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Monday, January 26, 2009
Stephen Emmer feat. Lou Reed
Challenge : 2007
THE L TRAIN IS A SWELL TRAIN AND I DON'T WANT TO HEAR YOU INDIES COMPLAIN
Kranky : 2002
Island : 1985
Now Ben's gone and gotten me thinking about the train, the most metaphysical of conduits.
A train is a flightless airplane - the ostrich of the transport world.
A train is a car without options.
A train moves in one direction only - forward, into the future (how apt that a bride's trailing veil is called a train - the history she drags behind her as she crosses a threshold over which she'll never return).
A train is a machine made of time, its linked cars dividing it into discrete moments that roll onward, one after another; a train carries you forward without any effort on your part.
A train is a test tube and a womb and a loom, where threads converge via sheer proximity - a train is a tapestry of story.
Trains are repositories of romance, mystery, nostalgia, longing, boredom.
Trains are escape hatches, and cages.
There are books that engross me on trains that seem dull when I'm sitting still.
Trains are somehow excremental - above-ground trains show you the seamy hidden parts of your topograpahy; the blighted depots, the graffiti-scrawled outbuildings, the littered thruways of the world.
Underground trains rumble through bowels, below the congested consumption of cities; the underground train is the most metaphysical of trains - a tunnel within a tunnel.
"Train" also means "teach," and "focus."
Trains are made of tea and rain.
Trains are buses with one-track minds.
Trains might be late but always come.
Trains might be late but always leave.
My first travel by train was the best kind of travel by train - which is to say, European.
On that trip my friend and I rode trains like marathon runners run, which is to say, at great length, with a sort of jolly, self-immolating fortitude.
We took one train from Amsterdam straight to Sicily, which took at least 36 hours, and we didn't spring for any fancy sleeper car either - unlike the Amtrak, which lines up passengers in unidirectional rows, like people watching a movie, this train was broken up into four-seat compartments, with seats facing in pairs, making the experience less spectatorial and more parlor-esque.
If you fully recline two facing seats they form an almost-level surface on which one can rest. But we weren't much interested in sleep.
I will relate the texture of those journeys with a sort of staccato impressionism, because that's how they felt. The phrase "glide" will indicate interstitial moments of pure blank motile Zen. So:
Board and glide, looking at my dim reflection in a night-blackened window, a sense of streaming behind it, glide, hungrily devouring cheap junky snack cake proffered by matronly European lady concerned about these two young American boys in white t-shirts with no clear destination or impetus, despite small child's protestations at the consumption by strangers of his snack, glide, glide, being abruptly awoken by German border patrol in the confused darkness of early morning, having the pot we'd brought from Amsterdam confiscated amid grave threats (the promise of "dogs," the advice to relinquish now before it was "too late") that amounted to nothing, glide, the globe lights floating mistily above Utrecht on another dark morning, glide, glide, glide, smoking cigarettes out of windows labeled "No Smoking," the scrolling scenery itself seeming to tug at them, glide, briefly falling asleep with shoulder bag clutched to chest going through Italy, glide, waking up to an impossible dawn upon rolling Sicilian hills (dotted with distant white villas) to discover wallet gone, glide, finding wallet in washcloset trashcan, 50 Euro gone but debit card intact, glide, glide, glide.
These trains are my creation myth trains, from which all others will forever derive. The same way that Manhattan, the first real city I ever saw in person, will always be my Platonic city, of which all others are shadows.
Whereas my first train rides were pure myth, my subsequent ones have been more prosaic, with flashes of incident.
On a train from North Carolina to New York I sat beside a beautiful drag queen, with two teenage boys from Newark shooting me furtive, desperate glances, until finally she went to bathroom and they informed me to "be careful because she was a dude," apparently having mistaken my train-chatting for chatting-up (unlike airplanes, trains are inherently chatty, because you must have a good reason, an interesting story, for taking a train instead of a plane - except for metro trains, which are even less chatty than airplanes).
I have minded gaps on trains in London and watched gaps on trains in New York; I have indeed seen something but have not in fact said something.
I have longed for trains - for how they go, not where - and I have recorded the sound of the L train from Grand to Bedford, used the recordings to create a piece of music that sounds very much like trains and very much like hell.
Because there's no commuter rail where I live, trains for me are synonymous with long-distance travel or spending time in distant cities.
Trains are away or going away from me, or trains are enclosing me and taking me away; in this way trains can seem very much like life.
Most train songs are not really about trains.
Labels: brian, trains
posted by Brian
Monday, January 05, 2009
LIFE IS LONG
Brian Eno & David Byrne
Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
Todo Mundo : 2008
October before last, I spent a few weeks camping my way through California. At the end of this week, I'm preparing to do it again. Funny how life repeats like that - funny odd, not funny ha-ha. For me, to be aware of this repetition is to experience a complex, even contradictory, mixture of feelings - it's a comfort, and a curse. The idea of reliving a positive experience is at odds with the idea of reliving an experience, period, while un-lived experiences accumulate at an astonishing clip. How much human misery is predicated upon trying to capture some old feeling, or to regain some lapsed state of grace - trying to live in memory rather than the moment? Like, all of it? And why do we cling to outmoded lifestyles, even as we speak so knowingly of the law of diminishing returns?
Of course, this trip to California will not be a reenactment of my last trip to California. I'm a different person now than I was then, even at the minor distance of a year - hell, I'm a different person today than I was yesterday. The urge to recreate the wonder and sweetness of that trip, moment by moment, is something that can be kept at bay if I stay aware of it. This is important, because I want to know how California looks and feels to me right now, not try to remember how it looked and felt a year ago. (There's a photograph of me in the corner of my partner's bathroom mirror: I'm standing on a cliff, with my back to the camera, looking out over the sea. My arms are stretched over my head, my left hand clasping my right wrist, in a posture of relaxation and relief. That's the feeling I remember from California, and it's the one I'll be tempted to try and recapture, if I let the past infect the moment. It seems as if the only surefire way to access that feeling again is to avoid striving to do so, since there is no relief in trying to split off from the present-ness of one's being - this is to be a shimmering, vague creature, caught in memory's shifting currents and not laid into the groove of the day.)
A new year comes with a sense of renewal, as if somehow the slate has been wiped clean, but it can also draw the annularity of events into excruciating focus. Around this time of year, instead of enjoying my morning coffee ritual, a sense of futility can overtake me - how many mornings have I made coffee in just this way? On how many more will I do so? And this minor, irritating awareness of routine can swell up to envelop everything in my life. In this humor my progress through time and space begins to feel less like a forest path, which has a destination, and more like a high-school track, a closed loop where the same scenery rolls by again and again. I make my bold resolutions - STOP WATCHING A DOUBLE SHOT AT LOVE WITH THE IKKI TWINS - yet continue to fold my life into tight creases of convention. Rituals that usually comfort me come to seem constricting, pointless, inevitable.
This new-year's discomfort with ritual, I experience on a couple levels. One, the futility of relatively static rituals - how many more times will I have to brush my teeth in my life, and finally, will it be the sheer tedium that kills me? To brush my teeth in this state of mind is to take an unduly mechanistic view of the human experience. To be reminded of the body's increasingly time-intensive demands for simple maintenance, as life goes on, so the act of living becomes an algorithm whose only function is to sustain itself. I am not currently as depressed as this post makes me out to be - in fact, I'm quite happy right now, and excited about my trip. The life-fatigue I'm describing is not currently upon me - if it were, I wouldn't be able to describe it as calmly as I am right now.
My current happiness is enhanced by the fact that I am coming off a solid two-week stint of depression, though, and that depression had a lot to do with what I'm talking about today. It had to do with the second level of discomfort-with-ritual I alluded to above - the sadness of rituals which are preserved despite being untenable. The holiday time has been a difficult time for me, in recent years, and this is wholly a function of the past. Some of my warmest, happiest family memories are linked to my childhood holidays, which make the current state of my family's holidays seem sadder by comparison. My dad's father - a charming rake we called "Pop," a mischievous presence among a family gently inclined toward sanctimony - died a couple years ago, and my dad's mother, almost sightless now (whose library fueled my early adoration of books), lives alone. All three of my dad's brothers have now gotten divorces or separations, dividing my cousins among various households. My mom's mother, with whom I was very close as a child, is senile now, and the joy I used to feel in her presence has bent into a heartbreaking discomfort that I can't help but beat myself up over, even though it's understandably hard on anyone to see someone they love in such a state, trapped in vapors of the past, telling the same stories and asking the same questions over and over again. There's nothing exceptional about any of this, and as family crosses go, it's not too heavy to bear. But the fact remains that the 24 hours or so I spend among my extended family around Christmas leaves me feeling incredibly drained, painfully nostalgic, wary of the future toward which this all inevitably slides, and mired in my personal history. The passage is natural, the discomfort comes from locking oars against it, which some members of my family, especially my mother, are wont to do. I would feel a great pressure lifted from me if we could devise family rituals that suited who we are right now, instead of trying to squeeze our dynamic and habits into a shoe that wore out a long time ago. But not everyone is with me on this, so I find myself in the uncomfortable position of trying to be a man in a context where I'm expected, in some ways, to remain forever a child. My mother still gave my brother and I each a stocking full of candy until she finally gave it up just a couple years ago. My grandmother, through no fault of her own, asks me what Santa Claus is bringing me, and I think, "I'm almost thirty." Again, she can't help it - the past is where she lives now. But when she asks me, I feel the jolt of an outsized and poignant metaphor.
