Quotes that Say Something

"Please, dad, get down and look. I think there's some kind of monster under my bed."

Life when seen in close-up often seems tragic, but in wide-angle it often seems comic. -- Charlie Chaplin

"And when the cloudbursts thunder in your ear, you shout, but no one's there to hear. And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon." -- Roger Waters, "Brain Damage"

Oct 29, 2010

Maybe All of Our Thoughts Are Misgiven

Baby, baby, I don't wanna leave you, But I ain't jokin' woman, I got to ramble. I can hear it callin' me the way it used to . . . I can hear it callin' me back home.
                                   "Babe, I'm a Gonna Leave You" -- Led Zeppelin

What the heart has once known, it will never lose. -- Harriet Beecher Stowe

For days, since my last stop at this bloglspot, I have been thinking about some short stories I want to write. Or maybe it will turn out to be just one lengthy one, with a bunch of 'what's it about' themes entangled. The moment of unsought adrenaline, a momentary headlong shove into deep fear and foreboding -- the push that actually got me racing to communicate this -- appeared chimera-like (resembling the horrid flash of a photo camera), in my car's rear-view mirror, some days ago. And then it was simply over. As I was driving and daydreaming, I had braked. Sharply. And I had almost crushed the car trunk of the guy in front of me. I had rudely come upon a stopped-dead line of cars -- on the 264-West freeway exit that runs down and over, toward my workplace. From the corner of my eye, glancing up toward my tell-tale mirror, a pick-up truck -- as icy cold and red as any blood one has ever seen -- blew past my right rear bumper. So close! Going easily 80 or more. My car and I rocked to and fro in its wake. A mere razor's edge away. Right beside me, like a robed-and-masked executioner swinging into action, so close I could almost grab his ax . . . Or did it go by? Did I unknowingly die in a crunch and tangle of auto-metal and human spirit, not fully grasping in my front-brain yet an undeniable horror?

{{Deep breath. Eye roll.}} {{Oooohh right. I forgot to take those pills again today.}} {I'm running late for everything.}} Okay, now. Glance up, look ahead. Yes. {{Grab the wheel tightly.}} Breathe like you mean it. Alright, I'm still here. Okay. Then, damn it, heaven can effing wait. (The red truck went on mindlessly, darting in and out of heavy traffic, rambling on like a crazed ex-psycho-prisoner around the town square, then he was lost to sight. Goodbye, sir.)

Heaven. Can wait. {{Slight shudder}} I may never lose this feeling.

I have wondered off and on what it will feel like when death really, inexorably, comes calling. A pale and bony man (all in morbid black, of course) who stubbornly refuses to go away from my front receiving room until I see him, having presented me with his crisp calling card via the hands of my hushed, eyes-down, and stunned doorman. Will it be a blink of an eye experience, a hit and run affair? Will it seem like an uncomplicated switching from one mindset to another -- like clicking instantly on command from one internet page to another? Will it be just a simple (but profound?) darkness, as in 'Oh shit! My life is a box? Now what'? Or perhaps, just maybe I say, we will all meet death's grin by actually get sucked up into some mindbending vertigo, a tossing and tumbling about, before that mythical white light shines dimly over there somewhere. Then those short, but darn big-brained, gray creatures (with those spooky black-almond 'Close Encounters' eyes, who abduct defenseless humans from their beds, among other atrocities) will extend their bony little hook-hands, hopefully grateful to see us.

The momentary whoosh of the red truck reminded me of M. Whom I had been studiously trying to forget. Several days ago, he (a young acquaintance) massaged his brain with a .38 caliber piece of merciless metal. Right into the right temple. Perfect shot, dead-on. How do you pick up that gun, young man? Steady the barrel? Finger the steel trigger? Pull. What happened, for God's sake, to you? Where did you go? How did you carry all that awful emotion, a burden that was both prodding you and calling to you, to that edge of that bathtub, to pass over and into that unrepeatable and speeding moment of mystery?

"Help me, am I slippin' into a twilight zone? This is a madhouse, I feel like I'm being cloned. . . . But soon you will come to know when the bullet hits . . .  "

Then it was all over. The truck -- the bloody-terrifying episode with M. -- All up in smoke, as it were. Almost before I knew what had happened. The traffic line, me sitting in it, remained motionless. Nothing had really changed. (. . . But me inside.) Racing dismay on the thin ice of new way? Turn the page quick, man, I thought. Repress. Click to a new Favorites link. Gotta get clear before this all comes real.

