Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Bad news

This is the redonkulously musicological essay I warned you about some time back. I actually have time to post it now. If you get through this, treat yourself to a cookie:

Rilo Kiley's "Portions for Foxes" is incredible. it reminds me of Elvis Costello's "Allison" or maybe even the tender moments of Cheap Trick, the Cars and even the Go-Gos. But the bad girl Go-Gos when they were perfectly equal parts bad and good girls-- "Beauty and the Beat"-era. If Belinda Carlsile was the beat, Jane Weidlin would have to be the beat (even though she was the guitarist, not the drummer). To me, the dichotomy of the Go-Gos, but particularly of "Portions for Foxes," embody the duality independent women face their entire lives: are you the fair, innocent girl or do you just do what you want, when you feel like it? It's a simple matter of female superego and Id, really, but to me the absolute best music, the best art, ever created displays inner conflict. The Go-Gos had it with their band (just a tad) and sometimes it showed up a litle in their songs, as relatively few as they released for such a revered band. "Allison" seems to portray this dual female consciousness in a sing song, only Costello comes at it from a male point of view, trying to understand a woman's point of view. While this may seem clueless on his part, "Allison" presents a fresh pair of eyes. It's a starting point for many men (read: music geeks who overthink romantic relationships with women).

Now, I may be wrong, but I think "Portions for Foxes," Rilo Kiley's first single off of 2004's "More Adventurous," follows closely in this tradition. However, in this song, lead singer/lyricist/cutie pie Jenny Lewis airs out not only her dirty laundry, but her unmentionables as well. She's exceedingly vulnerable, yet spunky. Her vocal delivery is a dead giveaway of all this: a passionate song filled with feminine, but not shrinking and instead strong, emotional nakedness. It's like a female singing "Allison." Costello, after all, sings with a masculine, but still vulnerable, strength. It goes without saying, then, that traditional gender roles are blurred and even challenged a little bit here with songs like "Portions for Foxes."

The song in question has two particularly memorable verses and approximately three-and-a-half memorable moments. Starting with its more tangible properties, one verse goes: "There's blood in my mouth / 'Cause I've been biting my tounge all week / I keep on talking trash / But I never say anything." Right here an immeadiate, inter-couplet (that is, take the first two lines together and compare them to the last two lines together) contradiction is established. Lewis, assuming she's speaking of herself and not from someone else's point of view (I'll speak on the first- or third-person narration of the song later) has been a silent, obedient female for at least five to seven consecutive days, and no doubt longer than that, intermittently disbursed with moments of welled-up emotion or expression. No doubt, a "week" seems like years for her. Her spunk in her vocal delivery is palpable, and to hold such a force back would take considerable self-discipline. Here, subtextually, a narrative tension is established all with very few words spoken.

Second couplet: "I keep on talking trash," a more aggressive and arguably masculine trait, "but I never say anything." This line can be taken either as another contrast as to how she thinks on the inside and acts on the outside, of course, but there's a double (maybe triple or quadruple) entendre at work here. Maybe she does display these aggressive (read: for the purposes of this essay, "masculine") characteristics of her personality, she at a loss of how to focus it all. Maybe she "never say(s) anything" worthwhile. Maybe its not worthwhile in her mind. Maybe she's deluding herself. Maybe she has an inferiority complex, or maybe she's just a little insecure. There's no way to really know.

Analyze the preceding verse intra-couplet and its meaning becomes a bit clearer. The verse's first couplet shows causality (the word "because" being key here) whereas the verse's second couplet either (both?) subtle causality or blatant contradiction. Certainly, it keeps with Lewis' overall aesthetic and lyrical poise to side with the former and not the latter.