Labels: brian, repetition
posted by Brian
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
BTWN YOU + ME
Windy & Carl
Songs for the Broken Hearted
Kranky : 2008
THE THING WITH FEATHERS
The Woodpecker OST
Brookhaven/TuneCore : 2008
Keith Fullerton Whitman
Kranky : 2002
Today appears to lack characteristics. Gray, blank sky. Leafless trees - it's winter. Houses washed clean by last night's rain. I can't see them anyway - windows fogged with condensation from heater, behind closed Venetian blinds. (It's cold - cold enough to numb, but not to bite.) No cars on the street, just wetness and a dull shine. The power went over night and my clock flashes 12:00, 12:00, 12:00. My books look like, just, objects. Every story the same: The tower is visible but inaccessible. The flaming horses run into the waves. The hero returns from the mountaintop only to sink into iniquity. Amado Vazquez will fall in orchids and bloom again in Malibu. My instruments struck deaf and dumb. I tried to send a Facebook message and the "Send" key didn't respond, as if my cursor were just a decoration. I'm monochromatic in black shirt and black pants. My neighbors sold their house and it's emptier than empty. My paintings look like accidents. I can see the white wall behind them. I don't have any lights on and the room is washed in dim white light. The heater's hum is voracious and empty. The phone book in the drawer is a cemetery, except portable and helpfully indexed. The world is around me but not within me. My mind a coastline vanishing into a bank of fog. No opinions, only aphorisms. This state is eternal and it will pass. I will shift again and click back into the pattern. Or so the pattern has showed me in the past. But for now I walk the road without characteristics. That road is short and never ends. My mind is voracious and empty. Things pass through it and leave no trace. I pass through things and leave no trace. My messages are not being delivered. No mail today either. If I touch the window will I leave a fingerprint? I thought and thought about what to write and found only a void. Write the void.
Sometimes I wonder where I go. Always up or down. My mind radiant with good or filled with dark birds whom I love, and do not know. I know it's me that's moving because the world is still there - but remote, as if at a distance of years. Or abstract like math - infinite half-spans between wall and wall, always one more to close. Impossible to cross the room. If you're reading this post, either we're both dreaming or we're both awake. Today I am not sure that's true. It doesn't seem far-fetched to me that I might be blogging from someone's dream. If the world is still here and I am not in it but not beyond it, where am I? Quite literally lost in thought. As if under glass today. Noticing odd details that amount to nothing. The dust remover I use to clean my computer contains an agent called "Bittergent," to deter me from inhaling it. A small mound of rubber bands on my desk reminds me of Robert Smithson's "Spiral Jetty." One of my walls is covered with what appear to be footprints. The grain of my desk alternates light and dark and resembles a plowed field viewed from high above. The letters "P L E" are vanishingly carved into the railing of my porch. My keyboard's cord is tangled around it in a way that depresses a couple keys - a partial D minor - a silent dirge latent in the air. Each of these details containing a thought, a post, a poem, a story, a novel, an encyclopedia. But, lacking characteristics, I can't interpret these messages. They notice me and move on. Each an aleph. But not today. I hear the drone of an absent chord. I should inhale dangerous chemicals. Calamity would be good for me. But I'm too quiet for calamity right now. I feel so disconnected from my actions that I wonder if I carved "P L E" into the porch myself. No evidence today that my actions connect - to each other, to the world, to my memory. I wonder if I was going to write "PLEASE." I wonder what I was asking for, and from whom. I could write poems if I would let myself. Idleness is the leading cause of poetry in white males. But the world seems coiled like a serpent, slumbering. Best not to prod it.
Today I crave music of pristine blankness. Music without characteristics. Windy & Carl are a married couple who've been making ambient and shoegaze music together for a long time. They recorded Songs for the Broken Hearted during a period of unspecified sadness. But I'm not interested in sadness today. It's the disconnection that, weirdly, I connect to. Carl made the music in one room, and it sounds like the world slipping free from its moorings, the dark field beyond it gusting in. Windy recorded the vocals in another room, mining her journals for grist. Like a small figure with a lantern, searching for Carl through an impenetrable murk. You can leave a room but the wall remains. Today I feel as if I could move to the perimeter of the world and find a barrier of sheetrock at each end - can't get out of the wall. And there's James Lavino's soundtrack for The Woodpecker, in which he hollows out every genre he can think of, rendering each as a profoundly formal exercise. Music with sense but no meaning. Then things get really endgamey with Keith Fullerton Whitman, into whose music everything else funnels down. It's the hum at the root of consciousness. My mood condensed into barely audible form, not so much filling the blankness in the air as giving it contour, color, shape.
And suddenly through this shape an opening resolves. The day's soupy mass fragments into vectors of possibility. Because boredom is always a failure of imagination, and the blankness of this music, giving form to my own, stirs my imagination in a way that seemed impossible moments ago. What if I were to turn on the radio, and sit amid a gray tide of music and voices. What if a few notes of jazz pierced my sternum, opening a dark blossom inside my chest. And what if I opened the blinds, and saw dark blossoms blowing slowly over the horizon. Now we are getting somewhere. Time returns - the faucet drips the minutes, the heater hums the hours. The dark blossoms becoming entangled in the piano wire woven through the trees. My mind stirring. A red phone in a dish of milk rings. I find a brightly wrapped package inside my piano. When I shake it, I can hear the skitter of little talons inside. My cheeks puff out and I draw a long black stocking out of my mouth. A voice wells up from the radio, proclaiming, Get your heart down out that tree, Reverend, and sing! The world returns if you can part enough veils. Important to remember that a void is not a thing but the absence of things. And this world contains no shortage of things, we can touch them and move them. This is a reminder. Writing happens against all odds. It just did. I am thinking again. I can move. I am opening the blinds.
Labels: brian, nothing
posted by Brian
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
CUT YOUR HAIR
Together with Cats
Exit Stencil Recordings : 2006
My hair is getting long again. I get it cut maybe three or four times a year. The asymmetrical style I favor starts tight and slick, then grows shaggy and amorphous. There's always an awkward period when it just sort of hangs over my forehead, until it gets long enough to tuck behind an ear. Eventually I begin to roughly prune it with cheap scissors - hacking out a section of bangs to give it some angle, trimming it off my neck, where it tends to flip up like a duck's tail when it gets too long. Now I have to wear a hat or pin it back when I sit on the floor to make things, so I can see. That means it's time for a trim. Yet I put it off. Is it overly dramatic to mention that every haircut brings us closer to the end of something? It is. And everything brings us closer to the end of something - of life, if you want to go that far. But for some reason, the haircut cycle draws me into a sharper awareness of the widening past and narrowing future than any of my other numberless cycles. I go in to the salon in one guise and come out in another, with a sense of eternal advance and retreat, a few steps foward and a few steps back....I find myself touching my hair a lot when I'm nervous, or anxious. It probably always looks the same to other people, but to me it looks different every day, depending on level of cleanliness, how I slept on it, how it dried after my shower. I don't even own a comb or brush. My blow dryer's only for drying paintings. I like to let my hair express itself. I look at it in mirrors and this is partially due to vanity, but not entirely.
How do you all feel about about your hair? Right now, I feel like my hair is a reflection of my interal weather, and right now, my hair feels like it's made up of different zones, like it has modules, separate modules that interact. It's modular. But I'm thinking about your hair too. It's not just my own hair I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about your hair and how it makes you look - it's making you look like some kind of person - and no, not everyone's hair is modular, but mine is, right now. You know how they say the eyes are the window to the soul. Well I feel like, maybe, for me, right now, it's....hair. (But when my bangs are long and it's too dark for sunglasses and I feel as if my eyes are giving away too much, I can let my hair fall over them like a curtain over a window.) So I was thinking about how my hair felt and this is how I got to thinking about how one's hair feels. For me, it feels like something that I can't quite put into place, something that's ajar, and that kind of reflects when I turn inward, that feeling of trying to smooth everything into place, but you smooth one thing down and something else - boing! - sticks straight up? That's why I'm thinking so hard about hair. It has important ramifications.