Now I realize that I just needed to tell you this tonight, whoever you are. There is something mysterious and blood-roiling just beyond my grasp here in the Friday night-dark of my man cave; yes, some entity or idea just beyond the frothy bubble-ledges of my consciousness -- perhaps a cloaked messenger, like Mr. Death paused in my waiting room, from some parallel universe -- that puts all of us, that damned madman in the red truck, and me helplessly waiting in my vehicle, and M. pulling a trigger to slice up his brain with a precisely aimed .38 (on the edge of that inanimate, mute bathtub), (yes, all of us) in the same tense. Here's the story, okay? What if the red truck really did hit me? Lethally. Smashingly. Inexorably? What if I didn't transfer into The Other way in the lapse of a moment? What would I imagine, what would I see and know? -- What or whom would I long for . . . until the full truth of that mysterious white light-shine crept up to me and into me?

Or maybe not. Maybe there is nothing that connects these dots. No such thing as present tense. Once a moment passes, it is history. Nevermore. It will never rise again. Me hit by a truck? Not likely to occur. As the ever-beautiful song"Stairway to Heaven" dreamily goes, 'Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.'

So, maybe you can figure it out. What are the next steps in the plot line for me, if there is a shor story in these ramblings here? I think there is a some bemusing little story to tell. Characters of course will be crucial. You recognize the absolute, literary truth that "plot is character." Now that my heart knows (or thinks it knows) what happened during seemingly unlinked, unhinging moments in the last week or so, there will be no turning back. If you get this -- pray tell, if you can disclose a fulsome narrative to me, congratulations. And, for goodness sake, contact me. Now, it's getting late. I am written out. I've tapped my reservoir of risk for today. You understand? I need a presence to help me go tracking down a punchline and denoument.

Will it be Muse or Monster?

Oct 20, 2010

Was Yossarian Right, Or Was Orr?

Washington D.C. -- October 20, 2010 -- 1:15 PM

'There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to.' Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. "That's some catch, that catch-22," he observed. "It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed. -- Joseph Heller

A stylish and pretty blonde lady, in some very classy black boots, who works on the buildng supervision staff here, just asked me a question. How is your (multi-day, very much ado about nothing) meeting going? I replied, "Stifling. Never-ending. Life-threatening." Perhaps that was too strong though. 'Soul-sucking' is the honest reply perhaps. -- She rubbed my upper left arm gently. She looked up. Her right hand lingered on my forearm. I guess she likes me. She offered great eye-contact too. Hmm.

But now: back to the misterable truth of reality. I am struggling. I feel frustrated and angry. Like a biblical troublemaker, I have been known to adopt a role in meetings like a 'voice from the wilderness.' Why are my inclinations, my preferences, my crooked opinions, you know, so different from those of others? Is it as simple as saying most are followers -- cowering settlers -- but some are truly leaders, with vision? No, not so complicated. Sometimes I think it's just that I am not as needy as the average Board meeting-goer

I am thinking about resigning this current Board position of mine. Which would seem to me a bit like a doctor resigning from a case when his/her patient has gone into hospice. Too late to say I'm sorry, and it's almost too late to say goodbye. It's strictly triage time for the organization in question, the one we are examining here. Turn off the lights. Switch off the heating unit. Pull the curtains. Oops, party's over, oops, out of time.

As Joseph Heller once wrote, 'Ekstrom would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to (attend) them -- in good conscience. If he took part willingly in more of them, he was crazy and didn't really have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to.'

Yossarian -- and Butch Ekstrom -- was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this improbable clause, this clause known as Catch-22. Yossarian whistled in amazement at the quirky theorem. I'm kinda whistling to myself now too. Sigh. Time to get back into the meeting box.

An addendum: 2 hours later.Virtually the entire group with whom I've been gathered has made a grudging recognition. In essence, it's a reality that I have been naming, in such meetings, since about 2007. Better late than never? Perhaps. I re-learn the power of patience and perseverance in politics -- and a reaffirmation of the truth that only when circumstances get dire enuff, only then, people and things willingly, even abruptly, change.

Oct 5, 2010

Radio Gaga, Papa, GagaRazzi

If there be nothing new, but that which is. Hath been before,
how are our brains are beguiled, Which laboring for invention,
Bear amiss.                                 Shakespeare, Sonnet 59

You've got the looks, I've got the brains, Let's make lots of money. - Pet Shop Boys

