Monday, November 13, 2006

Halloween Covers

Halloween is long over. But it dies hard for me. When you’re a kid, the whole Halloween experience stretches out for like a week and a half if you nurse your candy right. But now it’s just a hangover that lasts until 4 in the afternoon the next day and a pillow smeared with makeup and fake blood. But Halloween is the awesomest. It’s appealed to humanity pretty much forever, probably because we’ve always needed some festive outlet to deal with death. But it seems especially fitting now that this truly postmodern generation is in full swing. Now people can go out dressed up like Quail Man or that slutty Russian Planeteer and have sloppy bar-time sex with a Ninja Turtle or a Care Bear Cousin. Mixin’ and matchin’ to make their own Saturday morning pastiche.

Here are some covers and other stuff to stretch out Halloween, like old candy at the bottom of your plastic pumpkin pale. Our generation and current culture, all the way from MTV reality shows to Ivy League Doctoral dissertations (which really aren't that far apart these days), seems obsessed with remembering and reevaluating the styles, trends and plastic artifacts from past pop cultural eras, lovingly deconstructing them for any and all emotional and historical value. It’s why people collect happy meal toys and limited addition Batman Returns chocolate cereal boxes. It’s why you see frat boys wearing brand new hot topic Mario Brothers t-shirts, and why it’s okay to write your masters thesis on The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, and its relation to Reagan-era ideology. It’s why in the last week and a half I’ve been in 3 conversations with separate groups of people my age in which Fruit Stripes bubble gum came up. And I only brought it up once. It’s why shows like Family Guy have 15 stupid-ass references to Three’s Company and Family Ties a minute. It’s how Adult Swim got big, putting vulgar and absurdist dialogue into stiffly animated Hannah Barbara characters. It seems like most entertainment, art and cultural criticism now is only interested in romantically and nostalgically reassessing old pop cultural objects and styles, trying to find meaning in the remnants of a consumer society that sold its soul long before we came on the scene to scour the pieces for a sense of identity.

I think it's reflected not only in the many covers out there, and the constant Hollywood remakes and prequels, but in the fact that whole genres and stylistic quirks of previous pop music and cult movies are being so heavy-handedly and irresponsibly appropriated these days. There’s defiantly a lot of fresh new shit being made in this country and others (like in the Bearded Child Film fest), but it seems like the purpose and aesthetic of most new stuff is rooted in returning to and reinterpreting old sounds and images. Sometimes this is done in new and exciting ways, but it also makes for a bunch of boring rock and indie bands whose entire sound is based on badly mimicking music from the 70s and 80s which often wasn't that great to begin with. Although there are lots of little pockets of truly unique music, as well as film and video work, (check out Fort Thunder) to find out there, there don’t seem to be any big solidified trends now like maybe grunge or new wave were in the past. But maybe that’s the unique stance of our generation, we’re only able to make sincere statements through the insincere artifice and cultural propaganda of the consumer society we were raised in. People like Almodovar and Fassbinder, even Warhol were certainly able to do so with deeply meaningful results. Anyway, here are some songs that I think do a great job of sincerely reinterpreting old material.

Posso - The God Damn Doo Wop Band


The GDDWB is probably the most complete and utterly uncyncial appeal to an earlier sound I have ever heard. The three singers dress kinda like punks or bikers or something, but very little of that style comes through on their first record, Broken Hearts. I guess their power comes from the fact that they reject any vulgar updates to their musical style, and just give their complete and sincere dedication to revive a supposedly archaic music form. Anyway, it works. Check out their myspace page for more downloads and tour dates. We saw them open up for The Awesome Snakes in Madison, who I thought were also totally great, but I don’t think all my co-bloggers agreed with me on that one.

Melt-Banana - SURFIN’ USA

I love these guys. Although there hyperspeed and spazzed out post-punk certainly seems to understand its debt to punk’s pure energy and discontent and post-punk’s ultra tight form, as well as to early Japanese Hard Core’s abrasiveness as DJ pointed out, I nonetheless think Melt-Banana has a force and viewpoint all there own.

European Son - Half Japanese

Anything pop-genius Jad Fair, the nucleus of Half-Japanese, touches instantly becomes his own unique expression, including the genre of rock n’ roll itself. He’s got to be one of the most uncompromisingly singular, yet still head-bangingly accessible pop artists out there. Thanks to Laz for turning me on to him. It’s cool that he’s covering a Velvet Underground song here, because later on he did a side project with Moe Tucker (the drummer for VU) called Between Meals. It’s hard to find (although probably not in hip Meccas like Stockholm where underground LPs litter the streets, as opposed to the U.S. which dumps truck loads of discarded Kelis cds and Spider Man 2 soundtracks into the Amazon jungle once the hype passes), but you can buy one of their albums on ebay right now for 12 U.S. You have 21 hours and 31 mins!

I Won’t Back Down - Johnny Cash

I’ve never considered Tom Petty the deepest musician, although I do dig his music (and his Wildflowers is a really good album), so I love this cover because I think there’s more depth and sincerity in Cash’s version than in Petty’s original. A lot of this is due, like with Jad Fair, to the unique and iconic power of Cash's voice which is impossible to distrust, and instantly consumes any intruding influence making all content its sole property. I think that's why his cover heavy American series works so well (this track is off vol. 3). Petty sings along on this track, but Cash sounds so good that you can't really tell and don't particularly care that's Petty's there.

Tortoise Brand Pot Scrubbing Cleaner’s Theme (Sea Turtle) - Shonen Knife

This is the ultimate example of postmodern sincerity. It’s by Japan’s fantastic pop-punk trio who found success in the 80's and 90’s by overtly rejecting saccharine emotion or political commentary in pop music in favor of songs about food and other capitalist commodities. But rather than being a cynical joke, they expressed to their world their deep love for creme puffs and hamburgers. You can read them explain their approach and aesthetic here in this Perfect Sound Forever interview. In this song, a band know for their sincere superficiality covers the theme to a television commercial in the style of American Surf-rock. Nice. And it all fuses together into one sincerely beautiful flowing sea of pop.

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