the sweet 16:
(6) omc, "how bizarre"
(15) harvey danger, "flagpole sitta"
Read the essays, watch the videos, listen to the songs, feel free to argue below in the comments or tweet at us, and consider. Winner is the aggregate of the poll below and the @marchfadness twitter poll. The polls closed at 9am Arizona time on 3/18.
analysis by the march fadness selection committee
Only half the selection committee had Harvey Danger making it this far. (That's not a shocker: as a 15-seed, and not a superpowered 15-seed like a couple of the play-ins, it should be a big underdog in this contest, and it is.) The half of the Committee who picked Primitive Radio Gods over Harvey Danger is also the half that has been a cheerleader for this song for the better part of the last decade, and the other half of the Committee admits that is a good read: it's a good song, one that seems to remain relatively untainted by time. It kind of missed the pop-punk thing though it's plenty poppy, punky, and smart: all pluses in our book.
It's too bad that "Flagpole Sitta" vs "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth..." matchup occurred in the second round, since both songs being really rather good and not particularly one-hit-wondery in their execution. We see both songs' OHW status as being more of a function of the market briefly recognizing something good and then moving on to the next something than the cultural faddishness that's given the tournament its name this year. It's a wonder that both songs actually hit the way they hit, since they're in the little boat that we'd take with us off the capsized ship of the 1990s' one hit wonders in this bracket.
But OMC's shown some muscle in getting this far, and the more we listen to the song the more it's growing on us. How about you? Well, more of you voted for it than Marc Cohn and Donna Lewis, so that's something.
So who wins today's sweet 16 game? Lenhart's essay feels right for the thinkiness and spikiness of its subject, but is perhaps overlong by comparison to the song, at least for those of us who are here more to read than vote (as opposed to those of us who will discover or return to this in all our free time in April, having been released from having to care and think about the 1990s again). This tournament moves fast! It's hard to find the time to read them all. We don't blame you (but do read Lenhart's essay, which gets us somewhere good—and if we had our druthers all of us would read and reread these each game.)
St. Germain's essay gives OMC just the right amount of bump to make this feel like an even matchup. OMC's one hittiness seems more truly one-hitty than Harvey Danger's, but "Flagpole Sitta"'s the stronger song. Both have an ironic edge to them, but one's edged in sweetness. We give this one even odds, but we know which way we're voting.
And just below you'll find Lawrence Lenhart's bracket breakdown, if you'd like to give it a listen before voting (or after):
analysis by zaza karaim
This song is funky, I like it. There’s a lot going on, from the jaunty guitar rhythm at the beginning to the man’s talk-singing to the female choir. It was more interesting musically than “Flagpole Sitta” but had a less memorable chorus, and also seems more dated. I had never heard this song before, and, while I enjoyed it, it didn’t change my life in any way.
Zaza’s rating: 5.5
JUSTIN ST. GERMAIN ON "HOW BIZARRE"
The other day, I went to the National Gallery for the first time. I don’t know anything about art. I come from poor people who didn’t have the money or time for it, and I went to schools that didn’t teach it much, where I also didn’t seek it out. But I like to look at art, and have stumbled into seeing a lot of it: on one list of the top art museums in the world, I’d been to eight of ten.
It’s a strange thing, to have seen so much art as an ignorant. It makes you wonder about aesthetics. The hired guides walking groups around the gallery seemed to evaluate art mostly by context: historical movements, influences, contemporaries, career stages. Some talked more about technique, composition, and color. I mostly just like to stare at it for a while, and see if I can see the genius. Some are obvious: the big Pollock, the O’Keefes. Others seemed more esoteric; I was the only one spending much time with George Bellows.
I don’t know anything about music, either. Can’t play an instrument or sing a lick, and am often told I have bad taste. But I listen to a lot of it, and that’s all you really need to formulate some aesthetics for pop, especially the songs in this tournament; Warhol and Lichtenstein might have wound up in the National Gallery, but Harvey Danger sure as hell won’t.