The song's other notable verse is: "...And the talking leads to touching / And the touching leads to sex / And then there is no mystery left." While there's certainly some unknown ether to be inferred between all of the "and"s (and not to mention the drift between "talking," "touching" and, finally, fucking) the final declarative statement of this verse isn't up for debate: There is no mystery left. The listener can only interpret one immutable thing about this regarding Ms. Lewis: sex is something that's very, very meaningful to her, as with most romantic types. It could also be drawn from this statement that actually consummating a relationship takes a lot, if most or all, of the fun (or mystery, same difference) from a relationship. To pull even further, the idealized abstraction of what lover John (or Jane) Doe truly is slowly but surely peeled away, unraveled into the imperfect being that, deep down, she knew (s)he was all along. "I do the same thing, I get lonely, too" is not just a lament of physical neglect (a masturbation reference?) or romantic loneliness (though there's a good chance it could be this, too), but new depth to "Portions for Foxes" is revealed when the listener realizes that Lewis' desperation in this song borders on an existential crisis-- a lament and contemplation on the existence of love and self; the ether between. Where do you stop and your lover begin? Lewis wants to know she's not alone in her disgusting betrayal of ideal, her own (and the partner's) ugly imperfections. She desperately wants to make sure its not just her.

The existential emptiness of the world answers nothing but the inverse of what her lover has no doubt told her: "It's not me, it's you."

A brief note on the song's title, which Ms. Lewis makes mention of in the song's bridge. "Portions for Foxes" is, possibly, what non-ideals or semi-ideals people settle for, are forced to settle for, in their everyday lives. If they're lucky, they grow to be happy with them (hence the "I don't care, I like you" at the end of the song)-- its the leftovers, the portions, from what was the main course everybody wants. "Bad news," which is repeated in the song at least 20 times (often times, Lewis says she is "bad news," doesn't necessarily mean Lewis is a bad girl, but that she has some bad news for her lover-- "bad news" over and over again; the betrayal of ideals. The bad news is about her, she is, therefore, a bad person for not living up to her lover's and her own expectations. This leads to self doubt, self deprecation and even self loathing. With this in mind, "portions for foxes" could also be a lamentation of the singer's, and/or the lover's, fragile mortality. Are we the foxes, or are the foxes our impending, inescapable doom?

To end, and on a lighter, non-lyrical note, the song's less tangible moments come in some typical "big rock," new wave sort of musical archetypes: big guitar hits, brief guitar melodies (hard to call them "solos," really) and your requisite key changes and intros/outros of rock music. "Portions for Foxes"'s special moment that qualifies as half a moment deserves attention. There's a moment about two minutes, 10 seconds into the song where she yelps two indecipherable syllables. Something like "cut it" or "come here." Even the most expert linguist could only decipher a sharp, cutting consonant, then a breathy vowel. This moment occurs, it should be noted, after another causality-obsessed verse: "When the lonliness leads me to bade dreams / And the bad dreams lead me to calling you / And I call you and say..." then the exclamation. "Cut it," or "cut it (out)" maybe, could be a rejection of her lover. However, that makes little sense due to the confessional, vulnerable context of the song so far. Its more likely Lewis means "come here." "I don't care, I like you," she says. "I like you." She "doesn't care" because of her reckless abandon of all ideal, her reckless compromise. She may as well be saying: "Oh Allison, my aim is true," or, "oh lover, how have I hurt you?"

The narration, and therefore framing, of the song's lyrical message is an entirely different matter. Like "Allison," its unclear (and this is perhaps purposefully so) whether the subject is the person singing (the songwriter talking to one's self) or the lover in question that's being discussed. In fact, to really mix things up, the singer might be singing from the perspective of his/her lover, as in the case of "Allison."

This begs the question(s): Whose doing who wrong? Whose doing the bad things and whose doing the good thing? Is anyone a saint here, or are they both unsavory characters? If so, whose really in control of the situation? Is this relationship about to fall apart or are they on the brink of salvaging it? The safest conclusion to draw, of course, is that both probably have a lot to answer for and maybe a lot to make up. Maybe they re-learn their ideals, and re-learn about themselves, through each other again like its the first time, through love. Maybe we do, too. Or maybe its this compromise with someone you love that ultimately kills us, and leaves our remains to the foxes. Maybe Lewis is really saying that we should never settle for anything less than perfection, lest we die without it-- or maybe she's saying that if you find something really great, try to be happy with that, too.

That's something to sing about.

I was going to say that I applaud you for getting all the way through this, but, really, I've read it so many times (and, hey, I wrote it) that now its just not that big a deal to me. If it seriously is to you, though, thanks a lot. I mean it. Really.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Guess who's back?