Author's Note: I wrote the commentary below the montage of pictures a couple of weeks before I went to a Lady Gaga concert – The Monster Ball 2010 – in Detroit during early September. Which was a whole lot like a Halloween play and color-splashed costume party, on a BIG stage, @ 120 decibels or more. What I missed, in the column below, is an important piece about Gagadom. Here it is. L.G. appeals – as escapist, clever, dance-pop entertainment -- to many adolescents, young adults, and (yes) even some older folks, like me. On stage, she reaches out to and connects with young people who have negative body issues; who feel unpopular (and uncool and outcast); who feel branded by the big L (loser); who are gay and lesbian, and who are otherwise "different" but long to 'find their voice.' Gaga claims hotly over and over that she is a free bitchbaby (note: she is not)! And she urges her audience to believe they can be free, as in more mature and self-loving too (note: they can) --– free to say what they need to; free to follow amazing and unlikely dreams; brave enough to speak truth to power; caring enough to vote; strong enough to stand against discrimination and hate-speech; fearless and full of passion. Look @ some of the pix that I took of her lively Little Monsters. Looks like a very good time, right. Halloween with an attitude and a kick. Boy George and Culture Club cubed. Pop and rock are meant to be like that, to shake you up with its bass- and drums-driven energy. In Gaga's concerts, however, the kicks roll with a cause. Become who you are! Stand up! Vote fearlessly! Get busy. Make your world better! – Oh, and, btw, while you are here, buy my $40 tee shirts, my $30 program book, and $20 CDs out in the lobby. A dance-beats girl's gotta make a living. -- Word!

     Hello again, little monsters. I have been thinking about something since I read an article last Spring called "The Last Pop Star," in Atlantic Monthly.
     By James Parker, the short piece tells unknowing readers about the short, hot-stuff, upward arc of a clever character, dubbed Lady Gaga (real name: Stefani Joanne Germanotta of greater New York city). It says, with humor, that she will be The Last Pop Star. It also shows how re-invention, re-imaging, and 'borrowing' from the styles of others lie at the rather Empty heart of crass creativity, and desire for fame and money, in our pop culture 
      As I read Atlantic – my hairstylist June was painting a new mix of auburn color dye on the top of my head. I began thinking. Goodbye to the ash-gray. We all fall for pop culture in many ways. There may be 'nothing new under the sun.' But there are markers and little leaps – often built on what's come before; rip-offs in a word -- that shine a light on the path forward.
      I have asked, would it be possible to say something – simplified -- about a music-and- fame trend that is all about today? No? Well, maybe.
     I'll have three songs and three performers in mind. Were there, possibly, say, three 'moments' that mark how pop music and rock have evolved over the last twenty-five years? (I'm gonna exclude rap and hip-hop for now. What a huge set of leaps. But it came from disco days long gone, not rock 'n roll. (Maybe I'll write about that at another time.)
1. Radio Gaga: Glam, Synth-Rock, New Wave, and Social Comment
Freddie Mercury and Queen blew the global crowds of millions away, at the huge Live-Aid concerts in 1985, with the tune "Radio Ga-Ga." The big crowd sang along.

All we hear is Radio ga-ga. Radio goo-goo. Radio blah, blah. . . . . Radio it's true. Someone still loves you!
A lament. Since cable TV, and rock video (around 1981), had became 'the thing.' Rock and pop radio stations did not fade away. They paled. It was time for them to be 're- engineered' so they would appeal to listeners young and older.
         But, Radio Ga-Ga? The title seemed surreal. Like gag me. Too much down one's throat. Overly full. A spit up or back reflex. Actually, the song lyrics first were "ca-ca." (Queen lost that phrase quickly. Ca-ca mostly is a slang term for feces.)
       "Radio Ga-Ga" was a clever song. It was a leap. It brought together trends of the day. Glam rock, synthetic (computerized) music, New Wave sounds, and a dip into the tricky world of simplified, social criticism.
       (Time out: New Wave and Synth were romance-like music styles – by David Bowie (also a flashy glamour artist), Spandau Ballet, Ultravox, Duran Duran, Flock of Seagulls, Boy George, and Thompson Twins . Synthesizers took over. Real guitars and drums kinda disappeared. This new wave, synth-pop rose along with MTV.
       Want to impress? Claim that "Radio Ga-Ga" was a true marker (born in 1984-1985) that reflects some trends in pop music born 25 years ago. It drew from things that came before. It re-mixed them with flash and pop (and Mercury). It laid out a "new and improved" kind of idea. Welcome to pop culture.
       Want to really impress? Google or Wiki-search glam rock and '80s New Wave music. Fun reading. Learn a lot.
2. Smells Like Teen Spirit: Grunge, Punk, Slam, and Social Comment
Later, the city of Seattle, and its budding garage-rock bands got into the act. Hello, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, and Soundgarden.
       Grunge rock became a kind of new word in music during the early 1990s. Yes, the bands were grunge-y. Simply defined, grunge was harsh distortion guitars, apathy, and despairing (there's little hope) lyrics. Performers belted out stripped-down, punk-ish chords (compared to, let's say, New Wave, glam, and meoldic-synth rock music). The musicians looked skeevy, scrunchy, anti-theatrical. The anti- to the drama of Queen and Lady Gaga style? Yes. Yes, a pendulum had swung.
       The song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (1992), by Nirvana, is the ultimate grunge example of a song. It was an alternative. It was different, dishy, yet somehow echoed the before.

