If You Don’t Cry, it Isn’t Love: Art & Peter Gabriel

If you don’t cry, it isn’t love. That’s a quote from a song by the Magnetic Fields and it’s how I feel about most art. Film, music, theater, experimental dance.


It’s gotta have you in its CRAW, not letting go. It could be so funny that you don’t know if you’ll ever breathe again, it could have visuals that are so striking that you simply don’t understand how science could connect eyes and emotion that fucking hard.
Any way you slice it, from eyeball to eardrum, if you don’t cry, it isn’t love.
I’m going to see Peter Gabriel tonight & I’m listening to Mercy Street which makes me cry every time.I cannot even imagine what it might sound like at the Hollywood Bowl, a location I have been visiting since I was a small child (if not since I was in utero!).  Just the thought fills me with awe.

Some artists command their work like a preacher commands a church. It’s a terrible analogy, but Gabriel’s grip on music is so far-reaching it seems spiritual to me. So perhaps he is more of an old style mystic reborn into soundtracks and rock bands? John Cusack lifting that boombox up in SAY ANYTHING is iconographic, to be sure, but it is not entirely for Cameron Crowe-reasons, or Cusack-reasons. It is the spirituality of Gabriel.
His last name, Gabriel, is the name of an angel.
This has not gone unnoticed by me.
So in late 1999 or early 2000, I was in these really shitty seats in London, seeing The Magnetic Fields do their opus album, 69 LOVE SONGS over 2 nights at the Hammersmith Odeon. I was beside myself. This was my favorite band, a favorite album, the whole thing. So I’m in the balcony, and they bring out some guy to sing with them, but, as it was so far below me, he was completely unrecognizable visually. I got disgruntled for a minute. “Who’s that old guy?” I thought, in my early 20’s idiocy.

Then he opened his mouth and began to sing “Book of Love.” I will, for the rest of my life, be apologetic for ever having been initially disgruntled at the man I didn’t recognize as Peter f-g Gabriel being on stage with my favorite band. I nearly fell over the balcony and died that night. No joke.

Tonight I will cry.
A great deal.
Unapologetically and without any kind of sadness. In fact, I will do so with great joy.
I will cry because I am in love with the fact that music makes me feel. I will cry because music reminds me that I have opposables and that I’m not always attached to a computer or a phone or technology. That humans can connect to each other through sound, touch, feel and sight. Because art is as real as any relationship you might have with a friend because it CAN effect you that deeply and you can get that much out of it.
If you don’t cry, it isn’t love, if you don’t cry you just don’t feel it deep enough and that means the universe to this L.A. girl.

It always will.

So This is Permanence: Joy Division and Me, Pt. 2

I never realized the lengths I’d have to go

All the darkest corners of a sense I didn’t know.

Just for one moment, I heard somebody call,

Looked beyond the day in hand, there’s nothing at all

Now that I’ve realized how it’s all gone wrong,

Gotta find some therapy, this treatment takes too long

—-“Twenty Four Hours”, Closer, Joy Division (1980)

I know that it is largely frowned upon in academic and professional communities to get “too personal” within the realm of online writing, but sometimes I feel it is important to drop our guard, let people in, and give readers access. Sometimes, the more personal the better.

I was asked by someone today, “Have you come out as an epileptic?”

It was a strange question. I have never considered myself  particularly “closeted” nor have I ever felt that it was something that I have had to necessarily hide. On that same token, hearing that question, I have also never placed it on the same level as the struggles that people have had with their sexuality and coming “Out of The Closet” in that context. However, after giving it some thought, I came to a striking conclusion: the process of dealing with life as an epileptic can bear remarkable similarities to the process of dealing with living life as a person of alternative sexuality in a heteronormative culture such as ours.

Please do not mistake what I am trying to say- I am in no way trying to say that what epileptics go through is on par with Matthew Shepard, per se. But I live this life every day. It’s no party. It’s the first thing I think of when I wake up, the last thing I consider when I go to bed. It affects everything I do and everything I am. It makes me entirely different from the average person walking down the street. I cannot imagine that this experience is that far from the queer experience. You may be surprised to hear it, but my entire world and life has had to be reorganized due to epilepsy and not everyone is open to it. I never really sat down and thought about it at all. Until today. Then it really blew me away.

Would you be surprised to find out that the reaction that I get from many people when I tell them that I’m epileptic mirrors homophobic reactions? Let’s face it- aside from politics, religious nonsense, and plain old-fashioned stubbornness, homophobia is really just a bad case of not being educated about the LGBT community. Well, when people squirm around me, and refuse to meet my eyes, begin to treat me with kid gloves, or, in some cases, take me off the “date-able” list immediately after finding out about my seizures (it has happened), it’s simply due to not being educated about the disease. In 2012, that makes me really depressed. It certainly doesn’t make it any easier.

OK, I don’t get to live everyone else’s life. And at the end of the day- am I unhappy about this? Not really. I enjoy my life every single day. I have an full and astonishingly brilliant life! I’m training to become a film archivist (my dream!), my film calendar is always full, and my social world is rarely lacking. I’m an exceptionally lucky individual. But being epileptic is difficult and exhausting, both mentally and exhausting. And as my life continues to get more exciting and wonderful, my mind returns again and again to Ian Curtis and my heart aches for him. I wrote about my relationship with Joy Division once before, and said I would return to the subject, so due to the earlier prompt, it looks like I now am.

People like you find it easy,

Naked to see,

Walking on air,

Hunting by the rivers,

Through the streets,

Every corner abandoned too soon

Every time I hear “Atmosphere”, I hear Ian’s pain, so loud, so biting. And to be perfectly honest? I recognize it. I feel it. It reflects my experience. To an extent, it irritates me that I use this song to synthesize my own poorly functioning neurology, but the kinship I feel with Ian Curtis goes a long way. In general, I try not to personalize things but with Curtis…it’s remarkably difficult. Additionally, not knowing about any other public figures with seizure disorders until I began doing research (as it turns out, Prince had epilepsy as a child), he was the one person that I could identify with. Joy Division’s songs, while clearly appealing to a mass audience, really had very specific meaning to me. I believe that Ian Curtis put a good amount of his experience with epilepsy into his music. It’s too present and I can read it too plainly. Indeed, the fact that Curtis was Joy Division’s only lyricist supports that thesis.

At times, even song titles read like the feelings that I have felt since my first diagnosis at 13 and since my condition has worsened after age 30. Tunes like “Atrocity Exhibition,” “I Remember Nothing,” “She’s Lost Control,” and, especially, “Isolation” have all played large parts in the make-up of my epilepsy-marriage to Ian and his own possible lyrical catharsis.

Isolation” is a really tough song for me. Released a few months after Ian’s death on the album Closer, this song really cuts into what some of the bigger chunks of epilepsy can be, psychologically. When he sings

Mother I tried please believe me

I’m doing the best that I can

I’m ashamed of the things I’ve been put through

I’m ashamed of the person I am 

it always hits me in my gut; knocks the wind right out of me. Whether it makes sense to anyone else or not, the most embarrassing thing I have ever dealt with in my life has been my seizure disorder. It has taken me years to overcome the shame and embarrassment that I used to feel in regards to my disease. Not only did that shame create even more problems for me, but it also blanketed me in the very thing that Curtis sang about: isolation.

Ian Curtis was only 23 years old when he hung himself. People have been arguing for years about what the “real” catalyst for his suicide was. If you listen to his lyrics, it’s all right there, plain as day. But that’s just from my perspective.

I realize that Ian many other problems: depression, familial discord, the lot. However, it would be dense and ignorant not to recognize that brain function is linked to both depression and seizure disorders. Ian’s former band members have come forward in the last few years talking about his epilepsy and painful struggles. Stephen Morris told NME magazine, “Looking back, I wish I’d helped him more. I think that all the time… But we were having such a good time, and you’re very selfish when you’re young. Epilepsy wasn’t understood then. People would just say, ‘He’s a bit of a loony – he has fits.””  According to an article in The Guardian, Bernard Sumner says that, amidst the plethora of problems raging in Ian’s world, it really was the epilepsy that did him in.

“Ian’s problems were insurmountable.Not only did he have this hideous relationship problem, he also had this illness that he contracted at 22. And it wasn’t a mild form. It was really, really bad and it occurred frequently…The epilepsy must have cast a shadow over his future, particularly his future with the band, and his relationships cast another giant shadow. Plus, he felt extremely guilty about his daughter Natalie… I remember him telling me he couldn’t pick Natalie up in case he had a fit and dropped her..Sometimes a drumbeat would set him off. He’d go off in a trance for a bit, then he’d lose it and have a fit. We’d have to stop the show and carry him off to the dressing-room where he’d cry his eyes out because this appalling thing had just happened to him. The heavy barbiturates he was on seemed to compound the situation; they made him very, very sad. I just don’t think there was a solution to Ian’s problems.”

Every bit of that makes perfect sense to me. I can’t begin to tell you how many tears I have shed due to being epileptic. Out of frustration, embarrassment, anger and resentment at my “lot.”

I have had seizures at the movie theater in front of my friends and perfect strangers. I have had seizures at the gym and fallen off exercise equipment. I have had them alone on the street and then tried to get a taxi but found that I was literally unable to speak because my brain was not in working order yet. I attempted to tell the cab driver where I wanted to go and all I could get out were the words for the mall that was near my house. I cried a good amount that evening. Can you imagine not being able to speak? The words were in my head, I could imagine a picture of my house, my street, but I could not tell him where I lived nor could I get words, simple WORDS, out of my MOUTH. I have seized getting ready to go somewhere and had to call someone to ask them if they knew what I was supposed to be doing that night because I couldn’t remember.

