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Waitress

I went to see Waitress on a total whim, expecting it to be nothing more than a light and fluffy summer-night diversion. By the time I left the theater, I realized that it was a strong, early contender for my favorite film of 2007.

Waitress transcends the diner kitschfest that I (and many others) anticipated, attaining the magical quality with which the best classic Hollywood movies are imbued. It shares with those films a likable and virtuous protagonist (Keri Russell, radiant as Jenna), who instantly wins over the audience. A waitress at “Joe’s Pie Diner,” Jenna is stuck in a suffocating marriage with a jealous, needy, and abusive husband, Earl (Jeremy Sisto, exhibiting impressive emotional range). Her only joy in life is creating delicious, whimsical pies with names like “Marshmallow Mermaid” and “I Hate My Husband.” Though Earl demands that she give him all of her tip money at the end of each shift, she manages to sock some of it away and fantasizes about winning $25,000 in a pie competition, in the hopes of saving enough to leave him. An unwanted pregnancy further complicates Jenna’s situation, forcing her to keep another secret from Earl and bringing a cute but awkward young obstetrician into her life.

You might think you know where this is going. Well, think again. While (spoiler!) dearly departed writer-director Adrienne Shelly does give us a happy ending, it isn’t the one she sets us up to expect. I won’t reveal the specifics, but I will say that the ending is completely appropriate. Though it masquerades as a carefree confection, Waitress is a serious and important film. It doesn’t give us easy answers, making her characters deal with the consequences of their actions. Romantic love doesn’t conquer all, because sometimes there are more important things in life. Sometimes relationships simply don’t work out because practical concerns prevent them from doing so.

The film’s characters, too, seem at first to conform to Hollywood stereotypes. Slowly, though, Shelly erodes these one-dimensional representations. Earl is a controlling, abusive husband, but he truly loves Jenna, and his behavior stems from the fear that she doesn’t love him as he loves her. Though Becky (Cheryl Hines), who waits tables with Jenna, is a snarky, subtlely superior bottle blonde, she is fiercely loyal to her friends and refuses to leave her invalid husband. Powerful performances on the part of every actor, most of whom were playing against type (check out Andy Griffith as a fussy curmudgeon with a good heart) are essential to fleshing out Shelly’s complex cast of characters. The filmmaker herself proves a triple threat, rounding out the triumvirate of waitresses as single, self-conscious Dawn.

Waitressis far from the best movie ever made. Still I consider it a perfect film. Not a single shot or line is wasted. Shelly’s directorial choices are impeccable. Every scene, especially those overhead shots of Jenna baking ever more exotic pies, lives up to its aesthetic and dramatic potential. The movie succeeds entirely on its own deeply, yet subtley, subversive terms. Waitress is that rare film that moves the medium forward without alienating mainstream audiences. Cinema, and the world as a whole, I think, has lost an important, powerful, humanist voice in Adrienne Shelly.

I happened to hear the new Smashing Pumpkins single, “Tarantula,” on KEXP while I was at work yesterday. It prompted me to wonder, WHY DOES BILLY CORGAN KEEP KILLING MUSIC?

Sure, I loved The Smashing Pumpkins between the ages of 10 and 13. At that age, I identified with the vague rebellion implied in lyrics like “Despite all my rage/I am still just a rat in a cage” and even thought that “Disarm you with a smile/And cut you like you want me to/Cut that little child/Inside of me and such a part of you” sounded kind of romantic. I’m not proud of it, but the words seemed pretty profound to me at the time. It makes sense: the middle school years are defined by misdirected anger, and any notion that one may have of romance in seventh grade is likely to involve a lot of sadomasochistic, self-pitying sentiments.

Billy Corgan is now 40 years old, and he still hasn’t gotten over this crap. “Tarantula” sounds like an outtake from either of the Machina albums, which weren’t so hot in the first place. And the lyrics? Oh boy. “Yes, I’m real/’Cause someone gave us sound”? Non sequitur. “The spoils of all I got were left to scrounge.” Anyone want to take a stab at diagramming that sentence? Then there’s, “I don’t want to be alone,” which Corgan howls repeatedly towards the end of the song.

