Sometimes a song doesn’t stick right away, or even a whole album. You’re there to get into it because I’m/you’re a Fangirl and that requires patience and sustained interest, at the very least. Tonight I was on a walk in the freezing cold with my pug, who wore two sweaters, and listening to it on headphones I suddenly got Charli XCX’s “Body of My Own”– GOT IT in capital letters: the sped-up ‘80s English ska beat, the shouty punch of the melody, the lyrics “’Cause I can make it feel just like I’m hangin’ on/Yeah I can do it better when I’m all alone,” which by the way I initially thought went “Sometimes sex just feels like you are all alone/Yeah I can do it better when I’m all alone.” That same chorus sounds like a bratty girl version of Oingo Boingo’s most urgent songs, my favorite ones, all dork-circus with a blend of styles ranging from the American songbook to Broadway to cabaret to new wave rave-up.
When Marina & the Diamonds toured her Electra Heart album I showed up after Charli XCX had already opened because I hadn’t really cared for or about her. I only recently fell wildly in love with Charli’s first album, Nuclear Seasons, while working an office job I hated where Spotify was my main source of Good Life Feelings and emotional engagement. I had eight hours a day to listen to music I’d never taken the time to give a fair shake; it was during this exploration that I also fell hard for Dum Dum Girls. I’d somehow forgotten to note how much I loved “Coming Down” when that song came out & it’d play on the satellite radio station while I stood around gossiping with the other shopgirls at my then-job; Too True is this shiny pop glut run through a punk/late ‘80s goth rock machine with strong, throaty vocals spread on top thickly. At this same job I’d listen to Sam Cooke for eight hours straight, the Harlem Club Live album’s version of “Bring it On Home to Me” over and over, the demo for “You Send Me” that is just Sam singing so sweetly with a light, heartbreaking acoustic guitar: perfect.
I saw Inherent Vice at noon today, the first showing of the film in my fair city of Athens. While I enjoy PT Anderson films, and would go so far as to say that I loved There Will Be Blood, I was there with such a quickness not out of some affinity for the filmmaker or lead actor or even book (which I’d just finished) but for Joanna Newsom, who plays a character named Sortilege who also acts as a narrator for the film and appears in about three scenes. Everything goes out the fucking window when Joanna is involved: it cannot be anything to me before it is a Thing with Joanna Newsom.” This all because her music sits right in the center of my body and has since I first heard it, though it’s set up house there more firmly as the years go by and the songs keep coming. If you’re a lucky person this happens with lots of art and there are thousands of good, strong homes inside you that you get to share with all kind of interesting strangers on this planet, makers of art and the fellow imbibers, too. It’s one of the best parts of being alive, next to dogs.
So I read the book a week or so ago, having found myself at an airport with nothing to read and only an airport book selection to sustain me. For me it came down to Gone Girl and Inherent Vice and I picked IV because of the Newsom connection; to be fair, she’d also said in interviews that she loved the book. I hadn’t read a book by a straight guy in a long while– I tried stretching my mind back to find the last one and couldn’t. As described by Anne Boyer, Inherent Vice is “shaped like a penis,” which it absolutely is: women are fuckable babes something like 99% of the time and references to boners were not infrequent. But it’s also super campy, high camp AND high-camp, and maybe it’s for this reason that after I saw the film I found myself wishing Gregg Araki or John Waters had made the movie. It wasn’t that the film didn’t put the jokes and fun in– it did– but the dusty neon feel of the book was darker in the film, scenes that were titty-shaking romps and cartoon exuberant became heavy and sad, over-determined as “meaningful.” Can’t you be high high-camp and still be meaningful? Which is to say I know you can, we live in this world after all.
Regardless, Joanna was Perfect playing a far-out all-knowing, hippie beach babe type, not sexualized like most of the other women in the film but still inhumanly beautiful (of course, again, we live in this world…). As a narrator her voice-over was wry and patient and full of tips and guides, a kind of god who had luck to disperse and knowing nods to send your way. Truly distinct, her voice with its kind of cawing tone that sits right on top of your ears. It’s so good, it’s a fangirl’s dream, who doesn’t want to see one of your favorite artists appear elsewhere, in the make believe world of film and fantasy? Being so much themselves even as they perform someone else? I don’t know, it’s a real dream of surrealism and I Like It. I like to observe brilliant people doing everything, why not as they act too, as they perform however they may.
I do like that in Inherent Vice all the women are out there for themselves– they aren’t particularly fleshed out, though they do bare lotsa flesh, but they aren’t there to show us anything about Doc (the main character) either, or to conveniently illuminate some truth about him. I actually did not think this film accurately portrayed the amount of pot smoking that happens in the book, which might seem inconsequential but maybe you know what I mean– it matters. Critics keep calling it a “beach noir,” which I suppose the film is, but the book is really more of a “stoner noir.” And here I am writing about a Thomas Pynchon book but you know, Joanna Newsom set it down in front of me, basically.