Thank You For Bea-ing a Friend…:RIP Bea Arthur,1922-2009

I will be the first to admit that my gay sensibilities are ostensibly heightened and terrifically off-the-charts much of the time when it comes to…well, almost anything. Go ahead and point it out. I will shrug at you. I will shrug quite loudly at you, in fact. I have recognized that there is a very large possibility that I was a gay man in my last life. But that is neither here nor there, really. Because while Bea Arthur was arguably a much-loved and cherished icon in the gay male community due to her participation in one of THE MOST beloved shows in all gaydom, Golden Girls, Bea Arthur was a woman that spanned far beyond that, and boy howdy did she know it!

beaarthurBea Arthur was a woman who, through her deadpan vocal stylings, sly grin and animated eyebrows exuded a confidence that any woman would be lucky to have on her good day. Or any man for that matter! She had an enviable career to be sure. From her beginnings in Kraft Television Theater in 1951, to the roles she made famous: Vera Charles in Mame or the roles she created like Dorothy in Golden Girls or Maude in Maude, Bea Arthur was nothing if not the consummate professional and always, always, always Funny As Hell.

Being 5’9″ and broad shouldered in an industry constructed for the petite of frame couldn’t have been easy, but she seemed to have risen to the challenge and worked it with all she had, and truly cut her own place for herself. To be honest, that may have been the reason that she made out as well as she did. There are a thousand and one sweet’n’petite blonds that can sing and dance up a storm, I suppose, but how many of them can turn a line of dialogue into something so dynamic, so alive, so pulsating with energy that when it drops from their lips (even when said in the most deadpan-esque manner) you want to scream and howl with laughter?

Not many. And you know what it was? Bea Arthur was born with a watch in her blood stream. She was born with a sense of timing that even many of the very BEST comedians have to train for years to achieve. But for some reason, and I think her consistent work in Golden Girls is the best proof of this, Bea Arthur had it. She knew exactly when it was “right.” And the most wonderful part is that you could see the confidence in her face, at all times.

When I woke up today, and I found out about her passing, I spent a great deal of time looking for Bea Arthur Awesomeness to post on my Facebook. To share with my friends, to share with my little cousins who may not know who the hell she was, or just to basically remind folks how wonderfully talented Bea was and how multidimensionally talented. Let me tell you- one of the best Saturday afternoons I have had in a long time was today, eating lunch, and watching a bunch of fan-clips of “favorite  moments” from the Golden Girls. In pajamas, and then getting to write. Really lovely. But aside from that, there were 2 pretty extraordinary YouTube videos that I found, and I will post them here:

Rock & Bea discuss the “good old days”

Angela & Bea…Bosom Buddies forever.

As someone who studies/works with fan culture quite frequently, I have to say that one of the things that I found interesting was the evolution of the comments over today on these videos. The response from people showing the impact that Bea Arthur has had on their lives is simply remarkable. A few examples:

I dreaded this day too. When I was diagnosed with an uncommon illness i had nothing to cheer me up for day until i turned on the television and it just so happen that the Golden Girls was on tv and my mood changed and till this day I pop in a GG Dvd and i laught with Dorothy yelling at her mom and Rose — from Atitoinnyc, from the “Sniff Swig Puff” video

One of the most talented and classiest actresses ever to grace the stage or air waves. She brought so many years of happiness to so many; my parents adored watching her in everything, and they were tough to please. A tremendous loss! –from Frymet, from the “Bosom Buddies” video

I would encourage you to go and look at more of the comments on more of the videos, as they are fascinating and they show a real sense of the power that Arthur’s career has had over so many people’s lives over the years, not to mention a real intriguing look at the fan community as well. But that is bordering on my own interests and so feel free to disregard. However, I do feel it to be an important part of someone’s final passing to see how the community as a whole grieves and how they take it together; the fan community being one of the most strong and creative in certain media respects. For example, in the next 2-3 weeks, there will be no less than 100-200 new fan videos based on Bea Arthur and her career in the Golden Girls. That is a bet I am totally willing to make. Tribute videos, mixes, everything. It’s one of the greatest parts about fan culture. Their creative impulse is so strong. Sure, half of ’em may live in mom’s basement, but does that really matter at the end of the day?

At any rate, at this point I would like to raise a glass to the woman she started out as, the woman she grew up to be, the woman she became, and the woman she was. I would like to raise a glass to Vera Charles, to Maude Findlay, to Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak, to Amanda Cartwright, and just, plain and simple, to Bea Arthur- what a woman! Here’s to you, and thank you for being MY friend and gracing me with the opportunity to be so thoroughly entertained for most of my lifetime!

