In Which We Feel It Running All Over And Through Us

bolivian phtootor

Places of Escape

by BRITT JULIOUS

“I’m a little tired,” I said to Sonia when we met for the first time at a cafe in Lincoln Park. “I stayed out late.”

“How late is late?” she asked.

“4 a.m.”

But really, 4 a.m. is only the beginning. I have danced until sunrise. I have waited and wandered home during the morning rush, a cup of caffeine in hand, walking against the tide of bodies going to while I’m coming from.

This is not a point of pride or contention, but I can recognize it now. Three years ago, I could not feel even black inside. There is a blankness to a state of depression that can only be understood after the fact. Black is absence of light. Blank is absence of order. But my closet was filled with delicate, sequined tops in blues and reds and greens, a balm for something it would take me years to fully articulate.

The night before, Crystal asked if I was attending a performance at SpyBar by George Fitzgerald, a young house musician and DJ. I wasn’t, but all of the lights were on in my home and all I could see was what I saw the night before.

It is so easy to wallow in your own problems. We often forget other people struggle too. I had forgotten until the night before. How many others do we forget until it is too late, until they are gone?

“In a cab,” I typed while still clothed in a bra and pajama bottoms.

The greatest thing I have learned in the past two years is how to escape myself. I envy those people who can stay inside, comforted with their things and self. I will forever be a work in progress. In the future, I hope I can stay home and have that be enough, but right now, my walls close in on me. At first, they are protective, but quickly, they keep me trapped in thoughts born out of 26 years of insecurity.

Not all places of escape are the same for all people. We each develop something that speaks to our everyday, our tastes, our sorrow. I know mine more than many other things in my life: the dance floor; the blinding, shimmery lights; the weight of the bass.

One of the first things Marion ever said to me was that negativity breeds negativity. Positivity does not act the same. No, positivity takes constant effort. Happiness is effort. Joy is work. People who tell you differently are dangerous and lying to you to mask the things they’d rather not be.

oh rubrica

I understand that. It is the illusion of attraction and beauty, things that feel less natural, more the work of the self and how it wants to move through the world.

I think that negative memories work in much the same way. Unless the night was truly spectacular, we rarely remember solid pleasantness. Moments that are just good fade until weeks and months bleed into one another. But the bad has a way of staying, an unwanted acquaintance that takes root on the couch of your mind and forever overstays.

The bad can direct the ways in which you move around in the world. I am learning to unravel the negativity in my soul that has shaped me precisely like millions of other young women in the world. Imagine thinking that unpleasantness is born within you. Thinking that your mind and body are made to be used and discarded and your future is to forever watch other people simply breathe and live. This is what I am trying to escape once and for all.

We ignore our need for places of escape because if one does not work as it is intended to, then what value could we possibly find in the search? The dance floor is nothing new to me, but I opened myself up to it, all of it, as if discovering dark walls of sound and the pleasures of anonymity for the first time.

I see these sidewalks and storefronts everyday. Keep your head down to tolerate the cold. Keep your head down to not seem too proud, too confident, too sure of yourself. Get into the building and sit down and stay there in front of your screen and your work and your things to do.

We are told to believe in the grind and when we finally wake up from that fever dream of things to do, we realize it is too late. All around you is a world that has moved on.

The escape then is the bridge between the grind. It is the pulse. It keeps you moving. I used to think that I could only find it in another person. But the only person you can ever truly know is yourself. Know yourself and your needs and everything falls into grace.

That is the thing about beginning to know yourself. You can see things as they are and stay the same, or you can see them and try to change. Change is rawness, is destruction of the familiar and the usual. And even if you are forever in pain, it is easier to know pain or anger than it is to try for something better. Eventually, you must confront the things that have caused this state of permanence. Most people hide from the truth. I have and will forever refuse to be most people.

George’s set started late and the more I waited, the more frustrated I felt. Is the dance floor the drug or the cure? Is it pure of intentions or masking reality?

that intruding fool

If you repeat something enough times, it can grow from what you need to do to what you want to do. That is what the dance floor became for me, a place that I actually liked and understood more than my own home or the job I fear I will never escape.

But I reverted back to its core purpose this time and waiting became a test of the self.

“Is that George?” I asked myself, even though I knew it wasn’t true.

