Saturday, 20 March 2010

Remembering Alex Chilton Like most of my contemporaries, I came to admire Alex Chilton through his professional admirers; and like everyone who came of age before the Internet, what I knew about him consisted of a host of believable rumors. I've never tried to verify those rumors, though, because it was their believability that mattered more than their truth. For example, Alex Chilton indirectly named one of the most important albums of the 1990s via the resilience of a particular lyrical gesture: the sincerely feigned grand statement. On "September Gurls," he sings: I loved you, well, never mind. I've been crying, all the time. That "never mind" alerts us to the fact that the narrator is a liar, albeit a sympathetic one, because if he were actually that nonchalant he wouldn't be "crying all the time." Paul Westerberg picks up on the gesture on the aptly titled "Never mind," in which he sings: It makes no sense, to apologize. The words, I thought, I brought, I left behind, So, never mind. All over but the shouting, just a waste of time. Never mind. Westerberg's delivery on the second line is ambiguously clipped: he sounds like someone on the verge of tears, but the reason for them could be that he has no idea what to say; that he knows that no matter what he says, it won't be enough; that he knew what to say, that he had the right words, but that he's forgotten them; or many an other et cetera. More important for our purposes is what Westerberg learned from Chilton, i.e. how to turn an explicit denial of any significance into an implicit statement of maximal importance. What looks like boilerplate passive-aggression on paper is, in "Never mind," nothing of the sort: Westerberg shouts "never mind" like an interrupted stutterer, out of sheer frustration over his inability to articulate what he means. The result is that, as in "September Gurls," the words intended to divest a situation of emotional import acquire the very significance their existence is intended to diminish. Which, of course, is why Kurt Cobain named Nirvana's second album after that Mats track and penned this: I found it hard, it's hard to find. Oh well, whatever, never mind. That lyric reads like a canned slacker response to adversity, and maybe it is; but in "Smells Like Teen Spirit," the phrase appears a powerful song, so even absent any solid evidence that Cobain's citing Westerberg citing Chilton, I could believe he was. Such was the legend of Alex Chilton in 1991—a full year before Fantasy Records reissued #1 Record and Radio City, meaning that this is what I thought on the strength of the lyrics on the Bangles' cover of "September Gurls" and his work with the Box Tops. I had absolutely no idea what Big Star would sound like, only that Chilton was a force worth reckoning with. And so he was. I'd link to some of his catalog, but I'm still having problems listening to Big...
Andy McCarthy on the moral superiority of cheaters. Over on The Corner, Andy McCarthy unwittingly claims that Democrats are morally superior to Republicans: I know we tire of the hypocrisy, but I really think this is remarkable. We spent the eight years through January 19, 2009, listening to Democrats complain that President Bush had purportedly caused a constitutional crisis by issuing signing statements when he signed bills into law. Democrats and Arlen Specter (now a Democrat) complained that these unenforceable, non-binding expressions of the executive’s interpretation of the laws Bush was signing were a usurpation Congress’s power to enact legislation. But now Democrats are going to abide not a mere signing statement but an executive order that purports to have the effect of legislation—in fact, has the effect of nullifying legislation that Congress is simultaneously enacting? Democrats, he argues, were correct when they complained that signing statements were “unenforceable, non-binding expressions of the executive’s interpretation of the laws [and] a usurpation Congress’s power to enact legislation.” They were right to complain when the Bush administration appended them to legislation, but now they must defend the very principles conservatives have never had and stop President Obama from appending anything to H.R. 3590 when he signs it into law or be branded rank hypocrites. Consider this in baseball terms: It’s the top of the first, and McCarthy and likeminded conservatives—we’ll call them the Yankees—stride to the plate with a Reebok Vector O. When the liberal pitcher complains, the umpire merely shrugs his shoulders and shouts, “Play ball!” The pitcher opens with a wicked 12 to 6 curve over the heart of the plate. McCarthy stares at the mound in disbelief, then turns and says something to the umpire, who walks to the mound and informs the pitcher that there will be no more quote, bendy pitches, unquote. “What?” “You heard me,” the umpire replies. “McCarthy can’t hit anything but four-seamers, so that’s what you need to throw.” Dumbfounded, the pitcher steps on the rubber and launches a 95 m.p.h. four-seamer down the chute. McCarthy throws his hands in the air and again complains to the umpire, who again approaches the mound. “How is he supposed to hit a 95 m.p.h. fastball?” “Not very well, actually, is the idea” the pitcher replies. “I don’t want to see the gun touch anything over 80 from now on, we clear?” “You want me to throw batting practice fastballs?” “I don’t want you to, I’m telling you to,” the umpire says as he makes his way back to the plate. Needless to say, by the time the liberals record three outs, the Yankees are up by twenty-seven. In the dugout, the liberals notice that the grounds crew is not only relocating the mound 50 ft. from home plate, but raising it five inches; moreover, the Yankees’s starting pitcher is heading to the mound with a jar of Vaseline and an industrial sander. When they complain, the Yankees insist that this this non-regulation mound is actually regulation, and that they’re not doctoring balls so much...

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