PULL MY HAIR
Letting Off the Happiness
Saddle Creek : 1998
When I was around 7, I had a rat-tail; it curled in a little corkscrew, more like a pig's tail. In the age of Nirvana, I had that ghastly undercut style, where it's shaved on the sides and back but long on top - a weird mullet/bowl-cut hybird. Around the end of high school, I started coloring my hair with Manic Panic - blue, green, red, teal, and finally, black. I wore it black for quite a while. During this black period I got a tattoo on my back of a comic book character called Grendel, a ninja-black avatar of malevolence, bowing on my shoulderblade with menacing elan. I wore black t-shirts and a black leather jacket, black leather wristbands and black studded belts. I dropped out of college and graduated to permanent black hair dye, rich with exotic chemicals, and eventually developed an allergic reaction to it. My head broke out in supperating sores that didn't go away, for months. I kept going to dermatologists and they kept telling me to put a hot towel on it. No one suggested I might be allergic to the hair dye, which strikes me as gross negligence; then again, it didn't occur to me either. This was a terrible period for me. I was constantly uncomfortable and gross-feeling, my black hair matted with pus at the roots. This was the same time period during which my first semi-adult, "I love you" long-term relationship was unraveling. The woman I was with said the "head-rot" (that's what we called it, the "head-rot" - in this period of my life, all was black comedy to me) changed me forever. The head-rot finally went away after I shaved my head in desperation, and while my scalp corrected itself, the relationship did not. Now I don't even use any product in my hair, and I wear it natural - a dirty blonde, like a pale reflection of the blazing-white hair of my childhood.
MY IMPURE HAIR
4AD : 2007
Do you think about what you look like when you think about your hair? Ok, let me amend the question - can you? Can you think about what you look like when you think about your hair. You have to ask yourself that question. I can't answer it for you. If I could answer that, it would mean you where thinking about me. Not thinking about your hair, but thinking, what does Brian want from me? When all I'm asking you to do is think about what you look like when you think about your hair. And has it ever looked exactly the way it looks right now. Will it ever again.
Hair is obviously complicated - it's made of these tiny particles I can't even fathom and grows right up out of my head, like thoughts. But it's really simple too. It's hair. It frames your face. It signals your social proclivities. Gets in your mouth when you have sex. Now we are weighing hair's pros and cons. Pro: frames your face. Con: causes deep existential uncertainty. As far as I'm concerned, the hair, the face - all of it - are natural phenomena. I'm content to let those be. It's thinking about hair that gives me pause. I mean hair pertains across all social strata, but that's not really what I'm talking about. I'm not thinking, does my hair look cool? Is it fashionable? Or even, what kind of person does my hair make me feel like? I'm thinking about the fact that I'm cognizant of not asking those questions, I don't not know that I'm not asking those questions. I know those questions exist, and I'm not asking them. The question I am asking has something to do with existence and can somehow be expressed through the lens of hair, although hair is just the thing I've latched on to right now. Simple question: Think about what you look like when you think about what your hair looks like and how you feel about your hair. Tell me.
Latched on to, ha! More like it's latched on to me.
Labels: brian, hair
posted by Brian
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
TO ABSENT VOTERS
:CHANGE GONNA COME
,TODAY IS THE DAY
,A MEANINGFUL MOMENT THROUGH A MEANING(LESS) PROCESS[download tracks above]
TO ABSENT VOTERS
The LucksmithsSpring a Leak
Matinee : 2007[Buy It]
CHANGE GONNA COME
Otis ReddingOtis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul
Rhino : 2008[Buy It]
TODAY IS THE DAY
Yo La TengoToday is the Day
Matador : 2003[Buy It]
A MEANINGFUL MOMENT THROUGH A MEANING(LESS) PROCESS
Stars of the LidAnd the Refinement of Their Decline
Kranky : 2007[Buy It]
On Tuesday I woke up feeling so unloved that I decided to build a war in a bottle, to occupy my mind. I cleared the debris from my drafting table with a sweep of my arm: Bristol board, t-square, protractor, compass, pencil and fountain pen, tallow and wick, all clattered down into a great unruly pile on the floor. I assembled my materials around me: the bottle (faint whiff of rotten milk), the long thin implements, the model glue (a sniff here and there, for inspiration), the jeweler's loupe, the preassembled pieces (tabs already punched and folded, slots already spread and slotted), the headlamp and desklamp, the little tubes of brightly colored enamel, the wire brushes, the metal scraps, the ashtray, the crumpled pack of unfiltered Pall Malls, the strike-anywhere matches, the bourbon and snifter, the coffee and cakes. Leaning over the drafting table, wearing the loupe and headlamp, hands steadied by nicotine and caffeine, head fortified with bourbon and glue, I slid the long thin implements into the bottle and began to erect (carefully, carefully) the masts and sails, the concertina wire and sandbags, the anchors and gallows, the snares and trumpets, the standards and coats-of-arms, the light bulbs and halos, the monocles and gold braid, the fiber optic bundles and bales of twine, the golden arches and red crosses, the crab grass and grids, the loamy smell of swing sets, the black eggs and blue shields, the encyclopediae and cyclone fences, the snakes of Iceland and the ice of Snakeland, the unfinished bridges and flying buttresses, the helices of debt and ownership, the NO TRESSPASSING signs and bicycle chains, the fumes of munificence, the oubliettes of credit and the bores that drill them deeper, the president, the president's dog (reliable companion in times of universal strife), the president's faith, the Old Testament and the New Deal, Alaska and Russia, the red states and the blue, the white houses and the black, the volcanoes and horsts, the cirri and contrails, the weather reports (ignorable evidence of divine impartiality), the almanacs and oracles, the morning papers and evening news, the blogs and mp3 aggregators, the op-ed pages, the Atlantic and the Pacific, the ironclad ships idling in pools of offal, the buried pipelines, the independent security contractors (new cowboys of the civilized range), the baroque, the romantic, the modern, the national anthem and John Cage's prepared piano, the aleatoric explosions, the strike-anywhere ordnance, the zithers and lutes, the wolf intervals and pink noise, the lenses and celluloid, the maltese-cross-and-pin rigs, the aspect ratios and maskings, the particle accelerators and atom smashers, the light and the motes of dust, the cycles of punishment and largesse, the stochastic spin of warfare, meteorology, and rhetoric, the mavericks and messiahs, Wall Street and Main Street, the ivy and vines, the rhetors and their cunning devices (spinning against a larger spin), the postal workers and their intrigues, the comptrollers and rural dioceses, the impotent rage of the service class, the crowds and their madness, the salvation by fire, the burning effigies and subterranean cells, the devout and their terrible conviction, the evangelicals in eelskin boots, the polymers and carcinogens, the white rap critics, the dangling chads and butterfly ballots (mostly Question Marks, Monarchs, and Mourning Cloaks), the great funnel clouds of money, the effervescent rain of money, the stormy lakes and fiery pits of money, the skulls, the ulnae and tibiae, the catacombs of surveillance, the windmill farms and emission offsets, the sun and the moon, the chicken sexers and internet poets, the solar panels and mall photographers, the hall of mirrors, the glass in the hall of mirrors, the silvering on the glass in the hall of mirrors, my nested reflections in the silvering on the glass in the hall of mirrors, the nested reflections of the bottle, the nested reflections of the long thin implements, &c. When I stood back to see what I had wrought, I thought it pretty fine as wars go and named it "Snakeland." Critics, however, have pointed out (repeatedly, with glee) that there are no snakes in Iceland
HELLO PEOPLE OF NEW YORK CITY AND ENVIRONS: We have a special Moistworks announcement. Regular contributor Ben Greenman will be celebrating the release of his fancy new limited-edition, handcrafted, letter-press book Correspondences at the Tenement Museum (108 Orchard Street) at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 6. Ben will read, along with Arthur Nersesian and Todd Zuniga. Come one, come all.
Labels: brian, war
posted by Brian
Monday, September 29, 2008
Rune Grammofon : 2007
Hefty : 2006
Bonnie "Prince" Billy
Lie Down in the Light
Drag City : 2008
"It's the other one, it's Borges, that things happen to."
-Jorge Luis Borges, from "Borges and I"
It's the other one, it's Howe, that things happen to. I sit on my porch in Durham and pause, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the portcullis of the house next door or a hummingbird alighting on a chestnut tree. News of Howe reaches me through Technorati and I see his name on an indie rock blog or in a bio line in a poetry journal. I like detuned pianos, handmade books, postwar minimalism, the taste of coffee, and Borges's prose. The other one shares these predilections with me, but in an ostentatious way that converts them to the label tags of a blogger. It would be too much to say that our relationship is hostile; I live, I allow myself to live, so that Howe may contrive his pop criticism and that pop crit subsidizes my existence. I do not mind confessing that he has managed to write some passable words, but those words cannot save me, perhaps because the best part no longer belongs to anyone, not even to the other one, but rather to the English language or to commerce. Otherwise, I am destined to be free, definitively, and only a few scraps of me will persist in the other one. Hand over fist I am yielding him everything, although I am well aware of his perverse habit of obfuscating and overwriting. Spinoza held that all things long to preserve their own nature: the word processor wants to be a word processor forever and the CV, a CV. But I must live on in Howe, not in myself--if indeed I am anyone--though I recognize myself less in his reviews than in his poems, or than in the revelatory glissando of a harp. In recent years I have tried to free myself from him and I passed from technology- and process-based texts to poems of metaphysics and intuitions, from reviews of music to reviews of books and video games and films and visual art, but those games are Howe's now, and I will have to conceive something new. Thus my life is running away, and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to the other one.
