Tuesday, March 22, 2011

HOW I BECAME COURTNEY LOVE'S PERSONAL SHOPPER

The first chapter of what's sure to be a life-long comradery.
By Alex Nagorski
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(My BFFL C Lovez and I)

So there I was: minding my own business, walking down Broadway, bopping to Ke$ha and slicing away at some Fruit Ninja on my phone. I was en route to meet up with a friend for drinks prior to a show some of our friends from college had written. The date was Saturday, March 5 – which in gay time can be referred to as five whole days before Femme Fatale leaked.

All of a sudden, I feel someone’s hand grab the part of my body that would be a bicep had I not given up on the Insanity workout DVDs after day three. “Excuse me,” someone boisterously says. I take out my earphones and turn around to see who it is. Naturally, it’s Courtney Love.

“Hi, I’m sorry but I’m so fucking lost. Do you have any idea where ABC Carpet and Home is?” she asks me. She’s wearing a short black dress with an oversized black trenchcoat and stilettos that have a heel larger than her album sales have ever been. “Sure,” I respond. “It’s only a couple blocks down and I’m heading that way anyway. Would you like me to walk you?”

“You’re a fucking doll,” Courtney replies to me as she links her arm around mine and I begin escorting her down the bustling city street. “They should never let rock stars out at night,” she snickers as she snorts back the snot dripping from her nose – a cute little tick she kept doing for the rest of the night. Flu or ... ?

I’m thinking I should somehow acknowledge who she is. “I don’t know if this is inappropriate for me to say, but I really enjoyed the Hole record you put out last year,” I tell her. “That’s totally appropriate for you to say! You’re like one of four people who listened to it. What’s not appropriate is if you were to tell me how much you love Nirvana,” she responds. Immediately I start hearing my best friend Gina’s conspiracy theories on why Courtney actually killed Kurt playing back in my head. I have no response. Cricket cricket.

We get to ABC Carpet and Home but the store is closed. Courtney starts knocking on the door as two security guards come to the door. “Store’s closed, ma’am,” they tell her. “I have an appointment on the third floor,” Courtney replies. The guards do their little walky talky magic (reminding me how happy I am that Nextels don’t exist anymore) and tell her she’s allowed inside. “What are you doing right now?” she asks me. “Come with me!” she says while grabbing my hand and pulling me into the store with her.

And that’s how I literally spent the next 45-minutes walking around the empty store with Courtney Love and picking out plates, vases, pillows, cups, lamps, etc. for her new house. We chatted about everything from the British art dealer she’s seeing (“because who isn’t an art dealer these days, right?”) to how she’s the one that brought Russell Brand over to America (“I like nursed him on my tit”) to how I have “surprisingly really good taste” in home furnishings (“Thanks?”).

At the end of our little shopping excursion, the staff of the store had us leave through the service exit because the gates in the main entrance were already secured into place. As we parted ways (me to my friends’ show and her to an art opening), we hugged and did the European two-cheek-peck goodbye. “Sorry, do you mind if I take a picture with you so that my friends believe me why I’m late?” I ask. She doesn’t argue that for a moment and continues to thank me for helping her.

Courtney Love is not at all what I expected her to be. She was actually a very easy-to-talk-to (albeit neurotic) person. I mean sure, it was diva-ish of her to insist on making the staff of the store stay after hours so she could shop, but a simple Google search of her name will reveal far worse offenses. She was talking to me like I was an old friend and I was half expecting her to offer that we have a sleepover so we would give each other makeovers, share a roll of cookie dough, and practice making out. And just for the record: I totally would have done it.

