Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Evelyn Evelyn: Trampling on minorities or subtly criticising exploitation?

Amanda Palmer has for a long time been one of my favourite song writers, though she has picked up various criticisms - attention seeking, OTT, inciting or celebrating self-harm (in The Dresden Dolls song, 'Bad Habit', which she has explained as being about biting the skin around and her nails) and such. Oh, she got criticised for wearing a sheer dress with absolutely nothing on it at some awards ceremony or other - but in fairness, the papparazzi begged her to do so again - she'd worn it briefly for the catwalk or something, but had changed into a different dress once inside.

Her solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, I enjoyed very much. The songs aren't greatly linked to each other, and I guess I'd have to own the concept art book to get it or something, but each song has its individual merit. Her latest album, co-produced with Jason Webley has received criticism, particularly on a feminist magazine site, Jezebel.com. 

Evelyn Evelyn is apparently an album by a set of Siamese twins 'discovered by' Amanda and Jason - a facade I can't quite bring myself to endorse. I'm sorry Amanda Palmer; I love you, but I think this is a step too far into your strangeness. Maybe I've sold out on this point to your Jezebel haters, but I felt they had a point. I don't really see the need to dress as Siamese Twins, but then perhaps I'm being too sensitive? Personal taste, I guess.

Another criticism on a blog discusses this campaign, and whilst to some extent I agree with him, and do feel a bit uncomfortable that Amanda hasn't in anyway reversed the general stereotype of being conjoined as a ''condition'', I also have to agree with some of the commenters - I had not realised until I read about it properly that Evelyn Evelyn was a fictitious duo - in fact, I hadn't really heard that they'd been performing. I think at first I treated it as an album title, as much as Who Killed Amanda Palmer. But the 'twins' have a large twitter fan base, and many albums are sold 'regardless of their disability', so perhaps they have been successful ''despite able-ism''? It's really down to personal interpretation, again.

However, I do not agree with the view that the album and its concept is at all trampling on the 'minority' community of Siamese Twins. If anything, it is a chilling, gothic saga (with dark humour in some songs) about exploitation (and it's in no way celebrating it) and estrangement from the 'norm'.

I'll admit I have not listened to all of the three tracks entitled 'The Tragic Events Part...', because I was put off by the start of the first part, and also because they were spoken tracks. The first, detailing their birth, was a bit gorgy and I've not been in the mood to persevere with those three. So I'll go through the other tracks and give the low down of each that I listened to or think is worth mentioning - as an individual piece, not as part of an entire compilation. I'll use the titles of the songs to link you to their lyrics, too. In the context of the album, quite a few songs could be throw-away titles that can be played quite well out of context of the album, on some obscure late night cabaret radio station, with no real offence intended, or easily discerned, at all.



Song 1: Evelyn Evelyn is the introducing song. The girls are discussing their thirst for fame, but also that 'they're watching us anyway'. As much as our parents have told us not to, as well as common courtesy, people do look at disabled people. It might be a fleeting glance before averting the gaze so that they 'are not staring', but only a deluded self-righteous person would argue that they never notice the more severely disabled, any more than they notice the hair colour of 'normal' people. The twins want to run away from being just side-show attractions and to be famous for their own merit. The music is haunting and sad, and has a nostalgic, yet creepy, circus-music style, with an explosion of anger and resentment at the end as the two girls argue, fading back into their own circus background. One person has suggested that the most haunting joke of all out of the entire album is that any sympathetic listener is actually as much of a freak in his own private circus as the twins are, underneath their otherwise sometimes sad, sometimes funny, sometimes even cute song disguises.

Song 2: Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn? is sung and played in that wonderful jaunty Vaudeville genre, with a list of all the men that Evelyn sees. If you just take the song at literal value, the song can apply to any floozy out there - it has no mention of their being Siamese Twins, but then, that's the dark joke of the song. The speed and fluidity of the list, alternated sentences between Amanda and Jason is delightful and you can't help but want to jaunt along to the rhythm. As a single song of its own, it's a light-hearted parody of those golden days of Saloon music, with dancer performers and a cabaret style dress.

Song 3: Chicken Man's lyrics are really not that complicated. For me, it's the music that made the song enjoyable. As a piece of music, I thought it was nicely done. It's 'circus' style, with an essence of advertisement and pre-performance act of the other stage members of a circus before the Chicken Man is to perform or do whatever he's supposed to do at a circus.