I do not know which of us two is appropriating this page.
Labels: brian, homage
posted by Brian
Monday, September 15, 2008
THE BULL WHO KNEW THE RING
Soft Abuse : 2006
This old bull life, once you knew the ring
Kick it back down, open up & sing
Bring me one last song for charity
This old boat ain't gonna make it out to sea.
-Cayce Lindner, ???-2007
One never knew, after all, now did one now did one now did one.
-David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008
I am not sure where to begin. All morning, I've been procrastinating - compulsively checking emails, doing my stretches, making a slow lunch, balancing my check book. I'm all out of procrastination. Something needs to be said but I'm still unsure what it is. Let's start here, just to get the page moving:
On Saturday night, I was drinking a glass of wine at a cafe, killing time before a dance party. My phone vibrated in my pocket - a text message. I opened it, expecting a "you out tonight?" or a "call me." I was not expecting this: "david foster wallace killed himself yesterday." I felt something big and dark and ominously winged land upon my chest. I didn't get it. What was it supposed to mean? Some kind of sick joke?
I scrolled down. The message was from one of my editors at a local paper - not the sickly joking type. I walked back inside, jaw swinging loosely. My partner Ashley saw my face and said, "what," alarmed. My jaw was not responding. I held up the phone, with the message. "Are you okay?" she said.
I didn't feel okay. This is starting out all wrong. This is not about me. But I didn't feel okay. I've been vaguely affected by the deaths of celebrities and artists before - Tupac, Biggie, Cobain - but I've never felt the visceral response that I've heard people describe, until now. What I felt in those instances seemed more symbolic than visceral, an awareness of some turning point that affected me more on an academic than a visceral level. Does this sound cold? I don't know how to properly grieve for people I've never met. I don't know why Wallace's self-inflicted death should be realer to me and more demanding of comment from me than, say, the 25 people killed against their will in the recent train crash outside of Los Angeles. This is starting out all wrong. It isn't about me, or shouldn't be.
David Foster Wallace has hanged himself. His wife found him. Grief belongs to her, and his parents, and his friends. My grief is inconsequential, and spectral, and real. He was my favorite writer. I don't mean this to denote simple admiration, and I don't mean it in a way that projects the idea that I'm the type of person who likes David Foster Wallace to the world. This is more personal. I don't want to write an obituary, which pretends to objectivity. I don't want to write his story, which is not mine to tell, and which is hidden from me. This is about me, even if it shouldn't be. Let me make this clear. Wallace's death is about him and his family and friends. This is about me - this post. It's about whatever emulsion of Wallace came alive in the crucible of me, and became me. It's a selfish thing to write about. But suicide is a selfish act. We're all selfish. Wallace's death isn't about me. But this is. It's all I've got.
I discovered his books in my late teens. I'd dropped out of art school, having survived a convulsive teenage period of dark nihilism, dark drugs, dark metamorphosis. I was coming back into the light. I hungered for a literature I intuited but did not know. I was reading a lot of Vonnegut, which was close but not quite the cigar I was looking for. One day, in the library, I discovered Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Wallace's second story collection. I got it because the pages looked crazy and the blurbs sounded crazy. I read it, and it was crazy. I felt as if smoke were coming out of the top of my head. In hindsight, it's not surprising that the idea of narratives coming apart would appeal to someone who'd been through a long phase where every narrative he knew seemed to come apart. This was the beginning of something.
Then I read Infinite Jest and it changed me forever. It made me moody and troubled and alive. It made me simultaneously know that I wanted to be a writer, and despair of ever doing so. Nevertheless, I became a writer. Now I've read Infinte Jest three or four times. It's hard to say that without sounding as if you're bragging, because of that book's reputation for difficulty and pretentiousness, which it does not deserve. It is such a human and humane and generous book. It wasn't a War and Peace or Ulysses kind of thing for me, a badge of honor or improving ordeal. It was bread and water, sustenance. Every time I reach the end of its thousand-odd pages, I wish there were more. It makes me greedy. It's a place I love to go, and that I long to fathom more fully. Each time, it cores me and razes me and gestures toward rebuilding me. Everything's in it.
Most importantly, it contained a mind that I seemed to recognize in some fundamental way: something inside of me coming weirdly from outside of me, a crossing of that Self/Other divide that so heavily informed Wallace's writing and, one presumes, demise. That this sense of deep identification was unilateral seemed beside the point: in my inner life, which is to say, my real life, it was real. This voice became a part of me. In spending time with it I felt as if I were spending time with myself - my sometimes-cripping self-consciousness (the animating force of Wallace's brilliance), my complex relationship with irony and fear of desire, the idea of digression as some sort of release valve, a venting of some kind of inner infinity that feels like a pressure, and a winding path leading to infinity as well. All of this I recognized before I could articulate it. What does this have to do with Wallace's life and death. This is going poorly. Try again.
I devoured the essay collections and discovered I wanted nothing more than for editors to send me to obscure events and pay me to write "long directionless essay-ish things." I ironically attended a Poison concert, then went home and wrote a discursive twenty-page essay about it, complete with artlessly long title and copious footnotes. "And but so's" began to sprout in my prose like weeds. My friend and I optioned Girl With Curious Hair for a film we never made. In the essays, particularly in the essay E Unibus Pluram, I discovered Mark Leyner and John Barth and Don DeLillo and Max Apple, and for many years postmodernism and metafiction became my obsession. I read his essay on David Lynch and suddenly got Lynch in a way I hadn't before; a filmmaker I'd been simply intrigued by became, over the course of years, one of my favorite artists ever. Understand this: I was changed. Wallace was a route into things that were already waiting for me, which I did not yet know. But this is starting out all wrong. None of this is the point. (Why should there be a point? People die.) Try again.
David Foster Wallace has hanged himself. I am shocked but not surprised. I've never been able to fathom how he lived inside of that mind, never at rest, always chasing itself in a deep involuted spiral. I don't want to slip into an easy, Beautiful Mind type narrative - Wallace frantically inscribing equations on a window, tortured to death by his own brilliance, it's too much, it supposes too much, and Wallace himself derided this narrative in his pop-bio on Georg Cantor and the concept of infinity. I don't think his death is a symptom of his writing but I suspect his writing is a symtom of his death. It's hard not to. He was a math wonk and math wonks cater to this image, they seem to know too much stuff that's useful for so little. The sound of math and the sound of a mind devouring itself are the same. I think of a machine, humming and ticking in a depopulated void. This is an easy narrative. I'm trying to avoid it and slipping into it. Back up.
I wrote a review of his third story collection, Oblivion. This part is about me. A palette cleanser before we try again. Here's something I said:
Oblivion is a difficult book, and will be frustrating to some readers. Many fiction writers take a narrative arc, then pepper it with details at intermittent points along its length to engender a sense of self-containment and completion. Wallace excises a small segment of a narrative arc, and then packs it with a dense accretion of detail (with strategic omissions that befuddle and inclusions that seem, at first, meaningless to the narrative). Traditional fiction seeks to create an illusion of contiguity in the haphazard events of our lives; Wallace undermines the illusion of sequential narrative by filling a time-span with facts that often refuse to cohere as neatly as we're conditioned to expect.
I still think that's pretty good, as a description of how Wallace's writing works. I don't want this to be an opportunity for me to flex my writing muscles, in that vaguely seamy and selfish way that postmortem considerations frequently are. But I don't want Wallace to be dead either. Nevertheless, here we are.
But think about seeing the world that way, all the time. I am dangerously close to slipping into the tortured genius narrative. It is seductive, and he was a genius, and by all appearances somewhat tortured. It's drawing a firm connection that's problematic. I don't want to impose this narrative on someone who relentlessly exploded packaged narratives. When who knows what forces prevailed upon his private life, hidden from the fictions and essays. Who know what dark whirlpool of diabolical chemicals surged in his brain. I am trying to write about an event I cannot know, and so it keeps trying to be about me. Once more, with feeling...
Re-read the essays and remember how fucking funny Wallace was - uproariously, laugh out loud, never-forget-the-image-or-turn-of-phrase funny. That's part of what I don't get - he seems too funny to die. Does that make sense? That the harrowing and the hilarious seemed to perfectly coexist in his writing, and that his unflagging humor seems like it should have kept him afloat? That's it's hard to fathom intentionally leaving a world that is so funny and so interesting and so horrible? That time is pain and death is the absence of time, that death is not long but more than long - timeless - and that time is precious, as is pain, being so brief against the timelessness of death? I know a bit about dread and intuit things about death, but I'll stick around as long as the world is still funny and painful, which it is. But what am I talking about? This part is about me in a way that it really shouldn't be. Start over, try again.
