. The nipple puckered.

That is to say, what the ancients called

ataraxia. Absence of disturbance
, said George. Precisely. You know ancient Greek?

No but I have read the skeptics. So you

teach at Irvine. That's in California? Yes southern California--actually I've got

a grant next year to do research at MIT.


George watched a small red tongue clean jam off the nipple. I want to study the erotics

of doubt. Why?
 George asked.

The yellowbeard was pushing back his chair--As a precondition--and saluting

the waiters across the room--

of the proper search for truth. Provided you can renounce--he stood--that

rather fundamental human trait
--

he raised both arms as if to alert a ship at sea--the desire to know. He sat.

I think I can, said George.

Pardon? Nothing. A passing waiter slapped the bill down onto a small metal

spike on the table.

Traffic was crashing past outside. Dawn had faded. The gas-white winter sky

came down like a gag on Buenos Aires.

Would you care to come and hear my talk? We could share a cab.

May I bring my camera?

A new home.

If anyone wonders where the hell I've been,
I've been keeping a (more public) blog over at http://www.jorgefarah.com.
I would love it if you guys checked it out. 
It's a little flashier than this one, a little more opinion-column-oriented.
In addition to writing new entries, I'm moving some of my old favorites from this blog over to that one.

For a while I flirted with the notion of updating both blogs simultaneously, but it's kind of a pain in the ass.
This LJ has been my home for a good 7 years. It wouldn't feel right to stop updating it.
So I've decided to keep this blog for more intensely personal entries. Stuff I wouldn't want my mom reading.
ie expect a lot of very emo updates here. And maybe some sex stories. 'CAUSE I HAVE SO MANY OF THOSE.

Raiders of the Lost Dignity (no, really, this is a clever title)

Steven Spielberg took the stage at the San Diego Comic-Con the other day, for the first time ever, and delivered the soul-crushing news that a new "Jurassic Park" movie is in the works. Because the world really needs another installment in the fascinating series of movies about dinosaurs running around stomping on shit.

 Seriously, more of this shit.

I mean, just think of all the possibilities. Like, dinosaurs eat people! And, people flee in terror! Really, the sky's the limit.


You know, I remember a time when Spielberg’s name was almost synonymous with cinema; a far-reaching world of imagination and endless possibility, a quixotic and inspiring beacon of childlike wonder in a medium populated with cynics catering to audiences hopelessly enamored with the grim & gritty.

I'm of exactly the right age to have grown up at a time when Spielberg had already established himself firmly in the pop culture landscape as a dreamweaver, and right before his artistic decline. The first Spielberg movie I saw in the theater was "Hook". I was five years old at the time and I remember being blown away by what I was seeing. I came upon some of his other movies through video rentals, not because I sought them out, but because... well, they were the movies you would rent back then. "ET" marked me, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" thrilled me, "Jaws" terrified me, and I had absolutely no idea they were made by the same person. To me, they were just magic. When you're a kid, everything seems possible, and Spielberg’s work tapped into that and somehow augmented it.

I guess years go on and every artist is bound to start running dry. Gradually, Spielberg’s work started seeming less magic and more hokey, contrived, boring. And who could possibly hold it against him? That run of movies from "Jaws" 'til maybe "Saving Private Ryan" (which, mind you, amounts to over 20 fucking years of awesomeness) is pretty amazing and if he had retired after that, he would've gone out a legend. But he didn't.
Oh Steven.

"Hip." The word you're looking for is "hip".
 

What he did instead was stick around and make a number of adequately mediocre features that, although matching the eclectic and scattershot tapestry of the first half of his filmography, fail to connect on the ever-important human level, like his best work did. He re-released some of his old work, making much-derided edits and changes to it several decades after the fact. He licensed. He cross-marketed. He produced en masse, in bulk, all the while sporting a knowing wink at the audience; a "hey, remember this? And hey, didn't we have all kinds of fun back then?".

 

Oh man.
"Boy we... we had some fun times, huh? What say we dust off ol' Brucey and give it another go? Just one more, for old times' sake?

Nowadays-- especially after the catastrophically ill-conceived "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and especially after the recent announcement of a possible fourth "Jurassic Park"-- Spielberg seems like a nostalgic old fogey, desperately clinging to past glories. Out of fashion, out of touch, finger far from the pulse of the moviegoing public but with a built-in fanbase of hopeless optimists.