Mind you, I have a graduate degree. I am working on a second one. I can have an incredibly detailed conversation about the glories of pre-Code cinema or Sam Fuller with you. I can do a great many things. My epilepsy in no way affects my intelligence level on the whole. But the minute my brain short-circuits, I don’t remember my own name and I become a semi-functional vegetable.

I remember watching Anton Corbijn’s Control (2007) for the first time, and I was overwhelmed.

I had read Deborah Curtis’ book Touching From a Distance a long time previous and had been so hungry for some sort of media engagement that featured an epileptic that I don’t think I ever looked at the book critically. I still haven’t. To tell you the truth, I am uncertain if I could separate myself from Ian Curtis long enough to look at the book critically due to my connections with him. And Corbijn’s movie only tightened the grip.

Ian was on Tegretol. I’ve been on Tegretol (or the generic form, Carbemazepine) for a little under 20 years. They put Ian on Phenobarbitol. They put me on Phenobarbitol as a teenager. It was probably one of the worst levels of hell-drugs I have ever experienced. Phenobarbitol turned me into LINDA BLAIR in The Exorcist. If I wasn’t crying, I was yelling at my baby brother. If I wasn’t crying or yelling, I was sleeping. If I wasn’t crying, yelling or sleeping I was completely and totally irrational and unpredictable. So, being a teenager and irrational and unpredictable anywayphenobarbitol took me up to 11+. Ian Curtis was in his early 20’s. That’s not far from where I was. When his bandmates talk about his mood swings and his depressions and his unreliability, I cannot help but wonder: was this actual depression or was this the hardcore barbiturate that they had this young kid pumping through his slender frame, multiple times a day? Phenobarbitol ain’t nothin’ to fuck with.

Thirty years ago, they really didn’t know much about epilepsy, let alone the medications for it. They learn all the time. I remember that they had me on a medication at one point when I was 15 years old that I thought was great! It was a hunger suppressant, so I lost an incredible amount of weight really quickly, which I thought was fantastic! Unfortunately, the side effect of this medication for other people was a red blood cell count so low that they died. Nice, right? Needless to say, they’re still working out the kinks in MANY of the medications that deal with these issues. But I think it’s essential when thinking about Ian Curtis to recall the surrounding medical conditions of epilepsy and seizure disorders, because no one knows about them and no one talks about them.

For example- did you know that many of the very same medications that they prescribe  as antidepressants are also used as anticonvulsants or can be used for people with seizure disorders? Most people I talk to don’t know that. But it makes sense, right? It’s all brain chemistry; mixed up in that crazy web of electricity and wackiness between the ears.

I guess the question still remains for me today: how much of Ian’s depression came from a depression disorder and how much of it stemmed from the anti-seizure drugs and simply being epileptic? It’s a reasonable inquiry since I have on the receiving end of both. Who’s to say that if Ian hadn’t suffered from epilepsy he wouldn’t have been completely normal? From what we know, he had been having seizures for far longer than he had been letting on, and from personal experience, that is usually the case. I had little petit mal seizures for an entire year in junior high and never said ONE word to anyone about them. Nothing at all.

Peter Hook says of Ian’s suicide, “The police described it as a textbook case: suicide brought on by depression, well-documented by his cries for help…Unfortunately, we were all too young to understand.” While most of this is true, I would have to disagree about his death being a textbook case. Ian Curtis suffered from a variety of outside stressors, but he was a very young man who had absolutely no one to turn to about being stigmatized by an illness that he never asked for and yet was put upon him. He was involved in a music scene that catalyzed and worsened the condition and yet it was his life. How do you manage this? The pills are supposed to make you better, but they are, quite literally, making you see double, causing mental confusion, possible nausea, and mood swings like you never even knew were possible.

My memory of the drugs they gave Ian were that they made me feel like the girl that I once was had shrunk up inside me and was in the fetal position, looking out, and the world was really really fuzzy. Yet, in that condition, I was still physically functioning. It was a living nightmare. I was lucky: my parents saw my misery and got me off that medication straight away. Our boy was not in that position. Maybe that’s also why I feel for him.

Joy Division speaks to me because I know it, I live it, I am those songs. The themes that he would write about- ideas of atmosphere, memory, time, control– these are all things that an epileptic has in limited doses. I never know whether or not I’m going to be on my way to school and will have to pull my bike over to avoid having a seizure while I’m riding. My memory? Well, seizures control that. And one of the medications I’m on makes my memory not as sharp as it used to be. And time- I have no idea how long my seizures last. No idea at all. I have to ask people. As Ian’s epilepsy worsened, his songs got progressively darker and more tied into all of these themes. They became his only outlet.

Additionally, I don’t believe that Deborah or Annik Honore (the woman with whom he was carrying on an affair just before his death) were able to understand his feelings about having a seizure disorder anymore than he was able to express them. I have only been able to come to grips with and express my own feelings about my seizures in the last few years and I am 10 years older than Ian was when he died. To this day, this is the first time I have written out anything having to do with my seizures or what I go through. Why is epilepsy private, personal, intimate? I don’t know. It’s a stigma. Ian didn’t feel that it was socially acceptable to have it 30+ years ago. I don’t feel like it’s socially acceptable to have it now. It’s certainly not the topic to discuss at parties. Wanna clear a room or stop a conversation? Talk about the seizures.

Some people call epilepsy a disability. I haven’t let it rule or ruin my life. As I said above, I love my life and I’m living my dream. And I consider Ian Curtis to be a strong, talented and gifted icon that was dealt a really rough hand. I believe in my heart that if he had not had seizures, things would have gone differently. I cannot guarantee that he would not have OD’d or something of that ilk, but I am fairly confident that the kind of pain that he suffered in his life would have been much less.

Ian Curtis’ suicide was tragic, unnecessary, and entirely preventable. I wish I could travel back to England circa 1980 and say, “Ian, it does get better.” As cheesy as that current anti-bullying campaign and its ads are, I believe that they’re the truth. Especially in this case. Since 1980, the medications for depression, seizures and all kinds of neurologic therapies have improved by leaps and bounds.

I can only hope that within the next 30 years it gets even better. Not unlike the gay community, people with seizures hurt, feel pain, feel isolated, embarrassed by the fact that out of nowhere our neurology will suddenly control us instead of the other way around. Our lifestyles are different and we have different ways of doing things, but, at the end of the day we’re not different people. Ian Curtis was more talented than a large percentage of the non-seizure-having folks I know, and has been inspirational on the music that has been made since his passing. He was creative, unusual, and gifted. The brain misfirings never changed that.

My biggest fear is that one day I will not be able to write anymore. There. You have it. I have admitted to the larger reading public and strangers everywhere my biggest fear. I am deathly afraid that one day I will have a seizure that is so big that it affects my brain to the point that I am no longer able to function on a writerly or intellectual/academic level. These are the things I think about every day when I take my pills in the morning, afternoon and night. “Please let me be ok today, and let the pills continue to work.”

I used to think that the seizures were gone, then I got older and they came back, and my relationship with Joy Division took on a new meaning. So this is permanence means something totally different to me now. I will be an epileptic for the rest of my life, but it is not a death sentence and it does not in any way shape or form mean that I am a lesser person. If Ian Curtis could be so incredible and fire up that stage, I can do whatever I want to do. He did not have the resources that I have. That shatters me. But I am not Ian. So for now, what it means is that I should move forward with my dreams, keep doing all the amazing film work I’m doing and just dance, dance, dance, dance, dance to the radio…


So This is Christmas…–#6

I figured that for Christmas Day I would do a potpourri of sorts. See, alongside all the seasonal-related films that I adore, there are a whole bunch of TV shows, specials and songs with music videos. So this one is a little different from the others.

6) Holiday Audio-visual Mixtape

The first in all of this madness is a song I cannot go without hearing at Christmas time. It’s by one of my favorite bands, The Pogues, and features vocalist Kirsty MacColl. I have a special memory around this song, actually, related to the holidays. Sad, but Christmas-and-song-specific. I was in Ireland in December of 2000, spending my holiday break there. I was at University in England at the time, but I figured, “Hey- Christmas in Ireland, New Year’s in Scotland, sounds good to me!”

As I was walking around (I believe I was in Kilkenny at this point although I may have been in Galway– when I relocate those journals, I will correct this part of the blog), I was hearing a goodly amount of Christmas music and every place I went to seemed to be playing this particular song. While I didn’t think much of it, when I went into Supermac’s (the Irish McDonald’s, essentially), it seemed a little odd that these places were all playing the same exact song at the same time. At first I shrugged it off, and then, upon passing a newsstand, I saw the front of the newspapers: Kirsty MacColl had been killed in a very tragic swimming/boat accident in Mexico. I was devastated. Thanks to a friend I’d had since an early teen, I’d been a fan of her solo work as well, so this was just awful news. But at least I understood why every place was playing this song at the same exact time.

On the other hand, it was December, it is a Christmas song, and it has always been pretty popular so…who knows? It may have been playing anyway. In any case, I love Fairytale of New York, and you should too.

Another piece of music that I am highly tied to is one that came out in 1984, at the very height of when I was buying most of these individuals’ albums. It was a collaborative effort put together to combat famine in Africa and it was released around Christmas time. I remember that they blasted the living hell out of it when it came out and, hilariously enough, they still do. I remember being insanely excited about the video primarily (burgeoning archivist that I was, even then) because I wanted to make sure that I could name every single person singing in the video, and if I couldn’t (ie I didn’t know who it was), I wanted to find out more about them. Aurally I could identify almost everyone when I first heard it on the radio. Then matching it up visually was so. Much. Fun! At that age, I’m not sure if I was overly concerned about the kids in Africa as much as the fact that I owned an album from almost everyone on the Band Aid team (except, strangely enough, U2).