A good way to evaluate a one-hit wonder is by how well it defines a moment. Quick: what does “How Bizarre” remind you of? Whatever you just remembered happened twenty years ago this summer, when the song played half a million times on the radio, the biggest reach platform in the US. It had already been a worldwide hit for a year by then, which means, for a few weeks in July and August of 1997, it was possibly the most-heard song in the world. If you were alive and sentient then, you remember doing something while “How Bizarre” played in the background. I’ve asked a few people my age, and it reminded them of what teenagers do while listening to the radio: working shitty jobs, riding in cars, drugs.
For me it’s the former. I turned sixteen that July, procured a pickup truck, and had to figure out a way to pay for gas. A family friend owned a restaurant in my hometown. The friend, whom I’ll call Rick, was a froglike guy with a bullhorn voice who drank Tanqueray for lunch and imported furniture from Mexico. Employees figured the restaurant was a drug front, which seemed like the only explanation for a place staffed by bunch as motley as we, ex-cons and dropouts and your correspondent, then a lanky sophomore virgin in JNCOs.
I had to work my way inside the restaurant; I started in the employee lot out back. Rick got a wild hair to grow the restaurant’s tomatoes himself, in an atavistic patch of crabgrass that had been a garden back when the restaurant had been a house. He needed someone to replace its dirt with soil from a garden across the street, behind a house whose owner Rick claimed to have permission from, but which sure seemed pretty vacant.
So I became a soil thief. I spent most of an Arizona summer in a hat and a bandanna, sunburnt and salty, scooping dirt, listening to a staticky pop radio station from Tucson on a boombox I’d stolen from the dishwashers. (Aqua’s “Barbie Girl,” which was mercifully left out of March Fadness, still makes me want to stab myself with a shovel.)
I worked at that restaurant for about a year, a period more or less parallel to OMC’s abrupt success. When I think of that time now, I remember it in moments: my dismay at scraping pork into scrap buckets for Rick’s friend, the pig farmer; cooks chopping rails of crank on the lid of the employee toilet; hearing during a dinner rush that Princess Diana had just died, prompting months of Elton John; picking a cockroach out of the hot line and wondering if this was all just some story to tell later, or if it would be my life, like it was for some of the others. Those moments have a soundtrack, and “How Bizarre” is on it, right after the Spice Girls and Hanson, before Puff Daddy and Usher and “Return of the Mack.” (So is White Town's "Your Woman," which would have been our second-round opponent, if there were any justice in the world.)
Of those songs, “How Bizarre” defines that time the best, at least for me. Forget the video—we just don’t have time—and listen to the song itself. Acoustic guitar, a trumpet, an accordion, what might be a drum machine. A catchy hook, a few talk-sung verses, a duet chorus. It apes hip-hop, acoustic rock, and mariachi, at least, but can only properly be called a pop song. The lyrics don’t make sense, nobody involved seems talented, but it’s just so goddamned catchy. You can hear how it became the worldwide sound of a summer—why, if you were alive twenty years ago, you still know at least some of “How Bizarre” by heart.
If you prefer your one-hit wonders to have a story, this one’s a humdinger. There may have never been a less likely pop star than Pauly Fuemana, who pretty much comprised OMC. Pauly was twenty-five when he recorded “How Bizarre,” the son of a Maori mother and a father from Niue, which if it were a fully independent country would be the second smallest in the world. A former gang member raised by grandparents and the system, Pauly lived in a musical hinterland that prided itself on producing one of the guys from Crowded House, and he wasn’t much of a musician: he couldn’t play any instrument well or sing in tune consistently. He probably never wrote an entire song himself, and he danced like me, which is to say poorly, and primarily with his face and forearms.