May you and Estelle be up there sharing laughs together as we speak…..The earth is lonely for you both, but the heavens are made more glorious with laughter upon your arrival!

goldengirls

Journey to the Center of a Girl

Growing up in Los Angeles- Hollywood, to be precise- can be a very odd experience. Not that I would know any different, so I suppose that it should all seem perfectly normal to me. However, as someone who is a trained critical thinker, I do consider my evolutionary process quite frequently, moreso when an icon that speaks to me passes on.

On February 4, 2009, Lux Interior died.  For me, this was a heavy loss and spanned multiple areas of my life.  In a way, this man’s death was also one of the final nails in the coffin containing the slowly deteriorating body that was the Los Angeles that I grew up with. See, Los Angeles used to be ALIVE. Vibrant. Pulsating. Now I fully recognize that at 30 years old, I am too young to have fully experienced my city to its capacity, especially in the ways that I am writing about it now. That said, I have always had eyes and I have always paid attention. See, I remember when Melrose was a little bit “dangerous.”  When my mom used  to drive down the street and I used to look at all the people whose hair color matched my crayon box, I sensed that this place was a bit verboten and dangerous; not a location for “nice” people to be seen, necessarily. Of course, the greatest irony is that now I *am* one of those people…but I digress. When I was very young, Melrose was not what it is now. vinylfetish I do remember how it all began, though. My mother used to joke about the stores staying for 5 minutes. In fact, since I live so very close to Melrose these days, I still make that same joke- because it still happens. But Melrose now is not Melrose then. In fact, trying to find pictures for this entry was very difficult. As most people know, you can find pictures for just about ANYTHING online. you want pictures of Lindsay Lohan’s original bellybutton piercing? You got ’em! But old school Melrose? HARD. The picture above is a store that is no longer there, Vinyl Fetish. Right across the street was Retail Slut. I remember going in there after school when I went to Fairfax, and being gazed upon with incredible disdain by the employees. I felt as big as a peanut. Shell not included. I remember how horrible that felt. It was terrible, because the honest-to-god truth was that I was a really smart, sweet kid who got swooped up by some crazy slightly older punk rockers later that same year and everything ended up being perfectly ok, cuz I got my “boots’n’braces” education eventually, but…

A very very short time later, my baby brother was WORKING there. Working there. At Retail Slut. My little brother. With a nickname and everything. HUH?!?!? Yeah, that’s what I said. But that’s a whole other story, I guess.  At any rate, that’s not what this is about. this is about  My Experience With Lux. It’s not EVERYONE’S.  And it is most certainly not a *striking* one, but it is mine, and I cherish it because it is part of My Los Angeles.

How long have you been a slut?

How long have you been a slut?

Images as a teen are strange things. Especially if you exist in some kind of perverse “subculture” or have a desire to do so. I was initially part of the latter variety that (luckily for me) ended up in the former. So many visuals came with the territory, and I remember seeing hoards of them. Many that would end up becoming part of my everyday sartorial choices. The Two-Tone label, Bad Religion, Madness, X…all of these iconic things found homes upon my body somewhere, sometime. The FEAR insignia, the Crass logo, the Christian Death symbol- I learned how to read them. It was all a kind of language- a new symbolism almost. But…I remember that the Bad Music for Bad People image scared me.

I cruise through the city & I roam the streets...

I cruise through the city & I roam the streets...

HOW AWESOME IS THAT???? I say that with enthusiasm, because that is every bit of the intent. While I don’t adore every single everything by The Cramps that has ever been done, as a band they are one of the best that has EVER crossed the face of the planet because they hit on all of my favorite things: sexual permissiveness/provocativeness/perversity, horror cinema, b-films/culture, combining aural stimulus with visual stimulus, and, most important of all, breaking boundaries.

I loved being scared, then. I love being scared now. I will probably always love it. If you can find something that can scare me, I’ll kiss ya and buy ya a soda pop! I’m the kinda girl that can go to bed right after watching The Exorcist, and I don’t think that has anything to do with the fact that I’ve been Bat Mitzvah-ed and am not Catholic in the least.

OK. So you wanna know what else I REALLY love about The Cramps? You REALLY wanna know? Sure, my heart is broken and totally devastated that I never got to see them, but here’s the other stuff that makes me all gushy inside when I think about why the Cramps are integral to the world as we know it, musically, socially, and artistically. This band changed the world. Now, I’m gonna get all theoretical on you, so if you hate that stuff, here’s your chance to jet……NOW.

