Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Our eunuch dreams, all seedless in the light

I started writing this over a month ago and then saved it as a draft and forgot about it.

Reading poetry lately, due to a horrible book with great influences, Janet Fitch's second novel, Paint it Black. I read her first book, White Oleander, in one night, several years ago, after breaking it off with my then fiance. White Oleander is an amazing book, beautifully written, the kind of thing that makes you want to cut off your hands for trying to write, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. Forget that it's an Oprah book and forget that movie they made based on it. Paint it Black smacks so completely of "sophomore effort" it's not even funny. The prose, while technically beautiful, often falls flat and feels hollow. Even worse, though, is the fact that you hate the main character, hate the boyfriend whose suicide is the emotional black hole of the novel, hate the fact that this former white trash, trailer park beauty is reduced to such a simpering mess who happens to remember the names of every poet artist and musician ever to have lived. The central theme to the book is how do you live in a world that you created with another person, after that person has left you? The denouement is the worst, completely predictable, leaving you completely bewildered and irritated that you kept reading it, expecting it to turn a corner, manifest into something besides a hurried wreck of a second novel. I get that she is strong and yet weak, beautiful but tarnished blah blah blah, but she's so fucking annoying. The best thing to have come of reading the book is that it got me back into reading poetry, which I love, but I forget I love. I don't love how self aware the characters are about poetry in this book; these are characters that make you remember why people hate poetry/poets/France. But at least it got me to revisit Dylan Thomas and W. H Auden and my personal favorite, Wallace Stevens. It does make you realize that the best writing is that which seems effortless while still mind blowing and resonant and lovely/ horrid/filled with humor. The contrast to the pained writing of the book did it no favors especially upon reading great lines like:
"Our eunuch dreams, all seedless in the light,

Of light and love, the tempers of the heart,

Whack their boys' limbs

And, winding-footed in their shawl and sheet,

Groom the dark brides, the window of the night,

Fold in their arms...." D. Thomas, 18 Songs

I love this picture of DT, he's so young and foxy and complicated looking. They don't make poets like they used to, not that I help, as, if any guy tells me he's a poet I quietly deride him on the inside and may be given to laughing at him in public. It takes balls to be a poet, b/c generally, everyone is going to see you as a sensitive pony tail mother fucker, yaknowhatI'msayin?
There is this contemporary poet I like named Edward Hirsch, he used to baby sit Sasha when she lived in Detroit. (known as "Uncle Eddie" to her, no less) who wrote a book about appreciating poetry titled, aptly, How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry. He wrote one of my favorite poems, in his first collection by the same name, For the Sleepwalkers.
"Tonight I want to say something wonderful
for the sleepwalkers who have so much faith
in their legs, so much faith in the invisible
arrow carved into the carpet, the worn path
that leads to the stairs instead of the window,
the gaping doorway instead of the seamless mirror.
I love the way the sleepwalkers are willing
to step out of their bodies into the night,
to raise their arms and welcome the darkness,
palming the blank spaces, touching everything.
Always they return home safely, like blind men
who know it is morning by feeling the shadows.
And always they wake up as themselves again.
That's why I want to say something astonishing
like: Our hearts are thirsty black handkerchiefs
flying through the trees at night, soaking up
the darkest beams of moonlight, the music
of owls, the motion of wind-torn branches.
And now our hearts are thick black fists
flying back to the glove of our chests.
We have to learn to trust our hearts like that.
WE have to learn the desperate faith of sleep-
walkers who rise out of their calm beds
and walk through the skin of another life.
We have to drink the stupefying cup of darkness
and wake up to ourselves, nourished and surprised."
This post reminds me of a concept I came across in The Believer a couple of years ago, in an article about Russel Edison by Sarah Manguso. Edison, a "prose poet" most famous for a short prose poem titled "Counting Sheep" (“A scientist has a test tube full of sheep. He wonders if he should try to shrink a pasture for them. // They are like grains of rice.” ) Basically it talks about the disconnect between the reader and the text when reading prose poetry as it looks like prose but it smells like fish. In other words:
"In prose poetry the prose form does not necessarily give rise to a linear accumulation of meaning. While co opting prose’s verbal structures, prose poems imitate prose incompletely or incorrectly. They promise prose but botch the delivery."
What's fascinating is that, outside academia, and in my opinion often inside it, this is the same disconnect people have when reading all poetry. It seems too cerebral or elusive or difficult. It's too bad, really, as there are really amazing poets who write perfectly beautiful and accomplished poetry that doesn't make you want to bang your head on the wall. I know if I ever had to analyze "The Red Wheelbarrow" in a classroom setting again I would shoot myself. Do you guys read poetry? Do you even like it? Who are your favorite poets? It's interesting that after the folk movement in the first part of the twentieth century that songwriters became our poets. Is it fair that the guys with the guitars are the last bastion of poetry left?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Virgin Mary Pinball Machine

