A Series of Questions for the Potentially 41,000-Year-Old Nematode

 

  1. How are you?
  2. Have you had any trouble adapting your diet to a completely different planet than the one you first left? I suppose the fungi is still probably more or less the same, but phytoplankton has got to be a weird experience
  3. Are you particularly culinary-minded? How would you prefer to prepare phytoplankton to make it more like, you know, the phytoplankton that mom used to make? Again, this assumes that the fungi have changed very little
  4. One of the things that has changed in your time away is that people think about the things that they eat very differently than they used to. For example, when you went into the deep freeze, there really wasn’t any such thing as thinking about what you ate, and now there are all sorts of medical, ethical and other such academic questions. Even if you do not consider it a course worth considering, what would an ethical framework for the consumption of phytoplankton include? Are you interested in developing factory farms and such like humans have or is this going to be a purely found-food sort of arrangement? 
  5. You went into the freeze shortly before the comingling of early hominids that would mark the rise of homo sapiens, were you somehow trying to avoid the entirety of human history? If so, how does it feel to know that you missed it by such a tiny amount?
  6. Is your return in some way connected to the end of the human species? 
  7. Have you ever seen the movie The Thing?
  8. Are you familiar with the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft? 
  9. Similar to the above, if you are presently or choose to become in the future familiar with the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, how much of the personal life of the author and his beliefs do you intend to take into account before you decide on your feelings about the matter?
  10. Do his feelings about other people change when he turns out to be right about the presence of ancient horrors the likes of man was not meant to comprehend?
  11. Do you know consciously the name of the entity that you’ll be summoning/awakening, or is this sort of an autonomic process? That is to say, is your eventually bringing around the great terror that mankind cannot understand something you’ll be doing consciously, or is it a reflex?
  12. When whatever happens that brings about the attention of the Old One in question, will humanity be forever enslaved, or instantly obliterated?
  13. Is this going to be a sort of “everything gets eaten” situation, or an “everything just suddenly ceases to exist” situation?
  14. If the former, will the Old One in question have an opinion vis-a-vis the ethical dilemma involved in consuming food on Earth (see question 4), or is the question of consuming food on Earth going to be obviated by the Earth itself being food. This is, obviously, not a question that has an answer if there isn’t going to be any eating going on. 
  15. Is there any way for humanity to be spared, or is this pretty much just a guaranteed thing at this point? 
  16. Obviously I’ve ruled out the possibility of you being some sort of Earth-destroying parasite, because that was something you would have pulled the trigger on immediately. Would you have been insulted by such a line of questioning? 
  17. Is it, in fact, possible for a human to insult a 41,000 year old nematode/harbinger of the end times?
  18. If so, you’re a jerk. A real jerk. And I never asked your name, because I assume you’re too old to have one, since old things blah blah blah nameless horrors, but I bet your name is dumb. Ha. You have a dumb name. Dumb name nematode. Dumb nameatode. So there. 

 

NB the 41,000 year old nematode is probably not, in fact, a 41,000 year old nematode, and so most of my questions are moot. On the off chance that it’s real, though, can somebody figure out a way to get the 41,000 year old nematode to answer them? 

 

[^1]: you probably aren’t familiar with the term academic, nor with the idea of abstracting such a thing, so I will use this footnote – should I do a footnote explaining footnotes, or are you ok with footnotes? – to explain that what I mean here is that they are considered only abstractly, and have nothing to do with, say, the nutritive benefits of the food thus consumed or whatever. 

Somebody Make My Movie (Third Offer)

After the people were gone, the world remained. The people who had formerly occupied it would have been surprised at how things turned out. It took a long time, but into the structures moved the dogs. They had been in the structures, they had built their lives, their entire evolution flipped tracks onto one that was parallel to the people, so it was easy for them to develop the skills necessary to live in the houses.

It started out as straight mimicry. The dogs that were quicker started going through the rituals. The Feeding was accomplished, as was The Walking. A sort of hierarchy began to establish itself. The little dogs, the dogs that had seen the most of the human world from the inside of bags, who had been comfort animals on the planes and in the boardrooms and galleries and at the parties were the first to pick up on how to resume the world there. The little dogs became the intelligentsia, the Eloian ruling class, but there was very little division. 

The big dogs that had been raised for security were immediately retrained to follow the little dogs. There had been pockets of dog life that had relied on such synergy already, and it was natural. It was best to take on as few new things as possible and, as their power and intelligence grew, to merely adopt their new qualities into their old way of life. 

The rural dogs began to adopt the rural ways, continuing to herd and farm and hunt and provide, continuing to make food, with the help of the runners, who were willing to create the structures of a way to convey the food to the others. Something like shipping lines were established, and while the dogs were generally still unwilling to move along to engines, which were loud and unpredictable and required fuel they had no access to generally, they nudged into place, eventually gaining the intelligence to build outright, huge long gleaming rail systems to ease the burden of the pack animals. They knew what they needed, because they had always known what they needed.

The world rebuilt itself, with the dogs in charge. Eventually the set of things that they needed became more complicated and, because it’s how such things go, their language grew to accommodate it. As the complications in brain function necessary to language grew, so did the functions themselves, and with those functions, abstraction. The formerly hierarchical nature became one that was slightly more diplomatic, impelled largely by the smaller dogs, who knew that in a world that prized size and viciousness they had little chance if things changed, if the power were to become imbalanced. 

They adopted, over the course of this new development, the things that would make civilization recognizable as such. Some of the dogs began adopting currency in exchange for labor, which further abstracted the system of economic well-being – they had gone from the communal pack nature to one that, while still considerable more group-oriented than the People had commanded, still valued the family unit more than the abstract group itself. They began, in this way, to move away from direct labor into something more like an economy, which meant that the labor thus done could be done more efficiently by expedient of rewarding the efficient and the capable, and allowing people who were neither to concentrate on those areas where they were both. 

The dogs prospered, and inequality was introduced, and with it the Law, and the concept of Rules, and once again there were Good dogs and Bad dogs. They required rules to tell who was doing the work and who wasn’t, who was adequately paying for the work and who wasn’t, who was mindful of their place in the packs Great and Small and who was not. There were new niches for dogs – there were dogs that descended from the Guards, who became the police officers, who eventually guarded the prisons, there were little dogs whose long, long-ago ancestors had been Well Trained. There were prisons, there were rules about the prisons, there was rehabilitation.

It became apparent that, in addition to the efficiency, dogs now knew boredom. They were willing to do the things dogs did – to sleep, to chase, to run, but their brains were more aware of the despair of ending, there was awareness of the impermanence of the individual. This was a challenge, and it required more sophisticated distractions.

They turned to the human remnants, now even fewer than they had been. The reconstructed the arenas, they rebuilt the fields, they reconsidered the human pastimes of athletic contest. Some of them were difficult to reconstruct, but the field gave them clues. It would, then, surprise the People to know that the game that they adopted first and most vehemently was the one with the baskets. It was readily apparent how it had been played, or at least the general idea of it – there were rectangles, there were suspended hoops, there were balls.

They knew about balls. They loved balls. They had been, before all this, developed to love balls. 