Pauly started off as part of Otara Millionaires Club, the forerunner of OMC, a hip-hop outfit named ironically after the poor Auckland suburb it came from, known for carrying machetes onstage. The band made two songs before splitting up. On one of them, “We R the OMC,” you can hear Pauly before the industry got hold of him: brash and angry, all bluster and snarl, a wannabe Tupac of the South Pacific. His lone verse is hostile, insipid, and homophobic, and the song didn’t even chart in New Zealand. But it did intrigue the owner of a local nightclub where Pauly had worked as a doorman, who fronted him five grand for studio time. A year later, he released the most successful pop song in the history of his country.
Pauly relied almost entirely on an Elvisish charisma, a vestige of his background: the confidence of having survived something, a smolder borne of his hip hop origins. The best surviving illustration of what I mean is a brief clip from Top of the Pops, filmed in August 1998. Pauly had been on two weeks before and bombed; he couldn't afford to do it again. And so, in the most important moment of his career, what did Pauly Fuemana do? This:
Maybe not a great performance, musically; the dude really couldn't sing. But he came onstage, in the country that colonized his, with a chain and a rope around his neck, and stopped just short of telling that whole island to fuck off. In three minutes, he made himself a star.
Popularity is an admittedly poor metric for art, and “How Bizarre” wasn’t released as a single in the US, making its success harder to gauge. But OMC’s only album sold roughly as many copies here as Beyonce’s Lemonade. The song hit #1 in five countries, including America, becoming the first song from New Zealand ever to do so. “How Bizarre” was such a phenomenon in its homeland that the ministry of history devotes a website page to it.
We all know what’s coming, so I’ll skip ahead. If you have three minutes, you can hear Pauly’s career end. Go find OMC’s last major-label song, “I Love L.A.,” recorded that same summer of 1997, while “How Bizarre” was climbing the American charts. By then, Pauly was rich and fame-drunk and rootless, obsessed with becoming a rock star, even though the dental surgery he’d had to fix his teeth had ruined his trademark choked-off voice. OMC needed a second American single, and his label didn’t like any of the album’s other tracks. For some mystifying reason, they asked Pauly to cover a song about loving a city he’d never even seen until the year before. It gets worse. The song was for a soundtrack; the movie was Bean. And they didn’t use it—the original plays instead. That’s right: OMC’s last single was so bad it got cut from the Mr. Bean movie and replaced by Randy Newman.
Pauly’s attempts at another hit—including sessions with White Town, where they spent their studio time smoking weed—failed, and Polygram dropped him after he assaulted one of its employees. He returned to Auckland and sank into debt. His reunion with the producer of “How Bizarre” was a disaster. (At one point, Pauly thought his next hit would be a song called “Planet Phat,” in which he called an overweight lover “my hippopotamus.”)
OMC released one more song, a duet with fellow Kiwi Lucy Lawless—aka Xena the Warrior Princess—called “4 All of Us.” A treacly ballad about unity, it was a one-off single for a human rights charity; Pauly, dead broke by then, still did the song for free. The accompanying video, in which he gauntly whispers lyrics about leaving, prompted concerns about his health. His behavior grew erratic, he fell out of touch with friends, and in 2010 the news broke: Pauly Fuemana had died at 40 of a rare neurological disease.
So OMC wins on popularity and pathos. But maybe the best measure of art is how it ages. So, if you’re still debating how to vote, I’ll leave you with this: “How Bizarre” begins with a cop pulling over a car full of dark-skinned people who’ve done nothing wrong, followed by an incoherent circus which prominently involves the press and military, until soon everyone wants to escape. The rest of the song repeats a chorus in which an unspeakable evil makes the singer insane. Every time I look around, it’s in my face.
Twenty years after its release, can you imagine a song more relevant now?
