After much navel-gazing, soul-searching, and masturbating, I have decided to officially end, rather than just ignore, Outside Pissing In. There will be no more posts, nor any delusions of revival. I will not deactivate the blog: this is the Internet where nothing (not even MySpace) ever goes away entirely, so my (mostly) three-year-old rambles and rumbles will be visible for as long as WordPress allows. I am not even sure if I’m a writer anymore, but I am definitely not the same person who created this blog, and to try to fit my thoughts back into a 2009 mindset discredits who I was then and distorts who I am now. This half-hearted experiment, through circumstances both well within and far outside of my control, is an uncategorical failure. There will be other blogs at other times, toned and focused differently, and let us hope, maintained with more consistency and passion that I could muster for this one. But for now, I am explicitly acknowledging what my few friends and fewer fans realized back in 2008: my days of intense, obsessive blogging are over.
Well, except for this…
I was sad to be right about my Grammy predictions, and I am happy to be wrong about my Pazz & Jop (for some moronic reason, I’d not been spelling it with the ampersand) predictions. Not only did tUnE-yArDs’ W H O K I L L score a surprise and deserved number-one finish, my (and many others’) pessimistically predicted winner Bon Iver finished all the way down at number nine. Thus, for the second year in a row, my top album matches Pazz & Jop’s; that happened only once in the previous decade. So much for my predictions: I correctly called only one spot on both the Albums (PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake indeed finished second) and Singles (Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” was of course number one) lists.
For the first time in 13 years, a woman claims the Pazz & Jop-winning album. And for the first time in 18 years, female-fronted acts take both the Albums and Singles races. While I will miss the two black geniuses at which I gazed throughout 2011, I will spend the next year gazing at two strong, defiant, unconventionally beautiful women on the P&J homepage.
The 2011 P&J top 10 albums contains four female acts and three hip-hop acts. Yet for all of the blogosphere and Netcrit biases in favor of youth and progress, it’s telling that not one of the top five albums is by a performer under the age of 30. Could it be that older acts birth greater consensus? After all, aside from tUnE-yArDs, the rest of the top five has been making music since at least the late 90’s.
Overall, the upper reaches of these lists are pretty stellar, making a convincing case for a year that many thought musically bankrupt or lackluster. I have not yet read the P&J essays (I’m expecting plenty of “Year of the Woman” theories and refutations), and I will post more in-depth analysis once I absorb those. But for now, I am gleeful, elated, thrilled that my waning faith in rock criticism, and the rock-crit consensus, has been temporarily restored. Now, let’s see if the P&J pundits can spoil that.
Instead of the CBS sitcoms that usually bury my Mondays, tonight, I watched Betty White’s 90th Birthday: A Tribute to America’s Golden Girl on NBC. The 90-minute special was more consistently amusing than last night’s drowsy and predictable Golden Globes, and more importantly, it was the kind of backward-looking history lesson that network television too seldom offers. In addition to the obvious Mary Tyler Moore Show and Golden Girls clips, there were commercials and game show clips dating back to the 1950’s. The closing “Thank You for Being a Friend” singalong filled the stage with TV comedy’s aging royalty: White, Carl Reiner, Mary Tyler Moore, Ed Asner, Carol Burnett, and umm, Chevy Chase, senior citizens all. As he did with last Friday’s Today show 60th anniversary, Barack Obama provided a semi-funny pre-taped piece that further legitimized a cultural institution. And indeed, White is a cultural institution. To my knowledge, the last entertainer whose 90th birthday was cause for a network special was Bob Hope. And while her medium and methods may differ greatly, Betty White is her generation’s Bob Hope, the widely beloved veteran who became our last active connection to a bygone era of entertainment.
