The Rich Girls Are Weeping

23 April 2008

I'm pretty sure that no one will want to read this review.

But before I start berating you, I should start at the beginning. This story is really about ... yarn.

Now, I know what you're thinking, I can hear you all the way over here. "Cindy Hotpoint has jumped the shark for reals this time. I mean, we tolerated her moving to NYC and no longer providing us with the best remixes in the known universe and her incessant rantings about The Mountain Goats, Shearwater and the Bellmer Dolls. But ... yarn?"

(It's funny you mention Shearwater, actually. Can we just tell you how amazing Rook is? I mean, really really amazing. We're listening to it right now. Pinkie just muttered something about "Mariachi Meiburg" -- eerie horns! -- and now there's some weird creepy percussion groans. But we'll tell you about that some other time...when we've had time to digest it properly. And, if you're nerdy for studio details, go check out the blog of recording engineer Matthew Barnhart, owner of Echo Lab, the Denton, TX studio where Shearwater also recorded Palo Santo; he's documented the entire recording process, much to my delight ... )

So, yeah, yarn.

It won't surprise you to know that I have a problem finishing projects ... and that I have no problem starting them. About 10 years ago, I picked up knitting. It was an innocent enough habit at first, but as I became further entrenched in the terrible relationship with my former fiance, I spent more time at the yarn store hiding from him and the reality of our relationship and more money buying yarn I was never going to knit up into anything.

This is a common enough affliction among knitters and other people with obsessive tendencies. I'm sure some of you know what I'm talking about. You don't actually need that thing, but by god, you want it NOW. And you can't get rid of it because, heaven forbid, you might need it someday. At various points in my life, I've had this attitude towards all kinds of things; for instance, I'm currently trying to curb my obsession with adorable dresses and antique autoharps. I'm doing okay with the former, not so much with the latter.

So yes, I collected a lot of yarn. And I took it with me when I moved out of the shared apartment and into my protective aerie in South Austin, and again when I moved to Brooklyn at the end of 2006.

And despite the fact that I have a side business that actually involves knitting, most of my hoarde remained in plastic bins, generally untouched. I lugged it all up to the fourth floor front room closet (technically the Kindling & Tinder workroom is in Pinkie's apartment, not mine...) and occasionally riffled through the four musty casks looking for something or another, but mostly all that yarn just sat lumpen in the closet, a wad of wool-shaped unhappiness. Thousands of dollars and thousands of hours spent avoiding ... everything. And I couldn't let it go.

Until Sunday afternoon, that is.

Ok, now this is probably the part of the story you're really interested in, which is how the Bellmer Dolls made me clean out the deadwood. How, for the maybe third or fourth time since I've started this blog, did I see a show that literally changed my life. No, I'm not exaggerating.

I'd had a really bad week. I was supposed to hire a new assistant, but the budget won't allow for it now. (I basically had to demote my old assistant, and as such am now doing 2.5 peoples' work, as I'm also missing an intern ...) I'm editing 5 books currently. Thousands of pages of minutae. When I get home, my eyes ache and burn (the recent arrival of spring isn't helping on that score either); I don't want to go out, I don't want to write for this blog, I don't want to listen to music, I don't want to knit. I want to fucking stare at the wall. I'm not complaining, really -- I actually quite like my job, and the people I work with. But between sinus headaches, taxes general bullshit, I was beat.

So, you'll understand how important it is to have somewhere nice and cozy to go on a Saturday night; enter the Bellmers' residency at The Charleston, week two. As the rest of loathsome Williamsburg teems above, I am safe in a low-ceilinged firetrap of a basement (see last week's review for a full accout of the glories of The Charleston's performance space).

I admit, I was only mildly interested in openers The Brides and Shock Cinema. And, they were only worthy of mild interest; but we were all the more amused by the presence of Pinkie's darling co-worker Miss Arabella Churchill, who is seriously a Rich Girl-in-training. Raised on Roxy Music and Bowie, we're gonna start easing her into the intensive Eno programme shortly.

A few picturesque details about the Bellmer Dolls this week: Peter's shirt was hideous, but at least he didn't split his pants. At several points in the set, a staple gun and drumsticks were used as weapons. With love, of course. And, one of the things I love about being crammed into a space that tiny is that you can hear the jangle of Anthony's tiny prayer bell tied to the headstock of his bass, ringing out a demented call to prayer as he bends his instrument into some kind of submission.

