Sunday, August 31, 2008

I never did believe the story that there were legions of embittered Hillary supporters out there, poised to vote for McCain. In today’s Times, Frank Rich addresses media myths—“The disconnect between the reality of this campaign and how it is perceived and presented by the mainstream media is now a major part of the year’s story.” Rich doesn’t quite explain how these myths arise, but no doubt part of it has to do with the media’s need for conflict—so that even when there isn’t any, they have to make it up—and also with the “fair and balanced” bullshit that may have started out with the right intentions but has made it so that no one can be wholehearted about anything--and provided a platform for fringe groups (who may otherwise have been too small to be noticed) because reporters feel obliged to quote from the other side. And they continue to rely on poll results even though by now everyone knows (because the pollsters can only reach landlines and not cell phones) that the polls are no longer good indicators.

(And why, I wonder is hardly anyone mentioning the fact that Sarah Palin is under investigation for an ethics breach, or questioning the wisdom of a candidate who would choose a running mate under such circumstances?)

It looks as if the media is as confused as the Republicans as to what their role is in this new era. I was heartened to see that CNN’s straight coverage of the campaign won out over the other networks’ gabble of talking heads. It wasn’t just rhetoric when, in his acceptance speech, Obama said that it wasn’t about him. What the media hasn’t gotten yet, is that it’s not about them, either.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Did anyone else notice the subtle racism in the Times this morning? This was the blurb for, and a paragraph from, “The TV Watch: On the Small Screen, Intimacy and Welcome Silence for Obama’s Big Rally” by Alessandra Stanley:

Wearing a flag pin and a confident mien, Barack Obama looked like a presidential candidate accepting the nomination of the Democratic party.

Well, excuse me, but what else should he look like?

And then there was David Brooks’ infantile response to Obama's historic speech, which serves as an indication of Republican desperation. I can’t believe the Times actually prints this stuff. On a par with McCain’s Paris Hilton video, Brooks insults “a new generation of Americans, a generation that came of age amid iced chai and mocha strawberry Frappucinos, a generation with a historical memory that doesn’t extend past Coke Zero.” Brooks, who was once responsible for an inane rail against hipster parents, of all things, must be feeling the pain of encroaching old fartdom.

Customer @#$%!!vice

I’m online after another weekend of hell with Verizon DSL Customer Service, clearly a misnomer. Please, please bring back the era of public utilities, because what we have here is the worst of both worlds—a private, profit-making company with a monopoly. For some reason, I only have trouble on the weekends, when getting through to tech support is possible only after over an hour (and I’m not exaggerating) of continually calling and yelling “repair” into their voice prompt system (a repair guy also told me to punch in “1” five times—this also worked once, after half hour of trying and calling back, etc. but then didn’t work again). I’ve been this route before, so therefore knew there were willing tech support people amassed in Calcutta just waiting to talk to me if I could just get past the supercilious voice prompt that kept telling me the offices were closed and to call back on Monday. So after that hour of hysterics I did finally get through to “Abby” who (after asking me such questions as “do you have a dial tone on that line?” which I hardly knew how to answer since I was talking to her on that line and she had the number in front of her) made an appointment for a repair person to come to my “premise” on Monday. I’ve been trying to get people to come to my “premise” my whole life. It’s gratifying to learn my point of view is finally taking hold.

So Monday came, and after several hours of panting up and down the three flights from the basement to my studio and back again, the very nice repair guy fixed everything—for now. After all, the last guy thought he fixed everything, too.

Tuesday I got a voice message from Debbie, at the local company that provides me with propane, telling me that even though I’d signed up for their “budget” plan, where they deduct a predetermined amount every month from my credit card, the number of which they have on file, I would still need to call her each month to “remind” her. I did not make this up—however the delivery guy, who came the next day, was able to go back and set her straight (I get my tank filled 3 or so times a year, for a total of $2200 to heat about the same number of square feet. He told me he has a client he goes to every week. “It’s a big house.” OMG.)

Wednesday it was Design Within Reach. I’d phoned ten days before to say that the replacement bulbs they sent me for my Cortina Table Lamp didn’t work, yet hadn’t heard from their tech department as promised, nor did I get an answer to my “Contact Us” email—so tried Customer Service again this afternoon where I got J., whose only proposed “solution,” which she repeated over and over, consisted of sending me another set of the same bulbs, because those were the only ones they had listed for that lamp. After hearing that one more time than I could stand, I hung up.