With the decision of athletic contests as a way to pacify by distraction and entertainment came a new kind of dog, one that was good at bouncing the ball up into the hoop, one for whom a very specific kind of teamwork was necessary. 

Other animals did not develop such a way as this. They did not develop language or sports or an economy. The cats looked fondly on a new way to be domestic once more, to not have to do all their own hunting, and the dogs were happy to have them as com-panions, even though the cats never fully assimilated. They never really did so for People either, after all, so nothing changed. 

What was interesting was what had happened to the rest of the People. The ones who had hidden, who had spent generations growing desperate, scared and feral. They had lost the hallmarks of their civilization, they had been diminished, reduced, in terms of the ways their brains could function in the world. But they became more common. It had been how they had done this in the first place, after all, they adopted on a biological level and they became neither ape nor man, a sort of incoherent, thoughtless predator that was a nuisance to the cities that the dogs had built, that were out there as a threat. 

There was talk, after a fashion, of domesticating them. After all, for many thousands of years dogs and the once-People had cohabited. The People had built their civilization with the help of the Dog, and that was not something to be taken lightly, in a long-ago evolutionary sense. There was no real connection, but a Good dog is loyal, and they felt a sort of species-wide need to figure out a new place for the once-People in the world that the dogs had built. 

The efforts failed, generally. People turned out to be even harder to domesticate than cats. They weren’t particularly trainable. They could be taught basic tricks, and they were fairly useful on farms as a way to convey loads of wood and things, if you could keep them from getting distracted or violent. Many tried, and they became common among the rural, and among the lower-class, which dogs it behooved to make friends with so that they were not a threat to the dog families – a dog had to make a certain amount of “friendship” with them to make sure that they wouldn’t turn rapacious. 

It was from this corner, then, that a Dog had the craziest idea yet. He had gone through the effort and was an athlete, playing in the Greatest Game. He showed up, revealing that he had stumbled upon the former-human’s ability to use his hands and thumbs to throw, to shoot, to aim accurately at the nose in such a way that made it easier to score. The dogs were flummoxed, their initial reaction was to react badly, to declare the dog Mad, to do anything except think about the possibility, but the dog was insistent. He was convinced that the not-person would be the thing that could turn around the team’s then-dismal fortunes. He insisted, and it was brought before the Rules.  

But it turned out there was nothing in the rules that said a former person couldn’t play basketball.

Coming this summer to theaters near you, Bud Air: The Former Human that Played Basketball

The Best Songs of the First Half of 2019

So here, as previously addressed, is the list of the best songs of the first half of the year. For a second time, I didn’t have time to get in there and write some stuff about them, but luckily I can take the high ground and insist that this stuff speaks for itself I guess? Anyway, I may come back and fill some of this in later, but if I don’t, thanks for bearing with me. 

Anyway, there’s a tonne of good stuff here! There have been some fairly disappointing records in the first half of the year, but that doesn’t always bear out on the songs list. There’s a Spotify thingy here or at the bottom (I hope), and a download folder here. The Spotify thingy has a different Mandolin Orange song (“Little Margaret” was a bonus track, but “Into the Sun” is a great song anyway, so I just swapped it out). drink up everybody.

Anderson.Paak – Come Home (f Andre 3000)

Beast Coast – Left Hand

Big Brave – Sibling

Heather Woods Broderick – Quicksand

Bill Callahan – What Comes After Certainty

Coathangers – Bimbo

Cocaine Piss – Body Euphoria

The Comet is Coming – Summon the Fire

Cuzco – Old Dog

Dos Monos – Clean Ya Nerves (Cleopatra)

Ryan Dugre – Bali

Earth – Cats on the Briar

Ex Hex – Tough Enough

Fennesz – We Trigger the Sun

Fire! Orchestra – Silver Trees

The Gotobeds – On Loan

Heart Attack Man – Rats in a Bucket

Tim Hecker – That World

Helms Alee – Be Rad Tomorrow

House and Land – Blacksmith

Carly Rae Jepsen – No Drug Like Me

Seba Kaapstaad – Breathe

Mike Krol – Little Drama

Steve Lacy – Guide

Alex Lahey – Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

Lambchop – The December-ish You

Mandolin Orange – Little Margaret

The Mekons – How Many Stars

Mono – Meet Us Where the Night Ends

Bob Mould – Lost Faith

Georgia Anne Muldrow – When the Fonk Radiates

Marissa Nadler – Poison (f John Cale)

Pelican – Full Moon, Black Water

Pirate Ship Quintet – Symmetry is Dead

Priests – Good Time Charlie

Quelle Chris – Guns

Raketkanon – Harry

Rodrigo y Gabriela – Cumbe

Scrolls – Patiently…

Signor Benedick the Moor – OMG

Slowthai – Doorman (f Mura Masa)

Solange – Almeda

Sunn0))) – Aurora

The Tallest Man on Earth – I’m a Stranger Now

Teeth of the Sea – Visitor

Tyler, the Creator – New Magic Wand

William Tyler – Our Lady of the Desert (f Bill Frissell)

Underachievers – Deebo

Chester Watson – Flights (f Kesari)

Xiu Xiu – Normal Love

Honorable Mentions: Big Business – Let Them Grind, Chris Brokaw – His Walking, Lavender Country – Gay Bar Blues, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana, Nowdaze – Ooh Wee, Schoolboy Q – Numb Numb Juice, Oozing Wound – Tween Shitbag

Best Albums of June 2019

Hey guys, the best songs of the first half of the year post is coming up later in the week – stuff has been pretty crazy, and it’ll be devoid of the usual writeups 1, but it’ll be up. I hope you can all forgive me. Anyway these are the best records from this month.

Bill Callahan – Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest (I’m on the record as being in favor of a long wait if it means we get a record this good. Gosh darn this is a wonderful record.)

Shellac – The End of Radio (Shellac is a top-shelf grade-a rock band, and live Shellac is the best version of Shellac. Well-recorded live Shellac, hen, is about the best on-record experience one could hope for)

House and Land – Across the Field (a former member of Pelt and another lady whose credits I should, but don’t, remember make a crazy weird drone-folk record that would be the top record of any other given month)

Pelican – Nighttime Stories (it has recently come to my attention that there are people that do not love Pelican. I do not understand these people.) 

Georgia Anne Muldrew – VWETO II (she makes great singing records, but even better not-singing records, I tell you what.) 


  1. come to think of it, that was the case of the last one also. I guess every six months I’m due a time-eating event these days. Ah, the future. 

The 2019 Locus Awards

The Locus awards are the honoring-the-writers (and writer-adjacent) wing of Locus magazine, the long-running house organ for sff, and, as such, are of particular interest to Our Hero who writes these things. 

I don’t usually write about them, but last year I wrote about the Shirley Jackson awards, and quite enjoyed having a fourth award in the mix 1, I decided to write up the Locus Awards. Easy-peasy, except for one tiny enormous problem. 

While availability isn’t a problem, and most of the stuff here is fairly well-known and therefore already more-or-less on my radar, there are so many things nominated that reading them all isn’t really in the cards 2. So while I did my best to read everything I could, there are, nevertheless, a bunch of them that I simply didn’t get to. 

