Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Miles of Piles

"Do you want to come upstairs?"

I was 12, and though I’d arrived somewhat late to the pheromones party, I’d seen enough movies to know that a question of this ilk was Admission: Granted in the dating game’s application process. Besides, I had almost expected the invitation for ascent, for earlier in the day I’d made a not-so-disparaging remark about ballet, which for preteen males is radical progressivism.

"Yeah. Let’s go upstairs."

This being one of my first solo forays into the female habitat, all the anatomical differences between boys’ and girls’ rooms frightened away my mojo. Soft pastel colors. Incense sticks in incense stick holders. A pink computer. Real furniture. Posters of bands I hated. An embroidered army of throw pillows.

There would be more girls’ rooms in my future, and somewhere along the evolutionary way, there would be womens’ rooms, in different countries and belonging to different economic communities. At that moment, however, on the literal threshold of what I thought would be my Man-itiation, the Crate and Barrel aesthetic was impenetrable. How can I impose myself here, and on this person, whose living space is more meticulously arranged than a mile of dominoes? This girl, all seven grades of her, was made of tougher stuff.

Beset by macro concerns about sexuality, gender, and where to sit if the bed was made, my immediate fate was determined by the room’s lone unordered element: clothing. Heaps of all styles, shapes, and identities—shirts, pants, dresses, socks, underwear (well, at least that was cool), skirts, tubes, tanks, and everything else—lay strewn about. The collection on the floor was quickly bloated by a cascade of garments from the dresser, which my friend was emptying with gusto.

“Sooo…I have to make piles,” she said, tossing handfuls of tees across the room. “And the thing is, I don’t really know what’s small on me and what’s not, so I’m just going to make piles of what I think I don't want anymore, and I’ll go through them with my mom tomorrow.”

It’s a scene that would replay itself dozens of times, and I read it correctly right away: Naughty stuff was not about to go down.

Indeed, piles of clothing are a disappointingly clear part of the male-female cipher. If they exist on or around a girl’s (or woman’s) floor, sex is not the offing. Luckily, men don’t have to participate in the ritualized folding, collating, and decision-making. This is probably because women realized long ago that, in all things couture, we have no idea what the hell we’re talking about.

Our sartorial sense never develops, even after years of watching our friends, girlfriends, and wives do the exact same thing over and over. Last night, I sat not five feet from two girls while they separated apparel into piles. I did not help, did not offer to help, and did not learn anything. Generations of men have had the same MO, and, barring heterosexuality's extinction, it will remain so.

The lesson in all of this?

Have a girl over to your place.

Stay Sorted, Piles
DJ Dresser

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Put That Kid On a Leash!

Memo to anyone attempting to cultivate an even more belittling application for the term “love handle.”

Your work is done.

It was done for you, actually, by Liberte Apparel, a Long Island-based company edging us one dimension closer to hell.

Behold: "The Love Handle."

The issue of child leashes is contentious, or at least would appear to be so based upon the amount of stand-up comedy that addresses the subject. Central to the discussion is a single observation: putting your kid on a leash makes them look like a dog. Especially in urban centers, it takes a double- or triple-take to determine which species of creature is housed within the shackles. Seeing a child leash in action is psychedelically horrifying, a sight so scary, dehumanized, and outlandish that it should only exist in Hunter S. Thompson’s posthumous flashbacks.

Liberte Apparel’s site offers a fantastically flimsy defense for The Love Handle. To wit:

“The Love Handle® gives today’s multi-tasking parents (and grandparents!) an extra hand, and allows children to express their independence outside the confines of a stroller, while safely within arm’s reach.”

The essential question is, how much more multi-tasking do today’s child-toting adults perform than they did 20, 30, 100 years ago? We might live in a multitasked world, and professional lives might employ more gadgets, but when you actually have a child in tow, the basic setup is the same: one hand for the kid, one hand available. If a child is already walking, then it makes no difference whether you use your non-smartphone hand to hold the child’s hand or to grab the end of a leash.

As for letting children “express their independence outside the confines of a stroller?” To quote Cartman, I hate hippies. I wanna kick ‘em in the nuts. What does "expressing their independence" mean? What kind emancipation are we talking about, and how, exactly, does canine-level treatment let kids express it? I may not be a child psychologist (or a hippie), but perhaps a more expressive form of outside-the-stroller freedom would be…um…regular walking.

"The Love Handle® is fully self-adjusting and fits children of all sizes from the time they take their first steps as toddlers, and for years to come."