(Note: much of the information here is from a book by Simon Grigg, How Bizarre: Pauly Fuemana and the Song that Stormed the World. )
Justin St. Germain is the author of the memoir Son of a Gun. His essays have recently appeared in Barrelhouse and Territory, and are forthcoming in DIAGRAM and Tin House. He grew up in Tombstone, Arizona, and now lives in Oregon.
analysis by zaza karaim
Every time I say “sitta” out loud I sound like a fool. I definitely didn’t think I’d heard this song until it reached the chorus and then, of course, I had. You can’t escape this song. That being said, it’s a fairly enjoyable listen. Although no lyrical masterpiece, it’s definitely the most catchy of today’s songs, but it doesn’t have the same musical and emotional depth. (Do we care about musical and emotional depth when talking about one hit wonders?) After a few listens, I grew less interested. Also, this man on the internet promised I could learn to play it on the guitar in five minutes and I watched his whole video but it was false advertising.
Zaza’s rating: 7
lawrence lenhart on "flagpole sitta" & the pop stylistism of harvey danger
According to Laver’s Law (first published in Taste and Fashion, 1937), styles can range from the indecent to the beautiful. It all depends on the ‘when’ of perception. Meaning Stephen Foster is about to be beautiful (150 years after his time); Jelly Roll Morton is nearly romantic (100 years); Chuck Berry is on his way to charming (70 years); Diana Ross is verging on quaint (50 years); Kurt Cobain will soon be amusing (30 years); Bloodhound Gang will (once again) be ridiculous (20 years); and Avril Lavigne is next up for “hideous” (10 years). Already, last year’s Skrillex and Diplo single featuring Justin Bieber is dowdy. Making what smart? Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” (Billboard’s current No. 1) is apparently as current, as smart as it gets. Outré (1 year before its time)? Shameless (5 years)? Indecent (10 years)? See Pitchfork.
A fashion-obsessed hipster, perched on the bleeding edge of taste, takes advantage of a Laver’s Law loophole. Because current fashion (year zero) is a fickle thing—mostly undecided, fleeting—a hipster’s preference is always the smart one. “You’ve never heard of Shamir? You should check him out before he blows up.” From this strategic vantage, the hipster is first through the turnstiles that separate what’s outré and smart.
I am wary of the notion that current fashion is “smart” fashion. From the Latin fatuus meaning stupid, fad was once “faddy,” once “faddish,” once “fiddle-faddle.” Add an ‘e,’ and fad fades. An apparition. When interrogated, you’ll play coy. You’ll tell people Tragic Kingdom was your first album when actually it was Backstreet Boys. (& WTF: Is that chrome Word Art on the album cover?) How things could have been different had you opened Jenny’s birthday gift first, and not mom’s.
Fad always seems like something someone else is doing. Your friend’s older brother duplicating radio onto cassette, compiling nu-metal playlists and selling them for $5. The girls who listen to ska wearing checkered bras. People in other towns wearing zoot suits and winking a lot, calling you “cat.” Makes you want to meow at them. (Even the Swing Revival is susceptible to Laver’s Law; it’s the nineties way of saying the forties are quaint.) Though La Macarena—we all did La Macarena. A fad begins when your older cousins teach you how to Macarena, and it ends when you forget to teach your younger cousins the same choreography. The chain gets broken. And the whole time you’re paranoid, unsure whether that sexed-up loop of a laugh at the end of the song is laughing with you or at you, you dowdy boy. (When I got married last summer, 22 years after La Macarena, my fiancée and I decided: no Los del Río. The DJ looked at us as if we were being “ridiculous” for even mentioning it. As if.)
The Century Dictionary puts it best, dubbing fad a “trivial fancy adopted and pursued for a time with irrational zeal.” To peer into the 1990s (from 2017) is to risk feeling “ridiculous” or “amused” for enjoying something that you once thought was smart. Only a song whose central thesis is self-critical (a deranged earworm with a hateful mirror) will allow us to not just peer into the nineties, but to inhabit the decade completely. “Flapole Sitta” is just that song. Named after a waggish fad from the 1920s, Harvey Danger’s one-hit wonder is Fadness Incarnate. But first, an assignment from the fourth grade.
