Hey guys: The E! True Hollywood Story of E! True Hollywood Story will not be appearing this week on the blog. I’m immersed in trying to complete an essay and it’s taking all of my writing time (plus I am using all my TV time to watch Thomas Ravenel diss the entire cast at what must be the worst dinner party ever on “Southern Charm” and I CAN’T FUCKING WAIT for BastardBowl on “Game of Thrones”). See you next week!
Unless you think Frank McCourt wound up with a nasty heroin habit, I think you can tell I did not end up reading Angela’s Ashes this week. I must have finally wound up donating my copy of AA to the thrift store (I only keep books in my house that I reread, and that shitter had been lingering like a college dropout at a high school party since I read it once back in like ’02 and have not touched it since) and my local library branch didn’t have a copy immediately available. So you’ll have to make do with my review of Smack, which was originally titled Junk when it was published in the UK. Let’s just call it “H” or “The Dragon” while we’re at it—anyone else remember their list of heroin-street-names from health class?
So when I reviewed Trainspotting and was all shocked by heroin, the truth is that I’d read this novel “based on a true story” in high school—not in ’96, but ’98. It was one of those “Here I am browsing at Waldenbooks, wait OMG there is a half-shelf of books for TEENAGERS?!” moments where I also bought Violet and Claire by Francesca Lia Block because I was so (wait for it) gobSMACKed at the idea that someone was actually writing books DESIGNATED FOR MY AGE BRACKET. Shiiiiiit, by then I’d been tramping through books like Scruples and Mary Higgins Clark mysteries (shout-out A Cry in the Night, one of the most FUCKED-UP BOOKS EVER) so I was grateful for the bone Waldenbooks was tossing at me.
The publishers of Smack were obviously trying VERY HARD to combat the inevitable complaints of “This isn’t appropriate for my child! Stop glorifying drug use!” as evidenced by a prominent quote on the back of the book, made by those Super-Critics at Teen People, “Heroin Chic? Far from it.” WHOAAAAA buddy, remember this was ’96 and the public hadn’t backlashed yet—Jaime King was still spotlighting in the media’s fascination with darkly under-eyed waifs with greasy hair, half-dressed and hanging on couches.
But dammit, this book tries to make heroin sound unglamorous! Unfortunately, for teen girls 13-16 (the target audience), you know what sounds great?
- stealing $100 from your parents
- running away to live with this guy you kind-of like
- having a couple of 20-somethings act like demi-parents and take you into their ANARCHYYYY lifestyle and let you do whatever you want
- fucking with your real parents by CALLING THEM EVERY WEEK OR SO (that was the part that killed me—it’s so fucking CRUEL. I GET that we’re supposed to be like “At least Gemma’s parents know she’s alive” but JESUS no one can move on or move forward with that kind of stick-out-your-tongue behavior)
- buying a hot all-black wardrobe (lace-up shirt, short skirt, obvious Doc-knock-offs, tights), getting your hair all did, looking like such a PUNK mystery that when you meet back up with said guy-you-kind-of-like, he doesn’t recognize you and you’re like HEY BITCH and he’s like <dead> YOU ARE SO HOT
Fine, fine, I KNOW what doesn’t sound great:
- going on “the game” (aka prostitution) to afford heroin
- deciding you actually DON’T really like that guy but staying with him because “someone needs to take care of him”
- trying endless times to quit and failing because GUYS DETOXING IS HARD (FTR, though, it just sounds like sweating a lot and getting cramps AKA my period)
- watching your pregnant friend overdose and come back to life and later SHOOT UP IN A BREAST VEIN WHILE BREASTFEEDING (no one who has read this book will ever forget that detail—nicely done, Burgess)
- having a baby with that guy you don’t like and moving back in with your parents ESSENTIALLY NEVER ESCAPING YOUR TOWN like OMG if you had just GONE TO FUCKING COLLEGE OR SOMETHING you could have left and never gone back but NO NO NO fourteen-year-old girls just CAN’T be hemmed in by things like CURFEWS
I haven’t written about the Brit-lingo in this book yet, which was totally flummoxing and that’s why they include a glossary at the back of the book so Americanos like myself can be like “Oh, ‘woolly vest’ means undershirt—I don’t know why anyone would be packing either a true woolly vest or AN UNDERSHIRT since no one wears those but OLD GRANDPAS, but OK thanks for the heads up!” Seriously, though, it’s like A Clockwork Orange (you know, by the OTHER British writer with the last name Burgess) with all the “lekky” (electricity) and “derry” (broke-down house) and “berk” (fool). Gotcha, devotchka.
But there was this fascination I had with this book when I was a teen—I think it was like patting myself on the back that I could vicariously experience drug use without dealing with any consequences; YOU KNOW, because reading about it is totally the same thing! I basically got high too! And I could judge the shit out of all of the characters and be like “You think you’re going to quit this time? YOU ARE A JUNKIE FOOL whoops I mean JUNKIE BERK” without investing myself at all. Heroin was no more real to me than a line in “Can’t Cry Anymore” by Sheryl Crow. I didn’t want to be Gemma and have grody sex with “punters” so I could maintain a constant heroin high and avoid the fact that I wasn’t in love with the boy I’d left home for. I didn’t want her life. But I’d have taken her 100-quid punk-girl all-black outfit.
Up next: The E! True Hollywood Story of E! True Hollywood Story—it’s been twenty years of faux-hind the scenes encounters with E-list celebrities, and I’m going there.
Released June 21, 1996
I can’t DEEEEEEEEAL with this trailer because there is literally ZERO mention of the grodiest Disney villain ever, who slimes his way over too much of this movie to be conveniently “forgotten”: Frollo, aka the guy who KILLED Quasimodo’s mom because she had “the nerve” to be a gypsy, tried to kill the hunchback as a baby but got shamed into keeping him alive by a priest of Notre Dame, DITCHED his “responsibility” to care for the hunchback by insisting this poor damn baby needed to live in A FUCKING TOWER of Notre Dame aka threw the baby back at the priest, then NAMED the baby Quasimodo (half-formed) just to be a dick.