How many years, exactly? Evidently, Liberte Apparel intends for parents to use The Love Handle for years untold; perhaps even decades. If my parents put me in a Love Handle back in 1985, would I still be in it now? Moreover, would it not be humiliating for a child to amble up to pre-school in a Love Handle? Is that not psychological abuse? And if you're in that kid's class, you have to kick his/her ass. Schoolyard laws dictate it. By direct causation, putting your child in a Love Handle is tantamount to physical harm.

"With The Love Handle® adults look hip, and kids keep their dignity intact."

Really? Like, really really? Did you see the video? When the woman puts the handle through the shoulder loop, it looks like she is about to string up that poor little girl like a birdhouse. There is no dignity—repeat: THERE IS NO DIGNITY—in wearing a leash. That’s why dogs wear them, and humans do not.

While it might be nice, furthermore, for parents to think they’ll look hip with The Love Handle, it is very difficult to look voguish when you're walking your kid like a pet.

It doesn’t matter that The Love Handle comes in a variety of designs with post-modern names. Carnival Candy, Raspberry Tie Dye, Sunburst, and Robin Stripe should all be renamed “Subhuman Idiocy” and eliminated from the global marketplace.

We’ve let this tyranny go on for too long.

Stay Strollered, Kids
DJ Dog Leash

Monday, July 21, 2008

Seeing Bread

I saw an erect penis poking out of a pair of shorts while its owner casually asked a group of guys if they had a condom. I saw a Porta Potty with one type of human waste on the walls and two more in the toilet. I saw a dreadlocked girl scrunch her face and wonder how it came about, at this same festival one year ago, that she statutorily raped a high school student. I saw the beating sun cook up a toxic miasma of hippie sweat, body odor, and septic overflow. I saw Snoop Dogg.

I saw a lot of things at this year’s installment of Camp Bisco—the seventh, if you’re counting—but what I mainly saw were white people. Nearly everyone roaming the Indian Lookout Country Club’s sprawling grounds, from the Hells Angels security detail to the thousands of scared-to-death-of-Hells-Angels attendees, was woefully Caucasian. So Caucasian, in fact, that during his performance, a bewildered Snoop repeatedly asked the crowd if we were ready to hear 311—despite the fact that 311, currently touring with the estimable Dogg, were not there.

Camp Bisco was not unlike its myriad counterparts dotting the neo-counterculture summer landscape. Music and camping events, typically held over weekends, have sprung up everywhere from Masontown, West Virginia (All Good), to Lawrence, Kansas (Wakarusa), to piney Mariaville, New York (Camp Bisco). The format, by now, is wonderfully formulaic. Organizers mash a few famous acts with a buffet of no-names, place the concert stages in the midst of vast dirt fields, and then make sure that it rains. If you’ve been to any of the summer festivals, you’ve already deciphered these answers for yourself: yes, mud comes out of leg hair fairly painlessly; no, I would not like to purchase the drugs you’re selling; yes, you’re better off peeing in the woods than anywhere else; and, actually, what drugs are you selling?

While the specter of a drug-addled, sound-tracked vacation should be universally appealing, the reality is a bit more antebellum. A festival is where Whiteness goes to regroup and have a self-affirming experience before returning to its one-bedroom apartment above Mitt Romney’s house. The pasty crowds don’t dance so much as they get rickety and throw glow sticks at people several rows in front of them. Glow stick culture, moreover, operates along a quirkily white hierarchy, wherein people who wear many of them are almost as cool as people who fashion spinning glow stick wheels, while both groups look up to the Glow Stick Kings—the luminescent lords who sell the toxin-filled tubes to other white people for bizarre prices.

And where would any concentration of Whiteness be without some better-living hypocrisy? Not at a festival, that’s for sure. Drug dealers, after failing to sell you MDMA, ask if you’d rather sassafras, an all-natural alternative to MDMA that is better, they say, since…well…MDMA is bad for you. Birkenstockers preach Green while ingesting a series of chemicals and foods more inorganic than Angelina Jolie’s immediate family. It’s all hilarious (and a lot of it’s on videotape), and about as swarthy as the American picket fence.

Camp Bisco is particularly egregious, since its eponymous band, The Disco Biscuits (who both organize and headline the event), are the whitest band of all time (if you can stand the anti-Motown pallor, click on the Biscuits picture above, snapped on CB7 premises by photojournalist extraordinaire Robust). I have seen the Disco Biscuits on more than a dozen occasions, including two Camp Biscos, and have come up with the following bio: they are four white dudes who dress like each of the four archetypal White Guys (punk, prep, slob, and skater, respectively), play music with no groove, and have an almost exclusively white fan base. The Disco Biscuits are so white, in fact, that they were recently awarded their own genre: “Jamtronica.” Doesn’t sound too bad? Consider this: most non-white musics—funk, jazz, blues, soul, rap, rock—have one syllable.

