When it was decided, the trembling did not stop

The Dr Frank Weakly Reader for 01.31.2020

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elcome, friends, to another Dr Frank Weakly Reader. I was rather pre-occupied with Noir City 2020 this week (about which see below) and yet nevertheless lots of stuff managed to happen and get typed about. And here, as usual, is the expanded, illustrated, annotated version to serve as a sort of index.

Plus more thoughts on censorship, sex, and nudity in art — see below: ART NOTES / “Naked and Afraid (at the Uffizi)”. And various new bits and bobs as well.

So, let’s begin.

FRONT BURNER

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— Valentine’s Day: there’s still a week till Feb. 7, which is the deadline if you want one of those “More than Toast” packages to arrive by Valentine’s Day.

Go here for the details and to order. You can select a Toast < You < Staplegun or Songs about Girls shirt and it comes with the card flexi single, which you can add more of if you like. (While supplies last — there were still a few left last I heard.)

And… as long as we’re sat here talking about it, have ya seen the video?

Mtx forever: As you may have gathered, the “dibs” list to reserve copies of the limited edition 180 gram deluxe pressing of the double LP is full. But you can still get on the waiting list so you have a chance to scoop ’em up if anyone drops out. I encourage you to do so (at this link) because I want you to have one, and also because signing up puts you on a special list for interesting offers to come. It’s like a little club.

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Here, once again, are the relevant dates still to come:

— 02.14.2020 : “dibs” ordering opens (when the emails with the buy links are sent out)

— 03.02.2020: “dibs” orders ship

— 03.13.2020: street date (for the standard weight “normal” pressing)

(And if you don’t know what this is all about, you can read about it here and here.)

More to come on this. We haven’t yet discussed the inside of the gatefold, which… well it may shock you. As I say, more to come. Watch this space.

MTX-A-PHILIA

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— “You’re an anomaly”: most people in my/our orbit recognize this is as the first line of the song “Love American Style,” but Dina received this greeting card (at left) depicting a unicorn cat from someone who could not possibly have known that, making it quite an astonishing coincidence.

— Tape notes — some tape search entries popped up via the Facebook memory vault, from a year ago: [a] the Everybody’s Entitled… two-track master, which, along with the Night Shift re-mix survived because of having been kicked under a couch at George Horn’s room in Fantasy decades ago; and [b] a whole bunch of tapes from the archive labelled “Everybody’s Entitled…” none of which actually were Everybody’s Entitled. (Total of six tapes in the latter category.)

The caption / title of [b] is pretty good: “From the mixed-up files of Dr Frank E. Basilweiler.” Ya gotta amuse yourself, if no one else.

— Donna Reed is still not my mom…

I guess that’s what you get with a couple of inadvertent dueling absurdists. No one really knows whom the joke’s on in the end. Well, it’s me, right? I knew that actually…

— Salubrious: Jim Testa interviewed me for Off Shelf about Mtx forever:

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— Discovering Japan:

[a] “Tea! Tea! Titty tea!”: that’s the Google translate output of the Japanese text here:

(It’s probably onomatopoeic, if onomatopoeic is the word I want, meant simply to allude to the staccato rhythm — or something. Nevertheless it’s funny if you find things like that funny as I do or I wouldn’t be typing this now.)

[b] “it’s not easy to calculate the unexpected melody”:

and [c]:

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— Odin: The Mr T Experience — “Dumb Little Band” live at the Roma PalaEur, March 1996, opening for Green Day.

“Minor secrets” are here. Song for Odin playlist here. Some printed concert tickets here.

— …and speaking of, here’s your Friday morning “Dumb Little Band,” featuring Beppe, Massi, and yours truly in Bergamo, Italy, July 2017.

Good times.

Ordinarily I put these Friday song posts on the covers playlist, but as this isn’t exactly a cover since I’m playing… on the MTX / Dr Frank Miscellany playlist it goes! But while we’re at it, we might as well (re)visit the Dumb Little Beards’ official video as it rules:

FROM THE DESK OF DR FRANK

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— Noir City 2020: We go every year. (That’s a “memory” pic at that link.) It’s still on-going, and I will have more to say about it, I’m sure, when it’s all over. But here are a few notes on The Beast Must Die, Panique and Le Doulos and a scene from The Housemaid.

The Housemaid wins the Palme des Portmans so far by a mile. Easily one of the most surprising and gripping films I’ve seen, and unlike any other. See this week’s Song for Odin “minor secrets” entry for a bit more about the Czech film …and the Fifth Horseman Is Fear, which was a deeply unpleasant experience that I’m nonetheless glad to have been given the opportunity to have. Truly astonishing, as a twitter commenter said, that such a thing was made within a totalitarian system.

While I really love the opportunity to see the off-the-beaten-track stuff, the antecedents, the consanguinities, and the foreign takes on classic film noir that are being shown this year, it was nevertheless a relief last night to return back “home” so to speak, for the British film The Long Haul starring Victor Mature and Diana Dors. A really enjoyable movie in the classic American noir style, wherein the bad decisions of flawed characters interact and spin to disaster with a grim, understated ironic moral just at the end. Victor Mature has the most expressive face in cinema, almost a character all on its own, and Diana Dors is of course super hot. Hard recommend.