Frollo is so gross—sniffing Esmeralda’s hair like a FUCKING CREEP and singing this nightmarish rape-culture song about how she either needs to fuck him or SHE WILL BURN for having tempted him, and then literally burning down Paris JUST TO FIND HER—but because it’s too obvious, too inapprop for A KIDS’ MOVIE, I want to focus, instead, on Quasimodo as Embodiment of Teenagers Everywhere, because he’s basically a living, breathing Teen Kristine. Awkward as hell, terrible comma-bangs haircut, vacillating between this yearning to be part of a future he is terrified he doesn’t belong in and wanting to hide away back in the dark nooks of his privacy where no one can make fun of him.
And then Quasimodo gets up the nerve to join the world-at-large, known as the town square where he’s been creepin’ on all these people for years, “watching them and their histories” while making a train-table-village full of wooden action figurines OF THEM (it’s kind of like WHOA MAN quit peepin’), and he meets fucking ESMERALDA, who literally pole-dances at the Festival of Fools as ONLOOKERS THROW COINS AT HER.
“What a woman!” declares Phoebus, a John-Smith-Lite leftover from the previous year’s Disney movie, Pocahontas, who has zero character development and is just The Hunky Blonde who you know will “get the girl” in the end. Esmeralda tells Quasimodo, “By the way, great mask!” as Q LOOKS DOWN, SHEEPISHLY PLEASED that she noticed him even though she is totally mocking the way he looks. Like every Hottest Guy in My Class ever.
But maybe the reason I hate Esmeralda most is the way she kisses Quasimodo on the cheek when she’s trying to convince him to leave the cathedral with her for no real reason other than that SHE GETS WHAT SHE WANTS; it’s so patronizing because Esmeralda’s acknowledging that a touch of sexuality will get Q to do whatever she wants but DON’T FORGET, HE’S UGLY so she keeps it on the cheek.
And then there’s the whole fucking gargoyle song, where Q’s “friends” are trying to psych Quasimodo up like there’s a THING between him and Esmeralda.
It was giving me horrible, horrible flashbacks to a certain situation where I had a crush on this boy I knew from biology class and our sisters totally played on the same softball team so we’d see each other at their games and sometimes WE’D EVEN TALK and once we SHARED A BLANKET WHILE SITTING ON THE BLEACHERS because it was cold out and after the school year ended my friends set up this whole situation where we met at “The Lost World” (WHICH HE WAS GOING TO WITHOUT OR WITHOUT ME) and I mistakenly thought it was A DATE but NOPE—his older brother was there too—and I spent the whole movie with my hand awkwardly resting open-palm on the armrest between our seats IN CASE HE WANTED TO HOLD MY HAND (do I even need to mention that he didn’t?) and ACTUALLY NO, all of my friends’ “psyching me up” did not change the truth of the situation: he was not interested, and while they were just trying to be supportive, IT WAS SO MUCH WORSE WHEN IT FAILED.
Quasimodo wants to believe that there’s someone out there who has a crush on him, even though he’s “shaped like a croissant is” (a line I remembered vividly, VERY vividly, from 1996—my siblings and I screamed with laughter). That earnest, painful dream of being wanted even though you’re sure no one could find you attractive. That awful 0.05% of self-esteem that won’t let hope die.
I place all of the blame on those fucking gargoyles when Esmeralda shows back up at the cathedral, friend-zoning Quasimodo and asking him to help Phoebus and she’s all, “Promise you won’t let anything happen to him” and Quasimodo realizes Esmeralda don’t give a fuck about him and at the end of the movie he JOINS HER HAND TO PHOEBUS’S in the most depressing, you-two-pretty-people-go-make-pretty-babies-together-I’ll-just-be-here-crying way, like he’s giving them his blessing (they’re even cheesily wearing wedding-white) and Q just gets to end the movie with a LITTLE PEASANT GIRL FROM THE CROWD taking his hand to show him “kindness” and it’s so infantilizing and utterly asexual and depressing.
Kind of like my teenhood.
Up next: Are there terrible Irish accents and tropes galore? Aye, ’tis. I’m reviewing Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.
Placebo by Placebo
released June 17, 1996
First single: “Come Home,” released April 1, 1996
I can’t tell you how much I just want to write about late-90s Placebo because Brian Molko looked SO much better than his puffy-faced tranquilizer days associated with this album, but this blog is about twenty-years-ago, not sixteen, so I will stay on my own task.
HELL no I wasn’t listening to this in 1996—I was still jamming to, like, SWV and Toni Braxton. I didn’t encounter Placebo until ’98 when Without You I’m Nothing came out and I sampled it using headphones at one of those “listening kiosks” that used to be in music stores. Remember music stores? I barely do. Anyway, the first time I heard Brian Molko’s voice, I was like “WTF is this whiny girl-man?” But I couldn’t get it out of my head, and I was confused by how interested I was. Another thing I couldn’t get? Without You I’m Nothing. How was I going to bring home a CD opening with the lyrics “A friend in need’s a friend indeed—a friend with weed is better”? I wasn’t.
So I didn’t buy any Placebo CDs until (everyone all together here:) I was out of my parents’ house. I told you I was a champion at being The Most Respectful of My Parents’ Sensibilities Ever. By the time I was out of their house, Black Market Music had been released and after I bought, inexplicably, the Japanese release (which includes the Placebo + Bowie version of “Without You I’m Nothing” and the cover of Depeche Mode’s “I Feel You”), I was FUCKING IN LOVE WITH PLACEBO. Like in love like WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL OF MY LIFE; in love like downloading-every-Placebo-song-I-could-find-off-Napster, in love like Googling-pics-of-Brian-Molko.
