Do You Need HELP? HELP Needs You!

Are you unformed, unfulfilled, defective, rotten to the core? Are you happy, slappy, soupy, droopy, jilted, stilted, full of beans? Are you stupid, loopy, poppy, poopy, peppy, impotent, mad with desire? Are you perverted, mangled, twisted, listless, soulful, doleful, pouty, rowdy, unrequited, near-sighted, stripped to the bone?

What you need is Happy’s Easy-to-Swallow Lethiferous Pepto-Bismol (HELP). Now with added Pep! Guaranteed to cure what ails ya! Available at all participating flop joints today!


Recommended Reading

Good for What Ails You by E.M. Sanchez-Saavedra

Quackery, Self-Medication and Reckless Advertising in the Gaslight Era by E.M. Sanchez-Saavedra

It’s Grim up North

Today I will forgo my plans for an article about third-wave feminists (or fourth-wave, whatever) to relay my discovery of what may be the very worst example of journalism ever to proliferate in aggregation. What is this amateur shit, and why has it been given a platform from which to preach its ugly message? Isn’t Google supposed to prevent journalism of this ilk from penetrating its news feed?

Some answers are in order. Northern Voices Online (NVO) is located in Northern India, meaning there’s a real possibility that its writers may not speak English as a first language. To avoid appearing like a grammar Nazi, or for that matter a racist bully, let me then qualify my outrage. Typos I can live with (NVO is riddled with them). It’s the laziness of the reporting–the failure to cover the basic facts of the story, to fact check whichever facts are included, to cite sources; it’s the endless contradictions, the aimless digressions, the wonky tone and schizophrenic voice–that get my goat. I mean, why hypothesize about capturing and indeed smelling extraterrestrial beings within the context of a news story about the chemistry of smell?

But it would be wasteful (I must preserve my delicate intellect for some serious ghosting*) to attempt to parse meaning or context from writing this artless, so I will resist. Anyway, the first few paragraphs speak for themselves, and should be read without interference. After which the author makes a botched attempt at an explanation of the technology used to detect and identify odor, splicing jargon overheard at NASA with his or her own mumbo-jumbo.

Read the article here.

*Strategies for avoiding and chasing ghosts on Pac-Man.

A Whole Leto Love

Jared Leto, the self-regarding actor-turned-musician who never fails to capitalize on a bad idea and who always says the right thing, is in 2014 what Marlon Brando was in 1950, a man out of time, an historical anomaly. Not because, ala Brando, he’s monumentally talented, or absolutely stunning to look at, nor for that matter is he a flat-out genius, the master of an art of his own making.

Not that I wish to discount him altogether–on the contrary, the extent to which he demonstrates some of these qualities, and doesn’t, is the very problem, because he thrives on the ambiguity. To the point where his mere presence in Hollywood is unique for being present at all. It’s as if he’s airbrushed himself into history. So for all his worldly efforts–the short films (which he directs using the pseudonym Bartholomew Cubbins,” yuck), the arty snapshots courtesy of Terry Richardson, the method acting, the blank emoting, his practiced speeches and endless harping about his impoverished youth–he gives the distinct impression of a man who shouldn’t be where he is. Yet there he is, hobnobbing with the best of them, a monumental phony amongst phonies.

Leto does not write much himself; his public pronouncements traditionally come by way of interviews, speeches, press releases, oh yeah, and songs. He leaves no traceable paper trail, just unsubstantial, scattered tidbits of calculated wisdom like don’t let what you can’t do get in the way of what you can.” To my knowledge, the only place his writing has been published at any length is The Sunday Times, wherein he writes about growing up poor in Massachusetts. As it happens, the article, named Relative Values: My brother has been to some very dark places,” is Leto through and through: humble yet painstakingly practiced, sincere yet full of shit. Perpetually teetering on cliché, it’s the prose of an unflappable PR merchant who somehow managed to knot himself to the world stage and somehow won’t come undone.

His opening few lines, for example, which have been worked over and published on no less than five separate occasions:

Mom had my brother, Shannon, when she was 17. She had me 18 months later. At that point, she was living in Louisiana, and it wasn’t long before she knew she wanted to get out. Grabbing me and Shannon in one arm and a fist full of food stamps in the other, this teenage single mom of ours headed up north to Massachusetts.”