Eventually he took to the booth and what I thought would take hours to feel pleasurable took only moments. “Magnetic,” a song that sounded just OK months earlier thumped through the speakers, the bass a complete jolt to the system. I could feel it all over and through me. To know this feeling is to know it can never truly be articulated. But also, to know it is to love it so fiercely.

“I don’t know how you can go out all the time,” a man I cared for said to me once.

But I don’t go out all the time, I thought. I go out enough. I go out when I need to. I go out sometimes and then I come home and then I keep going about my life.

I left barely an hour into his set. That was all I needed.

Outside, cabs still roamed the neighborhood as if dawn was not quickly approaching. I got a friendly cab driver, something I find happens late at night. There are stories to share and time to listen. This works both ways with both passengers.

“You had a good night?” he asked.

“Yes!” I said still brimming with enough energy to last me through the rest of the weekend.

“Yeah, yeah. I can tell,” he said. We locked eyes in the mirror and sped down the expressway.

Chicago has something special in its electronic scene, a specialness that is recognized on its surface and for its history, but not for how it connects people, how it keeps something surprisingly warm alive for music felt to be so cold.

I remember standing on the corner of Chicago and Halsted after coming from a party in the River West neighborhood of the city. It was that biting cold you’ll only ever understand if you live here. It was that cold that makes people move away from here, makes people give up on the city, makes people see the city for what it is and believe that it will never get better.

But the party ran very late and like many times before, I was one of the stragglers refusing to go out from what felt warm and good and pure because of the music. Lots of deep house and UKG. Lots of music that feels instantly familiar. Lots of music that sounds from the future and forever.

The wind whipped against my face and I opened my mouth to breathe in deeply the air that finally felt clear. I saw a young man I met earlier in the night, but had forgotten quickly. He found a cab before I did.

“Here, you take it,” he shouted.

“No, it’s fine. I’m going South,” I said.

“Really? You sure you’re okay getting back?” he said.

I just nodded my head.

Britt Julious is the senior editor of This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about Orange is the New Black. She tumbls here and twitters here.

Photographs by Isabel Muñoz.

brittpop

“Premonition” – Gazelle Twin (mp3)

“Human Touch” – Gazelle Twin (mp3)

In Which We Discuss This As Carefully As We Can

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.

Hi,

My boyfriend Tomas comes from a religious family in Texas. Outside their church is an eclectic, graphic depiction of the crucifixion. He has told me that he does not feel he could ever commit to someone who does not have some kind of faith, since he wants to raise his children as Christians.

It’s hard to know exactly how I feel about all this, since my parents never really mentioned religion at all to me, and aren’t observant themselves. From what I know of his faith, there are aspects that I might struggle with, specifically instruction in abstinence before marriage.

Tomas is a wonderful person and when we do talk about God I find myself wanting to hear his views, even when I don’t feel entirely comfortable airing my own. Ultimately, I don’t know if I would want to raise my children in the style of his family. What should I do?

Tina F.

Dear Tina,

It sounds like you know a small amount about his church, but you should probably get to know more. At an appropriate time, like after sex or while you are choosing a new job, subtly find out details about his worship. Casually ask aloud, “Hey Tomas, would your church by any chance be the same church that the murderer attended in True Detective?”

You need to learn more about your boyfriend’s faith before you can properly judge it. Does child sacrifice play a role? Every Sunday, do people put things in their mouth? Dicks or wafers? Check on that.

A lot of things are said in a relationship at a young age. Once you have his child in your tummy, he’s not really going to be able to say no to you. He can’t well force you to go to church. If he does, call the cops. He is not going to go by himself. There are plenty of places to worship in private, ideally in another state with no income tax.

You say you have trouble expressing your own views. Fine. There are many ways to influence his instead, changing them to become more like yours. Example: he strolls in from a hard day’s work and you’re casually reading On the Origin of the Species. When he asks what you are reading, remark that it is more spiritual than you thought it would be, and did he read that thing in the Guardian about how a girl raised in the church rebelled from its strictures and had unprotected sex in a kangaroo’s pouch? Eventually he’ll get the picture.

Hi,

I was recently talking with my boyfriend about 9/11. He explained that he had been a freshman in college when the attack occurred, and described some of the things that happened at his Ivy League school during the attack – people crying, others screaming in shock and trying to reach their loved ones. Unfortunately all I could think about as he was telling this story is how I was in fourth grade when this happened. Before this anecdote, our age difference did not seem so important, but now I can’t get it out of my mind. What should I do?

Martha S.

