An Open Letter of Envy and Reluctant Admiration

dream forever live never

To the Woman in the Produce Section Who is Slowly, Carefully Picking Out Her String Beans One by One:

Oh, dear heart—if I had your capacity to focus so precisely on so mundane a task, without finding myself bored to the point of fury within the first fifteen seconds, I could gather all the pills I take for my ADDs and pitch them to the four winds.

If I had that—you fantastic creature—along with your ability to apply such clearly heartfelt dedication to the profoundly trivial, this blog would soon overflow the internet.

And if I had those things—my treasure—and, too, the free time it takes to do what you are doing—oh, sweet mercy! I would be utterly, literally and so, so joyously unmotherfuckingstoppable!

Thank you, apparition of pasts and futures unspeakable, for giving me a glimpse of the man I could have been; and may, one day, yet still be. I will carry your memory with me until my ultimate breath—and speak of you to the angels.


M.I.A. + Beck’s: We’re not putting labels on anything.

yep art (work)


Given her “It’s not me, it’s you” response to last year’s Super Bowl hullabaloo (check back soonish for some brilliant thoughts on that whole bushel of b.s.; spoiler alert: Both sides are culpaballs), one might have the impression that M.I.A. doesn’t give a lot of thought to her participation in broad-scope, PR-driven corporate promotions.

And one might have a point there. After all, M.I.A. didn’t really exercise free will or personal choice (or responsibility or actual thought) in regards to her participation in Beck’s “Let’s get some mid-level pop stars to design our beer bottle labels” program, apparently. In fact, the whole thing was pretty much out of her hands, to hear her tell it.

[Quotes from her Spin interview on the subject cut ‘n’ pasted verbatim (M.I.A. 4 RLZ); free ‘n’ easy translation (M.I.A. 4 LOLZ) provided by a confidential source. Tough-ass, hard-hitting interrogation administered by seasoned/accredited pop music thinker Julianne Escobedo Shepherd.]

M.I.A. 4 RLZ

So how did you wind up working with Beck’s?
Things have their way. I was in India at the time doing artwork anyway, and somebody sent it to me, and it kind of fit with the theme of what I was making. And so I said yes because I felt like it was perfect.

I didn’t really peg you for a beer drinker!
I’m not too much of a beer drinker, but when I was at art school, Beck’s always sponsored shows and stuff like that. I remember it being like a beer haze, not for me, but for most of my friends.

You developed the whole label design?
Yeah, I was making that as a painting, or with those elements anyway, and I put together a version for them out of what I was making for myself at the time.

I was doing this artwork anyway. I’m not really much of a beer drinker. Back in ARTWORK SCHOOL, though, it was like beer-goggles central! I mean, not for me, mind you. Hey, anyone who remembers Beck’s in the nineties wasn’t really there, nahmean? But seriously, other people drank beer and I didn’t. I said “Beck’s,” back there, right? Not “beer”? Okay.

Anyway, when Beck’s called my agent, I just sent over some artwork I was making at the time and took the check. I mean, the check didn’t taste like beer. Beer’s just gross. Wait, I said “beer,” not “Beck’s,” right? Hey, is this being recorded?

M.I.A. 4 RLZ

What are you most looking forward to having —
I’m not going to say anything controversial in this interview.

I’m not trying to ask you anything controversial, I just wanted to ask you about your art reaching a larger audience through Beck’s. Have you thought about that?
Yeah, before artists would struggle with the art and commerce thing, but now I think you have to have a certain conviction about your work and I think the canvas is irrelevant, you can put it on anything these days. As long as you’re not like, you know there are certain things I won’t agree to, but sitting down and having a drink, and having a little chat is a good thing, and that’s what people tend to do, you know. They get drunk and get together, so.

Your style is so specific artistically, and recognizable as a generational thing so it’s sort of cool to see in a more mainstream context.
Also, it’s just like, it was like five dudes [doing the] labels and it was like getting that feminist perspective. I just wanted to make something that was like, an evolution of the design stuff but still part of what I did before kind of thing.

In the past, artwork vs. commerce was an issue artworkists struggled with. But now, you have to have a certain conviction about your work. Sure, you can quote me on that. What?

Anyhow, yeah, there are certain checks I wouldn’t take, of course, but Anheuser-Busch? Sure, why not? See if I can blag some of that Spuds McKenzie paper, girl. I mean, it’s not like Bud did those Swedish Bikini Team ads; the King of Beers would never pander to a male demographic with that kind of misogyny.

