I became unstuck last Wednesday in the shadow of Franny’s food truck. I knew something was off as soon as the cashier handed me my order. We had smoked a bit of pot earlier, but I wasn’t hungry. My head felt like a half-screwed light bulb, synapses firing in new and altogether unfamiliar directions, sending tingles down the nerves in my arms. Gripping the delicately prepared Vietnamese sandwich, I approached my friends, who were caught up in a discussion of who had, and who hadn’t, figured out where they’d be after graduation. I distinctly remember feeling at that moment that if I loosened my grip on my sandwich, I’d disappear.
If you haven’t heard of Parquet Courts by now, it’s too late — the bandwagon has collapsed under the weight of their fandom. The band’s just-released fifth full-length album, Human Performance, is as strong a showing as any of their previous records, although their energy has shifted a bit. Frontman Andrew Savage’s neurotic sensibility remains consistent, but, to some extent, he’s turned away from the overtly political and thrown a microscope onto his own anxieties and romantic flings. Parquet Courts self-consciously follows a lineage of New York groups that goes back to the Velvet Underground, by way of punk acts like the Ramones, Suicide and New York Dolls, as well as via No Wave acts like Sonic Youth. At the same time, they’ve relished comparisons to British post-punk group of the ’70s — bands like Gang of Four and Wire.
I have a confession: I don’t often go out of my way to listen to lyrics. I’m well-acquainted with most of the tunes you might find yourself cranking up a car radio — dad jamz, ‘90s hip hop, any song to which your favorite movie characters once lip-synced. Put me in one of those bar mitzvah recording booths and I will bare my soul to the tune of any MIDI-saturated Celine Dion instrumental. If social interaction requires it, I will belt out some Smash Mouth, or whatever, though I’ll probably end up like this dude from a Clickhole Classic™, boldly making indecipherable noises to a song I heard once at a kid’s birthday party. But when it comes to my day-to-day interaction with music, rarely, if ever, will I go out of my way to hear exactly what it is a songwriter is saying.
There’s a great moment in Woody Allen’s Manhattan where Woody’s character Isaac chats with socialites at a cocktail party and he brings up a Nazi march coming to New Jersey. Isaac suggests that those at the party “get some guys together, get some bricks and baseball bats and really … explain things to them.” A partygoer responds that there was a devastating satirical piece on the march in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times. Another argues that “biting satire is always better than physical force.” Finally, Woody retorts that physical force is always better with Nazis, “because it’s hard to satirize a guy in shiny boots.”
I thought about that scene on Sunday night, when John Oliver went on TV to propose a solution to Trump’s domination of the GOP primary: #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain. Since actually calling out Trump for his pandering and lies achieves absolutely nothing, since he can and will say anything with the knowledge that he has a reputation for speaking the truth among those voting for him, Oliver proposed taking away his last name — a word which evokes triumph and trump cards, not to mention decades of mostly effective branding — and replacing it with Drumpf.
I was hoping to write my column this week on something mundane and sweet and a little dark, a sort of Valentine’s Day hangover cure. Picture this: me, my 93-year-old grandmother, and my parents in a snowed-in theater, watching Rob Reiner’s rom-com classic When Harry Met Sally. Then, the day after, me in my room, alone, shades closed, watching Werner Herzog’s Lessons of Darkness: a hallucinatory, nihilistic portrait of post-Gulf War Kuwait’s burning oil wells. It’s a funny juxtaposition, and the column writes itself (if you’re familiar with Werner Herzog’s famously dreary, unforgiving and very German manner of speaking): Imagine if Werner Herzog narrated When Harry Met Sally! Get it?
Over winter break, while you were doing something normal like watching the Bill Murray Christmas Special, or something, my friend Zach and I spent two days watching something decidedly more intense: Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 Holocaust documentary, Shoah. To say that one does not watch, but endures, Shoah, Claude Lanzmann’s nine -and-a-half hour documentary about the Holocaust, is not meant to denigrate the film in any way. It is uncompromising, nauseating, obsessive — and required viewing for anyone who wishes to grapple with this stain on human history and the horrifying absence left in its wake. The film comprises of interviews with survivors, witnesses and German perpetrators, as well as footage from Nazi extermination sites in Poland and their surrounding areas. Lanzmann often used hidden cameras and other forms of deception to capture the testimony of those who, for obvious reasons, preferred not to have their role in systematic murder broadcast to international audiences.
As I made my way to my seat, I scanned the crowd of Ithacans that had come to see Buddy Guy perform at Ithaca’s State Theatre on Sunday. As excited as I was to see a legend perform — for, as Jimi Hendrix once said, “Heaven is lying at Buddy Guy’s feet while he plays guitar” — I was also a bit discouraged. The audience was mostly elderly, and judging by the faint but omnipresent post-4/20 fragrance, it contained a sizable number of smoked-out townies. I sat down and my row-mate gave me some disconcerting advice: “Don’t even fart — the guy in front of you is a prick.” There seemed to be only one consolation: no cell phones would be waved in my face. But when Guy strolled out, sporting a cream Stratocaster and shaking his face like a bulldog wiping spit, the crowd erupted.