Dear Martha,

You are correct in stating that anyone who was in college during 9/11 is old, perhaps too old for you. In order to verify your hypothesis, here are some indications that your partner (#loveofyourlife) may just not be the right age.

- He was in graduate school during the Second World War.

- He thinks that penicillin is a “miracle life-saving drug” and defends it for hours whenever you rag on it.

- He wanted to name your cat Clementine or Archibald.

- His drug dealer asked him if he ever watched Fawlty Towers, and his response was anything except, “What the fuck are you talking about?”

- He soothes his feet by washing them in a water basin with Lucille Ball’s face and torso on it.

- He asks you if that “upstart nation” Israel is going to be around for good.

Age isn’t important, but not having the right opinions about things like John Cleese and Israel could come back to bite you in the ass later on IMO.

“Mi Lost” – The Bug ft. Miss Red (mp3)

“The One” – The Bug ft. Flowdan (mp3)

In Which Michael Fassbender Brought The Whole Band

Fassbending

by ELEANOR MORROW

Frank
dir. Lenny Abrahamson
95 minutes

In Frank Michael Fassbender has a line serrating his upper hair from his lower hair. It is the impression of the cartoon head he wears onstage as a performer in an experimental rock group for the first 70 minutes of Frank. Near the end of the film we meet Frank’s parents and we learn he is from the God that brought you the mentally unstable Daniel Johnston (he once crashed a plane and survived) or the astonishingly honorific Dr. Dre. I think Alanis Morrisette has sclerosis?

Something is always like something else.

Frank features ensemble experimental music created by a group of actors, which was the entire reason for the failure of the John Cage musical. The songs are uniformly bad until the last number, where Fassbender bleats ‘I love you all’ while staring away from the camera. Maggie Gyllenhaal attempts eye contact for a few seconds during this improvised song, but it is never achieved.

Robbed of his ability to make that expression where he shows off his gums, Fassbender attempts to construct Frank purely out of his movements. The best part of Frank is when Fassbender runs anywhere – his legs revolve like those of Bugs Bunny or the Tasmanian Devil. You can tell it is Fassbender in the cartoon head the entire time, even if no one told you. You would just be like, That’s the guy from everything, which is what we say before a talented artist achieves his defining role, like Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher.

At first Frank seems like a musical genius, but once you hear his songs, that possibility fades away. Frank has the worst music of any movie.


Gyllenhaal too is focused on her physicality. Left as the only interesting thing to look at in a group of guys who look like they were taken from central casting for  a Freddie Mercury biopic, she writhes and poses in equal measure. She has aged very well and is only now being cast in parts appropriate for her dashing, tilting artifice. She can keep something – a scene, a moment – alive long after you believed it was dead, and show the camera how it has been changed by being resurrected.

The only time the film is quiet or at rest is when the band’s manager is tweeting about their album recording session or tumbling about a really moving artistic moment. The tumblr and twitter posts appear onscreen, just so you’re 100 percent sure that none of this is the least bit authentic. All of them are super-cringeworthy, the ones that are meant to be and the ones that aren’t meant to be. Telling the difference is a job for scientists, artisans, or psychologists. The only thing that is certain is that this movie is not a satire, unless…would that make it better?

Having never approached the sun, you can be certain Frank never tried to imitate the actual creative process. It just tries to stand in the light nearby.

The point of Frank, I guess, is that nothing is authentic, especially in, but not limited to, the musical world. John Cage was possibly authentic, but no one else, especially not Lou Reed or Andy Warhol or Mark Kozelek or Gary Lutz or Marlon Brando or Junot Diaz or Stanley Fish or Javier Bardem. They were all in soap operas. You will know the real thing when you see it.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Washington D.C. You can find an archive of her writing here.

“Armpit” – Ashrae Fax (mp3)

“Daddystitch” – Ashrae Fax (mp3)

In Which Kenneth Patchen Created Us All In His Image

“Hiya Ken Babe, What’s The Bad Word For Today?”

by JONATHAN WILLIAMS

They’ve never made a movie about Kenneth Patchen. Now they’re too late. The only guy who could play him, Robert Mitchum has just died. He had the voice, the build and the sleepy eyes. He had the laconic barroom style to deliver a poem like “The State of the Nation” whose last line I have altered in the title above.

