Thursday, November 30, 2006

Control and lack thereof

This is not a working theory or anything that can be proven, but an opinion. What the hell are blogs for? I have been mulling this over for a bit, which seems a waste of time even to me but what else am I going to do? Sit around and watch the shadows of Chicago dance across the midnight walls? Fuck another evening off cheaply in front of the TV? Eat the wrong food and smoke when I supposedly quit?

Barely controlling the barely controllable. That’s how it’s done.

People ask me about my taste in art. Tom Waits was on The Daily Show the other night and my roommate, a guy who has never heard of Tom or his take on music, shot me the look he always gives me when I subject him something he cannot understand. “He can’t even sing!” he said, which is true but who cares? Earlier in the week I rented Cemetery Man on the newly released DVD (about fucking time), which resulted in similar criticisms. The moment the little girl’s zombie-head flies at, and bites, her father, I knew I lost him. Why do I gravitate to such works? Why does Tom Waits’ fucked up voice or Yoshimi and Eye’s Dadaist screams excite me? Why does Mebdh McGuckian’s elusive poetry strike such a chord within me? Because at any moment I feel that the muse can overtake the artist and that it will all fall apart. When it doesn’t, it is miraculous, exhilarating—exactly what I think art ought to be.

Why listen to a singer with perfect pitch and supreme control over her/his voice? Technical proficiency is nice, sure, but it can get dull. Did Maria Callas always hit every note perfectly? Probably, but she also knew how to emote and phrase. I hear the same sort of style in Diamanda Galás, even when she’s shrieking like Satan’s bride. When did perfect precision and supreme execution become the standards of art?

Think about the revered works. Did Shakespeare always write with precision? No. He wrote in blank verse, yes (when not giving the proles dialogue), but even his most famous artfully constructed speeches contain a hint of fire threatening consumption.

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life

And so on. Looking at this speech, one can address the meter and the aesthetics, all in place and well-and-good, but such examinations run cold. When Hamlet says, “To die, to sleep; / To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; / For in that sleep of death what dreams may come” the sense I get is that the existential ponderings of the procrastinating prince are driving him beyond merely feigning insanity. The meter and rhythm of the verse is secondary to the passion.

Okay, how about music. Classical musicians pride themselves on technical virtuosity, but why is Yo-Yo Ma so damn famous? His good looks? The idea is that a truly gifted player will look beyond the notes on the page and consider the incredibly important phrasing that elevates a performance. Steve Vai once said that he spends a lot of time playing the same note on the guitar, just to see how many ways he can phrase it. I always thought Vai, an obviously gifted guitarist, to be a cut above the shredding, classical obsessed metal gods so prominent in the 1980s simply because he did (occasionally— Vai likes to show off as much as the next guy) approach his solos with a little panache mixed in with the 300 MPH finger work. Which leads me to understand why I prefer punk/hardcore to metal anyway. Perfectly precise bands, like Iron Maiden, come across as cold and boring in comparison to the intensity of Minor Threat. Even avant-garde’s thrash/jazz heroes, Naked City threw in a little sloppiness to sound human.

Don’t get me wrong, precision is important, but it is the tool not the craft. It controls the barely controllable. It is not enough.

I don’t think the muse is something anyone has perfect control over. The point has to be that the passion the muse inspires is torturous and so one is forced to create. Add to that the fact that creation doesn’t always live up to the envisioning. The muse inspires, offers the image, but that image is not always replicated. When I listen to the Boredoms and hear those frantic screams, or Schubert’s string quartets, or read anything by Pablo Neruda, I think of the intense drive within those artists and their blissful/tortured state of release. The fire is there, burning, raging, threatening, but somehow they keep it under just enough control to make something remarkable out of it. If they let up for a second, it might spin out of control. The artists I admire always seem on that dangerous edge.

With the above half-baked and useless ponderings, I offer a brief list of the art I have been thinking about, digesting or planning to digest soon. Why the hell not?


Volver, by Almodóvar
Atanarjuat, aka The Fast Runner, Zacharias Kunuk
The King is Alive, Kristian Levring (take that, Dogme95 fuckers, I credited the director!)
Cemetery Man, aka, Dellamorte Dellamore, Michele Soavi
Death and the Maiden, Roman Polanski
Prospero’s Books, Peter Greenaway


The Tempest, Shakespeare
Written on the Body, Jeanette Winterson
Salamander, Octavio Paz
Rene’s Flesh, Virgilio Piñera
The Suitcase, Sergei Dovlatov
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Unberto Eco


The Black Rider, Tom Waits
Face to Face, The Kinks
Super Ae, Boredoms
Pink, Boris
Leaves Turn Inside You, Unwound
The Ultimate Otis Redding, Otis Redding
Psychedelic Jungle/Gravest Hits, Cramps
Colossus of Destiny, Melvins
Negro Necro Nekros, Dälek
En Carnegie Hall, Chavela Vargas
Crazy Price, Messer Chups

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Today I feel superior because...

I hate the way people write.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Everyone I Went to High School With is Dead

Thank you to Carla who sent me a link to what may be the most morbid website I've seen in some time. Okay, there's sicker shit out there, but the simplicity of this is truly impacting. I can't stop visiting this page:

Monday, November 13, 2006

Birds Probably Sang

Today, as I have done for several days (when not food poisoned—thanks Mom—and trapped underground—thanks, CTA—and walking along narrow paths through dark and dirty rat infested subways with my stomach in a knot), I called some of my beloved class members regarding the litigation notice they received in the mail. These are people who were mildly screwed by a particular business and have the right to take part in the very mediocre settlement. And it’s part of my job to tell them that they’ll be getting a whopping $16 next year if they fill out a claim form and mail it in by next March. As per usual, the range of responses has been dismissive to elated.