And I'll be right there at every premiere with them, hoping to recapture that magical wide-eyed amazement that used to be synonymous with the name "Spielberg". Holding on to the hope that maybe we'll stumble upon it one day and be reminded of why we fell in love with cinema and the first place. But we won't. Or we'll think we did, but then it turns out to just be bad gas. Either way. It's gonna shit.

Little Triggers: 22 Elvis Costello Songs That Are Better Than Your Favorite Song

Anybody who knows me even a little bit knows that Elvis Costello is my favorite musician. Like, all-time favorite. His music is the soundtrack to my life, which you'd think would make for a dire and gloomy existence, but I'm a generally happy person. I just really really love his music.

And being such a big Elvis Costello fan, I am mostly bothered by the fact that nobody around me seems to like him. I'll meet a few casual fans who know "Alison" or "Pump it Up", but it's very rare that I ever meet anyone with the same ridiculous degree of fandom. And, living in Argentina where he's mostly known for his contribution to the "Notting Hill" soundtrack (a song whose title will NOT be uttered here), it annoys the crap out of me that nobody really knows what he sounds like.

So I've put together a bit of a starter kit. This is a 19-song "mixtape" (with 3 bonus tracks) that I feel is fairly representative of his body of work;  one of the richest and most eclectic catalogs by any musician ever. Anybody interested in downloading these songs (in lossy mp3 format) can do so by clicking here.  If you're not familiar with this man and his amazing work, or if you only know him as that awkward geek from the "Pump it Up" video, or if you LIKE GOOD MUSIC, please do yourself a favor and download this compilation. You're bound to find something you love.


Without further ado, I give to you... "Little Triggers: A Beginner's Guide to Elvis Costello".

1- "New Lace Sleeves" from 1981's "Trust". This wonderful little song has that stuttering drum line by the awesome Pete Thomas and sharp, biting lyrics about the disappointing realization that your achievements in life add up to nothing but disgruntled pillow talk.

Key lyrics: "The salty lips of the socialite sisters with their / continental fingers that / have never seen working blisters / I know they've got their problems / I wish I was one of them".

2- "Stella Hurt" from 2007's "Momofuku". The guitar line, nothing less than vicious, casts a less-than-sympathetic light on the story of the thirties swing and blues singer Teddy Grace's fall from grace (no pun intended. You know, 'cause "Grace" is her last name). Cacophonous jam at the end that sort of just... stops.

Key lyrics: "Then she saw those soldier boys throw their bonnets in the air / Self-made men would pledge their fortunes / and dream of her, and dream of her".

3- "All the Rage" from 1994's "Brutal Youth". This is an album that's filled with awesome pop gems, and this song is no exception. The "cheerful"-sounding melody does a good job of masking the fact that this is a bitter, hateful breakup song if there ever was one.

Key lyrics: "Alone with your tweezers and your handkerchief / You murder time and truth, love, laughter and belief / So don't try to touch my heart, it's darker than you think / And don't try to read my mind because it's full of disappearing ink"

4- "Shoes Without Heels", outtake from 1986's "King of America". One of the things I like the most about EC is how his (very vast) catalog is littered with hidden treasures. This is one of them. This beautiful little country/folk ballad about the complicated relationships between women and their johns (sort of? Think of The Police's "Roxanne", except for the sucking) was written and recorded for the King of America album, and then relegated to B-side status. That such a beautiful song could be so effortlessly written and essentially kept in a drawer for years is a testament to the extremely prolific type of songwriter EC is.

Key lyrics: "Well, I thought that I was bigger than this town / I thought I'd stand the pace and go the distance / But she picked me and she used me up and then she put me down / And now I'm driven 'til I'm crying or I'm dreaming 'till I drown"

5- "God's Comic" from 1989's "Spike". A portrait of a drunken comical priest shivering in fear at the prospect of meeting his maker in the afterlife. Great little details courtesy of T. Bone Burnett's production-- the xylophone arrangement is awesome, as is the hilariously paranoid-sounding harmonizing in the chorus.

Key lyrics: "He said, before it had really begun / I prefer the one about my son / I've been wading through all this unbelievable junk and / wondering if I should have given the world to the monkeys"

6- "No Action", from 1978's "This Year's Model". The term "punk rock" was applied to Elvis a lot in the early days, even though his music bore very little resemblance to punk bands of the time. If there is ONE album that sort of approximates the "punk" sound, it's This Year's Model. This song, the opening track, encapsulates the neurotic, jealous, borderline-mysoginystic tone of that album. Short, snappy, "punky". Once again I have to comment on Pete Thomas' drumming. Just spectacular.