And maybe you haven’t seen the video for “Taste in Men” (from Black Market Music). I don’t actually like the song that much, but I was (ha. “Was.”) OBSESSED with Brian Molko in the video. Like PLEASE WEAR A LONG BLACK COAT FOREVER AND LOOK UP AT THE CAMERA WITH SEXUALLY-FRUSTRATED ENNUI?
I knew I’d do this; I do this with every album I’ve tried to review on this blog. I try to illustrate my love of the band without staying focused on the album in question. And I jitter off course and rhapsodize over how much I fucking love the lead singer. But you have to understand: I learned how to lust in 1996. Music and illicit music videos showed me that there were options outside my town if I wanted a boy who wasn’t chudding out in carpenter jeans and dumb t-shirts—options like the deliciously eyelined Brian Molko. It was heady stuff, and listening to the music I discovered during my teens sends me back there, still, to that slightly-opened-mouth teenage girl breathing heavy at the sight of a slightly-older boy eyefucking the camera while singing words that seemed like he’d reached his hand inside my heart and pulled them out.
The videos for all of these Placebo songs are semi-embarrassing. Ok, not semi—they’re just straight-up embarrassing. Why did the video producers insist on constantly zooming in on Brian’s face as he flared his eyes? I don’t know. I wish I knew. But what I do know is that if you’re going to have someone whining, “Since I was born I started to decay. Now nothing ever, ever goes my way,” you might as well have Brian Molko behind the mike. Teenage Angst!
Please, I’m just going to ask you to play the song and not watch the video because Molko looks TERRIBLE in it. It’s like SOMEONE TRIED TO DO ME ACHE (it’s what I’m afraid of).
Seriously, the video for “Come Home” is almost excruciating to watch. Silver lipstick has never looked good on ANYBODY! ANYBODY! And it’s so low-budget and all they can do is zoom in on Molko’s clenched teeth. Like why?
It’s not that I love the song but not the singer (as you should be able to tell by this point in the post), but more that as I’m writing this, I realize how frustrating it is to know the past will catch you up as you run faster—the twisting feeling in my guts when I re-listen to these songs because I remember how alienating it felt to be focused on a band fronted by a lead singer who looked like a gorgeous girl-man, whose nasal voice turned off almost everyone, and how I couldn’t understand my attraction to something so different than what everyone else liked.
The detached body parts in the video for “Nancy Boy” are really fucked up, as is the appearance of a Human Centipede-ish creature, like, thirteen years before the movie.
I mean, y’all, beyond presenting these videos, I don’t really know what I can say about Placebo in ’96. Molko wasn’t as hot as he would be, the sound was still pretty rough (the band acquired Steve Hewitt as the drummer right after this album and he smoothed it all out), but I can’t dismiss the album. It’s the origin story of THIS: (from 2003)
Jesus Christ. The sexiest thing in the entire world EVER.
Oh God—it’s my blog, if I want to throw this at you, I CAN.
<yes yes yes yes yes>
I can’t stay in ’96 on this blog post because Placebo wasn’t on my radar in ’96. But I feel obligated to include them in this series because once I found Placebo, I was never the same. I can’t count the number of lyrics that I nasally sing in my head (because BLESS IT ALL, Molko sings in the same register I have) throughout the course of a week. I head downstairs to go to work in my office and I’m hearing, “I’m in the basement, baby, drop on by.” When I’m waiting for my husband to get home, I think-sing, “Come hooooo-ome.” I have never done Special K or heroin or Nembutal or any of the thousands of other drugs Brian Molko name-checks in Placebo’s song catalog, but it doesn’t matter—he sings, and it’s one fluid gesture, like stepping back in time to the outcast crouching inside the fourteen-year-old me, the sinuous energy, the furious sexuality: I’m trapped in amber, petrified, but still not satisfied.
Up next: Pious judges wanting to rape gypsy women, a festival with no purpose beyond making fun of people, and a deformed man deemed “great” but ultimately unfuckable: keeping it kid-friendly, I’m reviewing Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Once you’ve gotten to the “invitation,” you’ve already listened to the most emotionally-damaging lyrics known to humankind: the theme song for TLC’s “A Wedding Story.” Later editions of the program have apparently eliminated the words, leaving just the maudlin flute, but during the years in the late 90s when I spent entire summers lounging on my best friend Emily’s couch, judging and mocking and fantasizing about the weddings on “A Wedding Story,” we knew it was about to go down when some silky-voiced man sang the following lyrics:
And when the spark of youth someday surrenders
I will have your hand to see me through
The years may come and go
But there’s one thing I know:
Love is all there is when I’m with you
I can’t count how many hours of my life have had that song beating a tattoo in my subconscious. I can hear it clear as day right now, even as his voice crescendoed to warble during the part of the second line, “See ME throughhhhh.” What did I learn from this? What did I internalize? The key element: that our sparks of youth, which would be the only things binding my future husband and I together, would surrender one day, and we would be so uncool, so exhausted, so beaten down by life, that at least we would have each other and we could call it “love.”
It was a horrifying prospect for a girl who hadn’t even begun to date.
The “Stories” on TLC proceeded in a natural order—you’d have “A Makeover Story,” followed by “A Dating Story,” and then “A Wedding Story,” concluding with, OF COURSE, “A Baby Story,” which Emily and I skipped more often than not because how many times can you watch a woman give birth? Especially since over half of the births were C-sections so all we’d see was the operating room. These stories gave order to my understanding of what was to come: I would need a makeover, obviously, which would render me eligible to be dated and eventually proposed to. We made pacts, Emily and I, that we would SO DEFINITELY apply to be on “A Wedding Story” when we got engaged (spoiler alert: neither of us did); we were also so insecure that we argued over who would get engaged first, both of us believing it would be the other, and bet $100 to be paid to the “losing” party—the one who had to get engaged last—like some kind of depressing consolation prize.