It’s difficult to fathom why he’s not read by the young these days. Do the young have enough grounding to read any unconventional poet these days? Basil Bunting always insisted there were still plenty of “unabashed” boys and girls about, but their slovenly teachers had never trained them in the literature that mattered. There were three or four decade when Kenneth Patchen was a poet who mattered to a lot of people. I was having lunch last autumn with J. Laughlin, Patchen’s old friend and his publisher at New Directions. He shook his head sadly, “They just don’t read Kenneth anymore – how can we understand that?” I don’t think we can understand. Each century produces a Blake and a Whitman, a Ryder and a Bruckner. They didn’t arrive out of the empyrean with fan clubs and web sites.

Patchen wrote at a time when most writers stayed home and wrote, in places like Rutherford, Old Lyme, Fort Atkinson and Sausalito. The previous generation was into celebrity and reporters followed them to Pamplona, the rue de Fleurus and Rapallo. Patchen had to stay home, and stay in bed – his wrecked back gave him no mercy. Except for a few sessions of poetry-and-jazz with Charles Mingus in New York in the late 1950s, and with the Chamber Jazz Sextet in California, Patchen was a private man, not on stage.

It is instructive, perhaps, to contrast this kind of life with that of two later poets who have recently died: Allen Ginsberg and James Dickey. Both of these men spent early years working public relations on Madison Avenue and neither stopped jabbering for a single second thereafter. Ginsberg was a mensh. His desire to be the spokesman of his generation was the last thing I could imagine or would want, but we always enjoyed being together on what were rare occasions in San Francisco, New York or here in Dentdale. He upset a lot of squares, he opened up liberating avenues, he put himself on the line; but, may I be excused if I have to say that most of the poetry struck me as hard-sell advertising. I was reminded more of Walter Winchell and Gabriel Heater and Paul Harvey than of the Buddha.

Sheriff Dickey, more bubba than mensh, was unbelievably competitive. At a poetry occasion in the White House put on by Rosalynn Carter and Joan Mondale, Jim barely had time to shake my hand. He whispered to his wife, “Come on, honey, we got to work the crowd.” He never forgave me for writing to someone that Deliverance was about as accurate about goings-on in Rabun County, Georgia, as Rima the Bird-Girl was in Green Mansions, by W.H. Hudson. I also made the mistake of quoting Mr. Ginsberg on Deliverance: “What James Dickey doesn’t realize is that being fucked in the ass isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you in American life.”

Compared to these public operators, Patchen was as remote as one of the Desert Fathers. (The Desert Fathers is not a rock group.)

I sat in Concourse K at O’Hare Airport in Chicago recently, reading The New York Times and Fanfare and watching the passing parade for about three hours. This is very sobering work. I am not sure I saw one individual who was dressed individually. Most people looked like mall-crawlers. Most people looked overactive and stressful. They were moving at speed, like ants in a formicary. Others were merely bland and moved like wizened adolescents. It would be future ti suggest any sign of appetite among these citizens for Kenneth Patchen or J.V. Cunningham or Wallace Stevens or James Laughlin. A few people waiting for the evening flight to Manchester were reading paperbacks purchased at the airport. John Grisham and Danielle Steele and Dean Koontz were most in evidence. (One young man was reading Camus, but we must pretend he doesn’t exist.) I decided to buy The Door to December by Dean Koontz, “a number one New York Times author who currently has more than 100 million copies of his books in print.”

Whatever the cause of his crumbling self-control, he was becoming undeniably more frantic by the moment.

Wexlers.

Manuello.

Why was he suddenly so frightened of them? He had never liked either of them, of course. They were originally vice officers, and word was that they had been among the most corrupt in that division, which was probably why Ross Mondale had arranged for them to transfer under his command in the East Valley; he wanted his right-hand men to be the type who would do what they were told, who wouldn’t question any questionable orders, whose allegiance to him would be unshakable as long as he provided for them. Dan knew that they were Mondale’s flunkies, opportunists with little or no respect for their work or for concepts like duty and public trust. But they were still cops…

That goes on for 510 pages. So, fellow-stylists, there is hope for us all, whether you like square hamburgers or round hamburgers. I go for the round ones, as I am sure Mr. Koontz does. McDonald’s has sold over ninety billion of the little buggers. Here’s to LitShit and a kilo of kudzu up the kazoo!

New York publishers calculate the fate of the American novel is in the hands of five thousand readers who will actually purchase new hardback fiction. At the Jargon Society we would by delighted to sell five hundred copies of the latest poetry by Simon Cutts or Thomas Meyer. It might take ten years. Of course, out there in the real world, thousands of verse- scribbling plonkers crank out a ceaseless barrage of what Donald Hall calls the McPoem.