Let me digress a bit to say that I believe (or did believe) in designer lighting—to the point that it’s been something of an obsession. I think crappy lighting makes even the most expensive furniture look crappy, whereas a designer lamp (like this Artemide Tizio lamp I have on my desk) brings everything else (scarred library table bought off the back of a truck at Broome and Greene, Ikea bookshelves and Kmart computer stand) up to its level.

Although expensive to begin with, I saw my designer lamps as mini-investments that would hold their value, which I could sell if I moved or changed my mind. I’m not so sure anymore. Although I’ve had great luck with Artemide (I sent a lamp, broken by a visiting child, back to the factory for repair and they turned it around as quickly as if it were a computer), a very expensive B.Lux lamp went kaput because a fuse burned out—a fuse that’s now unavailable. The company’s solution was to offer me a new lamp at half price—still a hefty amount—but I did it because I’d designed part of my house around it. Now the Cortina Lamp, which I’ve had for about six years, is out-of-date and needs (according to the manufacturer who I looked up online and called myself, thank you very much, DWR) for me to send back my old base for a new dimmer that will accommodate the new bulbs ($25 plus $13 shipping each way)—or buy a completely new base for $70. (Update: I called the manufacturer again yesterday and got someone else who offered to send me bulbs she thought would work. Customer service tip: keep calling until you get someone who tells you what you want to hear).

So while I’m not quite ready to entirely give up on designer lighting, I’d advise anyone who’s willing to shell out that much money for it to be aware of the possible pitfalls—and stock up on lots of replacement bulbs.

I know, I know, these should be the only problems I have in life. But it may be an extremely long-winded way of addressing the national situation of economic depression (or maybe just depression), which I think may be happening because we simply no longer know how to conduct ourselves in business. How different my week (and their profits, no doubt) would have been if the people I dealt with had been actually trained in customer relations and there was some incentive for them to think rather than just go through the motions (at least the simulated person manning the phones at Verizon is making no bones about it).

For those in customer service, or just life, I recommend a small book: Bullies, Tyrants, and Impossible People: How to Beat Them Without Joining Them by Ronald M. Shapiro and Mark A. Jankowski. The authors tell you how to identify the type of difficult person you’re up against, and suggest methods to handle them accordingly. These are the “Situationally Difficult Person” – a normally reasonable human being who simply has been pushed to the max, the “Strategically Difficult Person”—someone who’s employing certain learned strategies to get what they want, and the “Simply Difficult Person” –a person who you can’t predict or negotiate with, who’s reacting to all kinds of emotional triggers.

Most people who call customer service, including me, are among the “Situationally Difficult”—people who are irritated because something isn’t working, for whom an apology and a little empathy would go a long way. Suppose J. at DWR, instead of insisting over and over that they sent the right bulbs so therefore they should work, end of story, had said: “I am so sorry no one called you back; I’d be very frustrated too. Let me see what I can do to help.” And then, of course, she’d actually have to call the manufacturer, as I ultimately did, but is that really too much effort to keep a loyal customer?

When he came to fix my line, the Verizon guy was empathetic. “No one should have to go through that,” he said, referring to the voice prompt system. A friend, who had had the same experience, likened it to the Bush administration, and after a couple of days of thinking about it, I see what means—people who say they care when they don’t really give a shit—as with Katrina, or the returning injured from Iraq. When the people at the top are insincere and unaccountable, it has a trickle-down effect. What a difference it could make—will make—to have a president who could actually be a role model.

Wow, I had no idea where this was going; it’s turned out to be my longest post ever when, really, I was just sounding off about Verizon. But you know what? I just tried to publish it and discovered that the DSL light is blinking again, and I can’t go online….

