Friday, 28 April 2006

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On the "Friday Random Ten" as Found Art The "Friday Random Ten" phenomenon so popular among other bloggers never made sense to me. It seemed more a showcase for one's refined and eclectic taste than anything else. But as I read Jill's FRT on Feministe today, the appeal of it struck me. An FRT is a mixtape. From no one. But to you. The first two entries on Jill's FRT are: Radiohead - "Life in a Glass House" Ani DiFranco - "32 Flavors" As I read that I was immediately confused. The song which popped to mind was Ani DiFranco's "Glass House," off her compelling Little Plastic Castle. The structuring metaphor is nearly identical, being that there's little difference between an anthromorphized goldfish and a person living in a glass house. Like all lyricists who are too-clever-by-half, DiFranco hits the mark or embarasses herself. On both "Little Plastic Castle" and "Glass House" she hits the mark. She takes the conceit and plays with it: They say goldfish, have no memory, I guess their lives are just like mine. And the little, plastic castle, Is a surprise every time. She refuses to let what could become a burdensome metaphor dominate the song. Same thing in "Glass House": Sitting in my glass house, While your ghost is sleeping down the hall. Watching the little birds fly Kamikaze missions into the walls. Think I'm gonna stay in today, Sit on my couch and watch them fall. [snip] Trapped in my glass house, Crowd has been gathering since dawn. Make a pot of coffee While catastrophe awaits me out on the lawn. Think I'm going to stay in today, Pretend like I don't know what's going on. You wait the entire song for her to throw the first stone, but instead she insists on remaining passive. She refuses to throw the stone others are so sure she'll throw they've been gathering since dawn. As in "Little Plastic Castle," in which a woman claims amnesia when she clearly refuses to hold the grudge she's entitled to hold, in this song DiFranco refuses to throw the stone she's entitled and expected to throw. (She did once write a song whose devestating consisted of the single sentence "Everyone is a fucking Napoleon.") The interesting fact about this discussion is that it doesn't have a damn thing to do with the actual song on Jill's FRT. It's a confused combination of a Radiohead title and some metaphorical continuity on an eight year old Ani DiFranco album. I had made a series of interpretive leaps and now I'll never be able to think of the DiFranco songs quite the same way. Why? Because they are now inhabited by the paranoia of the Radiohead. DiFranco's admirable passivity has been infected by the Thom Yorke's lyric about a friend who wants to paper the windows of her glass house: Once again, I’m in trouble with my only friend. She is papering the window panes. She is putting on a smile. Living in a glass house. The futility of papering...
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Joan Didion: A Tribute Which Will Read as Parody (Because I'm No Joan Didion) This afternoon I attended the Joan Didion talk at the Los Angeles Times Book Fair. A friend and I waited in a long line. It snaked from the entrance to Royce Hall around one building and half of another. When it finally crept forward we were greeted by a large security guard who could have been an extra in a film about a corrupt Los Angeles police force. Or New York. I made a list of things I would observe. I would observe: the capacity of Royce Hall. I would observe: the characteristics of the audience. I would observe: Didion's hands as she spoke about the death of her husband. In two minutes Didion would take the stage. Almost all of the 1,834 seats had been filled but people still shuffled in. Royce Hall had been modeled after the San Ambrogio Church in Milan. Construction on San Ambrogio began in the 4th century. A south tower was added in the 9th. A north in the 12th. The 12th century oversaw a interior remodeling in the popular Romanesque style. The rolling terrain of the young UCLA campus suggested northern Italy to the architects. Three years later they had completed their Romanesque basilica. Of the Westwood campus' original four buildings it is the only one which stands unrenovated. In the 15th Century Cardinal Ascanio Sforza ordered Bramante to add cloisters to the church. Sforza belonged to the ruling family of Milan. Its founder is rumored to have bent metal bars with his hands. Ascanio wanted to create what the 19th century American philosopher Josiah Royce would call "a community of hope." The community would be "constituted by the fact that each of its members accepts, as part of his own individual life and self, the same expected future events that each of his fellows accepts." The UCLA Fellows agreed with Royce and named a building after him. The building was filled to near capacity. In the audience were many older Californians, fans of her work in the '60s and '70s and naturally sympathetic to the lose of a spouse or a child. They too would have lost someone, or soon will. There were also many younger women finding seats, asking men who had rolled joints in Berkeley in the '60s if they could squeeze by. Her long blonde hair brushed his arm as she passed and you knew from his face he didn't mind. He could imagine her in an iconic yellow bikini as the Vietnam War raged. He could remember when he read in 1979 that Didion was not "the society in microcosm [but] a thirty-four-year-old woman with long straight hair and an old-fashioned bikini bathing suit and bad nerves sitting on an island in the middle of the Pacific waiting for a tidal wave that will not come." You could almost see him sniff the air in her wake. That these young woman came to hear Didion speak initially surprised many. When Didion took to the stage she related how...

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