The Meaning of Irony

As a Generation-X’er, I have a special claim to irony. After all, it was our generation that started it in the early 90s with films such as Reality Bites or Henry Fool, and books such as, well, Generation X by Douglas Copeland. With cultural institutions such as religion and the grand march of Western Civilization on the decline, we just had a wonderful bonfire making fun of it all, until it finally burned out.

I never really thought about what irony was, just that it was really fun to do. It had something to do with staying on the surface, not putting yourself at risk, giving things a punchline. I think Umberto Eco  defines it well, as the instinct to say “I love you madly! As Barbara Cartland would say”. Everything sincere was actually not. We put on western clothes, or worker’s clothes salvaged in thrift stores, with our weird hairstyles to show the world we didn’t mean it. My first concert in 1985 was the Cure in Hollywood. To this I wore a 1950s prom dress and 50s stiletto pumps with my spiked and bleached hairstyle. I was listening to harsh nihilistic music wearing an outfit that a 50s debutante would have considered a “dream come true”, but a 1960s hippie would have laughed at. To me it was meaningless, as well as all the emotion it had undoubtedly left in its trail, being accepted, getting the date, rebelling against the establishment. To me it was just thrift store clothes, weird because no one else had them.

90s sub-pop t-shirt “flower sniffin kitty pettin baby kissin corporate rock whores”

We gen-x’ers had a good couple decades of irony, mostly with clothing, but also with emotion. We were like little children watching a love scene, but making fun of it to not feel icky. I remember a sub-pop t-shirt that said “flower sniffen kitty pettin”…well you get the idea. It basically juxtaposed the long haired Seattle stoner against all of all these sensitive images so the meaning was obvious.

But today I heard 2 songs that really represented irony to me. Well actually one song, and that song is “Jolene”. We all know Dolly Parton’s famous version:

She instills it with beauty and poignancy. It’s tragic and so true.  She hates this woman but is in awe of her. She knows when she’s been beat. Women compete with each other over beauty and many are not afraid to steal another woman’s man and wreck her life, “just because she can”. No matter what the #metoo movement says, the ability to touch a man and through her emotions and summon his is a woman’s true power and always will be.

Parton’s performance is anything but ironic. In fact, I doubt that Dolly is or was capable of producing anything ironic.

Then I heard another version, by Strawberry Switchblade, an early English elecro pop band that I like a lot, mainly, and ironically due to their synthesizer sound and over-the-top 80s hairspray and makeup look.

Yet Strawberry Switchblade doing Jolene? 80s postmodern punks HATED country. It was the essence of middle America that we wanted to do away with. Yeah, but maybe in England it was a different attitude, or maybe Strawberry Switchblade just had guts. Maybe they heard the simple, folky, and sad chords of Jolene and heard it as a folk song. They are from Scotland and the folk traditions of bluegrass originate in the UK. Good for them for being brave and not so jaded.

When I first listened to Strawberry Switchblade’s version, audio only, I was laughing. And laughing at this song was pure irony. But also empowering, like laughing at Jolene herself or any woman who could be a threat. Switchblade took such a chilling image of human jealousy, betrayal and triangulation and made it into a very synthesized piece of plastic, with flat vocals devoid of emotion. But then I watched the video a few hours later and realized they did intend for it to have emotion.  They took Jolene absolutely seriously when they made it. And it is emotional when you see the video. And anyone who reads my blog knows that I believe 80s music and video is inseparable.

So Parton’s Jolene with the ability to move your emotions, or Switchblade’s Jolene withe ability to make you feel distantly and mechanically powerful? In this world of endlessly multiplying references, I find myself seeking out irony less and less and trying to get back to the emotion that irony tries to ridicule. Now being able to express that emotion will be my challenge.

Sylvia Patterson’s book, reviewed by me

I’m Not With the Band – A Writer’s Life Lost in Music (2016)

Sylvia Patterson, british music writer from 1980s-2000s

I happened upon Sylvia by way of Bernard Sumner, actually Peter Hook’s book “Substance: Inside New Order”. The terrible incident between Sylvia and NO left me not liking either, New Order a little less. I wanted to read her side of the story. Ironically Sylvia’s side left me cheering for New Order. Maybe that proves how honest she is.