Key lyrics: "And I think about the way things used to be / Knowing you're with him is driving me crazy / Sometimes I phone you when I know you're not lonely / But I always disconnect it in time".

7- "Episode of Blonde", from 2002's "When I Was Cruel". This is one of two great EC albums marred by production issues. WIWC contains some of Elvis' most clever, dexterious songwriting, but the sound is so unbelievably compressed and unnatural it's literally painful to listen to, so this version of the standout track is a live rendition. A kind of deranged mambo-samba-rock and roll with borderline surreal lyrics that's, at heart, about the one subject Elvis likes writing the most about: girls.

Key lyrics: "I tried to keep a straight face but you know it never pays / He would stare into those eyes and then vacation in her gaze/ She was a cute little ruin that he pulled out of the rubble / Now they're both living in a soft soap bubble".

8- "All This Useless Beauty", from 1996's "All This Useless Beauty". This is probably one of the most divisive records in EC's career, partly because it was the first record after he got back together with his rock band (The Attractions), yet instead of full-on RAWKIN' it was filled with mopey ballads. However, those mopey ballads turned out to be some of the prettiest, most melodic and understated songs he's ever written, and the title track, a song about a woman out of love trapped in an unfulfilling relationship, is a prime example of that. As an aside, I always felt this is the Elvis Costello song most likely to be sung by a Disney character. I mean that as a good thing.

Key lyrics: "She won't practice the looks from the great tragic books / that were later disgraced to fail celluloid / It won't even make sense, but you can bet if she / isn't a sweetheart, a plaything, a pet / The film turns her into an unveiled threat".

9- "Bedlam", from 2004's "The Delivery Man". This blues-rock number is driven by Pete Thomas' propulsive drumming and Davey Faragher's off-center bass line. This is the song Eddie Vedder wishes he could write. A ridiculously clever analogy between modern-day immigration struggles and the story of Mary and Joseph roaming Bethlehem looking for a place to stay (get it? "Bethlehem"... "Bedlam"... heheh). The genius of Steve Nieve and his crazy theremin make this song ten times as demented.

Key lyrics: "I've got this phosphorecent portrait of gentle Jesus meek and mild / I've got this harlot that I'm stuck with carrying another man's child / The solitary star anouncing vacancy burned out as we arrived / They'd throw us back across the border if they knew that we've survived".



10- "I'll Wear it Proudly" 
from 1986's "King of America". I went through a period where I convinced myself this was the most beautiful song ever written. I'm not completely over that period yet. This simple, heartfelt, INTIMATE (yes, that is the word) folky ballad contains some of Elvis' loveliest lyrics. It really is a love song at heart, a rare occurence in a career full of cruel words about ex girlfriends. The moment you realize you've found -the one- who puts the spark back into your excruciatingly dull life, you won't stop singing the chorus to this song.

Key lyrics: "Well I finally found someone to turn me upside down / And nail my feet up where my head should be / If they had a King of Fools, then I could wear that crown / And you can all die laughing because I'll wear it proudly".

11- "No Dancing" from 1977's "My Aim is True". I love the songs in EC's first album. I really do. I think they're extremely clever slices of pop rock. The one big problem? The band. See, this record was made before Elvis had put The Attractions together, and the band that backed him during the recording was a country-rock outfit called Clover. The story goes that Clover would then go on to become Huey Lewis and The News. Yeah, interesting bit of trivia there. But they make these songs sound like cheap Byrds knockoffs. It wouldn't feel right making an Elvis Costello mixtape without including at least one song from this album, though, and I feel this is the one track that actually benefits from the Wings treatment. This angsty song of jealousy and female oppression (that is oppression by females, not of females) is a great little 2-and-a-half-minute pop song that only augmented (get it?) the Buddy Holly comparisons his bespectacled, scrawny appearance generated.

Key lyrics: "He's getting down on his knees / He finds that the girl is not so easy to please / After all these nights with just a paper strip tease / She's caught him like some disease".

12- "My All Time Doll" from 2009's "Secret, Profane & Sugarcane". Elvis is one of the most prolific songwriters well over 30 years into their career and has pretty much been releasing a record a year for a while now. To keep it interesting, these records deviate into different genres and styles-- last year's album was a country/bluegrass experiment. This is one of my favorite songs from that record, a dark, brooding song of jealousy and obsession-- as you can see, not exactly uncommon theme in the work of Costello. The instrumentation in this song-- the double bass, the mandolin, the fiddle, the accordian-- is awesome. Plain awesome. Listen to it and you'll see country/bluegrass songs don't have to be about dead dogs and trucks.

