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