It just so happens that I - damn it, there's that "I" again - go ahead - see where it goes. It just so happens that I was re-reading Wallace's first novel, The Broom of the System - definitely a young man's book, which he wrote in his early twenties, but a better and more audacious book than most writers get to create in a lifetime - at the time of his auto-apocalypse. I read some of it on Friday and some of it today; it's not the same book that it was on Friday. Now, it's like reading a library copy that someone has highlighted in (which, side note, drives me fucking bonkers - I don't write in my own books and definitely can't read one someone else has written in) - emphases are shifted, passages become stupidly portentous. Suicide is an oblierative act, cruel to friends and family - I am not here to judge, but it is cruel, say that - which obliterates totally, reverberating like an endless bell through every corner of the departed's life and work. So this morning I open The Broom of the System and read passages like
...[W]e each ought to desire our own universe to be as full as possible, that the Great Horror consists in an empty, rattling personal universe, one where one finds oneself with Self, on one hand, and vast empty lonely spaces before Others begin to enter the picture at all, on the other.
I mean come on. Come the fuck on. This is too poignant and too easy, bathetically leaping off the page. But maybe it absolves me for this abortive post. Maybe Wallace would understand that I can only filter this through my empty, rattling personal universe, and that this is an attempt, like all of my writing, to pierce that veil of solipsism, which is so prominently explored in his writing and seems so inextricably linked to his death. This latter might not be true. I am talking about appearances and symmetries. Because that's what we're left to sift through. At any rate, if you read the story "Good Old Neon," you have to surmise that Wallace is somewhere or in some state now where he could really give a damn about how a stranger handles his death - he is no longer a whitecap, he has sunk into the benevolent simultanaeity of the sea. This is his image. It's a poor thing to wield someone's images against them, or to use them to explain them. But the instinct is understandable. It's all we have left.
It's terribly tempting to root through Wallace's writing for clues as to how he reached the point the reached - tying the knot, slipping it around...no. That's too much. This is not a tabloid. But it's hard not to think about. He was so fucking funny! Go back to the books. Read them like a detective, it's okay - we can't really help ourselves. Read "Good Old Neon". Think about the narrator's last afternoon, and Wallace's awareness of the pathos of it, as he rehearses all the acts he's performing for the last time. Think about Wallace's benevolent view of death and suicide and hidden inner feelings of fradulence in that story. Try to make it connect to what happened. Don't feel as if he was trying to warn us of anything, unless that's how you feel, which is fine. I don't think it was a warning or a cry for help. Threads were converging. Clouds gathering. Cosmic billiards ricocheting. That's it.
Read "Suicide as a Sort of Present." Try not to groan at the irony, or become angry, unless you feel angry, which is okay. Fucking Didion has manged not to pull the plug, and she... no. Don't. Read "Suicide as a Sort of Present." But try not tarry in that story for too long - it's a dead end, and it's dangerous. Counterweight it with "Death is Not the End." Now we are doing math. We are balancing an equation. Don't expect this to mean anything (this isn't about me, but I'm talking to myself, here). Read "The Depressed Person." Try to imagine that this is not his own mind he's describing, trapped in an endless spiral of solipsism and need. But then try to imagine what it means for a mind to imagine a mind, and think about whether or not there's a meaningful difference, between that, and being that mind. Remember that some of the most vivid passages in Infinite Jest described the texture of depression, a great dark winged shape pressing down. It's only natural for us to do this. But we shouldn't believe we know too much. It's too easy. Suicide is one ultimate mystery. The connection between a writer and reader is another. This is going poorly because I'm threatening to make it all sound simpler and easier than it is. I always thought writing was a bulwark for him, against the self-obliteration that always seemed the logical conclusion of his uncanny self-consciousness. I don't believe it's that simple but it's how I feel. This is getting too profound. I chose the picture of him I like best, from the Infinte Jest flap, with the bandana and the gauzy downcast expression. This is too sentimental. I don't know him. Stop trying. Simmer, in your mind. Feel don't think. Grieve for his friends and family in whatever abstract way you can. Know that he's fine now - whatever plagued him in life is over, and he's rejoined the greater flow. Try not to think about the moment of (Ben's phrase) "terrible clarity," it's too much like a movie, which is false. Know that he's fine now. Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel, and reconcile yourself to never knowing. Be quiet and small. Read the books. Let the equation remain unbalanced. Read, feel, grow. Be well. Do not say anything sentimental like "Goodbye, David." That is false. The books are still here, and the books are all you've ever known. Keep writing. Laugh at things that are funny; this is so important. Appreciate the people you know. Don't close on a poignant note. You've already gotten too fucking poignant with that Flying Canyon song, as if any two suicides were alike. Quote a passage. Choose one that isn't sentimental or poignant. Discover that this is, suddenly, impossible. Do it anyway:
A RADICALLY CONDENSED HISTORY OF POSTINDUSTRIAL LIFE
When they were introduced, he made a witticism, hoping to be liked. She laughed extremely hard, hoping to be liked. Then each drove home alone, staring straight ahead, with the very same twist to their faces.
The man who'd introduced them didn't much like either of them, though he acted as if he did, anxious as he was to preserve good relations at all times. One never knew, after all, now did one now did one now did one.
Labels: brian, david foster wallace
posted by Brian
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Island : 1983
Non Plus Ultra
Paralogy : 1998
PEOPLE, THE VEHICLES
We, the Vehicles
Flameshovel : 2006
Most mornings, I roll out of bed between 9:30 and 11:00, depending on whether I managed to get to sleep around 1:00 a.m. (early for me) or closer to 3:00 a.m. (more typical). My room has one big window, with a giant blue-green curtain covering the Venetian blinds. On sunny days, the light shining through the blinds and curtain conspire to make my room feel dim but shimmery, blue-tinted, like an aquarium. This pleases me. I get up and restore order to my apartment while I boil water for coffee: put away the paints and brushes strewn about, stow away musical equipment, wash cheese-and-cracker residue off of a plate. I straighten up whatever chaos I'd left behind in the night, because in the morning, I crave order and symmetry. By the time I finish the kettle is singing, and I fill up my water bottle, pour my coffee, gather books and magazines and notepads, and walk onto the porch. It's a wraparound porch, with cracking off-white paint and tapered columns, two of which frame a vista - the house across the street, the road and the tops of the cars parked there, with a frame of bushes and trees and snaking ivy - a vista I've looked at often enough that it has assumed the solidity and formal elegance of a painting to me.
There are a number of other factors that govern my waking time, most of them having to do with people, with the intrigues of coexisting with them. One of my neighbors runs a daycare center out of her home, and sometimes I'm roused by the cries of children who have perhaps been served Kool-Aid and Pop Tarts for breakfast. The sonic character of the play of children in communal, parentless situations resembles that of a horror-movie sanitorium: there are cries, meaningless screams, demented fragments of song and impromptu percussion, atavistic chants. I like children but find them frightening in these petri dish situations.
On Thursdays I typically wake up earlier than I'd like because of the garbage and recycling and yard waste trucks clamoring in the streets. Or sometimes, the young home-owning Republicans across the street (I do not know these people, but because of certain contextual cues - an American flag on the porch, a home security sign on the lawn, an undue obsession with home-and-yard maintenance, and a businesslike efficiency of interaction with each other - I mentally regard them as "the young home-owning Republicans"), rouse me with weedeaters and mulchers and lawnmowers, which they deploy around the crack of dawn because, one presumes, you've got to stay on top of these things lest they spiral out of control. I do not like these people, whom I do not know. I wonder if it ever occurs to them that deploying gas-guzzling, emission-spewing, incredibly loud machines at 8 in the morning, in the service of esoteric cosmetic imperatives, has more to do with sociopathy than civic responsibility. I feel bad about myself for disliking them without knowing them, and worse for feeling certain that, having seen me on my porch, frivously reading my books and drinking my coffee well past noon, they dislike me as well.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who believe that there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who do not. In the morning, when I get woken up too early by a weedeater, I am one of the former. I think that I am the kind of person who stays up late chasing ephemeral intuitions, and that these neighbors are the kind of people who get up early chasing pragmatic ones. I feel as if some fundamental schism in our worldviews is being illustrated, as in a parable. There is something imperialistic about early-morning, noisy lawn care: you're keeping up your home and letting the whole neighborhood know, almost like a challenge. Meanwhile, I paint in silence. In the mornings I am generally optimistic but can easily tilt into unease and misanthropy, if I have the wrong kind of interaction with someone, and these interactions can be very abstract, not requiring actual contact. I worry about the people around me, and how we relate to each other. My way of being can come to seem furtive and strange to me. I find myself mentally referring to the people who comprise my surroundings as "these humans," a self-excluding formulation that shocks me when it floats into my mind.
