Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.” —
An Irish Airman Foresees His Death
by W. B. Yeats (via sacradelicious)
One of my favourite poems
A person of good intelligence and of sensitivity cannot exist in this society very long without having some anger about the inequality ― and it’s not just a bleeding-heart, knee-jerk, liberal kind of a thing ― it is just a normal human reaction to a nonsensical set of values where we have cinnamon flavored dental floss and there are people sleeping in the street.”
I was born in 1984. To hear my mom tell it, at some point during those starting years of my life, she heard “Sharkey’s Day” on a Los Angeles radio station. [We’ll discuss that more on Thursday.] A new mother in her mid-30s, living a middle-class life that she was determined to make as comfortable as possible for her family, she did not always have an ear open for the latest sounds. She did, however, admire certain modes of artistic expression in music and otherwise, having graduated a film major from Stanford and digested her fair share of Godard and Bertolucci. My father, aged similarly, had hip mainstream musical taste for the time: he loved Talking Heads, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello, Peter Gabriel, Philip Glass, Ravi Shankar, and so on. My mother loved (and still loves) a majority of this music as well, with the Beatles firmly at the top of the hierarchy, and special places just underneath for Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and the Roches. The two of them had just lived in Manhattan together for a few years, and they — well, we — lived in L.A. now.
In this context, “Sharkey’s Day” sounded to my mom unlike anything else, yet so relatable. Here was a pop communication from a completely unique voice, both literally and figuratively. For the duration of the 7-minute song (or, if my mom heard the single edit, 4 minutes), Ms. Anderson spoke — mostly didn’t sing, didn’t really rap, but talked— about dreams, daydreams, scenarios, epiphanies and aphorisms. A white woman in her mid-30s, born in Illinois to a large family, Anderson located her young-adulthood in N.Y.C. and began to gestate into an artist of exponential ambition. Now she was on my mother’s airwaves, spilling her literary-performative guts out over a sublime, funky art-pop music bed that was as much a deconstruction of world beat as a reconstruction of it. Her character was irresistibly complex, maybe herself, maybe nothing like herself. The song’s brilliant chorus hook was its least distinctive quality.
Mom was impressed. Not only did she know she needed this woman’s work in her life, she knew — again, as she tells it — that I, a curious male toddler, would love it too.
It is hard to tell nature from nurture in this situation, as in many situations in parenting that involve an attempt at mutual aesthetic appreciation with one’s nascent offspring. In light of such a difficulty, it’s likely best not to try and figure it out. Needless to say, here we are in 2011. I’m sitting in my Oakland apartment, putting a music critic’s (read: my) words about Laurie Anderson in my mom’s mouth, when really all she did then was react to it. She heard a wry sense of humor in her words and arrangements, she heard a beat that all ages could appreciate, and she decided to share it all with her very young and precocious son.
This, on the other hand, is not difficult to discern: when it came to my young love of Laurie’s output, I very quickly took the reins. I present, as anecdotal evidence, a handful of childhood examples.
I once met Laurie Anderson at Tate Modern in London and I like everything I’ve heard by her so I’m looking forward to reading more about her work this week
I had an old life that kept repeating.
I was the shell drawn off and on
the more or less same shore. But not
just “drawn” or “tossed” or “drifting”
for I was also the flower: opening, opening—
or so I felt. It would take years to see
I’d rigged the elements against
the very exposure I thought I sought.
The house that stands for many
was mustard. Largely carpeted.
Offered almost enough hot water
to wash my hair and shave my legs.
For the nth time, I arranged
the furniture, draped the couch
and chair, jammed the bed frame’s
screws in the wrong then right notches.
The small new thing I bought to mark
that beginning was chosen for
the eye of an imaginary beholder,
the same one I pictured assessing
the titles on the coffee table
or eating the tomatoes I tended.
Even the house itself was rented in part
for the chance to offer its directions:
Pass the abandoned car shop, take the first
gravel road to your right…
Evenings, I’d sometimes drive to
the closed bridge, then reread the graffiti
while slowly walking its span.
What did Gina look like, I’d wonder,
who loved Dusty? Did someone
still think Sylvie would be 4ever?
Had a male or female written
Treehuggers Suck Dick, an individual
or group that There are no girls
in this town? After reaching the bridge’s
far side, I’d return to its center where
Good Night Bynum was sprayed
in wide black letters, each word capped.
Good Night Bynum, I’d whisper, palms
pressed to the cement ledge, Good Night
Sweet Bynum, a watered down Ophelia
watching herself watch the waters
run. The trees that lined the banks
would have been thinning in
the cooler air, losing the thick green
haze they’d possessed when I
arrived. I saw their roots instead,
those gnarled attempts to hold what
the water would continue to erode.
In 1975, Lou Reed put out an album that was just an hour of feedback noise. To reduce it to its most basic elements: he put two guitars really close to giant amplifiers which caused the feedback to vibrate the strings. “The guitars were, effectively, playing themselves.” The rest is not that important, all you need to know is that it’s probably the most notoriously bad album in the history of music, a recording so unbearable that the most apt word for it is torturous. That makes it perfect for a bold experiment, in which I attempt to stay awake for fifty-two hours and submit myself to that very same torture.
Cruel and unusual punishment