Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cold Tired Fingers Tapping Out Your Memories

I just can't write about Bowie.  I'm not trying to sound melodramatic, but I want to not think about it.  The New York Times has had ten articles a day about the man.  Pitchfork has an endless stream of reminiscences from past colleagues.  He's everywhere.  And he should be.  And it's not as if he died unexpectedly.  He was nearly 70.  There were rumors of his poor health in the ether for a while.  And I didn't know the man.  And when the sorrow is so public, and so shared in by so many people--I don't know.  I don't want to participate in that, somehow.  Not that I had a better or more important relationship with his work than anyone else, but my experiences with his music are my own.  They encompass a certain amount of darkness and a certain amount of light.  In college, under the influence of newfound...activities, I felt, often, that his music was all I had.  That sounds melodramatic, I guess.  Which is why I don't want to write about it.  It's too much. 

But that's what he was.   He was too much.  He'd like to come and meet us, but he thinks he'd blow our minds.  Like when I hear "Heroes" on the radio, I always change the station.  It's too much--to feel deeply.  90% of life is an exercise in avoiding deeply feeling.  My life--everyone's.  That's not wrong.  That's how it should be.  To feel deeply is paralyzing.  Because, in the end, what you end up feeling is: what the hell are we doing here?  Why have we been given consciousness of our own existence?  What's the point?  What's the meaning?  And that's not a mental path we want to go down very often--at least not one I want to go down often.  And art leads us, often, down that path.  Not all art.  Pride and Prejudice probably doesn't.  But his art did.  At least, it did me.

So forget that for now.  And instead let's talk about champagne.

Image result for strangers when we meetChampagne is what I drink now.  And everyone should drink it.  That's it.  That's what I have to say.  I never drink these days--maybe once every two weeks.  I'm getting very serious about my tennis--I’m probably better now, at 40 plus than I've ever been--and drinking does bad things to my already minimal athletic gifts.  It takes like four days for me to purge its effects, and if I'm playing a strong opponent in those days my game suffers noticeably.  (And recently I've started playing a bunch of teenage prodigies who are very strong opponents.  Like, if I can take a set from one of them, I feel good). 

Anyway...champagne!  It's good!  Drink champagne!  And only champagne!  That's what I say about that. 

Oh, and Woody Allen.  He's NOT good.  He gets worse and worse, too.  I don't just mean his new works, I mean all his works.  He ages badly.  He's the most overrated director of my lifetime, I think.  (Or not?  Who's worse?)

The problem is, essentially, he's really dumb.  And yet he wants to be, and writes for an audience of, intellectuals.  But he's just so dumb!  Is that why he ages so badly?  Because as we get smarter, we become more and more aware of how dumb he is? 

I don't care if you are or are not an intellectual!  That's the thing.  Probably, I'd rather you NOT be.  (Intellectuals are loathsome).   But whatever you are, don't front.  Will Ferrell is funny and great and I love his work.  But he's not trying to write dialogue about Plato, and nor should he.  But Woody Allen, at some point, decided he wanted to be Chekhov or (director) Renoir or Ozu.  And he's so so far from those men, it's just embarrassing.  Just be a witty Mel Brooks, Woody!  That's ok!  You don't have to try to be Tolstoy!

I just saw Midnight in Paris, is what prompts this. 

So bad!! 

I mean, just terrible.  And the premise was great.  But the execution was horrible.  Crude and stupid.  Why is Owen Wilson even engaged to this woman (Rachel McAdams)?  She's unremittingly horrible.  Like a cartoon Disney villain.  Like, if you were teaching sixth grade creative writing, and got a story with her as the villain, you'd say it was too much.  Even then you'd say it was a caricature! 

And we're supposed to believe Owen Wilson's character's genuinely in doubt about marrying her?  Good lord.  And the guy (Martin Short/Sheen whatever) who's meant to be the pompous pedant (What about the Frenchwoman guide who knows the word "pedantic!"  Most English speaker don't know that word!  And we're supposed to believe a French guide does!)--he's so badly done.  He's not a pedant!  He's a jerk and a boor, sure, but he's so dumb!  It's impossible to believe that he could be a professor anywhere, much less the Sorbonne.  Like, because he knows the dates of Rodin's lifespan, he's some kind of intellectual? Come on!

Foals.  That's a good band.  Maybe the best one I've encountered in a while.
God, it was unsatisfying, that movie.

Except--and it's a pretty big except--the Ernest Hemingway character (Carey Stoll, I think was the actor's name) was fan-fricking-tastic.  