A demented call to prayer indeed -- Peter brought the dirty preacher act back. Unlike the nearly rareified comfort of last week's performance, the air was brittle with the itchy, creaky tension of boys who'd been locked in a practice room all day. We knew we were in for something quite different. And from first tight rhythm lines to the last broken holler and squall of feedback in the dark, I was, as ever, transfixed.

It's all at once too much and sometimes not enough ... but as the set progressed, blazing through 2.5 minute messy garage raveups (including "Automation," one of the band's very first songs) to the more eloquent filth of old faves "The Diva" and "Push! Push!" it became clear to me that we were all going down together. Or maybe it was just me; I barely registered the people around me, at one point it felt I was in some sort of Lynchian nightmare: words of fire hung in the air; the band became smudgy shadows behind a wall of distorted sound.

Wait -- not really, but it sounds cool, huh? I mean, it felt like that at least. It did.

The perverse finale of "Push! Push!" really can't be put into words without edging towards ridiculous hyperbole. I always look forward to this moment of performance with sick glee; we all know Peter's going to molest Anthony in some way or another whilst Daniel steers the ship straight into a maelstrom of noisy, feedback-drenched petits-morts. There was a great amount of shoving and hollering and near-destruction of various instruments (keyboards, kick drums, etc.) until the lone, hot light bulb shining on stage was unscrewed and the rest of the lights came down, leaving us in the dark, the air so thick with sinewy, booming feedback that you could nearly taste the sound waves bouncing by. (See, I told you ... ridiculous hyperbole!!)

And when it was all over, I found I couldn't speak. Didn't want to speak. I couldn't even tell anyone good night and loitered on a patch of sidewalk outside the Charleston, watching everything through the wrong side of a spyglass; everyone around me was so very, very tiny, and everything inside me was so very, very large. Somewhere in all that bloodletting and hollering, something had rattled loose inside, and I wasn't sure what drawer in my compartmentalized brain it had tumbled out of.

You must understand, it is very unlike me to be this way.

And I was really quite out of sorts all the way home the roundabout way -- all the way across the river to 8th Ave. on the L to catch the late-night A train all the way back home to Bed-Stuy. (Believe me when I tell you Williamsburg is as far from Bed-Stuy as it is from ... Mars.) Even a late-night snack didn't bring me back around, and I stayed up far too long, just thinking of nothing before drifting into a stretched-thin sleep that ended far too soon.

Which brings me back to the yarn.

After a crabby morning, bolstered by a few Americanos, I suddenly decided -- apropos of nothing, really -- to clean out the workroom closet. Specifically, all that bloody yarn. And I pulled out everything. Sorted abandoned projects from viable ones. Threw away grotty plastic bags. Re-balled falling-apart skeins. Ripped out unfinished pieces. Threw everything I couldn't stand to look at ever again into an empty 20-gallon plastic bin, which was soon overflowing with the last cast-off bits of an old life I thought I'd discarded long ago. And it's all earmarked now for donation to worthy causes -- to teach kids to knit, or to make hats and scarves for the homeless, or baby blankets for tiny little souls new to the world. Because some good should come of all that.

So, there you have it -- the Bellmer Dolls show that changed my life, and the tale of the yarnpocalypse. As a reward for making it this far, some tracks selected by Pinkie (and I threw in the last one...because I am a sap!); it was amusing, once I was able to speak again, we both remarked upon the fact that we never mentioned that the Bellmers owe more than a little to the stark, spiky early work of Siouxsie and the Banshees. Especially when Peter opens up and ... bellows with abandon; or the way the formidable combo of Anthony and Daniel in the rhythm section fill out the remaining corners of every song, barely leaving any room for the guitar at all. Yes, just like that.

Siouxsie and the Banshees -- Carcass
Siouxsie and the Banshees -- Metal Postcard
from The Scream, 1978

Siouxsie and the Banshees -- Dazzle (Glamour Mix)
from the "Dazzle" 12" single, 1984

Morrissey & Siouxsie -- Interlude
single-only, 1995; cover of a standard popularized by Timi Yuro in 1968

The Bellmer Dolls play the next two Saturdays at The Charleston in Williamsburg, right across from the Bedford L stop. See you there? Preacher and the Knife open this week (great if you love hollerin' boys) and Fresh Kills, who are like, you know, the oh-my-gawth version of The Hold Steady.