Oh, hey—“feminine” and “feminist” mean the same thing, right?

Plus, let’s be honest: When else am I gonna get mentioned in the same sentence as Jeff Koons, am I right? And… Lemme see that list. Hang on—Ladyhawke did one, too? And, wait; “Hard-Fi”? Who the fuck? Get my agent on the phone—this interview is over.


I mean, not to be a dick about it or anything, but just a note to Ms. I.A.: If you’re cool to partner with a giant corporation and take a check, but get uptight afterward about the aspects of their messaging that are sexist and disrespectful, especially toward women, you might want to consider using your Beck’s fee to pay your lawyer to stop you in advance when Hooters calls.

P.S. re: M.I.A.:

Missing In Activism
Making Income Accidentally
Missed Inebriation in Academia
Multinational Incorporated Artwork
¡Motherfuckin’ IconoKlass*tic AnarKKKista!
Maker of Inflammatory (beer label) Artwork
Molotovs, Insurrection and Accounts-receivable
Moderately Interesting Artist

* …warfare! Gotcha!

Important office plasticware update: controversy in the breakroom.

So, I encountered this setup recently:

plastic who

Now, I want to make it clear that the spoons shown here are spoons in the size and shape of every other regular plastic spoon you’ve ever run across. They’re not soup spoons or sporks—strictly normal, everyday plastic spoons; just like the silhouette on the dispenser there.

This is objectively perplexing, because the question that immediately springs to the mind of any rational person is: “What, plastic spoons are ‘multi-purpose’ Swiss army knives, somehow, but plastic forks and knives are just… what; jerks? In what desperate world is this possibly true?”

But beyond the immediate, knee-jerk bafflement it inspires, this nomenclature also implicitly undermines the iron-clad validity of the hierarchy I laid out in this breakroom breakdown, vis-a-vis the logical order of plastic-ware usefulness.

I’ve given all this some further thought, and I would contend that even if forks are not “multi-purpose” (and I’m certainly not conceding that they are), knives—as I went to great pains to point out in the above-mentioned post—are just as good at cutting solids as they are at stirring liquids. (In fact, they’re more likely to be better at stirring than at cutting, if you think about it.)

What do you think? Where do you stand on the relative usefulness of office breakroom plastic utensils? Please do not tell me.*

In closing, I guess the clear conclusion here is that the jury is still out, and opinion is divided. The conversation continues. I’m keeping an ear to the ground and will probably not be updating this blog with any further developments unless they’re genuinely hilarious.

*Seriously; if you even start to reply, think about what you were about to say and imagine yourself hearing someone else say it. That ought to do it.

Toyotas of Massachusetts: Family Values vs. Keeping it Green.

It’s hard to wrap my head around this car and what it’s saying to the world—a Prius with a smugly superfluous vanity plate and a Christian fish thing. It’s a red state/blue state paradox; like a Dr. Laura show on NPR. It’s freaking me out, but I like it.

prius christ

I appreciate the way it comes off as a more genuine, real-life, walking-the-walk embodiment of what this car (which I used to see on the way to work) is telling everyone:

triangular logic crew

The Prius comes off sort of like the clean-lines, grown up version of the Camry’s jaded, apathetic splatter, doesn’t it?

Either way, both cars are clearly tools for telling people something about their owners; at the minimum, the message seems to be: I care.

How much they care, and about what, are less clear, but one thing we can take away from these two pictures is that the owners of these cars would probably find one another irritating.

Office pace.

The Hierarchy of Plasticware

If you’re fortunate enough to work in an office that provides it, the official rank of plastic eating utensils is as follows:

1. Forks.
Everybody uses these. Most food you bring from home or order in will require one, unless it’s a sandwich, in which case you can skip ahead to some other post, Dagwood. The higher the plastic quality, the better the fork, but even the floppiest trash-polymer budget option can generally cover the basics.

Forks are office lunch currency; the lingua franca of the mid-day meal. If you’re out of forks, you’re going to be making do with a spoon and, more than likely, swearing. Because spoons just aren’t built for fork work.

2. Spoons.
This is the catch-all utensil. Necessary for soup and able to stand in for the fork, in a pinch. It’s not as regularly called into service as the fork, since office desserts lean toward cake (as opposed to ice cream) and soup is a fairly sporadic lunch item, especially in the summer months.

The spoon does have the advantage of being able to do double duty more readily, though. Soup or ice cream with a fork? Not on my watch, punk. General Tso’s chicken or secretary’s birthday cake with a spoon? Not ideal, sure—but not really a big deal, either. Spoon’s just hanging out, cool with whatever. Thanks for the assist, guy. Hey, mind if I turn you sideways and kinda saw through this steamed carrot? Great.

