Summertime Blues

Rand Carlson

Summer is a lovely time to catalogue worthlessness. Particularly one's own. The pitiless heat is wonderful in helping clarify feelings of futility and defeat. Long, bitter months stewing in your own stink is time well-suited for detailing a hatred of everybody and everything.

The summers around here reflect my inner aches. The whole town has a dying-on-the-vine quality. The streets are filthy and hard; people dank and ugly; the air soggy and uncirculated. The sun singes life, and the greenery screams. The silence is deafening.

My cat feels the pain. He moves like a toilworn soldier heading off to battle. He trudges along gracelessly, head bowed, legs seesawing with each labored step, and he stops often to rest. His suffering is real. The rules handed down for my little feline are brutal: His fur coat has to remain on at all times. Downing ice cold beer is not an option. TV is out.

Maybe he, too, is considering the options. For his sake, I wish I made up the rules.

I spent a good 90 percent of this past month lying naked on the sofa in the impotent breeze of a clackety fan, forced by nature and by television to contemplate the unthinkable.

After weeks of electromagnetic wave poisoning in the name of MTV, my boiled brain begged for one indulgence: a shotgun.

TV works best when it allows the unconscious a certain gratefulness for not having to make use of intellect, while gently quieting the unsettling feeling that you may not have been raised with every chance to obtain knowledge and culture.

During these past few couch-rotted weeks basking in the TV's cobalt glow, I lost all desire to read. I lost all desire to think. What became important was whether Kurt Angle kicked Steve Austin's ass. Or the number of booty shakes in the new Sisqó video. TRL host Carson Daly's mug was no longer a source of grief but one of relief.

It no longer mattered that Daly's on-screen persona resembles that of any TV weatherman working weekends in cities smaller than Wichita. Or the fact that his blandness is rewarded to such an extent that he commands the respectful attention of worldwide media for doing little more than cheerily polluting the virgin soil of prepubescents by pimping teen pop's latest videos. What's creepy about Daly is that he's so shamelessly ordinary, so wholly dispensable. Strangely, that's not what gnawed at me. TRL newbie Willa Ford writhing in cum-do-me hot pants smoothed all that out, stroke-me style.

Ford's amalgamation of sexual tension for boys and iconic slut-goddess for girls draws a line between porn and pop that's as thin as her g-string; in the video for "I Wanna Be Bad," the lithesome blonde mixes tease and schtupp innuendo (Ford resolves a conflict with two cops by simultaneously boinking them . . . DP style) with an aplomb that advocates the false sublimity of bimbo porno pets far and wide. Willa Ford is a Britney Spears who actually fucks.

As I inspected Ford's comely anatomy daily on TRL, I thought of the millions of slavering boys doing exactly the same.

Regress: Eighth grade was not a good year for me. Depression ensues.

I also took to Summer in the Keys, MTV's bummer "beach dance party," a show in which hives of testosterone-rich boys encircle host Carmen Electra and do little more than breathe through gaping mouths while boring holes into her flesh with their eyes. Oh, and there's a DJ, too, spinning the latest in chart dross. I stared at back-to-back episodes of this with dull dismay. In the show's context -- this juxtaposition of woman and boys -- Electra looks downright ancient. The physical signs of wither are magnified. Her narcissistic mien reveals traces of panic, that underlying flutter common to anyone slipping down the show-biz food chain.

A genetic bonanza bolstered by plastic surgery and an unyielding diligence toward performing -- something expected of her in the male-defined role of celebrity tart -- Electra does little more than bounce her boobies and chirp. And it does not sit well on a woman already in her 30s. After a siege of cultural and personal atrocities some may regard as triumphs (Baywatch, MTV's Singled Out, Dennis Rodman, Fred Durst, etc.), Electra is beginning to resemble a leathery divorcée, the type who drops her g-string, tweets "Woo hoo," then jumps into a hot tub next to some David Hasselhoff mook-alike. Nevertheless, I have a certain empathy for Ms. Electra. Could be she's doing just what her mother taught her. From that point of view, Electra is a tragedy of Dostoevskyan magnitude.