And that’s only when you consider the categories in which I’m already generally involved. As far as it goes, my exposure to the magazines is generally limited to what’s going on in the wards here and what I find on my own, since I don’t regularly read any of them. I probably should, but I don’t. 

So, to recap: I didn’t read a bunch of this stuff, and I definitely didn’t look at the art books, so I’m going to do this anyway, but instead of writing anything particularly in-depth, like I usually do for book awards posts, I’m just going to move through everything fairly quickly and then circle back and catch the Hugos and the World Fantasy Awards as thoroughly as usual.

Still and all, it was fun to see how much of all this I could get through before this post went up. 

Art Book

As previously mentioned, I did not read the art books. I do not, in fact, read art books in general. However, the Hugos have a best art book category also, and there were several in the readers’ packet, so I have had to figure out how to do so. That said, I’m still not the dude that reads art books, and I don’t have a huge capacity for appreciating and evaluating visual art in and/or of itself, so I’m going to say that Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson & Sam Witwer’s Dungeons & Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History is the one that’s the most fun. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson & Sam Witwer’s Dungeons & Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History 

Non Fiction

The passing of both Gardner Dozois and Urusla K. Le Guin is very sad, and they both have entries here, which seems more concilliatory than something that got in on their own merits – one of the Le Guin books is a very brief set of transcription of some conversations she had with the book’s co-author. She’s a smart, erudite person who talks well about what she does and why she does it, and it’s nice to read, but it’s pretty slight and that’s all it’s got. The other Le Guin here nominated is an excellent overview of her nonfiction and, as such, is very very good. Gardner Dozois’s book reviews are good – he was a truly fantastic reader, which is what made him such an effective editor – but I don’t think they’re adding much to the stock of available critical thought 3. Jo Walton’s A People’s History of the Hugos is good, Jo Walton is another thoughtful critic and reader, and it’s interesting to read such a thing from the perspective of an individual. Jason Heller’s Strange Stars is a weird little look at a very specific set of times and places. I think I’m most impressed by Alec Nevala-Lee’s Astounding, because it manages to make a compelling and interesting story out of a very complicated and thorny set of legacies, centered around a deeply polarizing, problematic figure 4

Artist

This took some googling, and I still think I like Victo Ngai best. I’m pretty sure it lands up this way every single year.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Victo Ngai

Editor

So, the other thing that’s happening here is that the nominations for these awards were announced after the nominations for the Hugos, and these are happening before the Hugos, so the entire period in which to evaluate as many of the works nominated for Locus awards is basically surrounded by the Hugo awards. Which is all said by way of explaining why the things I’ve read and considered and all that are things that are also nominated for other awards. Anyway, I don’t know how to wrestle with the correspondent category in any other awards program, because I don’t really know what I’m meant to be evaluating. I’ll just assume that it’s John Joseph Adams, who seems to be doing the work that I find myself interested in the most of all these people.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: John Joseph Adams

Best Publisher

Andy Duncan, Jeffrey Ford, Mary Rickert and especially Sofia Samatar mean that Small Beer Press continues to be the best press. Also it’s run by literally my favorite writer on the planet.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Small Beer Press

Magazine

Right, so, as mentioned, I don’t actually read many of these. I do, it turns out, read tor.com, so I guess that one has the prominence necessary to convince me to get involved with it, although that has a lot more to do with it being readily available by RSS than anything else. Seems like a bad reason to give an award, but hey, I’m not in charge. Of the awards, I mean. I’m totally in charge of what’s rightful. Obviously. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Tor.com

Collection

I appreciate very much the existence of a six billion-page book about the history of the Targaryen family that is very much not another Song of Ice and Fire book. It makes me laugh. I laugh at your pain, Song of Ice and Fire fans, ha ha ha. Anyway, I mentioned Andy Duncan’s collection earlier as being one of the reasons Small Beer Press was great, and it totally is. I liked the Jemisen collection best of these, in any event.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: N.K. Jemisen, How Long Til Black Future Month?

Anthology

There is some terribly good work here, but while I was disposed to be kind of snippy about Dozois’s inclusion in the other category, his Year’s Best Science Fiction is an absolute bedrock series for me 5. So while John Joseph Adams is doing terrific work with his branch of the Best American family, and Jonathan Strahan remains does a similarly-great job in the UK, I think Dozois wins it. That said, I keep not catching up with Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year series, and it’s also good, but I don’t know this one. 

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Gardner Dozois, ed., The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection

Short Story

This is a remarkably solid field, as one would expect. None of them are bad. I really loved “STET,” however, for finding a stimulating human way to tella  story about a thing tha thasn’t happened yet, but almost certainly will. The fact that it does so in the form of notes is an obvious source of pleasure for me, but the nature of the narrative, and the ultimate humanist message, is fantastic. That it does so without condemning the technology that makes the central device of the narrative happen, which would have been easier to do than not, I should think, is admirable and makes it better. Basically I wanted to take advantage of this excuse to write about how much I liked “STET”.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Sarah Gailey, “STET”

Novelette

So these were also fairly easy to keep up, given that many of them were a matter of clicking on a link. These categories where I read everything I much easier on my ego, let me tell you. There was some excellent work all over this category, especially by Isabelle Yap and Tina Connolly. Elizabeth Bear and Ken Liu are extremely reliable, but honestly, it all falls down before Brooke Bolander’s amazing The Only Harmless Great Thing, which is probably going to win ever Novelette category on Earth until it’s no longer eligible for such things.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Brooke Bolander, The Only Harmless Great Thing

Novella

The Murderbot books are still great, but they still each feel more like a part of a larger story than like a satisfying standalone part. This is a problem with series books all over, certainly, and I don’t hold it against the Murderbot books more than other books, but it does prevent them from winning here. It’s part of why Kelly Robson’s Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach is such a clear standout – it’s not an abbreviated novel, it’s not a blown-out short story, and it has a complete tale within it, with all the parts necessary. It’s also about a time-travelling octopus-person, which is kind of what I want every story to be about in the first place.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Kelly Robson, Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach

First Novel

This is all a pretty exciting group of people. I’m not super-into (like on a personal taste level) much of this for its own sake, but the writers that I’m familiar with that are here nominated are all very good in terms of skill-level, and since nobody writes their first book more than once, it’s worth keeping an eye out to see how they develop. That said, I genuinely loved Trail of Lightning and would be happy to see Roanhorse walk away with it, even over the also-excellent Adeyimi.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Rebecca Roanhorse, Trail of Lightning

Young Adult Novel

It must be the case that you can only be nominated in one category for a work, because otherwise I don’t really know how Children of Blood and Bone isn’t here. As it is, I’m happy that Dread Nation is nominated here as well, because I really liked it and I like pronouncing it the rightful winner of things.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Justina Ireland, Dread Nation

Horror Novel

I do love that there’s a Horror Novel category in the Locus awards. I so often don’t get to write about horror, despite it providing a huge chunk of my for-pleasure reading 6. Stepen King’s The Outsider was pretty well-assembled classic-style monster-focused King, and it brings in a character from his crime novels, which I haven’t read, but who seemed pretty cool. I didn’t like a lot of things about The Hunger, and I’m actually baffled by the amount of acclaim that it received. Like, super-baffled. Like when I say “I didn’t like a lot of things” I could also be saying that I basically didn’t like anything about it. I liked just about everything about The Cabin at the End of the World, but I liked everything and then some about We Sold Our Souls, and will probably never stop praising its joys to the world for the rest of my life. What a terrific book.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Grady Hendrix, We Sold Our Souls