So, if you haven’t seen it before, welcome to the video that started them all…

On the Band Aid tip, there was a video that one of my favorite bands did that, while not Christmas-themed, was meant to parody this, and I would be remiss in my efforts here if I did not include it. I listen to this song every year around the holidays due to the video and its relation to the Band Aid video and also because it’s just a damn good song. Warning: if you hear the recorded version, it will not sound at all like the version you are about to witness, due to the fact that the recorded version is done by the band, and this version?? Well, you’ll see. It’s pretty fabulous.

So aside from the music video stuff, there’s a whole televisual side of Christmas that I dig on, and no, it’s not the Star Wars Christmas Special. While I’ve seen that and it’s…got its points, there are much better things you could be watching. If you want a little bit of the kitsch, I personally think that Peewee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (Wayne Orr, Paul Reubens, 1988) is probably one of my favorites. Anything that involves the Del Rubio triplets, Annette Funicello, Peewee Herman, and Grace Jones singing “Little Drummer Boy” automatically has me, no questions asked.

I’ve always been a Peewee fan, so a Christmas special from the Playhouse will always get my vote, but this one is especially fun. When it came out on DVD, I was thrilled to my eyeteeth. If you haven’t seen it, and that taste of Grace Jones whet your appetite, I would highly recommend it. It really is all that and a bag of chips.

On a more serious note, my favorite television episode having to do with Christmas comes from the mind of Rod Serling. If that didn’t clue you in, it is a wonderful episode of The Twilight Zone starring Art Carney entitled, “Night of the Meek.” Carney plays a man named Henry Corwin who is, for all intents and purposes, a seemingly “bad Santa.” As we meet him, he has just gotten fired for his drunken lateness to his job (playing Santa), and he is at the end of the line.

But, surprisingly for The Twilight Zone, this is an episode that has more of a redemptive stroke than normal and much more optimism (although for Serling, his kind of optimism is not everyone’s optimism). This episode is about what the season is truly about: holiday spirit. And no matter how grim I may seem at times about the holidays, and no matter how Grinch-y I might get, The Night of the Meek renews my soul.

But Rod Serling is the man who truly makes me think. About many things. So, while I love many of the other Christmas specials and films, it is truly Night of the Meek, Season 2, episode 11 of The Twilight Zone that truly makes the holidays a holy and sacred occasion. If you haven’t seen it, I beg of you to give it a chance. It will air this holiday season. Watch out for it. It’s what it’s all about, at the heart and soul of it.

The Chocolate Chip Cookie Syndrome: Music and the Cinema

When I was in junior college, I took a class on psychology (specifically, I believe that it might have actually been biopsychology, but I’m not about to dig up those transcripts to find out, no offense!). One of the more interesting things that we learned within that class and the one thing that I have remembered to this day was that of all of your senses (seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling) only smell was directly linked to the memory processing area of your brain. While other senses can trigger memories and have memories attached to them, none travel quite the same direct route and therefore have a very different relationship.

The olfactory (smell) cortex has an uninterrupted neural connection to the hippocampus. Uh, what? Well, basically, the way your sense of smell works? It’s on a beeline path towards your hippocampus (which I always pictured as a mini-Hippopotamus with a cap and gown on, living inside your skull, but that’s because I’m silly like that) which happens to be the very center of transferring information into memory. Oh and where is this party going down? Inside the limbic system, which is totally a part of the emotion center of your brain.

This is your brain...This is your brain with all your senses pointed out...no graduating hippopotamus, sadly.

So here’s the way I’ve generally explained the chain of events and relationship between your senses and memory and why it makes such a huge difference. I use Chocolate Chip Cookies (if you’re vegan or hate chocolate or have other dietary restrictions…well, know what? Mentally substitute your own nostalgic food!). Due to the fact that we start developing our memories as soon as we ourselves begin developing, we are going to imagine that your grandmother was a hellova baker, and baked the hell out of some chocolate chip cookies. Every time you visited. And you visited on a very regular basis because your family was less dysfunctional than everyone else’s, so you have been smelling these morsels of sugary goodness since you were gumming mom’s nipples. You are now a grown person, and Grams has unfortunately left us, as happens with our elders. One day, you are visiting the family of a friend for *insert holiday here* and all of a sudden you are nearly knocked over by the scent of…what else…chocolate chip cookies baking. However, it is not the recognition that makes your knees practically buckle, it is the fact that it is so much like your grandmother’s house and it all rushes back to you in one intake of breath.

It is a mistaken assumption to make that when you breathe something in, you merely recognize it for what the scent is. Smells are complex relationships. And what may be simply some loudmouth douchebag in front of me in line wearing too much cologne may make the woman behind me start to cry due to the fact that this was the very same scent that her former husband wore. Each person has their own set of smell-relationships that has been created due to memory and their life. Fascinating, no? Fascinating YES!

So what does smelling chocolate chip cookies and getting nostalgic for grandma have to do with cinema? Actually, quite a bit. It’s something that I am calling the Chocolate Chip Cookie Syndrome. While cinema clearly cannot deal with the intricacies of smell (unless you count things like Smell-O-Vision or John Waters’ version, Odorama, neither of which should be included necessarily in today’s argument), that does not mean that it has not attempted to develop a very intense relationship of its own between memory and another sense aside from that which is visual. What I wish to discuss here is sound and not simply sound but musical sound, specifically of the soundtrack variety. 

As film scholars and fans, we are all aware of the highly associative properties of a piece of music that is used in a film. But has it ever been something that you have given much thought to? Have you ever sat down and traced those associations throughout the world-at-large or, indeed, your own life?

Perhaps you have not. I have realized that I have to leave room for people who do not engage in aural stimuli as much or as passionately as I do or as my friends and associates do. Sometimes I need to step away, pull myself back, and realize that some people are just visual. And you know what? That’s totally fine. I probably will never have the same visual conception of certain things that they have. On the other hand, I will probably always feel that they are missing the film in its totality, the way it was intended. At least a little bit. This is something I will try to work on.

I think that people like Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Cameron Crowe have all created films that scream, from the first to the very last reel, Chocolate Chip Cookie Syndrome. Especially the first two directors. The key to Chocolate Chip Cookie Syndrome (or CCCS for short) within a film is the meticulous ability to texture the film with something, in this case music or certain songs, and make those items so damn iconic that you will forever remember the movie every time you re-experience them.

I will never ever be able to hear “Please, Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes again without thinking of the bar fight scene in Mean Streets (1973). And while that film is arguably one of my favorite films ever made, that song doesn’t give me goosebumps. Does it please me to hear it in a random store while I’m buying detergent? HELL YES. All I can think about is the camerawork and the choreography that goes right along to the song.

Gone to a party or a club recently? OK, well even if you haven’t, there are kids out there who were not even born when Say Anything (1989) was released who are imitating the John-Cusack-with-boombox-posture when Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” is played. I’ve even seen it for Halloween costumes, and the kids run around playing the song (as though we were unsure which trenchcoat-wearing, boombox-wielding weirdo they might be dressed up as…there were OH SO MANY you know!).

For my money, however, Crowe will always have me from the opening strains of Mother Love Bone’s “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns.” In my world it is the film Singles (1992). While the sequence that it is plays during  and the song itself may not be quite as iconic as “In Your Eyes,” they will remain, for me, embossed upon my brain, images that are always there to be sparked every time I happen to hear the song in whatever context that may occur. I hear Mother Love Bone, and I have my Chocolate Chip Cookie moment, and no one knows that my knees are jelly and my heart is all kinds of achy inside my chest.

And…well…need we mention the numerous films and associated songs that Tarantino has blessed our ears with? Really, he is remarkable in that his musical obsession seems to rival his filmic one. I’m not trying to worship the man, but as far as musical accessorizing is concerned, Quentin Tarantino is almost a special case unto himself. Tarantino’s own CCCS is so multi-generational and multilayered that he draws incredibly rare and eccentric songs from the ether and makes them into communal property. He removes them from a place of musical obscurity and re-places them into a realm that no longer simply exists within the confines of his own memorial space. Not only that, but he has given each song a creative context for which it will now forever be associated.

He uses songs like “Across 110th Street” by Bobby Womack in Jackie Brown (1997), even though that song was the title song of its own film from 1972. OK, OK, so perhaps that song wasn’t as rare as, say, the entire Reservoir Dogs (1992) soundtrack but it did its part to re-member certain aspects of that film genre (blaxploitation) and that era. The song set up the film and within that set-up said to the viewer that there was history here. The casting choice of Pam Grier only reified that statement, as the entire film is about a past/present conflict.

Even more efficiently than Jackie Brown, I highly doubt that there is a single person who can even one song from the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack and not associate it with the matching scene in the film (unless of course they have not seen the film, but that’s a no-brainer). Tarantino was, perhaps, one of the more significant people in the last 30 years to utilize this relationship between aural recognition, visual enjoyment and memory to catalyze his own form of synergy (in the media economics definition- this soundtrack has sold insanely well and continues to do so). He did the exact same thing two years later with Pulp Fiction (1994), and made a killing.

Media economics aside, it is the cultural economics that Tarantino has managed to manipulate through the use of aural stimulation and historical association. We all have personal relationships with these films and the music/songs contained and yet, due to the medium of film itself, we have a communal experience as well. The CCCS that we develop from the musics that we hear within a filmic context CAN sometimes be just as complicated as the olfactory relationships that are imprinted upon us throughout our lives, just in a very different way. They are, most certainly, both stemming from the same memory center/hippocampus/limbic system that has been in development since we were children!