He doesn’t stop there, making sure to contrast his own poverty against that of his Cajun grandparents (note the traveling salesman, just for emphasis):

We actually thought they were rich, because they had a pool in the backyard–probably bought off some traveling salesman–which we’d sit in for hours, trying to keep cool.”

He’s very sly, this Leto. Again, note how he beefs up his troublemaking persona by downplaying his escapades at school:

…one of us was always being sent to the principal’s office for some trouble we’d caused. But, to be honest, the teachers were small-fry. We weren’t bothered about the stuff we did at school; it was the shit we did outside that we didn’t want them finding out about.”

By the time the story moves to Washington, Leto is into some heavy shit, and he isn’t shy about maybe, kind of implying that he might have taken drugs at some point:

Those were the days when you’d sit in a circle with a group of other people and a needle would be passed around. A lot of those people aren’t here anymore.”

The next sentence is yet another reworking of a sentiment disclosed elsewhere:

To be honest, there were probably only two things I thought about being back then: one was an artist, the other was a drug dealer.”

His salvation comes, finally, when he rejoins his art classes. His brother, however, is not so fortunate:

It was different for my brother. The drug-taking got worse. He had his demons. He went to some very dark places. He’s lucky to be alive.”

Apart from a very standard Inspirational Message about dreams becoming reality, that’s really all the insight we get into Shannon Leto’s life as Jared Leto’s brother. But I guess the most important angle in the story’s been covered, which is that he’s Jared Leto’s brother.


Recommended Reading

Jared Leto is the Center of the Universe by David Thorpe

Don’t Believe the Hype

Last week I defended Lady Gaga’s 2013 album, Artpop, a smart, visionary pop record alternatively described as a “reverse Warholian expedition” into music, art, fashion and technology. Denounced by critics entirely in those terms, which are Gaga’s own terms, it would seem that her statements to the press only undermined her own success, which–artistically, financially–was pretty substantial. By consensus, however, the album’s perceived faults outweighed its actual merits: Gaga had failed in her lofty mission to “bring ARTculture into POP.” That failure, of course, depended on whether you were prepared to eat up every line of bullshit fed to you by pop’s resident Master of Fame. Seeing how the critics were stock full of it, I think it’s fair to say no one went hungry talking about Artpop.

As I wrote last week, some of the blame must rest with Gaga herself, whose press release for the album stinks of obscurantism. Now, press releases generally don’t reward close reading, or really any form of reading at all; they are largely perfunctory issues, focusing on an upcoming album while recounting past glories. But every now and then one comes along that truly raises the stakes. The release for Slow Suicide by Scott Stapp, for instance, which is akin to a confession and contains an Inspirational Message on the redemptive nature of faith, “despite the colossal messes we sometimes make of our lives.” Then there’s Stiff Record’s attempt to draw attention to a Johnny Borrell solo album, which depending on your outlook, will read either as a self-knowing joke, or as a public act of aggression.

Unlike those record company sponsored beat downs, the press release for Artpop is notable for its high level of pretense, drawing on Gaga’s elaborate fantasies of “The Factory” (cue Andy Warhol). Utilizing “the technological branch of HAUS OF GAGA” she conceives Artpop as an umbrella project incorporating “music, art, fashion and technology,” its aim to alter “the human experience with social media” by bringing “ARTculture into POP in a reverse Warholian expedition.” Clumsy lines – “exploring Gaga’s existence as a cultural interface, the user will share in the ‘adrenaline of fame’” – tell us what the project is about without giving us a reason to care. Hers is the language of technology, which as Norman Mailer describes it is “any language which succeeds in stripping itself of any moral content.”

For all its pretensions, Gaga’s manifesto for Artpop might have worked in practice had it actually reflected the album’s content, at which point the discerning listener might simply turn up their nose and shut off their ears. Which is exactly what happened. As it turns out, the album is great for different reasons; conceptually ambitious, yes, it’s also musically dazzling, lyrically revealing, unusually funny, genuinely weird and catchy as hell. But you’d never know it.