We hollered at women with big satin bows on their asses, weird headbands in place of veils, and God forbid anyone tried to get married anywhere other than a traditional venue. I developed my distaste for tuxedos and cummerbunds, for unity candles (especially the kind that looked like they got bought at Candle Works in the mall), and for dumb ring-on-the-dessert proposals. The woman who got married at a horse show lingers in my subconscious, for more reasons than one: her mother told the camera, weeping, that “We never thought this would happen; it was the impossible dream.” She was not talking about the impossibility of getting to pull off the wedding at a horse show; she was talking about the impossibility of her daughter ever being marriageable. It was so humiliating. The daughter was like 28.
We were snarky because we were teenagers. We were snarky because we thought we’d know how to do it better when our turn came. We were snarky because we were afraid of being that horse-show bride. In the spirit of those languorous air-conditioned summers, waiting for our lives to begin, settling our nerves by judging others, I am about to provide:
A Snarky Recap of the Wendy & Chris Episode of “A Wedding Story” on TLC, which aired in 2004. Wendy and/or Chris, I’m sorry. I hope you guys are happily attending Floridian Ren Faires.
Let’s just get this out of the way: it is never, never, NEVER a good idea to lead with a weight-loss story. This is not a weight-loss wedding. It is a wedding between a bride and a groom, not a showcase for how you lost weight. That will always only result in terrible, demeaning comments like Chris’s aside, “It’s like falling in love all over again.”
Also, Wendy was widowed at 24. WIDOWED AT 24! Holy Jesus, I was just getting MARRIED at 24. Wait—it gets worse—the groom-to-be was one of her late husband’s best friends. AAAAAAAAAAAA doesn’t that go against bro-code? Chris describes Wendy as “the sister I never had” and informs us that he was “asked to take care of Wendy” by his best friend on his deathbed. THIS IS SO GWTW Melanie-Ashley-Scarlett I can’t deal with it.
So Wendy gains weight because she’s depressed (understandably), hangs out with Chris all the time, and tells him, a year into her widowhood, that she wants to date him. And Chris says NOT RIGHT NOW, THANKS. Duuuuuuuude, I can’t even imagine what it took for Wendy to cross that bridge where she’s ASKING OUT HER HUSBAND’S BEST FRIEND and guy is all “Yeah, no thanks.” But persistence is what makes dreams happen, people, because FOUR MORE YEARS LATER Chris comes around and decides he’s ready NOT ONLY TO DATE HER, but to, like, instantly tell her he loves her.
The speed is breathtaking!
Wendy, unfortunately, confides to the camera that “Since he proposed, I lost 100 more pounds,” intimating that a proposal was the only thing that could have made her want to lose weight. Chris, you douche, you could have proposed like FOUR YEARS EARLIER and she wouldn’t have gained another 100 pounds, but whatev.
I get it, I get that this was in 2004, but when we open the scene in Medieval Times and voice-over that this is their bachelor/bachelorette party because “both of us are really into fantasy,”and that “there is definitely a medieval quality about our love story,” I am snorting my water and screaming, to a three-states-away-Emily, CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?! Like are there peasants and chamberpots being emptied into the streets and NO THE BEST MAN DID NOT JUST SAY “It truly is going to be like a new reign in Camelot.”
HOLD YOUR SHIT FOR ONE MINUTE TO CONSIDER THE COMPARISON THEY JUST MADE: dead ex-husband is like King Arthur and Wendy is Guinevere who FAMOUSLY HAS AN AFFAIR with Arthur’s knight Lancelot WHO IS CHRIS and it is like THEY ARE ADMITTING HOW WRONG THIS IS and DECLARING IT IS ALL RIGHT.
Is it a surprise that they are having “a medieval fantasy wedding” which is frequently described as by both Wendy and Chris as ideally “being like a show?” Like I don’t even have to write why this is not okay.
Wendy plans to “knight Chris as my protector,” and there is an awkward fourteen-year-old dressed as a fairy and it is too familiar for comfort because I wore those same wings when I dressed as a fairy—FOR HALLOWEEN.
Wendy and the party get their hair done at Fantastic Sam’s, and this is where I feel like the editors are just being mean—there is no need to show us that Wendy is not at a high-end salon. Her front-hanging strands of hair are cruel enough.
The wedding is basically as expected—although when Chris offers Wendy the ring on the tip of a sword I held my breath like WHAT IF SHE CUTS HERSELF? and then Wendy dumps his ring into a chalice which she immediately inverts on Chris’s palm and I was like WHAT WAS THE POINT OF THIS CHALICE?
Wendy’s penultimate quote as they’re eating cake (thank GOD there was not a cake-smash, one of my most immediate condemnations—if my husband had tried that shit at our wedding, I would have cried and asked for an annulment): “..he was there for me, and rescued me.” Wendy: aiding and abetting the skewed trope of why women should enter into marriage.
You thought you were going to escape this post without that song, didn’t you?
23:25.(It’s a weird, jazzier version that the one from the late 90s, so they must have [nightmarishly] gotten the artist to re-record it.)
The years HAVE come and gone, but there’s one thing I know: twenty years later, that song still transports me right back to the strident, unformed girls my best friend and I were, the fear we’d never be loved paired with the comfort that, if against all odds some man was willing to take either of us on, the one left behind would at least be $100 richer.
Up next: One fluid gesture, like stepping back in time—I’m reviewing Placebo’s debut album Placebo.
Let me get this straight—we’re not talking about the movie in this post, we’re talking about the book. We’re also not talking about the original article Jon Krakauer wrote for Outside in 1993, because the book is just an expansion of that article and I didn’t read the article, I read the big book. We’re also not talking about the movie, again, because it makes me want to throw things at the screen, like Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, because the filmmakers got certain, crucial aspects SO WRONG that it’s painful.