“Jamtronica,” besides for sounding ridiculous, has four.

Conclusion: The Disco Biscuits are four times whiter than they should be.

Let there be no misunderstanding—festivals, Camp Bisco included, are completely egalitarian. Anyone and everyone is welcome, from tatterdemalion vagrants to RV-rearing VIPs. That they’ve become the Whiteness War Room is simply a sad, weakly pigmented aside.

But I can only report what I saw.

Stay Sassy, Frassy
DJ Dogg

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Sea Monster Surfaces in New York

In a large oblong room with raised ceilings and a faded brick veneer, Shmuel Levy was picking up the pieces of his scattered songbook. “This is terrible,” he muttered, crawling along the floor, examining more than 100 three-hole-punched sheets that just a moment before had spiraled from his black music binder. “This is a really terrible thing.”

An Israeli by way of Casablanca, Morocco, Levy cut an odd prostrate figure. With a silver-burnished beard, foot-long sidelocks and incandescent spheres for eyes, the singer-songwriter who goes by the stage name “LevYatan” — homage to “leviathan,” a biblical sea monster — looks half-beatnik, half-Bible.

To see Levy sprawled and stammering in an office-cum-rehearsal space in Brooklyn seems all the more strange after realizing that he isn’t much of a stickler for organization. Though, at the time of this interview, he has a number of shows scheduled at Manhattan’s Sullivan Hall in the coming weeks, Levy only recently (May 21) started auditioning backup musicians.

“I have no worries,” Levy said, “and anyway, I have an acoustic set that I can play by myself.” Not sounding totally convinced, he added, “But I will get a drummer and bass player.”

Levy’s search for musicians was still on in late May. The band from the week before didn’t stick, and he hasn’t yet explored other options.

“[God] is taking care of everything,” he said. “Everything has its purpose. You just have to be aware of His wisdom.”

Religiosity is a recurring theme in Levy’s two Hebrew-language albums, “Yismah Moshe” and “Wisdom of the Stream,” and in the English-language album he released in 1998, “Mystic Heart.”

Levy’s music is notably dark and melodic. Deep, loping bass lines and straight-ahead rock beats counter hypnotic guitar patterns and haunting vocals. The result is a heavy, blues-tinged answer to most Jewish music of the day.

The music on “Mystic Heart” is particularly urgent. “I’ll Hate To See You Go” is a stripped-down arena rock number, reminiscent of such groups as Iron Maiden and Megadeth. The acoustic guitar and vocal arrangements on “Wooven,” meanwhile, call to mind Soundgarden’s more laid-back work. The disc's craftiest cut is "Wise Eyes," a cyclical multi-rhythm mover with glutinous themes and incalculable drama (see video below).

A Los Angeles resident since he married in 1990, Levy alternates between performing as LevYatan and as a sideman for various California-based projects. He sees this stint in New York as something of an East Coast coming-out party, so he planned accordingly: In mid-May, he packed his guitar and effects pedals, bought a plane ticket and left his L.A. life behind for what stands to be well over a month.

All signs point to Levy being comfortable on the road. Before settling in L.A., he did a fair amount of traveling. He left Morocco in 1965, at age 8, and moved to the northern Israeli coastal town of Nahariya. It was there that he first picked up a guitar. Levy learned to play rock, jazz, fusion and a number of Israeli styles, and later fulfilled his obligation to the Israel Defense Forces by entertaining the troops.

After completing his army service, Levy moved to Paris, where he formed a group called The Rail. He stayed in France for most of the 1980s and then immigrated to America.

Along the way, he picked up the name LevYatan.

“A friend and I were speaking about the sea lion and the fish of the sea and trying to get a name that was close to that,” he explained. “We came to ‘LevYatan.’”

The moniker had the added advantage of containing his last name, Levy.

LevYatan, Levy pointed out, also includes the Hebrew words “lev” and “yoten,” which together mean “the giving heart.”

“I want to open the heart to play music,” he said. “If you truly play from the heart, the other person will feel it.”

With a number of new songs in various stages of completion, Levy plans to record another album when he returns to L.A. One of the tracks — not yet named — sounds like a synthesis of Israeli artist Idan Raichel and indie-rock trio Dispatch. As with his previous recordings, the lyrics are very metaphorical, and there’s a lot of talk of hearts: giving ones, free ones and joyful ones.

Perhaps Levy’s road warrior mentality or his Hasidism, or both, serve as catalyst for his obscure lyrics. Still, for a guy who already looks a little out of this world, Levy doesn’t want to give concertgoers another reason to fancy him alien.

“I don’t want to confuse anybody,” he said. “I just want to sing songs.”

Stay Spiritual, Shmuel
MC Mystic Heart