Fantasy Novel

If my praise seemed effusive and evangelical for We Sold Our Souls or The Only Harmless Great Thing, then brother you have not heard me talk about The Mere Wife. Fantasy is only sort of my bag, and even then I really only like the outlier-y type stuff, and so Spinning Silver was also a solid choice, and I liked The Wonder Engine an awful lot, but it was only half a book. The Mere Wife was basically perfect, and is probably the best thing I’ve read all year, and probably for several years prior to that.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Maria Dahvana Headley, The Mere Wife

Science Fiction Novel

I wrote about the Locus awards once before 7, and the only thing I really remember about it was that it was the year that Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 came out, and I was deeply, hideously disappointed in it. I am also very disappointed in Red Moon. The moral of the story, obviously, is that I can only write about the Locus awards in years where I’m disappointed in Kim Stanley Robinson’s work. Sam J. Miller’s Blackfish City was as good as he usually is (which is very good), Cathrynne Valente’s Space Opera might have been the most fun a book can be. Record of a Spaceborn Few continues Becky Chambers’s work as being a really inventive space opera craftswoman. Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars was interesting and worthwhile. Yoon Ha Lee’s Revenant Gun managed to bring an extremely challenging series to a very satisfying end, and deserves all sorts of praise for doing so.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Yoon Ha Lee, Revenant Gun

And there we have it, at least until the Hugos at the end of next month, where I’ll write in more depth about a bunch of these same books!

 


  1. I’m not writing about the Shirley Jackson awards this year for the dumbest reason: my library doesn’t have access to most of the books that are nominated, and many of them are very expensive, and since I don’t know how many of them are the sort of thing I want to own, I opted to instead try out a different award. 
  2. The book awards writeups are usually the ones where I can guarantee I’ve read everything I’m talking about, which makes them just about the only ones. While I do my best to watch/listen to as much stuff as I can for, say, the Emmys or the Billboard awards or whatever, I find it much harder to talk about books I haven’t read than tv shows I haven’t watched. 
  3. especially given that his contributions to the available actual body of work is pretty incredible. 
  4. actually, when Asmiov is the least polarizing, least problematic figure in your book, that’s a real crazy set of people you’ve got there 
  5. I spent hours and hours with various and sundry with them as a lad, I mean, and most of my knowledge of science fiction short stories published during my lifetime and prior to my adulthood comes from these books. Eventually I’ll be writing a long recurring feature about them here, but they’re very long, so it will be some time before that manages to happen. 
  6. The Stoker awards provide much reading grist, but they’re positioned weirdly in the year, and also five is too many awards to write about reasonably. 
  7. the post appears to have been lost to some migration or other 

Who the Fuck Listens to This: Madonna, Madame X

You know, ordinarily, I don’t like to go back to this particular well too often. The criteria for Who the Fuck Listens to This posts are fairly strict. I have to learn about the existence of something that makes me question why the person even bothered, and that doesn’t happen all that often 1. Morrissey was one, and that wasn’t that long ago, but if there’s anyone that can be said to live in Who the Fuck Listens to This territory, it’s present-day Madonna.

Madonna’s last album was completely inexplicable, for the reasons that I outlined previously in the link there. For those that don’t click through: Madonna used to be considered a vital, interesting, listened-to proposition, who made records that got acclaim and sales and made people happy. Over time, that diminished, and her antics became less and less obviously defensible as “artistic provocation” and more easily seen as what they had always been, which was attention-getting measures from a narcissistic performance artist under the guise of being a pop star 2. As time went by and she was less able to be push-marketed by the record-selling industry that had given her her platform in the first place, she became less able to garner attention for what she was doing, and it became increasingly apparent that her music was not enough to carry on paying attention to her 3.

That album was four years ago, and here we sit, in the future, and there’s another one. Rebel Heart was attended by a giant tour that lasted forever and generated its own documentary. In the interim, Madonna moved to Portugal and was “inspired” by the fado music she found there. She gave a speech honoring herself that was disguised as a memorial for Aretha Franklin. She generally considered existing in a way that made it clear that she was still going to be the very same Madonna she had always been, and now, inevitably, as though following through on a thread, she has delivered an album.

So what, then, has happened in the four years since her last record that would impel someone to listen to it? This is where I have to be careful to point out that there is no question as to why she would make it 4, but rather, why would anyone listen to it? There’s certainly an audience for just about anything, and I subscribe to the John Peel philosophy that if I don’t like a record, I’m probably to blame, and not the people that made the record. I don’t want to re-litigate the entire set of reasons that I’m not ever going to be in the audience for Madonna’s music (there are links previously in the piece that will do that for me), so I’ll move forward with my current objections. That’ll also keep this short, which is nice.

So the reasons to think that maybe this is the Madonna album where she turns it around might exist. She’s working with Mirwais again, who produced her sort of late-period zenith in the twenty-year-old Music and also uh…American Life, an album which someone, somewhere might like. I can’t imagine who, but that’s all dealt with previously and I am forging ahead.

Mirwais (presumably) enabled (or at least abetted) her to get her influence from a bunch of “world” sources – the previously-mentioned fado, certainly, but also baile, and trap music, and probably some other things I don’t know enough to know about 5 to speak about with any real authority. Since a bunch of Madonna records are made by Madonna finding a subculture that she can try to work in and wrapping it around herself, I suppose that makes this something of a return to form, provided that it can be proven that she ever left that form.

It’s the trap beats (and the presence of a couple of the more successful and/or brilliant trap dudes on features) that make me think, however, that the whole thing is the same kind of empty-gesture, look-at-me nonsense that populates all of her records to this point, and in this case the fact is that she isn’t taking it on honestly enough for it to get over. For whatever my feelings are about her previous records, at least when she dabbled in post-disco or club music or pop balladry she came to it from a place where she was engaged and interested enough in it for it to feel like something she had genuinely uh…stolen and taken credit for. This all just seems cursory.

Song-for-song, this is tremendously boring. This Maluma dude that sings on a couple of songs has a good voice, and clearly they’re doing some flirty Walk Hard-style business in their songs, which brings us back into the land of “thinking about Madonna having sex”, which is a primary subgrouping of Madonna song. His second appearance is in the song “Bitch I’m Loca” which makes me want to set my own beard on fire. Quavo’s appearance is regrettable, but he’s made it pretty clear that whatever else is going on in his life, he doesn’t say no when people ask him to feature, so while it’s still annoying, it’s not necessarily disappointing, if only because it’s no longer surprising. I’m not sure how she got Swae Lee in there, but I’d imagine it’s a similar impulse, and his appearance isn’t quite as bad.

