Anti-tainment is a staple of the cynical set, who love to go ten-pin bowling and make home recordings of country and western songs and have parties with themes like 70s One Hit Wonder Bands or Famous TV Sitcom Sidekicks, or dinner parties called Tastes Like Chicken, where all the dishes – chicken being banned – must follow that rule. They love nothing more than to hear that an obscure ’60s game-show host has been arrested in some compromising situation. They wish they could rent videos of The Gong Show or get the Bay City Rollers to reunite for an Irony Tour – and laugh that one of ‘the lads’ was caught molesting children. They loved scorning rich boys with eyebrow-rings: yeah man, I’m rebelling against the system which pays my parents a quarter mill a year!
To truly qualify as Anti-tainment, an activity must have three or more of the following characteristics:
1. Uneducated people must take it seriously
2. It must involve funny clothing (or that those who take it seriously wear funny clothing)
3. It must be impossible to meet anyone your own age there
4. No fashionable drinks
5. It must be cheap
6. And dated
7. Or dying out
8. And it must be anti-intellectual
Al was a music producer, and his son Iain was very much into Anti-tainment – to the point where Al found him raiding the back of his closet for flared pants and suit jackets with lapels wide enough that, with a good updraft, they could serve as an adequate hang-glider.
Iain’s group of friends were pretty, bitchy, and pursued affairs with each other with a grim lack of purpose, avoiding attachments, considering them pure sentimentality. They never spoke of morals, or love or truth or beauty; if they didn’t like an argument, they would say: ‘I just can’t buy it,’ as if belief were a mindless surrender to effective advertising. They decorated their rooms with B-movie posters and lava lamps and record sleeves from disco albums. They went out of their way to procure eight-track players. They dared each other with indifference. They loved ‘The Catcher in the Rye,’ then disparaged their own attachment, saying: we all wanted to be Holden Caulfield, until we realised we all wanted to be Holden Caulfield…
Iain was not the founder of the group, but joined it quite early. The leader, the most caustic acid test, was Rick’s son – and Sarah’s brother – Justin Tuttle.
Justin had first opened their eyes to the empty, bottomless pleasures of Anti-tainment. Anti-tainment was a staple of their social life, and they had pursued it for many a moon, but still felt that they had further to go. The evening of Southern Trucking Songs From The 1950s was close, but still…
One evening, Iain asked several of his friends to come by. He termed it Japanese Elvis Impersonator night, and they all came in sequins and black wigs and spoke in outrageous accents. Todd, Gerald, Chris, and the token female, Jeanine. Jeanine was a former tomboy, on the verge of outpacing her fading testosterone. She liked being the centre of attention.
They sat in the basement apartment, lounging on lozenge felt couches which looked as if they had been culled from the space station in ‘2001.’ None of them knew why they were there. They were all sixteen.
Iain got the festivities started, standing before a large object, which was draped in cloth.
“My friends,” he began, “we have searched many moons for the Original Cheese, and I believe I have discovered it.”
Todd smiled. “Christ, Iain, the Original Cheese is a myth.”
“Do you really think so?” asked Iain, his eyes gleaming. “I disagree. I think there is such as thing as pure cheese!”
“An idealist of cheese!” cried Gerald.
“The ideal cheese is aerosol cheese,” said Jeanine.
“Who was it,” said Chris, “who first looked at cheese and said: ‘You know what’s really missing from this food group? Propellants!’”
“Come on,” sighed Justin. “What’s under the cloth?”
“My friends!” cried Iain, pulling the cloth aside. “Behold!”
Justin leaned forward. “Karaoke,” he murmured, clearly disappointed.
“Home Karaoke!” cried Jeanine. “Bonus points, we must agree!”
Chris smiled. “Not bad, but it’s not the same without drunken Japanese businessmen singing ‘Wuv mee tenderrr, wuv me twuuu!’”
“Oh my dears,” said Iain, shaking his head sadly. “Do you think I call a mere Karaoke machine the heart and soul of all things cheesy? Would bowling be so without the shoes, the IPA beers, the fat guys with their names stitched on their backs, the rummy wheezing behind the counter, the late Jurassic fries? No. My friends: the essence of cheese is defined by an intersection of all that is cringe-worthy. These, my friends, are the instructions for this interstellar device!” He held up a pamphlet and read: “‘For Asians who want to learn the music of the home world, Karachi is proud to represent the Merry Sounds! Home Karaoke Machine. Learn the song as its airs to your friends families!’ No wait – wait! ‘How Japanese is sung from a bouncing ball of correct speech! Amaze your friends! Make family!’”
Todd clapped his hands together. “Make family!”
“‘Make family!’” panted Jeanine, in a parody of sexual desire. “I want to – borrow that microphone!” She squeezed her hands between her thighs, moaning. “Maybe all four.”
