What I did on my summer vacation

Clearly, it’s been a while.  I didn’t really mean to take the summer off, and those of you who follow me on Tumblr know I haven’t entirely, but writing here kept feeling challenging, so I largely didn’t, because sometimes you just have to follow your instincts. 

Also, it was a weird, weird summer of what often seemed like collective fragileness.  If you follow Glee, you know what that’s been like.  Rizzoli and Isles fans also had a heartbreaking summer.  I write a lot about death, often too easily.  Over the summer, the easier choice for me was not to.  On the above-mentioned items, I don’t much see that changing until confronted with the text that addresses the in-narrative repercussions of these real-world losses.

What I did do, was see Pacific Rim, which was a fabulous example of how tried and true tropes can make a whole new thing.  I haven’t written about the film, but I can’t say enough good things about Travis Beacham’s Tumblr.

I also caught up with Netflix’s House of Cards, which I can’t talk about without making grabby hands gestures and feeling like it ties in very tightly with our current narrative obsessions with hunger.   Yes, some thoughts for this blog will eventually coalesce there too.

Aside from spending some time in Europe for work, I also went on a wacky roadtrip here at home with friends that involved seeing Darren Criss gig a few times.  While I have a lot of conflicted feelings there about the packaging of fame and how deft, or not, that packaging is required to be that I may eventually organize for here, it’s certainly an excuse to extoll the virtues of live music in Philadelphia as opposed to New York and also highlight the general excellence of people I know. 

Ultimately, the gig of the summer to write home about, for me, was Adam Ant, and that I couldn’t make myself do it here, is a testament to all the raw places it hit me in. 

Basically, I read some books, ate some food, hung out with my partner, and worked my tail off on a ton of stuff I can’t talk about yet.  Some of those things will be getting announced very soon.  More and most of those things probably won’t be discussed until 2014.  But I’m typing so much my hands ache, and it’s delightful.

Regular updates here to resume shortly.  Thanks for sticking by.  Now let us know what you did on your summer vacation.

Kindle Worlds: Not bigger on the inside

Today Amazon announced Kindle Worlds for Authors, which is a self-publishing tool to allow authors of fanfiction to monetize their work as long as it adheres to certain guidelines, including no porn, no offensive language, and no crossovers.

It’s not the first time someone’s tried to make money at the corporate level off fanfiction and it won’t be the last.  As a big believer in the idea that creative people deserve compensation for their creativity and that as a legitimate form of storytelling fanfiction should not be considered a pale shadow of traditional professional writing, I’m not even, necessarily, inherently opposed to the idea.

But Amazon’s project raises a bunch of compelling questions that we’ve been hurtling towards for a while now, especially as fanfiction has increasingly received positive, mainstream, and significant news coverage in outlets like Time Magazine and a property of The Washington Post.

Question 1: To what degree does Kindle Worlds suggest that fanfiction can only be legitimized through the eradication of fan culture’s gift economy?

Question 2: Fanfiction has significantly changed our media culture.  Kindle Worlds isn’t just capitalizing on it, but arguably represents an attempt to shape it.  Is this a feedback loop in action or an attempt to stop the catalyst that is fan work?

Questions 3: The contractual terms of Kindle Worlds are the sort traditional professional writers would be strongly advised against signing on to.  Is fannish work worth less?  Should it be?

Question 4: Fanfiction has, arguably, always been about the option to use use all the tools, particularly those often discouraged by corporate content production (e.g., sexuality), to tell story.  If the toolbox is limited, whether a given writer would choose to use all the tools or not, is it fanfiction or is it some other form of derivative (vs. transformative) work?

Question 5: How will fan readers view/treat fan writers who use a tool like Kindle Worlds? And how does that impact our communities, hierarchies, and barriers to entry?

Please play in comments below.

Vikings: Death, faith, and politics… also, threesomes

Last night, Patty and I, as a chaser to Game of Thrones, finished History’s first dramatic series, the 9-episode Vikings.  By turns exceptional, terrible, and delightfully baffling, it was worth our time far more than I anticipated. And even if it probably taught us nothing reasonable factual about Vikings (more on that later), a fictional series with a few fact-like tidbits on Vikings strikes me as far preferable to many of History’s “non-fiction” offerings: Aliens, for example, did not build the pyramids (despite a t-shirt Patty owns that illustrates this concept with the note teach the controversy).