The solo songs are generally not as puzzling, and are also generally not as memorable – at least when there’s a feature there’s someone else to mark the damn thing, after all. A couple of them have lyrical clunkers bad enough for me to want to write about Madonna’s lyrics, and here’s why I’m not going to do that: I don’t remember them, I didn’t hear them very well in the first place, and i’m damn sure not looking them up just so that I can not like them definitively. Some of the individual turns of phrase are terrible, which means that her singing in languages I don’t understand (which happens at several points on the album) is basically the #1 thing she’s ever done to make me hate her music less.

Speaking of which, there is a song on this album called “Batuka” which has a nifty trance-y bit of business with some Central African type drums. It totally enters the (extremely short) list of Madonna songs I don’t actively hate enough to pray that I never hear them again. So that’s something, anyway, and maybe that means she’s got more going on than I think. I mean, the rest of the album belies the idea, but I suppose it’s better than nothing.

The bits of the album where she’s not pulling on some string of legitimate musical form from somewhere else are at least not quite as galling, but they are also the least-memorable songs. Or, rather, some of them are quite memorable, but they’re memorable because they’re terrible. You get the idea. The music is bad, and it’s bad in the way that Madonna’s music is bad, only it’s worse than most other Madonna music, because it feels forced and tired in a way that other Madonna songs don’t, really.

Sometimes with big-promotional-push pop records, there’s a sort of inertia, which is why more pop records don’t get written up here – casual listeners (who provide the majority of the audience for this sort of music) listen to whatever they’re exposed to, and that tends to be the result of marketing and whatnot, rather than personal taste, which in the case of a casual listener, is generally (whatever else it may be) served well enough by the things that are available casually to not cause the person doing the listening to seek out anything else. It seems to border on tautological, I admit, but in this case it’s obviated anyway, because there have been a handful of singles here, and none of them appears to be gaining any real traction. And so the built-in audience is also not well-served by the thing being pushed to them.

So why the fuck would people listen to this? And who the fuck are they? It’s certainly not the people who want to like it on its own merits, since, as mentioned, it only has the regular old Madonna merits, only this time stale and unfelt (i.e. it’s terrible, full of years-old ideas and badly-sung. Some of those aren’t unique to this album). I guess the remaining Madonna trufans and/or apologists, and probably some contrarian types who want to treat a massively successful and long-running pop star like some sort of underdog charity case.

Actually, I’m going to go with mostly the contrariasts – Madonna has gone long enough without making a record a lot of people can get behind that I’m sure there’s a bunch of people preparing their “no actually this is awesome because ________” takes. If not for this one, then the next one, in which case they’ll also listen to this one to get the feelf or it.

So it goes.


  1.  there’s generally a couple-three of them a year, and maybe that many again thatI consider and then don’t do anything about due to timing or something like it. 
  2. albeit a very smart one, and one that occasionally has her heart in the right place in non-musical concerns. 
  3. it is the official editorial position of this publication that her music is among some of the worst music ever made, and was never, in fact, any good. 
  4. there never is, in fact. It’s the easiest question in the world to answer. 
  5. there are definitely stylistic choices that sound idiomatic of something, and instrumentation choices that seem to convey styles that I just don’t know much about. I feel comfortable saying that I don’t know much about dance musics of whichever country is in question. Sorry. If there’s anything I should know, feel free to tell me about it, I’ll listen to it. 

The 2019 MTV Movie & TV Awards

Every year I start this writeup by mentioning the season and that the MTV Movie & TV Awards start the summer awards season, so why not lean into it 1? It’s summer now! It’s time to do some summer shit, and that includes the MTV Movie and TV Awards!

Both MTV Awards shows are amiably silly, with the Movie & TV Awards taking a slight edge because they keep changing the categories around to include the sort of ephemera that’s plenty of fun to consider – what is the most Meme-able Moment? 2 – and the deathless, eldritch Best Kiss category, which I still hate beyond all reason.

So let’s forge on through the morass and figure out who deserves this goofy made-up awards. There’s probably a lifetime achievement award – there almost always is – but as of the time of this typing, I don’t know who it is. I do know that the host is going to be ol’ Shazam himself, and that Lizzo is going to be performing, and those are pretty cool things.

Best Meme-able Moment

So! Meme-able! That’s fun! I realize I said this above, but I actually don’t care. I think that there should be an award for creating a sort of useful visual punchline/memorable image that people pass around to mean something. I think that’s great, in general, because it’s entertaining and it requires much less of an investment of my time or energy to laugh at it. So why not give the good ones an award? I’m not sure to what extent most of these are “the good ones,” but hey, whatever. Full marks for effort here.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I would watch Coulton Underwood jump over that fence all friggin’ day, man, and I don’t even like The Bachelor one teensy little bit.

Best Real Life Hero

So there’s plenty of good stuff here, but I never really found an angle to talk about Nanette when it took over the internet a year ago, so I’m going to use this opportunity to point out what I think my favorite thing about Nanette was – it was presented so starkly and in such a realized, matter-of-fact, air-tight way that I found it nearly impossible not to freight it with things that were, in fact, not said. It was a presentation of a perspective that is not mine, and because it was discomforting (purposefully), I still reacted badly to it, and had, to that point, thought that I was the sort of person that would not react badly to it (I no longer do so, but I did, and that’s worth examining). As such it was about as effective as I can imagine that sort of thing doing, and the fact that she did it so presentationally and stood so firmly behind it means that it’s among the finest things a human being managed in recent history, and therefore made the world unquestionably better than it was before she did it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Hannah Gadsby, Nanette

Best Breakthrough Performance

None of these people make me as happy when they turn up in something as Awkwafina. I feel like she’s been around longer than all this seems to imply, but I’d be happy to give her whatever award for whatever thing, you know?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Awkwafina

Best Host

Last year I made a joke about my own body hosting a bunch of beneficial parasites and bacteria and whatnot, and I feel like I’m in that space again here, because I don’t think any of these people are particularly good hosts, although I guess Nick Cannon gave me an opportunity to play a weekly game of “what’s going to be happening on top of Nick Cannon’s head,” so he gets the nod. Although he’s robbing Fergie, who wasn’t even nominated for The Four.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Nick Cannon, I guess

Best Fight

I’m unsure why the specific fight here is Josh Brolin vs. Chris Evans when the best fight – because I was ten years old once and keep in fairly close contact with my inner ten years old – was EVERY GODDAMN SUPERHERO VS THE FACELESS THANOS HORDES but the Chris Evans vs. Josh Brolin fight includes Steve Rogers wielding Mjolnir and also not quitting when Thanos cuts his shield in half, and is therefore the best Captain America fight ever committed to film, and therefore deserves more awards than we technically have without inventing more. I’m saying we should invent some more awards to give this fight. That’s what I’m saying.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Chris Evans vs. Josh Brolin, Avengers: Endgame

Best Documentary

I appreciate that the folks at MTV, and indeed the culture at large, want to celebrate Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I’m not here to argue that she’s not great, and that I don’t love her as much as anyone else. I think that RBG’s preaching to the converted is as fine and necessary as all preaching to the converted 3, but I think that Surviving R. Kelly finally managed to get people to turn around on R. Kelly, and is therefore more useful and therefore, better as a documentary experience.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Surviving R. Kelly

Best Reality Royalty

I hate to be that guy here 4, but I hope all of these people – every single damn last one of them – falls into a hole in the ground.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The giant hole that would open up under each and every single one of these people in a just world.

