Sunday, December 23, 2007
I first became aware of this phenomenon when I was living in San Diego in the mid-90s. There’s a neighborhood there that gets so totally decked out in Christmas lights that it’s become a tourist destination. My future ex-wife had a friend visiting one Christmas, so one night we all went for a drive around the prescribed course of this (70 degree) winter wonderland. Signs up along the route advised us to tune to an AM station for Christmas carols while driving.
It may have just been problems with the ionosphere that evening, but the station sounded low volume even when turned up high. Through the echoey staticy haze you could barely make out sonorous music and an occasional line like “merry Christmas”, as “merry Christmas” would sound if delivered from beyond the grave. While the fact that I was unsettled by Christmas music that evening was clearly a matter of delivery, from that night forward I began to realize that even under the best conditions an air of the uncanny pervades holiday jingles.
Let’s look at a few examples:
The Carol of the Bells. This song has always struck me as being like the soundtrack of a nervous breakdown. Not only are the bells relentless and growing more frantic as the song progresses, but the lyrics themselves seem to celebrate this. One seems to hear words from everywhere, filling the air… Oh how they pound, raising the sound... On on they send, on without end… Upon research I learned that this song is based on a prehistoric Ukrainian chant. That actually makes sense, as it sounds like it could be used to summon the Elder Gods from their centuries-long slumber.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. This song produces a feeling that might be called “heartwarming dread”. The fact that it twice tells us that from now on our troubles will be “out of sight” and “miles away” conveys, more than anything else, the feeling that we must be pretty darn heavy-laden with troubles. And then there’s the line Through the years we all will be together if the Fates allow. It’s hard to know what’s worse- is it the crushing inevitability of our forced togetherness for all time, or the icy powerlessness of this togetherness being the plaything of fate?
Frosty the Snowman. The tale of this snow-golem is inherently fraught with peril. The song tells us he was “alive as he could be”. Well, who worked this magic- God or some demiurge? What does it mean to be alive? Though animated, does Frosty have a soul? If not, do we? Then there’s this: Frosty the Snowman/ Knew the sun was hot that day/ So he said let's run/ And we'll have some fun/ Now before I melt away…followed slightly later by Frosty the Snowman/ Had to hurry on his way/ But he waved goodbye/ Saying don't you cry/ I'll be back again some day. If you want your eight year old to grapple with questions of being and nothingness, action and responsibility in the face of extinction, and death and resurrection, then by all means continue to expose them to the existential maelstrom that is Frosty the Snowman.
Little Town of Bethlehem. Now we arrive at the dark heart of Christmas carols. This one is worth quoting in its entirety:
O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
Deep and dreamless sleep. Silent stars going by. Everlasting light shining in darkened streets. Meeting the sum of all hopes and fears on a winter’s night. This is practically a goth song!
I could go on with more examples, but I don’t want to spoil the joy of discovery for you. I encourage you to go forth and listen, and try not to shudder. And, of course, happy holidays to all, and I’ll see you in 2008!
Sunday, December 16, 2007
And lo and behold, I did wake up this morning. And now I have one year clean and sober.
I was actually out past midnight, so technically my reign of non-terror began before I went to bed. Being out last night itself struck me- I was onstage in front of a few hundred cheering people at Mortified, laughed so hard at the other performers that my face hurt, and then spent a few hours after the show hanging out and talking with beautiful, creative people.
I've still got my fears and insecurities. I feel frustrated sometimes with the pace of change in my life. Some things come up now, un-numbed for the first time in years, that I hardly even know what to do with. But a year ago, shaking, sweating, and scared shitless knowing that something had to change or I might not make it, I no longer knew that the kind of night I had last night was even possible.
Now it's not only possible, it's becoming normal. Normal that I'm losing my fear of people. Normal that my creative life is expanding, Normal that my world is getting bigger, rather than smaller. Not only that, I have a chance now to reach out to people who are where I was a year ago and tell them it will be okay. That they can make it. That there's a way out.
I reckon all that's worth sticking around for, and I'll try a year and a day next.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Have you ever been out around town somewhere and run across a group of people who were making a movie? I have before, often with a little flash of envy accompanying the “who the fuck are these people who have taken over a public place?” We mostly shot at the director’s apartment, but our last scene of the weekend was in a taqueria at 29th & Mission.
So last night I the fuck was one of those people. Jason, the director, even got a passing mariachi band to take part in the scene. I have never been happier!
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Final entry ported over from MySpace! Now I am completely caught up. And all grown up...
I know why I will never be a rock music journalist.
I might never be a rock music journalist because it's a hard field to get in to. I might never be a rock music journalist because being over the age of thirty is a little old to be carrying that aspiration. I might even never be a rock music journalist because I have no aptitude for that kind of writing. These are all plausible reasons that I will never be a rock music journalist.
In fact, none of them is the reason that I will never be a rock music journalist. My Muse lends me to nothing more wholly and joyfully than music writing, and age and difficulty are no bar to success when your will is aligned with that of your Muse. It's too bad that these aren't the reasons that I will never be a rock music journalist, because, while untrue, at least they make sense. The real reason that I will never be a rock music journalist escapes my comprehension.
I will never be a rock music journalist because I like Jim Morrison.
It seems that all successful rock music journalists that I can name have an almost unnatural antipathy to Jim Morrison and the Doors. Jim DeRogatis, who I agree with musically on almost everything, personally authored the chapter skewering the Doors in Kill Your Idols, the volume he edited of a new generation of rock critics reconsidering the classics. Chuck Klosterman, who I frequently disagree with musically but so identify with in his musical and personal preoccupations and how they interweave with each other that I feel like we were twins separated at birth by a freak hospital mishap, rails against Morrison repeatedly in the first 120 pages of Killing Yourself to Live.
