A Discussion of Belinda Carlisle and Exene Cervenka as Fashion Icons, Wherein I Also Talk Trash about Madonna

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A lot has been said about the coolness of 1950’s thrift-store clothes, and how essential they were to the punk scene. For me, a middle class punk in the 1980’s, whose family refused to buy expensive clothes like Izod shirts and such, thrift store shopping allowed me to have an identity, beyond that of “nerdy girl who couldn’t afford the expensive stuff”. I’m not the first one to have said this, either.

But shopping in thrift stores gave me so much more than coolness at school. It started me off on a road of nostalgia and my love for old, forgotten pop culture. It also helped me to appreciate the real history behind material objects, the story that each one of them has to tell. While many girls just wore the rockabilly knockoff looks (socks with pumps, colorful plastic jewelry, novelty prints like black/pink triangles), I knew a bit about the decades that actually inspired them. Anyway it also inspired me to go to graduate school, learn programming, have children, buy a house, and select a good 401K program (Well, OK that last part is bullshit but still thrifting was pretty cool)

My love of thrift stores also gave me a bond, however imaginary, to some of my favorite fashion icons of the 80’s….

Put down the Go-Go’s as much as you like, but we all loved them, and you probably did too! When they hit it big, clawing their road to success over the backs of some, they were fun. They were beautiful and inspiring. They gave me a love of my own town through their videos, shot in L.A., which always seemed to involve local street scenes, colorful music and their great combinations of thrift store clothes and kitschy scarves and jewelry.

I mean, everyone seems to think that Madonna was the queen of 80’s fashion,  but, umm…Madonna only wore black. Like, BORING!! The Go-Gos were much more colorful, much more inspired in their 50’s retro looks.

Belinda was my fashion inspiration back in the early 80’s. As pictured here, she captured exactly how I was trying to look, artsy, colorful and very new wave. This picture reminds me so much of an outfit I had in 1983 or so: bright blue tights, a long sweatshirt that said “Privilege” (which I think I actually purchased at the Glendale Galleria or at least the Lakewood Mall), and red ballet flats, or maybe pink moccasins. I can’t quite remember. But I love Belinda’s combination of 50’s pumps, baggy mini-dress and red sunglasses. OK, I don’t know why she chose the Vera Bradley knockoff bag, but it was 1981 so I will still give her credit. The overall look was shocking. Bright. Very L.A. pin-up fun, like the sun reflecting off of the pavement on a street full of 1920’s bungalows and palm trees with bright flowers and billboards.

My other fashion icon was Exene Cervenka. Exene was darker and more punk than Belinda. Exene had great instincts – 1940’s dresses, lots of bangles and chains mixed with the bangles. Red lipstick, and old lady shoes with white socks. Scraggly hair. Exene didn’t just look “shocking” or “punk”. Her intelligence always shined though. By wearing clothes from another era, she evoked history and therefore something timeless. Like an old weathered film poster from the 1940’s, glamour gleaming through the dust, the way she wore raggedly vintage clothes was poetic and  played to our sense of nostalgia.

I love this blog post about Exene. The writer, Caviglia, actually goes into the folk aesthetic that was so important to understanding L.A.’s particular twist on punk culture in the 80’s. It wasn’t about being streamlined, European, slick, technological, like so many imagine the 80’s to be. It wasn’t Depeche Mode or Duran Duran in L.A. Well it was, a little. In L.A. we were into high-tech MTV video stuff. But we were also into the old: “I Love Lucy” reruns, Gumby, old western films, Mexican folk culture and old sit-coms or teenage b-movies. X captured that aesthetic so well, as did the Go-Gos with their 60’s beach movie kitsch. And it was always about thrifting and looking funky as hell.

I loved this video and still do. Jane Wiedlin’s little solo just the best. I think she is wearing a 50’s swimsuit! I’m going to tie a scarf around my ponytail next week and go for a splash in a fountain…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3kQlzOi27M&feature=artistyoutube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3kQlzOi27M&feature=artist]

3D Animation Confidential

I am given to whims, distractions, and new hobbies. Last week I decided to try 3D Animation. I thought it’d be a fun way to spend time with my 7 year old son who likes to draw and invent monsters. So we downloaded Blender, and open source 3D program for Linux. Unbeknownst to us we were about to embark on a process that would involve about 24 hours of hair pulling stress, but also some learning.

To start, I chose the wiki tutorial, Your 1st Animation in 30 Minutes, partsI and II. It looked easy.

The tutorial guided me through the basic steps of creating a 3D gingerbread man, much like the one that is being tortured in Shrek. It’s a simple character, but the process was far from simple. To save my dear readers the pain, I’ll explain the steps briefly here from memory:

First you draw some boxes.

Next, you subdivide some boxes, creating a little grid over them. All the points on this grid will points on your creature

Then, you activate a “mirror” mode so that your boxes will replicate themselves horizontally, creating half a body

Now you have 3 grid-covered boxes, one on top the other. Now you need to “extrude” some of them to lengthen limbs.