Song 4: Sandy Fishnets. As with The Dresden Dolls song, 'Sex Changes', the image the title alone created in my head was not what the song turned out to be about. 'Sex Changes' is not about the operation of having one, but of how having sex can change a person's life, feelings and outlook. Sandy Fishnets is ultimately a sad song. I hadn't really listened to it properly before today, but it clicked in my head. Sandy Fishnets was a person - a suicide? It's as though the twins/narrators don't quite realise what's going on - they ask what she's 'catching' and 'whether she'll be sore', once they've found her 'washed up on the shore'. This song is about the sad exploitation of a girl - beloved by her friends, to whom she told stories of adventures and pirates - but was, by implication, a prostitute, having 'a queue of uncles' and being 'always tired'. To make things worse, Sandy was not a fully grown woman - when she was all grown up, the 'lines of uncles dwindled', and she was replaced by 'Melissa May', and forced to share a bed with the twins. The tune and style of the song is haunting and chilling, the full meaning always implied, but never explicit; the facts where there, but not understood by the childlike viewpoint of the twins, who were ''discovered by Amander and Jason at 19''. If they were the same age as Sandy, they were 13 when she was sent away by 'Mrs Bulgar'.

Song 5: Elephant Elephant is, if taken in context of the album, probably a parody about the only Siamese elephants we know about (in captivity). Taken out of context, it's a childish celebration and delight at having an elephant as a pet, whilst 'other kids have horses, other kids have frogs' and the like. Again, out of context, the song is a jaunty, fun tune that could quite easily be on a strange radio station.



Song 6: You Only Want Me 'Cause You Want My Sister can, on the one hand, be listened to and sympathised by all women out there. Even if it's not a sister you've been used to get close to, and it was a best friend, the message is still there:

You pulled up at the house at half past seven,
In your ‘69 Impala, shook hands with my father.
And we stopped off at the drug store by the drive-in,
For some Trojans and a six-pack,
Still your eyes kept wandering back to her,
It’s always her. 

The song is country-song styled, with a seemingly normal theme, but with the twist - she is not just a twin, she is attached to her twin. Perhaps it is here, chiefly, that the song-writers can be accused of failing to be properly transgressive. But one could also point out the line 'this is not a two-for-one deal', and the fact that it doesn't have to be Siamese twins that are victim to the whole ''twin sex'' fantasy, which could just as easily result in an assumption that the persuit of one twin will automatically result in a threesome.
However it is only the odd line that reminds you of their conjoined status, subtly, whilst the rest is just that of a "normal" set of sisters/twins' situation, with one wondering how to test the lovers' purity of love, and realising that the only way was to kill and bury the sister, no matter how much she might miss her. The line comparing the sister to herself, with hair the same and eyes just as blue, but with "one heart beating for" him under all of that is the only subtle reminder to the listener of the album that it is a set of Siamese twins. Taken out of context and played on a random radio station, lyrically it could be as much of a sister-likeness ballad as a non-Amanda Palmer song.

The other two songs, My Space and Love Will Tear Us Apart are also singular style songs - the former is almost power-ballad, whilst the latter is a ukulele-based slow song, both with an air of sadness.



Overall, I like the album, even if I sometimes have some reservations for the general live performance format, or I'm not overly taken by the Tragic Events trilogy tracks, though it could be I just need a good listen to them all the way through. I find I enjoy the songs for their individual messages rather than the album entirely as a concept - to me, I consider it a similar compilation format to that of her other solo work, with the only connecting tracks being the Tragic Events saga.

I can't help but wish that Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione would get back together and reform The Dresden Dolls, for it was that music that made me fall in love with her music in the first place, but it would seem to be a vain hope. Not that they'd regroup and play anywhere conveniently local to me anyway!

Friday, 11 June 2010

Neuroticism, Spontanuity and Pyromania

Neuroticism

An example of my slightly neurotic tendencies is once again paranoid anxiety about something I've bought to wear. I saw what I thought was a dress (it could be a dress, it could be a very long top. The lable didn't really help specify this) in Bournemouth, and it was really nice. It was only in a 6, though, and when I asked if they had more in the back, the manager said that they were expecting a delivery a few days later. I didn't get a chance to go back. It was non-existent on the website, until it was completely sold out in all sizes, so I just gave up on the idea. On Tuesday however, I found said dress in 10.

The dress is missing a button, which I can fix, and the sequins it has are threading out - but that doesn't do any harm to the overall appearance of the thing. I tried it on, and I liked it. I did. I still do. Sort of. It's a bit lower-cut though than I normally like - only by about a centimetre, but it makes quite a difference when you're a bit on the large side. Anyway. I kept trying it on with various other clothes - shorts, (it's longer than my shorts, so I guess that's good in that it's about the same length as my mini skirt, so I can at least be comfortable with its length) and it looks really nice with my 3/4 jeans underneath. It looks nice with no tights, nude tights and with black tights, although it does have a slight colour-shine-through issue that I'll have to fix with a cheap slip or something.