It’s been a long slide since Siamese Dream, the band’s career highlight if you don’t think much about the lyrics. At that point, they were still stealing enough from shoegaze to create interesting soundscapes. The horrifically-named Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness had some high points (again, if you ignore the lyrics) but was ultimately flabby and self-indulgent. Then came Adore–remember Billy Corgan in the “Ava Adore” video, looking like Uncle Fester in a floor-length black dress? The Machina albums play like self-parody. Then there was Zwan (no explanation needed). I didn’t even bother with the Corgan solo album.

And now this?

The new album is going to be called Zeitgeist. I seriously doubt that Corgan knows the meaning of that word. The American Heritage Dictionary (2006) defines “zeitgeist” as: “The spirit of the time; the taste and outlook characteristic of a period or generation.” And the Smashing Pumpkins? Perhaps the spirit of 12-year-olds across the country a decade ago… but at this point, one can only hope that the album title is a self-effacing joke.

I saw this movie at a midnight screening last Saturday. A potential cult classic overlooked for years due to lack of distribution, The Apple may be the Plan 9 from Outer Space of pop musicals. The plot, such as it is, centers around the dystopic world of the future (1994, that is), in which people wear lots of silver vinyl but disco-chic hairdos are still all the rage. This harsh realm is controlled by a totalitarian record company called Boogalow International Music (called, simply, “The BIM”). It isn’t clear how the label made the transition from selling music to world domination, but that’s part of the fun. When an idealistic, young, folk-singing couple proves a threat to BIM’s disco mind control, Boogalow’s head honcho manages to seduce one of them into his evil fold, while the other rebels against BIM’s control. And, of course, this is all one, big, glittery New Testament allegory.

According to “New York’s Apple Superfan,” who hosted our screening, at the movie’s premiere, the audience hated the movie so much that they threw the commemorative soundtrack LPs they had been given at the screen. Don’t you hate people with no sense of camp?

No Fun Fest 2007

To be honest, I was both excited and a little bit scared about attending No Fun Fest. A yearly four-day festival devoted entirely to experimental and noise music, No Fun takes place at The Hook, in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Now in its fourth year, the festival has been attracting an ever-growing following, including lots of out-of-towners. This year, the four-day festival pass sold out almost immediately, and when I tried, a few weeks ago, to buy tickets for Thursday the 17th and Saturday the 19th, I found that the Saturday show (headlined by giant of noise Merzbow) was already sold out.

As to the source of my trepidation, well, I am by no means an aficionado of noise. In fact, before I started writing for Tiny Mix Tapes, avant garde and noise music barely existed for me. I was vaguely aware of it, but I was never interested enough to allow it to infiltrate the predominantly indie rock realm of my musical taste. But a few months into writing for TMT, two interesting things happened. First, I started reading and hearing from other writers about bands and musicians who were innovating beyond anything I’d ever heard before. At the same time, because writing about music forced me to engage with such a high volume of it, I grew weary. Much of the indie rock I’d love so much was boring the hell out of me. The “hype” bands just weren’t cutting it. Tapes ‘N Tapes? What the hell is good about that band? The Hold Steady? Don’t get me started. Has anyone listened to Ted Leo’s new album? Crap, crap, crap. I still listen largely to what we call indie rock, for lack of a more descriptive genre, but there was no question that I needed something new. I went to a Magik Markers show, saw Lightning Bolt a few weeks later, and can definitely see the appeal of noise. It sounds new, pushes limits, is neither catchy nor marketable. But I still wasn’t sure whether I was ready for No Fun. Would I make it through an entire night of this stuff?

Because I was kind of scared it would kill me, I only showed up in time for the second half of Thursday’s show. We walked in just as Hive Mind and Damien Romero were beginning their set. Maybe my inexperience or lack of subtlety is showing, but to me this was nothing but two guys pulling knobs on boxes to produce a drone that didn’t change much during the duration of their set. People seemed to be into it, but I couldn’t appreciate what was going on. I just didn’t see what there was to like.

Kim Gordon and Yoshimi (of Boredoms) were next. I loved their set which, though it involved a healthy amount of screaming from Gordon, was less of an assault on the ears than anything else I heard that night. It all sounded (and might have been, for all I know) very spontaneous. My only complaint is that their performance was too short, at under 20 minutes.