I like The Cramps because they are, to me, a visual-musical representation of Julia Kristeva’s theories of the abject and abjection. And I think abjection is endlessly interesting. Kristeva wrote that “It is not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite. The traitor, the liar, the criminal with a good conscience, the shameless rapist, the killer who claims he is a savior…He who denies morality is not abject; there can be grandeur in amorality and even in crime that flaunts its disrespect for the law-rebellious, liberating & suicidal crime.  Abjection, on the other hand, is immoral, sinister, scheming, and shady: a terror that dissembles, a hatred that smiles, a passion that uses the body for barter instead of inflaming it, a debtor who sells you up, a friend who stabs you…” (Powers of Horror, p.13) So what were The Cramps BUT a band about abjection? They were the outside, the other, yet with some very odd traditional sensibilities. In that sense, they bore a significant musical resemblance to Kristeva’s idea of the ambiguous, the composite…. From their very beginnings and their first album, Songs The Lord Taught Us (1980, Illegal Records), they had set up that status. Through singing traditional cover tracks like “Fever”  or “Tear it Up” and marching them up against their self-penned original titles like “The Zombie Dance” or “I Was a Teenage Werewolf,”  The Cramps established themselves as a band that could do exactly what they wanted to do…TO YOU. Especially since they were under the auspices of the Lord, right?

They had a message from God!

They had a message from God!

Variety Lists the Top 10 Cramps song titles as follows:

10. The Creature from the Black Leather Lagoon

9. I Wanna Get in Your Pants

8. Eyeball in My Martini

7. The Most Exalted Potentate of Love

6. Naked Girl Falling Down the Stairs

5. Fissure of Rolando

4. Journey to the Center of a Girl

3. Don’t Eat Stuff off the Sidewalk

2. Two Headed Sex Change

1. Bikini Girls With Machine Guns

First thing to be noted here: at least half these songs reference significant physiological issues. The Fissure of Rolando is an area deep within the brain, not immediately accessible or visible. A sex change? Let alone one of the 2-headed variety? Yes, I do believe that would border on “outsider” status, don’t you?  With Abject Cramps Logic, this is all just par for the course. And the lyrics do not deviate any more than the titles do. For example, let’s just take “Eyeball in my Martini.”  On a deeper, more psychological level, abjection is about the breakdown between the subject and object or the self and other.

Sooooooo, our illustrious frontman croons, “I went out to eat the other night. Picked up my girl at eight. In my soup I found a fly. But, there beyond my plate. Was an eyeball in my martini. A highball with a twist. One in my linguini, too. I said, “There’s somethin’ wrong with this.” Eyeballs, eyeballs, eyeballs. Eyeballs everywhere. Eyeballs, eyeballs, eyeballs…” OK. Not only are we hitting on Kristeva’s issues with abjection and the uncleanliness factor in this instance, but we definitely have significant issues surrounding the recognition of the abject. Kristeva writes that “A wound with blood or pus, or the sickly, acrid smell of sweat, of decay, does not signify death. In the presence of signified death…I would understand, react or accept. No, as in true theater, without makeup or masks, refuse & corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live. These body fluids, this defilement, this shit are what life withstands, hardly and with difficulty, on the part of death. There, I am at the border of my condition as a living being…” In this song, it is exactly this. Whether he’s looking at his drink or staring at his dinner, he’s being confronted with the very “condition of his humanity” through the existence of a piece of it. Removed from it. One basically can exist without one’s eyeball, most assuredly, but most would choose not to if it could be helped. However, singing a song such as this, where the eyeball/humanity/abjection/symbol of the body’s breakdown or demise is continually appearing in his linguini, drink and so forth???  Lux is about to eat his own flesh. Drink his own sight. Inhale his own existence. He cannot get away from the fact that he has to face mortality, and existence. The pus, the defilement, the breakdown. THIS IS THE ABJECT….

My body extricates itself, as being alive, from that border...-Kristeva

My body extricates itself, as being alive, from that border...-Kristeva

See, the abject also refers to our reactions to that which is considered “abject” which, according to Kristeva, can be quite a traumatic experience all-around.  Kristeva mentions examples of certain items that illicit these reactions, inclusive of corpses, open wounds, piss, or the skin on the top of warm milk (don’t ask on that milk one- if you want to go further, read her full piece, which I would highly recommend doing anyway).  Because these items remind us of our own mortality, of our own physicality, of the things that we do/are /the “uncleanliness,” (see earlier quote), or other things that rip us away from the general state of “pretty happy shiny” that we tend to live in, the abject causes us to, essentially “flip out,” and experience a very real, significant sense of cognitive dissonance. Yeah, pretty fucked up. So in a sense, we are confronted by our own existence and bodily functions, we don’t like to recognize that we die or bleed or crap, and……OMGWTFBBQ!!!!