Key lyrics: "Every time I rant and rail, every time I try and fail / Every time I could and wouldn't say that's the end of it / When I stand and turn to leave you cool my brow and tug my sleeve / You're my all-time doll".

13- "Next Time Round" from 1986's "Blood & Chocolate". So 86 was a pretty big year for our boy, having released thegentle folk masterpiece that was King of America. But he wasn't done there. Nope, before the year was over he summoned The Attractions and banged out this beautifully abrasive, punchy post-punk record of angry songs only a thirty-something divorcee could write. Reportedly Thom Yorke's favorite Elvis album, "Blood and Chocolate" yielded some awesome tracks, and this-- the closing song-- is one of my favorites.

Key lyrics: "There's a secondhand emotion on a battered 45 / My tears were never enough to keep that girl alive / Now she seems contrived, will she make the change / the next time 'round?"
14- "Spooky Girlfriend" from 2002's "When I Was Cruel". This is another one of those WIWC songs damaged by the terribly compressed production, so I've included a live version. This song is as sexy as you could possibly imagine a song by a bespectacled middle-aged English geek could be. I always thought Timbaland should've produced this one. It's probably too clever, though.

Key lyrics: "I want to paint you with glitter and with dirt / Picture you with innocence and hurt / The shutter closes, exposes the shot / She says 'are you looking up my skirt?' / When you say 'no', she says 'why not?'"

15- "Wave a White Flag", from what's commonly referred to as the "Honky Tonk Demos", solo demo tapes recorded sometime around 1975, a couple of years before his first album. This is the oldest song in this compilation and it's also the simplest. This snarky little ditty about s&m is equal parts Randy Newman and Hoagie Carmichael. Only a few of the tunes in this demo tape ended up in his first album, some dramatically rewritten.

Key lyrics: "Beat me in the kitchen and I'll beat you in the hall / There's nothing I like better than a free-for-all / To take your pretty neck and see which way it bends / But when it is all over we will still be friends"

16- "Man Out of Time", from 1982's "Imperial Bedroom". This is my favorite Elvis Costello tune, and thus, probably my favorite song of all time. The reasons for this have more to do with personal sob stories than I care to get into right now, but everything about this song is wonderful. It's just a big, joyous burst of ingenious pop songwriting.

Key lyrics: "Love is always scarpering or cowering or fawning / You drink yourself insensitive and hate yourself in the morning"

17- "High Fidelity", from 1980's "Get Happy". Arguably the last of the "classic" EC period, this album ditched the punky edge and New Wave arrangements of albums past in favor of a Stax/Motown-influenced sound, resulting in some great songs with the best basslines Bruce Thomas ever produced. This bitter song of anger jealousy is one that, I feel, most benefits from the jumpy arrangement, and results in an accusative, spiteful and unbelievably catchy tune.

Key lyrics: "There's nothing that he can do for you / To shut me away as you walk through / Lovers laughing in their amateur hour"

18- "Still" from 2003's "North". A beautifully slow, delicate, contemplative album about losing then finding love, "Still" is a pretty divisive album in EC's discography-- some fans find it deliberately impenetrable and horribly self-indulgent, while others think it's among his best work. I am of the latter inclination. I find this album works best when listened in its entirety and original track listing, as with Frank Sinatra's "In the Wee Small Hours", it is a mood piece, an emotional journey, from lonely and desolate to unabashedly blissful.

Key lyrics: "You were made of every love and each regret / up until the day we met"

19- "A Voice in the Dark" from 2010's "National Ransom". Yes, 2010. Last year, Elvis Costello along with T. Bone Burnett and an ensemble cast of musicians incorporating members of The Imposters and The Sugarcanes (as well as others like Levon Helm and Marc Ribot) put together one of the most exciting, rollicking and (why not) essential album of his career. This album was playful and fun, sad and wistful, angry and accusatory. The performances are a complete delight to listen to, the lyrics steeped in wordplay and historical references (without sounding like a Decemberists album). This song, the album closer, is a bit of bouncy fun with a wonderful melody and stopstutter rhythm. The album was fiercely promoted in radio shows and television performances... and it didn't sell. EC now says this may be the last proper studio album he's putting out. And though that's sad if true, it's also pretty befitting to end such a wonderful career on such a high artistic note.