Oracles in high places proclaim a Renaissance of Poetry. A distributor tells me of the purchase of twenty thousand hardback copies by a woman poet I have never read nor hear of. The hermits and caitiffs I hang out with don’t explore other parts of the literary jungle, and just stick to their Lorine Niedecker and Basil Bunting, and even drag out volumes of Kenneth Patchen when the fit is on them. We few, we (occasionally) happy few…

How did we odd readers find our way to Kenneth Patchen? He, of course, would never have been in the curriculum at St. Albans School or at Princeton, my adolescent stomping grounds. I stumbled across a pamphlet by Henry Miller, Patchen: Man of Anger & Light. Miller I knew about because evil Time magazine had so vilified his book The Air Conditioned Nightmare that I took the next bus to Dupont Circle in Washington D.C. and bought it at the excellent bookshop run by Franz Bder. By the time I was ten I had the knack of discovering the books important to me beyond those required at school. But I was lucky. I had three good teachers in prep school and I lived in a city with real bookstores. And reading books was something you did. Nowadays, books are a form of retro-delivery system with no cord to plug in. Way uncool.

By the time I was twenty and had dropped out of Princeton to study painting and printmaking and graphic design, I was into Patchen in a big away. I read him along with Whitman, Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Williams, e.e. cummings, Edith Sitwell, Robinson Jeffers, Hart Crane, Kenneth Rexroth, Thoreau, Randolph Bourne, Kropotkin, Emma Goldman, Henry Miller and Paul Goodman. Before I was twenty-five I owned the manuscripts of The Journal of Albion Moonlight and Sleepers Awake. I had over forty of Patchen’s painted books and a few watercolors. I’d published KP’s Fables & Other Little Tales during my stay in the medical corps in Germany. What was the attraction?

Patchen was an original. Someone said, equally, of Babe Ruth: “It’s like he came down from out of a tree.” He was ready to play. Patchen and the Babe were heavy hitters, and nobody struck out more.

There is a towering pile of Patchen poems that amounts to not much. But he really does have twenty or twenty-five poems that seem as good as anybody’s. He had power, humor, intuitive vision and a kind of primitive nobility. He knew his Blake and Rilke. He loves George Lewis’ clarinet and Bunk Johnson’s comet. He drew fabulous animals and painted very well. There was nobody like him.

Oh nobody’s a long time
Nowhere’s a big pocket
To put little
Pieces of nice things that
Have never really happened
To anyone except
Those people who were lucky enough
Not to get born

Oh lonesome’s a bad place
To get crowded into
With only
Yourself riding back and forth
On
A blind white horse
Along an empty road meeting
All your
Pals face to face

Oh nobody’s a long long time

The poet, painter and publisher Jonathan Williams died in 2008.

“I’ve Waited For So Long” – The Juan MacLean (mp3)

“The Sun Will Never Set On Our Love” – The Juan MacLean (mp3)

In Which Catherine Is The Happiest Creature On Earth

What A Pity You Will Marry

by ELLEN COPPERFIELD

As a girl she had it in her mind that she would be married to her uncle George — such liasions were common among aristocratic families in Germany. Instead the girl who would become Catherine the Great was sent, along with her idiotic mother, to a foreign land where they could not speak the language.

There is a pernicious American myth that a woman will never be president, as if no one of the female gender has ever held a similar office in one of the most powerful nations on earth. What is a president compared to an empress? There is no part of the world in which women have not held power in due course, whether through the vagaries of succession or because they wrested it for themselves.

 

Empress Elizabeth of Russia had a charge: her nephew Peter, the heir to her throne, who could not speak Russian either. He was an awkward 15 year old boy, paralyzed by the idea he would have to succeed his domineering aunt. In order to humanize her heir, Elizabeth brought him a wife, the girl named Sophia who would become Catherine.

In those first months in her new country, Catherine almost died of pneumonia. The bloodletting her physicians demanded did not help matters. It is also possible she was not quite as near death as was popularly imagined, for her illness endeared the Protestant girl to the Russian people in a way nothing else could. They heard that she had become ill while learning their language, and nothing could have made the German invader more sympathetic. Catherine was so pale during her first day at court (her fifteenth birthday), the empress sent her a pot of rouge.