Lady Gaga’s Press Release for Artpop in Full

Built by TechHAUS, the technological branch of HAUS OF GAGA, the app itself is a musical and visual engineering system that combines music, art, fashion, and technology with a new interactive worldwide community — “the auras”. Altering the human experience with social media, we bring ARTculture into POP in a reverse Warholian expedition.

Exploring Gaga’s existence as a cultural interface, the user will share in the ‘adrenaline of fame’ as they build and share their own projects, chat with one another, and watch in real-time on a virtual globe as ARTPOP explodes onto the physical and virtual universe at once on November 11, our “BIG BANG!” On this day HAUS OF GAGA venges with forte to bring the music industry into a new age; an age where art drives pop, and the artist once again is in control of the ‘icon’.

In turn, the album ARTPOP musically mirrors Gaga’s creative process as she passes through the mediums of each artist she collaborates with, scoring a blueprint of her journey. The result, a “rage” of electronic passion and fury, defining each artistic process from beginning to end, ARTPOP could mean anything. But for her, this is a celebration of obsession. And on November 10, she will host an evening of artRave exhibiting Haus of Gaga’s projects as well as collaborations with Inez & Vinoodh, Robert Wilson, Marina Abramovic, Jeff Koons.


Recommended Reading

Artpop Goes The Weasel: Three Glimpses Into The Deflation Of A Superstar by Nick Messitte

Artpop Goes The Weasel: A Second Glimpse Into The Deflation Of A Superstar by Nick Messitte

Artpop Goes The Weasel: Part Three by Nick Messitte

Fashion for Her Fame

Stefani Germanotta, rechristened Lady Gaga by way of predictive text, arrived at her first album a self-proclaimed master of the art of fame. Outmatching Madonna, Queen of Pop herself for sheer blond ambition (naturally, the two are brunettes), she quickly became a study of how and what it is to be famous in the twenty-first century.

Her first album, The Fame, fooled all of us who knew better into thinking it was little more than the handiwork of a marketing genius. Re-released in 2009 and fleshed out by an eight-song EP of dual purpose–serving both to capitalize on her new-found popularity and to strengthen her oeuvre–to The Fame she attached a Monster, as in The Fame Monster. The monster, it should be obvious even if it isn’t, is not her appetite for fame; rather, the monster is fame accentuated, and what a monster it is!

As outsized as the male ego, as large as a planet even, fame on this scale grossly exaggerates and distorts the natural dimensions of God-given talent, personality and simple good looks. Of course, fame does not equal talent, nor does talent equal fame (it certainly helps). Sure, the Moonwalk is goddamn impressive in any context, but on stage at Motown 25 in front of an audience of 47 million? Just don’t expect to find your socks where you left them.

The true measure of a star, then, must be the way in which the artist conceives an audience within the limitations of his or her own talents, not simply because artists must allow themselves to be seen as vulnerable if they are to accept their own limitations, or because their insecurities must move necessarily in proportion with their own fame–often, this kind of openness becomes the very source of their power and appeal. It is because fame is an art in and of itself.

This is nothing new. Every self-aware artist after Andy Warhol has flirted with fame via pop culture, but for a few dedicated individuals it’s a full-blown love affair. What’s surprising about the otherwise customary controversy, or lack thereof, surrounding Gaga’s most recent album is the general failure of critics to come to terms with this totally unsurprising relationship. And for once, some of the blame must rest with Gaga herself, who helped muddle perceptions with rather silly statements on the level of branding the album a reverse Warholian expedition.”

Not everyone was willing to permit her overreaching ambition, leaving some critics to wonder aloud: where in Gaga’s pop” might we find her so-called art?” That of course depends on your definition of art”–hell, it might just depend on your definition of pop.” But let’s not get bogged down in semantics. In the postmodern era, old ideas about art don’t make all that much sense anyway.

As in the song, her Artpop could mean anything. Ideally, nothing less than the absolute pinnacle of her fame, befitting the pop culture phenomenon’s best album. The irony that this artistic peak should occur just as people are losing interest! And to that extent you could call it a failure, which would only be to dismiss some of the most innovative, visionary pop music put to plastic since Mick Jagger folded up his penis and went home.