As for the much younger woman whose NBC appearance over the weekend caused so much consternation among the Internet, and even some NBC personalities, let’s all chill the fuck out about Lana Del Rey. Her Saturday Night Live performance was far from perfect, and it could not have been perfect enough to silence her bloodthirsty detractors. But it was no worse than numerous other weak SNL performances: Florence and the Machine a couple months ago comes immediately to mind. Besides, was anybody who heard “Video Games” or “Born to Die” expecting powerhouse, Adele-level vocals? She has a breathy, affected coo that works for her torchy, affected songs. This was not a great American Idol performance. But insofar as Lana Del Rey has been defined, it was a solid, fitting Lana Del Rey performance: oscillating between sultry and childlike, tentative but compelling, calculated for maximum attention.
Nobody would even shrug if Adam Levine or Michael Buble delivered an off-key vocal on live TV. But, as with the Taylor Swift Grammy controversy a couple years ago, we seem to expect that all pretty girls will sing as flawlessly as they look. We hold them to a vocal standard that we would never hold, say, Ezra Koenig or Britt Daniel: men whose idiosyncratic vocals fit their idiosyncratic artistry. The assumption in so many attacks on Swift or Del Rey is that these women are incapable of such artistry, which does not require, and often exceeds, pristine vocal talent. Lana Del Rey is no Taylor Swift, and her artistry is yet to be determined. But to write her off or eviscerate her because she did not go all Aguilera on her first television appearance is foolish, ill-informed, unreasonable, and yes, cruel.
In these final hours of Martin Luther King Day, I am enjoying the final hours of two supremely talented black men welcoming me to the Pazz and Jop website. For tomorrow, those faces will be replaced by white ones: hopefully two pretty girls, but more likely, the douchetacular mug of Justin Vernon, whose smarmy faux-humility will no doubt be in overdrive tomorrow.
Of course, I am one of those notorious wastrels who complains but does not vote; in fact, I’ve never voted in Pazz and Jop. I’ve never written prolifically or professionally enough for such perks. But I am a blogger (as of yesterday), and obscurity is no barrier for my critical opinions. So had I developed the talent or ambition to become a 2011 P&J voter, here is how my ballot would have looked:
1. tUnE-yArDs, W H O K I L L (20)
2. Cults, Cults (14)
3. Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring for My Halo (14)
4. Pistol Annies, Hell on Heels (10)
5. Butch Walker and the Black Widows, The Spade (10)
6. Jay-Z & Kanye West, Watch the Throne (8)
7. Dum Dum Girls, Only in Dreams (8)
8. Foo Fighters, Wasting Light (6)
9. Times New Viking, Dancer Equired! (5)
10. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues (5)
*-Numbers in parentheses denote point values. Voters are to distribute 100 points among their 10 albums, with no albums earning more than 30 or less than 5 points.
1. James Blake, “The Wilhelm Scream”
2. Tyler, the Creator, “Yonkers”
3. Rebecca Black, “Friday”
4. Nicki Minaj, “Super Bass”
5. Vivian Girls, “I Heard You Say”
6. J. Cole, “Lost Ones”
7. YACHT, “Shangri-La”
8. Luke Bryan, “Country Girl (Shake It for Me)”
9. Adele, “Someone Like You”
10. Grouplove, “Tongue Tied”
I hope to post detailed write-ups on these choices, and the year in music in general, in the coming weeks — before Grammy time, perhaps. But in the meantime, this will measure how my “best” music of the year stacks up against 800 or so better-known (and probably not much better-paid) critics whose ballots will be published tomorrow.
The year-end listicles are wrapped, the ballots are counted, and the Village Voice Pazz and Jop poll results are due this week. Conventional wisdom holds that Bon Iver’s self-titled album is the frontrunner, if not the inevitable winner. From its Net-shaking release the week of my 28th birthday, a P&J victory seemed its birthright, in a year where consensus picks were rare and/or immediately debunked. But as the best-of-2011 features emerged throughout December, so did a clear challenger, one who could upset Bon Iver: PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake. Of course, most of those lists deadlined prior to Bon Iver’s surprise quadruple Grammy nominations: a windfall just as likely, in the age of the Netcrit, to lose P&J votes as to gain them. If the year-in-review thinkpieces are any indication, the overdue Bon Iver backlash is in full swing: the Grammy hosannas amplified his detractors’ ire.
