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"Life is so damn grim"

Grim by the Ass Ponys, from Electric Rock Music, A&M 1994

Today, life does feel grim. Hate to sound a pessimistic note in the face of all the "united we stand talk", but shit, this sucks. New York is not going to just bounce back. The estimates bandied about regarding the cost of cleanup, 40 billion, 60 billion, are just mind-blowing. And the hit to the economy, something like $400 billion - how can we fathom such numbers. We're in for a long, rough road to recovery. 100,000 New Yorkers out of jobs right now - this is on top of an already staggering economy. (For a balanced examination of today's economy, read this week's New York Times Magazine cover story, by Paul Krugman, America's best econ writer) I've talked to friends all over the country recently, in Portland, San Antonio, Boston, here in New York who are having a hard time finding decent jobs. And they started searching before the attack. The brutal tragedy of September 11 was only the start. People are going to continue to have hard time finding work across the country, and especially here in New York. I don't doubt that people are already planning on leaving the NYC metro area for cheaper rents and lifestyles and to look for steady work. The job market was tight before the mess. And now…. Plus who's going to move here? I can't imagine NYC high on anyone relocation plans anymore. Maybe this will drive our astronomical rents down. The greedy bastards in the real estate market have been gouging New Yorkers for too long. This shit has to depress the market; although some friends of mine just had their rents raised $150 for this year with the promise of another $150 next year (this is in Prospect Heights no less!). Do these asshole landlords really believe they can demand such increases when the market will undoubtedly bottom out in the very near future? And what about the assholes who are dumping their stocks? How fucking patriotic is that? It ain't pretty out there. Our mayor, who's been incredible, now wants to usurp democracy. The city is quiet and eerie. The weather has turned unseasonably crisp and the smells in the air are not the welcoming aromas of fall.

So how do we cope? Beats the hell out of me. I'm going to have to look for a new job soon (this one ain't paying the bills, honey) and I'm scared there's going to be nothing out there. But at least I have a job. And I'm alive. I was supposed to the WTC Marriott that night for a college fair. I don't think that building even exists anymore. As my heart goes out to all the victims and my gratitude goes out to all the rescue workers and blood donors and all the other people who are contributing to the common good, I can't really complain about my life. So I'm going to continue the same trivial pursuits I indulged in before the attack, things like cheesy pop music, TV and this column. I'll take our leader's pleas and get back to doing what I'm doing. I apologize for the depressing beginning above, let's try to get back to some mirth and merriment….

Futile Attempts to get back to Normal Life, Fall 2001
By Scott Speh

The Onion
I've read lots of articles hand-wringingly asking when will it be ok to be funny again. My friends and I have wondered how the Onion could even continue to exist after Sept. 11? Well they coped by coming out swinging. The September 26 issue, their first since the attack, is their best issue ever. Jaw-droppingly funny, but not jaw-dropping because the humor is offensive, but because it is such a pitch-perfect response to the times. Seriousness and Poignancy actually make appearances in this issue: capsule headlines like "Hugs up 76,000 percent" and the USA Today statshot spoof chronicles "How Have We Spent the Last Few Weeks? 1. Crying 2. Staring at Hands 3. Feeling guilty about renting video" But satire has not taken a back seat. The Onion's logo for the tragedy mocks the overbearing graphics of our news stations and their titles for the war or whatever it is we're doing now - the logo, a fiery map of the US in crosshairs, has the title of "Holy Fucking Shit: Attack on America." As Chris Uhl said to me today, something needs to be done about these network graphics. Other pointed barbs: a side-splitting photo caption underneath an image of Jerry Falwell reads "Is this guy a dick or what?", a headline reading "President Urges Calm, Restraint Among Nation's Ballad Singers" and a TV guide list shows like "Extremely uninformed debate" on Public Access, "Sharks: Terrorists of the sea" on Animal Planet and "Carson Daly in way over his head" on MTV. The best article in this issue, an article with some of the Onion's best writing ever is "God Angrily Clarifies Don't Kill Rule" where God holds a press conference saying "Look, I don't know, maybe I haven't made myself completely clear, so for the record, here it is again," said the Lord, His divine face betraying visible emotion during a press conference near the site of the fallen Twin Towers. "Somehow, people keep coming up with the idea that I want them to kill their neighbor. Well, I don't. And to be honest, I'm really getting sick and tired of it. Get it straight. Not only do I not want anybody to kill anyone, but I specifically commanded you not to, in really simple terms that anybody ought to be able to understand." I laughed throughout the article but at the end I was nearly in tears, not from laughter, but because it was perfect. Just fucking perfect. I apologize for giving away to many of the jokes. Go read it, now.

