Archive for July, 2013

… I feel like I’m looking at a guy who’s gone blind from too much sex.

Every time I see this magazine cover ...

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220px-Liz_Phair_-_Exile_in_GuyvilleAs many of you know, Liz Phair’s debut album Exile in Guyville, is turning 20. That one of my favorite albums ever has turned this corner is supposed to make me feel old. And it makes one ask the question: “When will the genius who made this album ever make a second one?”

Sorry for the snark, but one must occasionally torment his heroes, and after listening to subsequent outings by Phair, I feel like I’ve earned the right to be sarcastic. Oh sure, she’s shown flashes of brilliance here and there, but she was never again as focused as she was on this album, whose cohesive themes of relationships as politics, of female sexuality as a form of forced role play, remain so strongly observed that I still believe they are misunderstood to this day. When I read reviews of Guyville, even in this decade, I bristle when I hear such things as “This is the album where she was really being herself and playing from the heart.” It was obvious to me then and now that Phair was speaking through different female characters on the album, some showing extreme vulnerability, some showing brazen manipulative streaks, some showing the virtues of female sexual aggressiveness. It seemed as powerfully observed as experienced. Take the “Divorce Song,” a take on a doomed romance that tries to capture the pride of two lovers who don’t want to give up even though they should. Or the line from “Strange Loop,” “I always wanted you. I only wanted more than I knew,” which is probably the cruelest, saddest, most brutally honest observation one can make about the reasons many people part, even good ones, even people who really love each other. Despite her first-person treatments, Phair is always standing both inside and outside these observations. If you thought of her only as the girl who sang the dirty blow job lyrics, seems to me the prurience was all yours, not hers.

But she wasn’t without empathy. She let her insecurities hang out more than her boobs, and that’s why people fell in love with her. Furthermore, she couched this in the kind of guitar playing that I would call almost willfully naive, aggressively unknowing. She played chords no professional musician would play because they might have been called discordant at best or just plain wrong. Some of them are ingenious–a plagal cadence starts the album off on “6’1″” and is slyly completed in the album’s last song, “Strange Loop,” neatly allowing the musical and emotional promises of the album to come to fruition at the same time. There are also riffs I still can’t figure out after years of trying to deconstruct them on a guitar. “Dance of the Seven Veils,” one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard–ever–is a piece I’ve given up trying to figure out. It turns me into an infant, sends me back into my fetal dream state whenever it comes on.

For those reasons I haven’t been too concerned with Phair’s long and sometimes embarrassing post-Guyville decline. It seems the more she learned about the guitar, the worse she’s become. The critics who always disliked her (there were a few vocal ones 20 years ago) called her stuff self-indulgent and preconceived, and if they had heard anything other than Guyville, they were damn near right on the money. Her searching guitar chords became as aimless as her strange imagery: “six dick pimps” and “polyester brides” and lots of other confusing crap. It didn’t help that she was already walking a wobbly rail, trying to make rock music for adults, which people like Lou Reed might tell you is a treacherous way to make a living.  Occasionally she hit a gold streak–the way she observes her son’s chance run-in with her new lover on the album Liz Phair (in the song “Little Digger.”) But her guileless approach seemed to work against her more than for her as the years went on and the suits came in and tried to save her career (making her work with the Matrix, known for working with acts like Avril Lavigne and Britney Spears–not the kind of people who are going to gently unravel the emotional nuances of sexually ravenous single moms). Phair’s own ambitions for “big sounds” also made it feel like she was being pulled in different directions artistically, and you can’t blame that on a record company.

Why do I not care? Because with one album, she had already done her share. Exile in Guyville isn’t an album. It’s a gift. A gift to the world. And I don’t feel old hearing it now, don’t feel any kind of cheap nostalgia–which is unfortunately the main reason a lot of people listen to music–because, like the brush marks on a gestural painting, the music and lyrics on Guyville still feel alive to the world, still address contemporary issues and will keep giving to the here and now. Compare anything on Alanis Morrisette’s first album, which ranges from ranting to coyness to cuteness and whose most famous song increasingly grates for its loud and repeated inaccurate use of the word “ironic.”

