Monday, September 19, 2011

Rhetoric 2: Totally At All

The mixtape has shipped! I won’t waste any more words on that enterprise. I hate all those songs now!

UP TO...

Having intense dreams, including a few of an unusual (for me) end-of-the-world variety. My dreams are traditionally labyrinthine, full of Millhauserian architecture, and therefore the opposite of apocalypse: worlds without end. But this new strain isn’t all that alarming, as it’s still mixed with the infinities of old, and still a pretty cool dreamlife. I often wonder: Are even those artists most in command of their languages sometimes pained by the awareness that their dreams are their greatest creative work, and, further insult, creations that can never be art, because dreams are not translatable to any waking language and can never be shared? But there must be some language, some gnarled syntax that not only describes dream events, but also accounts for their sequencing and motivation and the sleeper’s passive acceptance of their most startling dislocations. Until that discovery, here are notes on some of my recent dreams, as nothing would be gained by telling them in complete sentences.

flood: water rushing over a glass roof ~ why is it dry in the low areas while we sink in the highlands? ~ low, dark clouds

apocalypse: a friend tunnels up through the kitchen cupboard, to where? a portal? ~ minutes to go, I’m making noodles & eating, in the event we survive but are long without food ~ someone says “my face is wooden” (meaning he can’t feel anything about the end, but it must mean he can) ~ fire colors outside

Hawthorne elementary: alone in dark crowded rooms ~ past the gym, like a nearly empty army hospital, limbs/sheets

new apartment: large bedroom with non-partitioned, non-working shower ~ still hiding in bed waiting for Z to be bridge to other rooms

a mountain path: a dark, desolate beach at one end, an impossible courtyard at the other, with ponds, rope bridges and trees, the bridges leading to alleys leading to an old downtown of warm lights ~ I converse with a spirit: when we lock our buildings at night the spirits lock us out ~ of course! ~ white paper in a frame confuses, until the light makes the glass a mirror

Reading old entries from the Deerhunter blog, which famously served as Bradford Cox’s diary back in 2007, when it would have helped me to know what an engaging personality existed behind the sort of forbidding Cryptograms (I found that out later). Well, diary + time = literature, so I’m just as pleased to start reading it now, when it’s tinted by the sadness of something past and irretrievably validated by artistic growth. Ah, that he was my age once, impulsive and not-yet-adult.

Most illuminating so far is the confession of his childhood wish to be Barret Oliver (a classic boy, for sure, but I always aspired more to Joseph Mazzello, Charlie Korsmo, and Robert J. Steinmiller Jr.), made really sad if you read it right after you find out about his horrible 16th year and the meaning of the song “Hazel St.”: “…kind of like a jack off fantasy about what it would have been like if i had been the person i wanted to be physically (i.e. healthy, cute, whatever...) and lived on Hazel St which is this quaint little street of the town square in downtown Marietta, Georgia.” In the same Cryptograms explication he says about his teenage best friends Sarah and Chrissy, “I always felt genderless around them.” Wow! Long-term honesty usually pays off, and it does here, with so much that’s relatable housed in so much that’s solitary.

I was always torn between aspiring to boyish perfection and the sort of messed-upness that would have made heartsick, tragic notions mine by natural right, though of course I know it’s mean and stupid to aspire to the trauma/art of others.


As men continue to pass into obsolescence, I’ve been enjoying:

Rather than becoming more remote (as the album covers suggest: first she looked straight on, then she turned her head away, and now she’s denoted by a white latex ripple), the method of St. Vincent/Annie Clark becomes more recognizable with each release, which, far from making her boring, explainable, circumscribable, makes her more exciting (all Strange Mercy lacks is the symphonic element, which isn’t too much of a bummer) because it tells us she owns a force (brainy effusion?) she can wield. (The same could be said of the new Wild Beasts album.)

I think a new geographical region needs to be designated to account for music from America’s Northern corridor, or Empire Builder zone, as it shall be named. South Dakota’s EMA will be among the accounted for. She (Erika Anderson) excels in the music of boredom, the music of self-imposed violence and of living, inadvertent time capsules. Why does she sound like a mid-90s Hole fan? Well, here in Montana, Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” is our favorite song. There was never a time in the past 20 years when it wasn’t. We don’t know nostalgia. Time just doesn’t move here. So there must be areas in this land where Hole is similarly revered.

Also keen on

No Age’s “Common Heat,” “Valley Hump Crash” and “Chem Trails”
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks’ “No One Is (As I Are Be)”
Neil Young’s “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown”
The Shirelles’ “Soldier Boy” and “Baby, It’s You”

They warned me: once you’re hit by Stereolab’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup, everything else is in danger of not even sounding like sound. It just sounds so good, every sound so carefully separated: it zings (a buzzier kind of singing), a headphone album that strangely wants to carry you between the rooms of your home, from lying to standing, from inside to outside, slowly along sidewalks and back again.

If they ever make Care Bears: Legacy, M83 will have to do the soundtrack. My future love of M83 was certainly latent in my childhood love of the Care Bears: all that is bright and happy threatened as the dark clouds gather, but still glowing under electric skies.