“Can I be the first bouncing ball of correct speech?” asked Gerald eagerly.
“This,” said Iain, holding up a thick, coil-bound book, “has phonetic Japanese lyrics, designed for non-Japanese speakers.” He grinned. “Now no true Japanese act is complete without backup singers.” He held up his microphones. “Who wants?”
Todd, Chris and Gerald all leaped up and took them.
Iain held the last one up. “Justin, this one is for you.”
“Because you do the best Elvis, Suspicious Mind.”
“All right,” said Justin, taking the microphone without getting up. “But if I am going to do this, I want a real challenge.” He paused for a moment, licking his lips, then nodded. “I will sing Japanese in the manner of a rural Kansas schoolgirl who has been possessed by Ed McMahon.”
“And is drunk!” cried Gerald.
“She’s from rural Kansas,” said Justin. “What’s the stretch?”
“She’s trying to sober up!” cried Jeanine.
“No – the DT’s!” shouted Todd.
“Yeah, that’s okay,” said Justin. He straightened and turned to Iain. “Hit it!”
The tinkly music filled the air, and the gruesome strains of a possessed Kansas schoolgirl – with the others on backup – filled the air.
Upstairs, Al was trying to read the paper. At times he might have found the demented din funny, but not tonight. Hysterical broken laughter rose, and he scowled.
After a few songs, Jeanine poked her finger at the book.
“Oooh! The Japanese version of ‘My Heart Does Go On!’”
“Is that really worth ridiculing?” asked Justin.
“In Japanese it is!”
Todd wiped his forehead. “Have you ever noticed how much it sounds like ‘my hot dogs go on?’”
“Or,” said Chris, adopting a French-Canadian accent, “I weesh my grandfa-der/husban’ would let me eat some-ting!”
“You really should thump your chest when you sing that,” said Iain.
“I swear to God she’s got a boob coming out her back by now,” said Jeanine.
“All right,” said Justin. “I will do ‘My Heart Does Go On’ in the style of Celine Dion.”
“How about the ‘Celine Dion Quintuplets?’” asked Gerald.
“Nah – you don’t get it,” said Justin. “You can only parody a parody by doing it straight. Come on – we were all in choir. Let’s do this mother right. Hit it.”
The strains of the song came up, and Justin opened his mouth, and then something quite remarkable happened.
Upstairs, Al sat bolt upright. His heart hammered painfully; the personal ads fell from his hands. In his whole life, he had heard that sound only once before, when he came across ‘Youth In Asia’ at an underage club. It was the sweetest sound that could inhabit his ears. It was not the sound of music, or art, or harmony. It was the sweet sound of money…
Downstairs, Jeanine found herself staring at Justin. Are my panties wet? He’s not even a man yet!
Iain stepped back from the machine, the hair on the back of his neck rising. That’s odd; I believe I have an erection.
Al started rushing down the stairs, then slowed, afraid to break the spell.
Justin’s head was thrown back, the song inhabiting his whole body. Every vibrato, every tone, every deep spell of yearning was pouring out of him, like a heart casting magic that could never be refilled.
“Jesus Christ!” whispered Al. This will be my next year at least…
When the song ended, there was a hush in the room. Justin shook himself like a wet dog and flopped on a sofa. “Oh hey Mr Music,” he said, glancing up at Al.
“What the fuck did you do?” whispered Jeanine, touching her thighs. “I’m going to have to buy them a new sofa!”
“What are you talking about?”
Al sat down. His hands were trembling. “You can really sing, Justin.”
“No, really man,” said Iain. “I’m sporting a rocket.”
Al swallowed, glancing around. “That’s you with bad sound. In my basement.”
“What are you saying, melody maker?”
“You’d never go for it. You’re too…”
“What, is no one going to say it?” demanded Jeanine.
“Say what?” asked Justin.
“Cut a fucking demo, Menudo! You’re shit-white!”
Justin snorted. “What?”
“No, she’s right,” said Al. “You have an incredible sound.”
“You should hear him after lentils,” said Todd.
“And you guys too – the harmonies are incredible!”
“What are you talking about?” asked Chris. “Just the product of Our Lady Of Perpetual Rehearsals.”
Al blinked. “This is so fucking ridiculous! I have acts come through my office, the fathers will sleep with me to get their kids noticed. And then you lot show up in my freaking basement, and I have no idea how to entice you!”
“Entice me?” asked Justin. “To do what?”
“To lead a boy band,” said Al.
There was a long pause.
“A boy band…” repeated Justin slowly.
“Holy shit!” said Iain.
“Better hurry, peach fuzz,” said Jeanine.
“My God,” whispered Chris.
The others leaned forward.
Justin blinked, then a slow smile spread across his face. “Now that, my friends, is Original Cheese!”