In 1998 (the year “Flagpole Sitta” charted), we were supposed to find an obscure saint and report back on their Christian process. Ideally, it would be a saint with whom we could align ourselves for life. Clearly, the religion teacher had never before heard of Saint Simeon Stylites.
We had studied weak forms of asceticism before that assignment, I’m sure of it. I recall fabricating hypothetical forms of self-discipline with my friends in the parking lot playground: mostly calorie deprivation, self-flagellation, and in the case of J.S., there was a marked fascination with adult diaper-wearing. The sterile examples in the textbook, though, paled in comparison to Simeon, the ascetic who lived near the border of Syria and Turkey.
While Simeon’s monastic regimen began with deprivation (no eating, sleeping, bathing, or even sitting), it spiraled into a more extreme showcase when he, according to History Today (1978):
Tied a rope of rough palm [fiber] round his waist under his tunic that soon wore away the skin and produced nasty suppurating wounds. Legend has it that the worms falling out of the wounds gave him away…
Turned away from the monastery for this uncouth stunt, Simeon eventually travelled to a stony hillside that stood above olive groves and vineyards. There, he constructed a six-foot pillar upon which he stood, day and night, attracting a few curious pilgrims. Over time, he built the pillar up to avoid the crowd, and like the second third of a Dr. Seuss book, he was eventually standing on a plinth 45-feet high. The crowds continued to grow. This was Simeon’s cult of immobility.
At the time, Simeon’s story probably reminded me a bit of my own. In third grade, the class competed in a stand-on-leg competition. After several minutes, J.S. and I were the last ones standing, our thighs quivering. At some point, the competition had doubled into a staring contest. Our vanquished peers sat in their seats, cheering for one or the other of us, some in disbelief that we could endure—on just one leg! When I was the last person standing, my teacher was equally impressed. She wanted to know how long I would go. A minute more. A minute more. Eyes popped out of skulls. I teetered once, but regained balance with a single hop. Someone shrieked. And then, deciding we had to get back to curricular matters (there were Taiwanese pen pals awaiting our correspondence), I was asked to sit.
Simeon was just like that. Except instead of 8 minutes of immobility, he remained on his pillar for 37 years, enduring many seasons of the Syrian sun’s scorch, even winter snows. Village boys brought him daily bread, salt, and water by ladder or pulley. For exercise, Simeon practiced prostrations to God (a religious form of planking).
After he died at age 70 in 459 AD, his body was raked off the platform, and collected as a relic for the bishops of Antioch. Following his cue, other ascetics constructed their own “styles” (Greek for pillar). Even in his absence, 1,557 years worth of pilgrims journeyed to the remains of his pillar at The Church of St. Simeon Stylites, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This “infidel site” somehow avoided ISIL defacement during the outbreak of the Syrian War. It wasn’t until May of last year that Russian jets, flying over Qalat Siman, just northwest of Aleppo, raided the region, puncturing the façade of the church and toppling Simeon’s holy pillar.
Once, before the weirding of Brooklyn, Austin, Portland, and Nashville, Seattle was the countercultural capital of the United States. And that’s just the problem. To be credibly counter-, a thing must oppose capital in both senses of the word:
- It must not have a center.
- It must resist commercialization.
And yet halfway through the nineties, Sub Pop (the independent label that first signed Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and Nirvana) sold 49% of itself to Warner Music. Thus began, according to Harvey Danger drummer Evan Sult in the A.V. Club, “the worldwide theatrical production of rock music of the alternative culture.” What was meant to be the normalization of grunge became the post- of it. Take a band like Jimmie’s Chicken Shack (Remember them? No? Not even a little?), and ask yourself: Did we really need Jimmie’s Chicken Shack? And what for? The only answer I can think of is that the Shack was part of the tedious buffer between cultures. And in the ambivalent melding of the two, Harvey Danger emerged with an unhinged swan song for the intergenre. Sult admits the song isn’t “the most obvious candidate to be embedded in ‘90s retromania or nostalgia, mainly because it’s so deeply skeptical about the decade’s collision of alternative and mainstream culture.”