I was trying to write the ultimate pop song . . . I was basically trying to rip off The Pixies. I admit it. The song being soft and quiet, then loud and hard.
                                                                   Kurt Cobain, Nirvana (D. 1994)
       Kids loved it. Adults shunned it. It was a new rock 'n roll fusion. Smelled faintly like . . . trouble, all the way (if you were a parent). It was an inventive reclaiming of old rock 'n roll. Anti-glam, anti- commercial, punk and rock. -- Pop! Welcome to our shared media culture.
To this day, Smells is usually rated one of the all-time great rock 'n roll tunes.
3. Lady Gaga and Her Little Monsters
Now there's Stephanie all dressed- and made-up. Lady GaGa. And back to the James Parker article.
        There is nothing new under the pop-driven sun, truly. Not a lot of meaning. Just a drive for Fame. And money. And success. And influence. Hey, I surprised and dee-lited you with that one, did I not, my little monsters.
        A music past is being cleverly, relentlessly, re-worked and re-imaged (outrageously), glammed up, made more surreal and hardcore to the world by the Lady Gaga. As in: Gag me, woman. No more please. That's a enuff now! . . . Well, okay, maybe just one little' dance-beat drama more . . . '
Stefani       Take a look at L.G. as her real, younger self on YouTube. Her first album was titled Red and Blue. She looks normal. Italian. Dark-haired. Kind of pretty in a simple manner. A girl raised by a New York City family, who went to Catholic schools.
       She was the leader of the Stephanie Germanotta Band in NYC bars. She could, even then, belt a wicked tune – what a voice!, ah, smells faintly like punk, dressed-down grunge, dance music, and pop romance all fused up.
       Stephanie embraced her "Radio Gaga-ness." She morphed, from 2004 to 2010, into a lace-wearing, heavily make-up'd, over-the-top, neo-pop character – singing often about unhealthy pop/romance relationships . . . . while also all about dance-stomps, performance art, outrageous fashion eye-candy, and catchy tunes. Sizzle. Pop. A pendulum has swung back. (She has noted often, 'If a pop song doesn't feature a catchy chorus, well who cares, WTF?')

Lady GagaAt first, "Gaga" wrote songs for Britney Spears and New Kids. She worked hard. She sang her heart out everywhere she could. She learned to dance. She adopted bizarre European fashions. She must have suffered some nightmares, along the way, 'monsters in her bed' as she says in one song. Have you seen some of her video dramas . . . like "Bad Romance?"
During interviews, she now says her multi-platinum Fame is due to hard, focused work. Rehearsals behind the curtains. I believe her. She is an outrageous, super-hot, and a fun talent to watch. Parker writes about this "The Last Pop Star":

Her assault on the culture has been meticulous. . . . It's pop music, but Gaga-dom is the thing: a persona, something like the incarnation of Pop Stardom itself, foisted upon the world. In wigs and avant-garde getups, she appears, strange-eyed - her large, high-bridged nose giving (an alien) otherness to her face. Gaga "refracts the white hot radiance of Pop."
      Oh, the drama of modern pop-art. "I pray the Fame won't take my liiiiiife," she intones with a hidden smile, dabbed all over with fake blood.
      If there is one Gaga song/video above all to watch on YouTube, it is "Paparazzi." The 7:11 minute, daring version. It's SJG  and her co-artists storytelling (painfully) about a glam, but rock-bottom, death culture -- one riveted on fame and money and despair and empty prestige.

Leather and jeans, Not sure what it means, Garage glamorous, But this photo of us, It don't have a price, Ready for those flashing lights. (You know) I'm your biggest fan, I'll follow you until you love me. Pa-pa, pa- pa, paparazzi!
         Like her persona (a starstruck stalker) in that song, her little monsters are all about today's pop culture. Many are tsk-tsk'ed harshly by adults. That's no new view of young people in rock. Just a re-found idea in rock 'n roll -- such as, those who like it are bad seed.
         Lady Gaga echoes all 25 years of pop entertainment since 1985, to a certain degree. And she outrageously serves some things kinda new onto the table. Get the picture, paparazzi? Perhaps her white-hot career will go on for a long time. If so, like the once 'shocking' Liberace did, she will be smiling all the way to the bank. 
What's Next?
         Now you know the pop/rock story, in severe shorthand, since 1985. One, two, three. What's next?
         Today, we don't know a lot. Pop culture trends on. Popular music blazes on. What goes around comes all the way back around too, right, Justin? Pendulums swing.