After converting to the Orthodox faith and becoming engaged to Peter, she became the favorite of the empress, who sent her a variety of gifts. Good fortune had put in this position, but she also learned an important lesson from it: lies were the currency of court.

In her memoirs Catherine would write, “I was afraid of not being liked and did everything in my power to win those with whom I was to spend my life.” When she could not deal with the goings on around her, she buried herself in books. Her natural intelligence was so impressive to a visiting Swedish diplomat that he blurted out, “What a pity you will marry!”

She was disgusted by Peter, whose bout with smallpox turned him from a geeky teen into a disfigured manchild. On their wedding night he drunkenly fell asleep before touching her. She later wrote, “In the very first days of our marriage, I came to a sad conclusion about him. I said to myself, ‘If you allow yourself to love that man, you will be the unhappiest creature on earth.'”

As quickly as she had been in favor, she fell out of it. The Empress was a capricious woman who regarded Catherine as both rival and womb. She took great care to ensure the girl did not outshine her. Elizabeth had grown a bit corpulent; she continued to dye her blonde hair black for some reason. She insisted on never wearing the same dress twice, and as a consequence, owned over 15,000 gowns. As she aged into her early forties, her looks began to abandon her. She made all her maids cut their hair absurdly short on a regular basis.

Until Catherine should become pregnant, she was on the wrong side of her master. The only times she was not miserable were at her country estate. She would wake at 3 a.m. and shoot ducks on the side of a canal until taking her first meal at ten. She loved riding horses, even designing her own saddle. Her husband, for his part, found his fun in torturing dogs and staging mock military drills in full regalia with his servants. When she could, she read a book a week.

Catherine attracted the attention of many other men besides her clueless husband, and became pregnant several times. Her third pregnancy made her first success, and the baby was named Paul. She did not see her son for over a week, since he lay in Elizabeth’s arms, and she would never be able to treat the boy as if he were really hers.

The Empress took great pains to prevent Paul’s mother from being a part of his life. The baby’s father, over whom Catherine felt a dangerous possessiveness, was sent away. He was all too happy to be rid of her and the child, using his reputation as the father of the heir to seduce a variety of less complicated women. In Catherine was awakened a burning resolve to triumph that had never existed before.

 

Catherine’s next lover, a virginal Polish diplomat named Pontiatowski, would father her second child. Her daughter Anna died at fifteen months. (In the meantime, Peter was busy enough himself; he even described his affairs with other women as a means of torturing her.) Peter spent most of his time dressing up in a retinue of tight-fitting military uniforms and telling tall tales about fights against outlaws that occurred when he was six or seven. No one dared contradict him.

As the Empress became more and more ill, Catherine held her plans close to the vest. She began a strategic and intensely pleasurable affair with a war hero, the 24 year old Gregory Orlov, who would deliver the Russian army to her side; she focused on making sure every anecdote that came out to the public painted her as she was: the long suffering wife of an insane boy. On Christmas Day in 1761, the Empress asked everyone in her sick room for forgiveness and finally died, ushering in the reign of Peter III.

 

Over time Peter had grown to resent his benefactor Elizabeth. He cracked jokes at her funeral, and quickly made an escape to his own apartments where he could drink and drink. Peter had no regard for the Orthodox church, quickly secularizing their holdings and making a bevy of enemies in the process. The changes he made to the military turned the faction against him, the worst of which was sending them to die in an ill-timed war against Denmark of all places. A pregnant and physically frail Catherine had no choice but to wait to make her move.

When she did, it was almost too easy. Many were waiting to carry her to throne; she had the support of every Russian institution that mattered. They were used to having a woman govern them, and they had no respect for Catherine’s prissy husband. After making his wife weep at a state dinner, Peter had wanted to order Catherine imprisoned in the Schusselburg Fortress. Catherine’s very loving uncle George, now the commander of the Russian army, intervened.

Now cornered at Peterhof, Peter saw the writing on the wall. He penned a letter in which he apologized for his behavior towards Catherine, and asked her to share the throne. His next letter was not so ambitious, and desired only that he should retire at an estate in Holstein: “I, Peter, of my own free will will hereby solemnly declare, not only to the whole Russian empire, but also to the whole world, that I forever renounce the throne of Russia to the end of my days. Nor will I ever seek to recover the same at any time or by anybody’s assistance and I swear this before God.” He had been the most powerful man on the continent for only six months.