My favorite set of the night was Hair Police. They seemed to riff on other genres, like industrial, hardcore, and metal, taking them to their logical extremes at the far reaches of what can rightly be called “songs.” Whatever they were doing, they were definitely on point, full of energy, and totally exciting.

Pain Jerk ended the evening. No one that I came to the show with was at all familiar with them, but someone we met while loitering outside between sets told us that they were Japanese and “unlistenable”–which, to him, was not a bad thing. This was a pretty good description–unlistenable, but I still wanted to listen to it, because it was interesting. Kohei Gomi spent the duration of his performance bent over his electric guitar, perhaps the most intensely focused guitar player I’ve ever seen. That said, I left after about 40 minutes, because my ears were ringing. As far as I could tell, the set ended just about as soon as I got outside, so I didn’t miss much.

All in all, a mind-expanding experience, and it made me kind of sad that I hadn’t cared enough to get the Saturday tickets before they sold out.

A Note on Moshing

I understand that the feminist polemic isn’t attractive. Over the years, I have become less and less inclined to resort to it. But this mosh pit stuff has been weighing on my mind ever since I started going to noise shows.

Let me set the stage. At most noise shows, the audience is never more than 20% female. At No Fun Fest, I think the percentage was even smaller.

Inevitably, a mosh pit formed. If you are a 5’4” girl, as I am, you will have a hard time seeing the stage unless you’re near the front. At least 25 guys in excess of six feet tall will be blocking your view. You can’t really blame them–they probably don’t know they’re doing it, and they deserve to see the show, too. But if you push your way up to the front, you’re in the mosh pit. This can be a problem if you’re roughly half the size of the average guy who’s slamming into you. You’ve got a choice: risk serious injury or have a horrible view.

At No Fun, the pit just got crazier as the night went on. The energy got really weird during Pain Jerk. People seemed to be throwing some serious punches. Someone got hurt in the middle of the pit, and a few people tried to shield him or her from being stepped on, but no one seemed to care. They just kept moshing. My friend saw a girl in the Ladies Room holding an ice pack to her newly-bruised head.

Now, I don’t like saying this, because it makes me the Captain No Fun of No Fun Fest. And I understand, live music is exciting. Of course it is. Moshing is attractive because it’s a way to participate in what the musicians onstage are doing. Some people think that it, like contact sports, also satisfies heterosexual males’ need for a social excuse to touch other heterosexual males (thus its prevalence in largely male musical genres: noise, hardcore, metal). But if it’s going to hurt a fair number of people every night and prevent countless others from seeing or enjoying the show, maybe it’s time to rethink the practice and allow everyone the chance at a positive experience.


After seeing Grindhouse, I had April March’s “Chick Habit” stuck in my head for weeks. After doing some research, I realized that March’s song was an English-language cover of a French song called “Laisse Tomber les Filles.” Apparently Serge Gainsbourg wrote it for France Gall.

Here’s an amazing music video for the original version. Thanks, YouTube!

I love Guy Maddin. From Twilight of the Ice Nymphs to The Saddest Music in the World , his movies combine weird, weird ideas with an obsession with old Hollywood. There’s really not much like his movies–you just kind of have to see them.

That said, imagine the absolute ecstatic shock that seized me as I heard about the plans surrounding a special New York engagement for his new movie, Brand Upon the Brain! As the film is silent, with a soundtrack and narration intended for live performance, Maddin decided to get some of his favorite people to narrate. These included Laurie Anderson, John Ashbery, Isabella Rosselini… and Lou Reed.

Lou Reed! I bought tickets immediately.

Brand Upon the Brain! is a supposedly autobiographical story about a little boy named (what else?) Guy Maddin. I say supposedly because, well, Guy lives with his hyper-vigilant mother, mad scientist father, and sexually intense older sister in a lighthouse that also serves as an orphanage. When Wendy Hale, a teen detective in the Bobsy Twins tradition, mysteriously arrives on the island, things go from bizarre to… well… super-bizarre. Eventually, Wendy disguises herself as her “brother,” Chance and seduces Guy’s sister, who subsequently kills her father, who is then reanimated! I hope you understand that these aren’t spoilers–it’s pretty difficult to spoil this movie. The black and white photography and frequently hysterical intertitles gave the film an antiquated, and therefore timeless, ambience. Somehow, it also made it easier to suspend my disbelief. There are many adjectives that apply to Guy Maddin, but “realist” isn’t one of them.

