sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

January 15, 2016

David Bowie, Founding Father of Third Wave Feminism Dead at 69

Filed under: feminism, music, politics — Tags: , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:27 am

Third wave, or sex-positive feminism, has two dads and one stepmom.  The stepmom is Camille Paglia, the writer who redefined feminism for the 1990’s.  Not ivory tower feminism, of course, and academics-establishment types will never give her the full credit.  Second wave feminism, as RS McCaine argued, albeit I can’t find the exact quote, was a reaction against the sexual revolution and the liberal men.  It made personal political and deemed all sex a rape. What was new about the third wave?  The idea that women derive power from sex and the aestheticism. Those ideas are Paglia’s.  It was Paglia who spoke to the masses, it was Paglia who made most sense.

Paglia was hugely influenced by David Bowie, something she talked about at length after his passing:

Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust period in the early 1970s had a staggering influence on me. I had been writing about androgyny in literature and art in my term papers in college and grad school, so Bowie’s daring experiments seemed like the living embodiment of everything I had been thinking about. It’s hard to believe now, but when I submitted the prospectus for Sexual Personae in 1971, it was the only dissertation about sex in the entire Yale Graduate School. I completed it in 1974, while I was teaching at my first job at Bennington College in Vermont. One of the supreme moments of my life as a student of culture occurred in October 1973, as I was watching NBC’s “Midnight Special” in my apartment in Bennington. It was a taping from London of “The 1980 Floor Show,” Bowie’s last appearance as Ziggy Stardust—a program oddly never broadcast in the U.K. Bowie looked absolutely ravishing! A bold, knowing, charismatic creature neither male nor female wearing a bewitching costume straight out of the Surrealist art shows of the Parisian 1930s: a seductive black fish-net body suit with attached glittery plaster mannequin’s hands (with black nail polish) lewdly functioning as a brassiere. I instantly realized that Bowie had absorbed the gender games of Andy Warhol’s early short films, above all “Harlot,” with its glamorous, sultry drag queen (Mario Montez). Hence I viewed Bowie, who became one of the foundational creators of performance art, as having taken the next major step past Warhol in art history. I never dreamed that someday I would see that brilliant fish-net costume inches away in a display case at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, where I was lucky enough to catch the V&A’s Bowie costume show two years ago. It was a sacred epiphany, like seeing a splinter from the True Cross.

The two Bowie albums that had the biggest impact on me were Aladdin Sane (1973) and Young Americans (1975).   Bowie’s haunting, hypnotic “Lady Grinning Soul,” with its rippling, rhapsodic piano work by Mike Garson, is a masterpiece of art-rock. My own highly controversial view of women in the expanded version of Sexual Personae(published by Yale Press in 1990) can really be seen as an epic extrapolation of “Lady Grinning Soul.” That song reaffirmed everything I had intuited about mythological woman from all kinds of sources—from classic Hollywood movies to the masterpieces of the Louvre! Then there’s “Fascination” (on Young Americans), which Bowie co-wrote with Luther Vandross and recorded in Philadelphia. As I wrote in my essay for the V&A, this gospel/funk anthem is Bowie’s artistic manifesto, the closest we may ever come to a glimpse of his creative process, both passionate and agonized. Yes, passion—emotion! Because that is what separates the great Bowie from all those sterile postmodernist appropriators, with their tittering irony. Bowie drew titanic power from his deep wells of emotion. Plus as a mime artist, he was a dancer, grounded in the body. He never stupidly based gender in language alone—like all those nerdy post-structuralist nudniks who infest academe. Who the hell needed Foucault for gender studies when we already had a genius like Bowie?

Bowie loved Paglia back, naming Sexual Personae one of his favorite books of all time.