So that there can be absolutely no uncertainty on this point, Author Bias is coming at your face and screaming that Christopher McCandless was not a role model for any form of enlightenment and canonizing him into an example of how “I could totally do the same thing I just would pack enough food and scout out my surroundings better HE WAS ONTO SOMETHING!” is as dangerous as thinking Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty’s road-trips across America are a rite of passage for all idealistic white-middle-class males (though a quick survey of male English majors would have you think otherwise).
I probably would have thought His Ideals Were Dreamy if I was coming from a place of equilibrium, but I wasn’t a coddled fourteen-year-old fantasizing about adventure when I first read Into the Wild; I was post-college, in a house I owned with my husband, caring for my toddler—about as far away from an unattached McCandless as I could be. McCandless probably would have shook his head at my “sell-out” if he’d seen my life. And maybe that’s what bothered me most about Chris McCandless’s story: I didn’t like how judgmental he was, how he tried to convert people he met to live “his life.” Like Ron Franz, the old guy McCandless met in Salton City, who ACTUALLY DITCHED HIS LIFE to live like McCandless (no like he literally sold all of his shit and his house and moved out to a campsite because McCandless was like “DON’T HESITATE OR ALLOW YOURSELF TO MAKE EXCUSES” and Ron was like OK OK). That isn’t what everyone wants, or needs.
At fourteen, I wanted nothing more than to NOT be wandering. My parents had moved my 6mo-old brother and me from Indiana to Oregon when I was three; a move I vaguely remembered, and I spent a joyous, if poor, childhood in Oregon as my dad worked and eventually completed his doctorate. When he finished his degree and took a job across the country in North Carolina, it shook out all the complacency I’d unwittingly been gathering from the folds of my heart, and profoundly unsettled me. For four years, I tried to reconstruct who I was and had been—an impossible task, considering that I was a pre-adolescent and was growing as a PERSON, but I blamed my confusion on THE MOVE! IT WAS ALL THE MOVE’S FAULT!—and when we relocated one final time, back to Indiana (though to a different town than the one I’d been born into), I was world-weary and just wanted to fucking GO HOME to Oregon, the only place I could remember being happy.
This was an impossible pursuit, one which would take me another decade to fully give up—believing that there was a way to go back to who I was by going back to where I was—before recognizing that I could only move forward, dragging my pain like Marley’s chains, because the links locked long ago. The best I hoped for was a place to rest. I didn’t consider it a sell-out years later when my husband and I linked arms and sat down on our self-designated homeland, far away from Oregon; I still cry with relief when I am flying back into our airport, driving the highways back home; returning, in some way or another, to the only place I have ever gotten to designate as mine.
So maybe it’s obvious I couldn’t relate to McCandless and his adolescent ennui. He wanted to chase a life where his nerves stayed exposed because he felt like he was real; I sought a life where I could soothe my nerves with the balm of belonging. This shit has been going on for generations (see Everett Ruess, Timothy Treadwell, etc etc); my problem lies in their inability to accept that their version of “authentic” is not the same as another’s, and that there is no empirical “truth,” and that pursuing a stasis in the Midwest in a suburban home is no less authentic than McCandless’s search for self-sufficiency: we both value what we seek, and we both sacrifice for the life we want.
Up next: We’re going there, and it’s getting real—I’m reviewing the TV show with the greatest impact on my emotional development: TLC’s A Wedding Story
Released September 20, 1996
First of all, GASPING because when Bette Midler is confronting Goldie Hawn over her “work” in the trailer, Bette says, “Did you get just a little done, or the full IVANA?” and in the movie, that line is ED-I-TED to say “…or the full ENCHILADA?” Was there a SCANDAL where Ivana refused to allow them to use her cameo or her “signature” tag line (which is plastered on the movie poster—”Don’t get mad: get everything”) if they didn’t change the line?!?
But anyway, an-y-way: you get the basic plot now—three women whose husbands left them for younger women go seeking revenge on the men. THE MEN, not the other women. But the details that are left out in that trailer! The movie opens with a really, really dark scene where the threesome’s FOURTH friend-member (played by Rizzo aka Stockard Channing), writes suicide notes to her friends, gives away her matching-BFF-pearl-necklace to THE MAID, and jumps off her high apartment balcony because HER HUSBAND HAD JUST GOTTEN REMARRIED. Really? REALLY?
So we have Rizzo’s husband leaving her for Heather Locklear, Diane Keaton’s husband leaving her for Marcia Gay Harden (their couples’ therapist), Bette Midler’s husband leaving her for Sarah Jessica Parker, and Goldie Hawn’s husband leaving her for Elizabeth Berkley (the least plausible situation in all of these). We are supposed to side with the first wives, OBVIOUSLY: Diane is a doormat, Elise is vain and alcoholic, Bette is “plump,” which is probably the hardest thing to handle in this—she looks like a mom. Is that a REASON TO LEAVE SOMEONE? It must be, because the screenwriters give Bette several terrible, terrible lines to make Mom Figures Feel Better—in one scene, Bette is looking at a totally normal-for-1996 black slip dress and she moans, “Who’s supposed to wear this? Some anorexic teenager? Some fetus?” Naturally, SJP comes out of the dressing room wearing it and Bette sneers, “My, my, the bulimia certainly has paid off.”
Listen, Sensitivo over here is about to rampage: I fucking hate slurs hurled at slender women WHO ARE JUST BEING SLENDER WOMEN and in 1996 I WAS A SLENDER WOMAN who was constantly accused of being anorexic/bulimic THOUGH I WAS NOT, so even though I started my rewatch of this movie in 2016 feeling kinda sorry for Bette Midler’s character because hey, now I’VE GOT MOM-BOD TOO, there is never, never an excuse to be so fucking insensitive and rude and I STARTED SEEING BETTE AS THIS CRUEL SHREW INSTEAD OF A SYMPATHETIC CHARACTER ONCE SHE SKINNY-SLURRED SJP.