Below are nine great reasons to watch Vikings that highlight all the ways in which its first season is filled with great responses to our current pop-culture moment.

1. Vikings is smart enough to make its central drama not just about family, but about many different types of families.  Romantic love, sibling rivalry, parent-child, and chosen family narratives in multiple forms thread through all nine episodes, guaranteeing something familiar and emotionally engaging for pretty much any viewer.

2. Vikings goes out of its way to show joy even in desperate, difficult, and violent times.  This is why so many people are watching it after Game of Thrones where joy seems merely a concept outgrown or a feeling vengeance occasionally briefly evokes.  (Look, I love Game of Thones, but its name is Despair).

3. Vikings gets that sex is part of who people and cultures are.  Mostly, it avoids falling into the sexposition trap HBO’s programming is often chided for, and instead integrates sex into the narrative as consistently but passingly as food, except when someone’s sexual choices becomes a major plot point.  But often sex is just sex and it’s talked about like the weather.

That said, can anyone tell me what was up with all the threesomes? I’m not being snarky. I’m just trying to figure out if the multiple offers (some declined not) of threesomes and moresomes were supposed to tell us something about Viking sexuality or represented the results of market research regarding fandom in general and Tumblr in particular.  The prevalance of F/M/M moments particularly generates this question, considering that History historically has a much larger male audience than female audience.  Who did they think was watching this?

4. Vikings has great female characters.  From political cunning to battlefield skill to domestic excellence these women are all accomplished in radically different ways. The desire to have it all is clear in many of them, and the fact that that’s not easy is just as present.  They’re heroes and villains and, most importantly, almost never plot devices. If you have a thing for political power couples, this is your show.  And while rape is present in the plot, we also see rape averted, punished, and addressed as a community concern.

5. Speaking of fighting, the fight choreography on Vikings benefits from being well-done and relatively realistic (fight choreography never truly realistic, because in order for it to be visible, people have to take wide swings so you can see it — in a real conflict that gets people killed).  Fighting styles and weapon choices tell us things about characters on Vikings, and the ways in which women fight acknowledge that geometry is all, but if you get into a bad corner, size and strength can and do matter.

6. Since we’re talking about fighting, let’s also talk about death.  Vikings is obsessed with death, and does a fantastic job of presenting a culture that has a completely attitude about death than our own.  It does this three-dimensionally, through diverse situations (death from sickness, the desire to die in battle, the religious use of human sacrifice) and a lot of fantastic acting that allows the characters to exhibit sorrow and fear even in the face of deaths both revered and glorious.  The way Vikings handles death is one of the most harrowing, interesting, and moving things I’ve seen on TV this year, and worth it for that alone.

7. All the death content means we get lots of material on faith as well.  This could have been full of annoying Christianity vs. paganism cliches. Instead it’s murky and complex all the way around.  People question their faith constantly and are seen taking refuge in it as often for truth belief as for community and the comfort of habit.  This is an accessibly, and appropriately, modern worldview that makes the characters deeply relatable.

8. At its heart Vikings is about ambition and its consequences.  It offers no firm answers, but suggests that ambition is both a disease and a gift that can neither be eradicated or refused. This isn’t just compelling, but freeing. Because while the ambition feels familiar, odds are you aren’t losing sleep over not having raided England yet this season.

9. Finally, Vikings is populated by characters with widely varying types of intelligence, not all of whom are as skilled as estimating their abilities as they think. This allows the audience to do work, characters to fail believably, and everyone to be treated to Travis Fimmel as Ragnar Lothbrok’s delightfully sly grin.

Vikings is certainly imperfect.  While the acting from most of the leads is exceptional, some of the actors in minor roles are unable to conquer the show’s often clunky dialogue.  Historical (and I’ve been told geographical) accuracy, while better than “aliens built the pyramids,” is deeply dubious.  Some episodes are intentionally strangely paced (e.g., episode 8, “Sacrifice”), and the show’s choices around illustrating the language differences and communications difficulties between the Vikings and the English are nearly impossible to divine the rationale behind, despite being central to one of the show’s plot devices.

