written by sean
Webcomic Wednesday: Talking to the Holy Ghost in My Bugatti by Meaghan “Moneyworth” Garvey
Strictly speaking, this week’s webcomic is not a comic, nor is it even on the web, unless you count its expired Etsy listing. But I’d be doing everyone a grave disservice if I didn’t draw your attention to the astounding collision of hip-hop/R&B iconography and conspiracy-theory/occult paranoia that is Talking to the Holy Ghost in My Bugatti. In these pages, artist/DJ/t-shirt maven Moneyworth (aka Meaghan Garvey) takes one of the odder urban legends of the past few years — the notion that some of music’s biggest superstars, including Beyoncé (above), Jay-Z, Kanye West, Rihanna, and Drake, are secretly members of the Illuminati, which can be deduced from coded lyrics and from symbolism in their videos and promo photos and signature hand gestures and whatnot — and runs as far as she can with it. Students of both the occult and contemporary urban radio, a Venn-diagram overlap in which I quite happily fall, will marvel at her ability to seamlessly blend selected lyrics and esoteric incantations, until you really do start to wonder if maybe Rick Ross is involved in Satanic ritual and world domination in between saying “WHUNN” a lot on his records. As a bonus, her black-and-white portraiture is convincingly ominous, and her hand lettering is ornate and exquisite. The eye is in the pyramid and the Roc is in the building, my friends. Bow down.
Ceremony/White Lung/Perfect Pussy/Sleepies, E&L Auditorium, Kimmel Center, NYU 12/05/13
In an effort to improve my Comscore ranking I attended my first punk show since, I’m guessing, Green Day/Pansy Division/Die Toten Hosen at the Nassau Coliseum in December 1994. I was invited to do this by music-writer friends who have effectively been extending this same invitation to the entire world, or at least the segment of it that reads music websites, for a few months now. I had a lovely time; I also had thoughts.
- It’s AMAZING how much the energy changes between female-fronted punk bands (Perfect Pussy, White Lung) and male ones (Sleepies, Ceremony). I can obviously rattle off so many counterexamples that they shouldn’t even be considered as counter to anything, they’re just normal, but even so there’s an irony, almost, to seeing and hearing female voices make this aggressive music (society, amirite), while there’s an all but inescapable bro-ness to seeing and hearing dudes do it. And that’s not nothing, that difference. That adds something.
- Indeed, what’s missing from the recent, frequently vituperative discussion about these bands is an acknowledgement or addressing of their live acts. Simply put, I walked away from the show believing these bands have earned the attention they’ve gotten, simply by virtue of stage presence. I say that despite a single listen to the Perfect Pussy EP on Bandcamp being the sum total of my experience with the bands’ music before I walked into that room, and despite it all being played at a volume and speed that flattens out traditional opportunities to get hooked by melody or groove in unfamiliar music played in a live setting. The three main acts all acted as though they deserved your attention. QED.
- Given that nine times out of ten hardcore is the least funky/groove-oriented music imaginable, I was struck by what a difference the bassists made, at least as components of the live performance. Perfect Pussy’s Greg Ambler is a full-fledged muscle-armed Jason Newsted monster up there. White Lung’s Hether Fortune was comparatively staid, but sinister. Ceremony’s Justin Davis was like the antithesis of the band’s showy/skinny/shirtless guitarist Anthony Anzaldo — he seemed like he could have just left a gig as a teamster, he anchored his half of the stage with authority, and he smilingly took some good-natured ribbing from White Lung about his bald spot. The bass’s role in this kind of music is to provide a support structure for the overall assault, so having players with evident personalities helps make you feel like you’re watching something worthwhile be constructed.
- The lead singers made for a memorable trio of approaches to rock/punk frontperson iconography as well. White Lung’s Mish Way could have been Zelig’d into old Rolling Stone photos of mid-’90s Courtney Love or Donita Sparks and no one would be the wiser; watching her wrestle that archetype back to more traditional fast/cheap/out-of-control punk was compelling. Ross Farrar was one of Beavis & Butt-head’s proverbial regular guys you wouldn’t know was cool if you saw him walking down the street; he looked like a barfly, which was alarming to me in that I bet you he’s younger than I am which means I’m old enough to look like an older barfly, but again, watching him suddenly shift into screaming, contorted madman mode from that basic template was a good deal of fun. Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves, blessed with one of those names that sounds like she might have made it up, derives much of her stage presence’s power from sounding like Starscream from the Transformers but looking 100% like a well-dressed person at your cousin’s wedding.
- My point is that this stuff worked as stagecraft, and that’s worth spending all this time on given how much of the talk about this stuff centers around questions of authenticity. Artifice matters too.