In ’96, when I first saw “The First Wives Club” and Diane Keaton was asking, “We women of the 90s, what is it that we really need?” I was forming my ideas of what I DID really need—like “a boyfriend who holds my hand all the time” and “access to MTV” and “my mom to drop me off at Goodwill more than once a week so I can buy all of the vintage t-shirts.” I suppose I was also forming my ideas of what it would be like to be a married woman, and according to this movie, what married women of the 90s needed was the creation of women’s crisis centers because “a friend of ours died from neglect—we’re going to make sure that never happens to anyone again.”
NEGLECT? Her husband divorced her and married another woman. She DIED from neglect? I mean, not trying to be insensitive here but LIKE REALLY, Cynthia is not exactly a sympathetic cause because she just wrote suicide letters to her “friends” who SHE DIDN’T REACH OUT TO FOR TWENTY-FIVE YEARS until the end and then she cared so little about their friendship that she GAVE AWAY HER BEST-FRIENDS-FOREVER PEARLS TO HER MAID. She aided in her BFF-“neglect!”
But you’re not supposed to dwell on Cynthia’s suicide—again, it’s not even mentioned in the movie trailer. The end sequence is what you’re meant to remember: Bette, Goldie, and Diane, virginally dressed in white suits, hearkening back to their pre-husband days in college, singing a song they sang together in college, telling the world YOU DON’T OWN ME!
But the thing is that no viewer PRESUMED that these men owned them. How is this related to the movie’s point, which is that MEN WHO DITCH THEIR OLD WIVES FOR YOUNGER VERSIONS ARE SHITBAGS and THEY WILL END UP PAYING THEIR FIRST WIVES ALL THE MONEY EVER? Considering that the ladies have their exes over a barrel, constantly signing checks to the First Wives Club Fund, who owns WHO?!
The most troubling information comes at the conclusion, spoken sotto voce by Diane Keaton over the scene with the grand opening of the Cynthia Swann Griffin Crisis Center, that IT WAS OBVIOUS THAT BETTE AND HER HUSBAND WERE RECONCILING.
OBVIOUS? To who?! Where?! Because five seconds earlier, he was leaving his FIANCÉE SJP in this car and saying ONE THING to her like, “No, you’re not Bette,” and then ruefully asking Bette at the party if he’s too old for her (BETTE, not even SJP). I feel conned into rooting for their reconciliation because “they have a teenage son” so FAMILY TOGETHERNESS ETC ETC but after watching the husband spend all this money on SJP while Bette lives in a typically chuddy middle-class apartment and then LET US NOT FORGET THAT HE ACTUALLY GETS ENGAGED TO SJP just because she intimates that she will have sex with him if he proposes (so, so awkward), I AM NOT EXACTLY HOPING IT WORKS OUT between Bette and ex-husband. The dude SUCKS.
Finally, the ladies are supposed to be only 45 years old in the movie. JESUS EFFING CHRIST—anyone following this blog can do the math and understand that’s only TWELVE YEARS OLDER THAN ME—they look so much older than 45 that it scares the shit out of me to think THAT’s supposedly only a decade or so off. Then again, a decade ago I was a taut 23, another decade a callow 13-year-old. Check back for the grand opening of the Hindsight 20/20/20 Age-Crisis Prevention Center.
Up next: I differ with 99.9% of Millennials on the heroism of Christopher McCandless—I’m reviewing Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild.
New Adventures in Hi-Fi by R.E.M.
released September 9, 1996
First single: “E-Bow the Letter,” released August 27, 1996
Buckle up, boys and girls, because while I have famously loved R.E.M. past a point of logic (my friend Jeremy wrote a song for me that was literally all R.E.M. titles mashed together into lyrics with the refrain “Krisssssstine, sixxxxx-teen”), I have also famously loved Michael Stipe (I had a collage of Stipe pix above my lofted bed in college ok fine I’ll post pics from that era) and that tends to drive me off-track in my discussions of R.E.M.
I mean, I get a little distracted
I was, and am, a deeply emotional R.E.M. fan with an encyclopedia of knowledge about their music and members (cough, MICHAEL) today, but in 1996, I was just listening to Eponymous and Monster and TOTALLY UNAWARE OF HI-FI because none of the radio hits from the album were “hits”-enough for my local small-market radio station. Like I did not even hear “Bittersweet Me” or “E-Bow” or “Leave” until I was in college, which was a damn, damn shame since they’re three of the most gorgeous, most TEEN-EMOTION songs in the R.E.M. catalog and I would have prostrated myself (or licked your feet, but is that the sickest move?) in gratitude had I known about them. As it was, I just retroactively fell in love with Hi-Fi in college and it brought those teenage emotions back to life.
Let’s start by talking about “E-Bow the Letter,” a song littered with lyrics I plastered all over my email signatures for years.
(Aluminum, it tastes like fear; adrenaline, it pulls us near)
(Will you show me something that nobody else can see?)
Listening to Patti Smith wail, I’ll take you over was, as I’ve said about Fiona Apple’s lyrics insisting that she could manage teenage boys, one of the things I wanted most myself.
Before we get to the video for “How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us”, I have to include the cover art for the single because I HAVE TO INCLUDE THE COVER ART.
Oh my GOD PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE YES.
Michael wearing a cowboy hat in this video was a visual recall to “Man in the Moon”; I was like oh you want to tip your cowboy hat to me and then AHHH in to the microphone? PLEASE DO. But what’s really great about this video is the boys standing in front of a sign reading “AVAILABLE” as Michael sings about how the west was won and where it got us and then they cover it up with paper and trash because THAT’S WHERE MANIFEST DESTINY GOT US—the belief that this land was “available” and so we “won” it but IT’S LOADED WITH TRASH NOW.