That said, it’s only nine episodes, which is a perfect bite-sized introduction to a surprisingly thoughtful, yet strangely produced, basic cable curiosity that largely gets by on charisma, momentum, and ambition alone.

David Bowie is: Infestation

A month before my fifteenth birthday, I saw David Bowie’s Glass Spider Tour with my mother at Madison Square Garden.  She came with me because I wasn’t allowed to go to concerts alone then, and because she loved him.  In fact, my mother loved David Bowie so much, she forbid my father to come with us, lest he be uncomfortable with her excitement.

The Glass Spider Tour and the album it was in support of, Never Let Me Down, aren’t terribly well-reviewed or considered significant in the canon of Bowie’s work, and I knew that, even then, holding my breath for the older songs – like “Time” and “Heroes” — I had fallen in love with largely because they were on the cheapest cassettes for sale at Tower Records.

But the show had no less mesmerizing impact on me for all that, in large part because of the work done by choreographer Toni Basil and a character danced by Melissa Hurley, who, during “Bang Bang” is seemingly plucked out of the audience.  Chosen, she then rejects Bowie; then once he is chastened, goes after him, and leads him in something resembling a tango.

While the ruse was obvious, and I had even read about the moment in a music magazine in advance of the show, it still had the barest tinge and hope of authenticity to me. After all, I was a teenager and there was no mainstream commercial Internet at the time, so I had not read a description of this exact moment appearing night after night as a reminder that I would never be that girl.  With my dark curly hair, a dress at home that looked like the performer’s, and too many hours spent in dance classes, I had a tiny bit of hope, that one day….

I’ve had a lot of daydreams though, and that one faded faster than many it seems.  Certainly,  it was something long forgotten by the time I went to the David Bowie is exhibit at the Victoria & Albert in London last month and had what is certainly the most extraordinary museum visit I have ever experienced.

Even as the exhibit is far too crowded (it is sold out; without advance planning, the only way to get in at this point is to have, borrow, or purchase the same day a year long membership to the V&A) and chaotic in its isolation (as a guest you wear headphones for most of the journey that trigger music and interviews to scatter across your ears depending where you are in the exhibit) it is a trove of memory, evidence and technique that spans Bowie’s history and puts tangibility to details you may only have heard in passing: Diamond Dogs was supposed to be a stage musical; he performed on SNL with Klaus Nomi; he uses a computer program that cuts up sentences from other sources into his song lyrics.

This archive of sketches, sound and video clips, costumes, and artifacts, however, is not actually the highlight of the exhibit.  Rather, it’s the other people there with you.

The structure of the exhibit renders nearly everyone completely silent.  If they make sound, it is unlikely that you will hear them.  Yet, sometimes I caught a random peel of laughter, or looked to my left or right and found someone staring open-mouthed at the video of a performance video of “Boys Keep Swinging.”  Then, unavoidably, I was put in mind of Velvet Goldmine when the character of Arthur fantasizes about pointing at a television performance of the film’s Bowie avatar Brian Slade and shouting, “That’s me Ma!  That’s me!”

But the true magic is in he penultimate moment of David Bowie is that leads viewers into a large, multistory room coated in video monitors.  There are some exhibits scattered throughout this space, but they are secondary to the visual and auditory display and the many seating areas provided finally for guests.

Everyone stares up, mouths open yet again (we are tiny birds, there to receive this very fundamental piece of pop-culture nourishment and benediction; after all, one of the exhibits main arguments is that Bowie is in everything, including us).  Eventually, people realize the sound is no longer coming through their headphones, but is piped into the room directly, and the isolation of the exhibit structure has gives way to the communal concert experience.

A woman near me laughed at the wonder of it, and a security guard tried to shush her, but the crowd told him no.  A man to my left had tears tracking down his cheeks.  I had to look away from a monitor close to the floor that showed 9/11 footage during a performance of “Heroes,” which for me in high school was a song about how I felt I would never be loved.  Later I had to sit down as the whole of the room lit up with that long-forgotten performance of “Bang Bang” on The Glass Spider tour.

Exiting the exhibit one is given the proof, no longer needed, that David Bowie is in all of us.  Photos of artists who have borrowed, begged, and stolen from Bowie’s various incarnations and looks, or even echoed him seemingly accidentally and disturbingly (Tilda Swinton must be noted, especially), line three walls.  A periodic element chart of figures relevant, some as influence and some as influenced, is painted on the desperately meaningful fourth. Sometimes I would see names – Harvey Milk – and have to look away.