“Hey now, sixteen dollars is a lot when you got nothin’, ya hear?”

In addition, I did get harassed a bit by a jealous husband who was wondering why a man with a voice as smooth and cool as yours truly’s was calling his wife, but the was not the worst. I dialed, I listened to rings, I waited for the message. The woman, with a sad and serious voice, asked me to leave my message “after the burp” and yes a belch did follow. People are so fucking disgusting.

Friday, November 03, 2006

"Hold me..."

Listening to Smokey Robinson and the Miracles sing “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me” and trying to figure out if it is the greatest song I know of.

Because at 2:00 AM the lights are out and the song plays on the radio and there is still alcohol in your body and then it starts to dissolve the barriers and the shields and every regret and bad decision sheds its demon light on you and you think back and start to say the worst things about life, start to remember what being in love can mean and how heavy it all feels in the night, start to hear people outside, sirens and laughter, all the smoke and music, all the painful human interaction. Because there has to be more than this goddamn balance, it’s either ruin or rebirth, you know? And then it’s over and you feel it all drop out of you.

That’s what this song will do if you let it.

Letters to God end up in ocean, unread

This may be the saddest article I’ve read in some time. What misery accompanies life; any hope, real or imagined, ends in ruin or gets put up for auction. I love living metaphors.

Thanks to Lo for bring this to me:

By WAYNE PARRY, Associated Press Writer Thu Nov 2, 10:53 PM ET

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - Some of the letters are comical (a man asking God to let him win the lottery, twice), others are heartbreaking (a distraught teen asking forgiveness for an abortion, an unwed mother pleading with God to make the baby's father marry her). The letters — about 300 in all, sent to a New Jersey minister — ended up dumped in the ocean, most of them unopened.

The minister died two years ago at 79. How the letters, some dating to 1973, wound up bobbing in the surf is a mystery.

"There are hundreds of lives here, a lot of struggle, washed up on the beach," said Bill Lacovara, a Ventnor insurance adjuster who was fishing last month with his son when he spotted a flowered plastic shopping bag and waded out to retrieve it. "This is just a hint of what really happens. How many letters like this all over the world aren't being opened or answered?"

Many of the letters were addressed to the Rev. Grady Cooper, though many more simply said "Altar." According to the text of several of them, they were intended to be placed on a church's altar and prayed over by the minister, the congregation or both.

Some were neatly written in script on white-lined paper, others in a feverish scrawl on tattered scraps of parchment or note cards. Many were crinkled from being in the water and then dried out after Lacovara fished them out of the sea.

A dog-eared business card inside one of the letters identified Cooper as associate pastor of the Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Jersey City. A woman who answered the phone at the church office confirmed Cooper once was a minister there, and had died nearly two years ago. The current pastor did not return several calls from The Associated Press over the past few days.

Other documents in the bag, including bank statements and canceled checks, also listed Cooper's name and an address for him in Jersey City. A death certificate issued in 2004 for a Grady Cooper lists the same address as those on the bank documents and some of the letters.

His wife, Frances, whose name also showed up on some of the letters at the same address, died in 2000, according to Hudson County records.

No one answered the door last week at the address where Cooper once lived, and a neighbor said he did not recall anyone by that name. Attempts to locate Cooper's relatives were unsuccessful.

Lacovara speculated that someone cleaning out Cooper's home found the letters and threw them on the beach in Atlantic City, about 100 miles from Jersey City.

"I guess rather than just throw them in the garbage, maybe they thought they'd set them out to sea to bless these people," he said. "So they made a trip to Atlantic City, maybe went to a casino, and put the letters in the water."

The letters, wrapped in several smaller brown paper bags inside the larger plastic bag, did not appear to have been in the water too long, Lacovara said, though about half were too badly damaged to be legible.

He opened a few with his son, Rocky, on the beach. The first few were humorous.

"I'm still praying to hit the lottery twice: first the $50,000," one man wrote. "Than after some changes have taken place let me hit the millionaire."

Another asked God to make a certain someone "leave me alone and stay off my back," while still another asks God to calm a woman who "call the Internal Revenue on me."

One woman complained that her husband always talks about sex, and another writer anonymously dropped a dime to God on someone cheating on his wife, complete with dates, times and locations.

But those, Lacovara soon found, were the exception.

Many more were written by anguished spouses, children or widows, pouring out their hearts to God, asking for help with relatives who were using drugs, gambling or cheating on them. One man wrote from prison, saying he was innocent and wanted to be back home with his family. A woman wrote that her boyfriend was now closing the door to her daughter's bedroom each night when it used to stay open, and wondered why.

A teenager poured out her heart on yellow-lined paper in the curlicue pencil handwriting of a schoolgirl, begging God to forgive her and asking for a second chance.

"Lord, I know that I have had an abortion and I killed one of your angels," she wrote. "There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about the mistake I made."

One unwed mother wrote that her baby was due in four weeks, and asked God to make the father fall in love with her and marry her so the child would have a father.

Lacovara said he is sad that most of the writers never had their letters read. But he hopes to change that soon: He is putting the collection up for sale on eBay.