Originally published on Crazytown Blog

INTERVIEW WITH DARWIN DEEZ

An exclusive Q&A with indie rock's new "it" boy.
By Alex Nagorsk
(Darwin Deez' official music video for "Constellations")

ALEX: Your music fascinates me because it seems to be such an amalgamation of classic rock and contemporary folk/electronica. The result is often incredibly catchy pop music that’s a lot smarter than a lot of other stuff out there. By drawing from such different genres, what have you found to be the greatest challenge in creating your sound?
DARWIN: Thank you! Well, the challenge in creative pursuits is always quality.  Making something different is easy by comparison. There's some old advice that I've always regarded with respect: the more different kinds of music you listen to, the more original your music will be.  I don't really love jazz or African drumming other world music or classical music though.  I mostly just study the shit out of some pop music.  All kinds.  And I've spent a lot of time on bad/mediocre pop music.  So I wouldn't recommend that, but I guess it's worked for me.

You met your band members while working with them at a New York restaurant as a waiter and then proceeded to record your entire album on your home computer. When you found our your record was going to be commercially released, were there any types of changes that had to be made to the tracks? Or did they remain untouched from when you recorded them yourself?
Very minimal changes. I added a barely noticeable ride cymbal to the chorus of the bomb song. That might have been it. The label suggested strings on that song. They were open to re-doing the whole thing but in the end we both recognized the charm of the homemade recordings. Plus the takes were there and they were good and I had already slaved hours over comping them (compiling the final part from multiple takes).

How different is the music you play today than the music you and your band played together during your first rehearsal? What types of evolutions happened with your sound?
The songs we play now are the same songs we started on almost 3 years ago. The set has become more seamless and arguably more entertaining, but the songs haven't changed much except for improvised intros and jams – and the addition of one rap track.

Cover Art You’ve already made quite a name for yourself in the UK, hitting #5 on the indie album charts and gracing the cover of NME when you were named #10 on the magazine’s annual “cool list.” With your album now being released stateside, what excites you most about bringing your music to the U.S.?

There are some cool music lovers (and regular people) in the US. It's nice not to have to spend $2400 flying the band out of the country and another chunk of change on backline rental before we even make a cent. So I like that prospect of US popularity. If I daresay popularity. That's a very business-y answer but I guess fans are fans to me. People who love the music are people who love the music. This shit is for everyone, you know?

What have you found to be the biggest differences so far between playing shows in the UK and in America?
American crowds are much more excitable than British ones. At least they show it more. I'd theorize that they were just drunker but the Brits drink way more on average. They're just enjoying it inwardly I guess, trying not to be annoying to fellow show-goers I guess. Also the American crowds are much smaller at this point.

When you’re on tour, what are your favorite songs to play?
I like to play "The City" because I like the rhythm and the groove of it. And I like to play "Up In The Clouds” because it affords me lots of freedom vocally.

In addition to your music, you’ve also become known for your eclectic dancing. What is it about your moves that you think has made them stand out so much?
I think people can tell that we are dancing from the heart up there. And they respond to any performance that is from the heart.  Some nights I'm feeling happy and get more into the dancing and some nights I feel sad and I get more into singing the songs, so it's nice.

You cite Nietzsche as one of your biggest influences. What type of impact have his writings had on your songwriting?
I'd say none. He has a great style but I haven't figured out how to translate it into songwriting nor have I ever consciously tried. I think the only influence he ever had was that reading him made me want to kill myself, and that's why I wrote "The Suicide Song."

You recently created a full-length rap mix-tape created entirely from samples from the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. What inspired this project and why did you choose that film in particular to work with?
Well, I did the whole thing for fun, to get my creative juices flowing again after a long period of just touring and not writing. The challenge of making it a concept album appealed to me and motivated me to finish it. Also I knew the concept would make it more likely to be talked about and therefore more likely to be listened to. I was really inspired to rap by Das Racist. And I loved some of the melodies from the movie soundtrack and I knew they'd make great hip-hop choruses when sped up. And I also knew I could do some fun twisting of mood by through sampling, such as on "Catastrophe" – a dark, moody track made from samples of the most ridiculously joyous song in the movie.

A lot of your music is filled with metaphors about outer space – stars, constellations, the stratosphere, satellites, etc. What does this imagery signify to you? Or are you just trying to subtly tell us that you’re an alien?
I don't know what it signifies to me. I think it's just more exciting than earth. I'm not an alien, though.  You're thinking of Weezy Wii.

