From the Stacks: Jan Bradley – “The Brush Off”

I love the dusty shelves of forgotten books you find in the darkest corners of musty libraries and those crates of “worthless” old 45s you find in every junk shop. I can’t help it. There must be dust in my blood. I even worked in a music archive for a year after university (it’s still the best job I’ve ever had). I guess that makes me some kind of amateur cultural archaeologist.

Of course, you and I know those neglected 45s are far from worthless. There are so many great songs languishing in those cardboard dumping grounds. And sometimes, of course, I’ll find something that I really wish I could share with people only to discover that even the seemingly infinite YouTubes occasionally come up short. So, I’ve taken it upon myself recently to fill some of those gaps. And since, these are obviously the sorts of things I wish other people could hear, I’m going to start posting about them here from time to time—one of those times being right now.

Given that her early records were released on Chess, it’s surprising to me that Jan Bradley’s recordings are so difficult to find online. YouTube only has a few of them (Spotify only turned up one). As the story goes (read: according to Wikipedia) Bradley was discovered at a high school talent show. A while later, after auditioning for Curtis Mayfield, she would go on to have a regional hit with “We Girls” and nationally with “Mama Didn’t Lie” (both written by Mayfield).

The current track “The Brush Off”, appeared on the flip side of “I’m Over You”, a minor hit (#25 on the R&B chart) from early 1965. Both feature that unmistakable Chicago soul sound, and though there are a couple of videos floating around for “I’m Over You”, I was unable to find anything for “The Brush Off”, which is a shame, because it’s a smooth and easy bit of Northern Soul that deserves to be heard. So, I made one.

Here it is. And, apparently, Ms. Bradley (I don’t know her married name) still lives somewhere in the South Suburbs. So, if you happen to encounter her singing with her church choir, please, pass on to her my sincerest appreciation for her all-too-brief career.

(Here’s the Billboard review of the single from January 2, 1965. Also, this guy has some good info on Jan Bradley.)

Dear God, I hate myself.

I’ve been a passive fan of Xiu Xiu for a while now, picking up albums and EPs when I find them, mostly because several bands I enjoy are admirers of theirs. Likewise, I was aware that the band has a new album due out soon, but it took something of an act of censorship some time last night for me to finally sit up and pay closer attention. The video for the title track from the new album, Dear God, I Hate Myself was removed from YouTube due to a “terms of use violation”.

I don’t know what sort of terms of use violation the band has committed, YouTube doesn’t specify, but having read the comments section from the Stereogum post in which it was premiered, I can only assume the ban was on account of the inclusion of “objectionable material” throughout the video. The same video is still hosted on Vimeo, and I will post it below. I have watched it a handful of times, and I encourage you to do the same, but I also urge you to read this post before doing so. It’s only fair you know what you’re getting yourself into.

According to Xiu Xiu frontman, Jamie Stewart, “the title came from a night a literally being on my knees and speaking these words in a prayer to God. It is about the tension between feeling hopeless but also feeling as if spiritual love is possible and there for you if you want it”. Maybe it is a sentiment limited to artistic temperaments, but those are words I’ve uttered on multiple occasions (and with increasing frequency since I realized I will never be good enough). I cannot fault any artist willing to confront the issue with brutal honesty and without pretense (I’m talking to you, Emo-land).

The video is simple: a close up of new band member Angela Seo occupying two-thirds of the shot with half of Jamie visible in the remaining portion of the screen. For the extent of the video (which I pray, for Angela’s sake, was done in one take), Jamie, dancing to the song, tucks into a chocolate bar while to his right, in full view of the camera, Angela causes herself to vomit. The entire scene is depicted with unrelenting realism, because it is real. In a post on the band’s website, Angela elaborates: “yes, me vomiting my brains out on video was gross as hell and it made me feel like shit afterward. Those tears and the ‘what the fuck is going on’ look is sincere”.

Reactions to the video, however, have been anything but understanding. Yes, some viewers recognized the video for what it is, a visual depiction of the song lyrics. Others, however, were quick to label it exploitative, an aberrant “hazing” ritual aimed at the new girl, an act of torture perpetrated in the name of art. I have been surprised to read accusations of racism, sexism, perversity, etc. leveled against Jamie, the band and their fans as a result of this video.

True, it is most definitely difficult to watch, but that is precisely the intent. In her defense of the video on xiuxiu.org, Angela writes, “the video was my idea. Jamie didn’t exploit me or coerce me or anything like that”. And later, “…I grew up around a lot of people who were bulimic…perhaps because bulimia was the most visible, prevalent, and even normalized form of self-destruction at a very impressionable age, I will always think of it as a major form of self-hatred”. In trying to come to terms with the public reaction to the clip, she reasons, “perhaps some people don’t understand that one can voluntarily choose to hurt themselves physically. Maybe some think it’s just so stupid and dumb that one had to have been forced to do it?” But I think there may be something else at work here, something more powerful, more intimidating than misunderstanding—empathy.

Often, we think of it as a positive trait, useful, perhaps, in comforting a friend who has lost a job or is going through a bad breakup. But empathy can be a traumatic experience. It’s that moment in Lolita when Humbert Humbert starts making sense or the Werther Fever that swept Europe in the nineteenth century. I can still remember the shock I experienced whilst reading The Bell Jar (during the fig tree scene) the moment I realized the book could very easily be about me. We don’t like to be reminded of our dark times, the moments we turn our faces from Heaven and think, dear God, I hate myself. The lashing out against the factors which bring those low points to bear upon our consciousness must, on some level it seems, be a simple act of self preservation.

I encourage you to read the rest of Angela’s post here, if you haven’t already. And watch the video if you haven’t already grown weary of my rambling.

The album, Dear God, I Hate Myself (Kill Rock Stars) is available on iTunes as of today with the physical release set for 23 February.

Download the track “Dear God, I hate myself” here (via Stereogum)

Malta Week, Mondays, and Surprises!

Welcome to Monday, guys!  (fyi, “Welcome to Monday” is a song by the folk group “The Owls”.  I will review them eventually, but in anticipation, you may check out their myspace.) Thanks for joining us for Malta Mayhem!  This week we discovered that Maltese music really does have very distinct qualities, from reggae/ska to more electronic/grunge.  If it wasn’t your thing, we forgive you, and you have the rest of The Indie Handbook to look forward to.   Actually, you have something *specifically* very special to look forward to this week, and because it is Eric’s news, I am going to let him tell you when he posts next.  No, he is not pregnant.  Let’s just say, he’s going to a show tonight, and he may or may not be having a conversation with a person there.  I’ll leave it at that.

So, to wrap up Malta Mayhem, we have created a Youtube mix for you.  It includes nosnow/noalps, the  Beangrowers, Brikkuni, and Danjeli–there’s a little somethin’ for everyone, y’all!  Sorry you have to click on the link (I know, soooo difficult, right?) but the embedding is just not working out for me.

Also, just because it’s Monday and I’m pretty excited about the possibility of playlists, here’s one to help you get through (the rest) of your Monday. Not particularly work appropriate, depending, of course, on your place of employment. Also, I prefer it on shuffle.