Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Ms. Jackson: Nasty Thoughts on my Top 15 Janet Jackson Songs

"Wait. You know I don't like Janet Jackson right?" my significant lover partner longtime companion said when I asked him to watch a Janet Jackson flash mob video that literally had me crying, CRYING on the front porch earlier that evening. We've struggled with this issue, the Janet issue, in our relationship.

I feel bad. I feel like I have failed at communicating to him that Janet Jackson is NOT Latoya Jackson.

There are Janets and there are Latoyas. And Janet is a Janet.  Her first name ain't Latoya or baby. It's Janet. Miss Jackson if you're nasty.

So, this was an exercise to really delve deep into my history with Janet. For my lover, for myself and most importantly for the Rhythm Nation.

"Are you ready? I am. Because it's all about control. And I've got lots of it."

15. Someone To Call My Lover, All For You

Starting at the bottom. But I am by no means turning my nose up at it. Janet, divorcing whoever it was she was divorcing at the time, is now "back on the road again."

The song is countryesque. The video- and let me just stop you right there cowboy- "the video is the thing" with Janet. Well, no, dance, dancing is  "the thing" with Janet. It's not really singing,  is it? Can she sing? Is she heavily auto tuned? I don't give a shit. Whatever she's done/doing it's working.

Anyway this video starts with visions of rebirth, baptism, cleansing of the soul, cleansing of toxic thinking and people. And then we've stopped at some dusty old truck stop/bar where everyone is very sexy and things are a real whole lot of fun.

My favorite lyrics, "Maybe we'll meet at a bar, he'll drive a funky car, maybe we'll meet at a club and fall so deeply in love... Maybe?" It's the post relationship recovery afterglow. The crying has stopped. The world is hopeful, happy anything could happen. "Maybe?" That hopeful maybe. Something magical could happen. Sometimes, when I've had a bad week or whatever..I don't know, my antidepressants must kick in and I tell myself, "Maybe something magical will happen today?" It usually doesn't - but it gets me through that moment.

Anyway, I think Janet is marrying some trillionaire  in Saudi Arabia and is now converted to Islam so I feel like she didn't just hop in a pickup truck and hook up with some sexy model slash truck driver. Good for her though. Go on Miss Janet.

14. Doesn't Really Matter, All For You
This is happy-breathy-silly-we are in the movie Aliens-but-it's not-scary-Janet. This is just pure candy happy pop. I had the CD single of this and insisted on playing it over and over while my friends Kara and Heather and I drove my mom's car to Michigan to see a dear dear friend's wedding. None of the three of us have seen this couple since. Except at their Halloween party where they said it was ok to park in a grocery store parking lot and then our car got towed.  But it Doesn't Really Matter. We had a blast on that trip to Michigan. Three high school friends/frenemies reuniting. Kara was on imported Cambodian Valium (even though she says she wasn't) and we were all wearing sunglasses and being very "fuck you" to the whole thing for no reason.

I also had a hysterical laughing attack in the hotel room while trying to sleep. You know when you can NOT get a thought out of your mind and you are so giggly and it won't stop. Well this was like that but no one else was laughing. It got scary for me, but hilarious at the same time.  Annoying for Kara and Heather. I feel like it had something to do with Chinese food. Like the joke in my head was about Chinese food.

So this song is just pure fluff and fun. "Doesn't really matter what the eyes see, cuz I'm in love with the inner being, no doesn't really matter what they believe, all that matters to me is your in love with me."

13. New Agenda, janet.

When Janet gets political it usually sounds like an eighth grader giving a persuasive speech in Language Arts class. But I have a soft spot for this song. And I think it works. I remember this was a Clinton era song and I felt very moved by it back in the early nineties. God the Clinton era was just wonderful, wasn't it?- when it was shocking to use a cigar as a sex toy. You'd think planes had crashed into the World Trade Center! A little stain on a dress. Innocent times.

And it's Chuck D. from Public Enemy rapping on this track. That means about the same thing that it does to me now as it did in high school. I know that he is very important. I am not familiar with too many of his rap songs. Perhaps we can all take a moment and read his Wikipedia page. 

"You want to know what it takes, To rid yourself of me now, There's nothing you can do, Accept me for who I am now." You ain't ever going to get rid of the group of people you don't like. And we spend so much time trying when we could all be having sex with each other.

12. Like You Don't Love Me, Damita Jo

Speaking of sex. This is one of Janet's sexiest songs says me. And as far as sexy R&B goes this would be one of my top. Today. I don't know tomorrow maybe I could think of something better.

"You need to make love to me like you don't love me."  Pretty much says it all. It's horny and its irritated. God, that's me pretty much all day.

Today this song would be called "rapey." I call it hot. Cut the bullshit. Cut the cuddling and holding hands, a gentle touch, a light massage. Naw, just fuck me.

"You're up at 3 in the morn, watchin' that triple x porn. But you're so tired when you make love to me. What did you learn?"

11. If, Velvet Rope

Gurrrrlllll....The password is "If." Pay the creepy bald lady with long finger nails at the door and have a seat. We are in some kooky sexy Japanese voyeur hotel/brothel. Lots of video screens and Geisha girls giving disinterested looks. Hot Japanese men all tied up in ropes descending from the ceiling. Janet is our entertainment for the evening.