David Bowie is argues aggressively that Bowie’s presence, if not his work itself, is necessarily political in our cultures, and personal in the way that it does not just inspire, but infests.  It reminded me of the relief I felt as little more than a child to see portrayals of desire and loss and otherness that I was entitled to access in private amongst the public.

And it reminded me that there are some strange gems in the Bowie’s canon, not just in the truly great albums (Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, and the Berlin triptych), but in the lesser ones.  In fact, I walked out of David Bowie is with an obsessive need to revisit Never Let Me Down, and while I (re)discovered an album with many legitimately forgettable tracks and an excessive abuse of the signature-80s unnecessary sax solo, I also found in it the feminine counterpart to Diamond Dogs through “Bang Bang” and the rather spectacular “Time Will Crawl” that clearly returns us to the unresolved narratives of Hunger City.

David Bowie is runs through August 11 at the Victoria and Albert in London.

Girls Write Now: Fanfiction workshop follow-up

While it was a week ago, I did want to follow up on my talks at Girls Write Now last week, because it was a ton of fun, and I did promise the program participants and their mentors I’d update with some relevant links and a summary of what we talked about.

One of the things that was really fun was none of us were talking about justifying fanfiction.  Rather, we talked about both how fanfiction is entirely legitimate as an end in and of itself, but also how it functions as a gift economy, a mode of criticism, and a way to approached and even produce salable work.

We looked at the idea of given circumstances for character and story development — which is the notion that a person has certain key traits and reactive patterns and that a lot of fanfiction is taking known quantities (characters) and changing their given circumstances to see what happens.  We also talked about how playing with other people’s universes is a great way to learn cadence and voice and certain stylistic techniques.

We covered Harry Potter, One Direction, Buffy, the Whoniverse, Teen Wolf, and Game of Thrones. I mentioned Glee (but am pretty sure I mostly got side-eyed for that), and Ellen Kushner‘s novels (Swordspoint is where to start, and The Privilege of the Sword is the YA-ish one with the female protagonist).

We also talked about published incidences of fanfiction, including Wide Sargasso Sea and an anthology about fictional sexual encounters with celebrities called Starf*cker(Yes, the star is really in the title, and just so the girls in the program know, I was happy to say fucker in front of you all, but imagined a mentor or two might not have approved.  But I’m sure you can handle that).

We laughed a lot (thank you!) and great questions were asked about using personal experiences in storytelling and about how fanfiction can be used to highlight the stories of characters from backgrounds and experiences that are often marginalized.  In both groups people wanted to know if I’d ever met creators of work I’ve played with in a fannish context (yes, and that’s ranged from neutral but slightly weird to totally awesome).

Mostly, though, everything sort of boiled down to the joy and necessity of narrative — how it’s something we assign to the randomness of our own lives in order to make sense of it, and how it’s in imitation of that that we also learn to tell stories whether fiction or non-fiction.  In one of the sessions this led me to mentioning a Clive Barker quote I couldn’t really remember, but thanks to the wonder of the Internet, I can tell you it’s from the prologue to his novel Sacrament and is

I am a man, and men are animals who tell stories. This is a gift from God, who spoke our species into being, but left the end of our story untold. That mystery is troubling to us. How could it be otherwise? Without the final part, we think, how are we to make sense of all that went before: which is to say, our lives? So we make stories of our own, in fevered and envious imitation of our Maker, hoping that we’ll tell, by chance, what God left untold. And finishing our tale, come to understand why we were born.

On that note, some more links I promised people in the room are below.  Additionally, if there are specific resources you’re looking for that have not been mentioned here, please ask in comments, and I’ll see what I can find; I know some of the girls I talked to were particularly interested in anime-focused fanfiction archives, which was just one of those things I have no answers on.

Fanfiction.Net — Sometimes we call this the pit of voles, and quality can be challenging, but it’s there and it’s been there forever.  I don’t actually recommend it as a starting point for reading and posting fic, but it may work for you.

The Archive of Our Own — a great place to post and find fic to read.  Still technically in beta so you have to request an invite.