I worry that the mailman does not like me, though I've seldom stopped to consider whether or not I like the mailman. He refuses to take a letter I'm trying to mail if I put it inside the box - it just sits there, for days. I have to put any letter I want to mail in the curved metal arms depending from the bottom of the box, where it's threatened by wind and rain and I have to keep checking to make sure it hasn't blown away until he comes to take it. To me this seems unreasonable on the mailman's part - the letter is clearly stamped and printed with my return address, and I feel as if he's being a bit Draconian in adhering to mail-delivery protocols. I feel certain this is a sort of tacit revenge on me for regarding him, simply, as "the mailman." I would like to invite him to have a cup of coffee with me and find out about his family, his fantasy football league, his bachelor's degree in sociology. But he's busy, delivering the mail, and I actually don't want to chat with anyone in the morning - I want to read my books, and make grand plans for the day while my mind is agile and glittering with caffeine. I worry that he thinks I'm some kind of online shopping junkie because of all the brown padded mailers I receive every day, filled with promotional CDs; I worry that he regards me as a typical American overconsumer, sitting on the porch drinking coffee every day, waiting for my booty to arrive. I want him to ask me about all the brown padded mailers so I can set the record straight, but he doesn't ask. I'm suspicious that he's simply throwing away some of the brown padded mailers because there are so many of them and he can. We exchange hellos, him gruff, me overly enthusiastic, and go our seperate ways: malevolent mailman and depraved online shopping junkie, two ships passing in the night. We'll never know each other better than this.
There's this one guy who often walks by my place, a scruffy hipster dude, who always has an acoustic guitar (spray-painted blue) slung over his shoulder, and he plays it as he walks. He never acknowledges me when he walks by - just walks and strums, eyes fixed straight ahead. Sometimes, I carry my own acoustic guitar onto the porch in the morning, hoping that he'll walk by and I can join him in an impromptu duet. But he never appears when I have my guitar. I wonder how he would react to this: would it be an intrusion? Would he feel as if I were making fun of him? Or would he be delighted? My intention is delight, but it's impossible to say. I wonder if he's practicing, or neurotic, or just killing time on his walk. I like him without knowing him, and I like it when he walks by - I can hear him coming before I can see him, and I can hear him trailing away, like a cat with a bell on its neck. I like the unexpected intrusion of music into my life so much better than lawnmowers.
I imagine getting up and following him, playing my guitar; I imagine him not acknowledging me but continuing to play. I imagine us strumming through the neighborhood like Pied Pipers, neighbors streaming out of doors with their own instruments and falling in line behind us, strumming guitars, blowing horns, banging pots and pans, all of these people who live in such close proximity to me, whom I do know in any meaningful sense of the word: the young homeowning Republicans; my landlord, who seems hardworking and kind, and his wife, who did not want to rent me the apartment because of my "shaky finances;" the two middle-aged sisters who've made it clear they aren't much interested in even exchanging hellos with me, who own both a pickup truck and a Mercedes, who convey the impression of having construction jobs but subscribe to Cosmo (the mailman is very careless about properly seperating the mail, and I often find myself making corrective deliveries); the elderly lady who checks her mailbox a depressing number of times per day; the lady with unnaturally red hair who runs the neighborhood watch and has a face like a nervous, corrupt bird (who often walks by with her husband, each with a dog on a leash, and who chatters incessantly at the mute husband in a gossipy, preemptory way while giving me suspicious glances out of the corner of her eye, because she runs the neighborhood watch, which gives her a vested interest in my private life - I, with my strange tattoos and my porch and suspicious hand-rolled cigarettes and asymmetrical hair and coffee or glass of beer; I, with the impression I must convey of being on the verge of throwing a raucous party or trying to sell designer drugs at any moment: obviously, I do not like her either) - that we would all fall in line behind the mystery guitarist, and follow him where ever he leads us. (I would like to know where he's going, for some reason it feels like a place I would like to be.)
This morning, as I sat on my porch reading an article in Harper's, a tall, thin African-American man walked by. (Having been weaned on racial and sociocultural sensitivity, I will usually go to great lengths to avoid mentioning race when describing someone, insisting to myself that it isn't pertinent despite all evidence to the contrary - often such a conversation will involve me going, "You know, he's about this tall, has dreadlocks, sometimes wears a little goatee, favors t-shirts with the collars cut out," before my interlocuter's eyes light up with recognition and they say "Oh, the black guy?" and I sigh and say, "yes.") I mention that he was African-American only because he was older than me and he called me "sir," and I am always uncomfortable to be called "sir" or any other honorific, especially if the person calling me "sir" is older than me, and African-American. He was tall and thin and wore a baggy t-shirt, and he was slicked with sweat, and his face was a rictus of despair, mouth stretched into an almost parodic moue, like a tragedy mask. "Good morning, sir," he called up onto the porch as he walked by, and I chirped "good morning" in return, in a tone I hoped implied enthusiasm and openness, the tone of someone who does not need or want to be called "sir." And then he began to speak, in a tone of voice that sounded like pain incarnate; his voice was high and stretched and he appeared to be on the verge of tears. I listened as he told a long and incomprehensible story about diabetes and bipolar disorder and a some social or medical program that didn't entitle him to take some bus and could he show me the form. I was having trouble keeping up. "I'm sorry," I said, "but I don't understand. Why do you want to show me this form?" He was standing awkwardly in the bushes below the raised porch, talking up to me as if I were a judge. Then it came clear that he wanted bus fare from me, but I had nothing to give him - who keeps cash on hand any more? I told him I had no cash and it was true. I don't know whether or not he believed me - we looked at each other for a moment longer, at an impasse, and he trudged out of the bushes and down the street without another word. I had nothing to give him.
Labels: brian, people
posted by Brian
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
SO LONG MARIANNE
Songs of Leonard Cohen [reissue]
Sony Legacy : 2007
Carpark : 2008
SO INTO YOU
Shudder to Think
Pony Express Record
Sony : 1994
ALL I NEED
self-released : 2007
Narcissus died for his own reflection. Orpheus followed Eurydice to Hades, lost her anyway, and invented pederasty. Helen's beauty launched a thousand ships of war. Epimetheus married the keeper of all the evils of the world. Penelope wilted while Odysseus sailed the world.
Of all the good and fine things a person can feel, is there one more precarious than devotion? To be devoted to something can be noble, enlarging, even saintly, yet it's just a hair's breadth away from states of being that are much less fine. Devotion can be a snare, as Leonard Cohen knows well. "I'm standing on a ledge and your fine spider web is fastening my ankle to a stone." This is a clever image, and a frightening one. Devotion makes us feel as if the alternative to it is a free-fall into a chasm. The world becomes whittled down to one infinitely bright and safe point, around which infinite chaos rages. It is a connection that is both delicate - therefore tenuous - and surprisingly difficult to get free of; like a spider web, the link of devotion is stronger than it appears, and easier to stretch than to sever.
Devotion can be an enslavement. We all choose our masters, but devotion is sneaky - it's a master that can appear in the guise of a liberator. The band Beach House has spent two albums teasing out the dark seam between devotion and thrall. The lovers in "Wedding Bell" are "swimming in the seas [they] know so well," this is comforting and confining at once. Devotion makes a stranger of other seas. "Oh, but your wish is my command," Victoria Legrand sings, slipping into her comfortable shackles. "Is your heart still mine for sale? I'd like yours, here is mine." Devotion, so close to servitude, is difficult to reconcile with personal agency. It chooses us, and our free will only comes into play in accepting or rejecting it. Either choice has the potential to skew toward darkness.
Devotion can easily bleed into obsession. The line is so thin that almost every love song ever written can tilt toward the sinister if you look at it just slightly askew. Shudder to Think made this overt with their cover of Atlanta Rhythm Section's feel-good track "So Into You". The lyrics are the same, but ARS's version sounds like a crush. Shudder to Think's seething inversion turns it into a stalker monologue:
When you walked into the room
There was voodoo in the vibes
I was captured by your style
But I could not get your eyes
Now I stand here helplessly
Hoping you'll get into me
I am so into you
I can't think of nothing else
Devotion can be a compromise, a case of diminished options. "I only stick with you," Thom Yorke sings on one haunting song from In Rainbows, "because there are no others." Devotion is obliterative, its object can come to seem like a black hole that devours the light from everything else. As a tin-foil-hatted paranoid, Yorke as written a lot of the finest songs about the ambiguous nature of romantic devotion. "All I Need" might be his finest in this vein, rendering the concept's seamy underbelly in a way that seems much more deliberate than Atlanta Rhythm Section and their ilk's accidental double-entendres. Here, Yorke is "an animal trapped in your hot car" and "all the days that you choose to ignore." He's a "moth that just wants to share your light" and "an insect trying to get out of the night." Devotion, for him, is both running-to and running-from, neither is the stable state he tacitly idealizes. He recognizes that, in the supplicated posture of devotion, he's both central and suborned: "I'm in the middle of your picture, lying in the reeds." To want something and to fear wanting it is an intractable position, and appropriately, he ends the song by metaphorically throwing up his hands: "It's all wrong, it's all right, it's all wrong."