Peter’s death was reported as aggravation of a condition in his colon. In reality, he was choked to death with a scarf by members of the Empress’ guard, including the younger brother of her lover, after a nice dinner. Catherine never explicitly desired or ordered the death of her husband, but she could not exactly have been unhappy at his passing. The greatest threat to her reign had been eliminated. In the end it had not been an entirely bloodless coup.

All of Europe believed Catherine poisoned her husband, and nothing could convince them otherwise. It was the easiest thing they could do to look down on a woman to believe she had killed her betrothed. The reality was it that if Peter had not ended up dead, Catherine would have. What happened, intended or not, was nothing more than an act of self-defense.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. She last wrote in these pages about her ongoing relationship. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

In Which We Take Anyone Who Speaks Our Language

Good Americans

by KARA VANDERBIJL

The Cosmopolitans
creator Whit Stillman

Aubrey (Carrie MacLemore) is having a rough day. Her bedheaded French boyfriend, for whom she recently left Alabama to live in Paris, has banished her to the maid’s quarters. When he tells her that she can’t use the kitchen in his place anymore, either, she straps on a pair of heels and trudges along the Seine.

But that’s not the worst of it, because Aubrey is about to sit down at a sidewalk cafe with the only people in Paris who are more deplorable than her boyfriend: Hal (Jordan Rountree) and Jimmy (Adam Brody), fellow American expats who lounge around, complaining about French women.

And that’s about all there is to say about The Cosmopolitans. Oscar Wilde once said that good Americans go to Paris when they die, but according to Stillman, you’ve just got to be bored. Paris is the bright pair of shoes or the clever joke you bring to a party to differentiate yourself from everybody else, a word that means nothing anymore except for culture, pleasure, and wealth.

Hal, Jimmy and Aubrey have come to Paris in search of friendship and romance, which, even after watching the pilot, is still the only thing we know about any of them. They have no jobs, no roots, no ambitions: they flit from cafe to house party, glass of wine in hand, seemingly directionless.

Watching them is a little bit like trying to find your way around a foreign city at night when you’ve just spent the past twenty hours on an airplane, not sleeping. You want something to fall from the sky into your lap, like a plotline, or perhaps a conflict, or maybe a free pizza. You want somebody to come up to you and speak in English and lead you to your bed, where you will be able to dream of jokes that are actually funny and dialogue that actually sounds like people speaking to one another.

Expatriatism is all about imagination. We wouldn’t travel at all if visiting other lands didn’t mean exploring the alternate facets of our own personalities. Immature travelers spend most of their time differentiating their new experiences from ones they’re familiar with, asking, “Why isn’t this like what I’m used to?” These people are incapable of imagining the world, or themselves, differently. Seasoned expatriates create a third culture in which aspects of both their native surroundings and their new ones are integrated.

Aubrey, the token fish-out-of-water, is meant to lure us into Hal, Jimmy and Sandro’s territory, the third culture that they’ve created. Normally it’d be hard to believe that a woman on her own in a foreign country would comfortably sit with three strange guys at a sidewalk cafe. These things seem to happen naturally when you’re abroad: it’s like your ears have been fine-tuned to hear your language from hundreds of yards away, that you’ve been outfitted with an internal GPS that leads you to others like yourself.

Still, it’s Aubrey’s willingness to hang out with them that propels The Cosmopolitans into the far reaches of fantasy. Within a few minutes, Hal, Jimmy, and Sandro insult her drink order (sangria) and launch a smear campaign against Hal’s ex, Clemence, who, for all intents and purposes, seemed like a pretty decent person, just not into weird entitled creeps like Hal who are only capable of one facial expression.

Aubrey can’t see these red flags because she’s still convinced that her bedhead boyfriend wants to be with her. Perhaps she believes she’s living inside Beauty and the Beast.

It’s a pity because Adam Brody, of The O.C. fame, is genuinely funny, and he brings his open Seth Cohen face to this role. Unfortunately, this only serves to make the other characters, especially Hal, look like stock photography someone from Yale might use in an admissions brochure.

Of course, one might concede that in a foreign country, when you’ve just been dumped by your beast of a boyfriend and you’re all alone, you’ll take anyone who speaks your language or shows a sign of friendliness. In which case I’d like to tell Aubrey and anybody else considering this as a new fall show: stick to singing candlesticks and talking clocks. The Cosmopolitans may look good, but really, it’s positively primeval. Plus, Gilmore Girls just landed on Netflix.

