Saturday, October 28, 2006

From the Annals of Poster Hermeneutics

The irony is that I saw this sign on the way to my seminar on theories of textual interpretation (aka, hermeneutics).

I would have stopped by, but I'm pretty sure it would have been too late by the time I saw the poster (and besides, I'm not very good in dangerous situations).

Friday, October 27, 2006

God Hates San Francisco

Fosco does like the occasional author talk, although unfortunately any future talks at Bookshop Santa Cruz are now totally out of the question, thanks to the store's nasty opposition to raising the Santa Cruz minimum wage. (If you're a Santa Cruzian, join the boycott!) But it was Fosco's personal assistant Geoffrey this time who dragged a worn-out Fosco to the Capitola Book Cafe last night to see geological (and more) essayist Simon Winchester.

Anyone who has read Fosco's recent journey across the country on I-80 (see Achives "2006-07-09" and "2006-07-16" below and to the right) knows that Fosco is fascinated by geology--especially the violent kind (sedimentation is, let's face it, a little snoozy). However, Fosco is a bit of geology snob: he prefers Princetonian and Pulitzer-Prize-winning John McPhee to "bestseller" authors like Simon Winchester. Of course, the problem is that Fosco has never actually read Simon Winchester... But Geoffrey has, and so there we were last night at Capitola Book Cafe, where Winchester was promoting his book about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

It turns out that Simon Winchester is really smart and entertaining. If I had known he was British (and an Oxonian), I wouldn't have resisted reading his books for the last few years. I'm not going to summarize his whole talk, which, interestingly, was a talk and not a reading (talks being preferable to readings, in my book); however, I will note three points he made:

  • He characterized the governmental response to the 1906 earthquake as something of which Americans should be "proud," in contrast to the governmental response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (of which Americans should "ashamed.") He also noted that the governmental response to the next San Francisco earthquake (and the clock is ticking) is likely to be bad, unless we start preparing now.
  • He traced the historical accidents by which the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake could be blamed for the rise of American Christian Fundamentalism. Apparently, one of the most influential Pentecostal ministers in LA made a prediction three days before the Earthquake that God was going to send a sign. The next week, his church was overflowing and the Pentecostal movement was born.
  • Sometime in the next 2500 years, the volcano under Yellowstone Park is going to explode, completely burying the entire Pacific Northwest under tons of ash. Of course, as Winchester notes, the human race will be extinct by then (even Americans!).

The thing that made me saddest about the 1906 Earthquake (I mean, other than all that death...) was that it destroyed the 1000 room Hotel Nymphomania. It seems that SF was Fosco's kind of city even then.

Here's a pic of Winchester preparing to sign a book for an aging hippie (ah, Santa Cruz...).

Oh, and here's a startling tidbit: according to Winchester, there is a 67% chance of a 6.5 magnitude (on the Richter Scale) earthquake occuring on either the San Andreas or Hayward fault by 2025. The San Adreas quake would flatten San Francisco; the Hayward quake would destroy Berkeley and Oakland. Assuming that Fosco remains in Santa Cruz for the next six years, basic probability theory explains that there is a 33% chance that the devastating quake will occur while he is here. Of course, either quake would be much less damaging in Santa Cruz, but still... Yikes.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The hantologie of Diamanda Galas, OR Cabaret in the Underworld

Fosco is a secret Goth. Sure, he doesn't participate sartorially in the movement, preferring khakis and button-down oxford shirts. However, he does frequently wear eyeliner. And, whenever he takes of those "which high school clique would you belong to" quizzes, he ends up as Goth (with Emo Kid a close second). (Strangely enough, Fosco was not a member of either clique when he actually was in high school, but these cliques were merely incipient back then.)

Perhaps Fosco's advisor Jody can sense his hidden gothness, as she suggested yesterday that he cut out of his evening class early in order to see Goth chanteuse Diamanda Galas in Santa Cruz last night. Although Fosco knew almost nothing about Diamanda Galas, he was willing to go for several reasons:

  • the title of the show was "Guilty Guilty Guilty," which is really an irresistible title. How can that be bad?
  • it was described as a "program of tragic and homicidal love songs and death songs." How can that be bad?
  • he had actual faculty permission to leave class early to attend a concert. How can that be bad?
Before you think that I'm setting you up for some ironic reversal, let me make it clear: the concert was PHENOMENAL. Now let me tell you about it.

