The Designer’s Drugs: Room

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Emma Donoghue – Room

Anno: 2010

 

It takes some serious imagination and talent to make one of the most disturbing elements of a tale chronicling years of imprisonment and rape the act of breastfeeding.  This goes hand in hand with the fact that this tale of extreme abuse is told through the perspective of Jack, the wide-eyed and wonderful five year old boy who was born in this prison and who has never left its confines.  Considering that the only people he’s known are his mother and their captor, that he hasn’t been weaned – and is obsessively against the idea – is perhaps understandable.  But it’s the language he uses in describing the act which gives it its unsettling quality.  In Room, the word “some” means milk, and Jack refers to “having some” as casually as an outsider would describe drinking a glass of water.  Rarely has a literary euphemism been used to creepier effect.

This is all in keeping with the greater theme, which is the mutual incomprehension between Jack and the outside world.  That outside world, it should be noted, includes the reader, whose cultural solipsism, along with those of Jack’s fictional outside world, is bound to clash with the solipsism of the young prisoner.

At Room’s beginning, Jack is a creature who knows so little of what lies beyond the borders of his prison that he is certain that nothing else exists.  This delusion is so complete that he views the television programs he watches as not a series of real elements coming together to form a show but entirely unreal fabrications.  He doesn’t believe that trees exist, or other people, or events.  As the world is increasingly made real to him, Jack’s sense of routine and habit spirals out of control, and in fact he begins to idealize his imprisonment.

It’s at the points of contact where the reader will feel the most conflict with Jack.  It’s easy to sympathize with the victim when in his prison, locked away from the so-called right ideas and behaviors.  One does what one must to survive, after all.  But once in the so-called real world, Jack’s oddness suddenly becomes unhealthy and disruptive.  When he can’t adapt to the spoken and unspoken expectations and standards of a culture he only recently found, he ceases to be seen as a victim and becomes a brat.  It was so hard to read this book and not feel a sense of self-reproach as the frustration with Jack builds.

Ultimately, Room is a tale against absolutes and complacent certainty, a brilliant and unique tale of confinement that illuminates the restraints of all who watch.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Curse of the Wolf

Film: Curse of the Wolf (2006)

Director: Len Kabasinski

Starring: Lanny Poffo, Renee Porada, Brian “Blue Meanie” Heffron

Written by: Len Kabasinski

When I was a young wrestling fan, one of the wrestlers who creeped me out most was Lanny Poffo, known to me as the villainous valedictorian, The Genius.  With his Prince Valiant bowl cut, his frightening pedo-stache, and his sinister leer, Poffo cut a villainous figure on appearance alone.  Combining this with his propensities to prance around in a graduation gown and recite foppish bad guy poetry made him one of pro wrestling’s legendary creeps.

I suppose that, upon discovering Poffo’s one leading film role, I was hoping to see The Genius leering at wolfmen and reading goofy lycanthrope poetry.  It was surprising to instead see Poffo playing the straight man in an incredibly subpar, dickheaded film about a werewolf on the run from her dickheaded pack.

This exhibit contains just about everything I hate about modern horror films, which boils down to one cardinal rule: no matter the gore and violence, a film isn’t horror if the audience doesn’t give a shit about anyone in it.  By that rule, this film is highly disqualified.  If the filmmakers elected to go the Troma route of splatter slapstick, things might have ended well enough, but instead they chose to make a joyless spectacle disguised behind that humorless veil of dark irony and cool, full of shitty metal tunes and populated by obnoxiously orating wrestler-types and low-rent porn stars.  To say that the action in this film is rather well done is a cheap consolation.

Though I can’t say much for the company he keeps, Poffo’s roughneck fixer is a breath of fresh air in this cesspool.  Similarly, the actress who plays the fugitive werewolf actually seems to invest herself in her role, though the writer/director fills her mouth with the same crap that fills the mouths of all his characters.  Any scriptwriter who has a woman blame her slight sullenness on maybe being on the rag probably has some lady issues – a prejudice reinforced here by every other scene featuring a woman.