At the screening I attended, Reed sat in elevated box seats above the stage, reading the narration from what seemed to be a teleprompter. His weathered voice complimented the film perfectly, though I admit it was difficult to stay focused on the screen when I would just as soon have watched him instead. I was particularly wrapt when he read the description of one character’s history of electroshock, recalling all of the rumors about Reed’s own childhood experiences that have been circulating for years.

Also in the theater were an 11-piece orchestra, an opera singer for the film’s two arias, and three sound people doing live sound effects. Everyone was perfectly synched with the movie, and the entire live set-up made it impossible not to think about each element of the film (and of film in general) separately, and how it all comes together. It’s so great when theater, film, and music come together so successfully.

“Throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘You helped this happen.'” –Jerry Falwell on the causes of 9/11

So tell me, if gays, feminists, wiccans, and the ACLU made God angry enough to cause 9/11, what does it mean that the day of Jerry Falwell’s death is the sunniest, warmest day so far this year? I guess this “God” dude has a pretty good sense of humor.

The Mountain Goats, Friday 5.11.07
Sound Fix Records, Brooklyn

The Mountain Goats

Is there anything better than a free Mountain Goats show at a great independent record store? If there is, it can’t be legal.

John Darnielle turned up last Friday to celebrate the re-opening of Sound Fix’s Fix Cafe and Lounge. The renovated bar and performance space looked fantastic, and crowds swarmed. An hour before the scheduled show time, the place was already packed, with fans spilling out into the street, hoping to at least hear Darnielle’s set. Some friends and I cleverly parked ourselves in front of the one window that offered a clear (albeit side) view of the stage.

Darnielle told the audience that he was going to play some very obscure stuff, and he definitely delivered on the promise. We got tons of cassette-only material, including one song that The Mountain Goats recorded for a tape Darnielle’s friend released in the mid-’90s as an attack on Lollapalooza. A catchy and promising new song, called “Lovecraft in Brooklyn” chronicled H.P. Lovecraft’s move to Red Hook. Darnielle confessed that he was nervous about that song, as everyone wants to “rep Brooklyn” these days. Hopefully the crowd’s positive response was enough to convince him to hang onto it. Though I knew that the set would be devoted largely to rarities, I held out hope of hearing “Palmcorder Yajna.” Maybe all of my good karma added up, because my favorite Mountain Goats song managed to make its way onto the setlist.

When Frank Bruno joined Darnielle onstage for a super-rare performance by the duo’s side project, Extra Glenns, I thought that the hardcore fans in the audience were going to explode.

And of course, the first encore ended with a hearty singalong to “No Children,” which Darnielle flubbed at first and then had to start over.

Despite his complaints about the heat in the room (I was in there for a few minutes and had to leave–too many people, yech), Darnielle soldiered on through almost an hour and a half of material. Police and fire trucks circled the block multiple times, and though I was afraid they were about to shut us down for blocking the sidewalk and violating fire codes, the show proceeded. It was a perfect spring evening, with an ice cream truck hovering at the corner of the block and Mountain Goats fans (an almost eerily sweet group of people) sitting on trash can lids, drinking bottles of beer out of paper bags.

Setlist (stolen from The Mountain Goats forum)
the mountain goats:

some swedish trees
snow crush killing song
going to queens
the day the aliens came
going to bolivia
going to maine
lovecraft in brooklyn (new song)
the recognition scene
cold milk bottle
going to port washington
palmcorder yajna

the extra glenns:

the river song
infidelity
adultery
program cell death (or programmed cell death?) – new extra glenns song!

the irony engine
going to marrakesh
carmen cicero
the badger song

-first encore:
memories
no children (aborted piano-only version)
no children (guitar and piano version)

-second encore:
houseguest