Sunday, February 25, 2024

Ween, "Transdermal Celebration" (Track of the Week)

Life has been busy recently and I have been neglecting this blog and not cross-posting my Substack stuff. I wrote a primer on what I call "baby politics" about simple narratives low information voters have and how to address them. I also wrote about Inside Llewyn Davis and the dismal nature of February. Little did I know that things would get even worse!

Death took a relative and a colleague this week, and I took my own advice to wallow in my negative feelings a bit. After a few days I've come out on the other side and am ready to talk about the things that have been pulling me through.

One of them has been the music of Ween. They were a band I did not rate much in the 90s and early 2000s when their profile was highest. They seemed like a joke band and purveyors of the kind of deep hipster irony that I just didn't get as perhaps an overly earnest young person. My biggest encounter with them was hearing that "push the little daisies" song on Beavis and Butthead and the college radio station in grad school spinning "Bananas and Blow." 

It's fitting then that I would finally "get" Ween by hearing them on the radio. One of my favorite DJs on WFMU likes to spin them, and after loving every song he played I realized that I actually really enjoy Ween. It might be that I have started listening to lots of Zappa and Beefheart and so crave the weirdness. It might also be that I am not so earnest anymore and need to mock the world around me instead of trying so hard to fix it. Ween's irreverence has been a welcome addition to my life in a trying time. 

Hearing more of their music I also realized they have some truly heartfelt songs, and that the ironic front gets dropped in surprising and effective ways. I have been digging the Quebec album the most for that reason. I am not sure what "Transdermal Celebration" is even about, but it has a kind of joy of living beating inside it. That's a feeling that I think we could all use. Put it on and turn it up. 

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Taylor Swift Is a Welcome Distraction at America's Most Dismal Public Event

It's Super Bowl Sunday, and this is the first Super Bowl I can remember whose discourse is dominated by someone who will be merely attending the event instead of playing or performing at halftime. There's already been a secondary discourse about why the hell conservatives seem so upset at Taylor Swift. I am not here to participate in that, but to proclaim that I welcome how she has added something new and welcome to the Super Bowl mix.

The Super Bowl is by far the most dismal event in American life, and that is saying something. It is supposed to be the championship game of a sport proven to turn its participants' brains into mush, a sport defined by the American dysfunctions of violence and commercial breaks. At this point, however, the Super Bowl is not really a football game. Half of the game's viewers probably have not seen a full football game this season. They are watching because it has become a media spectacle, one of the few that exists anymore that people from the entire broad social spectrum can participate in. It's also just another excuse for the excess consumption of tasteless lite beer and garbage food. It happens on a Sunday evening to boot, making work the next day even more miserable than your average Monday.

A significant chunk of the audience is watching just for the commercials. Is there anything more dismal than advertising being turned into entertainment? The structure of football itself makes this easy, considering that it has frequent breaks, and the ball is barely in play. Famously, there are only eleven minutes of action in a broadcast that lasts over three hours, and a lot of that action is boring two yard runs up the middle. The Super Bowl thus represents the triumph of capitalism where the advertising at the game ends up being more significant than the game itself. 

Even though I can't tear my eyes away, I've long felt that the Super Bowl sucks. It's certainly appropriate that due to changes in the NFL's schedule that it is played in mid-February, the most depressing, wretched time of the year. This year, Taylor Swift's presence has led to Super Bowl backlash for all the wrong reasons from the world's most irritating reactionaries. I, on the other hand, welcome her participation. She will give something to bond with my daughters over, who are normally lukewarm on this event. Swift is a cultural phenomenon on the level of Beatlemania right now, and like Beatlemania it's a lot of fun to participate in. Certainly a lot more fun than three hours of commercials.