The best character of Curse of the Wolf is The Blue Meanie, a real life pro wrestler who spends his screen time as the wolf pack’s muscle.  Whether he’s rambling around clad only in heavily-stained tighty whities or punching the hearts out of fools, Meanie is the one consistent joy to be found in this film.  It’s too bad that he’s paired up with a pack of flaming douchebags.

The Blue Meanie

Indeed, the only reason to watch Curse of the Wolf is if you’re curious about the film careers of The Genius or The Blue Meanie.  If not, stay far, far away.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Seth

This is about as tame as it's going to get.

Seth (1995)

What follows is a tale of unearthed treasure.  I’m not certain of all the details of how this gem returned to the world, but I do know that the video was found in the vaults of the Warehouse Nightclub in La Crosse, where it lay dormant for roughly 15 years.  Once rediscovered, the video was quickly uploaded to YouTube by Bizarro enabler Ben Koch, who brought it to my attention.  It promptly blew my brains out with its disturbing genius.

Seth Mitchell, who with his sweet mustache and insatiable eroticism comes off as a gay Burt Reynolds, spends about six minutes leering at the camera, gyrating and writhing around in various states of undress.  There are, in fact, moments where Seth is wearing nothing at all, and while most of the shots are no more explicit than any risqué photo shoot, there is that one scene in the shower where Seth’s balls, beneath his arched back and slutty pose, are clearly in view.

This is the tasteful nude shot.

Musically – and, oh yeah, I almost forgot there was music – Seth sounds like a cross between old timey industrial clanging and perhaps a lo-fi version of the repetitive anthems of Gary Glitter.  Vocally Seth sounds a bit like Q Lazzarus, the wistful yet forceful vocalist behind the tuck-it-back anthem “Goodbye Horses.”  Though I’m not even certain of the song’s title, Seth repeats “Can you feel it?” enough times that I’m assuming this to be the title.  Indeed, the song itself is essentially a hypnotic, droning mantra which serves little beyond providing music to accompany Seth’s striptease.

What’s greatest about this long and overwhelmingly uncomfortable video clip is that it was sent to the Warehouse in hopes of setting up a gig.  Originally, I felt as though I ought to compare this to someone sending self-made softcore pornography to a prospective employer – but then I realized that this is exactly what happened.  Seth Mitchell sent softcore pornography of himself to a venue, looking for a gig.  I applaud that sense of audacity.  I wish that more people – especially in real life – had Seth’s (ahem) balls.

This man is a champ!

Here it is!  (NSFW)

The Designer’s Drugs: Jamiroquai – Rock Dust Light Star

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Jamiroquai – Rock Dust Light Star

Anno: 2010

 

To call Rock Dust Light Star Jamiroquai-by-numbers by no means diminishes the funk brilliance that the album puts on display.  For its latest effort, the band puts out a nice balance of swaggering R&B slow jams with rushing dance numbers, resulting in a well-rounded collection of New Disco.

Yet will all due respect to the bluesy wah overload of “Hurtin’” and the slick Motown cool of “Two Completely Different Things,” perhaps it’s a bit too well-rounded.  Jamiroquai is at its best when it turns up the tempo.  The album’s best evidence of this is “White Knuckle Ride,” which is every bit as swift as the name suggests.  Augmented by the hint of high end guitar funk, a few synth outbursts, and the presence of disco divas in the chorus, the beats and bass of this song create perfectly measured yet exhilarating dancefloor pop.  The formula also works to the band’s advantage in “All Good in the Hood,” though this song is more balanced instrumentally and more focused on vocalist Jay Kay’s soul singing.

The album’s great swerve comes on the final track, titled “Hey Floyd,” which comes off as a fully orchestrated, piano-led theme song to some 70s copsploitation film.  The song takes an odd detour into a reggae phase at one point, but most of the song conjures images of cops in leisure suits chasing dirtbags through the urban decay.  While “White Knuckle Ride” may be the album’s most exciting song, “Hey Floyd” is its most ambitious songwriting.