3. Knives.
Sorry, who? Oh, right. I remember you from the time I tried that new coffee shop and they didn’t put the cream cheese on my bagel, but threw a little plastic tub of it in my bag, instead. I think that was the last time we ran into one another. Uh, how’ve you been? Listen, I’m running late. You take care, pal.

Nobody cares about knives at work. Except for that one dink who actually cuts up his pizza like he’s the Prince of Douchylvania or whatever, you use them once in a blue moon. If there are no knives, you’ll still be able to eat your lunch just fine. Knives are the lifeguards of the break room beach; you sort of want them around just in case, but as long as you’re doing it right, you’ll never need them.

4. The point of all this.
Why do people stir their coffee with spoons? How asinine is that? Ever notice that spoons run out way faster than they should? And everybody knows that Cheri the office manager doesn’t like to put in orders until all the plasticware is running low, which means—well, you know what it means. Eating your ice cream with a goddamn fork and drinking your soup like you’re some kind of mental deficient. What is this, the Downton Abbey blooper reel?

Stir your coffee with a knife, breakroom brainiacs. This ain’t rocket scientry.

We’ll come back to this.

…But for the moment, I just wanted to point out that the following excerpt from the middle section of Steve Albini’s classic treatise, “The Problem with Music”—not always included in online reposts, possibly due to the lower swearing content and/or lack of immediately apparent/transferable relevance to being, you know, cool about band stuff—is, at this current moment, awkwardly and profoundly relevant to America in general and the Internet in particular. (This is in or around “blogging” vs. “writing.”)

But, as I say, we’ll come back to this. It’s late. For now, please complete the assigned reading below, at your leisure, and be prepared for discussion in class when we reconvene.

Excerpt from Steve Albini, “The Problem With Music,” The Baffler, Nov. 1993, pp. 31-38 (why, yes—I do have an original copy):

II. What I Hate About Recording

1. Producers and engineers who use meaningless words to make their clients think they know what’s going on. Words like “punchy,” “warm,” “groove,” “vibe,” “feel.”

Especially “punchy” and “warm.” Every time I hear those words, I want to throttle somebody.

2. Producers who aren’t also engineers, and as such, don’t have the slightest fucking idea what they’re doing in a studio, besides talking all the time.

Historically, the progression of effort required to become a producer went like this: Go to college, get an EE degree. Get a job as an assistant at a studio. Eventually become a second engineer. Learn the job and become an engineer. Do that for a few years, then you can try your hand at producing. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one.

Calling people like Don Fleming, Al Jourgensen, Lee Ranaldo or Jerry Harrison “producers” in the traditional sense is akin to calling Bernie a “shortstop” because he watched the whole playoffs this year.

The term has taken on pejorative qualities in some circles. Engineers tell jokes about producers the way people back in Montana tell jokes about North Dakotans. (How many producers does it take to change a light bulb? “Hmmm. I don’t know. What do you think?” Why did the producer cross the road? “Because that’s the way the Beatles did it, man.”) That’s why few self-respecting engineers will allow themselves to be called “producers.”

…Tape machines ought to be big and cumbersome and difficult to use, if only to keep the riff-raff out. DAT machines make it possible for morons to make a living, and do damage to the music we all have to listen to.

Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one. Now, all that’s required to be a full-fledged “producer” is the gall it takes to claim to be one.

Discuss amongst yourself, Internet.

Why NPR is always picked last.

“Say, fellows, you enjoy sport, do you not?”

“But of course, Littlefield. Why do you ask?”

“A whimsical little notion just occurred to me: What say we have a regular series regarding sport on the NPR?”

“Oh, yes, let’s! We can cover Brazilian mountaineering and ladies’ hacky-sack!”

“And tennis?”

“Naturally, tennis!”

“And we can air it when nobody is listening!”

“Splendid! But what shall we name our little programme?”

“Aha; what about something delightfully puckish, such as ‘Come Along, Gents; No Need to Take It So Seriously—After All, It Is Only a Game!’ ”

“Oh, jolly good, Littlefield, jolly good. Let’s don some pantaloons and write poetry!”

“Last one to the locker room is a linebacker!”

“Why, you impish rascal, you!”

[Sound of snapping towels and high-pitched squeals of gym-teacher-infuriating glee. Fade to a lovely shade of mauve that blends nicely with the leather seats of a 1972 Saab.]