And so the 2011 Pazz and Jop race boils down to a middling album from a legendary performer, and a dreadful album from a middling performer. Thus, as has often been the case lately, the winner will be an undeserving one. Let England Shake is a promising concept that gets bogged down in too much schoolmarmish peacemongering. Like some of the folkies she emulates, Harvey often sacrifices songcraft for message. Of course, as a proponent of songcraft, I have nothing but contempt for Bon Iver. It is a lifeless, insipid album: the sound of a fourth-rate Thom Yorke impersonator auditioning for the Benedictine Monks, what fogeys like me used to dismiss as New Age music back in the 90’s. I have not been a fan of the recent non-Kanye P&J victors, but all of them had some redeeming value (cultural insight, sonic boldness) than Bon Iver lacks. In fact, the whole album is exactly that: a lack.
PJ Harvey could benefit from the Year-of-the-Woman momentum that will surely inform the accompanying P&J essays; the last time a female-fronted album topped P&J was 1998. Regardless of Harvey’s finish (and I still think she’ll finish second), at least 60% of the P&J top 5 will be female, including the should-be winner who will settle for at-best third place: tUnE-yArDs’ W H O K I L L, a remarkable avant-garde pop (though not avant-pop) record full of disjointed, shapeshifting songs. The confused sounds complement Merill Garbus’ confused take on class, race, and womanhood in a globalized and necessarily relativist society. For all her confusion, her hooks, her chants, her voice are authoritative: she eschews the idealism that consumes Harvey and confronts the world from which Bon Iver retreats altogether.
The only possible threat to Garbus’ number-three ranking is the music-buying public’s consensus pick, the album that single-handedly and temporarily saved the music-industry: Adele’s 21. Millions of people bought and adore 21; it’s the kind of broad appeal hit that many thought extinct. That said, it’s kind of boring. For its alleged authenticity, 21 is far too perfect: nary a missung or misplayed note, its every passionate incantation measured within a centimeter of its life — a triumph of sterile tastefulness. Only album closer “Someone Like You” is gripping enough for break-up ballad immortality. Like her fellow Grammy darling Bruno Mars, Adele is a tremendous talent and likable performer, but her records play far too safe: not enough adventure, not enough energy, not enough personality.
The answer to Pazz and Jop’s pesky hip-hop question will, by my fallible estimate, round out the top five. Too often, P&J voters rally around a single consensus, and often tokenistic, hip-hop pick, usually a big hit that even the rockist voters can embrace. This tide is changing, of course: as more Netcrits who grew up on hip-hop enter the P&J fold, the breadth of hip-hop finishers will expand. In 2010, the hip-hop picks looked a bit long in the tooth: Kanye West, Big Boi, and the Roots all had decade-long careers. But 2011 opened a new hip-hop horizon, as critics hailed a bunch of brave new rappers, many of whom seem to have masterpieces in them, none of whom recorded one this year. To draw simplistic parallels, these newbies are still in their Bleach or Stink or Greetings from Asbury Park phase. As such, Kendrick Lamar and Danny Brown will not overthrow the old hip-hop guard: Jay-Z and Kanye’s dramatically comical collaboration will take P&J’s hip-hop crown, and Young Money rapper Drake, a Kanye disciple whose Take Care owes as many debts to R&B and indie-rock as it does hip-hop, will likely finish in the top ten. And for extra perspective, the third highest-ranked hip-hop album will feature the guy from Digable Planets (and will probably land in eleventh place).
