Maps of Meaninglessness

One of the quintessential aesthetic markers of our current cultural predicament is the online political spectrum.  Half pseudo-graph, half meme, it is a largely crude and homemade phenomenon.  It is both provocation and ‘cargo cult’ intellectualism.  It is especially beloved of the more gonzo elements within the online far-Right.  People create these things in their spare time.  As ludicrous as they usually are, they represent a tragically doomed attempt by confused and disoriented people (if also often sinister and dangerous ones) to understand a world which seems to them to be increasingly inexplicable, complicated, and menacing.  Indeed, they often reveal an attempt to understand a history which is somehow retroactively also becoming more inexplicable, complicated, and menacing.  They reveal the scared befuddlement of their makers even as they boastfully claim confident certainty.  One of the tragic things about these images is that they show people reaching for a way to express their fuzzy sense of political categories as complex, interrelated, liminal and evolving.  They are stunted and flailing attempts to engage in dialectics.  

(Dialectical thinking is, on a very base level, an attempt to systematise, and make scientific, the common sense intuitions that most people bring to their world ...

Someone Had to Lose (Fire on the Side)

Fire on the Side (1988)

Fire on the Side/Purple Rain (live, 1996)

Fire on the Side (live, 2014)

Fire on the Side (live, 2017)

Another song of frustrated love, but ultimately one that is elevated by the particulars of its subject matter, which sees Amos tackling a classic of songwriting: infidelity. There are, obviously, three perspectives one can write a song about infidelity from. The most common is the person being cheated on, a perspective that allows for sadness (“I Heard it Through The Grapevine,” “Lyin Eyse”), anger (“You Oughta Know,” “Before He Cheats,” the first half of Lemonade), or more innovative perspectives (“Jolene”). Less common but still frequent is the cheater, which allows the singer to cast themselves as a villain, whether a self-pitying one (“The Call”) or an unrepentant one (“O.P.P.”, “It Wasn’t Me”). 

The least common, however, is the most consistently interesting: the other woman. Examples exist—Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend” is the example par excellence here, although The Long Blondes’ “Giddy Stratospheres” deserves mention. And it is into this more arcane tradition that Amos steps with “Fire on the Side.” Amos approaches the subject, however, without any of ...

The Things We Do For Attention (Heart Attack at 23)

Heart Attack at 23 (1988)

Generally speaking, Y Kant Tori Read is not nearly as bad an album as its reputation would suggest. Misjudged in its presentation, dated, and a poor use of Amos’s talents, yes, and certainly not an album anyone would still care about thirty-two years later were it not for Amos’s future career, but not the cringing embarrassment that Amos’s disavowals (highlights include “Madonna and Kate Bush in a headlong collision after eating bad mushrooms”) and decision to leave it out of print until 2017 would suggest. For the most part it is a competent minor 1980s album—not something you’d single out as a hidden gem, but not something on its own terms that is mockable or embarrassing.

“Heart Attack at 23” serves as the biggest exception to this. Most of Y Kant Tori Read has been at least partially reclaimed by Amos, worked into concerts as a winking extra for fans die-hard enough to recognize it. “Heart Attack at 23,” however, is one of two songs on the album that Amos has never performed live. Good-natured reclamation of your juvenilia has its limits; here we find Amos’s.

It’s not hard to see why. “Heart Attack ...

I Don't Speak German, Episode 27 - White Nationalism in the Pacific Northwest.

This week, Daniel talks to journalists Shane Burley and Alexander Reid Ross about white nationalism in the Pacific Northwest.

Content warnings.

Permalink / Direct Download

Lollipop Girls Pave the Street (Fayth)

Fayth (1988)

Faith/Fayth (live, 2014)

Way Down/When Doves Cry/Fayth (live, 2017)

Flash forward seven years.