Released in 1998, “Flagpole Sitta” peaked at No. 38 on the Billboard Top 40 Chart. In his introduction to the 33-1/3 book about Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark, Harvey Danger frontman/Seattle-based music critic, Sean Nelson wrote: “One thing that can’t be argued, however, is the insufferably pompous entertainment industry maxim that a hit is a hit. (Some things are true even if music biz weasels say them.)” And what a hit “Flagpole Sitta” was! In an interview with Alternative Press, Nelson said, “radio programmers went apeshit with that song.” One station in Atlanta would play it three times in a row. “We went from being completely anonymous to totally overexposed in a month,” Nelson notes. Off-radio, the song’s ba-ba-bas can be heard in the trailer for Disturbing Behavior, and it’s the backing track to the go-get-’em montage in the teen-libido comedy, American Pie (’em being the female characters of course).
Recently, A.V. Club writer Annie Zaleski discovered that in a single week in 2015, the song “received seven more alternative radio spins than Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,’ four more spins than Beck’s ‘Loser,’ and more airplay than any recurring Green Day hit.” Why is it that “Flagpole Sitta” is still being broadcast 431 times a week while its contemporaries are starting to fade? Nelson’s theory:
I think it jumps off the radio. The fact that the distorted bass is a lead guitar element is really unusual. That shuffle beat is incredibly captivating and fun. It sounds noisy and chaotic and raucous, but then the melody is very catchy. And almost every line is sort of a memorably aphoristic slogan… It’s also really snotty. There’s a snideness about it... It’s very anti-earnest.”
Sult echoes this sentiment: “It’s both really upbeat and kind of savage and snarky at the same time.” Even the title, with its sensational spelling of “sitter,” is anti-earnest. Cacography is cocky; it’s a lazy way of signaling cool. See Korn. See Limp Bizkit. See Kottomouth Kings. Whomsoever thinks “Sitta” is cooler than “Sitter” probably suppresses giggles when they pass a Chick-fil-A billboard on the Interstate.
In high school, Christians gathered around the flagpole in the parking lot, holding hands, looking Godward. The first time I saw it, it was a dark winter morning, and I could see their breath as clouds of prayer. Keith, who I used to altar-serve with, saw me passing and invited me to join. I stood with him, with them for an awkward half-minute. I looked up, my eyes following the bright tilt of the spotlight, saw nothing at the top of the flagpole, and left.
In one of my favorite photographs, a flagpole sitter balances on a small platform 54 feet above a field of upward-looking marathon dancers. The photographer, who must be hanging out of a building window, is looking down on two fads of the 1920s, watching them watch each other. Like the Byzantine “stylites”—indeed like Simeon—this flagpole sitter has attracted a cult of immobility from the most unlikely of audiences. He is a modern-day pillar-saint, and the marathon dancers, whose only rule is to keep moving, look envious of the man’s stasis. They look like they’ve picked the wrong fad. Though of course, in the photo, all are static.
In high school, it seemed like we (all 1600 of us) were dating Ryan Faddish, a clean-cut looker whose brother and father were all jaw and crew cut. I remember us engulfing him at prom in orgiastic grind. Our knees dunking. Our torsos undulant. Our hands… Where did we put our hands? Where even are we supposed to put our hands when we dance? Though the photo suspends our vigorous motion, I remember bobbling to the singles of 2007, 6, 5, 4… I check the yearbook: Faddish is dead-center in the prom photo. As editor-in-chief, I made sure of it. With my 10-year high school reunion just a season away, I wonder why the images have not yet started to fade like in my father’s books. We sprung for the chemically-treated (patina-preventive) pages. It is a way of keeping smart (then) looking smart (now). Give us the gloss.
When Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly died (he was the face of the flagpole sitting fad), apparently he was clutching, with metacarpal rigor mortis, tattered clippings from newspapers that detailed his past life as a pole sitter. While his longest sit (49 days and 1 hour) pales in comparison to Simeon, it still bests my stand-on-one-leg feat by 49 days and 52 minutes.
I live in a town named for a flag. Flagstaff, Arizona was named for a flagpole (a stripped Ponderosa pine) staked in the ground next to the original post office. By the 1980s, the most famous poles were the ones in the small town’s several strip clubs. When I moved here—the flagpole was gone, the strip clubs all closed—I wanted my own flag experience, so I searched for the word in my iTunes and found Less Than Jake’s “I Wish I Had My Own Flag” and Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta.” I played these songs relentlessly for about a week. When I see “Flagpole Sitta” has nearly 14 million plays on Spotify, I wonder what percentage of these listens were generated from binge: repeat playing the retro-angst, retro-irony, and retro-paranoia, paranoia, everybody’s coming to get me.
There’s one review of Harvey Danger in Rolling Stone that claims, essentially, that they were no different than a boy band assembled by lawyers, just playing at “alternative.” Nelson claimed that the band internalized all the self-doubt. Whether nationally or locally in Seattle, the band was met with widespread skepticism. As Nelson puts it, “there was still a stigma about major labels vs. indie labels, commercial vs. underground… there was some subtle indie-rock McCarthyism going on.” This is why even Weezer was cold-shouldered by alternative insiders.
Worst of all, "Flagpole Sitta," which was written for thirty-somethings wholly familiar with the music industry, found a young radio audience who couldn't detect the irony, the anti-earnestness. Nelson describes the disappointment of being approached after a show by a teenager who claimed to have pierced his tongue because of the song (“I want to pierce my tongue, it doesn’t hurt, it feels fine”). How many others must have published zines upon hearing this song. How many others must have raged against machines! Even if I wasn’t the intended audience of this song, it certainly played its small part in setting me on a path that, for this moment, loops back to the writing of this essay. How few songs from the nineties can still provoke me into thrash-mode in my bedroom. See me headbang-ing the mattress, whisper-screaming at the cat, throwing laundry like confetti. And when I catch my breath on the floor, see my boxer-briefs clinging to a fan paddle, I know: I’ve just sweated to the not-so-oldies.
As far as I can tell, the most recent example of stylitism is extreme ironing.
This fad’s every bit as look-at-me as Simeon, as Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly, as Harvey Danger. But it’s millennial, so fuck that.
As Nelson writes in Court and Spark, the mainstream made possible his love of Joni Mitchell, and of songwriting in general; this circuit completes with the ascent of his own single: “And let’s not forget that this whole scenario was made possible by the radio—possibly AM, probably top-forty, definitely commercial.”
I wonder if I encountered “Flagpole Sitta” while writing up my Simeon report that year, how close I might have come to detecting the convergence of the two fads. (Then again, maybe the saint report was in fifth grade, though I don’t think so.) I see Sean Nelson much like I see Simeon the Stylite and Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly, momentarily suspended above me, attracting wide attention before coming back down to little, maybe nothing. Though Simeon’s pillar has been crumbled by Russian jets and Shipwreck’s sits were swiftly forgotten due to the Depression, Nelson still has golden evidence that he was up there at the end of the millennium; he has confessed that, with some encouragement from his partner, his gold record hangs low on his apartment wall.
Lawrence Lenhart holds an MFA from the University of Arizona. His first essay collection is The Well-Stocked and Gilded Cage (Outpost19). His prose appears in Conjunctions, Fourth Genre, Passages North, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He is a profferer of fictions and essays at Northern Arizona University and a reviews editor and assistant fiction editor of DIAGRAM.