When this song came out I memorized the super fast tempo lyrics by starting and stopping my cassette player over and over again. "Sittinoverherestarininyourfacewithalustinmyeyes..." I still remember them all. If you catch me on the right night and all the planets are lined up correctly, I might sing them for you.

"If I was your girl all the things I'd to you. But I'm not and I can't and I won't. But if I was your girl..." A daydreaming unrequited love song.

Who hasn't been on the train staring at some hunky blond business man all busting out of a tailored suit and tie and had a whole relationship with him? You meet after work at his place, a gorgeous bungalow in a historic district. Soon you are married and all you do is spend his money all day and have sex. Then you realize that you're just some creeper with coffee breath and a backpack that smells like cat pee.

The song's famous break (played at the beginning and the middle) is actually a sample from The Supremes' track "Someday We'll Be Together." The dance moves for this part are INSANE. My friend Barb new how to do them. I am determined to learn how.


10. Love Will Never Do Without You, Rhythm Nation 1814 

Before Heather's mom left to move back from California she asked if I wanted this beautifully framed (by her) photo poster by Herb Ritts of a woman as a tree. This piece of artwork was something I grew up with hanging out at Heather's house in junior high.  I am so honored and appreciative to have this hanging in my home. The older I get the more I realize how blessed I was to have grown up around adults like Heather's mom, my parents and my grandparents- who either encouraged or had such open and artistic sensibilities. I realize now that not everyone had that.

Herb Ritts died of AIDS in 2002. If you don't know who Herb Ritts is you've definitely seen is work. Madonna's "Cherish" video and Michael Jackson's "In The Closet" video were also directed by him. But his powerful pure black and white images are what makes his work so iconic. This video is the closest you can get to living in his world for a little while.

9. Son of a Gun (Betcha Think This Song is About You), All For You

If you ever really pissed off at someone or something, this is a wonderful song to listen to. Most of the Janet songs I really love are when she is angry. When Janet is angry she sounds the most sincere. I don't think this is a coincidence. She grew up in a cray cray family in front of the world. Can you believe what a therapy session must be like for her? Abusive father, brother is the most famous person in the world and he is literally batshit crazy. I guess we all have our issues.

So when she's mad she's really really good. In the album version, this mash up with Carly Simon almost works- if you can stomach Carly Simon rapping. This song was written and recorded without the two of them ever meeting. The remix, which the video was created with, is a little heavy on Missy Elliot but it's still very good.

"Gotta chip up on your shoulder-I just knocked it off. Show me what your gonna do, I ain't gonna run. You have just run out of ammunition, shooting blanks now. Son of a Gun."

8. Trust A Try, All For You

Another great angry song! This time I have no idea what she is angry about. Something about trust, obviously, but what the specifics are, I don't know, because I can't understand what she is saying. But I LOVE the opening chorus. It's an insane sort of little Christmas Caroly opening that rips open into an electrical storm of Janet just being very upset about some issue. Again, I have no idea just what that issue is. I should read the lyrics.

7. What About, Velvet Rope

 The top angry Janet song in my list. Again, another great song when someone needs to fuck the hell off. This song specifically concerns domestic violence and rape. But tonight I am getting a vibe about complex relationships of any kind. Balancing the good and the bad. Not communicating. Keeping your mouth shut when it should be screaming.

Those times when you are smiling and laughing outside and in your head you're thinking "But what about....."

"What about the times you kept on when I said no more please?"

6. The Pleasure Principle, Control

I have always thought this song had something to do with Freudian concepts. I found a great blog post about it on Naki O. She talks about her love for the video and trying to nail the chair routine. Then she falls down the Janet hole. It's really far greater than anything you'll read here.

"Being the nerd I am, I dug a bit about the term pleasure principle. My psychology people will recognize it as a term discussed at great length in Freud's 1921 Beyond the Pleasure Principle. He argues that the pleasure principle is a psychoanalytic concept describing people seeking pleasure and avoiding suffering (pain) to satisfy their biological and psychological needs.  The counterpart is the reality principle where people choose to defer gratification of a desire when circumstances do not allow for immediate gratification.  Accordingly, growing up is learning how to move beyond the pleasure principle and endure the pain of not getting what you want immediately. This is obviously a very simplistic interpretation of what is an enormous study but it strikes me that many of us, in particular some our political leaders have not yet moved beyond the pleasure principle."- Naki O

And what about those symbols on Janet's shirt? A "Yahoo Answer" said it was "Egyptian signs for 'Eternity' and 'Destiny'. It was a protest against her mother Katharine's instance that Janet follow the Jehovah's Witness religion." I'm too tired to look into it right now.

5. Control, Control

The headset microphone!! That was this video was all about for me at the time. So intimidating!

The video is 9 minutes long. Janet is breaking away from her parents and has her own jeep and wants to get an apartment. Her controlling dad isn't having it. She looks chubby and so cute and young!! But it's really all about the headset. And that jeep a little too.