In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly about what music was on his iPod, Glee star Darren Criss listed you as one of his five artists he’s currently really into. “He’s really big in the U.K. He played some shows with my brother. He’s tough to describe. He sounds like a lot of U.K. weird stuff. I don’t know how to explain him,” Darren said of you. How would you describe your music to someone who had never heard it before?
I just call it homemade indie pop/rock with guitars and drum machines. By the way, thanks for the shout out, Darren!

So what is currently on your iPod? Any music by Darren, the other Glee kids, or Freelance Whales (Darren’s brother’s band)?
Currently on my figurative iPod is Das Racist, Nine Inch Nails, Ke$ha, Friends, more Das Racist, lots of Rage [Against the Machine], Childish Gambino, the new 'Ye joint, and Bell and Wakey!Wakey! bootlegs.

Any final words?
We are driving through treacherous, lecherous snow-covered Alabama. This is my first – no – second trip to Alabama, and I am typing this on my laptop in the front seat of our Honda Odyssey minivan while Miles, our drummer, drives.  We played for a few people in Nashville last night and drove by Music Row this afternoon after crashing with Andrew's [bass/guitar] aunt's house.  Miles is bumping some mild electronica.  I think we are going to make it to our show in Birmingham tonight, but just barely.  This is real shit kids!  We love you.

Darwin Deez’ eponymous debut album is out now via Lucky Number Music Limited.
Originally published on Crazytown Blog

Sunday, March 20, 2011

DID ANYBODY EVER EVEN ANSWER HADDAWAY'S QUESTION IN 1993?

How Felix Gonzalez-Torres and contemporary art provide answers to that age-old question, "What Is Love?".

by Alex Nagorski

Haddaway challenges the masses with this provocative 1993 hit 


One of my favorite things to do in New York is museum hop. Despite never having really picked up a paintbrush myself (outside of my 8th grade art classroom), I’ve always felt a magnetic pull towards art galleries. Specifically galleries containing contemporary/postmodern art.

When I was still in college, I missed an audition for a play I really wanted to try out for because I wanted to make sure I made it to New York to go to the Whitney Biennial before it was over. I’ve been counting down the months until Kim Cogan’s solo show at the Gallery Henoch in September. But why am I so in love with these types of art? 

My mother is an art fiend as well, but her definition of art is strictly classical. I grew up in a house full of Klimt and Van Gogh replicas, prints of Baxt costume designs, and Botticelli posters. And while these were beautiful, they didn’t speak to me the way that the photography of Gregory Crewdson or a multimedia project by Miranda July or Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn do. 

  Gregory crewdson
Photograph #31 from Gregory Crewdson's "Twilight" series (1998-2002)


Perhaps it is because with contemporary art, I feel that artists (more often than not) invite their audiences to participate in the work. What you see hanging on the wall of the museum is not the finished product – rather it is your reaction to the work and what you take away from it long after the gallery doors have locked for the night that becomes the art.

A Rembrandt painting is undoubtedly beautiful, but how much room for interpretation do these paintings really offer? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in any way trying to devalue this type of art, but what really inspires and moves me is art that challenges its audiences to be present in it. Art that forces you to dig deep within yourself and examine the world you inhabit in order for your own definition of what the piece you’re looking at means to you.

Take for instance the exquisite work of one of my favorite artists, Felix Gonzalez-Torres. His primary muse was one that centuries of artists before him had used: love. But it was not until I saw Gonzalez-Torres’ work that I related what I believe love to be with a piece of artwork. For the first time, it was not as though I was looking at a painting of two people holding hands on a park bench trying to relate to the feelings the subjects had, but instead had a raw, visceral connection to the work I was seeing.

In 1988’s “Untitled” (Lovers), Gonzalez-Torres simply took two clocks, set them for the exact same time, down to the millisecond, and placed them directly next to one another. Initially seeming to only have denotative value, the piece in fact harbors a heavy connotative definition of love within its minimalist context.