Labels: brian, devotion
posted by Brian
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Anti : 2008
Sir Richard Bishop
Drag City : 2007
Impale Golden Horn
Burly Time/Revolver : 2007
Today I happened to hear the writer Paul Auster on NPR, chatting with Diane Rehm. Auster is...how to put this...a writer I admire a lot, even though I dislike about half of his books. The New York Trilogy? Hell yes. Timbuktu? Hell no. At any rate, hearing the interview reminded me of probably my very favorite Auster book, which he didn't even write: I Thought My Father Was God, a collection of true, personal stories told orally by non-writers. Auster worked on this project for, I think, a year, and originally, he read the stories he collected on-air for NPR's National Story Project. The show was such a hit that eventually, many of the stories would be collected in the aforementioned book, edited by Auster, but with the stories told in the voices of the people who lived them. The book has sections on animals, objects, families, "slapstick," strangers, war, love, death, and (most compelling to me) dreams. Being reminded of this book today, I thought I would share a couple of the stories with you from the "dreams" section, as a sort of follow-up to my dream post last week. Perhaps it's not surprising that many of the stories in the dream section could also have been filed in the death section, or that the dreams that involve death are most compelling to me - dreams and death seem close cousins, a point which I'd intended to develop last week, until I'd written out the dreams and felt an immense silence pass over me. To write about dreams is to basically dream again, and one cannot understand a dream while still dreaming. Perhaps dreams say all they need to say on their own, without analysis or exegesis. Here are two from Auster's project. There's no way to know, of course, whether or not they are actually true, and what "true" even means in the context of such phantoms. But they do have the ring of truth, which is good enough to give me chills:
I sleep soundly most of the time and seldom need an alarm clock to wake up in the morning. My dreams are usually about work, and I try to forget them as quickly as possible. The dreams I do want to rememeber I usually can't. Only a few times in my life have I had a nightmare.
The dream started simply. I was driving a truck down the Kansas Turnpike. I have never driven a truck, and although I lived in Kansas City at the time, I had never been on the Kansas Turnpike. It was night in the dream, and I could see only my hands on the steering wheel and what was illuminated by the truck's headlights. Suddenly in front of me, shining in the headlights, was a human arm. Horrified, I swerved to keep from hitting it as I frantically tried to step on the brake, but I couldn't slow the truck, and as soon as I got around one body part, another appeared up ahead. The farther I went, the more body parts I saw. They kept coming up at me, faster and faster, until I finally hit one with a grisly thump. A moment later, I sat up in bed screaming.
I realized that I was having a nightmare. I took a deep breath and looked at the clock, more to reassure myself than to find out the time. It was 4:05 A.M.
I enjoyed my Saturday and forgot about the dream. Sunday, I bought the weekend paper and read it in my usual leisurely fashion. Near the end of the first section there was a two-paragraph article about a truck driver who had run over a body lying on the Kansas Turnpike. The accident had occurred on Saturday, at 4:05 A.M.
submitted by Matthew Menary of Burlingame, California
In the summer of 1972, I went home to visit my parents in Burnsville, Minnesota, for a couple of weeks. I slept downstairs in the basement. Every now and then, a fourteen-year-old boy named Matthew would come to mow the lawn. Early one morning, as I was sleeping in, I heard him outside cutting the grass. I paid no attention and went back to sleep.
I dreamt that I was in the upstairs bathroom, standing in front of the sink and looking at my face in the mirror. It looked like my face, but at the same time there was something odd about it. I could see my black hair, my blue eyes, my mustache, but the shape of my face was different. I looked down at the sink, where the water was running in a counterclockwise circle down the drain. I held my hands unde the water and started scrubbing my hands with soap. Again, I looked at the face that wasn't my face. There was something different about it, but it didn't really trouble me.
I went on scrubbing my hands, but my left thumb hurt. The pain was fairly intense, and I wondered what I had done to make it hurt so badly. It was as though it were sprained.
Then I looked down at the sink again, and there was blood running into the water, going round and round in that counterclockwise circle. "What's going on?" I said to myself. Blood was gushing from my thumb, pouring out from the fatty part just below the knuckle, then running down my arm and dripping off my elbow into the sink. I grabbed my throbbing hand and said to myself, "What did you do, Jim? What did you do, Jim?"
I heard a voice calling out to me, "Jim! Jim!" I woke up and realized that it was my mother calling me from the top of the stairs. She told me to come quickly. I threw on some clothes and rushed up to her. Matthew had hurt himself cutting the grass, she said, and she wanted me to go to the bathroom to help him.
Still half asleep, I walked into the bathroom and was astonished to see Matthew standing in front of the mirror and holding his left thumb and first finger. Blood was running down his arm and into the water, going round and round as it flowed down the drain.
submitted by James Sharpsteen of Minneapolis, Minnesota
from I Thought My Father Was God
ed. Paul Auster
Henry Holt : 2001
Labels: auster, brian, dreams
posted by Brian
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Here Comes the Future
Sincerely Yours : 2007
LITTLE BROTHER (ELECTRIC)
Warp : 2007
I KNOW THAT'S NOT REALLY YOU
American Music Club
The Golden Age
Merge : 2008
I dreamt that I was dreaming. This in and of itself was somewhat exceptional to me, as I didn't recall ever having a dream within a dream before. Beyond this nested quality, the nature of the dream, and the potency of its feeling, was also a bit beyond the pale. This was a couple weeks ago and some of the details are now blurred. But it is the nature of remembered dreams to take on a waking life of their own as their particulars fade, and certain elements of it remain with me clearly.
In the dream, I woke up in the bed of my childhood home. I woke up restlessly, I didn't remember the dream-within-the-dream, but I felt its texture - I knew that I had dreamed that my romantic partner had died, or was in grave danger of dying, or was simply gone - in the dream, there was no real distinction between the three, just an unsettling presentiment of loss. All I can remember clearly was that it was something to do with her breathing; she couldn't or was having difficulty breathing. I woke into the dream confused about whether this had really happened or I had dreamed it. I got out of the bed and began walking down the stairs. It was early in the morning, that time just before or around sunrise when the whole house was sleeping and I would get up early on Saturdays, as a child, to watch pro wrestling before the cartoons started. As my feet landed on each step, taking me down toward the living room, my sense of dread mounted - each step felt an increment closer to some calamity for which I was not prepared. When I arrived in the living room, my brother was there, sitting on the couch. The television was on, but he wasn't looking at it - his forearms were on his knees as he slumped in a somewhat weary posture. I sat down in the easy chair across from him, with my feeling of dread rising to a nearly unbearable pitch, and then, he looked up at me. His face was affectless, with a great empathy and sadness lurking behind the lack of affect, and as his eyes met mine, I knew with the inexorable certainty of dreams that it was true - she was gone from this world. The certainty came upon me in a feverish rush, and I felt a great cry rising up with in me. My brother came over and took me in his arms as immense sobs wracked my body. The feeling of knowing she was gone was so complex and terrible and real that I can only begin to describe it this way: I did not know what I was going to do. I saw the days and nights without her, getting used to her absence, fanning out impossibly ahead of me, and I repeat: I did not know what I was going to do, how I would possibly be able to go on. At that moment, sobbing in my brother's arms, I woke up, in my partner's bed. She was there, sleeping soundly, breathing easily. Tears rushed into my eyes as my gratitude mingled with the lingering feeling of despair from the dream - it had been so real that it was difficult to snap out of immediately. And also, this: when you've dreamed that you were dreaming, waking up for "the second time" fees much more tenuous than waking from a nightmare normally does; you're left with the lingering suspicion that perhaps you've woken up into another dream, and that you might pass through this one into another.
I spent all of last week in Oslo, reporting on a big music festival there, and I had another disturbing dream, which also involved my brother, in an unfamiliar hotel bed. This one was more complex than the other one, and the details are sketchier, yet I can roughly reconstruct it around the ones that still stand out clearly. I had been shot in the stomach several times. I don't recall how this came to happen, although I have the impression that I'd come across a weapon by accident (no gun appeared in the dream), and that the wounds were self-inflicted. I never pulled up my shirt to look at the wounds, but I was certain they were there - in my mind's eye, I could see holes in my torso, with blood trickling out of them. Sometimes, when I looked down, the front of my shirt was soaked with blood, sometimes it was clean. I'd shoved a notebook down the front of my pants, I guess as a sort of bandage - it was one of those black marbled composition books, the same kind I'd been using to take notes at the festival all week, which has thick, cardboard covers, which made it seem like more of a shield than a bandage. I didn't feel any pain in the dream, just a panicky sense of life draining out of me. I remember making phone calls - I believe trying to get someone to take me to the hospital - but I couldn't get ahold of anyone, and my attempts were accompanied by a mounting sense of frustration, fear, and anger that no one would help me. Then, in one of those uncanny dream shifts, my brother was with me. Where we were is not clear - it was an unfamiliar room, which now strikes me as being evocative of a hotel room, not the one I was sleeping in, but a hotel room nonetheless. Suddenly my brother was standing in the corner of the room, and I lashed out at him angrily, as closely as I can remember I took out my frustration about all my thwarted attempts to get help on him. This time, it was my brother who burst into sobs, as I lashed out at him, and simultaneously, a vile green ooze burst out of his mouth. I'd recently watched the movie The Sixth Sense, which contains that truly horrifying scene where the little boy who sees dead people flees into his tent, his "safe place," and looks over to see a dead girl who'd been poisoned with a similarly greenish, vomity ooze falling out of her mouth; I believe this is where that particular image came from. The effect of my brother's sobs and vomit, in the dream, was accompanied by the feeling that they were manifestations of his pent up sadness or interior trauma rising helplessly to the surface. He said something to me through his sobs and I can't remember exactly what, but it was something along the lines of, "You've been so cruel to me, Brian," which only made me angrier - I was bleeding, I was dying! His sobs redoubled as I began to shout at him along these lines, chastizing him for putting some kind of guilt trip on me when I needed help. At last, I jerked the notebook out of my pants and lifted my shirt to show him the wounds. In fact, there were no holes in my torso - just tracers of blood slicked over the smooth skin of my stomach.