If your character doesn’t need to move, you can now design the surface, lighting and camera

Now you can see the “wow” moment where you preview your cool looking character in the light. Ours was primitive, but it had a cool cookie-like surface.

BUT, if you want to animate your character (and of course we did), it gets a LOT harder.

Now you create an “armature”, which is a structure that will be the skeleton. You then carefully place bones within your character, who can be rotated in a 3D space. The more bones you make, the more your caracter can move. It was this step that made me realize why a lot of 3D actors (like Shrek’s girlfriend) move the same with that weird head-duck gesture. It’s probably because the studios share characters around, or at least the very time-consuming armatures.

Now you have to connect these bones to the body over them. You can view the body in “mesh” mode which means that it looks like chicken wire over the bones. You then select ends of bones and points on the grid and connect them. Then when the bone moves, the body moves with it.

Now if you haven’t done so you can add the surface material, lighting, etc. and have your “wow” preview moment.

This whole process took about 6 hours. The last part, connecting the bones to the mesh, was incredibly frustrating and kept me up until 12 am. The next morning, in a dizzy blur, I realized it was because I had selected the armature before entering “object” mode, instead of the mesh. I was therefore in the wrong “context”.

Blender, and any other 3D animation program, I imagine, has a dizzying array of modes, contexts, settings, and choices. It allows you to create extreme creatures and give them life. It’s really not unlike creating a robot, because after you set up the bones right, you can use the mouse to make your creature move in any direction. Then you can move him around the area in paths over time – voila – an amination!

Well, I’m a mom with a 3 year old and a part-time job. I’m not paid well by Pixar. And I definitely don’t have time for this. In the 12 hours of intense learning and pain, I sweated out a little blue man who could twitch his arm a little. But I developed respect for the process of creating these creatures. It must take hours and days to create each little Nemo or donkey or whatever. Blender does have a lot of time saving keyboard shortcuts and I’m sure the pros know them all. Would I want to spend picky hours on a computer connecting the thighbone of a bee to 3 points of tissue around? Sure! If you have an entry level opening at Pixar, drop me a line!!!

At the end of the weekend, I had decided not to make this my new hobby. My son had watched captivated for a few hours, but he too grew frustrated and didn’t want to try again. Was the weekend a waste? I don’t think so. We got a taste for this stuff. Now my kid knows exactly how hard it is, but how amazing. Maybe one day when he’s 13 he’ll return to Blender.

For now we’ll try some other stuff, like Stop Motion. We’ll set up his Bionicles, knights and Pokemon and move them around the room, taking pictures. Then we’ll make photo sequences, add soundtracks, compress them into films and send ’em up to Youtube. And one day my creative story telling kid will become the next George Lucas.

Watching TV with Paul Morrissey

I just spent the past hour in an unexpected TV-viewing encounter with Paul Morrissey. For the uninitiated, Morrissey was Andy Warhol’s film director and made many of the films starring Edie Sedgwick, such as “Chelsea Girls”, “Trash”, “Flesh”, “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein”, etc.

As a long-time (20 years) devotee of Warhol, Edie, the Velvet Underground and all things Factory, I obviously had a lot to ask Morrissey. His responses were unexpected in many ways.

Obviously the first thing I asked about was Andy Warhol. Seems like everybody has a strong opinion about Andy. “Andy was materialistic”, “Andy was obsessed with stardom,” etc. Morrissey observed that what you hear about Andy is mostly the media’s fabrication of him, since it has become fashionable to make him into a total charicature. Morrissey himself recalled Andy as being a very challenged person. Andy was dyslexic. Andy had difficulty speaking. So, when he met people on the street Andy always had a few handy one-liners in his back pocket – “Can I take your picture?” “Do you want to buy a copy of my magazine?”, etc to distract people from starting a conversation which may reveal his communications failures.

Being a self-titled bohemian girl (OK, houswife), I obviously asked Paul about Edie. Edie was always one of my idols. Morrissey basically repeated what you often hear about Edie. She was a rich, pampered girl. She was incredibly good-looking. She had an amazing body. She was very disturbed as a result of the way her family treated her, but also thanks to the asylums where she had been continually sent and the drugs she had been given there. I was surprised that Morrissey actually liked “Factory Girl”, which I had heard described as “Edie for dummies”. However, he said that the portrayal of Bob Dylan was completely inaccurate. The film made Bob out to be a moral hero, putting down the factory crowd for their speed and hard drugs and begging Edie to leave Andy, a “bloodsucker” and come with him. According to Morrissey, Bob invited Edie to Woodstock and there he gave her heroin. Bob was apparently no better than any of them.