I want to share this with y'all as a comeback.

This is a short (and, yes, its mute-- so don't check your volume or speakers) video of left-wing protestors at John McCain's well-practiced graduation speech. He gave this speech to unversities Columbia, Liberty (causing quite the bit of controversy, seeing as stepping foot on Liberty University's manicured grounds automatically transform you into a right-wing nutjob or something) and, per the video above, New School.

I suppose these three universities are supposed to represent demarcation points in present-day sociopolitical thought: New School the (far) left, Liberty the (far) right and Columbia a prestigious, dignified middle. Again, this is just what I suppose John McCain or his handlers are thinking. I thought it was mighty classy of recently ousted Nebraska Senator, and now New School President, Bob Kerrey (not that loser) to introduce McCain and kind of stick up for him a little in the face of overwhelming blindly anti-war, Bush-bashing douchebaggery. It was in full force in a Garden full of New School grads and their aging hippie parents.

So, returning to the video, take a look at these assholes. Even with the preface made by the university president (he basically chided the crowd in advance for boo'ing McCain) They actually made BANNERS AND FUCKING SIGNS in protest. To make themselves look good, New School leftists said they were protesting McCain's use of their university's graduation ceremony for political gain. Reading between the lines, one can easily see that Liberty (a university that hasn't exactly fallen in line with most of McCain's ideals either) and Columbia didn't have any problem with McCain speaking at their graduation, or at least much of one. These universities at least had a respectful veneer for the Senator. The New School left's real problem with McCain was that he voted for the Iraq war because he, like many others, thought it was the right thing to do at the time. He did it because he was concerned for the War on Terror and he, for better or for worse, is a politician. McCain has stuck with his story and, again for better or for worse, stuck with the President.

But apparently the liberals at New School don't really want to hear all that. They just want to get together and protest... I mean party. I love how liberals find so much pride in how open-minded and accepting they are yet don't even want to hear the right, or sometimes even the middle, out. They just monotonously blather the same bullshit sort of meaningless talking points as their adversaries do (see: my mom) and will never ever know the joy of brisk discussion, debate and (hopefully, in the end) the spirit of synergystic bipartisianship.

The liberals (and the left as a whole) need to realize that Republicans like McCain aren't the problem with the country. In fact, its not even Republicans at all, its the Bush administration itself. Because access to figures in the administration is very limited, ignoramouses blame the entire party and, sometimes, an entire population of Christians for fucking up the country. Republican Christians like McCain are the solution (or the closest thing to a solution) to the Christian right cornering the market on political clout and influence. McCain is a Catholic, not a Christian (I don't consider them as too closely related anymore) and most of his politics are secular. He is a Republican moderate that, despite any political pressure, nobly sticks with his party.

At the end of this post, blocked off, is New School's valedictorian for 2006. She explains her speech, and why she spoke up, beforehand and then gives a transcript of her commencement speech. As if she were all brave and shit and what she said hadn't been said already many times over by people much less rebellious than she. She also brags about how open-minded her peers are. I would remind her that in a time when her school had the spotlight of the nation upon them, they showed themselves to be partisan hacks.

Why I Spoke Up
by Jean Rohe

When I was selected as a student speaker for the New School commencement
about two months ago I had no idea that I'd end up on CNN and in Maureen
Dowd's column in the New York Times, among other places, when it was all
over. One day after the big event I'm still reeling from all the media
attention and emails from professors, students, and other supporters from
all over the country, so forgive me if my writing is a little scattered.

In my speech yesterday I had hoped to talk about social responsibility in a
time of war, but in much more oblique terms. I wanted to speak about
communication, and how I have found that one of my strongest and most
enjoyable methods of communication is music. I wanted to talk about the New
York City public school preschoolers with whom I work each week and how
they've been empowered through music, how they've been able to learn
linguistic and social skills by singing together. I wanted to talk about my
grandfather, who, despite the fact that he has Alzheimer's disease and
cannot remember even my name, still knows all the songs he sang in his
youth. I wanted to talk about music as a powerful tool for peace. I wanted
to encourage everyone to identify his or her talents and to always use them
for the greater good.

