OVER ON BISCUETTE: ONE SERIOUS THING ABOUT THE ARMENIANS

I got a series over on Biscuette devoted to boxing and rock & roll, including a series of boxing matches between songs with the same name (most recent bout: “Friends” by Led Zeppelin vs. “Friends” by Shalamar). But every once in a while I use the platform to say something else, and earlier this year I wrote about the Armenian Genocide, which is something I have strong feelings about. The piece is called “My Armenian Mind,” and I’m putting a link to it here.

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ON THE SEXUAL POLITICS OF PRINCE

I read recently that Wendy and Lisa get the vibe from Prince that he disapproves of their lesbian relationship, even though they were all in the Revolution together. That struck me as odd. In addition to being an extraordinary talent, Prince made a name for himself by being androgynous and sexually unrepentent and queer—as my grandparents would use that word. Is he really in a position to cast aspersions on the sexual proclivities of others? Maybe the answer is yes. Maybe he is afforded that position by being a Jehovah’s Witness. Or maybe by being a genius. He is, after all, my favorite living musician, and I have some reservations about speculating about his personal beliefs, even more reservations about judging those beliefs. Nevertheless, I find myself drawn to a paradox: the possible convervatism in the sexual politics of our most sexually liberated performer.

One explanation is that, actually, the conservatism was always there. To be clear, we’re talking about the man who wrote a song called “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” which he sang under the guise of Camille, a hermaphrodite whose voice was a sped-up version of Prince’s. He also wrote a song about getting sexed and pimped by his own sister, and a song that inspired Tipper Gore to start the PMRC. One of my favorite Prince lyrics is this one: “I’m not saying this just to be nasty, but I sincerely want to fuck the taste out of your mouth. Can you relate?” Yes. I could always relate. It was my understanding that these Satanic verses were, in fact, the opposite of Satanic: they were testimony that we know God by the ecstasy of orgasm.

There is one type of orgasm, however, that I have never known Prince to write about: the kind you get from anal sex. It is an omission that leads me to wonder if a certain kind of passion, the kind that dare not speak its name, has always been distatseful to Prince. Maybe, to him, it represents blasphemy: when you have anal sex, you’re doing God’s work in the wrong sort of way. A sacreligious way. Maybe even hetero couples are sinners when they try it. Of course, this would mean that when Prince sang “Sexuality is all I ever need,” he was talking about sexuality in terms more narrow than you or I might have guessed.

The handful of references to being gay in Prince’s lyrics (that I have found) do not entirely refute this theory. “Bambi,” an early song in which Prince tries to seduce a young lesbian, contains the line “Maybe it’s ’cause you’re so young.” In “Uptown,” Prince describes being asked by a woman if he’s gay, and then remarks “She’s just a crazy crazy crazy little mixed up dame,” which makes you wonder how much he was offended by the question. Neither of these is shockingly homophobic, but I do detect traces of a certain kind of straight-boy attitude, the kind that says “I just don’t get it with those people.”

But I think I’ve gone too far. Parsing his lyrics like this, trying to read his mind, is exactly the sort of thing I try to avoid; it’s one thing to judge the lyrics, another to extrapolate the man behind them (especially a chameleon like Prince). One reason I like Prince is that he has always been provocative and sly, and I would hate to misunderstand him by citing songs of his that were written in the poetic voice. After all, my single favorite Prince song ever is “Controversy,” which I have always considered, rightly or wrongly, to be the Prince-iest of them all. The first line is: “I just can’t believe all the things people say/ Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?” It is in many ways a perfect first line: daring, ambiguous, personal. And also accusatory. The subtext is “Fuck you for asking.” Could it be that the truest perverts among us are those that get hung up on the difference between black and white and straight and gay? Maybe trying to guess Prince’s innermost feelings on the subject is itself more prurient than anything Prince himself ever wrote, or didn’t write.