LiveJournal — no longer the hub of fanfiction (or anything else) it once was, but was definitely a vibrant pace that has/had a lot of fic communities.  Depending on your particular interests it may still be a good choice for you.

Tumblr — while I often derisively describe this space as blinky not thinky, Tumblr has lots of people posting fanfiction on it, as well as lots of people telling stories through visual modes and doing criticism too.  Organizationally it’s hard for conversations, but it’s grown on me as a way to be exposed to lots of random content on lots of different things.  As such, it’s sort of inspiring in a pattern recognition sort of way.

If you were at this event, please feel free to say hi, ask questions, leave comments, or just be excited about your fannish obsessions below.  For now, I’ll leave you with a quote that just came up on my Tumblr dash

That’s the nature of any creative activity — you’re mostly going to be rejected.

That’s from The New Yorker’s Bob Mankoff at a recent TED salon.  He’s the magazine’s cartoon editor today.  But when he first changed careers to become to a cartoonist he submitted 2,000 cartoons to the The New Yorker in his first year.  Every one was rejected.

As long as you’re writing stuff, you’re a writer.  Many days, that’s hard enough.  Keep making stuff as long as it makes you happy and even sometimes when it doesn’t.

Meanwhile, if you are interested in becoming a mentor for Girls Write Now or are a high school student eligible to participate they are still taking applications for next year’s program through June 15 (I’d sign up to mentor in a heart beat if I weren’t on the road so much).

The Great Gatsby: Horror, property, and nostalgia

When I was a baby my family rented and lived in a guest cottage on an estate in East Hampton until one day, the neighbors poisoned our dog.  I don’t remember this, but it’s one of several stories I’ve heard about why we came back to the city, my entire life. And I can’t talk about my relationship with any iteration of The Great Gatsby without mentioning both this and my years in private school where things like old vs. new money (assuming you had either) and East or West Hampton mattered pretty desperately.

For what it’s worth, Gatsby has never been a book that I’ve liked.  It’s characters are viciously flat, its plot too neat, and its point, as argued in high school literature classes eludes me as clear or clearly good. Money, instead of corrupting good people and true love, seems merely a symptom of internal disease. And the notion of social climbing and its attendant passing as poisonous suggests, unsettlingly in book that’s also filled with racism, that people are better off if they stay with their own kind.

Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of the book (with a script penned by himself and long-time collaborator Craig Pearce), resolves none of these things, but eschews all romance except that of nostalgia in order to showcase Gatsby for what is has always been, a horror narrative plodding inexorably towards its perhaps necessarily obvious end.  Daisy is positioned as an object, not only by her suitors, but by herself, too startled or sad to react fully to either the desire (her arms hang limp at her sides, her face freezes in nearly every on screen moment of sexual content) or to the wealth possessed by both Gatsby and her husband, Tom Buchanan.

Gatsby, for his part, is so wound up in his narrative of possession, he doesn’t see her, and aggressively and insistently insists she rewrite her own emotional history simply because he cannot fathom her having existed in any moment in which they are separated.  Buchanan, meanwhile, for all the ways in which he is repellent (in a remarkable performance by Joel Edgerton), at least manages to place Daisy as a key accessory in his own self-invention, which is as vivid, if not as creative, as Gatsby’s.

Nick Carraway, however, is of course the central raconteur of both Jay Gatsby’s construction and that of the narrative. But he is no everyman. Rather, he is only poor in contrast to the wealth around him, and his startlement and collusion and and in the drama that unfolds at his doorstep is also presented as an act of passing.  In the walk-up Buchanan rents for Myrtle and later at the barber shop, he must pretend to be more worldly and normative than he is in regard to booze, women, and business.  He’s no good at it though, and the night he stalks around one of Gatsby’s parties brandishing an invitation in order to prove he belongs proves, in fact, only the exact opposite.

While Carraway is well-handled, if uninteresting, the script misses a major opportunity to address long-standing scholarly speculation on his possible sexual interest in Gatsby, when homosexuality is not present on the list of diagnoses with which we are introduced to the character.

Luhrmann has always excelled particularly in the construction of the onscreen party, and in this film that construction is shot through with a profound menace embodied often, but not exclusively, by Jordan Baker. As an audience member I did not feel the desire to get lost in the night’s out presented, but to cut through them like her naked back, a shark in a sea of lesser and far more uninteresting creatures.