The problem is the concept–as great as it is–has gotten in the way. So here’s the scoop. Lady Gaga uses fame like most people use clothes. It’s an affectation, a distraction; it’s fashion, something you use to conceal yourself from, and project yourself onto, the world outside your own. Yet it’s more than that.

Let me proffer a few select lines from Robert Christgau’s 2011 essay, Monster Anthems, which manage to convey Gaga’s own view of fame, as an inner quality anyone can have,” with such beauty I feel honored simply putting quotation marks around them:

“For her, a celebrity isn’t a person whose inner fame has made itself felt in the great outside. It’s a person whose fame has escaped her control, so that her inside is no longer her own.”

You might say that what has happened is exactly this: sometime between Born This Way and breaking her hip, Gaga’s fame somehow managed to escape her control. She had become just another celebrity. This presents a problem: what does someone–someone whose every public gesture suggests carefully crafted performance art–do when life puts them out of commission? They redraw the boundaries. In Gaga’s case it meant relinquishing something of her inner life in order to keep it from busting wide open (see: the Bootleg Series). It’s this move towards self-preservation that sets the stage for her next album.

Conceptually ambitious, musically dazzling, lyrically revealing, Artpop is a masterstroke, forever skirting the personal without ever going public. The reason it hasn’t gone over is that critics have learned to admire Gaga from a distance, who must prefer her at a remove from their own tastes, because on at least half of the tracks on ArtpopAura,” “Do What U Want,” “Swine,” “Donatella,” “Dope,” “Gypsy,” “Applause”she’s as close to the surface as she’s ever been, and they simply don’t know what to do with her.

Carmen Rios, for instance, writing about the metaphorical use of the burqa in Aura,” errs on the side of political correctness. Rios accuses Gaga of reducing a religious and cultural tradition to a sexual ploy.”

Annie Zaleski in her misreading of “Donatella” writes that the song aims for a celebration of fabulousness, but comes off as glorifying someone shallow.” Chris Bosman, who detects something of a personal vendetta towards the Italian fashion designer, goes one further, bitching that the song seems childish, an unfortunate look for someone approaching 30.”

Mof Gimmers, who tips his hat to the Gaga/R. Kelly duet, Do What U Want,” fails to comprehend R. Kelly’s role. His pleasure derives from how the song appears to pit the two singers head-to-head to see who can out-sex the other.”

What these critics share is their dim view of Gaga’s fame and, by extension, her music. But for Gaga, dressing outrageously is not a sexual ploy,” it’s fashion for her fame, one more veil around her personal life. She wears the burqa not to seem coy and mysterious” but because it’s tantalizing to think of the stripped bare, flesh-and-blood woman behind the enigma pop star.”

The lyrics of Donatella” do not glorify someone shallow,” they glorify someone who is perceived that way; they reflect all of the nasty things ever said about a woman who knows she’s misunderstood” yet continues to radiate her magic” anyway, something Gaga obviously relates to.

Contrary to what Gimmers believes, Gaga does not compete sexually with R. Kelly on Do What U Want”–that’s the conceit. The inconvenient truth is that Gaga’s clearest statement to date on fame is a blatantly misogynistic fantasy. The kicker is it misleads you into accepting the fantasy at face value.

R. Kelly is the right choice to duet with Gaga not because he’s some sort of troubled genius,” as Gimmers suggests, but precisely because he’s the same sort of solicitous creep he portrays in the song. His lines, which he himself might have written for all I care to find out, perfect the slick talk of a practiced seduction artist, who presumes to know exactly what the latest object of his affection wants, how and when she wants it. So when Gaga sings You can’t have my heart/And you won’t use my mind but/Do what you want with my body” she doesn’t mean do what you want with my body,” she means leave my heart, leave my mind.” It brings the whole album into focus.

Please, do what you want with her body–it’s yours. Just don’t presume to know her heart and mind–they’re hers. That’s the trade-off. Agreed? Now, can we talk about the music?


Recommended Reading

Monster Anthems by Robert Christgau

Read the “Stomach-Churning” Sexual Assault Accusations Against R. Kelly in Full by Jessica Hopper