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Vicky Christina Barcelona

Last week I went to see “Vicky Christina Barcelona” with my friend, Maria. Clearly Woody Allen was trying to make an Almodovar film, and he completely succeeds—Almodovar’s muse, Penelope Cruz, obviously works Spanish magic for him, as well. In most films about Americans abroad, the emphasis is on the Americans while the natives provide background, color and texture. Here, while the film is still about Americans, they’re seen through Spanish eyes—it could be a Spanish film—and the view isn’t always flattering. Allen is a master at nailing the self-satisfied torpor of the American WASP male—Vicky’s husband, Doug, for instance, looks attractive enough, doesn’t do or say anything particularly bad, yet comes off as simply awful. The women—Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Christina (Scarlett Johansson)—are more carefully and sympathetically drawn as they make choices (the men seem unaware that there even are choices) about art, love, and experience that will determine the course of their lives. Then there’s the Penelope Cruz character—Maria Elena—who has been endowed with more natural gifts than all the other people in the film put together—but who can’t make use of them because she’s at the mercy of such out-of-control emotions that it’s best that guns and knives stay out of reach. Afterwards Maria and I went out for a drink, and during the conversation she asked me which woman I identified with. Certainly not the staid Vicky, I thought, her choices were those I’d rejected, so it had to be Christina, with her determination to plumb life’s experience to the max. Then, of course, I asked Maria, “What about you?”—and she, dedicated museum administrator and conscientious single mom that she is, answered without hesitation: “Maria Elena. I work really hard to keep that under wraps.”

Penelope Cruz in "Vicky Maria Barcelona".

P.S. Researching this I found that Pedro Almodovar has a blog, where I read about his migraines and opinion on Penelope Cruz's hairstyle in Allen's film. Also that we share the same birthday.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Lost Puppy

This from Matt Freedman:
I was pleased to see the Lost Puppy pop up on your blog (below), Carol, especially in the context of a post about art storage, self respect, and need for artists to devise schemes to defend their art. The Lost Puppy's only reason for being, as a matter of fact, is to address all those issues. That you snagged it off the Internet on a whim speaks volumes about either the power of chance or your supernatural curatorial eye. Perhaps both. The Puppy was made for artist Adam Simon's Fine Art Adoption Network (FAAN), which he created in cooperation with Art In General. It's a website designed to put artists together with art lovers who lack the means to buy art. Basically the artist posts an image of a piece he or she is interested in giving away. Visitors to the site who like the piece can write the artist and enter into an online conversation with them. If the artist deems the potential collector worthy, they work out a mutually agreeable means of transferring the piece from the artist to the collector. The idea for the project began when Adam realized he could no longer afford to keep a large old painting in storage. It was a good painting, but there was no one around to buy it. Why not find a collector who had the same interest in art that a "regular collector" does, except without the money? The work would be saved, a person who loved art would have a piece they liked, the art world would grow in size and diversity, and the artist would have one less headache in the studio. Everything would be ideal, except of course, the artist would still be broke. Nothing is perfect. Anyway the idea caught on and now FAAN is a pretty thriving operation. It's a brilliant project, I think, and I was eager to join, but my own contribution, the Lost Puppy, was not kicking around the studio taking up space. In fact, it was made specifically to be given away. No one ever said I was practical. I liked the idea of giving work away, but it was the relationship between the giver and the taker that fascinated me more than the opportunity to unload stuff. One of the half-joking objections made to Adam as he was organizing FAAN was that he was simply giving artists the opportunity to learn that they couldn't even give their work away, and I too was drawn to the idea that at its bottom what was really being conducted was a test of the desirability of the work itself. Putting a monetary value on a piece changes it into a commodity—with all the market-driven forces at work outside of its pure appeal coming into effect in determining whether or not someone decides to acquire it. Taking away any monetary value laid it bare, so I felt I had to make a piece that literally begged to be taken in. What could be more desirable than a lost puppy, with big eyes, floppy ears and a crooked tail? Nature designed them to be adorable as a survival mechanism after all. At any rate, it worked and the Puppy was wooed by many suitors, finally ending up with a class of fifth graders in Canada, whose own cuteness worked as a kind of reverse lever on me, prying loose the Puppy after much backing and forthing. It's in a case at the school now, I hear, with a broken ear that the teacher repaired. As long as a work of art resides with the artist, it can be protected; after it leaves the studio it has to fend for itself. I remember back in 1999 Santiago Calatrava was asked to design a time capsule for the Museum of Natural History that would not be opened for 1,000 years. Various schemes where considered to ensure that it fulfilled its function; should the capsule be so big and strong it could never break? Should it be buried deep in the ground to protect it with the hope it would someday be rediscovered? As I recall, in the end Calatrava said the best defense the capsule could have against its own destruction would be that people would value it and take care of it for the 1,000 years of its life, and the best way to ensure that was to make it as beautiful as possible: beauty as survival mechanism. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder of course—sleek swoopy time capsule or lumpy Puppy, take your pick. In the end, we can only defend our art for so long; sooner or later, somebody else has to care too. c