Kara VanderBijl is the managing editor of This Recording.

“Hard To Love” – The Drums (mp3)

“If He Likes It Let Him Do It” – The Drums (mp3)


In Which No One Else Will Ever Get To See It

Intimate Sensual Pairs

by SUSAN COHEN

After learning today that The Knife is breaking up, I’m super glad I bought a Stubhub ticket at the last minute to one of their Oakland shows earlier this year. It was their second performance in the United States in eight years, and now, apparently, it was one of their last. Best decision I’ve ever made.

The Knife had a hype man with them on their North American tour, and I’m sure he’s there for their final Europe shows too. Wearing a codpiece and lime green mesh leggings, he led the audience through an official Shaking the Habitual exercise regime, demanding the audience shout “I am alive and I’m not afraid to die” as they did squats and arm routines.

It’s amazing how much physical stamina that dude had — it was a tough 20-or-so- minute routine — but he had nothing on the men and women who made up the show’s cast. The roughly 10 men and women wore matching jewel-toned jumpsuits, an outfit that managed to be both flatteringly feminine and shapelessly masculine, and when the blacklight hit them just right, you noticed their matching lipstick and nail polish, which turned dayglo orange. Everyone was dancing up a storm throughout the entire length of the performance, when they weren’t not playing giant instruments that I had never seen before and that may not exist in real, non- Knife life.

After 10 minutes of this spectacle, I came to a realization that this was the queerest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.

Then again, The Knife has always been queer, even when they weren’t being as explicit about it as they are these days. Who could forget the sexless birdmasks, dark wigs, and black costumes of the Silent Shout era? Karin Dreijer-Anderson’s voice is female, but not necessarily feminine; in fact, its sharp quality, at times deepened by the production process, is often more alien than human. Plus her brother Olof Dreijer once told Spin that he won’t perform at festivals with lineups “that have no more than 50% people who identify as men.” (Notice the “identify.”)

But with Shaking the Habitual, the queerness was even more deliberate, not just lyrically (“Let’s talk about gender baby,” Dreijer-Anderson sings in “Full of Fire”), but musically and visually too. “You could say we are queering certain sounds,” Olof Dreijer told Pitchfork. “We learned about how you can play around with different scales and why a group of people have come to agree that one scale is more harmonious than another.” Replace the word “scale” with “sex” in that sentence and you’ll start to understand why cis-gender and cis-sexuality are considered bullshit by many people.

Meanwhile, in promo photos for Shaking the Habitual, Dreijer wore a long red wig, a jumpsuit reminiscent of the ones used in the current show, and heels that went much higher than his sisters. The music video for “A Tooth for an Eye” features a group of seemingly cis men, led by a girl in braids and a referee’s uniform, doing an expertly choreographed dance. Midway through, they form into intimate, sensual pairs, and no one bats an eye. The Knife has said officially that the video “deconstructs images of maleness, power and leadership.” When The Knife performed the Shaking the Habitual show previously in Europe, the outfits were less colorful but equally asexual, an amalgam of glittery spandex basics that walked the line between feminine and masculine, depending on who was wearing what.

The Oakland performance was as sharply arranged as the “A Tooth for an Eye” video. Dreijer-Anderson faded in and out of the foreground, sometimes taking center stage, sometimes falling to the back and letting one of the other performers lip sync, taking show’s themes of ambiguity and equality to yet another level. Dreijer-Anderson and Dreijer weren’t the stars of this show — heck, it was all so vague that I’m not even sure which one was Dreijer. (The siblings are also cleverly listed simply as “performers” on the show’s official cast list, just like their jumpsuited peers.)

During “Pass This On” — a song whose music video featured Swedish drag queen Rickard Engfors — the dancers formed gender-matching couples and tenderly tangoed across the stage. When the set closed with “Silent Shout,” the lighting changed, turning the dance team into a backlit clan of bouncing featureless silhouettes, literally gender-blinding the crowd in the process.

Basically, The Knife created a stage show where gender and sexuality don’t exist. It was like if Britney Spears’ Vegas act was hijacked by the cast of Cirque Du Soleil — if she had a degree in gender studies.

It’s a bummer that no one else will get to see it.

Susan Cohen is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. You can find her tumblr here and her twitter here.

“Crake” – The Knife (mp3)

“Wrap Your Arms Around Me” – The Knife (mp3)