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— Dept. of bons mots:

Sometimes a new song will just come to you spontaneously, all at once, fully formed, meaning you play it non stop for several days and then spend the next three years rewriting it.

Coming soon: No one should be made to rank his own wretched albums from best to worst, but it’s a thing I did for a thing, and I think it went pretty well.

— That shirt: was amused when Dario posted this pic from Genova Italy 1997 because I happened to be wearing the same shirt just now when I saw it.

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ART NOTES

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— The restoration of the original face of the Lamb of God in the Adoration of Mystic Lamb segment of the Ghent Altarpiece raises fascinating and vexing questions about art, history, and the paradox of restoration itself, which often, as here, requires the erasure of one history in order to (re-)realize another.

There’s not always an easy answer, even when it doesn’t concern agreed-upon masterpieces of high art. e.g., pulling down monuments to the Confederacy associated with the pseudo-historical “Lost Cause” Civil War narrative and ideology: even if doing so is appropriate — i.e., better than not doing so — this false history itself has a history, one that is quite important to know and understand. Its erasure leaves a gap. Also, e.g., as I’ve mentioned before, the Medieval church art defaced by Puritan iconoclasts in England in the 16th Century, the saints with their faces scratched out, or the French Revolution’s decapitated statues. The scratched out faces speak quite articulately about a bit of history that would only be obscured if the faces were painted back on. Deciding which history is more important isn’t always an easy call.

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— Naked and Afraid (at the Uffizi): or, Sex Is Here to Stay…

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Mary Beard, a noted Classicist, is presenting a new TV program called The Shock of the Nude, a two part series on the BBC that airs next month. The Telegraph headline is:

Mary Beard fears nudes in art galleries becoming ‘porn for the elite’”

Which is clickbait, meant to rile and encourage hate-clicks and so forth. It worked, too: it’s the only way I’d have ever known about the program, which I’m rather interested in seeing as the topic appeals to my (nudge nudge wink wink) interests. The twitter was all a-twitter on it, as you might imagine. But I’m familiar enough with Mary Beard to know that this is not actually something a person of her class and position would literally “fear.” In her twitter response to the twitter response, she says

the question of whether nudes in art are just soft porn for the elite is a question we need to face. There are many different answers to the question! As you will see if you watch the programmes on 3 and 10 Feb!

(That last sentence being the important bit of course.)

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I disagree that it’s a question we “need to face” with any particular urgency (it’s been “faced” ad nauseam over the years) but there are indeed many answers to it. In a sense the answer could be a sort of yes, in another the answer is a definitive no. The Telegraph’s headline is doubly ill-conceived, though, as even the “sort of yes” refers not to what anything is currently “becoming” but to erotic art’s historical antecedents, particularly in periods of sexual and political repression. Maybe there’s something new and interesting to be said concerning the well-rehearsed question about the distinction between pornography and erotica (though I very much doubt it.) There are of course interesting discussions to be had about the psychology of sex and the history and the politics of such art, what is and is not “in the eye of the beholder” and so forth, and I’m sure Professor Beard can conduct them capably. At any rate porn has moved on, and the elite consume it just like everybody else does, not in art galleries but in the privacy of their own homes on their phones with a box of tissues and/or electric device on (or in) hand. Not to put too fine a point on it, no one’s standing in the Uffizi masturbating to Botticelli these days, if anyone ever did. Not even “the elite.”

All that said, it is still rather a stupid question, beside the point as anyone but the most puritanical philistine or political authoritarian can surely recognize. Art is many things rather than “just” any one thing; and erotica is art, full stop; and drawing a line between the virtuous and the wicked when it comes to art is a fool’s errand, and dangerous as well. Mary Beard’s views are surely nuanced on the matter, nuanced enough anyway to produce two full hours of television content on the subject. The academic Jeffrey Sachs, though, comes to what would have been her aid, had this been her genuine position, semi-facetiously responding to the semi-faceitious assertion about famous artwork depicting naked people: “It’s smut. Other things as well, and undoubtedly great art. But also smut.”

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Well, “smut” is a poor word to choose as it implies a moral condemnation and denial of merit he doesn’t really seem to mean, but the answer to that is: yeah, so?

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Eros is powerful, a glorious, confounding, and sometimes quite destructive force in human nature and the human soul, for better and for worse; and so it is, also for better and worse, in art. It could hardly be otherwise. The Greeks knew this very well, and, pretend otherwise as we might, we know it too. Sex, as Noel Coward once said, summing up in passing the essence and meaning of his own work, is here to stay. The idea that the erotic could ever be expunged from art is preposterous and silly. But the idea that it ought to be expunged, while no less preposterous, is genuinely an alarming one, with a terrible history, and that’s really what provokes the visceral, negative “flashpoint” reaction to rhetoric such as that in the Telegraph headline as far as I can tell. It’s rhetoric that has censorship at its logical end.