The new Fall art season
Claudine has been giving me shit for not liking anything, anything out there recently. I've been to Chelsea four times in the last 3 weeks (and have dipped into Soho and Long Island City as well) and have finally managed to find work to rave about. Of course, I saw a lot of shit. But let's start with the good stuff first:

Rodney Graham at Gallery 303, (Chelsea - thru Nov. 3)
Graham uses rock songs and films to push his narrative, something I totally dig (see Music Movie Sundays below). He shows two film installations at 303, the best of which, "The Photokinetoscope," is basically a music video. The imagery consists of a man (Graham) sitting by a lake, his 3-speed Fischer Original kick-standed next him. He drinks some coffee from a flowery thermos, stares at a discarded Queen of Diamonds on the ground, takes a tab of acid, then rides his bike (with the playing card clipped to the spokes) through a park amidst some heavy guitar squalor. The song is the star: stolid Leonard Cohen-esque vocals intoning lyrics like "When I fell off my medication, seems I lost the art of conversation" and the chorus of "You're the kind of girl that fits into my world" while guitars gurgle until they are unleashed in an avalanche of Crazy Horse-style Sturm und Drang. The dynamics are worthy of Built to Spill and the overall tone is reminiscent of how Nick Cave transforms a simple pop song into an ominous perversity, especially considering the contrast of the pastoral setting. I sat on a beanbag and watched it three times in a row (and I would've stayed longer had I the time).

Jim Lambie at Anton Kern (Chelsea - thru Oct. 6)
The second funniest show of the new season (after Ryan Humphries rock and skate and Star Wars fest). Lambie also uses pop music as a vehicle, as in the centerpiece of this show, a carousel of rotating album covers. He chose albums with close headshots of the performers; whose massive heads (and massive egos) overwhelms the cover space. Artists include Lee Greenwood, Neil Diamond, Taylor Dayne, Barbara Streisand, Julio Iglesias, Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow and Jackson Browne. Their heads are excised from the negative space and propped up with straws, kind of a punk-carved, easy-listening pop-up book. Another punny collage in the backroom combines the gatefold of Neil Diamond's Hot August Night with a scaffolding of hair bands (not of the heavy metal variety - see below). Lambie mixes his pop obsessions with humble stabs at abstraction (is he brown-nosing me? Pop music and abstraction!) One entire wall of the space is punctured with straws that were seemingly filled with paint, as various colors dribble down the wall from the insertion point. It's a subtle and funny mural loaded with a myriad of associations (which I will leave to you to discover).

Slickness: Pro and Con
Jay Davis at Stefan Stux (Chelsea - thru Oct. 6)
Adam Ross at Sara Meltzer (Chelsea - thru Oct. 6)
I usually rant against slickness. I generally like a little grit in my art. Certainly art that gets shown in New York has always had some degree of slickness, but Chelsea has upped the quotient. The spaces are too damn big. Artists feel the pressure to scale up, to fill these spaces. This often involves an army of assistants to help facilitate the higher production values, which is a detriment to the work. Matthew Ritchie's show at Andrea Rosen last fall was a good example - his quirky project seemed to lose its soul and idiosyncracy at this newly massive scale. With the Davies and Ross shows I forced to reconsider my stance vis-à-vis high production slickness. I saw the Ross show first - and yes it is to slick. Each painting looks exactly the same: simple sci-fi abstracted cityscapes populated with capsules, spiky spires and a whole bunch o' protractor shapes all on azure blue grounds. Seems like Ross (and his assistants?) was in major production mode to crank out all these same-y-seeming blandocities. The drawings were better as they indicated a sense of the hand and a feeling of discovery. I then walked across the street to see Davis brand of slick sci-fi cityscapes and …and I loved them! Well at first I thought they were too slick by half. But then his technique seemed to make more sense. And each work is different. Sure, they are all incorporate some fantastical geodesic forms, modern architecture, random grid and linear elements, vast stretches of negative space and a thick coat of clear super-glossy varnish, but they aren't formulaic the way Ross' paintings are. Each work has different imagery: "Untitled (Damaged Block Structure, Empty, 61 Stripes)" is exactly that: a crumbling brown building on a piss-yellow ground at the bottom of an empty canvas, with 61 vertical stripes streaming upward. "Untitled (Three Green Geometric Objects, Three Different Colored Objects, brick Tunnel, Trees, Clear Domes)" (love those straightforwardly deadpan titles) features a mosaic-tiled geometric structure that looks like a futuristic weapon in retro garb as found in an Architectural Digest spread. See Scott, not all slickness is bad. In fact, you could use a little in your work!