I think it was Lost Puppy’s innate appeal that prompted me to choose it to represent Matt’s art when writing about the care of artworks. A fine example of purpose inherent in the work—hurrah! Needs no explanation. What I didn’t realize until now is that the article I chose to link to when mentioning Louise Bourgeois—one I wrote for Art & Antiques years ago—about the garden sculpture her father collected, is on the same theme. Protected by their value as art, the sculptures survived only until their material—lead—became worth even more when melted down to make bullets for World War II.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Storage II

Yesterday my team of teenage assistants, led by the industrious Leah, helped me to complete the cleaning and reorganization of my painting storage, and it feels as if the studio can finally breathe—although now that everything’s so tidy it hardly looks like a project that would take weeks to do. I found it interesting that when, at Joanne Mattera’s suggestion, I wrote my first post about it, people were moved to comment, underscoring what an issue storage is for artists. Then, as I was sharing my elation at putting this task behind me with my friend, sculptor Matt Freedman, he commented that, “taking care of your work is a way of acknowledging your commitment to it, of being respectful toward it”—something I’d never thought about—and that “conservatorship is the final act of assessing a work’s value.” He was reminded of an anecdote I told him many years ago, about Louise Bourgeois pounding a table and saying, “We must defend our art!” That was in a different context completely—after I’d told her how I’d managed to keep a sexist contributor’s blurb about me from being published—but it works here as well. Yes, we must defend our work. Because if we don’t, who will?
Matt Freedman, Lost Puppy, 2006.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Travel blue$

It took all of yesterday to buy plane tickets to Berlin for the end of October: one hour to book the reservation and nine more to get over the fact that air fares to Europe have doubled, and because of taxes. The tax on the $480 flight was $560. Figure that one out. Being a Virgin Atlantic fan who’s just finished reading Richard Branson’s energizing autobiography, I felt disloyal doing business with British Air, but we’re stopping over in England and Virgin doesn’t go to Berlin. The agents at BA were much grumpier than the ones I’m used to at Virgin, but maybe everyone’s grumpy now. The good news (it pales next to the bad news, but at least there is some) is that England has lifted its carry-on restriction so that you can now take two bags on board (a handbag or computer case in addition to a suitcase). I’ve decided to cheat and bought a travel vest into which I can tuck even more stuff.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Kronos, etc.

Last week I saw the Kronos Quartet perform at Tanglewood, part of wanting to support the festival in going beyond their classical-music-as-usual format, which is treated with such annoying reverence here in the Berkshires. It was the first time I’d been in Seiji Ozawa Hall, which was built in 1994 for $8.7 million and designed by William Rawn Associates in Boston in a manner aptly described by my friend, Scott, as “I. M. Pei channeling Charles Rennie Macintosh.” The relentless woodwork is gorgeous, veering close but thankfully avoiding association with the cheesy faux-Mission look that’s become so ubiquitous in furniture and design in the years since the hall was built. The entire back of the building opens up to include picnickers on the lawn, and exterior stairways contribute to a pleasant indoor/outdoor ambiance. My only complaint is with the decidedly un-ergonomic wooden chairs which, with thin cushions on the seats and none on the backs, are much more uncomfortable than they need to be—especially when listening to challenging music. I was familiar with much of the Kronos’s aggressively adventuresome repertoire, but didn't realize that they’d commissioned over 600 pieces in their 35-year history. While some of their choices push the limits of my tolerance for cacophony—a sound I associate, rightly or wrongly, with contemporary academic composition—there were moments that were completely transporting, among them Flugufreisarinn by Icelanders Sigur Ros (rightly described in the program as “at the forefront of invention in today’s international post-rock scene”), of whom I’m a fervent fan, and Steve Reich’s Triple Quartet.

The Kronos, like many contemporary musicians, make free use of pre-recorded audio, the only part that, for me, was disconcerting. I don’t mind sampling because it’s clear what it is, but I found it distracting to sit there and wonder what was live and what wasn't. This is one of the things I value in—and have learned from—the visual work of Robert Irwin and Olafur Eliasson, who make a point of keeping their means obvious so that the experience is the experience, and not marred by conjecture about how it’s done. One of my companions at the concert, Gregory, suggested that the Kronos might be better off having someone behind the computer up there on the stage with them, just to acknowledge the source of the sounds. But in general I don’t love the combination of canned music with live performance (even with dance)—it reminds me too much of lip-syncing (how about those Chinese?), or the violinists in the subway whose backup orchestra is a CD in a boombox.