Most Frightened Performance

Also a thing that should be awarded: being frightened. This is a skill that has only gotten harder as movies have become less practical 5, and thus give the actors less to work with in terms of reacting to them. That said, as much as I love Linda Cardellini in general, I’m done with Conjuring spin-offs, so this one goes Alex Wolff for Hereditary

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Alex Wolff, Hereditary

Best Kiss

I hate this category for a bunch of reasons! It gets weirder as the context around it changes, and I guess I’m into weird categories, so maybe someday the balance will tip, but as it is it’s a weird, over-horny, prurient category. I’m not opposed to things that happen pruriently – hell, the entire existence of MTV is based around various things in various idioms happening pruriently – but I still think it’s a weird thing to award. It seems a bit like saying “oh this isn’t prurient, it’s progressive” which is pretty clearly (at the least) disingenuous and obfuscatory. I’d probably find a category called “hottest hot stuff” more honorably, to be honest, because at least it would be correctly stating its existence. That said, my opinion of it appears to be softening as this year I find myself able to type about it without a thin scrim of blood filling my vision. Progress!

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Still, there is no “rightful” winner of this stupid, performative, “Who me?”, hiding-in-plain sight category.

Best Villain

I’m deeply unfamiliar with some of this, but I think Lupita Nyong’o was scarier than Josh Brolin, for whatever that might be worth. Also more believable.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lupita Nyong’o, Us

Best Hero

For as much as there were plenty of moments in this set, and I’m happy to acknowledge that Maisie Williams’s bit in the end of Game of Thrones was as good as anything else, I really loved both Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel’s brief bits in Avengers: Endgame. So there you have it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Brie Larson, Captain Marvel

Best Comedic Performance

It’s the comedy categories where the differences between my tastes and those that MTV is trying to get after with these awards become the most apparent, you know? It makes me feel old and/or out of touch. Well, actually, it makes me feel like the marketing department at MTV has no idea what’s funny, but it’s less egomaniacal to put those feelings on me, and I like to keep up a good front.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Awkwafina, Crazy Rich Asians

Best Performance in a Show

I guess MTV’s editorial stance is that The Good Place doesn’t even exist. That’s stupid. Kudos for pulling the nom for Jason Mitchell after it turned out he was a dickbag, though.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Gina Rodriguez, Jane the Virgin

Best Performance in a Movie

No voice performances, so we also don’t get anything from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (although see below). Not Jake Johnson, not Shameik Moore, not even Nicolas Cage. This is nonsense. Nonsense.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Lupita Nyong’o, Us

Best Show

Of these, I guess it’s Big Mouth, but man, I don’t watch much television. Well, not much new television anyway. I’m old.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Big Mouth

Best Movie

For once there are good contenders, and I’d like to consider them, but instead of considering them, I’ll probably just go watch Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse again.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse


  1.  I usually also start it by saying “Ah, summer” or something like that. I’m unusually consistent in this regard. 
  2. obviously you have to have a pretty specific definition of “fun” for this to apply. 
  3.  the inestimable Tom Lehrer once described what he did as not even preaching to the converted, but “titillating the converted”, and I think of that when things like this come around. I enjoy being titillated, certainly, but I’m not sure it’s the cultural force it’s sometimes confused for being. 
  4.  I also hate to be the guy who says “I hate to be that guy”, a thing that I’m pretty sure isn’t a thing that people say anymore, but which is better than things being “A Thing” in just about every appreciable way. I’m working on not hating so much stuff, so I’m allowing to to stand, and then I’m equivocating about it here, and then I’m owning up to the equivocation. How many words am I wasting doing this? I don’t know, but every time I type another one of them it compounds the problem! 
  5.  and is made even more impressive when you consider that most horror movies that are considered for any award, even this one, are abstracted and made meta-horror in all sorts of ways, which means the actual scare-response requires even more mental gymnastics to come up with. 

A Considered Look at Every Inductee Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Part 12

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a place that I find, as an institution, vexing. The actual, physical hall of fame – the pyramidal building on the lake in Cleveland – is pretty cool, but it is spoken and thought of often as an intangible – as a sort of arbitrating body on the worthiness of the body of rock musicians. My thought, for many years upon surveying lists 1 and the like was to think that they have about a fifty percent success rate for getting it anything like right.

But what if it doesn’t? Previously I listened to and considered each of the best-selling albums of all time, and learned that they were considerably more of a mixed bag than I had thought 2. So what if the inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are the same sort of deal?

And so it’s time to dive in and take a look at what the nominees and their enshrinement actually are.

Click the links for Part 1,Part 2,  Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, and Part 11 of this series.

2006

Black Sabbath

WHO THEY ARE: Pioneers, if not outright inventors, of heavy metal.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: I’ve written previously about the RRHOF’s tricky relationship with several of rock’s subgenres, and Black Sabbath is indicative of the thing that they really don’t want to develop an institutional affinity for. Who the hell doesn’t like Black Sabbath? I mean, at least a little bit. They sold a bajillion records despite being inarticulate, semi-literate weirdos from a deeply unfashionable part of Great Britain because they were that good, and they inspired tens of thousands of bands to sound at least a little bit like them.

AND…?: I maintain that it is true that whatever your favorite flavor of heavy music might be, Black Sabbath probably wrote a song in that mode, and it probably directly inspired your favorite heavy band. For all that they’re beloved, they’re also probably under-rated.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes.

Blondie

WHO THEY WERE: Punk’s premier disco band.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Because Debbie Harry caused a lot of boners in the seventies? Because there are a bunch of these people that secretly wanted to love disco but needed it dressed in different clothes? They’re were very popular, and I suppose in the sense that they showed how to be completely and utterly mercenary about your music and what is done with it by labels, etc., they were also influential.

AND…?: Fuck ‘em.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: No

Miles Davis

WHO HE IS: Inhumanly talented and innovated jazz trumpeter

WHY HE’S HERE: Because it’s been a few years since the genre-blob that ate all things decided to subsume someone who wasn’t a part of rock and roll, I guess. He did sort of invent Jazz Fusion with Bitches Brew and A Tribute to Jack Johnson and that, but blaming him for Weather Report seems a little unfair to him.

AND…?: There’s some all-time great music in there. None of it is actually rock and roll, and you’d think I’d be done being surprised at this point, but hey! I guess I’m not!

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: If he were in the influences category, maybe. I mean, under the rules of the RRHOF he’s probably fine to be in there, but this is one is particularly rankling, not only because it’s a non-rock-and-roll performer, but because if you were always going to induct Miles Davis anyway, why did you wait so goddamned long?

Lynyrd Skynyrd

WHO THEY WERE: America’s foremost southern rock band

WHY THEY’RE HERE: In addition to the usual “sold a bunch of records” reasons, they gave the world one of the most annoying and omnipresent jokes that ran all the way to the mid-aughts where people yelled “Freebird!” at anyone holding a guitar.