12 Views at Drawing Center (Soho)
Yet another intriguing Selections show at the Drawing Center! I love Moses Hoskins dirty collages. They look like Richard Deibenkorn and Richard Tuttle were collaborating in a dumpster outside Office Max, as Hoskins incorporates paper, envelopes, boxes with acrylic, ink, pencil and "diverse tapes" in fresh-funky abstract assemblages. Jane South's paper, ink and balsa installation commandeered a corner of the gallery. It also kicked ass. She builds these three-dimensional satellites, fans, girders, grids, and bridges as if she were designing an erector set with Dr. Suess. Nick Brown has a handsome installation in the Drawing Room across the street. He draws silhouettes of negative spaces on the walls with spackle. I like his material choices. This summer I saw some of his dust drawings in Chicago. Rosemary Williams' grid of charcoal abstractions inspired by boats, bridges and buildings evoke both Arthur Dove and Phillip Guston.

Short shots
John Espinoza at Sara Meltzer (Chelsea): Funny videos in back room of the artist dressed as Spiderman running around cities and zoos, presumably to save the world.
Joe Scanlan at D'Amelio Terras (Chelsea - thru Oct. 6): A show about shelving. I love shelving.
Boxy at Dee/Glasoe (Chelsea - thru Oct. 6): A refreshingly modest works on paper show. Highlights: Erik Hanson's "Dusty in Memphis" series of squares done in graphite on layers of vellum, Calvin Siebert's architecture/industrial design combos, a handsome Jonathan Lasker study and solid pieces by Bruce Pearson, Nina Bovasso and Jay Davis (again!) Interval at the Sculpture Center (Long Island City - thru Oct. 28): Donna Nield's "Tornado" was a neat science project. Hope she got a good grade. There was a video shot in Home Depot that was kind of cool, or is it that I just like Home Depot? Fynnegan Sloyan's wall of sheetrock and joint compound tickled my funny bone jones for construction materials. Otherwise the new space was raw and the work undercooked.
Peter Wegner at Mary Boone (Chelsea - thru Oct. 20): Listen to me: No more work using paint chips as a reference. Enough already!
Buzz Spector at Christinerose (Chelsea - thru Oct. 26): Wow, he's sure got a lot of neat books in his library. He must read a lot.

The Top Dog of US Art Criticism
Often criticized as a mere cheerleader for contemporary art (though not in this corner), Jerry Saltz is on a major streak. His blanket put-down of "bad artists hiding behind video" … the "lingua franca of contemporary curators" was timely and on the money (although he, like me, went on to say he liked the video show at Gagosian), then the next week he takes on the vacousness of the art world, while praising seemingly vacuous artist Laura Owens (especially liked this line "Owens dares you to do anything you want with her paintings except understand them." I agree - I've called her one of my faves in HC 4), and then this week his analysis of how art might or might not change in the wake of the attacks. This excerpt perfectly addresses the conundrum of art in the wake of tragedy: "Most art is superficial. However, the aesthetic experience (the term always rings tinny), the enigmatic interior place we go when we make or look at art, is still what it's always been: complex, rich, rewarding, meaningful, and moving. It is a place we will always return to. A place, presumably, we all come from. A place, moreover, that tells us things we didn't know we needed to know until we knew them." You go Jerry. Speak the word.