Unfortunately, a certain not-so-dynamic duo of "centrist" politicians foiled
my standard graduation speech and forced me to act. Until just the day
before commencement I really hadn't understood the gravity of the situation.
I suppose I should tell the story.

. . .

At two in the morning when my boyfriend came home I hadn't even started
writing yet. I was in a terrible state of anxiety. What if it didn't work?
Didn't my earlier speech make my position clear enough? I told him my new
idea. "Jean, you have to do it. You'll kick yourself later if you don't."
"But it's two in the morning. There's no way it's going to be any good."
"Jean, do it. You'll have nothing to regret."

So in the wee hours of the morning I set out to revise my speech, re-saving
it as "mccain speech subversive.doc". And at three o'clock in the morning I
woke up my other roommate as I practiced reading it in our living room. She
wasn't upset. "Sounds like you're running for president," she told me. We
all agreed that I had no choice. It was the only thing I could do at the
commencement. And so, tingling with nerves, I tried to go to sleep.

The morning of the event I shared my speech over the phone with my mother
who predictably enough, cried. She gave me her words of encouragement. And
moments later, in the driving rain, I set off alone for Madison Square

. . .
The rest is a blur. I didn't have a high school graduation, so I was kind of
looking forward to the whole ceremony of it, but all I remember is suddenly
being in a robe, walking down the aisle of the MSG Theater to the cheers of
my friends (who, incidentally, had no idea what to expect) and then I was on
stage staring out at thousands of people and trying not to vomit.

. . .
I suppose I've written enough already, none of which has been particularly
journalistic. But I do feel that I need to respond to a couple of things
that have been floating around in the news. It's been noted in several
columns that anti-McCain sentiment coming from the left may actually help
him to garner support from the conservatives by giving him the opportunity
to paint us as extremist liberals, so we should all keep our mouths shut. I
say we need some "extremist liberals" if we're ever going to get our
democracy back. Others have said that he's a moderate at heart and that we
should let him continue pandering to the religious right so he can get the
vote. Once he gets into office he'll show his true colors and be the
centrist he always was. I don't buy that. People who truly care about human
beings don't vote for an unjust war, among other things, simply as a
political maneuver. Enough said.

More importantly, I feel obligated to respond to one thing that McCain
told the New York Times. "I feel sorry for people living in a dull world
where they can't listen to the views of others," he said. This is just
preposterous. Yes, McCain was undoubtedly shouted-out and heckled by
people who were not politely absorbing his words so as to consider them
fully from every angle. But what did he expect? We could've all printed
out his speech and chanted it with him in chorus. Did he think that no one
knew exactly what he was about to say? And it was precisely because we
listen to the views of others, and because, as I said in my speech, we
don't fear them, that we as a school were able to mount such a thorough
and intelligent opposition to his presence. Ignorant, closed-minded people
would not have been able to do what we did. We chose to be in New York for
our years of higher education for the very reason that we would be
challenged to listen to opposing viewpoints each and every day and to deal
with that challenge in a nonviolent manner. We've gotten very good at
listening to the views of others and learning how to also make our views
heard, even when we don't have the power of national political office and
the media on our side.

I think we must remember that as big as this moment may seem to me today and
perhaps to other supporters who are reading this article, this is a very
small victory in a time when democracy is swiftly eroding under the pressure
of the right wing in this country. We all have much work to do, and for the
most part the media do not represent us, the small people who don't hold any
special titles but who feel the weight of our government's actions on our
backs each and every day. I never expected to get the opportunity to speak
the way I did yesterday, but I'm so glad that I did. I hope that other
people found strength in my act of protest and will one day find themselves
in my position, drawing out their own bravery to speak truth.

Here's my commencement speech:

If all the world were peaceful now and forever more,
Peaceful at the surface and peaceful at the core,
All the joy within my heart would be so free to soar,
And we're living on a living planet, circling a living star.
Don't know where we're going but I know we're going far.
We can change the universe by being who we are,
And we're living on a living planet, circling a living star.