I found a YouTube version of the Kronos playing Flugufreisarinn, which hardly does it justice, but can give you a taste. And finally the stunning new Sigur Ros video, Gobbledigook, has been posted, so I can include it here rather than make you go to their site to download it. It was done in collaboration with Ryan McGinley (Scott asked, “Does this mean that now I have to like Ryan McGinley?” and the answer is, "Yes."). Of course this is exactly what it’s like to be in Iceland, but with more trees.

The Kronos Quartet playing Sigur Ros:

Sigur Ros video Gobbledigook

I neglected to bring my camera, so Gregory took these pics of Ozawa hall with his iPhone:

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Joe and Dick's house

Art Vent House Report #2, the Berkshire home of Joe Wheaton, sculptor, and Dick Lipez, writer of, among other things, a series of mystery novels featuring a gay detective in Albany, NY (nom de plume Richard Stevenson), who had a dinner recently for 19 friends in order to reconnect after their extensive travels in Southeast Asia. Joe, who also has a background as a chef, went to cooking school in Thailand and, after travelling to Boston the day before for rare ingredients, recreated a mind-boggling array of tasty dishes. I think sometimes about how the synergy of some couples I know adds up to more than the sum of their parts. Well, in the case of Joe and Dick, in terms of accomplishments, experience, good works, and all round good will--their combined contribution to the world--is that of about 10 people. On top of it, they make everything seem easy and fun. Joe's response to my comment about about much work it would take to pull off a dinner like that was "No problem."



During: a random slide show of Joe's photographs documenting the trip. While not all artists make good photographers, Joe's photographs are gorgeous. More pictures and the story on their blog.
The stairwell:

Sculpture with extras:

The lounge:

Where the magic happens:

Monday, August 11, 2008

My Life As I Remember It

Last night my Berkshire neighbors, poets Taylor and Marie-Elizabeth Mali, came over for dinner. Taylor and I didn't know each other at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe--he started out in 1995, after I'd turned to other things--but we knew many of the same people. So I got out the anthology, Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe (1994)--with signatures and little notes from friends, it's the closest thing I have to a yearbook--and Taylor read a poem both of us remembered (it would be impossible to forget) by Bobby Miller, although it changed each time Bobby performed it. Written for spoken word, it pales in the absence of Bobby's rapid-fire delivery, but still holds up:

At two years old I whistled at the mailman
and set a pattern for years to come.
At four I danced in the sunshine of our front yard,
an interpretative dance to the gods.
The neighbors swore I was retarded.
At six I told my classmates that I was from another galaxy
light years away.
Mrs. Jackson, our first grade teacher, thought it
was necessary
to alert my parents.
By ten Mr. Grady the art teacher was alarmed by the colors
I chose to paint with,
red, black and purple.
In junior high I was considered weird and neat at
the same
time because I dressed funny and my parents had tattoos
and Harleys.
My ninth grade report card was all D's and F's
except for art and music class.
All written reports from the faculty stated,
" talks too much and daydreams..."
Some things never change.

I watched the Beatles arrive in America,
and decided I wanted to go to England.
I saw hair grow over ears and down over collars and onto
shoulders and backs all over the country.
I walked with the first protest march in Washington
and every other for ten years.
And we still have crooks running the country.

I sat in streets, cafes, corner bars and coffee houses
and listened to the beat of a new generation being born.
I went through puberty with Janis and Jimi
and took LSD when it wasn't cut with speed or poison.
I smoked pot in fifth grade and laughed all day
at a fat substitute teacher named Mrs. Potty.
I dated black boys at fifteen in an all white Klan neighborhood.
I hitchhiked to New York from Baltimore with three queens
in hot pants, clogs and long bleached shags at sixteen
and blew truckers all up and down the turnpike.