We fear. This is exactly why horror films work. This is why Cronenberg has built a cinematic empire upon body horror. This is why the Aliens series works. This is why SO MANY things work. I could go on. Buuuuuuuuuut…..my point here is this is also why The Cramps work!!!

The Cramps played a lot. So did X. So did a great many bands that my friends were able to see and I was never able to bear witness to. However I remember the visual. I remember, as only a child/adolescent does, COMPLETELY mixing up Lux Interior and the cover of Bad Music For Bad People (the main image I always saw around town). I always thought THAT was him. But I enjoyed the fear and the THRILL that he put in me. Years later, when I became a fan, and then a film and pop culture theorist myself, I was able to think about things (obviously) on a different note. However, to this day, I will always think that Bad Music for Bad People is a scary album cover. I will also think that it clearly references theoretical issues of abjection, etc, which only makes me adore it even more.

I am sad for my loss. After all, what is sadness after a death but personal loss, really? I am just sad that I was unable to see them. That is my tragedy. It is an aural & visual loss that I will always regret. However I am proud to have experienced them as a Hollywood girl, having them be such a crucial part of my lifecycle, and and even happier to have them continue to prove to be a brilliant source of education and inspiration for theory and learning. Even if, at the end of the day, I am just a Goo Goo Muck…

This is the way, step inside: Joy Division and Me, pt. 1

The silence when doors open wide
Where people could pay to see inside
For entertainment they watch
his body twist
Behind his eyes he says I still exist
This is the way, step inside

And with these lyrics, Joy Division begins their album, Closer. The song? “Atrocity Exhibition.”  The aural impact? INFINITE.

Released 2 months after Ian Curtis’ suicide, and recorded just before his neurological dysfunctions reached the height of their horrors, this album is nothing short of brutally brilliant. And it is brutal, make no mistake about it. Emotionally, aurally, sensually, and erotically brutal. Whether it is Curtis’ plaintive but angry voice growling, “I put my trust in you,” or the dark and dingy basslines that make you feel like you’re existing in a chasm of nothing but pure, unadulterated shadow that has been physically manifested, this collection of songs is the unintentional culmination of a band that no one has seen the likes of since. Fuck the Interpol comparisons. One good, PROPER listen to Closer, and your world will be forever changed. But it has to be at the right time.

A while back, I was having drinks with an old friend, and we hadn’t seen each other in a while. We were catching up over beers and such, and discussing things we had seen or were currently working on. Both being media academic-types, that was the primary focus of much of our conversation. However there was one key part of our conversation having had its origins in an online encounter (great term- online encounter- Sounds almost naughty, doesn’t it?) from a day or two previous.  This was not your run-of-the-mill critical theory conversation (although I suppose that that is not quite “run of the mill” bar chat for most of the world, but I digress…). Oh no. This was a discussion of the most masterful YouTube video that I had seen in a very long time, which I had recently posted on my Facebook, and had illicited quite a response from a few choice people I knew. A clip I will now submit for your own viewing enjoyment.



At any rate, while we lamented the fact that not everyone seemed to enjoy the video as much as we had, I mentioned that, for me, it was quite possibly one of the most intelligent pieces of YouTube-ist fare around today, primarily, because the video had used the song “She’s Lost Control,” one of my favorite Joy Division songs.

While he agreed that it was indeed a good song, he seemed to feel that there was better work in the Joy Division oeuvre. In my defense, as I related to my companion, this song has always had a special meaning to me, as Curtis wrote it about a girl having a seizure and I, myself, have seizures. Thus, “She’s Lost Control,” has, in effect, been “my jam” since I first heard it, in college. However, as we continued our conversation, I thought about it more intensely. In fact, I took this opportunity to re-exam my relationship with Joy Division, Ian Curtis, and my seizures with a much more discerning eye. The results of my contemplations and my residual experiments were almost as intense as the music itself.

When did I fall in love with that song? What made me do it? And why that song over all other Joy Division work? Why did I want to play THAT song over and over, negating the possibility of me appreciating or learning about the breadth and depth of their work? Surely the simple fact that I had a seizure disorder (which was so very minor at the time, and did not ACTUALLY become a real issue until the most recent few years) wouldn’t have affected my critical judgement? The conclusion that I came to was that it very well might have.