Perhaps Rock Dust Light Star could have used a little more dance and a little less mellow, but on the whole it’s great fun.

The Designer’s Drugs: Kristian Hoffman – Fop

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Kristian Hoffman – Fop

Anno: 2010

 

Kristian Hoffman’s senses of the grandiose and the absurd lend his music a wide, smart scope that often defies categorization.  Knowing that Hoffman’s extensive musical career includes a collaboration with Pee-Wee Herman and that he was one of the main songwriters behind opera alien Klaus Nomi provides as solid a starting point as can be grasped.

Fop’s largest constant, beyond clever lyricism, is its tracks’ tendency toward whimsical, almost childlike vaudeville stylings directed by piano.  Yet even this isn’t set in stone, as there are plenty of Bowie-style guitar rockouts and soft-spoken balladry to be found on Fop as well.  The best example of the latter is the opening track, the extravagant yet soft-spoken “Something New Is Born,” whereas the former is best represented by the sinister, string-accompanied “Mediocre Dream.”

Yet with the wealth of tracks on Fop – 17 songs in total, with not one feeling like a placeholder – the listener has the freedom to go in whatever direction one chooses.  Hoffman’s consistent inconsistency might have not worked out so well had he not possessed the witty technique to temper his offbeat sensibilities.  Fortunately, he runs at full speed with both.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Grandma’s Boy

This pretty much sums up the entire movie.

Film: Grandma’s Boy (2006)

Director: Nicholaus Goossen

Starring: Allen Covert, Nick Swardson, Doris Roberts

Written by: Barry Wernick, Allen Covert, Nick Swardson

 

There was a summer in my life in which my friends and I watched this film at least once a day, and the routine never grew old.  This isn’t necessarily because Grandma’s Boy is the greatest film ever, but it’s more of a comment about target audiences.  For a group of sarcastic and surly twentysomethings man-children – some of whom were pot smokers, all of whom were videogame freaks, and every last one a lover of karate monkeys – it’s hard to name a more appropriate film.

The main plot involves perennial Adam Sandler henchman Allen Covert starring as a video game tester in his late 30s.  After getting kicked out of his apartment because his roommate spent all their money on Asian hookers, he runs out of options and ends up staying at his grandma’s place.  Crazy old lady hijinks ensue.

But really, this isn’t about plot.  The reason one watches this film is to take in the bizarre characters and ridiculous situations which splatter across the screen.  Grandma’s Boy is little more than a series of high slapstick and comedy Rorschach, but somehow it incorporates all of its chaotic elements into a likeable, if not entirely coherent, mass.  This is a film in which an African witch doctor will suddenly show up, say a few ridiculous lines, and fade into the background to allow some other absurdity to follow, and somehow the viewer can roll with it.

Covert works great as the story’s tenuous anchor, bringing a wry and grudging enthusiasm to the proceedings.  His sidekick, played by Nick Swardson, is even better, cutting loose as a wide-eyed, cougar-hunting adult infant.  But the scene-stealer in Grandma’s Boy is the villainous J.P., an arrogant yet inept video game prodigy played by Joel David Moore.  J.P. is about as great a nerd as can be imagined, and his woeful attempts at asserting authority over his game testers is undermined by the fact that he honestly believes that he is a robot, and acts accordingly, down to his jerky movements and electronic voice.  Moore is an absolute treasure in this role, though you’d think that such a role would carry the danger of getting typecast as an uber-nerd.  Then again, Moore ended up starring in Avatar, so if he is to forever be a film geek, at least he’s been well compensated.

Grandma’s Boy may not be for grandmas themselves, but for the modern nerd it is fine tomfoolery.  Someday, when my generation ships out to the retirement homes and spends its last moments popping pills and playing videogames, I’m sure this film will be even more fitting.