Other readers have described the concept of this book, a history of Sylvia’s journey through the British music press during the 80s, 90s and 2000s, interviewing everyone from Shaun Ryder to Mariah Carey and Johnny Cash. At times (New Order) I felt like Sylvia was too paparazzi. But her dedication to music and funny writing style ultimately won me over. Like one other reviewer pointed out, the contrasts between high and low her personal life, occupying unfit moldy apartments, while being whisked off in 1st class to interview David Beckham, is totally surreal. Her honesty is brutal and she’s great at crafting a story or a letter. I loved her brilliant tell-off to NME, which she never hit “send” on. I’m so glad she published it here.

I have to disagree with Sylvia on a couple of major points. Although we are the same age, I prefer the 80s while she prefers the 90s. This is probably a matter of taste. But the 80s, however plastic, were romantic and hopeful and smooth. New Order, and ABC and Roxy Music’s Avalon. Even John Lydon grooved to a disco beat with “Live in Japan”. The 90s were poor and draggy and druggy and reality-bitten – Portishead and Hole and then Radiohead. Gotta love the brutal intensity but I’ll take optimism any day.

Also I disagree with Sylvia that rock musicians should continue to be open and opinionated today. They can’t in this era of hyper social media. She, if anyone, knows this. She witnessed first hand the exchange between Warpaint, Beyonce, Rihanna and a thousand trolls. The opinions expressed. The shaming. the threats. The backpedaling. Who needs it? I can’t blame the Taylor Swift’s or Ed Sheeran’s from talking only about “safe” subjects or even not giving interviews. No one wants to be dragged over the media coals and misrepresented like they are doing with president Trump for example. Anyway, the music is the expressive part.

Also it was touching to read about Sylvia’s personal experiences. After the fun years of the 90s (crazy roommates, raves, champagne lunches in London with rock stars) it sounds like she kind of got dragged down by opportunistic boyfriends who used her as a meal ticket. I’m glad she finally ditched them and took her life back and met a nice guy. She is too smart a girl to just be used like that. I’m glad it (mostly) all worked out for her.

Sylvia’s book is a memory of a lost era of high jinx and expressive freedom in music. It’s an intriguing read. So buy it and  support this woman who has tirelessly challenged and documented so many great artists, as long as she could.

The Dog that Jumped out of the Map

Today I was traveling virtually on google maps, looking for coordinates to simulate a truck route between Aberdeen, SD and Newark, NJ, when I realized there are some VERY small towns in South Dakota. There is Chelsea (population 27), and Columbia (population 136). Columbia has a total of 6 avenues. They started with 1st ave and ran out of steam at 6th. Wanting to see what a town of 136 looked like, I turned to satellite view.

Google satellite view is crazy to someone like me, who has a lot of pre-internet life experience in their background. I think of it as a map or graph, an abstraction of the world that is meant to instruct, but not contain anything from the real world. You definitely don’t expect the real world to seep in there.

And yet, it sometimes does. And sometimes it’s a dog that seeps in.

 

Here he is, the dog of Columbia, South Dakota. Just staring at me from approx @45.3829806,-99.7626551. If I go past him and turn around, he’s gone. Where did he come from? Does he realize he’s tampering with Google’s state-of-the-art geolocation technology? I’m not sure. But now I know that this dog exists. And who knows? Maybe he always wanted to be famous.

Philadelphia is better than I thought

It’s mid-April in New Jersey and spring is still having um, performance problems. The temperatures have been rising, but only one weekends and then they go back down again during the week. Better than the opposite! Last Saturday we went to Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia art museum – Spanish courtyard

I’d always disliked Philadelphia. I love the museums, mind you! The art museum is so much more than the “rocky steps”. It is arranged in the wonderful progression from West to East, meandering through Italian Renaissance, Turkish, Indian,  Chinese and finally ending with a Japanese tea garden. The Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where the museums are, is well-planned (I hear he envisioned as a new Champs Elysees) but large and spread out. In winter this means a lot of walking and no restaurants nearby.

