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Friday, February 17, 2006

Romantic Comedies for The Painfully Alone

After a few hours at a side job in Oakland on Wednesday, I bike-BARTed, my new verb-form for the bay area, to a Casiotone for the Painfully Alone show in San Francisco. I initially decided I wasn't going to go, as trying to get around San Francisco with public transportation can be a chore sometimes. Fortunately, I realized that the Make Out Room is in the Mission District which is incredibly convenient via BART. The opening act, a four piece girl band with a dude on drums that I've never heard of, is endearing because they perform minimalist pop songs with clever harmonizing, unabashadly prom friendly lyrics and they play their electric guitars and bop their bodies around like sixteen year olds. They are all wearing ties and catholic school girl get ups. I realize that in the past few years there's been a resurgence of "the uniform" within indy-pop, and I don't really have a problem with that. So I took a moment to ask myself WHY I don't really have a problem with that.

Q: Yo Church! Why don't you have a problem with uniforms?

A: I suppose it is because, when I see a band in uniform, I immediately picture them all sitting around the basement of one of their parents, and one of them says, "you know what would be really cool? if we wore uniforms!", and then everyone goes "yeah!", and everyone starts to fidget and get excited and think to themselves, "oh man, this is really happening! we're like a real band and everything! this is so cool! I've wanted to rock out my whole life and finally, we're rocking out!" Then I picture them at band practice a month later, and one of them is not in uniform, and one of the other girls is all like, "guys, I thought we agreed that we were all going to wear the uniforms to practice!", and then, and then there's this tension and catty drama and then there's a big argument, and in tears, the fat one is all like, "guys, this band is falling apart! guys, this band used to mean something to us! guys, you guys are like a family to me!" Fortunately they all manage to reunite in time to play the big battle of the bands and they win the money to save Tom's Record Store from being bought out by DeathCorp. Then one of them professes her love for John Cusack. Or all of them. Anyway, I think it's cute.

Q: Fag!

A: Uh, uhhm.

Q: You're a fag!

Casiotone was pretty solid live, but it didn't occur to me until I got there that it's almost counterintuitive to see Owen Ashworth perform in person. The whole point of Casiotone is that the cinematic snapshots (also prom-friendly lyrics by the way) coupled with vocal distortion and minimalist synthesizer backing tells us stories that are too familiar, specific, and endearing to be anything other than bedroom recordings that our high school friend made for us to cheer us up. It's made to be playing in your car stereo or shitty boombox while you dawdle your life away on livejournal in the oblivious daze you've medicated yourself into, successfully nulling all of your previous hearty-aches and failed relationships and regrets until it emerges sullenly and slowly in the background like the end of the montage in a romantic comedy in which the protaganists have taken time apart from one another but are just begining to remember that deep down they miss each other. Only there is no reunion with meg ryan at the end of your Casiotone song: only twinkies and internet porn as far as they eye can see.

I had to leave the Make Out Room early, while Casiotone was in the middle of an insanely catchy duet which is still burning and bumping in my eardrums right now, unfortunately, because the BART ends service at 1200 AM and I had to get home for to be sleeping and such. Jee, I wonder why the BART closed so early? There must be some sort of MTA strike or something, a union dispute of some kind, or--MAYBE IT'S LIKE THAT EVERY GODDAMN DAY, BECAUSE THE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION IN SF IS TOTALLY FUCKING RETARDED. You don't know what you got until it's gone.

I wish I could make more romantic comedy plots to detail my bikeride home--outside of the Muppet Movie I can't think of any substantial romantic scenes that take place on bicycles. Although San Francisco is one of the few places I've been where I half expect Muppets to emerge on bicycles on the streets, an image of one of Animal's bandmates with a toke in his mouth riding by an unblemished retro 80's graffiti piece on market street is blaring in a room in my mind designated "the holographic projector booth of unfulfilled desires". It is guarded by a man on stilts in a red suit and top hat who blows fire and flails his arms around quickly to distract me while he picks your pocket.

Some final thoughts: Thinking about Casiotone's music in terms of narrative, and not just ambience is part of a gradual internal shift I am making regarding the romantic comedy as medium and its wider implications for the production of meaning in culture. I've long regarded the romantic comedy as a particularly delectable brand of poison, but the worst kind of poison nonetheless; MUCH worse than movie violence because the expectations and values it represents, when reinforced and played dramatically over and over provide the sort of conditioning that makes people delusional, perpetually heartraped losers. But Casiotone's tortured symphonies, self-consciously, cartoonishly "authentic", are a celebration of idealistic, teenaged brand of self-torture that those romantic ideals produce, rewinding and replaying the moments which those admittedly lofty and juvenile ideals were crumbled. It is as if,by turning ideals into stories, we've captured the magic, disenfected the charm by analyzing it, and we are free to live our lives as heartsick and wobbly as we'd like, provided our naivete always transfers instantly into that most valuable product: narrative.

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