The Designer’s Drugs: Ace of Base – The Golden Ratio

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Ace of Base – The Golden Ratio

Anno: 2010

 

I try to avoid having guilty pleasures, but it wouldn’t be far off to describe Ace of Base as my one musical pleasure which is most surprising.  Though I tend to loathe much of the band’s best known work – “The Sign” in particular makes me grate my teeth – Ace of Base was really my first serious introduction to electronic music.  The clubbed-up B-sides of the band’s debut album drew me in, and its follow-up, The Bridge, is a mature stripe of Europop that stands as my favorite example of the style.  Of course, most people only know the singles, and as such I get a villainous glee when busting out Ace of Base upon the unexpected.

It’s been eight years since Ace of Base released their last album, and for some time it seemed as though the band had packed it in.  The gradual departures of the band’s two female singers, Jenny and Linn Berggren, seemed to be the final straw, but instead of calling it a day, the two remaining members decided to crew up, recruiting two new girls to sing their songs.  The result is The Golden Ratio, and while there are some good tracks to be found, this version of Ace of Base doesn’t match the original.  There are two big reasons why this is the case, and both have to do with Ace of Base trading in what made it unique for more conventional pop fodder.

First, the new vocalists sound like every other female pop vocalist on the scene.  Their voices crack with girly vulnerability at all the right moments, their lyrics profess all the expected heartbreak and whimsy.  They’re props, and serve their purpose.

But the more pressing problem with The Golden Ratio lies squarely on the shoulders of the band’s tenured members.  The band doesn’t completely abandon its reggae-tinged pop roots, and the strongest example of the old style, “Mr. Replay,” is one of the album’s best tracks.  Yet there is a strong sense that the band is trying to keep pace with everyone else instead of being itself.  “Southern California” is the worst offender, a lifeless grab at moody American girlpop.

But what’s worse, the opening track, “All for You,” sounds like every other electropop group from Ace of Base’s mid-90s heyday, and it’s only the most glaring evidence.  Trading in Ace of Base’s electropop for the La Bouche/Snap!/Culture Beat conglomerate is not a good move.

Still, there is one very bright moment on the album, a flamenco guitar led dirge titled “Who Am I” in which every aspect of the new group comes together perfectly.  If every song on The Golden Ratio was as well-orchestrated as this, it would have been brilliant.

Yet as it stands, I’d have recommended that this new group have started with a clean slate and a new name.  The Golden Ratio is no Bridge.

 

(As a bonus, one of the worst music videos ever!)

Y Spy: Dredg Strips Down

Dredg has built a long career out of taking rock music to unexpected and panoramic heights.  Mixing anger with orchestration, sound with visual art, the band is nothing if not ambitious.  Last year’s “The Pariah, the Parrot, the Delusion” stands as one of the most forward-thinking and imaginative rock records in recent memory, and yet Dredg is by no means content to rest on those laurels.

Currently on tour supporting Circa Survive, Dredg is also making the final preparations for its newest release, an as-yet-untitled work which vocalist Gavin Hayes describes as more stripped down than Dredg’s recent output.  Yet if their choice of producer – hip-hop impresario Dan the Automator – is any indication, basic won’t equal predictable.

In our conversation, Hayes also discussed his recent status as Seattle exile, the band’s increased velocity, and stories of treasure hunts and fake cops.

Y Spy: What’s the status of the new album?

Gavin Hayes: We finished recording it; it’s currently being mixed and will probably be mastered and totally finished in mid-November.

Y Spy: How did it come together?

Gavin Hayes: Actually this was a much different approach than pretty much all our records.  I’ve been living in Seattle for the past couple years, so most of this record was written remotely by email and sending music back and forth.  I’d say about 80% of the record was written remotely.

We’re also doing this record with Dan the Automator, who’s an artist as well.  He had sent me some music as well.  I think on three of these tracks, if all three make it, it will be a sort of Dredg/Dan the Automator collaboration.  He wrote the initial music and then we added to it and I wrote and sang the lyrics.

