Riff Raff

Those Darn Kids, Part 843,956 The end of the millennium is one of the best things to happen to publishing in the past 1,000 years -- lots of long, sober articles outlining the best and worst (insert concept here) of the century, filled with overblown prose to match the overblown ad rates of these "Collector's Editions." So it's with great interest that Riff Raff paged through the June 8 issue of Time, jampacked with essays listing the top 100 artists and entertainers of the past century. The choices aren't terribly surprising or daring, particularly on the music front -- Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and Aretha Franklin -- although they do make us wonder if anybody at Time has bought a record released after 1970. We got a partial answer to that question in one of the issue's think-piece essays, Richard Corliss' "High and Low." It's one of the best unintentionally hilarious examples of cultural commentary we've seen in ages. With a martoonie in one hand and an ax to grind in the other, Corliss pounds his head against his typewriter and serves up a litany of gripes about How Culture Is Dying and How Much Better We Had It in the Olden Days. "In the first half of the century," Corliss writes, "pop culture imitated the upper class, and in the second half it aped the underclass." This, to Corliss, is a Bad Thing. Corliss unapologetically embraces Old Guard cultural dominance, where real men wore fedoras and women swooned submissively: He says the culture of the World War II era was the "flying wedge of American hegemony, sending a message of optimism and expansion all over the world," and bemoans that later "the homogeneous culture evaporated, [and] everything got niched out." Who's to blame? Teen-agers! Midway through the century, he bickers, "teenagers were the social arbiters," forcing music and style to mutate into what he calls "the tyranny of the casual." Darn those kids, following their muses and doing their own thing! And this music they make, it's all so ... different! Golly, it's all confusing, it can't be any good! Riff Raff's heard this line of thinking before. We get it from professional grumps like Steve Allen, who's built a pathetic, petty little career out of taking potshots at Elvis, Donna Summer, and Madonna; from the infamous "punk rock" episode of Quincy, M.E., which caricatured punks as belligerent, brainless twits; from any number of syndicated columnists blathering about rap albums they've never heard. So while we don't have a problem with Corliss' taste in music -- we're quite fond of Sinatra, Charlie Parker, and the Ronettes too -- his attack on modern culture's supposed downfall makes him the newest public member of the clueless, cranky, and misinformed. "No more songs that teens and grandmas simultaneously hum," he sobs, "no more starched codes of behavior." What was it Minor Threat said? "Boo fucking hoo." (Mark Athitakis)

Wary of Frisbees The report last week in these pages on the new book of poetry by Jewel ("Oh, Silver Deities!," Music) led us into a rare burst of logical thinking. Stay with us: If a) Jewel writes embarrassingly bad poetry; b) many of Jewel's fans are embarrassingly young; and c) the embarrassingly young often write embarrassingly bad poetry, it followed, we figured, that there was a good chance that many of Jewel's fans must also write poetry. Embarrassingly bad poetry. And we were right. A survey of Jewel Web sites turned up a wealth of, er, diamonds in the rough, all powerful evidence that, to paraphrase one of our young authors, poetry, like love, is a dangerous but irresistible pastime. (Steve Boland)

Tucked beneath
layers of blankies
I feel harmonized.
I smell the flickering
tea therapy candle burning,
feel the rhythm
of Madonna's "Like a prayer",
and listen
to a distant helicopter buzz.

Whether in a San Diego coffee house,
Or on a stage with Nathan Lane,
The crowds rush in.

The time is soon,
And my body sways like rows of grain ...
I move to the fly trap,
For love is a dangerous but irresistable
pasttime ...
Your figure a flower of perfection,
And a smile from the goddess of true love ...

And if I reached for your hand in the night
Would I find flesh or fantasy
And if I called for you in my dreams
Would you answer love's call

To live is to love
To love is to kill
If I can't learn the way
I will have to stay

Hands manifest thought,
She always says.
Living in a van,
Makes you no less.

and a blanket of
toasty warmth
covers us
from the cool
of doubt
She wears her innocence like a flower.
Her petals get picked off slowly.
Until one day they are all torn off before they are ripe.

When I reach the end
It's a new begining
With a looming new finnish

oh god my heart is breaking
and the tears begin to fall
fuck you dumbass bastard
you nearly had it all

She'd be wary of frisbees
Although as we all know
The frisbee guard
Would not miss a throw

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