See, having epilepsy isn’t fun. I remember my first seizure (well, not the actual seizing part) as clear as day, and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I was 13 or so years old, brushing my teeth before bed. As most teenage girls of that age do, I had locked the bathroom door. When my parents heard loud banging sounds, they had to break the door down. I was wearing underwear and my Max Headroom t-shirt. I miss that shirt. My life as I knew it, as a normal kid, ended that night. From that point on, my life has always involved MRIs, blood tests, sleep deprivation tests, and a whole slew of different neurological meds…and this was before I could even DRIVE.

This was also when they told me it was probably going to go away, and I would probably be off medication by me early 20’s.

“You don’t have epilepsy,” they reassured me while prescribing me Phenobarbitol, a drug that turned me into a early 90’s metal-head version of Linda Blair from The Exorcist, minus the cross-fucking (hey-I’m Jewish!) and head-spinning. Needless to say, not only did I get off that medication pretty quickly, when it became perfectly clear that a barbiturate was NOT good for a highly emotionally raw and sensitive 13-14 year old, but I believed them and felt confident that by my 20’s, I would be a normal kid. Just like my friends.

cortex

Never once did they explain to me what seizures were. How they worked. What was fucking wrong with me. So when I continued to have them in a highly muted form (ie not doing the dying fish routine with my body, aka grand mal seizures), I never told anyone. Hey- I wasn’t talking to my parents anyway- just one MORE thing not to tell them. Not once did I realize how bad all this was. Until they got worse. And I had a few more. But then they found a good medication after a few failed attempts (one they had to take me off immediately, as it was killing people by anemia, ooo fun!) and I was safe at last. Seizure free. Basically.

It was approximately at this point that I found myself living in Santa Cruz, and that I found Joy Division.

Let me preface this by saying, I have never been “cool” or up on things the way I would like to have been, except perhaps in the worlds of literature and film. I may have read/seen some stuff ahead of other folks in that particular area. Other than that, I spent a good long time trying to play “catch up,” mostly because all of my friends were a great deal older than I was. They were probably drinking beer and singing TV Party while I was still getting through the Narnia books. At any rate, I had heard Joy Division, never got “into” them, but knew that a lot of people I liked really liked them. So the day that my housemate who worked at the corporate record store downtown next to the Santa Cruz 9 (was it the Wherehouse?) brought home the 4-disc collection, Heart and Soul in order to sell it to the other record store in town (he’d stuffed the box set down his pants on his way out the door), I knew it had to be mine instead. And it was.

b00005mkhq01lzzzzzzz1Unfortunately, what this prevented was the first cohesive aural experience of a Joy Division album. True, I did get 4 discs of pure, unadulterated amazing music, but I did not get an album.

See, here’s the problem with that. In this day and age, albums do not carry a whole lot of currency for most people, or so it seems. However, with the musics that I happen to love, albums mean a whole lot. Sure, you can listen to “Pinball Wizard,” from Tommy, and it’s a great song on its own, but without the context of the album it loses a great deal of its power. The same goes for most of my favorite albums, to be honest. They are albums.

But within this context, having only really had intimate familiarity with “Love Will Tear Us Apart Again” (as anyone who has spent ANY time within 50 feet of a goth or goth club does), I was immediately drawn to “She’s Lost Control.” Once I read about the background story….even more so.

Sure, it was ego. I wanted to find myself in there. I was that girl. Because also, at that time, I was in my late teens/early 20’s (aka Second Adolescence, only gotta pay your own way this time ’round!), and so many other things seemed…out of control. In fact, the only thing that was not out of control was what I was studying, because I had fallen so deeply, madly and passionately in love with film and media studies that every pore in my body, every hair on my head, every beat of my heart seemed to exude it. I lived for it. But that song……

Confusion in her eyes that says it all.
She’s lost control.
And she’s clinging to the nearest passer by,
She’s lost control.
And she gave away the secrets of her past,
And said I’ve lost control again,
And a voice that told her when and where to act,
She said I’ve lost control again.

I must have listened to that song 10,000 times. It was kinda like the song “Swamp Thing,” by the Chameleons, UK. I heard it and I simply. Could. Not. Get. Enough.

And that was it. My story. That was how I met Joy Division.

Things have changed now. But that’s another story for another time. Part 2.

But I wonder if my world would have altered had I been introduced to a full album instead. Was my musical maturity level at the time up to par? Could I have understood it? Would it have done anything for me? More inportantly, does it mean I am less of a fan because I have done my listening in such compartmentalized doses that were so separated? And what is fan-ness of this individuated and personalized genre anyway?

To me, this song meant a great deal. Little did I know how much the band and its singer would come to mean when my own illness became more advanced, 10 years in the future. Stayed tuned, true believers, that part comes up next…