One of the many faces: Bowie as a Sphinx

Bowie’s aesthetic sensibility resonated throughout feminist circles. He is probably the single greatest influence on post-Punk in all of its forms, including feminist riot grrrls.  Riot grrrl bands came in full force in the early 90’s; they married the standard-issue feminist message to a space oddity of female sexuality.  In their genre, the stage show is the most important part of musicianship, and their personaes have to be reaffirmed in every performance, Bowie-style, with a collage of glitter, striptease, lesbianism and profanity of the most hard core punk variety.  Their shtick is that on one hand they are reclaiming girliness, on the other — they are tough, so tough. Ironically their oh-so-empowering storm of the male-dominated music industry took place post-AIDS when the rock-n-roll scene was sufficiently tamed by the disease.


The grrrl singer of Bikini Kill is of a conventionally good-looking variety.  Something she works *with*, not *against*

Beyond riot grrrls, when young women urge each other to grow arm pit hair and dust it with glitter, they are trying to think like Bowie.  When they parade down the streets of our cities in nothing but bras and panties, allegedly protesting unwanted attention, they are channeling Bowie in a fishnet bodysuit. If by no means conventionally good-looking Bowie fashioned himself into a sex symbol through sheer will, then they too are beautiful.  You might think SlutWalks are a dorkfest, but the gals think they are in an 80’s music video.

In literature (well, autobiography) and cinema there are the likes of Elizabeth Wutzel and Lena Dunham who are also working within this particular tradition that Bowie sired.  They are the foul-mouthed glitter girls ready to spread their legs for anyone sufficiently well-versed in inner workings of their subculture: Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am!  And I bet they have this and a few other Bowie songs committed to heart.

It should be noted that grrrls’ own invention was to throw the images of strong and healthy pre-pubescent girls into the sexualized Bowiesque mix.  If Lena Dunham didn’t found it very easy to tell us how she molested her younger sister, it’s probably because she saw images of innocence juxtaposed against sexual deviancy all her life.  Not saying that grrrls approved of Dunham’s behavior.


From a 90’s grrrl zine

This is all terribly ironic considering the circumstances of Bowie’s death, as noted by Brendan O’Neill:

[…]I want to pay tribute to another of Bowie’s feats, which strikes me as quite extraordinary: the fact that he kept his cancer private, or ‘secret’, as the press insists, for 18 months. This, more than anything, has blown me away today. In this era of too much information, when over-sharing is virtually mandatory, Bowie’s decision to suffer away from the limelight, among those closest to him, appears almost as a Herculean achievement.

As if beneath all his masks and extravagances the real David Bowie was a private person. To Bowie personal wasn’t political.  He lived his life as if it was a piece of art and kept away from politics.  As a person he remained an enigma.

The second father of third wave feminism was Bill Clinton whose affairs forced the most doctrinaire of feminists to concede that men and women have sexual appetites.  Otherwise mattress girls would have been running around college campuses twenty years ago.

So there it is: a dissident feminist, a closet heterosexual (as Bowie once referred to himself) and the most powerful man on Earth gave us the current reincarnation of women’s movement.  I leave you, my friends, with Suffragette City.  I have no idea what the song means, not sure Bowie himself knew, but it’s one of his best and it seems fitting for the occasion:


August 30, 2014

Such a Rip-Off

Filed under: music, politics — Tags: , — edge of the sandbox @ 11:19 pm

The President got a tan suit?  At least it’s not a burgundy beard! [With a false start]:

In other news, I’m moving and have no time to post anything else.  Marc Bolan recorded some good packing and cleaning music.

August 21, 2014

In Honor of Media Instigators of #Ferguson Riots

Filed under: music, politics — Tags: , , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 8:57 pm

I am a suburban homeboy with a suburban ‘ho right by my side
I am a suburban homeboy and I say yo dog to my pool cleaning guy
I hope I’m baggy enough for them
I play my Shaggy enough for them
I’ll pop a cap up some fool at the Gap
‘Cause I’m a suburban homeboy

I am a suburban homeboy with a suburban ho right by my side
I am a suburban homeboy and I say yo’ dog to my detailing guy
I bought me cornrows on Amazon
I started listening to Farrakhan
My caddy and me he looks just like Jay-Z
And I’m a suburban homeboy