One of the best examples that I could possibly give you of the Chocolate Chip Cookie Syndrome would be a working one, therefore I have chosen a personal example and one that I currently experience on a regular basis. The central component of this is the musical figure: Leonard Cohen. If, while reading this, you get the feeling that it maps out quite like a kind of family tree, you would not be wrong. In a sense, I mapped out my relationship to Leonard Cohen by creating a media family tree that involved all the different branches (of which there are quite a few odd-seeming ones) that poked out when I thought of my relationship to the music of “Leonard Cohen.”

It is almost difficult to diagram my Cohen-lution, due to the fact that I knew his work before I knew his work. While that may seem convoluted, I promise, there is a method to my madness (or so the doctors have told me…). Therefore, instead of starting at the very first time I heard a Cohen song, I will start at the place where hearing a Cohen song connected me with my own version of CCCS.

Watching this clip again, even briefly, I am imagining myself back at 19 years old. I think I was probably blown to bits by this film, even though I didn’t know it. Altman seems to me to be that kind of director. When I saw M*A*S*H (1970) for the first time a short time later, I remember being overwhelmed by how great it was. But also having a delayed sense of its brilliance. Most of the truly good stuff didn’t hit me until waaay later! My experience has always been that a good Altman film, like a proper, well-made cocktail, sneaks up on you. You taste it, you know it’s extremely intoxicating, smooth and enjoyable but what you don’t realize is that a short time later, you get an additional kick. And all of a sudden, you’re thinking, “Oooo! My cheeks are warm, the room feels delightful! Goodness, what was IN THAT THING ANYWAYS???”

That is Altman to me. So what did I get out of McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)? A deeply obsessive voice that kept saying, “that damn soundtrack! I gotta have that soundtrack! Who is the guy on the soundtrack??” Mind you, I was living in Santa Cruz at the time, and therefore was pretty much in  Hippietown, USA (there was a designated corner called “Hippie Corner” for kids to spare change and busk on). I had been surrounded by hippies for most of my childhood and yet I didn’t know who Cohen was. While I admit that it’s mildly unfair to associate his entire career with the hippie subculture, this particular singer-songwriter album was very much on that track, so my first impression was that was the genre that he was part of.

The album that I searched all of Santa Cruz for and listened to RELIGIOUSLY for....good grief. I have no idea how many weeks/months. I blame Robert Altman.

After rewatching that opening scene that I posted, I have had to reconsider my notion that all I received from McCabe was the soundtrack. I’m going with the Altman-as-killer-martini concept. There is a very distinct possibility that this film truly changed me for the better and used music as the catalytic agent. I’m not necessarily comfortable discussing the film content in any depth here, as the last time I saw it was the first time I saw it, but based upon that fact and revisiting the opening piece using “The Stranger,” I will have to say that this was a piece of cinema that struck me in a way no other movie ever had. When I posted it here on my blog, I heard the guitar, saw the visuals, and literally felt like I was being transported back to when I had first experienced the film. The feeling that washed over me? Indescribable. Needless to say, when I sat down to write this and planned on including that, I NEVER expected that to happen. The irony of this entertains me quite a bit and the experience itself only underscores my own relationship with this song and, thusly, this film. Clearly, it is something that I cannot escape as it is built into me and my memory just as strongly as Gram’s cookie sweetness might be.


As a more educated Leonard Cohen scholar these days, if you asked me where I first heard Leonard Cohen, I would give you an answer that a good chunk of women my age would give you: The film Pump Up the Volume (1990).Within the film narrative, Allan Moyle uses the original version. I remember being quite taken with it, and being pretty weirded out when a chick began to sing the song. So I fast-forwarded through the song at first, and moved on to the rest of the soundtrack.

That damn soundtrack. DEAR LORD, DID I LOVE THAT SOUNDTRACK.

Bad Brains. Peter Murphy. Rollins. Pixies. Sonic Youth. Concrete Blonde. Mutha-effin' Soundgarden. Did you NEED more? If you did, I didn't wanna know you. In fact, I may still hold to that rule...um, same bands too.

First of all, there was The Pixies. THAT was a major discovery in my life. I later learned that there was a different version of The Pixies’ “Wave of Mutilation,” but not having any friends at the time who were into that kind of music really (we were all more or less Hollywood metalheads with braces and Catholic school girl uniforms…danger, Will Robinson!), I just listened to the soundtrack repeatedly. Soon after, I met a friend at summer camp who made me a tape that had The Pixies’ Doolittle on one side and Bauhaus’ Burning From the Inside on the other. I may still have that cassette tape somewhere. I hope I do. I don’t think I took it out of my bright yellow Sony Walkman for the rest of the summer…and then some.

After my initial shock and disappointment at not having the actual song from the movie on my tape, I got incredibly attached to Concrete Blonde’s version of “Everybody Knows.” Lord knows this was not the first time someone had “switched it up” on a soundtrack I had bought before (and it wouldn’t be the last) but I was a bit miffed. However, as I listened to it more, the song became more ingrained upon me than the one in the film. So much so, that I barely remembered that Moyle had even used Cohen’s version in the first place!

I believe that this version became the more powerful one to me for three main reasons. First of all, it’s a brilliant song in general, no matter who is singing it. Secondly, its use in the film is critical and striking, and for a girl who was as attached to both the message and the story of that film, I was, literally hanging on EVERY frame, visually and aurally. Thirdly, as far as cover songs go, this is a really decent one. Johnette Napolitano can belt it out but…she can also emote. Within the strains of this song, she sounds exhausted, worn out and bitter as a $2 whore, but that only serves to give the song the depth it needs.

To switch a singer’s gender can be tricky for the outcome of a given song. It changes the meaning and can give it an unreasonable amount of complications. But here, it works perfectly. In fact, it worked so effortlessly and seamlessly that few people knew that this was, indeed, a cover song. I’ve never been ignorant of things, but at that age I wasn’t exactly paying attention. Here is what I did know:

The song was amazing. It rocked me. I was hooked. I couldn’t say for sure if the other girls I knew/hung out with listened to the soundtrack with as much joy and spirited pleasure as I did, but there was something about that song. It had to do with the film, it had to do with the music, it had to do with the filmmaker making the right choice and hooking me in like the little adolescent goldfish that I was. And I remained hooked for life. The first clue came a precious few months after the August, 1990 release of the film and its soundtrack.

January, 1991. I watch the “One Man and a Baby” episode of Beverly Hills, 90210. There it was. There was the VOICE. Concrete Blonde’s “Joey” was on that episode and I nearly had a heart attack. I was thrilled to pieces. I joined one of those CD clubs and bought the album Bloodletting specifically due to these events. Between Allan Boyle’s Pump Up The Volume and Aaron Spelling’s television, um, “piece,” I became a Concrete Blonde fan.

But nothing ever hit home the same way that “Everybody Knows” had. I didn’t find out until years later why: Leonard Cohen. Due to the fact that his version was only on the film and not on the soundtrack (issues of access!), my familiarity was almost entirely with her version. Thus, “Everybody Knows” has always been, more or less, associated with female vocals rather than Cohen’s own.

When I hear “Everybody Knows,” I have a very complicated response. In essence, it is the Chocolate Chip Cookie Syndrome, as it leads me directly back to the film I associate it with, Pump Up The Volume. However, when I hear Leonard Cohen sing it, I become very mixed up in my synthesis. Do I hear Johnette? Leonard? Do I hear a man weaving the tale? A woman? Does it matter? Is the end result the same? How do gender issues enter into a song so very complex and soaked in social politics? And how to translate the cynicism, especially through the person that I am today, versus the person that I was 21 years ago?


I don’t have an answer for those questions. And I’m very happy to tell you that I do not. If I did, then I would no longer be able to think critically about the relationship I have with these very diverse memories that all seem to share the same base camp, even if they do reside in different tents. I enjoy being able to think about this song and what it means for each person to sing it and also what it meant to me then…and now. Playing the compare/contrast game is part and parcel of my appreciation of the music.  Really, this isn’t far from the experience of finding that it wasn’t simply Leonard Cohen’s “The Stranger” and other songs in Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller that rocked me, but the entire damn film! This is why music in film is important. It inspires memory. Personal and otherwise.

The association of music and film has always been a crucial one for me. From the musicals of yesteryear to the films of today that utilize music in such a way that song could not be torn from image without destroying the whole piece, the match of sound and visual is more powerful than if it were just simply one media or the other.

Film is essentially about transmogrification, anyway. If one leaves a film completely unchanged, even if it is for the worse (I hated Hangover 2, I am sorry that I saw it, but I was still altered in that I will TRY never to see such a terrible movie AGAIN), there is something dearly wrong. One of the most efficient ways in which to permanently conduct change in your audience is to associate certain things with your piece. Music can do that forever. Currently, due to the film Waltzing With Bashir (2008), I am pretty certain that I will never be able to go to any club and hear O.M.D.’s “Enola Gay” without being utterly devastated. That is power. I really loved that song, man. And…I still do. But in an entirely different WAY. If you are able to completely translate someone’s conceptions of a piece of music and forge them around your creative image, I applaud you. And I want to see your film.

It may sound silly but I am proud of having Chocolate Chip Cookie Syndrome. I would be a terrible audience member without it. Right now, I am your ideal audience member, even after far too many classes in film and television theory. I greatly appreciate the filmmakers who work hard to give me those “chips” so that I can TOTALLY GEEK out by myself when I’m out and I hear something like “Down in the Park” by Gary Numan and remember it not from the album Replicas or even Urgh! A Music War! (1982) but from another Allan Moyle movie entitled Times Square (1980).