We wrote it pretty quickly for us.  It was written and recorded within a year.

Y Spy: Were there any specific reasons why this one took less time to make as opposed to the spans between your past releases?

Gavin Hayes: It’s just the way things work now.  Our last record took so long, and I know we didn’t want to take as long with this record.  I think with the attention span of the masses now and how accessible music is, you have to expedite your material and your records.  I guess you can compare it to cinema; in the 80s or early 90s a movie would come out in a theater and wouldn’t come out on VHS for a year, sometimes longer.  Now with DVDs, it comes out right after.  You might as well get it out there and keep your name at the forefront.

Y Spy: Do you see yourselves releasing at a quicker pace from here on?

Gavin Hayes: I definitely do.  I’d like us to release another record after this one in early to mid 2012 depending on how things go.  We already have a lot of material that we wrote from this record that wasn’t recorded.  There’s already a starting point to a new record from some of this other material we didn’t approach.

I think we’re better at writing faster.  Writing remotely as we did on the record is almost more productive, because you don’t have four opinions in a room.  You have a solitary period of being by yourself and taking your time, and then sharing with everyone after.  The opinions come after the fact.

Y Spy: You’ve previously noted that there were a lot of songs written for The Pariah, the Parrot, the Delusion that didn’t make that cut.  Is any of that material coming out on the new album?

Gavin Hayes: We actually recorded two songs that were written around the Pariah time.  They were songs that were great but didn’t necessarily fit the record.  We’ve tweaked them a lot since, and they make more sense with this record, especially with some of the rhythm changes and other things we added to them.

Y Spy: How many new songs do you expect to not make this album’s cut?

Gavin Hayes: I’d say we have five to ten songs that we didn’t record, that are in about 80% complete format.

Y Spy: Many musicians seem to throw those excess songs away because when they record songs, they want them to reflect their current state.  Did you feel odd bringing songs back from the Pariah period?

Gavin Hayes: Initially, it did, but as I said we’ve tweaked them enough so they don’t feel the same anymore.  They actually work better with this album; it seems more fitting for them to be here.  One of them, especially, feels like a new song.  We updated enough to where it didn’t feel like we were backtracking.  They’re good songs, so why not share them with people?  They are recorded now; it’s not a guarantee that they’ll make the record, but they’ll be out there one way or the other.  Why throw something made away?

Y Spy: How have you advanced the band’s formula on this new album?

Gavin Hayes: Working with Dan the Automator, whose roots are in the hip-hop world and whose production is kind of in that vein.  We wanted to have it be a collaboration with another artist who brings something new to the table.  We’ve been friends with him for many years, and we’ve always talked about doing a record, and he’s had a clear vision of what our band can be.

We sound like a rock band still, but the rhythm section is a little more consistent.  It’s not as jumpy.  I’d also say this production is rawer.  We recorded this really quickly.  Drums were done in two or three days.  Everything was: let’s sound like a rock band, get in, and do it.  I feel like because of that, we’ve limited some of the overdubs we would do.  That was the goal at the beginning of this project: let’s take away instead of adding to this record and let each aspect of the band cut through.  Not blanket it with overdubs.  In turn, it sounds bigger and clearer.

Y Spy: It’s interesting that you’re working with a producer who comes from the hip-hop world, a style which is rife with sampling – especially in light of your previous stances against sampling.  Is there any sampling on the new record?

Gavin Hayes: There’s no sampling.  Everything’s live, but some of it has that feeling.  He constructed drums and made beats, but they’re not samples.  And even when there are loops, there are live drums with them.  All the instrumentation is performed.

Y Spy: Is there a story or lyrical theme to the album?

Gavin Hayes: This isn’t really a concept record for us, but to me a lot of it is about distance from loved ones and separation.  A few that I’m thinking of are about my sister who is in the Army, and me trying to relate to her situation as an artist touring for two months and coming back to my everyday normal life.  That transition is always a little weird.  So a lot of it is about her being able to confide in me on some level, and distance from family and friends.  That’s kind of the undertone to a lot of the material, a longing.