My only problem with it is the fitting around the neck. I've taken the tag out now, and I'm panicking that that was a silly idea. I am not sure, but I think the back of the neck is stretched a bit :( It might well shrink a bit in the wash, but it'll be ages before I try that out. Unless I do a special wash at home. And I'm a bit self-conscious about the neck line. It's a square scoop neckline, and it doesn't look as nice with a strap top on underneath, to cover that extra centimetre/centimetre-and-a-half. Ah well. It *is* nice. I just will have to find a way to feel comfortable with it, or wear it for specific occasions of extreme summer sun and/or summer parties. And make sure I wear the right sort of bra with it x) Bit like my evening dress. Typical.

I hate shopping. If I do find something I like, it doesn't fit me, or I think it doesn't suit me or I get it and then I wonder why the hell I did. In most circumstances I just take the item back, but this one I kept cause I had 28 days to return it. And for some reason I took the tag out before then. Silly me.


Spontanuity

I was asked last minute to join my flatmate and her friends to their last ever visit to a club in Morecambe, the Carleton. I argued that I didn't have a ticket, but they didn't either, so I quickly got changed. (I've come to the decision I need a new outfit for going out in, as well as new day clothes.)
I had a great time. I mean, the club itself is a bit hit and miss with music and such, but I met up with another friend of mine there, and we had a right laugh. The music was quite football orientated though, at one point. It was really bizarre. It can be quite claustrophobic in the Carleton, but it's not so bad once you get used to it, or you're with people you actually know. Can feel a bit as though you're all packed together like sardines - I prefer the Sugarhouse for the space and music variety, but overall, the Carleton has its own feel to it as well, and doesn't use the smoke machines even a 1/5 as much, so that's a great improvement.
Going again next week in fancy dress - a load of history students are dressing up in a historical outfit. We're think 1920s or 1940s. Something we can grab cheap from the old show rooms in town.


Pryomania

Ok. Not exactly pyromania, but said friend and another did almost set fire to the bins around the designated BBQ area at the bottom of the green. We'd had the annual history society bbq, and it went really well - even with Kate getting the odd sausage or burger flame-grilled  from a little too much flame exposure. Similar to the picture, actually -> [click for actual photo]
Afterwards, we were disposing of the rubbish and coals in the BBQ. Simon was having fun rolling the BBQ (it was on wheels, he didn't roll a disposable one like a square wheel :P) down the hill and almost made it to the coal basket, when he tipped it over. My other two friends had to put out the coals on the grass with bottles of water which they filled at the taps near by. Kate then put some coals remaining in the BBQ into what she thought was a BBQ bin. Well apart from it being a bin for disposable BBQs, some of the coals were still alight. So naturally, the bin started smoking and there was the lovely smell of burning plastic in the air. So we poured about a litre and a half of water into the bin. Good times. The remainder of the coals were put in the coal basket, and other evidence destroyed. It was fun, but I don't think I'll let those two be in charge of flammable things for a while.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Sovay: "She fought for her life. She robbed for love."

This'd be a book review. Well, by book review, I actually mean discussing and 'opinionising' (I love making up words) it, rather than actually picking it apart and analysing every last detail.

As you can see, it's a book. And it's written by Celia Rees - if the name rings a bell, it's probably because you'd have been recommended her major success story, Witch Child by your teachers at school. And quite right too. Well, unless you're a man's man, in which case, don't bother. You won't appreciate it. No guns you see.

Anyway. Sovay. I bought it in Bournemouth, as something to read after my exams whilst I hung around Sam's house as he revised for his, or went to work. I confess it took me a while to get into it - I read about 30 pages and then switched over to his comic book collection. Perhaps it's because my brain needed short sentences and pretty pictures, or perhaps it was because the start is quite cliché in its Highwayman-is-a-woman storyline. But there is nothing wrong with cliché. Cliché can sell many many books, and give plenty of authors an income. I applaud cliché, so long as it's written well. And written well this book is - Celia Rees has a knack for keeping her writing both sophisticated and accessible to the younger (i.e. teenager) audience, giving its appeal a nice wide 12 to whatever-age-a-person-goes-off-fiction.

Sovay, the main character, is a 18th century daughter of an aristocrat, who displays less than aristocratic tendencies, such as enjoying riding around in her brother's clothes and testing the love of her fiancé (who failed the test). However instead of just sticking to terrorising the family of this epitome of rakishness, she has to keep up with highway robbery to prevent her family from being arrested for supposed treason - her family are moderate ''revolutionaries''. In that they support freedom and reform, but not necessarily as far as the French are doing at the moment (French Revolution of the 1700s).