We all have our own memories. Hell, we all have our own limbic systems! But let’s face it, folks- the fact that you remember that Huey Lewis contributed music to Back to the Future (1985) is no accident and no small feat. Laugh all you want, but it was creatively negotiated to match those tunes up with the film and to make damn sure that this many years later…someone remembers it- and that someone is you. The other memories surrounding Back to the Future? Where you saw it, who you saw it with, what theater or whose house? All of those things are your business, and yours alone, which is a beautiful thing.

And as some great writers once wrote in a great script, that’s the way it crumbles…cookiewise.

Get Into the Groove: Desperately Seeking Susan and Genre Revision

Whatever is funny is subversive, every joke is ultimately a custard pie… a dirty joke is a sort of mental rebellion.

            -George Orwell

When Susan Seidelman received a script entitled “Desperately Seeking Susan,” in 1985, it had already been floating around Hollywood for 4 years. When she saw the title, she knew that it was meant for her, practically sight unseen. The story, a screwball comedy with a feminist streak a mile wide, seemed almost too good to be true, especially considering who sent her the script, and who was already on board to support the film. Not only was the film’s content a powerful commentary on contemporary female identity, definitely unusual, but it was set to involve a female director (Seidelman), a female writer (Leora Barish), female producers (Sarah Pillsbury and Midge Sanford), two (at that point, uncast) female stars, and a female film executive (Barbara Boyle) who really fought for the production. For the time, that many powerful women involved in a single film production was almost unheard of. This was an incredible opportunity, and Seidelman answered their “want ad” with a resounding yes.

Susan Seidelman on the set of Desperately Seeking Susan

These days, what most people remember about Desperately Seeking Susan is not the multiplicity of ways that it subverts and reworks genres, nor the running commentary it gives on class and sexuality, but the fact that the film stars an extremely youthful and (at the time) barely known Madonna. Although Madonna is a crucial aspect of this production, I would like to present an analysis of the film that lays bare more than a mere “star vehicle” for Ms. Ciccone. I propose that Desperately Seeking Susan’s goal was to look at past film genres with strong female roles, and rework and “mesh” them into an entirely new kind of film; a film that was as much a new kind of  “Woman’s Film” as it was a good old romantic comedy.

In 1972, a little bit over 10 years before this film was made, the Equal Rights Amendment was passed, guaranteeing women equal rights. That same year, sex discrimination was banned in schools and in Eisenstadt vs. Baird, the Supreme Court guaranteed that the right to privacy included the single person’s right to use contraception. The next year, Roe vs. Wade gave women the right to safe and legal abortion, while the year after that saw the ruling of Corning Glass Works vs. Brennan, which ruled that employers cannot justify paying women a lower wage just because that is what they got at the “going market rate.” These years and the next few saw huge leaps for women and the feminist movement. It is no wonder that this film, made in 1985, would choose to make such a bold statement about wanting to break free from the suburban doldrums, a loveless marriage, and a life lived for someone else in favor of a life that is fulfilling, exciting, and personally rewarding.

The appearance of Desperately Seeking Susan after an entire film decade that had been devoted to the exploration and celebration of masculinity could not have been a huge surprise, however. With a few exceptions like Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and a plentitude of underground experimental films, the 70’s film structure tended to focus on a cadre of young talented men, who were each expressing their own personal “vision.” The irony is that the explosion of feminism happened at the same historical moment, and it seemed to fall on deaf ears. Julie Christie notes, “What it seemed like to me was like boys had been let out of school. So it was like, ‘School’s out!’ so the energy was unbelievably high, and I think that is what characterizes North American filmmaking of the 70’s, is the energy. That inimitable American, male energy. And it’s fantastic, but it wasn’t a great time for women.”[1]  So, when an entire decade passed without recognition of the gender politics that were flying as fast at the bullets in Vietnam, women like Susan Seidelman decided that they had to bring their voice to the screen. Thus Desperately Seeking Susan was born.

It's a life so outrageous it takes two women to live it!!

Although Desperately Seeking Susan was criticized at the time for being “sheer nonsense despite the odd, forlorn laugh”[2] and the plot laughed off as “outrageously contrived,”[3] this film, which opened in March of 1985, made a very respectable amount of money on its opening weekend, and ended up as a big hit. The film tells the story of Roberta Glass (played by Rosanna Arquette), a bored and unhappy housewife from Fort Lee, New Jersey, obsessed with the personal ads, and Susan (played by Madonna), a carefree, somewhat promiscuous street-wise party girl, with a penchant for getting in trouble.  After Roberta reads several messages in the paper to Susan from Susan’s lover/boyfriend Jim, Roberta’s curiosity gets the best of her, and she goes looking for Susan, using the personals as her trail. What she doesn’t know is that Susan has gotten mixed up in a criminal scheme that even she isn’t aware of, and Roberta herself becomes enmeshed in the same scheme. After Roberta purchases a jacket that Susan sells to a second-hand shop, and gets a heavy bonk on the head while wearing the jacket, everyone (Roberta included- amnesia works wonders-) thinks that Roberta is Susan. Meanwhile, Susan ends up searching for Roberta, because inside the cast-off jacket is a key, literally, to her whole life which she has left in a locker. The rest of the film tells the tale of their search for each other, a criminal’s search for the stolen goods that “Susan” (really Roberta) possesses, as well as Roberta’s eventual self-discovery (in more than one way), through the very strangest parts of New York City.

Much of the theoretical work that has been done on this film involves ideas of identity, self-discovery, desire and female spectatorship. However, they all seem to hit on one aspect in passing that seems central to the viewing enjoyment of this film: Desperately Seeking Susan is not a “new” film. It is a child of many genres. Be that as it may, it still adds a new element. As Jackie Stacey notes in her essay comparing All About Eve to Desperately Seeking Susan, the central aspect of Susan (like Eve) is that it involves a heroine “whose desires and identifications move the narrative forward.”[4] Karen Hollinger, as well, has noted, “In many ways, Desperately Seeking Susan consciously revises conventions associated with earlier woman’s films.”[5] While other classic genres may have had central female characters, it is not often that an entire film’s progression is dependent upon the woman’s perspective. Due to that factor, we can see that this is where Susan makes liberal use of the genre of the “woman’s film.” Like Mildred Pierce or All About Eve or a multitude of other films in this genre, Desperately Seeking Susan does the precise thing that Mary Ann Doane has suggested is a central aspect of the woman’s film genre: it “obsessively centers and re-centers a female protagonist, placing her in a position of agency…”[6] By looking at the agency that is given to both female leads, we can see that the texture of the film was very much inspired by the desire to create a new film that would (and could) relate to contemporary women. Instead of the melodrama of the early women’s films, the makers of Desperately Seeking Susan replaced it with zany comedy and romance, thus bringing in yet another essential genre: the screwball comedy.

I would argue that the utilization of the female-character-as-driving-force serves as the glue to piece together a film that is essentially derivative of other genres, into a new film that is as self-conscious about its “quotations” as it is about its additive dimensions. However, the genre that is most present within the text of Desperately Seeking Susan is that of the screwball comedy.

Wes D. Gehring defines the screwball comedy of the 30’s and 40’s as possessing “five key characteristics of the comic antihero: abundant leisure time, childlike nature, urban life, apolitical outlook, and basic frustration (especially in relationships with women).”[7] While, for the majority of this discussion, I would ask that Gehring’s definition be opened up to include the term “comic heroine,” his analysis is quite helpful. Comparing Gehring’s definition of the screwball comedy to Desperately Seeking Susan, not only do the creators of the film take pause to recognize the screwball comedy influence[8], but at the time of release, one magazine went so far as to write, “Like the screwball comedies of yore, it [Desperately Seeking Susan] places people in a highly improbable situation and requires that they consult their own sorely tested inner logic to find a way out.”[9] The very fact that Susan came off as a screwball comedy to the naked eye is enough to link it to Gehring’s definition.

Seidelman’s film takes Gehring to an entirely new level, linking it to the strongly feminist discourse that is the backbone of this film. According to the definition, Roberta Glass fits Gehring’s description of the comic anti-heroine in the screwball, to a “T.”  Roberta has an abundance of leisure time (she is a suburban housewife), is portrayed as very childlike (even her husband infantilizes her, patting her on the head, etc), exists within urban confines (the majority of the film takes place not in Fort Lee, New Jersey, but on the crazy city streets of New York), has no overt political perspective (except to remember her real identity, which has a slightly political undercurrent), and is in the thick of an utterly frustrating relationship with Des (played by Aidan Quinn) on one side and Gary (played by Mark Blum), her husband, on the other side.

However, unlike the comic anti-heroes of Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels or Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby, the idea of a female-centered screwball comedy is somehow revolutionary. All of the assets that we would come to expect out of a male protagonist in one of these pictures come with very different attachments for a woman. Desperately Seeking Susan somehow manages to subvert genre conventions, and flip them on their respective heads. For example, the “leisure time” that Roberta supposedly has, is depicted with a rather ironic twist. From the opening shots of Roberta in the beauty salon to her visit to New York City, she is using her leisure time under the auspices of pleasing someone else: her husband.  It is not her leisure time; it is pointedly his.