We didn’t want to restrict ourselves to a concept album and just wrote the best material we could.  But there’s definitely a feeling to the whole record which could be construed into an idea.

Y Spy: Are you planning any other creative aspects to the album?

Gavin Hayes: We’re working on the visual side right now.  We have a lot of ideas being thrown around right now.  We’re always very into the art and how it’s presented and making sure each album has an identity, visually as well as auditory.

We’re definitely going to do a video.  We want it to relate it to the album artwork.  We do have a few friends who make videos; one guy’s a photographer who has been experimenting with videos and doing creative stuff.  We don’t want to make a generic video this time.  We want to make something that stands apart.

Y Spy: How goes your current tour with Circa Survive?

Gavin Hayes: It’s going really well so far.  We recorded a day before we went on tour; I was in the studio at 6 a.m. finishing vocals.  The next day we had to go to our guitar player’s brother’s wedding, and then we flew out to Atlanta the next day.  So we were without rehearsal, other than playing together in the studio which is a whole other beast.  The first show, we were probably the most nervous we’ve been in years.  But it turned out well.  We did a little hippie acoustic jam in the back to refresh, and just went.

We’ve toured with Circa Survive before.  We’ve toured with Codeseven numerous times.  We’ve all been friends.  Animals as Leaders are sharing a bus with us, and they’re good people.  Because of that closeness, we’ve been able to bond quickly.  Beyond the music it’s kind of a reunion tour for a bunch of friends who haven’t played together in years.  That’s sometimes more important to me than what happens on stage.

Y Spy: Are you playing new songs on the tour?

Gavin Hayes: We’re playing one as of now.  We might add another one.

Y Spy: What’s the instrumentation for this tour’s show?  Do you have any guest musicians coming with?

Gavin Hayes: Not out East.  Out West, mainly in California, we might have a friend come out and do some backup vocals and guitar playing with us.  Nothing too fancy, though.  We didn’t have time to prepare anything crazy for this tour.  We’d like to present something a little more grandiose, but we’re just being a rock band on this run.

Y Spy: What are your touring plans after this tour?

Gavin Hayes: It ends December 5th in New York, and we’re doing some headlining dates on the way home.  We’ll take a break for the holidays, and if our record comes out as planned in February or March, we want a basic tour around that.  If we could get a great supporting slot, we’ll do that around the time of the record.  If not, we’ll do a headlining tour.  After that I’m sure we’ll go overseas.  The European market has been good to us, actually better than the U.S., so it’s important that we go back and forth between them.  After that, maybe a few more runs, and then hopefully we’ll have another record on the way.

Y Spy: On your website, you held a treasure hunt which promised 18 winners two lifetime tickets to any headlining Dredg show.  How did that go?

Gavin Hayes: It went really well, actually.  Some of the clues were really obscure, and I can’t believe that people found the treasure.  It was buried up in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  That’s where it ended, but there were a lot of places they had to go, all over the Bay Area, anywhere from into the mountains to behind a street sign near the beach to a library.  And people found it, and they got to name a song on the next record.  They ended up naming the song “Long Days and Vague Clues,” which I assume was based on what they went through.

I think our fans enjoy being interactive with us and doing interesting things like that, and we try to present something like that every time.

Y Spy: Also, there’s a video of you on stage getting busted by fake cops in Europe.  What happened?

Gavin Hayes: The time we were in Germany before that, we got in trouble for being drunk late at night, and we broke bottles or something.  We had the Berlin police send us a note saying we owed money.  It was the perfect setup for a prank, so Drew our bass player took that as a cue to set up a pretty elaborate prank.