So far in 2011, seven albums demand to be top ten’d. If you take the first letter from each, you can spell “cat lice.”


More Hate, which in an interview Peter Bagge refers to as the space he needed in order to look at his past objectively. That’s key, especially in comics, the notion that style doesn’t negate objectivity.

I know on an intellectual level that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz lacks the psychological element of the MGM movie, that Oz being a place not got to in a dream, but horizontally along the earth, changes everything. But I still found it psychologically intense, full of the anxiety of Dreams and/or Separation and the endless work required to return one to the balanced, real world, this work deemed necessary by the hideous mutations of dream logic, or the more hideous mutations of waking hopelessness. On top of that, the scene of the Scarecrow’s birth is so amazing that, if the ending of Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” made Tobias Wolff feel like he was levitating, well, this sequence of Oz made me feel like I was everywhere and nowhere all at once. The best moment:

“‘Now I’ll make the eyes,’ said the farmer. So he painted my right eye, and as soon as it was finished I found myself looking at him and at everything around me with a great deal of curiosity, for this was my first glimpse of the world.”

God Almighty.

I shouldn’t speak so soon, but I’ve already been disabled after two pages of James Baldwin’s Another Country, a novel so great so early that it’s almost impossible to read, every paragraph turning toward another of America’s deep, persistent failures, with language so precise in its attack, so general in its referents, that it’s hard to tell which round of failure he’s documenting. Must be today’s. Take a look:

[1] “Beneath them Rufus walked, one of the fallen—for the weight of this city was murderous—one of those who had been crushed on the day, which was every day, these towers fell. Entirely alone, and dying of it, he was part of an unprecedented multitude. There were boys and girls drinking coffee at the drugstore counters who were held back from his condition by barriers as perishable as their dwindling cigarettes.”

[2] “The music was loud and empty, no one was doing anything at all, and it was being hurled at the crowd like a malediction in which not even those who hated most deeply any longer believed. They knew that no one heard, that bloodless people cannot be made to bleed. So they blew what everyone had heard before, they reassured everyone that nothing terrible was happening, and the people at the tables found it pleasant to shout over this stunning corroboration and the people at the bar, under cover of the noise they could scarcely have lived without, pursued whatever it was they were after.”

Jesus Christ.

But even if nothing so great as society is implicated in our speech, if we manage nothing more than our interpersonal relationships, we should all speak in constant view of the moral and the philosophy, like they do in Pride & Prejudice.


After his triumphant return, post-surgeries, Roger Ebert could write no wrong, but then, rather than drown in the deluge of his writing, I swam for shore and generally stayed there, as I didn’t think I could maintain a healthy critical stance toward so much writing, and suspected that writing so voluminous couldn’t maintain its own critical stance. But he still does write amazing things, like, the other day: “Man on Wire is about the vanquishing of the towers by human bravery and joy, not by fanatic terrorism.” There’s nothing too surprising in the idea, but the use of the word “vanquishing” jolted me. Actually, the idea is surprising, because that word makes it. Well, here are some movies I’ve seen recently in which something gets vanquished.

There’s a scene halfway through Brick that finally tells us how we got to this world. High schoolers settle life or death matters at a kitchen table; the mother of one stumbles in and offers refreshment, embarrassing their delusions, but they wait her out until they can be adults again. At some point these kids started thinking of themselves as gumshoes, baddies and informants, but then the real world faded from view, they lost their sense of irony, and it became for real. That makes Brick satire-free, except for that one scene, which is more like an authorial admission of the premise’s genesis.

I like to keep a mental list of things I will have to share with my imaginary future students. The only one I can remember at the moment is Frans Masereel’s The City, but now I can add one more: the Spike Lee joint Passing Strange.

The best things about Our Idiot Brother and Contagion happen to be the same thing, ellipsis, though in the former it’s used to avoid obvious, overplayed scenes, and in the latter, sort of for the same reason, but more to solve the problem of condensing and pacing a long-form disaster. I always expect audio-visual assault whenever I go to the multiplex (even if it’s pleasurable assault) but on these two most recent trips the movies very determinedly avoided berating me.

Of all the musical cues in Carlos (primarily Feelies and Wire songs, always cut short, a further refusal to resolve an unresolvable tension) the one I like best is The Lightning Seeds’ “Pure,” which, in keeping with the general strategy of the movie (letting events speak for themselves), is employed totally without irony. We all deserve days defined by such featherweight melodies, even if we’re lying about where we’re going and where we’ve been. As for Carlos, he does qualify as a megalomaniac, I suppose, but I wonder if critics who take pains to point this out have been insensitive to the charms of the Edgar Ramirez performance: megalomania needs charisma (or money) to fuel it, and I was mostly as willing to concede to Carlos as any of his associates. Until his surgery priorities became known…

You can always test whether a movie is real (that is to say, really up to something) by losing the story, mentally isolating frames in which the actors aren’t particularly recognizable, and determining if these would have any compelling mystery as photographs. In Terri: a crazy-eyed, shirtless rail in long shot, facing away from the camera, some devil in the skin of his back or the darkness in front of him speaking the ways he’ll try to break out of his body; three people sitting on chairs in a graveyard, because even if we don’t know why they’re there, well, the world demands they sit somewhere. Pretty real.