Surprisingly, for a Factory regular, Morrissey didn’t take drugs. Here is what Andy said about Morrissey (from warholstars.org)

Andy Warhol:

“Paul didn’t take drugs – in fact, he was against every single drug, right down to aspirin. He had a unique theory that the reason kids were taking so many drugs all of a sudden was because they were bored with having good health, that since medical science by now had eradicated most childhood diseases, they wanted to compensate for having missed out on being sick. ‘Why do they call it experimenting with drugs?’ he’d demand. ‘It’s just experimenting with ill health!'” (POP118)

 

Warholstars goes on to say that although Morrissey himself didn’t take drugs, he was known at the Factory for making films of people shooting heroin. Did those people want him to film him like that? I doubt it.

Morrissey’s strongest opinions are about pop culture and rock and roll and the way this has affected society. Basically, he hates rock and roll. He says that after the first few good acts of the sixties: The Beatles, The Beach Boys, then rock and roll was ruined. It produced a mentality of chaos, sexual promiscuity, and a drug culture which has completely destroyed young people. Basically, his rhetoric is that of the conservative right wing or the 1950’s establishment. He hates rock both socially, for encouraging promiscuity and dissipation, and aesthetically, because rock’s hard relentless beat is ugly, discourages healthy critical thought and just reduces people to animals. He compared the youth rituals of listening to a rock concert, dancing and having sex to a Nazi or communist rally. As we watched Grace Jones sing in a new wave reunion concert, Morrissey praised disco which caused music to become melodic again and broke the destructive trend of rock.

I observed that today, with 1 million different channels for expression on the Internet, there are endless producers but no audience. He blamed this again on the 1960’s rock culture. Thanks to drugs and rock, kids today have damaged their nerve endings so that they need constant stimulation and cannot concentrate on slow culture. There may have been some truth to this, but it was a bit ironic that Paul himself was busy channel-surfing on a large screen television as he spoke.

My conclusion about these points of view coming from the man who used to produce “The Velvet Underground” and hang out at the Factory was that obviously he has seen so many people go down the tubes when their habits caught up with them, that he reacted viscerally.

He condemned me when I told him that I had loved garage rock for about the past 20 years since I was about 15 and had discovered the Velvet Underground, and about my father, a record collector and rock and roll historian who had dedicated his life to the music. He disagreed with my opinions that rock is necessary for young people as it helps them express their natural angst. Well, you can imagine his response. I was just a knee jerk fundamentalist liberal. OK, we went around with the same old tired arguments for some time. Still, he let me express my views – that rock was cathartic and powerful, and sometimes that was what we needed. We don’t want to listen to pleasant , melodic music anymore since frankly, life has not been pleasant and unified since before WWII.

Like just about anyone else, Paul Morrissey is good and bad. For all his right-wing opinions, he was a surprisingly pleasant and humorous man. He was about 70, Scottish descent, good-looking and altogether very smart and astute. He continues to be a well-respected film artist amongst those who look beyond the mainstream blockbusters that fill our cineplexes and minivans.

24 hour party people

I just saw this film about the rise and fall of Tony Wilson and the Madchester music scene. This was one of those films that did something to me. It was haunting. I think this is because it shattered my assumptions about the history of pop music as I knew it. For one thing, the film presented the early punk bands like Joy Division or Buzzcocks as just a step on the way to the madchester scene of Happy Mondays and eventually house/dance/dj music. I had always assumed that punk was more important and that dance music was just a passing trend, after this film I’m starting to think it was opposite.

In a way the film presented Happy Mondays as the last rock band. The narrator, playing Tony Wilson, even remarked in a scene in his Hacienda club in Manchester, the very moment when the audience no longer applauded the band, but instead applauded the DJ. This is a very important and very postmodern moment, marking the death of the author in a visible and historical sense. Punk may be more revered and fondly remembered today, but I think that the time will come when we will look back on the Happy Mondays, and the emerging club scene and realize the revolutionary importance of that music as well.

In fact it seems strange that Happy Mondays and the house and techno and rave music scene that they spawned are 17 years in the past. And what have we evolved to? War and the “fight against terrorism” and a world where all we care about is getting good ol’ American tax cuts and driving around the strip malls in our SUV’s (which are the biggest on the road) and where our kids must turn into little hard-working adults by grade 6 due to the “No Child Left Behind” laws. It seems like there is no more of the idealism about the redeeming power of music or communal love or even hedonism left from the hippie or rave scenes, just a boring materialistic world where all we can think about is how to protect ourselves and get home equity. But I’m not pining for the “good old days”, I’m impatient for the future. It seems to me as if we will encounter hippies and ravers at some point in the future, after we have evolved a bit more. They were only visiting before by some mistake in the time-space continuum.

But revolutionary importance and SUV’s aside, I’m just glad that the film reminded me of the Happy Mondays. They were an interesting band, equal parts drum and bass dance music, and equal parts rock. They sound at once like something you’ve heard before and like nothing you’ve heard before. And then they have Bez. Bez is their dancer, mascot, psychedelic guru. I’ve never heard of another band with a mascot who just dances and plays maracas. That alone makes the Mondays worth knowing.