I am a suburban homeboy with a suburban ho right by my side
She’s known as Miss Missy Tannenbaum and she’s one freak bitch, ain’t no lie
She’s from the projects in St. Tropez
She looks like Iverson in a way
She yo yo’s me and I yo yo her back
And I’m a suburban homeboy
She yo yo’s me and I yo yo her back
And I’m a suburban homeboy
She yo yo’s me and I yo yo her back
And I’m a suburban homeboy

We are suburban homeboys
With our suburban ho’s right by our sides
We are suburban homeboys and we say yo dog and we mean it, by God
We’ve got an old school mentality
Oxford and Cambridge mentality
Props to our peeps and please keep your receipts
And we are suburban homeboys
Props to our peeps and please keep your receipts
And we are suburban homeboys
Props to our peeps and please keep your receipts
And we are suburban homeboys
Props to our peeps and please keep your receipts
And we are suburban homeboys

June 12, 2014

Queen of The Rock — Will You Help Me Roll?

Filed under: music — Tags: — edge of the sandbox @ 11:59 am

It’s almost Friday, and so…

February 12, 2014

Sourcing A Quote

Filed under: music, politics — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:15 pm

A few days ago Blackmailers Don’t Shoot posted videos of The Misfits and Circle Jerks, which made me want to post a punk video.  To be topical, I’m going to make it “do They Owe Us a Living?” by the British band Crass.  The song should be an anthem for Obama voters:

I think it’s ironic that whoever made the video put a poster of “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help” in it.

I thought that was a quote from a Reagan speech, but as it turned out, Ronaldus Maximus didn’t come up with that expression.  His language was “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help””; the saying itself is folklore.

Still, I don’t think the anarchists are thinking it through.  Who is going to guarantee that “they” owe “us” a living if not the government?

October 31, 2013

Linger On

Filed under: music, politics — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:04 pm

The Velvet Underground was one side project of Any Warhol that lasted longer than 15 minutes.  In the late 60’s they might had seemed no different from other hangers-ons at The Factory, a small-time band, by the standards of the time, but a decade and half later, when miscellaneous queens and junkies proved to be only as interesting as Andy wanted them to be, they were firmly established as contenders for most influential band in rock-n-roll history, inspiring punk, noise and glam.  As Brian Eno once said, “The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.”

Lou Reed keeps generation X bohemians keep going well into their 40’s.  That they are not going to be the next Beatles was pretty obvious long time ago, but they are still holding out hope that they might turn out to be the next Velvet Underground.  How wrong they are!

As DH likes to say, the underground music scene today is dominated by idiot savants who, despite having very little formal training and despite not being particularly bright, benefit from an occasional burst of inspiration.  They might think that rock-n-roll is easy because somebody like Reed made it simple and dirty.  But Reed had a jazz background and honors degree from Syracuse University, so he had the tools to do minimalism right.

He was a quintessential tortured artist, literally so.  As a teenager Reed had to undergo electroshock therapy for fooling around with men.  It’s often said that Reed was bisexual, but the proprietor of this blog strongly suspects that while female bisexuality is very common, men are either gay or straight.  Although it’s possible that, in his usual fashion, Reed only wanted to be provocative, he himself stated that he invented his bisexual personae for marketing purposes.  He came out as a straight man in 1978, shortly before AIDS made headlines across the world.

None of it justifies giving ETC to minors.  It’s fair to say that some of the early battles of culture wars made imprints on Lou Reed’s gray matter… after which the musician himself did considerable damage to his mind and body.  He lived the life he sang about in his song.  Lou Reed went on rhapsodize the seediest corners of pre-Guiliani New York (the New York poised to return in case anyone gets nostalgic), in the meantime composing some of the most soul-wrenching and melodic songs of love and loss.  Fellow Mexifornians will appreciate the Spanish subtitles:

Lou Reed was pretty much a commie, but he did nevertheless inspired the Czech youth of the Cold War era.  Why some Western bands made it big in Eastern Europe is anyone’s guess.  A few relatively unknown Western offerings were promoted by socialist states with the goal of providing the Eastern Block youth with an opportunity to let some steam out.  Others penetrated the Iron Curtain purely by chance — a smuggled LP copied to reel that went viral.  Expatriates broadcasted popular music (from London, most notably) both reflecting the charts and responding to our tastes, which, by the mid-80’s, tended to be on the metal side. We knew established rock-n-rollers, like the Beatles or Led Zeppelin, of course, but all in all our knowledge of Western music was pretty random.