Which is why, for everything I’ve just written, “Controversy” is the song that makes me think I’m wrong. Even if Prince does, in whatever way, disapprove of Wendy and Lisa in bed together, the truth is probably more complicated. We may know God by the ecstasy of orgasm, but that doesn’t mean we know Prince.

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DREAMS vs. DREAMS

I started a series on Biscuette in which 2 songs with the same name fight each other. In the first entry, “DREAMS” by Fleetwood Mac takes on “DREAMS” by Van Halen. FIND OUT WHO WINS HERE.

I’ve set up a poll below, because I’m curious to see where everyone comes down on this. Depending on the results, I might arrange a rematch:

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NIGHTTIME MAGIC: ANOTHER VIDEO GAME GUITAR SOLO

The author.

I recorded another guitar solo over the music from Sonic the Hedgehog. I call this one “Nighttime Magic”:

Here’s the cool part: this time the solo, as well as an essay I wrote about why I record these things in the first place, has been published on Bon Mots and Blood—a blog that runs literary criticism for books and video games side by side. You can read my essay, which is titled “Sonic the Hedgehog, Masato Nakamura, and the Secrets of Cool Guitar Playing,” here.

And if you want, you can listen to my very first video game guitar solo, “Pact With Satan,” here.

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NOW THIS IS HAPPENING

While I’m talking about the confluence of boxing and rock and roll, there’s something else I gotta say: me and the boys in SF have entered the Battle of the Boroughs, representing Queens. It’s a battle of the bands, and you can vote for us by going here. We’ve already made it past the first hurdle, and now we’re competing against the 4 other bands from Queens (which is entirely an online clicking contest). If we win this round, then in June we face the champions from the other 4 boroughs (another clicking contest, but there will also be a performance). As someone who named his band after the sweet science (kind of), you can imagine how much this means to me. I wore one of my Mike Tyson t-shirts for the first battle very much on purpose.

Now get this: if you are someone who first read this blog (or this blog) before you knew about my band, and if you take 15 seconds now to vote for us in this competition,write an e-mail to thesweetfix(at)gmail.com and tell me about it. Put “Heavy Metal Heartbreaker” in the subject line, and you will receive a prize. Not something fake, like one of those online thank-you cards that has polar bears dancing or whatever. A real prize.

GET IN THE RING: THE MIND OF AXL ROSE

Big news: I’ve begun writing a guest column about boxing & rock and roll at Biscuette. My first piece is called “GET IN THE RING: THE MIND OF AXL ROSE,” and you can read it here. It’s about the things that Axl Rose and boxing have in common–and why they are attractive (and occasionally repulsive) for the same reasons. As you might have guessed, I have a lot to say on the subject.

Stay tuned for twice as much H.M.H. in the coming weeks: in addition to the new column at Biscuette, I’m going to continue posting new stuff here, including a new video game guitar solo and some more inside stories from SWEET FIX.

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9 OBSERVATIONS ABOUT FLOYD MAYWEATHER JR.

1. His behavior is unbecoming for a champion. It has to do with the way he has obstructed the possibility of fighting Manny Pacquiao—a true champion would find a way. Also, Mayweather is supposed to go to jail for 3 months on charges of domestic abuse. He is less than glorious.

2. He looks fantastic. He is handsome, and not handsome for a boxer. Just handsome.

3. He doesn’t get hit much. This is part of #2. He does not have the appearance of someone who has been battered and concussed. He has the easy confidence of someone who has never been smashed in the face; this is either a stupendous optical illusion or a tribute to how well he can dodge blows. Either way it restores some of the champ-qualities missing in #1.

4. He has a pretty ring style to protect a pretty face. “Pretty” is probably the wrong word. He has a ring style like no other. His ability to duck and weave is borderline precognitive. He is there and then he is not there. He is untouchable.

5. I think he thinks he’s being like Muhammad Ali. I think he considers that a germane comparison—as though Mayweather’s early retirement is equivalent to Ali’s exile, and Mayweather’s defenses are equivalent to Ali’s dancing. The second of these comparisons is defensible, but my sense is that Mayweather does not stop there. When he changed his nickname from Pretty Boy Floyd to Money Mayweather, I think he thought that was self-aggrandizing in the same tradition as Ali’s dozens.