AND…?: Eh. I don’t like them enough to feel they belong, but they’re better than the Allman Brothers, who were inducted ten years earlier. That seems dumb.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really

Sex Pistols

WHO THEY ARE: The Ramones of British punk

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Despite decades of their former-manager doing everything in his power to muddy and/or negate their formidable legacy, and several decades of their former frontman being a world-class cock 3, the Sex Pistols are pretty undeniable in terms of having been a great, influential, powerful (to the people to whom they were powerful) rock band, and the fact that that has stood up to years of the aforementioned meddling and an association (by way of name-checking) with some of the worst music ever made is a better argument for them as a band than just about anything one could write about them.

AND…?: Their music pretty much entirely fails to move me, but I get it, and I’m not sad to see them here or to go to bat for them.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss

WHO THEY ARE: They’re the founders of A&M (Alpert & Moss) records and, as of the time of this typing, the last inductees in the “lifetime achievement” category.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: A&M Records was a big ol’ label with a bunch of big ol’ bands on it, and label dudes get inducted regularly.

AND…?: A perusal of A&M’s signees reveals almost nothing that I would rather have in the world than not, which is some kind of crazy-low batting average. That said, a bunch of it was super-popular, so clearly there’s business forces at work here.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Not really, no.

2007

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

WHO THEY ARE: An early rap group that had early rap hits.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: The RRHOF has, as of this point, started dipping their toes into recognizing hip-hop, and this is a pretty tough choice to argue with. They were popular, but their hits weren’t novelty hits, as were so many of the rap hits prior to Grandmaster Flash. They were influential in the way that any early performer in an idiom is influential, even if most of what was going on there would quickly be done better by other folks.

AND…?: The idea to sample “Cavern” is not one that I would have thought of, and while “White Lines” isn’t as good as “Cavern”, I still like it every time I hear it. That’s about it, as far as my personal opinion of Grandmaster Flash is concerned.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Sure. I can’t put up fences about rap, given how much stuff is in here that has nothing to do with Rock and Roll on the other end (see above w/r/t Miles Davis, and also much previously written in previous installments).

REM

WHO THEY ARE: Athens, Georgia’s longest-running rock band, a perennially unlikely candidate for a group of rock stars, and probably the best-known power-pop band ever.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Without changing anything about their approach, sound, or selves, they became as famous as anyone could be. This is the sort of thing that I can’t help but applaud, even divorced of the music.

AND…?: I’m trying to keep this brief and devoid of hyperbole, because I love REM almost as much as I love any band that has ever existed, and in their original four-guys-and-their-instruments incarnation, they had a basically perfect run and accomplished things in terms of artistry and, somehow, wild success that I can still only barely fathom, even though much of this accomplishment was before I was aware of them at all.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes.

The Ronettes

WHO THEY ARE: A girl group who was somehow not inducted before now.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: Well, they were very popular and were pretty indicative of the Phil Spector sound. The real question isn’t why they’re here – they’re pretty much catnip for the RRHOF induction folks – but rather why did it take them until 2007? For that latter question, I have basically no answer.

AND…?: They were a lot better than a lot of vocal groups who got in before them, that’s for sure.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Patti Smith

WHO SHE IS: An early woman of punk, among other things.

WHY SHE’S HERE: Her first three records are basically perfect, and she continued to follow her creative muse off in all sorts of directions, regardless of what people wanted or expected from her. Still does, in fact. It’s hard not to enshrine that kind of thing, as previously mentioned many times. She was never as popular as several of the folks here, and she really should have been inducted earlier on her influence alone 4.

AND…?: Oh, I love the Patti Smith that I love and don’t begrudge her the rest of it. She also makes a fantastic character in Please Kill Me.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: Yes

Van Halen

WHO THEY ARE: You know how sometimes you’re on the hook to come up with a brief, preferably-funny or at least non-intrusive way to describe a band for a blog post and the only thing you can actually think to say is “I hate this band so much”? Yeah, I hate this band so much.

WHY THEY’RE HERE: They created a sort of fusion of heavy-metal sound with absolutely zero aggression and a lot of circus-style stage-tricks in the form of their coked-out bouncy ball of a frontman. They brought a high degree of technical skill to the art of not-actually rocking, and generally laid every single brick of ground on the way to the way of a conceptualization of “rock star” and “rock band” that is terrible, and that persists to this day.

AND…?: All of that aside, I will admit that they did what they did genuinely, and they worked hard at it, and I don’t actually find it difficult to imagine why people find it compelling, which puts them light-years ahead of bands that are in their league quality-wise. And Alex Van Halen is a pretty good drummer.

RIGHTFULLY INDUCTED: I’m not going to argue that they aren’t, but I would argue that rock music would be better on the whole if they weren’t the sort of band that seemed sensible to induct, you know what I mean?

Anyway, 2007 is one of those years where it’s only performers that are inducted, and not early influences, non-performers or sidemen, so that wraps it up for this one.


  1.  also the centerpiece of the museum itself, for those that have never been there, is a very long video encapsulating each inducted class, with clips of performances by most of them and things like that, and is generally a pretty cool thing to behold. 
  2.  although they did, as you can read here and going back from there, skew toward “pretty bad” 
  3. although it must also be stated that John Lydon – the world-class cock in question – was also in a band that beats the Sex Pistols at a walk in terms of quality and wildly inventive awesomeness in the form of Public Image, Ltd. 
  4. She was inducted, for example, the same year as REM, and she was REM’s singer’s favorite singer. That alone, you know? 

The Best Records of May 2019

Big Brave – A Gaze Among Them (Apparently I am super-extra here for drone-y heavy metal these days, and this one is an extra-great example of the form)

Flying Lotus – Flamagra (It works better as an album than any of its constituent songs, which is increasingly rare, especially in hip-hop and hip-hop adjacent music, and I’m pretty happy about it.)

Slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain (of course, there’s nothing wrong with just being a great rapper and writing a bunch of great rap songs, either)

Earth – Full Upon Her Burning Lips (twenty years on, Dylan Carlson didn’t quite deliver the sex record we were promised, but he tightened up and stripped down the band’s thing to just he and Adrienne Davies’s drums and it’s their best album in a long time)

Tyler, the Creator – Igor (I don’t think I’ve ever unreservedly liked a Tyler, the Creator record this much, and this one was as satisfying as it was surprising. Good job, that.)

Who the Fuck Listens to This: Morrissey – California Son

So Morrissey, yeah? He almost never comes up around here 1, and that’s because I have carefully arranged my life so that I basically never think about him.

Nevertheless, he intrudes occasionally upon my thoughts, and here he is now, having made a record of other people’s songs for….a reason that probably only makes sense to him. If there even is a reason, as there may not be (about which see below).

I’m not going to overburden this here piece with my opinion of Morrissey, although here’s a footnote 2 if you don’t know it, because this really isn’t about my opinion of Morrissey, but rather about one of the most weirdly-miscalculated and unpredictable people “working” in music today, and his weird decision to make a covers album.

Covers albums have become something of a staple here in WTFLTT-land, having come up several times previously 3, and this one seemed like such a self-lighting conflagration that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to actually hear it.

See, because whatever else Morrissey has done and has been doing, he has managed to spend the last couple of years completely alienating his extant fanbase 4. That’s why he’s gone over into WTFLTT-dom: who is still around and loyal to/curious enough about Morrissey to listen to this record of covers?

