Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Songs of Evil: Notes on Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love For You"

A few weeks ago they released the 25th anniversary edition of Whitney Houston's debut album, Whitney Houston.

Whitney is sort of fascinating as a human embodiment of the philosophical conundrum of "Theseus' Ship (props to Jen Dziura's one-woman show for reminder on this).

The Ship of Theseus paradox poses questions of identity and authenticity in the form of a riddle/parable: If a ship leaves the port -- in this case Theseus' ship -- and while out at sea has all its planks replaced over time, piece by piece, when it returns to port with all new parts is it still Theseus' Ship?

Now you may or may not know that some scientists will tell you that our cells are regenerating every 7-10 years. In effect, we all have a little Theseus Paradox in us: our whole bodies are renewed over time, piece by piece, but we stay (in some essential way) the same person.

In the case of the fourth best-selling female artist, the paradox is striking: If when we met Whitney she was a god-fearing, clean-cut, singer from heaven, and then twenty years later all of her cells have changed, and she's a crack-smoking, Bobby Brown f'ing, reality show ghetto diva doing very little singing. Well, is that still Whitney Houston?

I don't know.... But, uh, ANYwhitney, I didn't want to unpack our enigmatic angel in this post, but rather her song, "Saving All My Love For You" which got stuck in my head upon revisiting her debut album.

Have you listened to this song recently? I personally had not, and after being briefly enamored with the parodic possibilities of turning the song into an ode to eye-crust called "Saving All My Crust For You", I realized the song is one of the most purely evil songs I've ever given my attention. It's selfish, obnoxious, and pretty much morally reprehensible. If that proves to be a harsh assessment, then it's at the very least disingenuous. Like some sort of romantic Trojan Horse purporting the spirit of true love, when it's no more than the the deranged fantasy of an intolerably narcissistic lunatic.

The title of this song suggets a paean to waiting, pining, fighting, and willing ones way into someone else's heart. In a different context, perhaps a noble sentiment. But as per the setup of the song, you get a sense of some rather questionable pathology lurking beneath the surface. Some notes on all this after the video below.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Knicks Trade for TMac, Pray to the God of Big City Sports

A starting five of notes on the Knicks trading for former superstar Tracy McGrady:

1. The TMac Narrative: everyone in the analysis business wants to write off TMac as a strictly cap-money acquisition. The brains say he's too old to really help. And even if he is good he'll be too expensive to keep on the roster. It's a lose-lose in terms of him sticking around for Knicks fans. But I'm thinking sports, if nothing else, is all about defying our rational intellectual senses. This is why despite exponents of stat-head freaks overpopulating the globe compiling every statistic known to man we still in any given game NEVER KNOW WTF IS GONNA HAPPEN. This was a man crying(breaks down circa 1:50 mark), emptying his heart in front of a crowded press room only a few years ago. Sports can get schmaltzy, but still not many superstar athletes expose themselves quite like that. Allan Houston was our All Star, he never cried. Nate Robinson has heart, but he ain't been broken up over much. And it's not like these guys haven't had plenty to sob about for the last decade. I don't know how Eddy Curry gets through the days. But I think TMac has a particular qualitative element to his story that fits in with the majestic arcs demanded by the city of skyscraping dreams (too much?). Its not likely, it's not something to bet your rent on. But if we snooze, he's the kind of player who can sneak up on you and become a factor. I guess I think it's good that he's being written off by the media.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Haiku for the Politically Correct



(per wiki: Haiku (俳句 haikai verse?) is a form of Japanese poetry, consisting of 17 moras (or on), in three metrical phrases of 5, 7, and 5 moras respectively... In Japanese, haiku are traditionally printed in a single vertical line, while haiku in English usually appear in three lines, to parallel the three metrical phrases of Japanese haiku.)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Not Bad: NBA All Star Game Rap Battle

Recently enamored of Lydia Davis and her unique brand of short story/poetry (shoetry? hmmm, pronounced show-a-tree? ...forget it, ugh!) ) I've been thinking about rapping as a form of prose styling. Which fits in with a growing notion that hip hop's grand error is its creative cachet being tied to the musical arts and not the literary arts. The music was the conduit to commercial empowerment, but the lyrics are where all the cultural and intellectual DNA reside. So as smarts trumps capitalism, hip hop is losing inventory (mostly due to bad accounting in the past).

When seen as a form of lit stylizing, then the rhythms, cadence, dialect choices all conspire to signal artistry at work in a more tangible way. Per Samuel Beckett (via Lydia Davis interview):

"I am interested in the shape of ideas even if I do not believe in them. There is a wonderful sentence in Augustine. I wish I could remember the Latin. It is even finer in Latin than in English. 'Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned.' That sentence has a wonderful shape. It is the shape that matters."

This is why the art of hip hop, of rapping, can/should be respected even if the content is about nonsense. Not that nonsense, especially of the lazy commercially-pandering variety, shouldn't be held as a demerit. But fact remains you can rap about the money, the cars, the hoes artfully. The heft of the craftsmanship in quality lyrics come from the person shaping their content/story/themes into proper "hip hop form" ...

of course that leads us into style vs. substance debates, amongst other tangents. but that's for another time. my point here was to set up this nba all star rap video, which i enjoyed as a stylizing of the "who's better: east or west?" conversation/debate most nba fans are engaging in to some degree during the All Star break.

so yeah, i mean hardcore sports fans are going to find the broad nature of this as substantively compelling as the latest black eyed peas joint (or whatever fluffy pop hip hop song is at odds with your intellectual sensibilities at the moment). but, like your average BEP song, it's mostly a fun aesthetic conceit. one that more and more people are finding accessible, if not fundamental. maybe soon rapping will be the equivalent of writing someone a note in thick permanent marker, as a sonnet or something. just having fun with language/communication! word, yo!

(also, i love the east coast production style, but think it makes the song a bit biased.)

Monday, February 01, 2010

Remembering Black History

I wrote this Objective Perspective of Black History Month a while back, somehow it still feels relevant ...

In the long and storied history of the universe, nothing has come so far and overcome so much as Black.

Some have theorized that in the beginning there was only Blackness. And it wasn't a color. It was just a void. Nothingness....

(continued at McSweeney's...)

Black History Month: An Objective Perspective
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