So yes, Liz, I’m waiting for you to make a (real) second album. But if you don’t, I promise I’ll never ask what have you done for me lately. Happy birthday, Guyville!

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Ted Nugent.

Ted Nugent.

(API) The Ted Nugent Celebrity Roast kicked off at the Friars Club in New York on Thursday night, a raucous fun-filled laugh fest that featured a constellation of some of the best comedy stars around, all who’d come to rib their fellow entertainer a bit.

“We gather here to toast a man who thinks a loincloth is proper dinner attire,” said veteran jokesmith Mort Sahl. “Maybe tonight he’ll wear a tie.”

Nugent, seated in the audience, laughed heartily at the steady stream of one-liners made all in good fun at his expense.

“Ted Nugent doesn’t know the meaning of the word compromise,” said Don Rickles. “Also, he doesn’t know the meaning of the words ‘matriculate,’ ‘gustatory,’ or ‘erstwhile.’”

Nugent continued to laugh heartily, slapping his knee at Rickles’ shtick.

The gala, which started at 8, went well into the night as dozens of legendary comics took turns to jab at “The Motor City Mad Man.” Even rock ‘n’ roller Dave Grohl took a turn.

“Ted’s music is great,” said Grohl, “although not traditionally my taste. I kind of like rock music.”

“What else can you say about Ted,” said comedian and director Richard Lewis, “He didn’t know that one of his most famous songs, ‘Journey to the Center of the Mind,’ was about drugs. I’d say that not understanding the content of your own speech sums up Ted pretty well.

“But I kid, Ted knows personally that a journey to the center of the mind is best done through the eye socket with an orbitoclast and a mallet.”

“Everybody knows that ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ is Ted’s signature song,” said Norm Crosby. “But ‘We’ll Meet Again’ is the official song of Ted’s corpus callosum.”

Nugent continued to laugh, making the “I’ve got my eyes on you” sign at Crosby.

“Ted Nugent wields a big gun, a big guitar and a big crossbow,” said Shecky Greene. “So how many small penises is he trying to make up for exactly?”

Nugent doubled over with laughter until he was practically peeing himself on the floor.

“A couple of us tried once to explain the word ‘irony’ to Ted to see if he’d have a stroke,” said venerable yuk meister Jackie Mason. “Every day it seems our efforts have paid off anew.”

“Ted is a fulminous critic of black on black violence,” said Woody Allen. “He especially seems ready to bring focus on it right after an instance of white on black violence.”

“You can’t question Ted’s compassion,” said Robert Klein. “He prays for the soul of every person whose head he threatens to blow off. Ted thinks it’s OK to kill an endangered species, of course, if it’s for food, survival or because it’s wearing a hoodie in the wrong neighborhood.”

“People don’t understand when Ted tells everybody, including the president, that they can suck on his gun, it’s a double entendre. I can imagine that Ted explaining double entendre to the Secret Service was a pretty heady discussion.”

“But let’s be fair,” said comic legend Jerry Seinfeld, “Ted mostly doesn’t have the time for meaningless stuff like double entendre, metaphor, rhetoric, simile, dramatic irony, subject-verb agreement, ‘and’ or ‘the,’ or the participial phrases.”

Comedian Gilbert Gottfried said, “Most rock stars have had their minds addled by drugs. Since Ted doesn’t do drugs, we have to ask him, ‘What’s your excuse?'”

Nugent was rolling on the floor laughing by the time he had his own chance to get back at his tormentors.

“Thanks for toasting me,” said Nugent. “I got a joke. Stevie Wonder is brain dead. Eighty million gun owners didn’t kill anyone last night. Trayvon Martin was a dope smoker. Everybody can suck on my gun.  California, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts have lost their souls. Fabulous rockin’ NRA orgy last night. God bless you St. Louis. Godspeed REO and Styx. Piers Morgan is bullshit. The truth hurts you subhuman racists. Go to hell. Win a ThermaCell killer bug zapper!”

See this clarification about the preceding story.

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