Music Movie Sunday
Moulin Rouge
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
The last three Sundays I've seen these three movies with various degrees of pleasure. Moulin Rouge confirmed a pet theory I've been daydreaming about for a few years - that of using pop music as a kind of cultural vernacular. Using songs, reciting lyrics, evoking album covers as means of communicating with one another, and with a culture at large, in that the music is an easily recognized marker and carrier of information. You know, when words won't do, a song just might. "I just had to say I love you in a song." I know I'm babbling here. I'm still working on it. Dialogue is sparse in Moulin Rouge, as the leads more often than not express their emotions through Elton John and Whitney Houston songs. I went in thinking it would be too busy, too much hoo-ha-ing. The trailers made it look like Jumanji - lots of running around and yelling and stuff. And it was too much; a rich, libertine mosaic luxuriating in excess. Shockingly for me it works. It crazily plunders famous pop songs in appropriate and grossly inappropriate manners (like the snippets of "Smells like team spirit" in a glorious dance spectacle). Sure the story was shit, the acting suspect (as are John Leguizamo's legs) but the formal un-conventions are thrilling. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is also gloriously over the top but in a gutter/glitter punk way. I think it's the best film of the year. The songs simply rock. The story is hilarious and affecting, and the acting is deliciously confident. Plus it stars that puss Henry from Dawson's Creek as a rock star - what a hoot! Here again, the filmmakers use the music to propel the narrative as most of the story is told through Hedwig's gripping songs. Rockstar was trashy cheese fun, Jennifer Aniston excepted. Marky Mark projects alternately a puppy dog enthusiasm for metal, a steely reserve and work ethic and a touching vulnerability - all this behind his seemingly blank, expressionless technique. I particularly liked the scene where in a photo shoot with the band, he was supposed to convey menace and danger, and Marky Mark couldn't stop grinning. The middle third is riotously funny watching his rise into stardom and the last third is unintentionally hilarious as the director tries to get serious and transform this metalgod into a grunge rocker in the nascent Seattle scene. The packed audience I watched it with just howled. Stay through the credits for the outtake reel for some funny shit. These films are following Almost Famous, High Fidelity and Velvet Goldmine in mining pop music as a trope of mythical importance - the songs of our youth and present take on much more importance than we're willing to admit. Long live rock, I need it everyday.

...and if I wanted to continue MMS, this Sunday I would've had to seen Glitter, the Mariah Carey vehicle, which looks destined to be a BMC classic. I just can't spend $10 on this movie. And of course, BMC movies are best viewed on video.

Heavy Metal Hierarchies
After Rockstar, I indulged my compatriots in a breakdown of the metal world, circa 1991. As you may know, I was, and still am, a hair metal fan. But hair metal is not a monolithic genre - to like one hair band is not too like them all. It's like saying you like all abstract expressionism, when we all know Clyfford Still's work sucks. So did Poison's. Poison was a wuss band. Yes Motley Crue wore make-up too, but they were bad-asses. They didn't look like girls - they looked otherworldly - space age gay-bikers sacrificing virgins. Poison - they just looked like girls. And their songs sucked. It's still all about the songs, as it is with any genre. A major problem with hair metal is there weren't enough good songs. It was essentially a singles medium - strong albums, like Dr. Feelgood or Pyromania, were rarities. But great singles from wuss bands like Slaughter's "Fly to the Angels" were true guilty pleasures. ("Scared" by Dangerous Toys is a major lost gem from the period. Come over sometime and you can listen to my cassingle). But getting back to the hierarchy thing - Van Halen, Guns-n-Roses, early Def Leppard and Queensryche were NOT hair bands. Certainly at times their stage personas suggested this - but everybody was using aqua-net then! These bands were hard rock. Iron Maiden and Judas Priest were pure heavy metal, AC/DC heavy rock. The true hair bands were Poison, Ratt, Cinderella, Britney Fox, Slaughter, Winger, Bon Jovi. And dare I say Guns-n-Roses started the paradigm shift that Nirvana completed by sweeping the charts clean of hair bands. See GNR's influence as Poison adopts more of a hick-biker look for their "Every Rose Has A Thorn" video, as Axl and company eschewed make-up and spandex for ripped jeans, leather jackets and bandanas. The paradigm shift really started for me at the Monsters of Rock concert in Indianapolis in the summer between my junior and senior years. Van Halen headlined (this being the second out of three times I saw VH with Sammy Hagar. How could I never have seen them with David Lee Roth?!). I was going to see them and Dokken, my friends were keen on the Scorpions, who I thought were cheesy euro-trash. Led Zep clones Kingdom Come opened, but Metallica, the second act, blew everybody away. Gawd, what heavy metal thunder. And the crowd went wild. My sheltered midwestern sensibilities were assaulted by their fans venomous crush towards the stage. From then on, I ditched the hair bands (except I still secretly bought new cassettes by Bon Jovi and Cinderella, only to give them to my girlfriend when I decided they were to wussy for me) in favor of this so-called thrash metal. It was so…brutal, mean, scary…and deeply satisfying. From Metallica I moved on to Megadeth, then Anthrax, then Testament, and finally the spine-tingling Slayer. Luckily, I kept most of my hair metal stash, as I've learned not to forsake my past tastes (something I try to convince my little sister to do as she gives me all her rap cds. Yeah, I'll take them, but she'll want the music she listened to in grades school when she gets to college. She doesn't quite understand kitsch value yet!) I still like to "fly high...right to the angels!"