After the move to London to find and warn her father and brother, Sovay's fortunes take a turn as she becomes embroiled in uncovering a mass conspiracy, almost in a Sherlock Holmes film-esque way. As I read through, getting more and more gripped on my 6 hour train journey, I could practically see all the characters come to life. Granted, the villain had a resemblance to Mark Strong, mixed with the owner of the asylum in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, but none the less he was sufficiently menacing to keep the plot fluid.

The plot in general is of course not believable, in comparison to her other books (I'm ignoring Sorceress) but it's enjoyable all the same. It's got adventure, intrigue, cult ritual, danger, a tiny bit of romance, a plausible international period drama setting and even a bit of kissy-slut happenings! (See what I've done with the colours?)
She really gets about that Sovay. Must be deluded into thinking that just because she dresses as a man once in a while, society has liberated her of her corset where physical contact with other people is concerned.

The writing style is good. I like Celia Rees for her style. I was a bit skeptical that she could write anything that wasn't in diary-form, after Sorceress (I don't know why, I just couldn't get into that as I could Witch Child and Pirates! ) but after Pirates! I knew she was good at writing the sort of frivolous period adventure story I enjoy one quiet week or long-night with no obligations the next morning.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

New Background

I'm trying out a new template, using the new Template Designer... it's not /brilliant/ but it's not horrible, either. I dunno. I might see just *how* customisable this stuff is and have a mess around with it later.

Now I be off to perform my History Society Social Secretarial duties of buying loads of food for the annual BBQ on Thursday. Iceland Cheapness here I come.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Dissertation and Distractions

So I've finally chosen a dissertation title. Yay~

Well, it's a provisional one until/in case I think of something more... catchy. My friend's doing women and science in the Renaissance and has named it ''Hunters vs. Gatherers". Mine's less succinct at the moment, with 'Extreme Methods of Escape Bodily Confines".
I'll focus on the motivations and reasons for an austere life, and individual case studies including Francis of Assisi, Origen (a genius that interpreted passages of the bible so literally he castrated himself, for "if your arm or leg is your undoing, cut it off and fling it away") and various others that suffered mental and physical starvation in the hopes to purify their souls. Apparently Socrates even more or less gave up on life in order to free his soul from the tomb of his body.

But today I had fun touching up this photo for my grandmother. It's of my grandad and his older brother, and is about 75 years old.

 I had to remove loads of scratches, and marks coming through from the back, and a pen mark.


Unfortunately there was only so much that I could do about the thinned areas of ink showing the back through.






Was oddly a fun exercise. Learned stuff as I went, too.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Dissertation and degeneration into childhoodness

On the one hand, I've been reading quite complicated material, trying to grasp what I can use and write 10,000 words on The Body and Christian Worship. I'm quite eager to look into the influences and motivations of individual ascetics to lead such lives - starving the body and mind beyond just chastity and the odd day of the year without eating, and even what would now-a-days be considered self-harm, in an effort to experience divine ecstasy and jubilation.

There are quite a few prominent figures, and they tend to be women - you get the odd extreme holy man. Francis of Assisi, for example, is the first person and only male in my period to receive stigmata. And particularly gruesome they were, too.
There were many attitudes towards extreme versions of asceticism. Probably because they realised the trouble fasting could be - one woman refused to eat and to marry  her widowed brother in law until he'd changed his attitude towards women in general. Nice.

Plus there's the age-old opinion that everything should be done in moderation.


On the other hand, I've made a load of discoveries where childhood programs are concerned on youtube. Entire series people have put up. I must confess I spent a lot of time yesterday compiling play lists. I guess I just like having something incredibly simple to listen to/watch in the background as I read through all this material.
It was also rather nice, because on cassette tapes made when I was small, for the car, I'd remember theme tunes to obscure shows, but had no idea what the show was called - Junglies was the main one - if I'd not thought to see if I'd imagined a t.v. show of Nelly the Elephant, I wouldn't have found the wiki page of the creators and found that the Junglies was the other show they'd made, and found the intro video on youtube. That's one less thing to nag at the back of my subconscious whenever I'm reminiscing past television shows.

So whilst I'm transcending the world of regular half-hat study into the ''heavens'' of independent research and confusion, I'm also feeling my leisure attention span degrading into that of a 2-10 year old, watching shows that were less than 15 minutes long per episode, cartoon, rarely had proper talking, or, well. The Demon Headmaster.

But Maulwurf is a treasure that I'm glad is buyable on DVD. <3