This is one of the first examples of "New Jack Swing" a very dated music style from the late 80's to the early 90's.

"New jack swing is mellifluously soulful solo or harmonizing vocals addressing romantic and sexual themes and lyrics, sung over rhythms and "street" beats derived from urban musical influences. This style of music melded with hip hop, which also gave it elements of aggression of swaggering on some songs. Some songs consisted of rhythmic beats with music, while others had singing alternating with rap sections over this same type of music." -Wikipedia

Most of the songs from "Control" were in this style. This style of of music can sound really dated and annoying but hers hold up I think. But again, it's all about that microphone anyway.

4. Nasty, Control

And what does she mean by Nasty? I think she is saying sexy. I think Janet is terrified of sex at this period. I think she's saying anything having to do with sex- she's not having it. Not ready for it. Which explains her almost overcompensation later on in her career. Leading up to and including the Superbowl wardrobe malfunction incident.

Do you know that Viacom (who owns MTV) and CBS banned her videos and music after that? Kind of explains a little about why she dropped off the radar. She was making music but no one was allowed to play it. And yet Justin Timberlake received almost no condemnation at all. He even brought sexy back and no one batted an eyelash! Ahhh, sexism - it's almost quaint that it's still around- like old phone booths.

3. Scream, Number Ones 

Who knew this video would one day make me so sad? What I see and hear, despite all the plastic surgery, is a brother and sister who love each other despite an emotional distance.

This is still the most expensive video ever made. I am not really a scifi buff but the idea of being on this white spaceship all alone (my sister could be there too, if she wants) is so relaxing to me. Just escaping, decompressing.

I also want that sweater. I don't think it would fit. But it would give me motivation to work out. No. No. Nothing, not even that sweater can give me motivation to work out.

2. Alright, Rhythm Nation 1814

When I was listening to Janet Jackson songs and ranking them, which incidentally is not something that is easy for me (my favorite movies, songs, TV shows change from day to day), this is the song I kept replaying. Specifically this shortened version with Heavy D (RIP). It's such a happy song and makes me want to do a very choreographed dance number. 

And the video is such a fake 1930s/1950s world. Another video I would want to live in. Notice the poor girls playing hopscotch who have redrawn and redrawn and redrawn their squares under hot lights in uncomfortable clothes. They are probably porn stars now. That's not nice. I'm sure they're fine.

"Andanywaywhocaresaboutwhatotherpeopletalkabout..Id rather here it from the horses mouth."

1. Rhythm Nation, Rhythm Nation 1814

This video still holds up today, an industrial, military, apocalyptic army that is going to save the world. The Rhythm Nation. 

It's her masterpiece, her manifesto, her magnum opus, her Citizen Kane, her award winning blue ribbon meatloaf recipe."We are a part of a rhythm nation." As I said, when she gets political it sounds cheesy. But we're all so jaded and pissed off now. I would place a bet that, at the time, this song probably did lead some kids who may have gone in the wrong direction to screw their heads on a little tighter. Mixing metaphors there and baking them into a wonderful cake. Delicious.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

TJS Documentary Review: The Woman Who Wasn't There

The Woman Who Wasn't There

Rating:Almost a whole pack
             17 out of 20 cigarettes

Where you watch it- Netflix Streaming

This is the second best documentary I have watched on Netflix. The subject of this film- Tania Head- is one of the most fascinating in any documentary I have watched so far. This woman is so extraordinary and unbelievable and yet you know her. You know this woman.

 TWWWT is one of those rabbit hole documentaries that starts in one place and ends in a completely different place. A documentary that does this rare but it is the best kind. Because life unfolds this way, does it not? The only other documentary that I think outdoes this one is "Capturing the Friedmans." And if you haven't seen that - see it and brace yourself.

Like many documentaries in the last couple years TWWWT uses animation. The style of the animation and how it is implemented adds so much to the film. The editing of the interviews, "talking heads," is masterful as well.

Peeling back a layer, I think this is a very important film to add to the 9/11 documentary canon. The perspective taken examines the psychological impact the disaster had on the world.  Although, this case is exaggerated- I can't help relating to Tania somehow. What she did was incredible.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

TJS Documentary Review: Bronies

The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony

Rating: Half a Pack
             10 out of 20 cigarettes

Where you watch it- Netflix Streaming

The subjects of this film are pretty fascinating and hard to wrap my brain around. Mostly straight teenage boys and young adult men obsessed with "My Little Pony," a show originally targeted towards young girls.

As a documentary this lands somewhere on the low budget end. There have been many films in the last 15 years that follow the same formula- examining the obsessed fan subculture of Star Trek, Star Wars, etc. This film is in the same vein. However, kudos for throwing some solid elements into the mix- interviews with My Little Pony's creator and impressive animated transitions.

I think I got a loose grasp on what the appeal was for these boys. These are not boys from my generation. It's even a little much for me- a pretty gay guy- to see straight men behave like this. Bronies grew up in a 9/11, School and Movie Theater shooting, in your face, in your neighborhood violent world. After meeting the Bronies, it makes sense to me (a little more) why these boys are putting their focus on a cuddly, cute TV show that focuses on cotton candy love and friendship.