Klosterman and DeRogatis are pretty much the extent of my examples at the moment. Two seems like a small survey size to base sweeping general statements on, but I've been known to hatch major life theories on no data points at all, so this hardly phases me. Anyway, trust me, there are a lot more examples even if I can't come up with them right this second. Rock critics hate Jim Morrison. And I just don't get it.
The usual rap involves something about pretension and bad poetry, but is rock music really a place to get fussy about this? This is the home genre, after all, of the rock opera Tommy, Black Sabbath songs with titles like "War Pigs" and such classic lines as: a-wop-bab-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom. I think Jim actually gets zinged because he seriously presented his work as poetry, and asked that we treat it as such.
Was his writing dark? Yes. Serious? Surely. Weird? Without a doubt. But bad? Show me another writer in rock who can throw out the simple brutal beauty of a line like: The killer awoke before dawn/ He put his boots on. Name someone else who could summon forth the lyrical roll and intellectual displacement of lines like: Soft driven slow and mad like some new language. What writer with a lesser poetical sensibility could even get to that point on "Not To Touch the Earth" when the music suddenly lurches to a halt, stray guitar strings screech in ragged disarray and a voice comes out of the suddenly silent space and makes your hair stand on end as it intones: I am the Lizard King/ I can do anything?
Exploring atavistic irruptions of darkness is not everyone's cup of tea and is certainly not a musical mood for all seasons. As often as not, I need silly doo-wop songs from the 50s to keep me regular. But on those occasions when I'm in the mood to ride with the Dead president's corpse in the driver's car/ The engine runs on glue and tar/ C'mon along, we're not going very far/ To the East to meet the Czar there's no one I'd rather go with than Mr. Mojo Risin'.
Even if it means that I can never be a rock music journalist.
Monday, December 03, 2007
All three emerged from writing exercises that use words and phrases to jumpstart your creativity. The first two are pretty much flights of fancy that I've left as they originally came out. The third had something more that it wanted to say, so I kept working with it and revised it a few times.
Ted from the Bureau of Assholes
about the geology of the wolf.
Thus nobody can absolve
that nappy-headed bastard cuttlefish
who masturbates to thoughts of Buchenwald
as if his acid copper parody
of an unblinking vigil of
chameleon maiden trollops
the pristine entrails
of stellar divinities.
Better he had met
the hogweed accordion of the abortionist
or his mother had used a diaphragm
of marigolds and tapers
to arbitrate the okra omen
of his father's
sparrow song seed husks.
That was when I knew I had to write this
If you wander far enough
you will come to it:
the great city
at the edge of forever.
(Standing up to get a hot dog
someone spills mustard all over me.
I was just on the edge,
the way it always happens.
Now my hand hurts
and the opportunity is fled.)
Gone into the land beyond sleep
the land in which the only light
comes from Celestia.
city on the edge of forever,
her ruins marked only by
a wild exultation
brought down into stony fragments
of dream and myth.
(It must be very hard to understand.
Just start with the telephone
and a meal in silence.
You will know that when love calls
you do, in fact, have to go.)
That was when I knew
I had to write this last will and testament
I Think It Came In Through the Window
The egress through which I let it in
To do any real harm:
Just a scotch on the windowsill
Gleaming gold in ice-cube plastic glass,
Volumes of poetry scattered on the comforter,
Their words a swarm of mosquitoes
Into a nodding acquaintance
In the darkness I ordered another.
One shaky morning,
I found I had ordered
A box of maladies
That daily unpacked thirsty demands,
Slaughtered the mosquitoes,
And left the comforter
With dead words
In stale sweat.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
I first ran across the term a few days ago in an article that mentioned the "unfortunately-named 'mumblecore' movement" and referenced Andrew Bujalski. I immediately knew what it was talking about- his 2005 film, "Funny Ha Ha" is one of my favorite independent films from the last few years. The movie resonated on an emotional wavelength of unresolved relationships, unspoken longings, understated intentions and general young urban anomie that made immediate sense to me. I pretty much felt that I had spent a lot of my life being the lead character, Marnie. Or at least wanting to date her. (Without ever telling her so, of course, because that's what life is like in a mumblecore movie.)
This spring at Indiefest I saw "LOL", which struck me in exactly the same way. And carried out much of its low-key longing via the Internet and mobile communications, which made it even more uncomfortably on target. And, lo and behold, it turned out that Bujalski was (briefly) in that film and that its director, Joe Swanberg, considers him to be a compatriot.
Having by then seen a couple indie films in this vein, and just generally picking up on the zeitgeist, I thought there was something afoot. Then I read the above mention, and a few days later saw it used again in a review of the just-released "Hannah Takes the Stairs" which mentioned both "Funny Ha Ha" and "LOL". And "Hannah" is directed by Greta Gerwig, who was one of the online muses inspiring the hapless virtual-relationship obsessed boys of "LOL".
I think these films have a lot to say about our simultaneous longing for connection and difficulty achieving it. I love how consciously lo-fi they are, and how keyed in on the subtlety of internal psychology and relationships. And I adore the fact that the genre has ended up being named something that sounds like a musical sub-genre. I feel like I have found a pocket of fellow travelers.
So I am down with the mumblecore revolution! While it may not be televised, it will be webcast; texted, and screened at independent film festivals.