Diamanda entered the auditorium from the back and walked spotlit down the aisle to the stage where she took her seat at a piano enveloped in fog. She certainly makes an entrance. She was dressed in black, of course, looking a bit like a less-purposefully sexy Elvira. For her first song, the curtain behind the piano was lit deep funeral-home blue, with a red spot on the piano. The opening chords were funereal (and there was some electronic distortion added to the sound). This was all great fun, of course, as Fosco likes a good spectacle. But then she opened her mouth...

And THE VOICE came out.

That's actually a direct quote from Fosco's notes (he was taking notes for you, my pretties). Right in the middle of the page, after his descriptions of the show so far, Fosco suddenly writes: "THE VOICE."

Her voice is not like anything you have heard (at least on this side of the grave). She opened with "My World Is Empty Without You," a track that is available live in iTunes (should you desire to hear it). You can get a sense of THE VOICE from it, but you have to imagine hearing it in person. This is not a pleasant voice, rather, it COMMANDS. It seems it can do almost anything, actually. Over the course of the program, she yowled, she whispered, she howled, she screeched, and she did some kind of thing where, like the throat singers of Tuva she produced two notes at once. According to one of the press clippings available on her website:
Galás plays the piano like driving rain slapping on concrete, and she sings like a demon going to war, a Valkyrie scatting, a lizard queen seeking revenge for the dead… Galás is profound, rigorous, vocally unlimited, terrifying and utterly compelling.
That sounds about right.

The program was almost entirely covers (as far as I can tell), but I would be surprised if the ordinary listener could recognize most of them. She did a version of "Autumn Leaves" (at least I think it was "Autumn Leaves") that can only be described as Evil. There were several songs in French (one of them supposedly an Edith Piaf cover--imagine that, if you can) and one in Spanish (I think, although it could have been Italian). The final encore was the bone-chilling "Let My People Go," which haunted me for the rest of the night.

It is no accident that I used the verb "haunt" here. I would like to suggest, in a Derridean moment, that there is a "hauntology" (or hantologie in French) at work in Diamanda Galas. She reminds us of what is not there in these songs (and in music in general). This is music that acknowledges the power of ghosts, of the dead--and, perhaps, channels those spectres into actual appearance.

As I struggled throughout the concert to figure out how to describe her, I finally settled on this metaphor: Diamanda Galas is what Cabaret is like in the Underworld. By the "Underworld," I mean the Greek Underworld (specifically, probably the Asphodel Meadows) where normal souls are not rewarded with Heaven or punished with torment, but rather mill about in a less-pleasant version of life on earth, haunted by memories of their life on earth and desirous of news of the living. This is what Diamanda Galas evokes for me. And I hope she is in The Underworld when I get there.

The other question that I kept thinking was this: does David Lynch know about her? And, if so, why hasn't she appeared in one of his movies yet?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Two Truths and a Lie (Part II)

Let's talk about a new series of posts. Every so often, I will collect three tidbits of info that don't really deserve their own entry and then squish them together... Oh, and one of them will have something to do with lying. I did this once and I like how it works. So let's go, let's go, L-E-T-S-G-O!

  • Stephen Colbert has issued the call to arms:
    We’re at war here, singles. Pick a side. You can be married or you can be gay.
    I know I've chosen my side, although I might prefer to have the singles team up with the gays to fight the marrieds... But oh well.

    At any rate, Stephen is going to be pissed about this: according to results released by the Census Bureau, married people in the US are now outnumbered by singles!

    The most interesting things about these data?
    Among counties, the highest proportion of unmarried opposite-sex partners was in Mendocino, Calif., where they made up nearly 11 percent of all households.

    The highest share of male couples was in San Francisco, where, according to the census, they accounted for nearly 2 percent of all households. Hampshire County, Mass., home to Northampton, had the highest proportion of female couples, at 1.7 percent.
    While it is no surprise to find that San Francisco is the place to live when you're gaymale and coupled, and while it is no surprise (to anyone who, like Fosco, has visited) that Northampton, MA is Lesbian Central, what is the deal with Mendocino County?

    Maybe I should think about moving to that swinger's paradise... I hear that Ukiah (the largest community in Mendocino County) has got a hella crazy club scene...

  • Have you heard of this tool named Aleksey Vayner? It seems he's been a viral internet celeb lately, but not in a good way.