Key lyrics: "Kings reign beneath umbrellas / Hide pennies down in cellars / And money pours down and yet / Not everyone gets soaking wet"

BONUS TRACKS (if you can call them that)

20- "Lipstick Vogue" live from "Hollywood High" (1979)
21- "Couldn't Call it Unexpected no.4" from "Mighty Like a Rose" (1991)
22- "Deportee" (demo) from the "King of America" sessions (1985)

Download here.

5 Albums to Make Bureaucracy (A Bit More) Bearable

Envelopes. Paper clips. Photocopies and stamps. Tiny scraps of paper with hastily-scrawled numbers on them. Waiting on an uncomfortable chair in a large white room for what seems like at least an hour but then looking at the watch and oh man it's only been about 10 minutes. That joyful moment when it's your turn to actually talk to someone... who then inevitably gives you a stamp and redirects you to another similarly large white room. For more waiting.

If you're living in a foreign country for an extended period of time (like I am) you're probably going to have to do your share of tedious, bureaucratic office-hopping--a dehumanizing ordeal where you go from branch to branch, authority to authority, department to department gathering paperwork like some sort of sick, demented scavenger hunt. And for all the astoundingly petty displays of beadledom, for all the money spent or time wasted, the one thing that really drives me mad is the interminable waiting. Waiting to get a document signed, waiting to get my name called by some office clerk, waiting to see my number on that big digital scoreboard from hell.

I recently had to go through the horrible ordeal of getting my Argentinean residency renewed, which altogether took about three whole days of my life. It would've been excruciatingly tedious if I hadn't had my trusty little iPod with me. These are 5 albums that were with me when I needed them, keeping me focused, encouraged and... well, sane.

Crooked Fingers-Red Devil Dawn
Crooked Fingers- "Red Devil Dawn"


Eric Bachmann's crowning achievement. Now, I love Archers of Loaf as much as anybody-- you can't beat Icky Mettle for that energetic, pseudo-angsty, just-indie-enough 90s mall-rock sound (granted calling them "mall-rock" might be a tad unfair but I will always associate them with the Mallrats soundtrack, so take it up with Pavlov), but Crooked Fingers-- and, specifically, their third album-- has just the right combination of hook-laden pop choruses, folksy instrumentation and lyrics just oblique enough to sound brainy, not pretentious. This is a perfect early-morning album, and most of my horrible paperwork had to be done very early in the morning.


Bomb the Music Industry!- Adults!!!: Smart!!! Shithammered!!! And Excited by Nothing!!!!!!!
Bomb the Music Industry!- "Adults!!!: Smart!!! Shithammered!!! And Excited by Nothing!!!!!!!"


A seven (well, six and a half, really) song blast of snarky, self-aware and self-deprecating ska/punk (without sounding like any of the shitty ska/punk bands you know), this sprightly and thoroughly entertaining piece of work is, at just over 21 minutes, short enough to be digested in its entirety while waiting for a turn. It's also a great album to get your fighting spirits up, which you probably need if the turn you're waiting for is to beg and grovel for permission to stay in the country for a little while longer. Not that I'd ever do that. I'm a valuable and respectable contributor to Argentine society. Why would I have to justify myself? Get out of here with your silly accusations and your judging eyes.


Shugo Tokumary- Exit
Shugo Tokumaru- "Exit"


A brilliant companion to the sound of two dozen computer keyboards tapping away in the background, and that strong coffee smell that somehow permeates every corner of the Immigrations office in Buenos Aires-- this album is an absolutely beautiful piece of art. Every song a 50-track marvel of tiny, subtly melodic and deliciously rhythmic touches. This album is wistful, uplifting and bizarre all at once, and helped me through the most intimidating of my paperwork dalliances-- obtaining my criminal background check. Oyy.

Bill Frisell- History, Mystery
Bill Frisell- "History, Mystery"


Bill Frisell is one of the last living jazz guitar geniuses, and this sprawling double album of silent-film weirdness is an exciting, invigorating piece of work. It really is remarkable that he's still producing music as vital and exciting nearly 40 years into a career that has led him through paths as wild as John Zorn's Naked City and as subdued as his Nashville album. An incredible player with an exceptional songwriting gift and a beautiful ear for orchestrated melody, this particular album finds him rediscovering his classic chamber-jazz sound and doing something new and inspiring in every track. The fact that it's so long also ensures you'll be able to take your headphones off at any time, talk to the office jockey for as long as it takes, then go back to listening to some absolutely beautiful music without ever hitting pause. He's still there, waiting. Like a lover. Wait... what?

