Severe Clear.

May 26, 2008

I was watching this thing on 60 Minutes last night, about ‘millennials’ and their supposed self-centered work habits. “They’ve climbed mountains in Colorado, but they’ve never punched a time-clock!”
Morley Safer grumbled about how kids straight out of college, pampered and adored by their parents, expect to find fulfillment; they have no corporate loyalty, and will drop a job like a hot rock if the boss is too bossy. “They see themselves as if they were on eBay,” said an Expert. “If you don’t suit them, they’ll quit and go company down the street–and probably make more money.” She told a story about millennials’ parents calling bosses to complain about their kids’ poor performance reviews. (I’m guessing this is apocryphal, or, perhaps more likely, something that happened once and has been blown out of proportion)
“Their priorities are their friends, and their lifestyle!” Then Morley Safer implied that the culprits are Little League baseball teams that gave out trophies to kids just because they showed up.
Well, heavens to Betsy. Look, I grew up in a house where I was anything but adored and pampered; school was agony for me, and I was told constantly that adult life was worse, that work is by nature horrible, to be endured. I think I would’ve absorbed these lessons and worked thanklessly at school, and then at college, and then trudged off to unhappy destiny–were I capable of it. I tried, I really did.
So I feel a certain affinity for this allegedly self-fulfillment-seeking generation, with their parents, who so gallingly chose to teach them to feel good about themselves, and their petulant wish to live in a society where the world of work doesn’t resemble a German expressionist film.
(there’s some Marxist phrase about the value of work in a free market system, that the worker’s work has value, that he rents it to the bosses–the above is a kind of sellers’-market version, right?–I don’t remember it, but I used to drop the phrase into conversation all the time in school)
Scrap and I were playing gigs down South last week; a couple were great (the Pilot Light in Knoxville, the Milestone in Charlotte, both vibey, shambly, punk-rocky,clubs). A couple were the kind of trying gigs I play in cities where you don’t play very often; half the crowd is chatting rar-rar full volume, yelling at the bartenders for their drinks, dudes shout out for “Super Bon Bon.”
(I’m getting better at not getting mad at people for yelling “Super Bon Bon,” but that’s probably because it doesn’t happen that often anymore. I’m still not gonna play it.)
We were buying Laffy Taffy, ice cream sandwiches, and Chili-Cheese Fritos at an Exxon station, and I found a newspaper on the counter, for $1, called The Slammer, consisting entirely of mugshots from around that part of North Carolina. It was subdivided into categories: drunk drivers, deadbeat parents, sex offenders, underage perps, a section of older cons (“Mature Menaces”), a section of perps with bad hair, and a whole page of arrestees who were weirdly smiling in their mugshots. That one was my favorite.
This morning, I was reading the glossary of old lowlife slang in the back of Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York–a history of gang and gangster life in the 5 Points slum of Manhattan in the 19th century, from which the Leo DiCaprio movie was liberally extracted–and wrote a poem:
The joskins and kirkbuzzers
Booly dogs, rumbeaks and mabs
The jaw coves and high tobies
Marking flats in padding-kens
I’ll give my dots, my regulars,
The screwsman vamped the owl
Bleakest goo and figure dancer
She wore a yack, unlike a moll
We’ll yam sawney; in our gutter lanes
swill bing; with barking irons
We’ll get hockey with our balsam;
Rub from whit and picture frames.
All correct, he told the crokus,
Then the mab, she fibbed my boke;
Alamort at ballum-rancums
Stole my castor from my fams
Now I am an autumn bawler,
And I wear a Jacob’s coat
I will forgive the bludget,
Who absconded on the bull.

Now it really irritates me when people say, Oh, you’d like this piece of art much better if you understood it’s about n, x, or y. But I wanted to mention that it’s not just a Jabberwocky rip-off, but makes sense if you know the slang. Maybe I’ll publish a translation.
(Oh, and do I have to mention copyright 2008 by Mike Doughty–? Yes? OK then.)
Here’s a song by this mythic gay cellist/singer from the Old Arty Scary East Village of the late 80s/early 90s, Arthur Russell. He’s fascinating to me because he’s using a house-music trick: keeping the music repetitive, repeating one phrase with variation. It deepens and becomes heartbreaking. There’s a moment in the middle where the vocal does something odd and off-putting, and initially it put me off, but after a few listens (and I listened to it over and over again when I first came across it) it struck me as a very endearing kind of New York art move; just a little superfluous weirdness thrown in there for no reason. It made me feel homesick.
Apparently this song was used in a UK T-Mobile commercial. I like that something from that old country I used to live in, the pretentious and fun Lower East Side, made it into the big wide commercial world. Still, it was offputting to watch the ad–it seems perverse to cut the song at 0:30, without it’s endless repeating spread
Arthur Russell, “This Is How We Walk on the Moon.”

Oh yeah–I’m DJing on Tuesday the 26th (tomorrow, as I type this) at a benefit for The New York Neo-Futurists, a fantastic theater company that does a splendid weekly show called Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind/ See below:
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