Weekly (or maybe biweekly, or whenever) thoughts on miscellaneous cultural ephemera, recent and otherwise. With apologies and much respect to Greil Marcus and a titular tip of the hat to my high school lit mag.

1. David Curcurito,  Eddie Van Halen: The Esquire Interview (esquire.com, posted 4/17/12). The source material for the Esquire feature provides a few more interesting tidbits on the notoriously press-shy gee-tar god. I call bullshit, though, on Van Halen’s assertion about Roth: “We never really hated each other …We’ve never on a personal level not gotten along.” Anyone with fifteen minutes and either an Internet connection or a copy of Roth’s memoir will see the quote for the bit of Pasadena-style historical revision that it is. It does the ol’ ticker good, however, to see proof of Van Halen’s recovery, both from recurring tongue and throat cancer and from the alcoholism I was convinced would take him eventually. The twin influences of his second wife and his bass-playing offspring have apparently kept him on the straight ‘n’ narrow for the last few years, and the prospect of making more music like the smile-inducin’, Godzilla-stompin’ racket on A Different Kind of Truth could make sobriety stick this time. We can only hope.

2. Renee & Jeremy, A Little Love (One Melody Records, 2012). I hate Coldplay, but I will admit (grudgingly, but I do so much else with a grudge of late, it really doesn’t matter) that I put “Yellow” on a couple mix discs back in, like, 2000 or 2001. Whodathunk it’d be such a great song for kids? Then again, damned near anything Renee Stahl and Jeremy Toback set their voices and instruments to becomes great kindie music. Here, they feast on a plateful of cool folk and rock tunes, both obvious (“Shiny Happy People”) and not so much so. Their run through Supertramp’s “Give a Little Bit” is well served by the effortless harmonies that flow out of the pair. John Lennon’s “Love” gets a playful romp that is wholly original in its conception and execution, and Jackie DeShannon’s” Put a Little Love in Your Heart” becomes a languid anthem for the kindergarten set. The only misstep is their take on Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away,” which simply flies too far afield of the original to work (they also chicken out on the “What I got you gotta get it put it in you” line. Boo! I understand, but “Boo!” anyway).

That aside, the record works; Renee & Jeremy aren’t just great kindie artists; they’re a great indie folk duo who I image would make excellent work in whatever genre they choose. A Little Love whets the appetite for another album of originals; right now, though, to hear “Yellow” in a non-Coldplay context is sufficient.

3. Marvel’s The Avengers (Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures, 2012). As a friend noted on Facebook last week, “People sure have a hard-on for superhero movies.” My inner seven-year-old concurs (though I don’t think he would quite use those terms) and joins my outer fortysomething in enjoying the hell out of this orgy of Marvelousness. The non-IMAX 3-D was worthless (if you saw the IMAX, sound off below) but the CGI actually seemed soulful, Downey’s wisecracking Tony Stark was spot-on brilliant (who else is ever going to play that role in the eventual reboot?), and they finally got the Hulk right. The masterstroke, though, is Tom Hiddleston as Loki, the perfect blend of arrogance and evil. And the mid-credits reveal of Thanos as a potential next villain sets things up perfectly for the next brace of sequels—Iron Man 3 (May 2013), Thor 2 (November 2013), Captain America 2 (April 2014), and, if ye gods be with us, another Avengers flick by the time my inner seven-year-old turns ten.

4. “I Am Steve Albini, Ask Me Anything” Reddit Chat (posted 5/8/12). Albini might not be a universally beloved guy, but he has produced one of my favorite albums of this year (Attack on Memory, by Cloud Nothings), one of my favorite albums of the last five years (Manic Street Preachers’ Journal for Plague Lovers), as well as most of my favorite rock album of the last 20 years (Nirvana’s In Utero). Here, he takes on all comers, answering questions both informed and inane, and shares some memories that are quite interesting, and some opinions that are—well, Albinian. Read it.