6. He’s undefeated. This is the one thing he has on everyone, including Pacquiao, and including Ali. No one has ever beaten Floyd Mayweather Jr.

7. He’s getting old, maybe. Is 35 old? I worry about this. When he beat Ortiz last year by dirty knockout, it made me wonder if Mayweather had been dreading going the distance. I hope this was not on his mind. I do not want the beauty of Mayweather’s impossible ring style to be marred by the late-career panic of a 35-year-old.

8. He’s rich. Perhaps too rich. It could be doing Howard Hughes–type things to his mind. It could be the reason for #5.

9. He is one of the world’s exceptional talents. He goes entire rounds without being struck. He denies his opponents even the simple satisfaction of having their punches blocked. He taunts and makes a point to score with right hand leads in the first round. He makes heavyweight boxers look slow and retarded. He inspires glowing reportage such as this, and the reason is not that he does things that make us roll our eyes. The reason is that he has mastered boxing. His style is flashy and invincible, and in boxing, as in rock and roll, style counts a lot. This is why I root for Floyd Mayweather Jr. He makes the genius of boxing obvious to anyone watching.

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ABANDONED GUITAR SOLO FOR HELP IS ON THE WAY

Back when we were recording HELP IS ON THE WAY, I wrote a guitar solo that was much more solo-ish than the one we ended up using. The one on the recording is hardly a guitar solo at all—it’s more of band ensemble thing, and I like that. Something about that part of the song always makes me think of a bunch of little parachutes falling from the sky at sunset. So that’s cute.

But the abandoned guitar solo has more guitar moves, and since I care about that sort of thing, I’m choosing to immortalize it on this blog forever. Here is a tape test I made for the lost solo in my parents’ old house in NJ. It is the only surviving version:

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MY RELATIONSHIP WITH CURTIS SLIWA

In 1979, Curtis Sliwa founded the Guardian Angels, a group of volunteers who patrolled the streets of New York looking to reduce crime.

I saw Curtis Sliwa yesterday. I should say that I’m 85% sure it was him. He was across the street, getting into the passenger side of a town car. He was wearing a red beret and a red shirt. Someone walking by stopped and shook his hand.

I was looking out the window of the City Lights Diner on 52nd street and 10th avenue. I was with Jeff and Billy, and we had just finished our photo shoot for Jo Lyon Underfashion. I was celebrating the end of my underwear model diet by eating corned beef and eggs. It was a red-blooded meal, and then I looked outside and saw red-blooded Curtis Sliwa.

I have questions for Curtis Sliwa. One is: what compels you to speak at the Armenian Genocide demonstrations in Times Square every couple of years? How did that get on your vigilante radar? Also, how do you prevent Travis Bickle–types from joining the Guardian Angels? What are the logistics of that?

In addition to my questions, I have misgivings: Sliwa has a tendency to say things in the most obnoxious possible way, a tendency he has named Sliwonics. There is a lexicon of Sliwonics on his official website. For instance, he might refer to the measure of a man’s worth as “the angle of his dangle.” That sort of thing. Also, his television appearances as a pundit on Fox News reveal him to be a not-serious intellect. I suspect he would reply to my questions about vigilantism with easy answers, or worse. I understand the man might be a buffoon.

Part of me even wonders if his commitment to the Armenians is due to an across-the-boards anxiety about Muslims. If you are the type to believe that the present war on terror is a clash of civilizations, one that threatens all of Christendom, then the Armenian Genocide was a falling sparrow. It was providential for anyone who cared to notice. Is that where Curtis Sliwa is coming from? If it is, then his compassion is based on something that is not exactly compassion. But as an Armenian myself, I value his solidarity regardless. Is it wrong for a noble cause to accept members who are less than noble? It’s the same question I have for Sliwa about Travis Bickle–types.