Welcome everyone on this beautiful afternoon to the commencement ceremony
for the New School class of 2006. That was an excerpt of a song I learned
as a child called "Living Planet" by Jay Mankita. I chose to begin my
address this way because, as always, but especially now, we are living in
a time of violence, of war, of injustice. I am thinking of our brothers
and sisters in Iraq, in Darfur, in Sri Lanka, in Mogadishu, in
Israel/Palestine, right here in the U.S., and many, many other places
around the world. And my deepest wish on this day--on all days--is for
peace, justice, and true freedom for all people. The song says, "We can
change the universe by being who we are," and I believe that it really is
just that simple.

Right now, I'm going to be who I am and digress from my previously
prepared remarks. I am disappointed that I have to abandon the things I
had wanted to speak about, but I feel that it is absolutely necessary to
acknowledge the fact that this ceremony has become something other than
the celebratory gathering that it was intended to be due to all the media
attention surrounding John Mc Cain's presence here today, and the student
and faculty outrage generated by his invitation to speak here. The senator
does not reflect the ideals upon which this university was founded. Not
only this, but his invitation was a top-down decision that did not take
into account the desires and interests of the student body on an occasion
that is supposed to honor us above all, and to commemorate our

What is interesting and bizarre about this whole situation is that Senator
Mc Cain has stated that he will be giving the same speech at all three
universities where he has been invited to speak recently, of which ours is
the last; those being Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, Columbia
University, and finally here at the New School. For this reason I have
unusual foresight concerning the themes of his address today. Based on the
speech he gave at the other institutions, Senator Mc Cain will tell us
today that dissent and disagreement are our "civic and moral obligation"
in times of crisis. I consider this a time of crisis and I feel obligated
to speak. Senator Mc Cain will also tell us about his cocky
self-assuredness in his youth, which prevented him from hearing the ideas
of others. In so doing, he will imply that those of us who are young are
too naïve to have valid opinions and open ears. I am young, and although I
don't profess to possess the wisdom that time affords us, I do know that
preemptive war is dangerous and wrong, that George Bush's agenda in Iraq
is not worth the many lives lost. And I know that despite all the havoc
that my country has wrought overseas in my name, Osama bin Laden still has
not been found, nor have those weapons of mass destruction.

Finally, Senator Mc Cain will tell us that we, those of us who are
Americans, "have nothing to fear from each other." I agree strongly with
this, but I take it one step further. We have nothing to fear from anyone
on this living planet. Fear is the greatest impediment to the achievement
of peace. We have nothing to fear from people who are different from us,
from people who live in other countries, even from the people who run our
government -- and this we should have learned from our educations here. We
can speak truth to power, we can allow our humanity always to come before
our nationality, we can refuse to let fear invade our lives and to goad us
on to destroy the lives of others. These words I speak do not reflect the
arrogance of a young strong-headed woman, but belong to a line of great
progressive thought, a history in which the founders of this institution
play an important part. I speak today, even through my nervousness, out of
a need to honor those voices that came before me, and I hope that we
graduates can all strive to do the same.

Jean Rohe, a BA/BFA graduate of the Jazz Program and Eugene Lang, was born
in Paterson, New Jersey in 1984. As a youngster, Jean grew up singing and
performing folk music with her family. Jean spent a year at Smith College
followed by a summer at the Universidad de la Habana in Cuba on scholarship
where she honed her Spanish skills, learned about Cuban history, culture,
and politics, and made some of her dearest friends. Since she transferred to
the New School in 2002, Jean has sung in venues throughout New York City,
including the Birdland, Sweet Rhythm, the Cornelia Street Café, Detour,
Barbés, and others. She also teaches and performs music for young children
at the Third Street Music School Settlement and at venues throughout the
city. She recently completed her senior work at Eugene Lang, an audio
documentary about her trip to Israel/Palestine during the Gaza disengagement
last August. In July she will be performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival in

I hope you didn't read that whole thing.

Just ask yourself this: Does that video, and this eloquent speech match up? No, it doesn't. And that's why the anti-war liberal left is full of shit. Right there.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Please be advised

konflictofinterest will be on hiatus until the end of May because he's pimpin' it in Athens right now. For reals, guys; School Kids makes me want to skeet my pants.

Thank you for your patronage.

Meanwhile, enjoy this sexy photo of Cat Power (with a healthy, Coachella tan! We missed you Chan!):