My Bumpersticker Reads: I'd Rather Be in Champaign-Urbana

Hey all. For the next five days, I'll be wolfing big burgers and blogging Ebertfest 2006 here. Come one, come all. Tribeca, Schmibeca. That's what I say!


Telephone: Cindy Adams Says Jessica Lange Says She Does Not and I Say Why Do We Bother?

I try not to read Cindy Adams. She is gossip's answer to Ann Coulter and an iron-clad argument against brass balls as a socially acceptable strap-on. Occasionally, though, I fall prey to her, uh, column.

This is how I know that yesterday she claimed that Jessica Lange has not undergone any plastic surgery. (The Post is stingy with its links so take my word on it.)

Fact: In Broken Flowers (so broken) and Wim Wenders' newest, Don't Come Knocking, Lange appears so sewn up that she looks like she's wearing a Jessica Lange mask from the dollar store. It's either major work or a stroke, and the eyes staring out of that immobile face are not merely sad but abject, hopeless, and horribly afraid. They are the eyes of a woman who's caught herself a mean case of the Dorian Grays.

Why do I care? Because she who is being honored by Lincoln Center for Career Achievement this month lost faith that we still would want to watch her even when she no longer wore a blank slate for a face. Because she's probably right. And because on top of all of it, she feels compelled to lie about the work just like almost all American actresses over 30 probably do.

This epidemic of plastic surgery may never abate. What sign do we have that it ever will, except that it looks so crazily ET, so Faye's Joan Crawford near the end, and, more to the point, so not young that maybe eventually people will throw in the towel and all come to worship at the altar of my frown lines and crazy-ass gap teeth?

And if it does not abate, then should the women who subject themselves to the botulism, the ass fat, the knife and the laser come out of the closet so they're not doubly shamed? Only 20 years ago a cultural taboo presided against admitting to using hair dye. Now I challenge you to find any woman who won't sing the praises of her colorist. At that, find five women in any city outside of New England sporting a full head of gray hair.

So will people grow more open about getting work eventually?

Actually, I think not. Serious plastic surgery is an attempt to erase the last 50 years of any given human life, and so it is a denial of the basic life cycle, in which girlhood is a mere drop in the pan. Even if we won't allow ourselves to go so far as to acknowledge the ideological, cultural and psychological implications of widespread cosmetic surgery, we know somehow it's taboo, the same way people instinctively understood fucking their parents was wrong long before science gave us the reason. Permanently altering your face is as unnatural as puking up your meals. And even if half of Hollywood does that — and a goodly part of all America — I don't see the vomitorium coming back any time soon. It's as creepy as that sad little Jessica Lange mask.


I Testify: Neko Case at Webster Hall, Blessed Be

Just got back from seeing Neko Case at Webster Hall. Case is truly blessed and thus, for the duration of this evening, were we.

It’s amazing to witness this woman of my generation and ilk — that is, we who are now more busty than skinny, hurdling head-first into our late 30s; we with the hair dye once deployed only ironically now valiantly covering gray’s tracks; we, the forever latch-key kids with the afterschool TV forever pepper-and-salting our tongues; we 60s babies' babies whose limbs and hips and hearts are frozen by a paralyzingly self-conscious irony — it's amazing to witness one of us so generously and comfortably fill a stage. Her set was so grand, so heroic, so long that even though I arrived a full hour into it from my j-o-b job, I still caught 45 minutes of that voice, that voice, that voice soaring into the rafters where I stood uncharacteristically still so as to savor every minute and every inch.

She really does possess one of the greatest modern voices around, angelic and unchecked and big enough to channel great sadness and great hope. When coupled with her lyrics, it communes with the best parts of each of us and then those dark unseen, unsung corners too.

Take “That Teenage Feeling,” which she sang tonight and is arguably the best title from her newest album, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood:

Now that we've met
We can only laugh at these regrets
Common as a winter cold
They're telephone poles
They follow each other
One, after another, after another
But now my heart is green as weeds
Grown to outlive their season

And nothing comforts me the same
As my brave friend who says,
"I don't care if forever never comes
'Cause I'm holding out for that teenage feeling
I'm holding out for that teenage feeling

All the loves we had
All we ever knew
Did they fill me with so many secrets
That keep me from loving you
'Cause it's hard, hard

Ah, but she’s the brave one. Because at our age those lyrics really mean something. So many have settled or scorned or forgotten what it was like to experience anything with an unmediated intensity that at times I feel like we’ve become ghosts of our younger dreams. To watch my girl rock those lyrics, her fists clenched, her muscles taut with an adulterated sincerity, well — I like her so much, really. It reminded me of how Yoko seduced John all those years ago, how he patiently crawled through the whole of her many-tiered, slightly silly art installation until he reached that tiny tag to which all her labyrinths were leading. And it read: yes.

So, yes, when Miss Case wasn’t making music, it must be said, she didn’t quite know how to conduct herself. I wanted her clad in something red satin and less ironic. Something Ella, something Patsy. Certainly nothing Reality Bites. I wanted her nonsinging self to match up to the unapologetic and bold chanteuse with the baby-bird mouth. I wanted her, even when talking in between songs, to behave as a woman rather than a girl with grey roots. Someone who murmured or boomed, Nina style, rather than someone who rambled through pop culture's navel. Someone who meted out her words carefully to ensure they measured up to the voice that solidiered an entire auditorium of New Yorkers’ regrets.

But what can you do? Each of us grows at the rate we can bear, shedding different vestiges of girlhood slowly until one day we truly do embody the women whom our little-girl selves assumed we’d easily become. The women whose instincts, strong and fine, run their lives as well as the show. The women whose eyes this culture can barely meet.

Yes, I forgive Miss Case for her terrible stage patter and her clever-with-a-K Dr. Pepper T shirt. Gladly, I do, yes, because tonight, for a full 45 minutes, she made me think that this whole mess was still OK. Hell, she made me know it. Yes.