Homage to Larry King
In honor of his recently scrapped USA Today column, the guiltiest pleasure this side of TV's Blind Date:

I like pudding...Boyz-2-Men ruined R&B...that new Michael Douglas film looks like the same shameless crap he's been peddling for the past 15 years...I wish I could lose 20 pounds...For my money, Brett Favre is the most exciting player in football...Do you ever find yourself missing the comedy styling of Phil Hartman...I've become less of a beer snob in the last year...I've also started drinking my coffee with sugar...I miss the smell of fall in the Midwest...Undeclared looks like it'll be a sweetly affecting winner...I really need to own a copy of Joan Jett's I Love Rock-n-Roll...Cherry pie is delicious...I get gassy when I drink too much beer...and drunk...Sucking in your cheeks and puffing out your lips for comedic purposes show a distinct lack of creativity Mr. Stiller (plus making fun of supermodels is like shooting fish in a barrel)...Try to get yourself to Cooperstown in the fall, it's simply gorgeous and the Hall of Fame is all class...I like sleeveless shirts but won't wear them in public...The New York Times has the best op-ed section...I like the St. Louis Cardinals to win it all this year...I just don't give a damn about Michael Jordan's comeback...I love New York.

New feature on Hot Commodities
Barry's Brother's Football Picks!
Barry's brother is a stay-at-home dad of a newborn, so when the baby naps he amuses himself by picking winners of NFL games and amuses me with his cogent commentary. We don't really care about the outcomes, so the picks may not always be posted prior to game time. I know some of you readers don't give a damn about football, so skip this new feature. But they make me laugh, so here goes: Barry's Brother's football picks. By the way, Barry is a founding member and watchdog of the Bad Movie Club. He's got a smokin' ass.

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Valentine's Day 2002
Way too much info on my TV watching habits, plus Daniell Tegeder, Brad Tucker and art in Boston and much, much more...

Best of 2001
Moulin Rouge, Mulholland Drive, Missy Elliot, Jay-Z, James Ensor, Wayne Thiebaud, Radiohead, System of a Down redux

Thanksgiving from Hawaii
Serra, Pardo, Katz, Coen Brothers all suck. Grabner, Sienna, Prekop, Jay-Z all rock

Early Fall 2001
The Onion, Rodney Graham, Jim Lambie, Larry King, Music Movie Sundays, sucking up to Jerry Saltz and stuff...

Early Fall 2001
Skinny actresses, Fall Previews, Hair metal (again), and some other crap...

Late-Summer 2001
Chicago Art, Radiohead, Tony Kornheiser, another David E. Kelley rip and more...

Summer 2001
Wane Thiebaud, Printmaking, movies, more summer shows and more...

Summer 2001
Summer Shows, Paul McCarthy, Me, My Sister and more...

Spring 2001
James Ensor, Ennui, Journey, New Art Examiner and more...

Late Winter 2001
Dawson's Creek, Jessica Stockholder, David Salle, Albums of the Year and more...

Early Winter 2000
riffs on rock-Roll Singles, the West Wing, Bernard Frieze and more...

Fall 2000
The dirt on Damien Hirst, Jibangus, Cable TV and more...

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