The obsession with personal commerce (prostitution narratives are explicitly and implicitly present in all of Luhrmann’s work) that I expected is certainly present, but disturbingly muted. No one seems to notice what they are buying and selling and nothing and no one is cherished for it, making the commerce present one of several elements that unexpectedly lend this film a surprisingly mature air.

Just as I cannot engage Gatsby without noting my own biography, I cannot engage this film without noting Luhrmann’s. Surely something personal is implied even if it is not actually present in a man who grew up in the middle-of-nowhere Australia and now runs a playground of creation out of a historical mansion in Sydney choosing to take on a story that is about the invention of persona to ends eventually lost sight of.

The music, which much has been made of, felt not nearly as intrusive or surprising as most reviews I have encountered have noted.  Frankly, after having listened obsessively to the soundtrack of the last week, there were many songs I couldn’t even find in the course of the film, and I often wished for music to be a more present element, even as silence is employed to great effect in one pivotal scene.

In particular, I remain most puzzled and haunted by Lana del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” because neither youth nor fading looks seem to be remotely present in the fears of the characters. As such, it seems to serve as peculiar and really gutting commentary from some place outside the events of the film in a way that lends to the sort of melancholy maturity of the piece as a whole.

The use of 3D is at times remarkable, especially in the opening of the film, where it leads us literally back into the past as the gold logo border of the film recedes into the the screen and then sets up the deeply haunted feeling of the film through wisps of fog and a lens flare you can practically touch. My own ability to track effectively in 3D remained present, giving the film a flickery quality, which annoys me about the technology, but at least worked for the period setting.

Aside from Catherine Martin’s always exceptional design work, the other visual element that must be noted here is how great a debt this construction of New York owes to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis in architecture, in the narrative presence of the financial markets, in the congestion and flow of crowds, in the choreography of work, and in the presence of a biplane, the crash of which seems inevitable, but never arrives.

Like the rest of Lurhmann’s work, The Great Gatsby is a celebration of the idea of the creator — here, again, the writer in particular. This is most clear, perhaps, not in the presence of the words of the novel on the screen as Carraway writes his story, but in Lurhmann’s own cameo in the film, where he plays a waiter who serves Nick and Jordan at their rooftop appointment.  Here, the director places himself explicitly in service to the writer character and the author’s avatar, in a coy and delightful wink at, at least, the over-interested members of the audience.

While not unflawed — the film drags in places much as the book does, and grapples somewhat clumsily with the racism of the source material — Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby manages to be a haunting, and at times even shocking film, that makes its audience drunk and then shoves it, as the unbelonging outsider, unceremoniously out the door, leaving the viewer uncertain as to what degree they should feel relief.

Girls Write Now: Wildcard Workshop

This Saturday, I am getting up much, much earlier than I normally do on Saturdays to talk about fanfiction and how it can contribute to a writer’s creative process and professional life at a workshop held by Girls Write Now.

Girls Write Now is a non-profit organization that matches teen girls from NYC public high schools with professional women writers for one-to-one mentoring, genre-based workshops, public readings, college prep activities, and scholarship and publication opportunities. This seems like an amazing thing, and if my life weren’t already so over-scheduled and constantly in-transit, I’d sign up to mentor in a heartbeat.

The event (actually two, I’m doing a morning and an afternoon session) is only open to girls currently in the program and their mentors.  But I wanted to share this in the context of fan and transformative works being taken seriously, and also to let people know that Girls Write Now is out there.

Deciding you want to write for a living is weird, no one knows what to do with that, and the standardized-test focused school system doesn’t help.  The idea of an organization supporting girls through story and for story is massively exciting to me.  If it’s exciting to you, I hope you’ll consider getting involved in Girls Write Now or whatever similar programs may exist in your community.

Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It

Queers-Cover-web-194x300I’m really happy to finally get to post about Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It, edited by Sigrid Ellis (Chicks Dig Comics) and Michael Damian Thomas (Apex Magazine). It’s being released on June 4, 2013, already seems to have great buzz, and has one of my essays in it.

While the stuff I write is always personal on some level, my piece in this volume touches on a lot of things I tend not to talk about in public (yes, those exist) — including being Sicilian, wanting to be a boy, and the age of AIDS — because they’re just too difficult, too close, and too specific in my day-to-day life.