The Weakerthans- Reconstruction Site


The Weakerthans- "Reconstruction Site"


The second Canadian band on this list. John K Samson is probably indie rock's best lyricist. I know it, he knows it... everybody knows it. But more than his lyrics, what makes this album such a great companion to bureaucratic paperwork is the beautiful melodies in these songs, their Epitaph debut and third album overall. A collection of uplifting, slide-guitar lullabies and rockers, The Weakerthans find the humanity in the stale and insipid,in the small corners and office appliances, in a letter of resignation of a cat to its owner. This is a fantastic record, one that's been with me for many years and one that's incredibly comforting. And yeah, okay, it also contains lyrics like "pulled along in the tender grip of watches and ellipses/ small request: can we please turn around?". Well... can we?

Of ebullient sadness.

Ever since the advent of the singer-songwriter era, there's been this pervasive notion in pop that songwriting should be personally revelatory and confessional; that it should be an exercise in soul-baring intimacy and earnestness. After sometime in the early seventies, a pop song was no longer merely a pop song, but a scrambled enigma to decode and find details of the songwriter's life. Gone were the days of people like Cole Porter writing wide-reaching "Night and Day"s or Jerome Kern composing something as universally appealing as "They Didn't Believe Me"; now, thanks in large part by records like John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band and Joni Mitchell's Blue, the measure of authenticity was the constrainedly autobiographical.


And just as many other musical tropes established in the early 70s, this concept has largely stayed with us. Music seems contrived and hokey if it is perceived to lack this intimately confessional character, or is seen as nothing more than a farcical distraction, devoid of any real emotional poignancy; a cover band playing all your favorite singalongs with copasetic accuracy. It is rare to see a performance of other people's songs, delivered with all the histrionics and gusto of a bawdy lounge performer, that still carries a great deal of emotional weight.

Meet Uruguayan musician/performer/author, Dani Umpi.



Dani Umpi has been a sort of cult showbiz personality this side of the continent for many years now-- having published several novels (which have inspired film adaptations) and as an electro-pop musician putting on pretty over-the-top shows, gathering fans and accolades in the process. This is the side of his career that interests me the least: the songs are a little too synthetic for my tastes, the shows are a little too big (they will often culminate with dozens of people dancing on stage to the loud sound of synthesized beats and sugary keyboards). At last Friday's show in No Avestruz (this cool little art bar in Palermo with awesome ambiance and shitty drinks), however, there was none of that: all we had on stage was one guitar and a couple of microphones.



Dani's collaboration with fellow Uruguayan guitarist Adrian Soiza is known as Dramatica. The duo perform an eclectic array of covers-- from Ace of Base to bossa nova classics to Argentinean punk rock-- in sparse guitar-and-vocal arrangements, often times radically changing the songs to fit the format. The tone is set as soon as they take their places on the stage: Dani-- wearing a tattered dress, sporting a long black wig and tall black heels probably too big for his feet-- is all outrageousness and exuberance, inhabiting the songs like a master thespian, prancing unabashedly around the small stage. Adrian, by his side, in a suit and tie, short curly hair and sneakers, complements Dani's stage presence with a calm and collected cool. The shtick is in place and executed perfectly, but what absolutely astounding here is the actual performance.

 

Dani and Adrian's nearly two-hour set was an emotional rollercoaster-- skirting the line between flamboyant outrageousness and heartbreaking beauty. Dani's animated, nasal and sometimes-not-quite-on-key vocals bring an intense fragility to the songs, which are in turn held together by Adrian's playfully masterful guitar playing-- a rich and melodic fingerpicking style that's equal parts bossa nova and punk rock, making tasteful use of the effect pedals to give sonic brushstrokes to the bare-bones arrangements. The interactions between these two enormously talented performers, their banter, the interplay between Adrian's stopstutter guitar and Dani's glottal stomp had the crowd delighted cheering and in great spirits throughout the entirety of the show.

And as the show reached its end, after its third enthusiastic encore performance (a wonderfully heartbreaking rendition of Argentinean punk-pop band El Otro Yo's "No Me Importa Morir"), I couldn't help think how silly and overrated the concept of "honesty" is in music-- how putting on somebody else's skin-- or in this case, a wig and high heels-- can bring out beauty and meaning in a song. Like Pollini playing Chopin, it's all about how you make it your own, and the Dramatica duo certainly did that. During the quieter numbers, the entire theater would be in absolute silence as Dani's plaintive vocals and Adrian's elegant playing brought these songs-- largely throwaway cover material-- to emotional peaks much more powerful and satisfying than any other yahoo with a guitar singing about his pain possibly could.
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