Although Roberta clearly enjoys the luxury of the salon, an important section of the conversation there revolves around the fact that, while it is her birthday, she is concerned about how Gary will like her new haircut. Roberta isn’t too certain, as her look reveals. We can see Roberta straining against her confines, even here. The scene, opening up to the strains of a 1950’s girl band singing “It’s In His Kiss (the Shoop Shoop Song),” displays various women in various stages of being “beautified,” from leg-shaving, to nail-polishing, to hair-cutting. Susan Seidelman states,

           Because the film is very much about identity, who somebody is on the outside versus who they want to be on the inside, we decided to open the film in a beauty parlour because that is so much about female identity, and appearance and transformation. I think in the original script the opening was set in a department store…and ultimately, in one of the many rewrites, it was changed to a beauty salon because I think the idea of being remade, which is what beauty salons are about…you go in being one person and you come out hopefully transformed into somebody else, is really the essence of what the whole movie is about.[10]

Thus, amidst the highly feminized world of the salon and amidst reminders of all kinds of superficial beauty, we are introduced to our heroine. It is here that she does two things that solidly state her position in her world (which she reveals is not quite her world after all) and it is here that she begins to, as Seidelman discusses, transform. Initially, she relinquishes control of her haircut, because her sister-in-law, Leslie, and her hairdresser reassure her that, “He’ll love it.” However, it is at this point that she flat-out states her discontentment with her life. Sitting under the hairdryer, we watch as Roberta’s transformation begins.

She sighs, commenting on the love affair that she has been watching develop in the personal ads between two people named Jim and Susan (all the messages begin “Desperately seeking Susan”), “Desperate…I love that word…it’s so romantic…” To which her slightly horrified sister-in-law replies, “Everyone I know is desperate, except you,” and gestures at Roberta. Indignant, Roberta looks out from the hairdryer and says, “I’m desperate!” She is met with peals of laughter from Leslie, to which Roberta responds, “Sort of…” and looks dejectedly back at her newspaper. But the look turns into one that is almost akin to that of a stubborn child being told that they can’t do something: they’ll do it anyways, no matter the consequences. The next shot centers on Roberta’s fingers, holding a blood-red nail polish brush, circling the ad in the personals, with a very steady hand. Thus we have borne witness to the first stage of Roberta’s transformation and the beginning of her attempts to reclaim her own identity, from the people and the situations beneath which she has been living for a long time.

When she goes into the city the next day, Roberta’s husband asks her to pick up the car stereo for him, and remind the clerk that she is his wife, because they get a discount. It is almost as though Gary wants Roberta to remember, as she is leaving the stability of the suburban world for the chaos of New York. It seems that by saying this to her, he reminds her that she is his wife, and his property.  However, this is where the whole situation begins to change. When she reclaims this leisure time as her own, and uses it to pursue Susan, she forgets the car stereo, and, upon arriving back in Fort Lee, timed perfectly to the chicken beginning its twirl around the rotisserie and her housewife-ly duties of synchronized cooking with Julia Childs, her husband inquires about the stereo. This is the point where we realize that Roberta Glass has begun to break free of that ownership. Wearing the jacket that Susan sold to the vintage store and Roberta bought right after, mixing eggs in perfect time to Julia, she reveals to Gary that she has forgotten all about the stereo. She has repossessed that leisure time, both sartorially and actually. It should also be noted that visually, as well, she is the one in control. She is the one the camera follows, and through the different settings there is an evolution. She moves from a location that deprives her of personal power and agency to one where she willfully commands it, based upon personal desire. The personal desire to follow Susan overpowers everything else. That desire is so powerful, that she forgets the car stereo, and with it, forgets Gary’s claim upon her, in order to follow her claim upon herself. We as viewers are drawn into this world, into this location from which Roberta Glass operates, wanting nothing more than for her to escape, and supporting her desires above all else. We are desperate for her to become that “desperate” that she says she is.

Throughout the rest of the film, we are shown a number of ways in which Roberta is breaking free of her stuffy, suburban housewife life. She hits her head while running from the criminal who mistakes her for Susan, after he sees her wearing the jacket that used to belong to Susan. What the amnesia does is serve as a catalyst for the formation of a new and more pleasing personal identity for Roberta. Having to confront the fact that she does not know who she is, Roberta must “find herself.” She thinks she is Susan, being in possession of all of Susan’s personal effects through the locker key she finds in the jacket pocket, not to mention having people consistently mistake her for Susan, as a result of the jacket.

As we have seen, from the very beginning of the film, Susan is Roberta’s polar opposite. She is sexually liberal, streetwise, and self-assured. More importantly, from what we can see, Susan is also a great deal happier than Roberta. Roberta’s amnesia and subsequent quest for her true identity while thinking (and acting) as if she were Susan, becomes our way of seeing that Roberta’s emancipation from her life lived for others can only be achieved through her own self-discovery, even if it is through someone else’s “identity.” How can she escape Julia Childs and a husband who basically ignores her? She must leave it all behind, and become someone else, even if it is not intentionally. As Karen Hollinger succinctly states, “Roberta’s temporary assumption of Susan’s identity as a result of her amnesia allows her to merge with her ideal and experience a psychological rebirth. She finds a new identity by introjecting the positive qualities she finds in Susan into her own personality.”[11]

Frank Capra, a director of many screwball comedies, said that he used comedy to “warm people to my subject…I get them in the spirit of laughter and then, perhaps, they might be softened up to accept some kind of moral precept.”[12] The creators of Desperately Seeking Susan utilized this same method. It is a very funny film, but the message behind it cannot be ignored or denied. The feminism that may not have seen the light of day in the cinema of the 70’s is vibrant and alive with Arquette’s Roberta and Madonna’s Susan. It is a disruption of the traditional view of woman as homemaker, and a forced recognition of woman as full-fledged person, unto herself. This commanded viewpoint was done, a la Capra, through the use of casual humor and relaxed laughter.

Andrew Kopkind noticed that Desperately Seeking Susan was a film that was definitely communicated in “classic Hollywood forms. Leora Barish’s script contains all the ritual elements of farce, even to the obligatory climax where all the significant characters arrive in the same room to sort out the confusion…[but] neither she [Roberta/Arquette] nor Madonna [Susan] is redirected to a conventional existence, which is the way farces usually end…it is unmistakably a woman’s-eye view…”[13] The acknowledgement, then, is that this film, while standing on the shoulders of well-loved and received standards, is creating new standards of its own. Without changing the formula of what makes a screwball comedy pleasurable, Desperately Seeking Susan pulled a “Capra” and inserted some truly important things to think about, in between the laughs and the ridiculous nature of the plotline. And, after a decade of boys celebrating school being out, it was high time the girls hit the playground, and hit the playground they did.


[1] A Decade Under the Influence. Dir. Richard LaGravenese and Ted Demme. 2003. DVD. Independent Film Channel/Docurama/New Video Group, 2003.

[2] Simon, John. “Desperately Seeking Susan.” National Review 37 (1985): 48-50.

[3] Kopkind, Andrew. “Desperately Seeking Susan.” The Nation 240 (1985): 568.

[4] Stacey, Jackie. “Desperately Seeking Difference.” Feminism & Film. Ed. E. Ann Kaplan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 450-464.

[5] Hollinger, Karen. In the Company of Women: Contemporary Female Friendship Films. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

[6] Doane, Mary Ann. “The Woman’s Film: Possession and Address.” Home is Where the Heart Is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film. Ed. Christine Gledhill. London: British Film Institute, 1987.

[7] Gehring, Wes D. Screwball Comedy: A Genre of Madcap Romance. New York: Greenwood, 1986.

[8] Commentary track. Desperately Seeking Susan. Dir. Susan Seidelman. 1985. DVD. MGM Home Entertainment, 2000.

[9] Author Unknown. “Beautiful Dreamer in a Minefield- Rosanna Arquette.” Time 1 April 1985: 76.

[10] Seidelman, Susan. Commentary track. Desperately Seeking Susan. Dir. Susan Seidelman. 1985. DVD. MGM Home Entertainment, 2000.

[11] Hollinger, ibid.

[12] Frank Capra, quoted in Schiekel, Richard. The Man that Made the Movies. New York: Atheneum, 1975.

[13] Kopkind, ibid.

The Dreaming Moon: Jean Harlow and the Magnetic Fields’ Get Lost

Jean "The Baby" Harlow, 1911-1937

There are a good amount of people out there who criticize the academic world, and with good cause. They say that we “reach,” that the things that we discuss have nothing to do with each other, and to put two such different items within the same paper/blog post/etc., is pretentious and an abuse of academic power.

I agree with that. To some degree. There are people out there who argue things to sound important or smart or exciting. And if that’s what they wanna do, cool for them. But if you can’t back it up, you’re gonna be stuck like the Goonies were, trying to figure out the notes on that damn skeleton piano. The bottom line for me is: can you read the music???

That said, what I am about to do, is definitely going to seem like reaching. But it is based upon my own interpretations and in that manner I think it works. I make no apologies, nor do I say that this is anything but a purely personal piece that is based upon a very passionate love of two things in my life: Jean Harlow, the actress, and the Magnetic Fields, the band.

This is my first blog for the Jean Harlow blogathon, which is being done to celebrate what would have been her 100th birthday (March 3rd). In a way, I felt compelled to write for this because Harlean Harlow Carpenter née Jean Harlow was only 26 years old when she died. She deserves a little more recognition. We all know about Marilyn, but without the original Platinum Blonde, Ms. Monroe wouldn’t’ve had a high heel to stand on…

Today I went to pay rent. As I was riding my bike around, I put on one of my favorite albums as I felt it would help me brainstorm a little. What I didn’t know was that it would provide me fodder for my entire piece. From the beginning to the end of The Magnetic Fields’ album Get Lost, it is almost as though they were writing it about and for Ms. Jean Harlow.