I don’t particularly like “New Test Leper” but I am contractually obligated to include it in this post since R.E.M. did make a video for the song, though they didn’t release it as a single.
It slays that there is no official video to “Leave,” so I have to include a Youtube-r’s rendition because I HAVE TO INCLUDE THIS SONG and I have to include how hard the lyrics crush (Nothing could bring me closer, nothing could bring me here. Where is the road I follow to leave?) because this song is everything about trying to leave emotions, leave people. Listen to the way Michael keens, “Leave it, believe it, leave it all behind.”
I almost can’t deal with”Bittersweet Me”; I want to write down every single effing line because it’s so everything teenage ever.
I move across innocence lost, all flashing pulsar.
How easy you think of all of this as bittersweet me.
I don’t know what I’m hungry for. I don’t know what I want anymore.
You strip down and lay yourself out. I know you can’t fake it. But are you tired and naked?
And then to watch Michael, in the video, mocking himself as he sings “‘You’re so bitter,'” and coming back to the mike to sing SPECIFIC LYRICS, the ones dissing the person he’s writing about. It’s so vindictive! It’s so perfect! I lost my mother-loving mind when I first heard this song, recuperating as a college freshman from my failed-out teenage relationship (yes, from two years prior. YES, FROM TWO YEARS PRIOR) because I was still so bitter, but so FIXATED on how it seemed FIXABLE because it was the only touch of sweetness I’d had. I didn’t know what I was hungry for or what I wanted anymore.
Possibly the best thing about “Electrolite” is how gracefully Michael tells the 20th century to go to sleep. Possibly the best thing about the video is the outfit Bill Berry is wearing at 1:51. But possibly the best thing is the way the video and the lyrics, and the fact that it’s the final song on the final album all four members of R.E.M. would ever make, interact together to create this pretty little melody concluding their time together.
I know what I wanted. I know what I wanted. I know what I wanted this to be. I wanted this to be a blog post about how much I loved R.E.M. and how much I loved Michael Stipe (I said your name. I wore like a badge of teenage) and how New Adventures in Hi-Fi was more than an album, it was a swan song, because I’d never love the subsequent R.E.M. albums the way I came to love Hi-Fi and I’d never have a crush on a man who looked like Michael Stipe ever again because only he could bend my “good hair” requirement. But look: I accomplished it without getting off-track.
I’m not scared. I’m outta here.
Up next: Women getting revenge on their exes? Why did I love this movie BEFORE I EVEN HAD A BOYFRIEND? Inexplicably, I’m reviewing The First Wives Club.
The sound of gurgling bubble-pops means only one thing to those of us who were teens in the late 90s: another half-hour of Pop-Up Video on VH1.
MTV was banned from my house in 1996. Banned before 1996, and banned until I was long gone. Why was it banned? “Inappropriate material for a house with young kids.” Geez, MOM AND DAD, I was fourteen, and my youngest sibling was nine! Give me a break!
As the oldest, I was at a serious social disadvantage in an era when EVERYONE was watching music videos, so I would faux-casually “suggest” we watch MTV when I went to my friends’ houses, and I would study the shit out of the videos, knowing I was probably going get one glance at a music video IN MY LIFE.
Why didn’t I watch MTV when I was home alone? Because I definitely WAS home alone; I got home from school around 3:30 and my parents didn’t get home until after 5. There was more than enough time to watch MTV, but the Fear of Being Told On by my younger siblings (who probably would have appreciated MTV and the cultural capital that came with it) was too strong.
My salvation? My parents, in a decision still inexplicable today, decided that they would sidestep the MTV sin and allow us, instead, to watch VH1 when we moved to the Midwest in 1996. PRETTY MUCH THE SAME VIDEOS, guys. But the swathes of videos were interspliced with The Best Programming Ever, which is what I’m here to talk about today: the program that filled in my music-video-history gaps, all blessings upon Pop-Up Video.
You young folks who never saw Pop-Up Video would be mystified by the premise today–a music video airs, and popping up on the screen, in bubbles, are factoids and trivia vaguely related to the video’s content, the artist, or WHATEVER the creators of Pop-Up Video wanted to write about. You have to remember that Pop-Up Video existed in a basically-pre-Google era (Google existed, but its “presence,” coupled with dial-up Internet, made accessibility to that vast morass of information nothing like what it is today). This was how you got information about your favorite band! Through Pop-Up Video!
To wit: Pop-Up Video is where I learned a piece of trivia I recently used to stump my husband (IN 2016): what does “OMC” stand for?
OTARA MILLIONAIRES CLUB! Otara is a neighborhood in Auckland! And the lead singer of OMC is the ONLY MEMBER! This piece of trivia has clung to my brain for twenty years!
Pop-Up Video is where I learned that Meredith Brooks, the BITCH goddess, was born in Corvallis, Oregon, the town where I’d grown up before we moved to North Carolina!
(It’s really embarrassing watching this video for the first time in almost twenty years and realizing how many of my “dance moves” I appear to have stolen from Meredith Brooks in the “dance party sequence.”)
The fascinating thing about watching Pop-Up Video now is realizing that so many of the “details” they bubble-pop are things that could have only been known by the cast and crew on the set of the videos. This whole series is basically a collection of loose-lipped ship-sinkers from the set, spilling the beans on the backstories, paired with the creators’ biases which reconstruct the “theme” of a video into making fun of the artist. See Jewel’s “Who Will Save Your Soul?” which is set in a bathroom:
There’s so much dang bathroom-related trivia that it comes across really snarky; like they’re trying to call her music (OR HER?) a waste.