Untitled (Lovers) "Untitled" (Lovers), 1988, by Felix Gonzalez-Torres

This was the first piece of art about love that I had ever seen that made me feel like I understood what being in love felt like for the artist. The setting of the clocks to the exact same time displays how Gonzalez-Torres believes that being in love creates a synchronization of two different beings. These were two clocks that were originally not on the exact same setting. They were certainly not previously displayed directly next to one another to the point of touching. 

By changing them to be on the same setting and erasing the space between them, however, Gonzalez-Torres created a piece that so simply yet brilliantly conveys the feeling of unity that comes with being in love. The same way that lovers come from different places, backgrounds, etc., these clocks represent how two human beings can come together to form a coalition of harmonized co-existence. With this piece, it is clear that Gonzalez-Torres defines love as the coming together of two individuals and creating a mutually exclusive team.

In his piece “Untitled” (Placebo), 1991, Gonzalez-Torres created a work that represented the bond and sense of intertwined beings that he felt two people in love share. Using the combined weights of himself and his lover Ross Laycock, this piece was an instillation of (approximately four hundred pounds worth of) pieces of identical candy that could be arranged within the museum space as desired by the curator.

Although Gonzalez-Torres used himself and his partner as his prime examples, it is important to note that this piece does not specifically apply to only them, but rather the broader subject of love in general. The candy does not have portraits, photos, or names on the wrappers, thereby not restricting whose love this piece is about. While yes, to the artist, it is personal, but to an audience, it is universally applicable.  

In addition to allowing the audience to substitute themselves and their loved ones in for Gonzalez-Torres and Laycock, “Untitled” (Placebo) also invites its spectators to have an incredibly active role within the creation of the piece. Gonzalez-Torres would simply ship the candy to museums in a box with the simple instructions to arrange it however the curators would see fit. This could be anything from a long stretched out shape composed of individual candies to merely a large pile in the corner of a room. Already, the museum and curators were far more involved in creating the piece than they traditionally were. 

This by default becomes a cumulative project, as the curators set the piece up in a way that best exemplifies their personal perceptions of the definition of love. Therefore, what the audience sees when they walk in is not just how Gonzalez-Torres thinks of love, but also how the space they are inside interprets it.  

FGT_Installation_3
"Untitled" (Placebo), 1991, by Felix Gonzalez-Torres


However, it is not only the museum that has a say in how this love is physically represented in this piece. The audience plays an integral role in allowing “Untitled” (Placebo) to achieve the masterful and poetic justice it deserves. When people are viewing the piece, they are allowed to move the candy. They can rearrange it, pocket it, eat it on the spot, etc. What Gonzalez-Torres accomplishes by giving the viewers of his art this type of power is showcasing how universal love is. Although everyone may define or interpret it differently, it is something that has an undeniably universal presence – whether on a subconscious level or not.

By granting permission to his audience to become a part of the piece, not only does Gonzalez-Torres prove this point, but he also is able to show the claim that the concept of love does not discriminate. This piece both brilliantly and beautifully shows that love is not restricted to certain races, classes, sexual orientations, religions, or communities, as it is something that transcends all those boundaries. It is something that everyone is a part of despite all other sociopolitical factors that may be ingredients to prejudice in other aspects of life.

Additionally, as a gay artist, Gonzalez-Torres is able to assert an activist stance by showing that the love between him and his partner is just as valid, real, pure, and gorgeous as the love of any other two non-homosexual people.  

Gonzalez-Torres was a minimalist if ever there was one. In fact, many people have criticized his work for being too basic. “Well I can do that too” has been a response I’ve heard from too many people that has irked me every time I’ve tried to introduce them to his work. But it is the type of love that Gonzalez-Torres demonstrates in his work that provides the type of resonance that I believe art should have on its audiences.
So to anyone who wants to gallery hop with me and find the next Felix Gonzalez-Torres, my shoes are already on and I’m ready to go.