He hired two actors to play Berlin P.D. and come on stage.  They looked so real, head to toe police outfits, and I was sold.  They came on stage and said we had to stop, and said that either we pay them 2,000 euro or they’re going to take us to jail.  So we got backstage and everyone’s laughing at us.  That was that.  Hardest I’ve ever been pranked, by far.

Y Spy: When and why did you move to Seattle?

Gavin Hayes: It was for personal reasons, family reasons.  That happened about two years ago.  I’m actually going back to California about early next year.  It was always a temporary move, but I like it up there.

Y Spy: How has the city affected your musical and artistic work, and is it difficult to coordinate with your bandmates?

Gavin Hayes: I made a lot of trips down to the Bay Area, so we did have weeks where we rehearsed and wrote together, but now we can trade music on the internet.  Me not knowing many people in Seattle, not having a group of people I hang out with, I didn’t do much.  From that side of things, I spent more time being creative and productive.

Y Spy: Do you generally work better in a state of exile?

Gavin Hayes: I definitely do, especially when recording vocals.  I love being on my own with my headphones.  It’s much different than being in a room and being on the spot, and trying to have everything be right.  But I like being in a room with the band and improvising; that sets the tone of the song and retains the energy of the band.  From there, I feel like it’s more productive to put it under the microscope and be on my own and focus on the lyrics and melody and make sure everything’s working properly.

Y Spy: As part of a band that has long established itself, is it easier to keep going at this point?

Gavin Hayes: I guess it depends on what you mean by established.  We don’t have a hit song or anything on that level.  When a band puts out a hit song, that follow-up record or single can be make or break.  We grew up with Papa Roach; they had a huge single, and then their next record did really well but not as well.  But now they’ve found the way to maintain their career.  Their records are still doing really well, they’re playing huge shows, and they’re still a very successful act.  If you do get to a certain level you’re probably going to have a certain loyal fanbase that you can rely on.  I don’t think it’s ever that easy to maintain it, though.  It adds more expectations and pressure to your project, or an idea of what your band is.

For a band like us who has been together for 15 years, stylistically things have evolved.  No matter what you do, things are going to change.  You still have fans whose favorite record is your second, your third, or your first.  That’s when they thought you peaked.  Or you have those who think that your last album was your best.  You have all these varying opinions and outlooks of what you should and shouldn’t be.  For our band, we’ve always wanted to progress and keep ourselves interested, and not regurgitate the same record over and over, to keep moving forward with who we are as musicians and people.

Y Spy: So at the moment, how do you view Dredg?

Gavin Hayes: I view our band as confident and aware of what we are.  I like where we are now as opposed to where we were five years ago.  We know who we are, and this is what we do, and we’re not trying to prove anything.  I guess it’s from all those years together.  There’s a certain wisdom of the business now, and just how shit works, and a distaste of the business, which I like.  We’re not flattered by anything in the music world – it’s almost more disgusted by it.  I think that’s a great outlook to have.  It’s allowing us to go down our path and make the records we want to make.  We’ve kind of always done [that], but I feel like we’re more adamant and confident about that direction.

Dredg plays El Corazon in Seattle on Wednesday, November 10th.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: The People under the Stairs

Champ.

Film: The People under the Stairs (1991)

Written and Directed by: Wes Craven

Starring: Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie

 

With all due respect to Freddy Krueger, I think The People under the Stairs is my favorite Wes Craven film.  It’s absurd without being moronic, disturbing without losing the plot, and best of all it has a wonderful sense of claustrophobia and dread.  Even in its silliest moments that dread is there, which is all the more punctuated by the moments when the tension gives way to silliness.  This is a great horror movie.

The story centers around a ghetto kid named Fool, who in appearance and demeanor resembles the brashly intelligent kids from The Boondocks. With his mom dying and the family facing eviction from their apartment, Fool gets taken in by a young Ving Rhames and taught the burglar’s trade.  Rumor has it that the slumlords responsible for the family’s predicament are sitting on a horde of gold coins, and Fool’s mentor intends to collect.