Jean Harlow was born as Harlean Harlow Carpenter on March 3, 1911, in Kansas City, Missouri. Her mother, known as “Mother Jean,” was not only overbearing but she went beyond what one would consider the epitome of the stereotypical “stagemother.” Eventually, they got out of Kansas City, but as David Stenn notes, it wasn’t all for the “sake of the child.” In 1923, after divorcing Harlean’s father, Mother Jean took Jean to Hollywood, hellbent on a new life, one that they certainly were not going to get anywhere in Missouri. However, Mother Jean was a little off-base. She was of the mind-set that she might be able to procure a position within the burgeoning film industry, not necessarily her daughter. The pure, unadulterated fact was…she was just a little bit too old. Stenn writes,

In an era when leading ladies were teenage girls, thirty-four-year-old Mother Jean was hardly star material…At this point a stereotypical “stage mother” would have transferred the dream to her daughter, who was becoming a beauty herself. Mother Jean, however, was different: too fixated on her own aspirations to focus on anyone else, she continued to see herself, not her child, as the center of her existence. (1)

Jean and Mother Jean, in the "later" years...

When Harlean first arrived in Hollywood, acting was her last interest. And it was a rocky road to her first beginnings in any film work, including several different schools, a move to Chicago (engineered by Mother Jean so as to be closer to her own somewhat-questionable boyfriend at the time, Marino Bello), and a marriage to a man named Chuck McGrew which resulted in Harlean’s return to Hollywood.

The first song on The Magnetic Fields’ album Get Lost seems to refer to this period of Jean Harlow’s life, and from my standpoint, it has a double referent: not only can one see Harlean in the song (the chorus uses the word “Baby” repeatedly, a nickname given to Harlean early in her life) but one can also see Mother Jean. The idea of being able to be famous just as long as you get out of “this town” may be related to rock’n’roll within the context of this particular song, but it is so easily analogous to the early part of Jean Harlow’s life and career, that it would be almost ridiculous not to pay attention to it. Her own “marble face” was marveled upon as she grew up, and as she got to Hollywood, the beginnings of her career (tragically) were based upon “giving up control,” generally to her mother, but certainly, at times, to the Hollywood Machine. Regardless of her own Hollywood dreams, Mother Jean was aware that her daughter could “sell the world a new look and sound” and made damn sure that happened, almost without regard for what Jean, herself, may have wanted.

As Harlean’s travels through Hollywood continued, she was able to score some bit parts in films through a friend, fate,  and Central Casting. In a nutshell, McGrew had attempted to pry Harlean from Mother Jean’s tight-fisted grasp by taking her back to the west coast. While there, she met a lovely young lady named Rosalie Roy. One day, Rosalie needed a ride to Fox Studios, and Harlean offered to give her a lift. While there, some of the executives noticed her and pounced. After that, it was just a matter of time. However, this was about the point where “Harlean” became “Jean Harlow.” While applying for one of the Central Casting positions, she put her name down as Jean Harlow, and not Harlean Carpenter or McGrew.

Between Spring and December, Harlow went from Central Casting extra to signing a contract with Hal Roach. Not bad for a girl from Kansas City. Even so, it was not her own doing that was pushing her career, first and foremost. Although Chuck McGrew had attempted to get her away from Mama, Mother Jean was fixated on Jean’s life going on to something grand and big. In fact, when there was interest in Jean, she had up and moved from the Windy City, sleazy boyfriend and all, and come back to Hollywood to make sure that things were done right. But…it was all for The Baby, right?

Rock music is a funny thing. Clearly Get Lost was not written about Jean Harlow’s life. And any musician knows that the key to a good song, no matter what genre it is, is its ability to get the audience to relate to it. What I find unique about this album is that the next song on this album, “The Desperate Things You Made Me Do,” works as what Harlean would’ve said to Mother Jean if she could’ve. I realize that the actual intent of the song is not a maternal one: it clearly has more sexual connotations, and there are time-stamps contained within the song that date it. However, the intentions and lyrics (in my mind) work as part of the Jean Harlow story.

The next section in Harlean/Jean’s life involved an abortion that Mother Jean forced her to get and then a divorce from McGrew. The abortion destroyed Jean, but what Mama wanted, Mama got. Thus when Stephin Merritt sings the chorus of this song (“I dedicate this song to you/for the desperate things you made me do/I’d like to beat you black and blue/for all the agony you have put me through”), one could easily imagine a helpless teenage Harlean wanting to say the same things to Mother Jean, but not being able to. Not only that, but the idea that, within the song, the person being sung about/to is essentially sacrificing the singer and not caring about it, is a big deal. That seemed to be a big part of Mother Jean’s misplaced persona. Stephin Merritt sings “Time provides the rope/ but love will tie the slipknot/ And I will be the chair you kick away/You don’t even like anything you like or the people you know” and describes Harlean’s mother perfectly. Sadly, it also describes how Harlean came to die at such an early age. Mother Jean was so obsessed with the creation and upkeep of Jean Harlow that Harlean became lost in the shuffle, and died, painfully, far too young. Thanks, Mom.

Before the ultimate tragic event just mentioned, the Baby got famous. Hired by Howard Hughes and then signed to a contract by him, her career began to take off. While she was criticized harshly for what many saw as a lack of acting chops, the viewing public seemed to ignore that and the image that was carefully cultivated for her by Hughes became a full-blown success.

A publicity blitz began. Although its plot had nothing to do with her hair, Hughes convinced Harry Cohn to change the name of Harlow’s new film from Gallagher to Platinum Blonde, and in conjunction with its release, Caddo [Hughes’ company] organized over three hundred “Platinum Blonde” clubs across America, offering $10,000 to any beautician who could chemically match Harlow’s mane. None won, but the craze boosted peroxide sales by 35 percent despite the Depression…(2)

While the lyrics to the next song on the album don’t follow the story exactly, the title does. Song number three on Get Lost is called “Smoke and Mirrors” and that is, essentially, how Jean Harlow was sold to the public and how her romantic life was dealt with. While the song does hit on some aspects within her on-screen image (“a little fear, a little sex”), the way that her “handlers” made her popular was through cold calculated manipulation and lies. But that’s Hollywood- all smoke and mirrors anyway! Jean Harlow was not Harlean Carpenter. Directly after Jean Harlow was established as the Platinum Blonde, she was borrowed by Paul Bern for a film called Beast of the City. Her public image was growing, despite the fact that the young girl from Missouri was now pretty much type-cast as somewhat of a wanton woman. On her 21st birthday, due to Paul Bern’s persistence (it also didn’t hurt that he had asked his pal Irving Thalberg for a bit of help), Hughes agreed to sell her contract to M-G-M. From that point forward, her career soared, even if her private life didn’t.

Jean Harlow and Paul Bern

Jean married Paul Bern in 1932. The marriage only lasted 2 months. He was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound the night of September 5, that same year. There were many conspiracy theories surrounding the “why,” so the first thing that M-G-M had to do was damage control, and they did. Unfortunately, this was not the last fire that they had to put out in a short span of time. Jean began an affair with married boxer Max Baer, and had to be quickly married off to cinematographer Harold Rosson in order to prevent any more massive controversy for the starlet. After Rosson (and a quick “quiet” divorce), Harlow became involved with William Powell, and, while they never married (she wanted children, he didn’t) that relationship seemed to be her most functional romance. All the public relations that M-G-M put into making these various relationships look palatable to the public definitely used more smoke and mirrors than any magician at the time used!

While her romances were scandalous and fraught with difficulty, her career prospered. But if her career was prospering, Mother Jean’s fist was just as tight as ever. By Mother Jean had married Marino Bello, and the two of them seemed to get greedier and more involved in direct proportion to the Baby’s stardom.

Jean made 12 films in the next 5 years before her untimely death. Within that time, however, she also was subject to several health issues that delayed the production of at least three of the films (Wife vs. Secretary, Suzy, and Libeled Lady). If she had not been so fragile, who knows?  The fact that Mother Jean was a heavy factor in how hard Jean worked and how much she wore herself out didn’t help and neither did the fact that she had Jean on a tight leash during her whole career. Her methods of “career management” mixed with “mothering” directly effected Jean Harlow’s early death.

Jean Harlow in Saratoga (1937), the last film she did. The film had to be finished using stand-ins and doubles, and dubbing in lines. The public affection for Harlow would not let them replace her with another actress, as was the first impulse.

While rumors abound about Harlow’s death, it is not due to Mother Jean’s Christian Scientist affiliations. Due to Harlow’s case of scarlet fever as a young teen, she had contracted something called glomerulonephritis, which essentially caused her kidneys to slowly degenerate over the years. If this had been caught and diagnosed earlier, who knows? It might have been able to be fixed. But Jean had doctors by her bedside, even if she was not at the hospital. By the time she left the set of Saratoga, the Baby was in excruciating pain, and disintegrated into delirium and was deemed too weak to be moved.  Her internal organs were past the point of no return, and it was too late. In this day and age, we have the technology to fix that. But not so in 1937.

Writes David Stenn, “‘There wasn’t anything I could do to save her,’ sighed Dr. Chapman, and though he meant it medically- in the days before antibiotics, dialysis, or transplants…he also sensed Harlow’s emotional surrender. ‘She didn’t want to be saved,’ Dr. Chapman continued. ‘She had no will to live whatsoever.’ Never a fighter, Harlow faced death with the same passivity that characterized her life. Considering its circumstances, her attitude was understandable: after forty-two movies, three marriages, two abortions, scandal, alcoholism, gonorrhea, and heartbreak, Harlow had lived too hard for a twenty-six-year-old.” (3)

The Magnetic Fields album continues with several songs about love, pain and loss, which, aside from being controlled by a greedy, overbearing mother seem to fit Harlean/Jean’s life to a tee. Harlean was a natural young girl, just looking to be happy. Jean Harlow was a created product who never wanted to be “created.” She was what her mother wanted her to be, not what she wanted. On set, she was known to be one of the more down-to-earth and likable actresses; someone who didn’t put on any airs. You can see that in her comedy. But she was never allowed to have her own life. She wanted to have a child, a happy marriage, good friends…in fact, if it wasn’t for Mother Jean, she might have had a perfectly good life in Kansas City.