But this was a warm day, and I finally got it. This city was made for strolling on a warm day! The Parkway is meant for  aimless wandering, like a flaneur out of Proust strolling down the Champs. There isn’t much commerce on the Parkway, but there are lovely parks and fountains and outdoor sculpture. We strolled and strolled and found at least 3 fountains. We got to the City Hall and I was truly impressed. Philadelphia city hall is an old grand building, with this wonderful fountain outside, with jets of water and sidewalks so you could walk in between the jets. It was fun just to walk around the fountain and my daughter and I took our time.

Same scene, as I painted it

 

 

Then you can walk under an arch into a courtyard in the center of city hall. There are arches facing the four directions and you are in a beautiful leafy courtyard. This was a place that made me immediately think of Europe. Fountains and plazas may seem old and useless, but they are so important. It’s the difference between being happy to be in a city and just feeling like you are there to take care of things. Between the parks along the Parkway, the flowers, the fountains, and finally ending up in this courtyard, I was in a truly relaxed and happy mood. I love New York. BUT. But unless I am in Central Park, I feel kind of rushed. Philadelphia is a city that allows me to just “be”. I decided this last Saturday.

A 1960s Wardrobe Pattern

Now that I am getting back into sewing, I can make anything I want! All I need is a few good patterns, some fabric, a night, some coffee, and some upbeat 80s music like “Pretty In Pink” by the Psychedelic Furs. My life turns into an 80s movie montage. Actually I only have 1 pattern, but it’s a wardrobe pattern and wardrobe patterns have everything on them!

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my glamorous wardrobe pattern

After I woke up on new years day, 2016, feeling like I want to be more mod, I bought Butterick 2179 on Etsy.

I can spend literally  hours looking at vintage patterns on Etsy, ordering them, and never making anything. So I decided to turn off my computer and start sewing. I love this pattern so much that I want to make everything on it, but I started with the shell top. I finally determined that my 1962 size is 14, which translates to a modern 10. I don’t understand the numbers, I just go for anything that says “bust 34” (which is nonsense because of course mine is much bigger!).

 

Anyway the top was really easy to make. A shell top can be worn with anything, a straight skirt, a full skirt, or capri pants, and looks great. I love the back buttons (confession – I’m terrible with zippers!). I chose light blue, because that was the only color I had 6 buttons of, but they worked! My fabric is a thick “fake shantung” in dark red. Perfect for the 60s style. I definitely think you should keep the fabric as true to the style as possible. So use gingham, fun prints, or stripes in 60s colors like avocado or orange. Nothing purple. Did you ever see Gidget wearing purple? Or Sissy from Family Affair? No way Mr. French! They didn’t wear purple in the early 60s.

 

I love to sew but have had a hard time talking myself back into it as a hobby. Why bother? In the 80s clothing was more expensive. But clothing is so cheap now, and most every style is available at the mall. But here are some good reasons: you can set your creations apart with buttons or thread. You can probably get a sleeveless shell at TJ Maxx, but it won’t have all the darts that they used in the 60s. It won’t have the high neck that is so unsexy that it’s cool, and it will probably  be made out of something stretchy or in a tropical print with little metallic sparkles that you may not like.

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Best of all, you can spend 6 hours driving around and hunting for your blouse. Or you can spend 6 hours sewing, feeling creative and listening to the Psychedelic Furs, Arctic Monkeys, Shangri-las, and New Order, and then have time left over to try new hairstyles. I can guarantee which choice will make you feel happier in the end! Happy sewing!