The through time and space nature of the Whoniverse, however, and Jack Harkness’s long-life on 20th century Earth have meant, however, that I couldn’t get away with contributing to this volume without telling my story in ways I’m a lot less practiced at, which is an opportunity I’m incredibly grateful for.

I think this volume is going to be incredible. It contains work from a lot of people I know, and a lot of people I know of, and I’m super excited to get my hands on it.

You can pre-order it at Amazon and other major booksellers, and it will also be available for early purchase at Wiscon.

Glee: Tune in to FY Glee Podcast, Episode 7 (“Costuming on Glee: Symbols and Motifs”)

So it’s podcast time again this Sunday. This time I’ll be participating in a discussion on Glee‘s costuming and the way the show uses clothes to tell stories.  Long-time readers know this is the topic that got me blogging about Glee so copiously, and it’s going to be super fun to return to those roots.

Also on the podcast will be the awesome likearumchocolatesouffle, teiledesganzen, purplehairedwonder, and sothinky, some of whom you’ve possibly chatted with in the comments on this blog.

You can tune in Sunday 4/28 at 1pm EST to hear it live at the FY Glee Podcast’s YouTube channel, but there also be an archive version available after for those who can’t join us live as well as a transcript which I’ll link here when it’s available.

If you have topics you’d like to see discussed during this hour, please drop the podcast team a note at fyeahgleepodcast@gmail.com or drop into their new discussion forum.

Nick Cave: A laying on of hands

(For the uninitiated, Nick Cave sings a lot of songs about murder, religion, and violence (often against women). His lyrics at times contain slurs, and his themes are often disturbing. In light of that, advance warning that this may not be the blog post for you).

The holidays have been a little funny this year, although in some ways, they always are: My mother is Jewish and my father tends to rotate through religions biannually and is the type of guy who has self-published his own version of the Bible. Combine this with two family birthdays in April (my father’s and my partner’s) and it can get more than a little wacky pretty quickly. Trust me, when Easter Sunday and the first day of Passover are the same day and the birthday of your dad who writes poetry in the voice of Jesus, things get a little intense and a lot weird.

This year, though, the holidays got cancelled.  A pipe burst in my parents’ apartment, flooding the entire space with about 6 inches of boiling water. This took down a huge part of a wall, destroyed the flooring, and resulted in significant property damage.  It was also a re-lived trauma; something similar happened about 35 years ago in which most of my mother’s artwork was destroyed.  She works in water color, my father in oils, so his work was fine.

it suffices to say, Passover got cancelled this year, and Easter was already off the table because I would be in the air at the start of a business trip.

But for all that I attempt to distance myself from some aspects of them, I am a product of my eccentric family and its religious shenanigans (I haven’t mentioned other conversions, various conversants with Jesus, or my late cousin who joined a cult which allowed her only to dress in red), and so the season and I didn’t quite pass each other by.

I’ve seen Nick Cave in concert dozens of times.  The first was about 25 years ago, in high school.  He was so drunk or high, that not only could he not remember the words to his own songs, and not only could he not read the words to his own songs successfully off of a piece of paper, he couldn’t even sit on the stool from whence he was trying to do this without falling off of it. 

I didn’t know what to think of it, and I suppose on some level, I didn’t care.  I had my freedom for a night in New York without lying for a change, and that was enough.

But despite that particular gig being the way it was, I didn’t lose interest in Nick Cave.  I’ve seen him with his band, The Bad Seeds; I’ve seen him solo, crooning as he noodled on a grand piano at Town Hall.  And I’ve always been mesmerized, by his jangly charisma, a sort of Neil Diamond spit up from the pits of hell to sing about religion and murder and drunks all taken out of some fictional, horrific, and supernatural Dust Bowl America.

So this past friday, I went to see Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds again, because I always do.  And while there are no terrible seats at The Beacon, I had terrible seats, up in the lodge, but I became thankful for them, nearly instantly.  Because when Cave took the stage, he crouched down, and beckoned the audience to him, cajolling them, praising them closer, telling them to ignore the security guards, come closer, come closer.

And, of course, eventually they did. 