    He's a Yale student (it figures...) and it seems that he prepared this totally narcissistic and bizarre video resume (entitled "Impossible Is Nothing") for some ibanking job. According to the NYTimes,
    Mr. Vayner’s seven-minute clip, entitled “Impossible is nothing,” presents images of him bench-pressing what a caption suggests is 495 pounds and firing off what is purported to be a 140-mile-an-hour tennis serve.

    The tone of the video seems too serious to be parody, yet too over-the-top to be credible.
    As for the footage of him doing the ski tricks? Well, that's only "probably" him. Oh yeah, he also wrote a book. It's self-published and entitled "Women’s Silent Tears: A Unique Gendered Perspective on the Holocaust." And did I mention that it's largely plagiarized? Yesss... I love this story. Read the rest of it here.

  • Fosco's self-promoting college roommate (God bless him), David Lat, is profiled in this article in the Legal Times.

    It's a good profile--quite fawning--and it doesn't dwell too much on David's bizarre and unpleasant conservatism. Did you know that David actually requires that his clothes be tailored by seven-year-old Cambodian orphans? It's true. If you want the real dirt on David Lat, now you know where to go...

    Oh, and does Fosco get mentioned in the profile? Not exactly, unless you know that Fosco is actually the nom-de-guerre plume of Jeffrey Toobin. But shhhh...

Dancing with Myself (Oh oh oh oh.)

Has all this protest talk been killing your buzz? Mine too. Let's talk about something fun and frivolous.

On Friday, Fosco finally made his entry into Santa Cruz nightlife--accompanied by his sexypals Julie, Liz, Aliya, and Maria. This is actually Fosco's preferred modus operandi for being "out on the town," i.e., surrounded by attractive and fasionably-dressed women. He generally believes that some of their sparkle rubs off on him...

We began the evening at the "Red Room"--the fabled Santa Cruz superlounge. And, although Fosco had heard tons of positive things about the Red Room, he still found it to exceed expectations. The Red Room is actually Santa Cruz's answer to a superclub, in a sense: a smoky and casual downstairs bar and a sophisticated lounge and restaurant upstairs. The pic at the right is the downstairs bar, as I haven't been able to find any online shots of the upstairs lounge to steal appropriate.

The lounge is extremely cool. It's dark and red and decadent with red velvet and divans and a fireplace--the atmosphere is tops. The music is excellent: not too young, not too old (what a radio station might call "the best mix of the 80s, 90s, and today"). How happy was Fosco to hear a Billy Idol double play: "Dancing with Myself" and "White Wedding"? Yessssss....

The drinks are fine and not too expensive ($5.25 Tanqueray and Tonics--not too steep). The service is to be expected in such a popular place, i.e., slow. However, our waitress was certainly friendly and, interestingly, a student of cosmetology--she will probably be coloring Liz's hair in the not-too-distant future. In addition, one of Fosco's students works there are some sort of floor manager, however, this did not translate into free drinks for Fosco (at least I don't think it did... I sort of lost count at one point...)

The most exciting thing about our conversation at the Red Room? It turns out that Liz is, like Fosco, a huge Madonna fan (well, we liked her in her pre-Malawian-baby-kidnapping phase). We even both purchased and later sold/lost Madonna's Sex book! And then "Justify My Love" came on and all hell broke loose...

After leaving the Red Room, we headed to Santa Cruz's only gay danceclub, Dakota. Dakota has a really cool space with a nice long comfortable bar in front and a relatively small dancefloor in back. The coat check drag queen/tranny is fierce. Unfortunately, the Dakota experience could have been better. For one thing, there were hardly any gay men there. When we arrived (around 11:30), it was mostly lesbians. As the night wore on, the crowd started to become mostly straight couples and then finally, around 1, the place emptied out entirely. This was odd, but I suspect it was just that the heterosexual people wanted to get back to their dorm rooms to have heterosexual sexual relations. I've been told that Saturday nights have more bois, so that's the plan next time.

In terms of music... well, Fosco has been out of the club scene for a long time, so he doesn't really know what's popular these days, but... the music was pretty bad. Sure there were high points (e.g., "Shakira, Shakira"), but there were also songs that cleared the dancefloor completely. I'm going to suggest that the Friday night DJ is not the most talented spinner in town. Oh yeah, and he played "SexyBack" twice (the second time by "request"). Is it me or did that song die after about twenty minutes? Of course, during those twenty minutes, Fosco was all over it.

Ah, the nightlife... Fosco is glad to be back.