I was aware of Velvet Underground in my teens, but I don’t recall hearing the music until I immigrated.  I’m not entirely sure how the Czechs got to be into this cult New York band.  I know they were popularized by the Czech band The Plastic People of The Universe, along with Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart.  Captain Beefheart to this day remains an inside baseball kind of performer, so why were the Czechs cool enough to know him forty years ago?  Velvet Underground were big in Czechoslovakia after the failed Prague Spring of 1968, at the time they were playing in small clubs in the US.  Did The Plastic People find themselves in possession of one of these 10,000 records?

Velvet Underground helped the Czech dissidents keep their spirits high in the years between the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the later event named after you guess what band.  The first Czech president and a well-known playwright Vaclav Havel spoke of the liberating power of rock-n-roll — it contained the message of personal freedom.  The political transformation of Eastern Europe was possible, in part, because so many Eastern European bohemians looked at Western bohemian degenerates with awe.  I wouldn’t hold my breath in re Middle Eastern degenerates like Bin Laden following the suit.

Lou Reed passed away last week, at the age of 71, and, I think, he himself was surprised just how long he lasted.  He lived long enough to see his musical legacy grow, to see his music change the world (or at least a corner of the world), drag queens become boring, Andy Warhol become the highest-selling artist of the year.  In a particularly surreal episode, on Havel’s insistence, Bill Clinton invited the old perv to the White House in the midst of the Lewinsky scandal.  Havel and Reed instantly struck a friendship, and there was no political fallout for Clinton.  Lou Reed became the establishment.

Vaclav Havel (left) meets Lou Reed (second on the left) at the White House in 1998. Architect of Hillarycare and the Benghazi debacle on right

I’m pretty sure Reed didn’t too terribly mind being invited to various red carpet events, and he certainly savored any opportunity to irritate the press.  But while he was pretty comfortable being part of the establishment, I’m not sure why we need establishment figures like Lou Reed.  When putting together a song list for our wedding, we briefly entertained including “Perfect Day”.  We had to X it out eventually because, after being featured in “Trainspotting”, it was all but impossible the song from heroin.  We played no Velvet Underground.  It is, however, a great song:

UPDATE: The best obituary to date by Robert Dean Lurie

July 24, 2013

Kurt Cobain Speaking From The Grave

Filed under: journalism, music, politics — Tags: , — edge of the sandbox @ 9:41 pm

The come hither portrait of Dzhokar Tsarnaev gracing the latest cover of The Rolling Stone made me think of their first Nirvana cover.

Kurt Cobain scribbled “corporate magazines still suck” on his t-shirt.  Suck: as opposed to underground zine reading which is never a waste of time.  The editors of this particular corporate bi-weekly scored big with this willing display of punk rock authenticity

Back then I thought that the band wanted to have its cake and eat it too: to be commercially successful while currying favors with the people who resent success.  Now I see that Cobain was practically clairvoyant.  Not because his running around and incessantly talking of suicide somehow foreshadowed his own death, but because, gosh, Rolling Stone does suck.  Then and now (and always) they are creating controversies out of thin air.

What does the younger Tsarnaev has to do with music?  He’s not a performer; he wasn’t an underground cult figure prior to the Boston massacre.  After the bombing, sure, he did develop a following of “girls” in polyester rompers.  The irony of it is, he probably listens to some kind of Eurotrash — or Mideast themed Eurotrash — the kind of music that’s supposed to be an instant turn off to his groupies… if he wasn’t a murderous cult figure, that is.

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