Which is why I know we have some things in common. I was tempted to run out of the City Lights Diner and shake his hand. Not to put him on the spot—I just wanted to shake his hand. I wanted to glean what I could from the look in his eyes.To get some impression of the angle of his dangle. But I was too slow; Sliwa got in his car and drove uptown. I’ll have to catch him next time.

If I ever get a second chance to meet Curtis Sliwa, it will not be hard for me to put aside our differences long enough for a handshake. I will smile and make friends. It will be easy for me. The reason is that my mom says she felt safe on the subways with the Guardian Angels in the early 80s, and that is the source of an enduring gratitude I have for Mr. Sliwa. Take the feeling you get when someone talks shit about your mom. Multiply that feeling by negative 1, and you have an approximation of how I feel about Sliwa when he is not carrying on like a jackass.

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THE PERILS OF SUBURBIA

The author (right) and a friend

The day after I got my driver’s license I put a baseball bat in the trunk of the family car. Not because I thought I lived in a dangerous neighborhood (I didn’t), but because I sensed it was a dangerous planet. As a 17-year-old, I had recently been awakened to a set of destructive urges. After school sometimes my friends and I would drive around and shout profanity and deface lawns. It was a very You-lookin-at-me? period in my life.

I had no awareness whatsoever that it was the result of late-puberty hormones. If you had told me that at the time, I would have said, “Absolutely not.” It did not feel like a phase. It felt like the opposite of a phase. It felt like I had come to see the world as it really was: a place that was described accurately in the lyrics of Pantera. I had no doubt that adults were also going through the same thing I was going through on a daily basis. It explained war. It explained everything. This is why, when I heard the call for vandalism, I had a sensation akin to a young Siddhartha seeing clearly for the first time.

All this is basically to explain why a happy kid from Leonia, NJ was compelled to keep a baseball bat in the trunk. I didn’t expect to use it. I didn’t want to use it. But I knew that NJ Road Rage was no joke; NJ Road Rage was a force to be reckoned with. It gave rise to “kill or be killed”–type thoughts in people’s minds. It was ready to eat you alive. And since I insisted on staring that in the face, I kept a baseball bat in the car. Having it there was not really different from keeping a dream catcher on the door of your bedroom. It does its job just by being put there.

I took it seriously all the same. I borrowed a baseball glove to put in the trunk, just in case cops ever asked about the bat. Sometimes one of my parents would have to remove everything in the trunk before a trip to the grocery store—but as soon as the trunk was empty again I would return the bat. It was becoming the leather jacket of my car.

This is how I know my parents saw the baseball bat, even though they never said anything to me about it. I’m not sure why they never did. When I was younger I thought it was because my parents basically agreed with the premise of the bat. I imagined their thought process to be something like, “Yes, a baseball bat. A baseball bat is warranted by the cruelty of the world.” Looking back, I’m not sure if that’s really what it was.

By now, I am sure some readers are wondering whether I ever came close to using the bat. The answer is almost once. I was driving on the Henry Hudson Parkway, and I must have cut some guy off, because he swerved in front of me as I was getting on an exit ramp and forced me to stop. He got out of the car. I was with my girlfriend, and as soon as I saw his door swing open I immediately thought: baseball bat.

But the urge to grab the bat was immediately beset by a shit ton of logistical issues. To get to the bat, I would have to run to the trunk and LEAVE THE CAR UNLOCKED, and then get my hands on the bat before the guy got to the car and took my girlfriend hostage. Did I really have enough time to go for it? Also, this was at a point in my life when I had gotten better at boxing than I ever was at baseball. Did that mean I would be better off sticking to what I know and using my fists? Probably not, but if the guy had a gun, then brandishing a baseball bat would absolutely be the worst thing to do. I realized at that moment that using the baseball bat was prohibitively complicated. So instead, I stayed in my car with the doors locked, and when the guy came over I just said, “What the fuck, get back in your car.” The guy punched my window and got back in his car. That was the end of it.

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