I've been addicted to MDA, tequila, LSD, PCP, speed, dope, coke,
pot, mescaline, Quaaludes, nicotine, sex
and the mysteries of the night all my life until I hit twenty-eight.
Now it's only nightlife and sex.
I've walked barefoot on twenty four hundred degree hot coals
and not been burnt.
Greta Garbo grabbed me from behind in traffic and
saved my life.
I've had green hair, blue hair, black hair, red hair, no hair, long hair
and all before 1973. I'm happy to still have hair.
I've walked Sunset Blvd., Polk Street, Forty Second, Hollywood and Vine,
Christopher, Fire Island Blvd., P-town, Key West, Bombay, Miami Beach,
London, Paris, Rome, Milan, Montreal,
and every gay ghetto street listed in the book
and I'm still looking for the perfect lover.
I've lived as a woman for a solid year and had tits,
thank you!
I've dated black men, white men, brown men, red men, yellow men,
and several delicious women.
I've been engaged, married, in love, separated, divorced and brokenhearted.
I've had syphilis, gonorrhea, crabs, scabies, hemorrhoids, hepatitis,
appendicitis, dermatitis and the flu at least fifty times.
And I feel better now at forty than I did at twentyfive.
I've spent the last eleven years meditating, concentrating,
contemplating, applicating, educating, investigating and instigating
a higher ideal.
I've been a born again Christian, a crystal-holding new age
visualizationist, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a Christian scientist,
a Universalist, a bullshit artist, a seeker of truth, a charlatan,
a holy roller, a shamanistic dancer, a guru, a disciple
and an enigma to my friends.
I'm a triple Gemini natural blonde who loves God and takes
time out to smell the roses.
I've been around the block at least ten times and I'm ready
to go again until these feet won't carry me anymore.
I have always believed in the power of love and that the groove lies somewhere between the heart and the genitals.
I have never been deliberately cruel and I've never hit anyone
with my fist. I hope I never have to.
I've been a whore, a saint, a sinner, a healer, a heathen,
an actor, a poet, a drag queen, a straight man, a teenage zombie,
a punk rocker, a greaser, a clone, a faggot, a streetwalker,
a skywriter, a vegetarian, a teacher, a student, a wanderer,
a caretaker, a wild thing, a father, a son, a yogi,
and a fierce hairdresser.
I've been lost, found confused, absolved, punished and rewarded.
I've stared death in the face and wondered why not me. Yet.

I've talked and listened and heard and seen and been shown the way.
I've played follow the leader, pin the tail on the donkey,
five card stud, and Russian roulette with a silver handled .38.
I've lost eight thousand in cash gambling and won
five hundred on a bet in less than a minute.
I've seen the eye of God and been touched by her hand.
I've seen miracles happen and been disappointed dozens of times.
I've been almost everywhere, met almost everyone, seen almost everything,
done almost all of it, and I'm still waiting to be discovered.
The night has a thousand eyes and I'm a gypsy dancer
who's still hungry for more.

Bobby Miller

Friday, August 8, 2008


When I ran the post not long ago on musician jokes, I thought about how implicit in them is the assumption that making money at music, although always welcomed, is neither expected nor the goal. You’re a musician because you're a musician. Yet while the odds are no better in the art world, many artists I meet seem to feel that going to school, making art, and having a career should be a natural progression, like studying for the law—which isn't surprising, considering what art schools cost. Thank god, I say, there’s still—a certain Hollywood film not withstanding—no academy for rock musicians. My theory about this is as follows: along with, now, being able to use the Internet to their own best ends, musicians have always met and played in bars. And back when artists used to gather in bars such as, famously, Les Deux Magots, the Cedar Bar, and Max’s Kansas City—for the price of a beer—younger artists could hang out, form associations, and meet older, more established artists. In the eighties, however, when artists started making big money and began to frequent expensive restaurants, such as the Odeon and Mr. Chow’s, off limits to their struggling brethren, art schools took up the slack—and therefore may be seen as simply expensive substitutes for art bars. Looking back on it, a little Brouilly at the Odeon would have been cheaper.

In the August Interview, I read an exchange between filmmaker Steven Soderbergh and Brian Burton a.k.a. Danger Mouse, who achieved international fame at 27 after spending untold hours in his bedroom mashing up the Beatles “white” album with Jay Z’s The Black Album to make the The Grey Album. Intended for his friends and released for free on the Web, it was downloaded, bootlegged and shared by millions until the lawyers got in the way. His collaboration with Cee-Lo, dubbed Gnarls Barkley, resulted in “Crazy”, the song that was the summer of 2006, and he’s produced two of my favorite albums: Gorillaz’s Demon Days and the new Beck, which has a title I wish I’d made up: Modern Guilt.

In the interview, Soderbergh (whose own career began similarly, with international prominence at age 26 for the low budget film sex, lies and videotape), notes that the “traditional models for success are just disappearing” to which Danger Mouse says, “Well, in the history of humans making music, how long have musicians been rich and famous? In the end, I think musicians know that getting up in the morning and making music you love, doesn’t necessarily mean that you deserve billions of dollars or worship from anybody.” Then:

SS: I’ve heard you say that you don’t necessarily believe in talent.