- Coming as I do from alternative comics, where even the most abrasive material is still literally two-dimensional, it was bracing in the extreme to see anger and aggression so palpably, physically performed. You could scream, you could make a ton of noise, you could hit people; at one point half of White Lung came out and decked half of Ceremony. The workaround required for cartoonists to convey that level of intensity is quite demanding.
- That said, punk and hardcore are tremendously conservative aesthetics. Has a form of rebellion ever calcified as hard? To the layperson, which is very much what I am, any of the big buzzed-about new punk acts of the past several years could convincingly have come from 2012, 2002, 1992, or 1982. The pleasure of punk stems from the experience of punk, of course, the camaraderie and community and politics, but on the level of art it seems like the bands that connect find ways not to blaze new trails but to maximize the potential of the paths already taken. Punk is almost like, I don’t know, bluegrass, or standards.
- And yet looking around that room and seeing a bunch of 19-year-olds absolutely pound the shit out of each other in the pit (the pit! “Area 35-Year-Old Attends Show with Pit”) before the disbelieving eyes of cops and venue supervisors showed me that punk’s transgressive potential is still very real, and I very much believe in transgression for transgression’s sake. Ringing ears, shirts covered with blood, menacing lead singers (particularly ones who write with the same no-nonsense fervor with which they sing), bassists who look like they could quite easily mug you, music that’s indecipherable on first listen but studded with provocative slogans when you finally see the lyric sheet or hear the diehards chanting them in unison — shit, even a band name like Perfect Pussy — I’m glad these things exist. I’m glad there are still oppositional communities, even if I’m not a part of them.
“At the height of his cocaine addiction, David Bowie weighed only 95 pounds, hardly a healthy weight for 5’11”. He later said that he spent most of the mid-Seventies trying to perfect telekinesis and trying to keep Jimmy Page and witches from stealing his soul.”
trying to keep Jimmy Page and witches from stealing his soul
sorry, I don’t see the problem?
palejoe asked: I loved your Bowie comic! I've been pretty into Station to Station lately so the timing is perfect, but would you mind giving it a little context because I have no idea what all that Nazi stuff was about (is the answer cocaine?). Also, The Man Who Fell to Earth is one of the strangest movies ever made: agree or disagree?
Nah, seriously though, Bowie split with his label following a traumatic financial breakup during which he realized the degree to which his now-ex manager had him by the balls. At the time he was already doing tons and tons of coke and not really eating. He moved to Los Angeles and, perhaps picking up on the illicit air of occultism that had been present like smog since before the Manson murders there, started reading very heavily about the subject, which had long interested him anyway. From there it was a short trip, it seems, to fascism and Nazism. He cleaned up enough to film The Man Who Fell to Earth, which in a way was just the latest in his long string of alien-visitor characters, but the sum total of L.A./occult/Nazis/Thomas Jerome Newton/ongoing fascination with American R&B and funk/newfound interest in Kraftwerk/penchant for saying outrageous things during interviews was the character of the Thin White Duke, the glacial European aristocrat persona responsible for Station to Station and the subsequent ISOLAR tour in support of that record.
The irony, perhaps, is that a lot of the Station to Station material reads as quite straightforwardly emotional compared to Bowie’s previous work: “Word on a Wing” seems to deal fairly directly with how Bowie saw Christianity in one of his open-to-religious-faith phases, “TVC-15” is a fun party record, “Stay” is the sexiest, most longing thing he’d recorded to that point, his cover of “Wild Is the Wind” is sincere and gutting, etc.
TMWFtE is a pretty odd movie, yeah, and not at all what one hopes for when one first puts it on. There was a brief period, no more than six years really, in English-language cinema during which directors took a run at changing the syntax of editing, and this was part of it; virtually none of it stuck so it looks super-weird to modern eyes.
Mike Jones - Still Tippin’ (feat. Slim Thug & Paul Wall)
At the end of his central verse in this song, Mike Jones repeats the line “Back then, hoes didn’t want me / Now I’m hot, hoes all on me” four times. With each repetition it sounds less like sexist braggadocio and more like deep-seated insecurity. Each time he says it, it sounds more like he literally can’t believe his good fortune. Each time he says it, the sense that the thought is disturbing enough to him that he’s repeating it compulsively becomes harder to shake. Each time he says it, it sounds more like “Huh…This isn’t right. I’m not convinced their first take on me wasn’t the accurate one.” It sounds like Beth Gibbons saying “I don’t know what I did to deserve you” in Portishead’s “Nylon Smile” and meaning it not as a compliment to the person but an admission that she’s ignorant, and it’s terrifying to her.