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Blogger Corey Gorey said...

Did you even watch us? Way to promo your blowhole.

Signed part of the opening bands who played last week.

Thursday, April 24, 2008 4:35:00 PM  
Blogger Pinkie von Bloom said...

Actually, we did watch. As Cindy said, both opening bands were worthy of mild interest. We had some discussion over whether or not there was point in providing negative feedback. The truth? What I remember is punk, punctuated by relatively juvenile banter that was interesting to a few individuals. Some people like it. It's not my cup of tea; nor is it Cindy's. We're happy for you that your friends and fans came out to see you. There seems to be a sense of entitlement in your statement, as if being present to see the spectacle necessarily leads to finding the spectacle pleasing. It doesn't.

We don't always operate on the "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" principle, but sometimes it's the best fit for a situation. I'm not sure if there's any point in asking what you'd rather receive: A. a negative review from someone whose opinion probably doesn't matter to you in the first place, B. something written with lackluster praise for meeting minimum expectations of showing up and playing (see also the Human Resources school of performance review), or C. no real mention at all. We went with C because it was easiest on the collective us.

What I saw on Saturday needs improvement. Just showing up and playing doesn't cut it. If what we saw on Saturday is the absolute best that you can do, spend more time practicing, until you're an absolute machine when you show up to play. If you can't do that, move on to a different project. Don't settle for mediocrity and don't look to your friends, peers, and fair-weather fans for validation when you know they're just going to pat you on the head and tell you that you were "awesome."

If you don’t think we’d tell the Bellmers the exact same thing, you’ve missed the point.

Thursday, April 24, 2008 5:36:00 PM  
Blogger cindy hotpoint said...

I’m really looking forward to the day when people realize that leaving shitty, juvenile comments doesn’t solve anything, and only functions to make them look even less interesting.

Thursday, April 24, 2008 5:38:00 PM  
Blogger Pinkie von Bloom said...

And before I tumble off this soapbox, I'd like to point out that if Miyuki could have heard herself, Shock Cinema's set probably would have been more enjoyable, but I'm still troubled by how "singy" her vocals are. And I feel like my ambivalence toward them is really about me, and what I look for in a band fronted by a woman, rather than about their quality as a band. I want more power, more push, less apologetically feminine prettiness. Then again, that probably just sums up that I'm looking for Katrina Ford, Liz Fraser, or Siouxsie where I'm not going to find them.

Thursday, April 24, 2008 5:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's fine to dislike/have nothing good to say about a band you see, but you don't have to be so condescending about it. As a writer, you've got to know the snobbish connotation loaded into the term "of mild interest".

-an Eno fan

Friday, April 25, 2008 1:58:00 PM  
Blogger cindy hotpoint said...

Point taken, anon. I certainly didn't intend for it to be overly bitchy or condescending, though. (If you know me in person, you know that I'm just naturally forthcoming, and I don't mince words.)

I'm not apologizing for bruising any egos out there or taking back what I said; that's not my speed.

I write in this space simply because I'm not beholden to any editorial directives but my own. I appreciate all polite feedback, however, and please know that I've taken your comment to heart without any bitterness or ill-will that’s common in this type of interaction.

Friday, April 25, 2008 2:19:00 PM  
Blogger FiL said...

Oh, dash it all. I completely understand the "of mild interest" sentiment. Been there, sat in that lukewarm bath hundreds of times. Huzzah for calling it as you felt it.

There was obviously an upside to you coming over all pixilated, viz your marvelously evocative bit of literary knitting.

And finally, thanks for introducing a benighted FiL to the Bellmer Dolls. Believe it or not, it was only the other week that I finally downloaded one of their songs wot you posted. And I now realize I'm solely to blame for denying myself for so long.

Friday, April 25, 2008 3:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need to see more rock and roll machines! Absolute machines!

The new machines have come to automate the human beings.

Sunday, April 27, 2008 10:47:00 PM  

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