DM: No, I don’t.

SS: But I’m wondering if you’re making a distinction between talent and skill.

DM: I guess I just look at talent as a very subjective thing. I mean, if you’ve never tried playing an oboe, how do you know you’re not the most talented oboe player ever? The point is that if you don’t love it, then it doesn’t matter. No matter how naturally gifted you are, it’s your passion that’s going to make you better and maybe touch some people. There is no genius—there is only love.

Looking for an illustration for this post, I was wandering around YouTube and came across this live video of “Hong Kong”—from the Gorillaz album D-Sides—a song that sends me into a swoon each time I hear it. I don’t think Danger Mouse produced “Hong Kong,” so it’s not exactly related, but then that’s the beauty of a blog, I can go where I want with it. Even though it’s not the absolutely best recording of the song, Damon Albarn will make you swoon anyway, but what’s really special about it is the performance of the beauteous Zhen Zhen on the harp-like guzheng.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

inside gertrude stein

Tonight at our local open mic, I'll read this tour de force by poet Lynn Emanuel, who I met at the MacDowell Colony many moons ago, and have remained an ardent fan.
* * *
Right now as I am talking to you and as you are being talked to, without letup, it is becoming clear that gertrude stein has hijacked me and that this feeling that you are having now as you read this, that this is what it feels like to be inside gertrude stein. This is what it feels like to be a huge type-- writer in a dress. Yes, I feel we have gotten inside gertrude stein, and of course it is dark inside the enormous gertrude, it is like being locked up in a refrigerator lit only by a smiling rind of cheese. Being inside gertrude is like being inside a monument made of a cloud which is always moving across the sky which is also always moving. Gertrude is a huge gal- leon of cloud anchored to the ground by one small tether, yes, I see it down there, do you see that tiny snail glued to the tackboard of the landscape? That is alice. So, I am inside gertrude; we belong to each other, she and I, and it is so won- derful because I have always been a thin woman inside of whom a big woman is screaming to get out, and she's out now and if a river could type this is how it would sound, pure and complicated and enormous. Now we are lilting across the countryside, and we are talking, and if the wind could type it would sound like this, ongoing and repetitious, abstracting and stylizing everything, like our famous haircut painted by Picasso. Because when you are inside our haircut you under- stand that all the flotsam and jetsam of hairdo have been cleared away (like the forests from the New World) so that the skull can show through grinning and feasting on the alarm it has created. I am now, alarmingly, inside gertrude's head and I am thinking that I may only be a thought she has had when she imagined that she and alice were dead and gone and someone had to carry on the work of being gertrude stein, and so I am receiving, from beyond the grave, radioactive isotopes of her genius saying, take up my work, become gertrude stein.

Because someone must be gertrude stein, someone must save us from the literalists and realists, and narratives of the beginning and end, someone must be a river that can type. And why not I? Gertrude is insisting on the fact that while I am a subgenius, weighing one hundred five pounds, and living in a small town with an enormous furry male husband who is always in his Cadillac Eldorado driving off to sell something to people who do not deserve the bad luck of this mer- chandise in their lives--that these facts would not be a prob- lem for gertrude stein. Gertrude and I feel that, for instance, in Patriarchal Poetry when (like an avalanche that can type) she is burying the patriarchy, still there persists a sense of con- descending affection. So, while I'm a thin, heterosexual sub- genius, nevertheless gertrude has chosen me as her tool, just as she chose the patriarchy as a tool for ending the patriarchy. And because I have become her tool, now, in a sense, gertrude is inside me. It's tough. Having gertrude inside me is like having swallowed an ocean liner that can type, and, while I feel like a very small coat closet with a bear in it, gertrude and I feel that I must tell you that gertrude does not care. She is using me to get her message across, to say, I am lost, I am beset by literalists and narratives of the beginning and middle and end, help me. And so, yes, I say, yes, I am here, gertrude, because we feel, gertrude and I, that there is real urgency in our voice (like a sob that can type) and that things are very bad for her because she is lost, beset by the literalists and realists, her own enormousness crushing her and we must find her and take her into ourselves, even though I am the least likely of saviors and have been chosen perhaps as a last resort, yes, definitely, gertrude is saying to me, you are the least likely of saviors, you are my last choice and my last resort.

From: Then Suddenly--, by Lynn Emanuel, 1999, University of Pittsburgh Press.