And speaking of snarky, I found an article with the creators of Pop-Up Video where they were talking trash about how they were so mean on the video for the Wallflowers’ “One Headlight” that the network made them revise it six times. And in the article they’re STILL talking shit about how Jakob Dylan should have been more “authentic” with the video or some shit instead of “portraying himself as a lady killer” and I tell you what: with that I disagree; always have, always will. JESUS CHRIST JAKOB DYLAN IS SO HOT IN THAT VIDEO and what would have constituted “authenticity” anyway? A video portraying a car with only one headlight? (Wait, my friends and I DID actually make a video showing a car with only one headlight for a driver’s ed project illustrating “ten things you shouldn’t do while driving” and we played “One Headlight” as the background music) It’s like they wanted to damn JD for daring to be attractive AT ALL instead of looking like his father.
(It’s not the Pop-Up Video, but FOR THE LOVE OF JAKOB DYLAN, just ENJOY:)
Another fact from that article that blew my mind: they always led an episode with a video from a current hit song, then a song that was hot in the last year, then one popular within the past three years, one popular within ten years, and then one (which they called “the dessert”) from the archives, the early days of videos.
For me, of course, all the videos were “new,” and the show gave me a source of music trivia I would have never been able to amass on my own, or without VH1.
Really important trivia, like learning in the a-ha video for “Take On Me” that it takes the average man twenty minutes to have an orgasm.
Fade to bubble-gurgling!
Up next: Michael Stipe, I would lick your feet but is that the sickest move?–I’m reviewing R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi
I get really emotional about Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and I get even more emotional about the movie, which is a complete travesty and destroys the beauty and grace and complexity of the book and reduces it into this silly, “Y’all know Crazy Southern Women!” cliche.
I didn’t read this book in 1996. I didn’t read Divine Secrets until sometime around 2001 or 2002—I’m pretty sure I picked my copy up at the same thrift store where I’d bought Bridget Jones’s Diary in college, where it, also, was ubiquitous on the shelves—you know the cover if you know nothing else. And I take issue with the cover since it denigrates the mysticality of Divine Secrets into HEY 1950S WOMEN KNEW HOW TO HAVE FUN!
The basic plot outline: it’s a complex, emotional drama relating through three generations of Central Louisiana women, centering on the relationship between Sidda and her mother, Vivi, but dipping back and forth in time to also illustrate Vivi’s relationship with her mother (Buggy) as an explanation for why Vivi is who she is. Yes, yes—it also focuses on Vivi’s relationship with her best friends since childhood (Caro, Teensy, and Necie)—the oft-remarked-upon Ya-Ya Sisterhood.
Remember that Divine Secrets preceded The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Remember that Divine Secrets preceded Sex and the City. Remember that Divine Secrets preceded Girls. Rebecca Wells took the ethos of Steel Magnolias and channeled it into saying something deeper about four-girl-friendships with Divine Secrets, which is ACTUALLY a sequel to her first book, Little Altars Everywhere, and which I really believe should be required reading for all the four-girl-collectives who start declaiming which character they are. You really want to be Vivi? Remember that she has a lazy eye and sexually-abused Little Shep. This information is totally exorcised from Divine Secrets because Rebecca Wells PRESUMES YOU READ THE FIRST BOOK which more clearly delineated Vivi’s character than Divine Secrets does.
When I first read Divine Secrets, I was nineteen or twenty, about five years away from becoming a mother, although I didn’t know that (I just hoped it). So that scene where Vivi leaves her children after a nightmarish night of dealing with baby diarrhea and baby vomit and the endless bronchitis coughs was like this secret trapdoor I kept in my mind—and the day when my husband had driven himself to the emergency room because he couldn’t stop vomiting and my oldest daughter was running back and forth to the bathroom vomiting on the floor BESIDE the toilet and I went to check on my other daughter and she had quietly diarrhea-d all over the crib sheets and vomited and it covered her hair AND THE WALL, I had my Vivi moment where I thought, “Oh my God. This is where I call someone to come babysit and I put on my floor-length fur coat and I get in the car and I drive away from all of this and MAKE SOMEONE ELSE DEAL.” But I didn’t have anyone to call—which is probably a good thing—so I threw both girls into the tub and changed the sheets and scrubbed the wall and tossed the girls into their carseats so I could go pick up my vomiting husband from the hospital and I came home and cried myself to sleep and woke up congratulating myself on having avoided a Vivi Nervous Breakdown.
I KNOW Divine Secrets succeeds because it’s funny. I KNOW Divine Secrets is as much about Vivi and the Ya-Yas as it is about Vivi and Sidda. But it’s so much deeper, so much more moving than a trite piece about Sassy Southern Women and Their Funny Funny Friendship—it’s about the desperately sad truth that the Ya-Yas are queens of Cenla (Central Louisiana—it took me like five reads to figure out that Thornton is the town they live in and “Cenla” is short for Central Louisiana—THE REGION) but of Cenla alone; their power is in their removed locality and the fact that they stayed put in their hometown. Do you think they’re all alcoholics because THAT’S JUST WHAT HIGH-SPIRITED WOMEN ARE? They’re alcoholics because their lives, delicately balanced on the moon-spun web of their life-long friendship, are ponderous and girdled. Teensy’s mother and daughter literally go crazy. Caro’s husband leaves her after years of marriage + two children because he’s gay. Vivi’s life is a mother-effing mess (her father is physically abusive, her mother emotionally abusive, her high-school sweetheart dies in WWII, her husband is never home, she has too many kids too fast). Just when you think Necie’s only problem is that she dissociates her way out of everything, the follow-up to Divine Secrets (Ya-Yas in Bloom) features her husband as a racist nightmare. All they have is their friendship.
Maybe that’s why I cry every time I read this book. Because I do literally cry every time I read about Lizzie Mitchell and her Beautiere line, and I still cry like a stupid baby when Vivi gives Sidda her diamond ring, because out of all the pain that messed up their youth and their adulthoods and their children are those brief moments of grace, those peeks that remind me there’s a damaged heart desperately seeking tenderness inside every act of anger.
Up next: Remember when Google wasn’t Google and you learned factoids about bands through VH1 and MTV? I’m reviewing Pop-Up Video!