Labels: brian, dreams
posted by Brian
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Tha Carter II
Cash Money : 2005
Dear You [enhanced reissue]
Blackball : 2004
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Track/Atlantic : 1968
Silber : 2007
Lil Wayne's got it, Hendrix wanted to stand next to it (yours, to be precise), M83 don't want to be saved from it - popular music is no stranger to fire and its bottomless metaphorical potential. But the true music of fire does not speak its name, does not reduce it to metaphor. The true music of fire is like fire itself, an implacably pulsating abstraction, a continual movement of energy. Last weekend, at a fire festival, I sat in a tent late at night, listening to the competing DJ tents scattered across the grounds, whose emissions blended into one gargantuan throb, which seemed from my enclosed vantage to emanate from a single source, as if Terry Riley were conducting a mad symphony just over the hill. The music of fire is diffused and all-encompassing, as if the air itself had a beating heart, reverberations condensed out of vapor and smoke, energy burning off from some ineffable source. In the presence of fire and the music with which we pay tribute to it, latent potential for transformation becomes manifest, even inevitable. In that tent, I thought of fires I have known, fires which, while retaining the universal quality of all fires, seemed to distinguish themselves for me by their overstated and personal transformative properties.
The house that my family lived in when I was seven and my brother was three had a back yard that was abutted by a largish field of broomstraw, which was the property of a neighbor down the street. One of my favorite activities at this age was to go outside with a magnifying glass, using its lens to focus the sunlight into a tight beam, burning patterns and holes into leaves, twigs, bits of paper - and ok, sometimes ants. I'm surprised I was allowed to do this unsupervised - I suppose it was decided that I'd done it enough to amass some expertise, and that I had the good sense to stay on the concrete driveway when I did it. I can't say, on a particular afternoon, what compelled me into the field of broomstraw with my magnifying glass. I can't recall the sequence of events. I know there must have been a moment, when the broomstraw began to burn, spreading quickly, that I knew things had gotten out of hand. The part I remember clearly is standing beside my brother, back in our yard, dumbly watching the field burn. From my childish perspective, it was an inferno, but I've no idea how serious the fire actually was - it must be amplified in my mind, as a neighbor who was washing his car across the street was able to extinguish it with a garden hose. I don't remember how I felt, besides awed, and maybe that was all I felt - seeing all that fire up close, uncontrolled, and knowing I was responsible for it, perhaps my awe blocked out all my fear, my guilt, my anxiety over getting in trouble. I recall the endless walk down the street to knock on the neighbor who owned the land's ornate, imposing double doors; I don't recall whether they were understanding or angry. But here is what I recall most clearly: my father, rushing out onto the patio with a look of utter panic on his face, rushing down to where my brother and I were standing. From his perspective in the house, when he saw the blaze through the window, my brother was standing behind me - my father couldn't see him, and for a moment, between seeing the fire and rushing outside, he believed my brother had been engulfed. I wonder which of us changed more that day - me, in my newfound power, or my father, suddenly possessed of a trace of dark knowledge.
Sometime around my high school graduation, I attended a small party with my group of closest friends. As usual, we were drinking, gathered around a fire in a rusty barrel in my friend's yard. Although I couldn't have expressed it at the time, there was something elegiac in the air, something tangled about the celebration's energy, a sadness veining the muted revelry. The end of high school is a pivotal time for everyone, in ways that are too common, too trite, and too profound to even get into. We'd weathered some calamities together, and perhaps we all had the latent sense that greater, more confusing, less resolvable ones lurked on the horizon, that we were trembling in some ephemeral interstice between one life and another. At a certain point, as we stood in a motley ring around the barrel fire, one of my friends, as if at some secret cue, picked up a bucket of gasoline (why we had an open bucket of gasoline handy perplexes me to this day). Moving slowly but deliberately, as if hypnotized or underwater, he began walking toward the bucket. I felt a heightened sense of reality in this moment, a strange and dreamlike lucidity - everyone else was chatting aimlessly, and I felt as if only I were witnessing the scene at hand, somehow seeing the whole thing play out simultaneously, somehow entranced and unable to speak the warning that I felt welling up in me. In slow motion, my friend cocked back the bucket of gas and hurled the entire thing into the barrel. Time sped up again as a great pillar of flame erupted from the barrel, causing everyone to leap back, seemingly pushed through the air by the flames like heroes in an action movie. Luckily, no one was burned, and the inferno quickly subsided. We gave the friend who'd thrown the bucket some shit and got back to our aimless chatting for some minutes before someone thought to look up, and discovered that the boughs overhead were aflame.
I thought about all these fires at the fire festival, during the lazy days, as my partner and I sat around singing songs with the guitar, swimming in the lake, reading from my dog-eared copy of Borges' Ficciones. (When I read Borges, my heart would like to burst with love, and yet I have never read Borges - only his translators. This relationship too seems evocative of fire - intense yet somehow deflected, a reaction to an energy coming down some cloaked and remote corridor.) A fire festival is an invitation to transform, and I witnessed the costume I wore all weekend - a full-body tiger-striped unitard, a pair of earlike feathered discs, an improvised tail (fur trim cut off of a puffy coat's hood) - manifest different selves for me. On the first night, I was a housecat, inclined to curl into and around things, staying close to the ground. Or a churchmouse, meek and perceptive - someone asked me if I wanted to try out his poi, and I said to him, "Tonight, I am a creature who watches," realizing as I said it that it was true. I had the distinct sensation of peering out at the world around me - the fire dancers and drum circles, the poi spinners and psychedelic lights - through a crack in the floorboards.
But the next night, the night of the burn (the climactic moment in any fire festival, where some sort of immense effigy is ceremonially set aflame for a great, purgative revel): same costume, different tiger. As the fire dancers circled the effigy in center camp, Ashley and I joined a great outer throng around them, dancing, playing percussion, whooping and exhorting. I beat a guiro until it split in two, then played the shards until they were pulverized. Finally the effigy was set aflame, the improbable heat of the inferno momentarily pushing everyone back a few steps - was it fifty feet high? One hundred? Large fires wreak havoc on your sense of scale. Hundreds of bodies pressed into a circular orbit around the fire, which eventually came to rest, the trippers grooving with their eyes closed, others stunned and mute in the heat. That night, I was a tiger as strong and powerful as I'd been meek and timid the previous night, a playful tiger and a fierce one. Ashley and I took up jingly bells and slinked through the crowd, moving like jungle cats, close to the fire, feeling the full power of our lithe bodies and our status as most wondrous creatures in our costumes, purifying people with bells. And I will tell you now that there is no better feeling in this world than moving through a crowd of strangers, in a ridiculous costume, purifying them with bells, and for the purity of this intention to be conveyed wordlessly and perfectly - to move through a crowd of strangers and see on their faces not wariness or scorn or apathy but a reflection of your own burning spirit, to see face after face light up at your approach, for no other reason than that it is your intention to be wonderful and to transmit this wonder, to hear them gasp and say "Thank you!" for doing something that might get you punched in everyday life (imagine walking through the subway jingling bells around people's faces and bodies) - to incarnate your desire as twinkling bells, at the root of a pillar of flame, and to be those bells, or that tiger, or whatever you want.
Labels: acid rock, brian, hip-hop, indie rock
posted by Brian
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
NEW WAVE DUST
Troubleman Unlimited : 2007
Load Records : 2006
RRRecords : 2008
Sometimes I feel certain that all music really does is give shape to the nebulous passage of time. Ambient music makes time into a deep, still pool. Techno dissects it into concise, manageable slices, like a really well organized day planner. Rock breaks it up into an orderly pattern of bright, simple shapes, stacking up as neatly as Yaffa Blocks. Classical music condenses it - an entire mythohistorical saga can unfold in an hour. And harsh noise simply obliterates it. The inutitive choosing of music seems mysterious - why do we need to hear this song, in this moment? - and I wonder if it's all about how we need time to feel in that moment: orderly or chaotic, compressed or expansive, becalmed or vanished. As time-management is probably the single biggest issue in my life (lucky, I know), I find myself attracting to ambient music or noise - depending on whether my mood is at the beatific or destructive end of the spectrum - more and more often. I've posted way more ambient music than noise music here, which I'm rectifying now - call it "difficult listening" day. Woe be to those who snag the songs off of mp3 aggregators without reading the text; may they dial up John Wiese on their iPod at max volume.
Labels: brian, noise
posted by Brian