Programming and sewing

As someone who has been sewing since the age of 10 (that’s 20+ years) and programming Java since the mid-1990’s (yes I am old!), I am constantly amused at how similar the two activities are. In both practices, you are basically taking things apart and putting things together. Most people can envision how this works in sewing, but trust me, it’s not much different in programming. You put together smaller objects, like you would put together the pieces of a garment, and then you sew the objects together into a larger program. In sewing you finish off the edges so that things won’t unravel. In programming we do this by declaring final classes and static variables. In both you pick apart threads and you join threads together, which is never fun. OK the threads are already woven in sewing, but you still pick them apart sometimes. In both activities you have to patch things occasionally. In both we use patterns. These patterns are templates of how to do things to make something useful, and if the patterns are good, we use them again and again.

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A Wedding Gown pattern from the 1940s, from Vintage Patterns Dazespast Blog.

Finally, sometimes our sewing creations are a joy to create and turn out wonderful and useful, and sometimes they turn into a lumpy ugly mess that we spend lots of time reworking until we finally throw them away.

Can you think of other ways that programming and sewing are similar?

Guys in Eyeliner

I know that guys are breaking the gender rules of fashion a lot lately. They are shaving their chests, legs, wearing spandex pants, and plucking their eyebrows. I know all this because I work with the 25 year old set. But they missed the one thing that makes guys so cute – eyeliner!

Eyeliner was huge in the 80s, for women and men. I remember being really bad at it! I never got the hang of liquid eyeliner, so I tried with a pencil and just smudged it. But eyeliner was something that could make or break your goth look, or “death rock” as we referred to it in the 80s.

Think Robert Smith in “Let’s Go to Bed” or any other video that the Cure made. I think Robert Smith slept in his eyeliner!

And the adorable and witty Noel Fielding of The Mighty Boosh. Now he can do no wrong, so any amount of makeup would probably look good on him, but eyeliner suits him perfectly

There are many more who look great in eyeliner. Such as Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes. Eyeliner? Well maybe he just looks like he’s wearing it, becuase his eyes are so beautiful!

And how about Prince? Now that man could wear some eyeliner! Eyes you could get lost in.


I guess that is why he made them into the Purple Rain poster, complete with the eyeliner. But maybe that’s a woman’s eyes. At any rate, it’s great eyeliner!

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-rCvAIa8R2kA/TlEbyZllKNI/AAAAAAAAG0A/QreMJIwMERY/s1600/prince-pruple-rain-poster-postcard-front.png

So kids, that just goes to show, eyeliner looks great on anyone, at anytime. Now go practice!

I Was Waiting on a Moment

Does pop music need to go along with memories in your life? There is a lot of good pop music  – Radiohead, Modest Mouse, Flaming Lips, the list goes on, which I got into late and does not accompany any memories from my own life. I enjoy it just as music, for its own sake. It does not remind me of any lost lovers, or first time experiences, or nights out with my friends. It does not even remind me of some ground breaking new music genre discovery, because music genres have splintered so much or I don’t pay attention to them now.

Then there is the pop music that triggers those memories, like “She Sells Sanctuary” by the Cult. That reminds me of being in high school in Southern California, and going to the Scream and looking for the underground L.A. of Bret Easton Ellis, though we lived in working class Long Beach. Or Japan, “Obscure Alternatives”, which reminds me of 9th grade and played it on my headphones constantly, because I had discovered glam rock. Or “Los Angeles” by X, that reminds me of going to Melrose and the whole feeling of Melrose, L.A. sun beating down, bright pavement, kids in 50s dresses with red lipstick and driving old cars.  And not every song reminds me a new music discovery. There is “If There is Something” by Roxy Music, and I had just met this guy. We had been out all day and had gone back to his place. I was about to leave, because I didn’t feel anything for him. But then he put on this song and started kissing me and everything changed. We ended up being together for the next year.

And then there is Nick Cave. Nick has been with me for years. When I was 14 and my best friend gave me the “Mutiny” album by the Birthday Party, watching Wim Wenders films like the breathtaking “Wings of Desire” and being taken in by those scenes of Berlin and Nick Cave in the cavernous club while Solveig Dommartin danced in a dreamlike state and the dark carnival music. Or the other songs that went along with films, not really real experiences, but very powerful images that made a big impression when I was young, like  “Cat People” by David Bowie or “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and The Hunger and those great scenes with Bowie and Deneuve roaming after dark with sunglasses on, in search of blood.