Problem is, the landlords are a bit more than simply greedy ghetto aristocrats.  The mom-and-pop opportunists are an awesome display of insanity.  First of all, Mom and Pop are also brother and sister.  Nice.  In fact, they come from a long and almost entirely vertical family tree, which clearly had an effect.  Their labyrinthine house is also home to a human-eating Rottweiler, a molested and perpetually terrified “daughter,” and the titular People, failed attempts at abducting a properly moral son which end up mutilated and dumped in the basement to starve when the parents get disappointed.

As a pair, they spend most of the movie running around their house, screaming “Burn in Hell!” at the top of their lungs as they try to stop poor Fool from defiling their daughter.  Individually, they’re even greater.

Mom is a monster housewife, sporting big red hair, thick-painted eyebrows, and a hooker’s crooked mouth.  Her psychotic attempts at imposing moral order may be less overtly frightening than her counterpart’s, but she’s the real terror in this story.

Dad, however, is simply amazing.  He looks every bit the perverted pastor, and he runs with the prejudice to amazing heights.  His role is to be the muscle, and much of his time on screen is spent storming through the house and blasting holes in the walls with a shotgun.  Even better, he does much of the rampaging in a full-body leather Gimp suit.  Fantastic.

As much as I got behind Fool’s desperate attempts to get out of the house, there’s no denying that Mom and Pop are the heart of this film.  The joyous terror they infuse every scene with makes this one of the best fright flicks ever.

The Designer’s Drugs: Meghan McCain – Dirty Sexy Politics

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Meghan McCain – Dirty Sexy Politics

Anno: 2010

Meghan McCain’s story of her dad John’s 2008 presidential campaign is easily comparable to Danica McKellar’s math books directed toward teenage girls.  Though she admits to swearing like a sailor and falling far short of the feminine ideal put forth by her Republican Party, Meghan’s account of political life is clearly directed toward McKellar’s audience.  When she’s not taking her party to task or discussing her growing disillusionment with her old man’s campaign, McCain tends to spend her time obsessing over her hair, wardrobe, girlfriends, and the ubiquitous UGG boots which she mentions at the slightest provocation.  The title’s not exactly accurate; the Sexy in Dirty Sexy Politics is actually more about gender than hookups, but I suppose Dirty Girly Politics doesn’t have the same ring.

On the surface, getting something out of this book depends on the reader being able to do one of two things: enjoying fashion-centric tales of girls on the campaign trail, or being able to roll one’s eyes at these bits and move on.  The former isn’t for me, but McCain’s book stays on its political task enough to hold me over through the eye-rolling.

When she discusses her alienation from the Republican Party or the damage caused to her family during her dad’s 2000 campaign, McCain provides a cogent case for moving conservatism beyond its closed-minded, reactionary, and youth-dismissing current state.  While unmistakably right-wing on infrastructure issues, her views on social issues come dangerously close to liberal.  That McCain isn’t a pundit and doesn’t have a political background works to her benefit.  Some chapters feel more guarded and use more political speak than others (it’s hard for me to take seriously anyone under 30 using the phrase “young people”), but McCain tends to stick with forthrightness, without the entitled moral trolling that accompanies much of today’s popular conservative writing.

When the discussion moves to her dad’s 2008 presidential campaign, it becomes harder to agree with every point made.  Meghan is hardly objective, but that’s the point.  She provides a sympathetic insight on John McCain the person, even as she criticizes the vultures and opportunists who commandeered his campaign as it gains traction.  As could be expected, a big part of this story focuses on Sarah Palin’s running mate effect on the campaign.  While Meghan quickly sours on Palin’s blatant lunge for the limelight, she steers clear of catty tabloid trash-talking.

Those expecting slick diatribes and reinforced party lines from Dirty Sexy Politics will come away empty-handed.  More than anything, this is a tale of a girl put out of her element, expected to be a campaign prop and rebelling against it.  It doesn’t always work, but this is a nice change from the usual shouting of political literature.