Police, Adjective is a film of the Romanian new wave, though I still find that a weird name for it, as the systems of oppression these films depict have to be vanquished before a new wave can roll through: no art wave could itself be strong enough to crush these government nightmares. That said, Police, Adjective has a sense of humor, and while it’s a little sad the situation is such that the filmmakers have to expend their cinematic revolutionary joie de vivre in undeniable arguments against the most boring, bureaucratic evils, it and its ilk are doing a great job of it.

The guys in Fast, Cheap & Out Of Control aren’t mad, or even obsessed, really, just amazingly self-aware, having early realized the world’s strange variety and how to choose a profession that best expresses it. This is the rare documentary in which the meaning isn’t provided by the subjects, or even by their interactions, but by some crazy, unpredictable triangular force of subject, montage and viewer.

Days of Heaven gives us a narrator for whom the adult events of the movie present only a delight of the senses. These are her days of heaven, but no one else’s. The last line of the movie is a great joke: “I hope things work out for her,” she says in voiceover as she follows along beside a wandering girl; our narrator is just as desperate in fact, but not in spirit.

Some of the great things in Chang-dong Lee’s Secret Sunshine, some of which were also great things in his Poetry: the attempt to represent real-world colors and refusal to color-code emotions; the way it allows characters to ask obvious questions (“where/what is God?” replacing the other movie’s “where/what is poetry?”); the way its characters find meaning in groups (impossible in American movies); the inclusion of a character whose pathetic actions mirror those of the character who finds them so; the way incidental lines suddenly have overwhelming moral implications: “You might have killed someone!”; the way it takes place in a realistically populated world.

But more enjoyable and more time consuming than any of those are these:

Mad Men (season four)
Pride & Prejudice (miniseries)
Louie (season one)
Project Runway (season nine)


Construction of my JGL shrine.

Coinage of a new word that is sort of like beauty and sort of like genius, but different, naming a quality we will admire in others once we have a name for it.

Ponderings about whether there is more humanity to be found in a large, sharp image or a small, grainy one.

Psychoanalysis of my compulsion to turn all photographs into album covers. Is this artless reduction? Test any resulting hypotheses with ten alternate covers for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, to be produced by cropping my best photos and putting the words “born this way” somewhere on them.

The bourgeoning arts of scan-art and trace-art.

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I hate when people say that something is the proper subject of something (excepting Bergman’s “the human face is the proper subject of cinema,” which is probably true), but if anyone ever asks me what is the proper subject of literature, I will have this answer prepared: the relationship between body and soul, and the sad things that result when one is healthy and the other is not.

I’m working on two stories that go nowhere near that proper subject. I confess this here only because creating expectation might motivate me to finish them. One, about the arts of color mixture and set decoration, is called “Lady Daydream” and begins: “He calls me Lady Daydream, and tells me it’s not the right green.” The other has to do with all those implicit daily confessions of mortality we all experience (I think), and the fear of making them explicit.

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I have no talent for self-promotion, but I’ve been brainstorming ways I might re-brand this blog to get more visitors. A few ideas:

Hot For Malkmus: Confessions of a Gay Indie Rock Fan

Life & How To Live It: A Mother and Son Discuss God, Life, & R.E.M.

Not Hot For Barlow: More Confessions of a Gay Indie Rock Fan

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Through the completion of all these promises and future plans, I will keep in mind some fairly obvious things that are nonetheless worth remembering and/or putting in one’s own words:

Eras in history only happen once, but this is per person, not per eternity. For example the punk rock era happened (it really did, vividly) in my head a decade ago, and it’s never coming back. But that was sort of a general overview, so I might get pieces of it back via overlap, like if I have a really heavy Jim Carroll phase and his life happens in my brain. (Tip: Neil’s “Words”)

There can never be a description of something that replaces the thing it’s describing.

If you want to move outside the realm of dreams, sadness and love, and finally learn about things that have exact technical dimensions, begin by reading food labels, and discover that food’s content is nutritional, not emotional.

When we start listening to music, we’ve never been in a city, been on a plane, done anything sexual, etc. so you can imagine what a mysterious outside world music represents. That, too, isn’t coming back.

The three stages of growing up, in terms of attitude towards music made by twenty-somethings: finding it impossibly adult; resenting its accomplishment; being proud of its humanity.

It’s hard to say anything and know with any certainty that the opposite isn’t the truth, but if you try, and talk long enough, you’ll eventually hit on something that sounds right for at least that moment, and your listener will appreciate the effort. If your brain is slow, you might never say anything smart in front of an audience, but you can compensate by saying a lot, and save economy for solitary thought.


I was looking at an old blog post where I used the word “repertory” but meant “repertoire.”

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