What Mother Jean did cannot be undone, but the gift that was left for us was the incomparable work of one Jean Harlow née Harlean Harlow Carpenter, and for that we can forever be grateful. Her vivaciousness and her unforgettable smile will forever go unmatched. many actresses have tried but so far not a single one has had the same presence or natural on-screen comfortability that Jean Harlow possessed. Her physicality corresponded perfectly with her well-timed facial expressions, making her all at once awkward yet sexy.

The final song of Get Lost is called “The Dreaming Moon,” and sounds a bit like a lullaby. As I was listening to the album today, hearing the various songs and their relative associative properties with the Jean Harlow story, I had to smile to myself when I realized what the last lyrics of this song were. I’ve always loved this album and I’ve always loved this song (although I think that “All the Umbrellas in London” is my favorite track), but this time it had a different meaning. Happy 100th birthday, Harlean. Thanks for the cinematic gifts you have given us. They are forever treasures, and while you only lived a short time, your work will live on forever.

The Dreaming Moon-lyrics: Stephin Merritt, Magnetic Fields

With an ivory pipe
And a cummerbund
In the dead of night
On the autobahn
With the long ago
On the radio
And the dreaming moon…
We were young and in love
In a burning town
But the fire went out
I’m alone again now
And I finally know
How cool to be cold
With the dreaming moon
I’ll begin again
With another new name
And a whole new life
Full of fortune and fame
But in the 100th year
I’ll be right back here
With the dreaming moon

(1) Stenn, David. Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

(2) Stenn, ibid.

(3) Stenn, ibid.

Forged in Fire: Heavy Metal and the Male “Bromance”

Disclaimer: I will have you know that I hate the word “bromance.” I hate it with the burning heat of a thousand fires. That said, as a writer and a pop culture participant, I will retain the use of the damn word in my title as it has become part of popular language and is firmly recognized to mean the exact type of relationship which I wish to discuss within this piece. Thus, for brevity and, in truth, more for ease, I’ll use the word…. I still abhor it though.

So the other night I went with a friend to see Anvil! The Story of Anvil at the Nuart Theater.  I had heard many good things about it, but was not certain what to expect. Was it going to be ironic? Was it going to be serious? Were we going to be watching Spinal Tap or were we going to be witness to something completely new?

Now, I cannot say that I was introduced to anything new and different with Anvil. But that does not mean it’s a bad film, by any means. It’s GREAT. I just know how these documentaries (and rock’n’roll stories) go. They’ve been around for 30 years, never got the recognition they deserved, still busting ass to *try* to get *something* out of the dream. The main difference with this band is that these guys toured with big names a billion years ago, yet never made it while their peers did, yet they stuck it out. IN CANADA.

anvil1

In a way, it reminded me a bit of American Movie, only…not as depressing (I find that film to be a wee bit depressing. Many find it funny, but my sense of humor is often weird and picky like that…). I felt that Anvil afforded more dignity to the individuals represented in the film and there was rarely a sense of “making fun” of them, even when it came to bits where the band (and their songs and notions) were clearly beyond the pale of normalcy. In a time where it seems like everywhere you look things are chock full o’ snark, this was quite refreshing.

But…they are still Spinal Tap in their own way. However, looking at the ad campaign, they seem to be pretty aware of their stature in this whole engagement, and, as they say repeatedly (with a genuine zeal rarely heard anywhere I might add) they just want to rock.

So…….at the end of the day? Fantastic movie. We had a great time. Why the title? Because this film got me thinking. A LOT. About metal. And guys. And guys’ relationships with each other. And how metal is the catalyst, the solder, the very cornerstone, for some of the most intimate and tender, loving and loyal relationships between men I have ever encountered in my life.

I had this boyfriend once. Metal guy. Amazing vocalist. He was totally the guy I dreamed about dating when I 13 and hanging out on Hollywood blvd. at the rock shops by day, and surreptitiously on the Sunset Strip by night. Only I met this guy when I was in my 20’s, and in grad school, so it was a little late for me to be whisked off my cowboy-boot-clad-feet into the sunset. No matter, he was my Metal Boyfriend. Super hot, long hair, tattoos, the whole nine yards.

At any rate, we were together for quite some time. Practically living together. But he had this friend, from back in the “old days” of Hollywood, and this friend had since moved away, but they still talked. A lot. And even if they hadn’t talked, every story involved  this person. They had clearly spent a GREAT deal of time together and it meant something very very significant. Now, when they did talk, they watched football together or talked music, or things like that. But they still did it together. It always struck me as one of the most beautiful things I had ever come across, actually, to see my significant other who was very much not someone you would gauge as vulnerable by any stretch of the imagination, having this fantastic relationship with his Best Friend, across state lines. I absolutely loved it. I wanted to meet his friend SO bad. But we broke up and that was never to occur.

What does my ex-boyfriend have to do with Anvil? Well, everything, I’m afraid. You see, it’s sheer METAL BROTHERHOOD, as the band Manowar might say….

What seems to occur within the world of metal (and I will freely admit that it is not ALL metal- for example, I have not seen this happen as extensively within the world of Black Metal male relationships, or Death Metal male relationships, or even Doom Metal male relationships, but these are subsections, albeit large ones, of the larger “metal” body) is that the men within these music cultures seem to come together and couple in a way that they do not seem to do in other musical cultures; this especially occurs if they are in a band together.

Upon this coupling, this “bromance” if you will, a certain sovereignty is given to that relationship above and beyond all others. And the most fascinating part of this whole dynamic is that everyone else gets it and goes by it. Married? Well, your wife’ll know that she’s second best to your BFF. Because, the bottom line is, it’s not personal.

It’s a slippery slope and quite tricky but the bonding that these men do with their chosen male partner is so exceptional and unusual that it is like a marriage of a different sort altogether. So one might say that these men are both gay and poly-amorous at the same time, but that would be quite silly.

But society gives creedence to the relationships that women have with each other over those that they have with the men in their lives. It is one of the few things that we do get, undeniably, as women (although we do periodically get teased about that too, so perhaps not completely without strings attached…). So men should not get these relationships?

At any rate, I’m not really here to discuss the dynamic between the way society treats men’s and women’s relationships, but the relationships that men form themselves.

For some extremely ODD reason (to me, anyway) it seems to be that heavy metal/hard rock brings out these relationships. I will give you 5 prominent examples, some fictional, some real,  that show the kind of “bromance” of which I speak, each one more intense than the next.

1.  Wayne’s World

2. Anvil

3. Spinal Tap

4. Aerosmith

5. Rolling Stones

In each of these examples, you have real or imagined relationships between male rock characters that not only overstep the boundaries of what would be essentially seen as an acceptable “friendship” level but also border upon intimacies that mirror those of a romantical nature. We all know that Rock’n’Roll and sexuality are conjoined twins, but these relationships only go that extra step in making it a little bit more substantial.

Wayne & Garth’s relationship in Wayne’s World, while being entirely fictitious, is also parodic and based upon an entire generation of kids who were just like these characters. So, while humorous, this structure was also demonstative of a larger part of young male rock culture and young male social culture. It was, in fact, a perfect recreation of how they related to their media, their peers and themselves. But what is most important to be gleaned from all this, was that unlike many other subcultures that strove to isolate  and drive wedges in between people, supporting their right to be an “individual” and all that, metal and rock fostered a kind of community, albeit almost solely male.

wayne-garth-waynes-world-15834539

So in Anvil, when “Lips” says that if they don’t make it this time he’ll jump off a cliff, it only makes sense that his partner and bandmate, Robb, states simply, “No you won’t.” Lips then looks at Robb quizzically, and Robb just shrugs and says, “You won’t jump off the cliff cuz I’ll stop ya.”  As though it were nothing. Like Lips had asked him to pass the salt. It is that much a part of his being.

Realistically, the way that a band structures itself is not unlike that of a familial structure anyway, so it is not beyond reason that the key figures might play the roles of the paired-off/romantic leads. Even when there is infighting, it is always more painful to watch that infighting go on between the key players because you know that there is more love, more loyalty and more at stake in THAT relationship than in any other relationship in the band.

We all would be much more concerned if we heard that Mick and Keith were on the outs than if Mick and Ronnie Wood had a conflict.  And each time that Joe and Steven from Aerosmith have had issues? Well, we know that it has effected not only the band but the musical output, and even their solo work isn’t as much of a force to be reckoned with as it is when it is a full band. But these are just examples. Some out of many. You can take any number of such examples out of the rock world and do the same.

The point is  the relationships are there. There is a certain magic that comes to exist between two men that spend an inordinate amount of time together in all sorts of ways. This magic mirrors the romantic magic that comes to exist within the most deep, intimate relationships that you can ever have based on the kinds of things that these men share: creativity, life experiences, hardships, success, drive, ambitions, dreams, and, most of all, time.  One might argue that these relationships could exist anywhere, but I would argue against that. I would say that the ones that exist within rock music and certain time periods/genres and mentalities (as evidenced by the examples I have given previous) make these ones quite unusual.

Male relationships are, in and of themselves, strange beasts. So, too, is heavy metal music in all of its variants and especially its variants on sexuality and masculinity. However, the fact that we can find some of the most pure and tender, loyal and true relationships within that musical arena is fascinating and quite satisfying, to say the least, in a genre that many times supposes itself to be devoid of emotion and focused solely on carnal desires.