When I was seventeen, and just a week or two into college, I walked up to Gaston Hall at Georgetown University in a rainstorm to see Cave play.  A lot of things happened that day and night, but one of them was that same beckoning.  And I was close to the front, so when he called, I was right there, and in fact watched half the show sat on the lip of the stage and twisted ’round to see him.  He sang “Hey Joe” just inches from my face, into my eyes, long fingers touching my hair.

To see him work that particular magic — and horror, there’s a lot of horror at Nick Cave shows — on Friday night was a moment come full circle.  For every gentle caress as he sang of murder or men who make bets with the Devil and win, there was also his palm smacking onto the top of someone’s head, a laying on of hands as they vibrated under him to the music.

I watched this for two hours, a hand over my mouth smiling into it, as Cave performed this ritual on dozens of fans, going out into the crowd at one point and saying no to those who would try for the moment twice.  And it wasn’t just girls this time, not like it was back in 1990, and I was grateful for it, because this a man whose songs I feel I can never recommend to anyone because they often contain lines like “a fag in a whalebone corset draping his dick across my face.”  Those lines, for the record, usually aren’t even the ones most likely to upset or offend; Cave has a lot of seven-minute story songs, and they are all a long dark road. 

In all these years nothing about his songs has really changed; some are slower, some are almost gentle; but it’s still a body of work that’s often about dead prostitutes (and lately mermaids, actually, but I think that’s just a one-album phase). The songs remain dark, unsavory, lit by a strange religiosity, and desperately romantic.

At Friday’s show Cave sang a lot of older ones I didn’t expect to hear: “Papa Won’t Leave You Henry” (from which the previously quoted line comes), “Deanna” (which is only particularly harrowing if you’ve heard him tell its backstory), “The Mercy Seat” (performed in the voice of a convict as he is being executed in the eletric chair), “The Weeping Song” (performed solo now that Blixa Bargeld is no longer in the band, a gesture I appreciate, even though the song, which tells the difference between children’s tears and adult sorrow, was always better as a duet), “The Ship Song” (perhaps the most shattering love song I have ever heard), “Tupelo” (which, clearly, it’s just easier if I link to), and “From Her to Eternity” (the night’s closest moment to Cave’s original punk days, but remarkably listenable to all the same).

And amongst all of this, Cave did it with a string section and a children’s choir from Harlem. 

Now, there are a lot of dead and weeping children in Cave’s songs; having children’s voices support many of those songs (even if the truly violent and disturbing stuff was saved for when they were off stage) was brilliant and weird and that possible step too far that a performer with his roots in punk should generally provide.

Even so, a man that I have seen give pretty much every type and quality of concert imaginable, managed to surprise me and discomfort me all over again.  Which is, of course, why I keep coming back.

Somewhere in there, as the people around me whispered about how they wished they were down on the floor where Cave was still beckoning and cajoling between verses and laying on hands during, I realized that nearly everything I’ve ever thought about what it means to be chosen, and the burden of that, comes from being one of those people on the floor as a teen. 

How silly, how wasteful, how secret and lovely, it seemed to me all at once. 

The children lifted their voices again, Cave referenced a great and terrible God with incredibly elusive mercy, and I thought about the email I would write to my parents about seeing the show, like this, on Good Friday of all days, knowing my father might well be offended and my mother vociferously jealous.

After and leaving, I overheard two conversations: One from a woman who had clearly seen Cave before and had taken her seemingly new boyfriend in the concert.  She was relieved that he had liked it.  The other, two people, probably around ten years younger than me who’d never seen Cave before. They were in that wow, what was that, wow place some of us go to after really good concerts.  I followed them to the subway, listening to them try to talk about the way Cave touches his audience as if they are customer and pilgrims.  They wondered if the people in the audience who got that close wanted to fuck him or wanted to be healed.

I shook my head to myself, but said nothing.  But 23 years ago when Nick Cave sang “Hey Joe” to me I stared him right in the eye and sung along when I could.  It wasn’t anything but a dare in my pretty little seventeen-year-old head, and that went both ways.

There aren’t a lot of interactions a person can have with someone we put on a stage, we put on a pedestal, we insert into a narrative that says we’re practically obligated to desire them, where you get to be that equal and that ferocious, no matter how much it looks, under those long fingers, like something else.

an stomach the themes of Cave’s work, it’s a never, ever miss gig.