Censorship is bad. I’m sure Beard and Sachs agree, and would want no more than to “problematize” the allegedly offending material rather than destroy or cover it up. (Likely with a good dollop of retrograde “male gaze” guff, I shouldn’t wonder.) To which I say, knock yourself out. Problematize away, if that’s what turns you on. But there are those who really do want to censor art (and pornography, and literature, and well, you name it.) They want to do it for real and not just, with a twinkle in their eye, as a wicked half-sincere intimation. Adding fuel to that fire seems rather a bad idea.

I wish Professor Beard the best of luck with the TV show, but it’s a censorious age and invoking and conjuring such demons, even winkingly and mischeivously for the sake of publicity, is at best annoyingly disingenuous and at worst playing with fire. Worse still, and all that aside, it is just… tiresome. But I will watch, if I can do it for free. I bet it’ll be pretty good.

I’m just going to close with Mitchell and Webb, Tom Lehrer, and Mrs Miller:

PICTURE BOOK

— Roman calendar: conversion of St Paul; the arm of Polycarp of Smyrna; John Chrysostom; Thomas Aquinas; the Chapel of St Gildas; St Martina; Gemianus of Modena

— Behold: where there’s a blonde, there’s a gun; eyes, moths, and a burning candle; binoculars of revelation; dame with gun; yet another dame with gun; complicated, complicated underwear; gun crazy; a real Swingin’ Dors

— … and finally:

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IN THE NEWS

— A “classic millenial sex pickle: so classic. Katie Herzog comments amusingly here.

— The crimes of T. S. Eliot seem comparatively rather mild.

— File under “the ad is cute and there’s nothing wrong with it” — KFC apologises for ‘sexist’ ad:

— File under that’s why we need a 1st Amendment I guess: VW Golf and Philadelphia Adverts Banned for Promoting ‘Harmful’ Gender Stereotypes.

While the majority of the advert was focused on a theme of adapting to difficult circumstances and achievement, the final scene showed a woman sitting on a bench and reading, with a pram by her side….

Also harmful (with regard to advertising cream cheese):

the watchdog recognised that the depiction of new parents could be seen as a characterisation that they are inexperienced. They added that, regardless of gender, it is often common for parents to jokingly ask their children not to tell the other parent about something that happened.

However, in combination with the opening scene in which one of the babies was handed over by the mother to the father, and the final scene in which one of the fathers said ‘Let’s not tell mum’, we considered the advert relied on the stereotype that men were unable to care for children as well as women

Nutters.

— Is Anti-woke Becoming the New Woke? asks an earnest, rather naive piece in Areo, noting that “tribal” behavior in response to “tribal” behavior is still “tribal” behavior. In a word, yes. But ’twas ever thus.

I’ll quote myself [i.e., Dr Frank] from long ago: of course you think the other side does it all the time while your side does it hardly at all; thinking that is part of “it.”

— Well, that sounds like a fun book tour:

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I find I don’t have it in me at present to comment in any detail on the ongoing American Dirt trainwreck. It’s fairly typical of run-of-the-mill twitter/goodreads mob eruptions, though unusual in that it’s happening to such a prominent book with such big money and institutional support behind it. Favorite detail so far, though, are all the glowing five star goodreads reviews that have been hastily changed to one star with mea culpas in the wake of the controversy. Well, at this point in the groupthink cycle, it’s just a matter of self-preservation, isn’t it? Disavow or be disavowed! Cancelled events. Death threats all around. Like I said, fairly typical. I can’t imagine that the publishers will cancel the book itself, but if they do, be prepared to be instructed by people more sophisticated than you that “cancel culture” does not exist.

Possibly this book is as bad, or as good, as it’s cracked up to be, though I very much doubt it either way, nor do I think it likely that I’ll wind up reading it. I’m not a big one for “issues” fiction as a rule. “Issues” fiction should, you know, save the world on its own time. (Though I may reconsider: I have it on good authority that it’s a nail-biter.)

The publisher certainly seems to have botched the roll-out, and the book quite possibly shot itself in its own foot by presenting itself as an Important Work on a Matter of Great Moral Urgency when it is, as far as I can tell, merely your basic sort of thriller with a topical setting. But I’ll note that writers who join in on such censorious campaigns against other writers really need to have their heads examined. Any one of them could wind up in the crosshairs next time around. It certainly doesn’t take much. The initial publicity and more than one of the famous author blurbs likened this book to The Grapes of Wrath. That’s an assessment I regard with the highest skepticism, but in one respect these books are precisely similar: they burned The Grapes of Wrath too.

CODA

nd that’s all there is with regard to the weak that was. But for those who have made it this far down the page, here’s Laurence Koe’s Venus and Tannhäuser (ca. 1896) and if you like it shame on you.

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See you next week.

Written by

I am Dr. Frank. I write books and songs. Mtx Forever.

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