Basically if you do nothing but fast forward to the scenes with E Hemingway, and ignore the rest, you'll be happy.  Because HE was funny.  And the whole premise that he speaks, all the time, as if he's narrating one of his novels was really excellent.  Just great.

Maybe it's useful to engage in activities at which one is bad at.  The tendency, as one ages, is to stick to one's strengths.  We should celebrate the woman starting to learn guitar at 40.  The man taking up boxing at 50.  It's hard, very hard, to be ineffective and foolish.  It's not too hard at 5.  It's very hard at 50.  To not be afraid to fail--that's the great skill.

A Chesterton quote comes to mind--"anything worth doing is worth doing badly."

I'm not very good at Latin.  But I keep doing my lines.  Ten a day.  I learn so little.  I miss so much.  I constantly feel how stupid I am.  I brim with self-hate.

And I'm reading The Recognitions.  I was hoping I'd dislike it after fifty pages, but sadly, I have to concede it's likely a work of genius.   At minimum,  I'm going to have finish it.  Which is too bad, since it's not only long but dense.  I can read ten pages of it at time, max. 

But worthwhile, I think.

Monday, January 11, 2016

His Trick is You and Me

His influence on other artists.  That's a place to start.  How listening to his music, or watching him perform, made people want themselves to be musicians or writers.  Creators.  You don't get that with The Rolling Stones or Fleetwood Mac or Radiohead.  All great bands, but they're not generative--not in that way.  People who make paintings, people who make movies, people who make clothes: hang out with any group of real or would-be artists, you'll find his fans.   

Are they fans or followers?  Devotees.  (Worshippers?) 

A music often about disconnection.  About not being able to feel--the pain of that.  That's a paradox--the feeling of not feeling.  A very odd and difficult space from which to make art. 

To say "a music about" is impossible.  Forty years of music.  Of course it's not all 'about' anything.  But certain themes recur.  Loneliness.  Alienation.  Fear.  Ambition.  

A sense of drama, which is another word for danger.  The intense vibrato of his voice.   An operatic, transcendental quality was thus bestowed on even the most seemingly banal of utterances.  "Put on your red shoes and dance the blues."  It feels like more than an invitation to dance.  It feels like an invitation to take the blue pill, to tumble down the rabbit hole--to participate in something grand and romantic and (maybe) sinister.

In some ways, every great artist is a great fan.  Because what they make is only a product of what they consume.  Thus one of the most crucial gifts for an artist is their taste--their sense of what to follow, who to copy, what to be excited about.  Seen in that light, his ability to sense out, in 1970, The Velvet Underground (and Warhol), or, in the mid-70s, the synthesizer rock of the experimental Germans--not to mention, his career long gift for finding the right collaborators--stands as one of his great gifts. (He was covering a Springsteen song in 1975!)

How many artists did their some of their best work with him?  Fripp.  Ronson.  Eno.  Queen.  Earl Slick.  Reeves Gabrels.  Adrian Belew.  John Lennon (as a solo artist).  Nile Davis.  The list goes on.

I remember going to see the shows he did for the Earthling tour.  I was living in Berkeley.  My lifestyle there was, let's say, unconventional.  He played three shows, two one week, and one more the next week.  To one of the shows I wore a disco-blue dinner jacket made of a shimmery rayon-like fabric.  To another, a black-and-white polka-dotted blazer, with black jeans.  And makeup.  At one of the shows I had shelled out big money for what had been sold as the best seats in the house.  They turned out to be right behind the mixing booth.   One of the ushers saw us, sitting there, craning to see, before the show.  How bummed we were.  She gave us little tickets, which allowed us to go stand on the floor.  Twenty feet away.  In a throng of true believers.  He came wearing a beige male skirt, singing "Quicksand" while he strummed an acoustic.  All my posters from those shows got ruined, when my house flooded in grad school.  I wish I had one still.

I used to have a framed print of him from Man Who Fell To Earth.  He was wearing a wide floppy black hat--on one of my walls.  I found the picture in some record store, had it framed.  I wish I had that photo still.

Certain lucky people I used to make watch The Man Who Fell To Earth.  I would talk over most of it, providing delerious exegesis.  People found it unpleasant.

In high school, when I was preparing for some big night out--to prom, or on a big date--I would listen at top volume to "Life on Mars" and "Quicksand."  To help psyche me up, I guess. 

They're neither of them very good psyche up songs. 

I've heard this story told with various personages, but John O'Hara, supposedly, when told of the death of George Gershwin, was said to have replied, "I don't have to believe it if I don't want to."

I don't have to believe it if I don't want to.

I'm A Blackstar