Psycho Magnet

Earlier today, while rereading various things by David Foster Wallace, I came across this paragraph in his report on the 1998 awards event sponsored by Adult Video News, the journal of record for the pornographic film and video industry:

[T]he endless lists of categories and nominees are interspersed with little entr'actes of musical entertainment. Ms. Dyanna Lauren, for instance, appears between Best-Selling Tape and Best Foreign Release to sing her original composition "Psycho Magnet," a hard-rock ballad about being a porn star and getting constantly stalked and harassed by mentally ill mooks. The song's argumentation strikes yr. corresps. as a bit uneven, but Ms. Lauren struts and contorts and punctuates her phrasing with uppercuts to the air like a genuine MTV diva. The downside is that vocally, even with heavy amplification and digital synthesis, Dyanna Lauren sounds like a scalded cat, although Dick Filth points out that so does Alanis Morissette, and H. Hecuba chimes in by shouting: "Say whatever you want about the song-and-dance numbers here, they sure beat what Wahlberg and Reilly were coming up with in Boogie Nights!"
Filth and Hecuba are DFW's "native informants" from the industry. Anyway, when this essay was reprinted in Consider the Lobster a few years ago, I recall wondering what the song "Psycho Magnet" actually sounded like, but had no luck finding out. (Not that I quite applied myself to this effort.) Today, however, it is possible not only to hear the song but to witness the performance in question:

It certainly adds a little something to the experience of reading DFW's essay. ("The song's argumentation strikes yr. corresps. as a bit uneven...") "Psycho Magnet" is available on the self-titled album of Lauren's group, Thousand Year Itch, which is, all things considered, a pretty great name for a band that played that particular venue.

The album was released ten years ago and I don't see any sign of Thousand Year Itch going on to do anything else, but on Amazon you can hear clips from it, including the TYI covers of "Son of a Preacher Man" and "Helter Skelter." The latter somehow reminds me of being dragged by a friend to a proto-hair metal bar in Dallas in 1980. But recording "Preacher Man" was a nice touch.

The studio rendition of "Psycho Magnet" has much less ardor than the live performance, and I am just glad someone preserved it for posterity, having now listened to this video three times and finding it kind of pricelessly unhinged, especially the guitar solo, which shows the influence of the great Nigel Tufnel.

April 4, 2010 4:00 PM | | Comments (7)

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I actually had a similar experience with DFW and the end of Infinite Jest, where he makes an extended reference to how depressing the isolated vocal track of Linda McCartney singing with Wings is. Curious, I found a YouTube video with said isolated vocal tracks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoH9zP_n_g0

I'll tell you, it really adds something when you can find the reference like that. What's a little odd is that I don't have the sense that DFW himself was much of an Internet user, and of course both Infinite Jest and "Big Red Son" were written before the Web became REALLY BIG -- yet in some ways DFW is the quintessential Internet writer.

That vocal track is horrifying.

One thing that I find interesting and very sympathetic is that DFW seems to have avoided the internet and at one point didn't want to have email access in his home "because if you can get out, they can get in." In his work he did not so much extrapolate where all of this was headed as dig down to the substrate upon which all of it rests. It's pretty much all there already in his early essay on TV and postmodernism -- which may be one of two or three things about pomo that I recall reading that felt like they involved more than juggling conceptual tropes.

But yes, I totally agree that "Big Red Son" now feels like it has at least as much to do with the internet as it does with pornography. And not for the obvious reasons involving the direct relationship between them. Likewise, his essay on talk radio feels like it has something to do with the present political situation, at least as much as it does with right-wing ranting under the first Bush administration.....

That's just right, that he dug down to the substrate. I too had heard the e-mail story.

I just have to reproduce here the relevant passage from Infinite Jest:

The CD playing was one C'd played all the time in the car when Gately had been with him in a car: somebody had taken an old disk of McCartney and the Wings -- as in the historical Beatles's McCartney -- taken and run it through a Kurzweil remixer and removed every track on the sonfs except the tracks of poor old Mrs. Linda McCartney singing backup and playing tambourine. [...] Poor old Mrs. Linda McCartney just fucking could not sing, and having her shaky off-key little voice flushed from the cover of the whole slick multitrack corporate sound and pumped up to solo was to Gately unspeakably depressing -- her voice sounding so lost, trying to hide and bury itself inside the pro backups' voices; Gately imagined Mrs. Linda McCartney -- in his Staff room's wall's picture a kind of craggy-faced blonde -- imagined her standing there lost in the sea of her husband's pro noise, feeling low esteem and whispering off-key, not knowing quite when to shake her tambourine: C's depressing CD was past cruel, it was somehow sadistic-seeming, like drilling a peephole in the wall of a handicapped bathroom. (pp. 978-9 in my edition)

What a find. Thanks.

Yes, that nails it. The singing is hideous, but it's the intentionality behind the whole thing that makes listening to it horrifying.

As opposed to a similar track from Van Halen where somebody has stripped away everything except David Lee Roth singing, which is just silly:

http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/0a54ce784d/david-lee-roth-vocal-track-runnin-with-the-devil-from-unearned-happiness

It's a standard case made by theater people that the Tony Awards show always succeeds with the kind of big song and dance numbers that Hollywood consistently makes boring or out-right embarrassing on the Oscars. What, then, of the adult film industry?

I like the fact that Dyanna's band has tuxedos -- you stay classy, guys -- while she's in the (scalded) catsuit. Dyanna's is way different from Linda McCarthy's -- DFW's right. Listening to McCarthy's vocal track was just sad. (Trying to) listen to the unlistenable Lauren makes one realize that, we must admit, her song may well have proved extremely successful. It's hard to imagine anyone stalking her after that.

Getting this song stuck in your head is not a good thing. So I have learned.

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