Morrissey himself appears to be positioning the material, and the record itself, as its own commentary on his uh….evolving public image. He did no real press for it (a couple of tv appearances where he plays songs from the record notwithstanding), and has yet to comment much on it as itself. The songs include some AM fluff, a Bob Dylan song that makes a clever, nuanced point that is almost certainly turned on its head, and a couple of genuinely-good songs that are turned into weird karaoke manglings. But lyrically, this is all stuff that clearly influenced Morrissey, or that Morrissey has genuine affection for, even if it seems like the only reason he’s recording it is to play some dumb, tiresome “see what I’m doing here?” game.

But of course, that’s sort of been Morrissey’s whole thing the whole time. Morrissey is, despite being a thoroughly reprehensible person with some awful political leanings, not an idiot, and has spent as much of his music-creating career playing with his public image as not, which makes this part and parcel of his whole thing anyway. He’s still doing the same meta-acknowledgment of what you, the listener, know about Steve-o himself as part of the delivery for his music, which in this case is songs that he didn’t write.

And that’s kind of the problem. The whole time I was researching, listening and conceptualizing this very set of words I ran up against what is, on its face, the primary problem with writing anything about a Morrissey album: I hate every note of it. But outside of my own feelings about it, the whole thing still doesn’t make sense. I hate Kill Uncle or Your Arsenal or You Are the Quarry just as much, but the things that there are to respond to there are pure, unique Morrissey. He wrote his dumb songs about how you already feel or whatever in the interest of illuminating a set of feelings that is, at least, pretty common – there is a certain type of person whose concern is the way that people feel about them, and Morrissey writes songs that speak to those things well. The self-absorption and concern for the thoughts of others that occupy a dim, primitive part of many (if not all) human brains are illuminated and examined, and related to in a way that provides his audience with an ability to identify these same parts of themselves and deal with them in an effective way.

Morrissey was, in his way, the exact sort of thing that I’m inclined to like and go to some lengths to defend: he was doing what he does genuinely, and he was doing it in his own way, and he clearly did not care to alter it for whatever people were out there expecting things of him, even though the entire focus of his oeuvre is exactly about the expectations of those same people. And I’m here for examinations of feelings and reactions that we’d rather not acknowledge as part of our own brains 5. The fact that Morrissey took all of this and turned it into stupid music is probably why I have spent so much time trying to respond to it in the first place 6.

But when he performs other people’s songs, the Morrissey-ness of it is stripped away from everything except the presentation, and you’re sort of left looking at very little. He’s still singing them, and I suppose for whatever joys that holds you’ve got an opportunity to clutch at them, but none of these songs are in his words, so his voice is pretty well wasted on them – each of these songs could almost certainly be sung better by someone else, and the “geddit? GEDDIT?” aspect of the lyrical bent on each of these songs 7 intrudes every single time, and also creates a sort of isolation between the singer and the songs being sung in such a way that I can’t imagine engaging with this music even if I didn’t think that Morrissey’s bleating was as baffling and unmoving as everything else he does musically.

The music itself, then is kind of a trivial point, given that it’s barely-performed by someone who seemed to be more interested in making his point by the mere existence of the record, rather than in any meaningful way through the performances. The songs slide by without drawing much attention to themselves, unless you’re, say, writing a blog post about why anyone would want to listen to this. There are occasional moments of traction – Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocal appearance is weird enough to garner some attention 8, as is the lady who sings on “It’s Over”, and there are a couple of really, truly terrible production decisions on the record, which occasionally are bad enough to make me notice them (there’s a saxophone early on in the album that made me want to shove spoons through my ears, for example).

But the only two points at which the music made me think anything were during the Morrissey parts of “It’s Over”, in which Morrissey fails completely to be half the singer that Roy Orbison was, which lead me to listening to a bunch of Roy Orbison songs and being happy that the world ever had Roy Orbison in it, and wondering why you’d even try to take on a song that Roy Orbison ever sang – not because they’re necessarily better songs (his quality average was right about at the Mendoza line, honestly), but because he could sing the everloving shit out of anything and make it sound better.

Honestly, it’s things like “It’s Over” or the closing “(Some Say) I Got the Devil” 9 that reveal the biggest problem – when he’s almost invested in what he’s doing (he never gets all the way there, but this stuff is the closest), you can hear what he’s pretending to go for, but it’s only ever pretending. This album exists for the sake of the album existing, for him to waggle his public persona in the faces of his fans (or former fans, or the new fans that his political about-face has brought him), and not as a thing to be listened to.

So who the fuck does listen to it? People who are curious about the trainwreck, I suppose. There are probably some Morrissey die-hards who will try to like it, and, as mentioned above, the new political outlook probably drew some attention to him. But honestly, given that it isn’t a document of anything other than one cranky old man’s trolling habit, nobody will probably listen to it, and since doing so is tantamount to rewarding some pretty awful behavior, that’s probably the way it should be.


  1. the numerical majority of mentions on this here space pertain to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 
  2. I loathe virtually all of his music. I don’t like any of his solo music, and can be said to have enjoyed a bare handful of Smiths songs historically, the number of which dwindles to basically nothing at this point. He has occasionally had good guitar players. I also hate his stupid deflating-penguin voice, which is a large part of the selling point for his music, and which leaves me wondering what the hell everyone is hearing. I’m at peace with it. 
  3. here’s the last couple of installments in fact, which are about The Lemonheads and Weezer and, before that, Third Eye Blind. 
  4. aligning himself with marginal white supremacist and/or anti-immigration groups, talking loudly in the press about the demise and defilement of the “proper” Great Britain, stuff like that. The previous several decades of being a cranky, lying, impossible-to-work-with moron seem to slide off everyone’s back, but he’s managed to finally throw people off, which I guess is comforting. It’s nice to see that even Morrissey fans have a bottom to hit. 
  5. It’s among my favorite things, and in fact is the whole reason that I’m into huge whacks of the things that I’m into – because they help me process things that are a part of the repertoire of my own brain’s palette of responses and rationalizations. 
  6. You can plug Scott Walker, Elvis Costello, J. Cole, Janet Jackson, or Young Thug into this paragraph and would only have to change a few words, although none of them leave me as universally and completely unmoved as Morrissey 
  7. you know what, say what you will about the rest of this fucking mess, I’ve thought about the lyrics of this record more than the lyrics of any other record I can remember listening to in the recent past, so I appreciate it for that, anyway. 
  8. I was tempted to be mad about it, but jeez, I don’t know Billie Joe Armstrong’s reasons. He can’t agree with Morrissey politically much, but Willie Nelson sang on that godawful Toby Keith song about how we need more lynchings and the police should be killing more people, and he’s one of my genuine-actual real-life heroes, so people do weird shit sometimes. I mean, Billie Joe Armstrong is no Willie Nelson, but like, you didn’t think I meant that anyway, because how could anyone meant that? That’s crazy. Just crazy. 
  9. actually, it’s this song that almost led to an alternate-universe version of this piece where I spent more time comparing Morrissey to Will Oldham, who’s also a difficult, inconsistent, prickly dude with some iffy political beliefs, and who covered this exact song for my favorite covers record ever made – Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Tortoise’s The Brave and the Bold, which did not flatter Morrissey by its comparison.