I learned that the MTV process -- the showy mechanics of the pop star -- can empower you to do absolutely nothing. You become foul by want of motion. The stagnation caused by the sensory overload of instant blips and glittery popping images -- the kind that sexually taunt but do little in the way of provoking genuine thought -- can kill a person. The standards by which we judge music are lowered; bad becomes good, awful becomes acceptable.  

And yeah, yeah, I know, I hear the ghost of grandpa's disdain as it burps from my mouth: "Ya call that music!"

At one point I began to expect and accept the idea that music erected from passionless performances (the week's foremost example: O Town's "All or Nothing") is permissible.

Nothing thus far in music history has been this horrendous, this lifeless. The simple idea of a pop celeb, his work, his life -- mere show without reality -- is not enough. MTV defines celebrity by showing a place in which people are loaded on nothing but pretense -- actions intended to deceive -- where what's false is what's real. The ostentatious jerk-off program Cribs -- a show depicting the star at home -- best exemplifies this. The deception is that celebrities rely upon said image in everyday life, in that spare and elemental place, thereby never having to find themselves face to face with who and what they really are. (Dig Mariah Carey's recent collapse and ensuing nut-house repose; a textbook case of flesh and bone crumpling under a weighty image.)

The ubiquitous pop star preens at us from every nook and cranny and ensures that anyone over the age of 14 is well aware of who Britney Spears is. That we can differentiate between Diddy, Durst and Daly. That we know intimate details about the members of 'N SYNC. Blah!

Putting kids on pedestals is child fetish. I want my money back. Better yet, I demand a reverse royalty payment for each time I've been forced to suffer a Backstreet Boys tune while attempting to live my life without unwanted noise. That kind of dough could easily afford me amnesty from all this pop gloating. I could find a place down in Mozambique where the skies are aqua blue. I could install central air conditioning so my kitty could live out his days in blithesome, cool oblivion.

Obligatory reviews:

The Calling
Camino Palmero

Read the following paragraph repeatedly. Read it repeatedly and the message will soon become clear:

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Got it?

Beautiful Creatures
Beautiful Creatures
(Warner Bros.)

Beware of ex-MTV metalers doing punk-cum-glam karaoke. Beware of the new "badass" brigade sportin' dyed black coifs, riffing third-rate MC5 chords whose stupidly hyperbolic bios make unironic use of terms like "sleazy" and "dirty" while citing the Stooges and Dolls as influences. Beware of any band that says they love their current tourmates when said tour is the Ozzfest (!!!???).

But the biggest disclaimer of all lies in the fact that Creatures' songbird, a simian mook of the first water, is one Joe Teste. Teste, you won't recall, was the longhaired gimp who fronted the lame, mid-'80s, Dude-We're-Arena-Rock-on-Sunset-Strip G'n'R fourth-stringers Bang Tango. Only now Teste's hair is much shorter and he digs the Stooges. How punk rock.

I choke down hurl as I listen and type, because inevitably it's morons like Beautiful Creatures -- a band whose imbecility is matched only by a lack of songcraft -- that might, if only by sheer trumpeting of self, be successful.

Let us run through the old destined-for-hitsville checklist, shall we?

-- Shameless self-promoters? Duh.
-- Harsh poseur sneers? Yup.
-- Huge label support? Warner Bros., check.
-- Beer-gutted singer? Uh-huh.
-- Self-proclaimed saviors of rock? Yep. It says so right on the Web site.
-- Narcissistic band name that is unintentionally ironic? Duuuuude!
-- Cool tattoos that feature gnarly skulls, inverted crosses and obelisk-like figures? Boy Howdy!

Yep, the checklist reveals that Beautiful Creatures might just make it, man.

Foxy Brown
Broken Silence
(Def Jam)

Foxy and brown and I stumble at the altar... and falter, oh my, this woman.... Forget all about Willa Ford... forget all about her, man.... I am not worthy... She don't break the surface when she moves...

However, I am, of course, too damned white to begin to deconstruct this music. Can't even begin to like it, really. I do know, however, that the naturally curved Foxy possesses all the Badass Chick trappings and flaunts said gifts with an unaffected and intrinsic grace that is unmatched anywhere. She's well beyond the acceptable norms of beauty. Her video performances can raise wood in even the best intentioned of men. Moreover, the majority of CD jacket photos objectify her tremendously. Stroke on, chief.

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