5. Martha Waggoner, “N.C. OKs Same-Sex Marriage Amendment,”  (time.com, posted 5/9/12); “Transcript: Robin Roberts ABC News Interview with President Obama” (abcnews.go.com, posted 5/9/12); Blerd, “Blerditorial: What Did Gay People Ever Do To You?”  (popblerd.com, posted 5/10/12); Margaret Talbot, “Wedding Bells,”  (newyorker.com, posted 5/14/12). I admit to being ignorant of North Carolina’s Prop 1 until I stumbled upon the Web site of my former parochial school’s parent church. Two weeks before the legislation to write discrimination into the state’s constitution was thrown open to voters, the church’s pastor spent an entire set of Sunday services setting out the supposed Biblical argument for not only denying same-sex couples the legal ability to marry, but even having their non-marriage domestic unions nullified in the eyes of the state. Let me reiterate this—the pastor of a decent-sized church in North Carolina (a tax-exempt entity, mind you) spent the bulk of his pulpit time one Sunday advocating for a law that discriminates against certain citizens. Discrimination. The pastor of a church. And I’ll bet whatever’s in my wallet against whatever’s in your wallet that he was not alone.  ‘Twas appalling, but not at all surprising.

I tried for years to reconcile the religion I was taught as a child, with what I, in my heart, knew and somewhat feared I actually believed, or, more to the point, didn’t believe. I was 18 when I turned my back on the church, while still holding out the hope I would regain faith. I was 35 when I finally gave up. The seeds of my loss of faith were sewn during what I typically joke was my period of “incarceration” in the school run by the same judgmental and insufferably self-righteous people who agitated for the approval of Prop 1. The fact that these supposed people of a supposed God worked toward the incorporation of discrimination into state law belies any teaching of their God’s love for his flock, if they even bother to incorporate that into their sermons anymore. I seem to recall a lot more brimstone and torture and retribution in their sermons back in the day.

My issues with religious matters aside, I would have some skin in this fight, due to my relationships with people who would be affected by such legal shenanigans, were they to creep into the constitutions of Pennsylvania (where I live) and elsewhere. My best friend—a man I have known for 25 years, and whom I consider a brother—lives a short drive from where I’m writing this, but had to go to Vermont last year to get married. His husband cannot be seen as more than a “friend” or “significant other” or (their least favorite term) a “partner” (though not in the legal sense) in PA. They two are as perfect for one another as my wife of 17 years and I are for one another, and they deserve to have their marriage recognized wherever they go.

I am emotionally invested when something heinous and overreaching like Prop 1 comes up and is held up as God’s will by religious conservatives and made into law. I am also emotionally invested in the comment by President Obama—in whom so many have invested so much emotion—in favor of same-sex marriage. He sure as hell waited long enough. I tire of hearing about his “bravery” or his “gamble” in an election year; as Margaret Talbot so correctly notes, “One day, not long from now, it will be hard to remember what worried people so much about gay and lesbian couples committing themselves to marriage. And, when that day comes, President Obama’s remarks last week … will seem mild and obvious.” True, for the President of the United States to have your back—to instruct his administration’s Justice Department to refrain from defending the abysmal “Defense of Marriage Act,” for example—is a positive thing. But it seems a lot less like courage when compared to the courage required to be a committed gay couple in North Carolina right now.

I think of my friend, who goes by the nom de Web Blerd, when I consider Prop 1 and what a slithering pile of religious conservatives can do to people they don’t even know, or perhaps even some they do. Or—who knows?—perhaps those religious conservatives themselves have something they wish to hide. “There are a lot of self-loathing homos out there,” Blerd (a gay man) says, “and one need only look at the past 5-10 years in American politics and folks like Ted Haggard to infer that the people who fight the hardest against something are usually doing so to deflect attention away from them doing that exact thing.” Or perhaps they are among the high-profile right-wing mouthpieces—[cough] Limbaugh [cough] Gingrich—who harp on the “sanctity” of marriage, or the “institution” of marriage, while having gone through two or three divorces themselves.

I get angry about the issue, both about the obvious lack of fairness involved, as well as toward the smallest of the small-minded who manage to push that lack of fairness into legal forums (I also get angry at what I presume to be the non-voting majority that can’t seem to make it to the polls when these issues are put to a vote). Perhaps I shouldn’t be. Perhaps it is the eventuality of universally legal same-sex marriage in my lifetime—the ultimate middle finger to the proponents of Prop 1—that I should think about instead. I do think about that from time to time. And I smile.

6. Josh Eells, “The Secret Life of Tom Gabel,” (Rolling Stone, 5/24/12 issue). The artist currently known as Laura Jane Grace:

About the Author

Rob Smith

Rob Smith is a writer, teacher, wage earner, and all-around evil genius who spends most of his time holed up in his cluttered compound in central PA. His favorite color is ultramarine blue. His imaginary band Mr. Vertigo tours every summer. You can follow Rob on Twitter, if you desire.

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