Here’s my guess at the 2011 Pazz and Jop poll’s Top Ten Albums:
1. Bon Iver, Bon Iver
2. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake
3. tUnE-yArDs, W H O K I L L
4. Adele, 21
5. Jay-Z & Kanye West, Watch the Throne
6. The Weeknd, House of Balloons
7. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues
8. St. Vincent, Strange Mercy
9. Drake, Take Care
10. Fucked Up, David Comes to Life
Singles are tougher to predict than albums, simply because there’s a lot fucking more of them. But it seems obvious that “Rolling in the Deep” will take the Singles crown, and that some Village Voice staffer will argue that the song is a metaphor for the global economic collapse. “We could have had it all,” you see. Anyway, here’s a far less confident or reasoned prediction for this year’s top ten singles:
1. Adele, “Rolling in the Deep”
2. Nicki Minaj, “Super Bass”
3. Jay-Z & Kanye West, “Otis”
4. Bon Iver, “Holocene”
5. Beyonce, “Countdown”
6. EMA, “California”
7. Girls, “Vomit”
8. Adele, “Someone Like You”
9. M83, “Midnight City”
10. James Blake, “The Wilhelm Scream”
Check back here later this week for full P&J coverage, or check villagevoice.com/pazznjop to see how poorly these predictions fared.
A lot has happened in the nearly three years since my last post, none of which I feel like detailing here, most of which will be detailed here eventually, in dribs and drabs and caustic asides. But so here’s the same old blog in a brand new year, courtesy of an older, hopefully wiser, definitely more anonymous writer. I will not make any predictions or promises of prolificacy: I resolve to write more each year, and each year, my mercenary and/or social pursuits interfere. But with the Deathication blog keeping me laptop-bound, in subservience to paying customers, perhaps I’ll mosey over here from time to time, for some non-deathly observations and meditations. Like the one above.
And please bear with me. I have not been writing for quite a while, so my skills may be a bit rusty…
Granted, he was number seven on the bottom shelf, but let’s offer a full-figured farewell to Dom DeLuise, the jolly Burt Reynolds sidekick (remember those Win, Lose or Draw episodes), Dean Martin stock player, and Paul Prudhomme doppelganger. Seems the guy’s best work was always done in someone else’s shadow. But now I score a deathlist kill in his!
DeLuise was also a Mel Brooks perennial, and he starred in History of the World – Part I, which also (albeit briefly) featured recent croaker Bea Arthur. Not to mention Harvey Korman, whose corpse is not even a year old yet. Shecky Greene and Sid Caesar, maybe even Cloris Leachman, best make sure their papers are in order.
Because it’s not the top shelf, this death does not count for any competitive purposes. It’s just a feather in my cap, and my first bottom shelf kill since Marlon Brando in 2004. And yes, one day this blog will once again be something more than a deathlist place-holder. But alas, my paycheck duties, which involve stocking and packing one of DeLuise’s children’s books (King Bob’s New Clothes, if you’re curious) among thousands of others, beckon.
Yesterday, TVOne was airing a daylong Good Times marathon (counting down the viewer-voted top episodes and whatnot). Good Times was, of course, a spinoff of Arthur’s Maude, and the sparring scenes between Arthur and the late Esther Rolle dug right into the uncomfortable, and often unacknowledged, racial tensions boiling beneath the Friedan-Steinem feminist movement. Sadly, Rolle scenes have been uniformly omitted from Arthur’s memorial clip packages, though they contain some of both actresses’ finest (and most subversive) work. (I do love hearing the Maude theme song though, my pick for the all-time greatest TV theme: a Donny Hathaway vocal and a cheeky line about Joan of Arc’s death.)
Speaking of Maude, let us not forget that I’m banking on another of Arthur’s Maude co-stars dying this year. No, not Bill Macy (who was born a mere five days after Arthur). But Conrad Bain, number six on my deathlist. Here’s to hoping Maude stars become as hot a Reaper target as Golden Girls seem to be!
I usually take pleasure in celebrity death, especially the unexpected ones. But it is with misty eyes and a sunken heart that I admit the following: Bea Arthur has died. I am still in disbelief. Yes, she was 86. Yet her passing still comes as a shock. Arthur is the second Golden Girl to die in the past year. Unlike Estelle Getty, whose demise was slow and relatively public, Arthur’s fatal battle with cancer was an amazingly well-contained secret. In retrospect, she did look alarmingly ill at her Television Hall of Fame induction this past December, as the below photos demonstrate.