I would love for Radiohead to be part of my identity and have that power over me, but the truth is that I feel like an outsider looking in with them. I know it had something to do with the 90s, and early 2000s, and penetrating dark traumatic feelings, and sex and sadness. It’s the kind of thing that I might have had experiences to, had I been born later. But to me it’s just good music.

Why do songs sound better when you have a memory to go with them? It’s not that they sound better, they just sound deeper. You did something to them, or they changed you at a time when you were young. They might have made you what you are. I think that a lot of people can’t imagine music without these associations, and that is why they stop listening to new music after their 20s, when they stop trying new things as much. But for us lifelong music fans, we just have to accept that as we get older the music will not be as personal. That doesn’t mean it won’t change us at all. Maybe music changes us even as we get older, and our life experiences are not so dramatic, but we don’t see those changes until later. I’d like to think that in 20 years I will realize that Radiohead really did become part of me, even in my 40s.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeUJQvR7T0E

I Hate NJ

Update 2018 – I don’t hate New Jersey anymore. Actually I haven’t hated it in a long time, and the accent has grown on me too. I was grumpy the day I wrote this post, fighting with my boyfriend or something (but I still think most Springsteen songs sound like a truck commercial)

I’m in a very negative and honest mood today. The truth is – I hate NJ. I have been living here for the last 10 years. When I came here, I thought it was New England. I had lived in Boston for 3 years and liked it there. but I quickly learned that this is not Boston.

Why do I detest NJ?

Weather. It’s either freezing, like this winter which has been endless, or in the summer it’s a sticky swamp. There are a few pretty seasons in between, and the leaves do get pretty in the fall, but it never lasts long enough.

Another lovely day in Edison, NJ
Another lovely day in Edison, NJ

People – Sorry. I hate you guys! People here have the worst accents. It’s nasal and harsh. I hope never to get one. Men and women around my age segregate themselves, according to ancient Turkish law or something. The women sit around and talk about cooking. Men talk about sports. Young men talk about trucks or games. Bruce Springsteen is a safe musical conversation choice for everyone. NJ people are just rednecks who do not live in the country.

The problem with the people of NJ is that they think these are great topics.

What do I want to talk about? How about video art? How about the books of Milan Kundera, or the music of Joy Division, or Radiohead, or Amanda Palmer? How about old buildings? How about the movies of David Lynch?

At least in other places that were dirty and industrial, such as the Soviet Union, or North of England, or Detroit, people hated it there and that led to interesting movements in art or something. Here in NJ people mostly just live with it and go to the mall, or Florida, so nothing interesting comes of it and nothing changes.

Potholes – The NJ Department of Transportation estimated 300,000 potholes that need to be repaired after the endless winter of 2014-2015. They are still there, and they are ruining my car.

Surroundings – There is nothing worse than NJ in the winter. Did I mention winter? First of all, NJ has bad planning. Anyone can just build anything anywhere. So they put businesses in houses and houses in businesses. Then there are power lines snaking in and out of everything. Then most of Central NJ is paved over and full of traffic, oil and litter that people throw from their cars. The combination of disentegrating houses, torn up sidewalks, dirty snow and litter all over the place makes winter into a fossil fuel mess, so I usually just stay indoors.

I wish I could give this a happy ending or at least make it a learning experience. The only thing i would say is – what if I liked everything all the time, and everything was happy, all the time. Yeah, that would be hell, too.

The Other Princess Cornflakes

Recently, I learned about the other Princess Cornflakes. It is an independent French film, an “extra-large fashion comedy” by and. You can see it here. I just watched it and from what I can tell, it’s a parody of girls aspirations to be beautiful and perfect models when they grow up, sort of a mini-Jane Campion. It’s creative and features special-effects scenes worthy of 50’s pulp fiction such as Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. I enjoyed Princess Cornflakes very much and I’m proud to share a name with this production.

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Princess Cornflakes, the film by Antoine Asseraf René Habermacher
the American classic film. 5/10 stars on imdb!