Our protagonist has spent all of them working towards becoming a pop star.  Her first serious effort in 1983, a recording session with Narada Michael Walden, who would go on to produce Whitney Houston on the soundtrack for The Bodyguard, produces neither anything of value nor anything that has made it into the public sphere, although lyrics including the chorus “give me the go/ and let me / rub you down /I'm in your power, when you're / takin' me down / I'll just lay low until / you come around / good to go / rub down / good to go /rub down” suggest we’re not missing out. In 1984, she moved to LA, at first doing basically the same sorts of bar gigs she’d been doing in DC. In 1985, she cut a commercial for Kellogg’s short-lived Just Right cereal, where she’s cast as “the piano player who isn’t obviously supposed to look like Elton John.” That year, things finally began to coalesce. She met Steve Caton, a guitarist who will end up sticking with her through To Venus and Back, and ...

I Don't Speak German, Episode 26 - 'Might is Right' and Mass Shootings

In the wake of recent dreadful events, Daniel decided to talk to Jack about the ideology of mass shootings, especially with reference to the 'Might is Right' tract cited by one of the killers.

Content warnings.

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***

Show Notes:

"Might is Right" at RationalWiki: https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Might_is_Right

"Might Is Right" full text at the Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/cu31924029107907/page/n3

"Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooting," at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilroy_Garlic_Festival_shooting

Santino William Legan: Gilroy Garlic Festival Shooter's Instagram Page: "https://heavy.com/news/2019/07/santino-william-legan-gilroy-shooters-instagram/"

"“Read ‘Might Is Right’ by Ragnar Redbeard,” Legan wrote. His caption further asked rhetorically, “Why overcrowd towns and pave more open space to make room for hordes of mestizos and Silicon Valley white twats?”"

*

From Might Is Right, Chapter Three:

"You have only to look at some men, to know that they belong to an inferior breed. Take the Negro for example. His narrow cranial developittent, his prognathous jaw, his projecting lips, his wide nasal aperture, his simian disposition, his want of forethought, originality, and mental capacity: are all peculiarities strictly inferior. Similar language may be applied to the Chinaman, the Coolie ...

The Brotherhood of Baltimore (Baltimore)

Baltimore (unreleased 1978 recording).

Baltimore (1980 single).

Like most pop artists, Tori Amos’s career has a vaguely embarrassing starting point. Fame comes slowly, and rarely on the first try, and most artists have some embarrassing recordings from their early efforts at success that are just waiting to be slapped up on YouTube or, in the case of “Baltimore,” tossed into VH1’s Before They Were Stars, a series dedicated to exactly this. The five minute segment in which this was publicly unearthed sticks mostly to a simplistic biography in which Amos’s piano bench gyrations in the “Crucify” video are juxtaposed with her upbringing as the daughter of a minister. The complexity of the story is acknowledged, but the underlying point is unequivocally rooted in teasing Amos for the naive innocence of her upbringing. “Baltimore” is introduced in a veering segue as the segment goes from the infamous image of Amos breastfeeding a pig in the Boys for Pele liner notes to her parents talking with rueful amusement about her love of shocking them, at which point the voiceover interrupts them to say “if you think that’s shocking…” as a leadup to Amos performing “Baltimore” on local television.

It’s cynical, more ...

Ran Tan Waltz

This will be my last blog post to be crossposted to Eruditorum Press, as Elizabeth’s Tori Amos project, “Boys In Their Dresses,” will begin its run on the site come Monday. In the meantime you can still follow me at katebushsongs.wordpress.com, or financially support me in exchange for exclusive writing and personal editing at my Patreon. I am literal days from moving out of my current apartment and haven’t found an affordable replacement, so my partner and I could really use your help. Thanks so much for readingIt means the world to me.

Ran Tan Waltz
Xmas special

Numerous times on this blog we’ve talked about Kate, Bush’s classic 1979 Christmas special. As one of the few extended performances of her music Bush has done, and the only one made for television, it documents some of her less performed songs. While the bulk of Kate’s setlist was played on the Tour of Life, with the exceptions of Peter Gabriel’s contributions and a couple of Never for Ever songs, the BBC’s style of “televised theatre” differs from the musical theater Bush spent the tour performing. 20th century BBC shows were often boxed into a ...

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