Jeff wasn't the only one having bad/ weird dreams last night. I also had some strange and unrelated imagery floating around in mine, like a Virgin Mary Pinball Machine (awesome) and the Space Shuttle flying out of Boston Harbor.
But what I really wanted to write about is how ill I am with local news. We watched portions of all three local news broadcasts last night and I'm here to tell you it has not gotten much better since the days that NBC-17 actually stood up at bistro tables to deliver the news. Seriously. (My mom and I would watch and the whole time scream "Sit down! Just sit down! You're making me nervous!") Worse than standing up to deliver the news is sitting on one side to report it. ABC 11 had several stories that were CLEARLY conservatively biased including a report that Hybrid cars are more expensive to fix than regular cars and a really unnecessary and absurd declaration that John Edwards' speech fees are grossly inappropriate when he is the candidate that runs on an anti-poverty platform. That story was propagated by Fox News and so I guess ABC 11 felt like they had to "report" it too, huh? But you know the fact that deforestation is condoned under the Bush administration by way of an initiative called The Healthy Forests Restoration Act is NBD, right? I swear, there is a special place in hell for local news.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A grab bag of weekend thoughts, plus I like my life right now.

So, this weekend, Jeff and my parents and my broham Chris and his wife, Angelita, went to Virginia to go to a wedding of her brother Juan and our friend Melissa. We got up really early Saturday to drive there, and myself, not having slept b/c of the whole Hatchet deadline and whatnot, I was very sleepy all day yesterday. Thus, everything was experienced from this sort-of dreamy, Sophia Coppola lensed state of exhaustion. The wedding was very sweet and short and we all stayed at this gorgeous bed and breakfast and it was fun and silly, (Jeff and I watched Saturday Night Live and laughed at the Andy whatshisname (Samberg?) sketches including one about french kissing a dog that was entirely too funny and super gross) and relaxing in a way that we don't often get to experieince. We woke up this morning and it was GORGEOUS in Virginia, sunny and not too hot and woods and foliage and deer all around us. We had breakfast with some folks there on their anniversay and we talked about Nascar and Ferraris and domesticity while we ate sausage strata and french toast with real maple syrup. I saw a store called "The Wormy Chestnut" and in the window of a toy store there was this great wax dummy of a Pirate that was TERRIFYING. While we drove back I fell asleep, my parents were listening to To Kill a Mockinbird on audiobook as read by Sissy Spacek, and it was lovely and wierd and dream inducing. We got home and ran some errands and wathched The U.S. Vs. John Lennon, which is excellent, btw, great in that it's not about the Beatles at all, but about how at this one point in time there was this cultural zeitgeist, that has never been duplicated, and never will be, and how he made a difference. I was in the kitchen getting a beer and I saw all the photographs on my refridgerator and I realized, Jesus, I love my life right now, with my amazing boyfriend and my incredible family and awesome cats and my job that (usually) does not make me want to kill anyone. We're really lucky, all of us, even when we're not, because, you know, It could always be worse. Also, Chirs and Ang gave Jeff a gift certificate to Schoolkids for his B-day and we got the new Feist and that album from the dude in Wolf Parade and the first Olivia Tremor Control album and this UNBELIEVABLE collection of soul 45's out of Chicago in the seventies on this series called "Eccentric Soul". Also, when we got back from shopping and whatnot, I called my cousin Anna, whom many of you know as my sister from another (vagina) twister, concerning plans for her (30th!) B-day party next month, the day after our cousin Nanny's wedding, which we are all lookng forward to. (For real, btw, as all of my ENORMOUS, extended family will be there and it's going to be exciting and huge, (held in some great hall of the University of Dayton where they all went to school), in that both Nan and her fiance, Sam, are both big uppity-ups in the Indiana and the national DNC and there will be much heated debate and friendly comraderie concerning '08, not to mention, lots of beer and dancing to James) Anyway, Anna and I had a terrific chat about that Jonathan Lethem artcile I keep pushing as well as that whole unpleasant Annuals interview I had and she brought up an incredibly valid and striking point: In the Scientific community it's all about building on the foundation of what came before and in that vein, people who publish and do research are not necessarily out there to do something revolutionary and groundbreaking in the sense that they are trying to create something new. Instead, they recognize the work that came before them and wholeheartedly admit that the work they are doing stems from the work that came before without fear of condemnation as long as they cite their influences/ sources. It's so bizarre how in the art world, it's all about creating something brand new and how defensive that makes everyone. Especially given the precedent in scientific communities that recognize how important work is that branches from the root of work before them. You know what I mean? Scientists know they are being revolutionary wihout resorting to "dibs", if you will. Not to say that doesn't happen in the science world (just read/ watch And the Band Played On for a perfect/horrible exmaple) but how amazing art of all kinds could be if we could get over hang-ups about being derivative/ wearing our influences on our sleeves. This ties into one of the other "questions" I had for Annuals which was essentialy about how, depsite the fact that as an artistic/snobbish/elitist community we celebrate artists/ writers/ musicians who are spartan in techinique or minimlist in style, at the end of the day we still choose Fitzgerlad and The Great Gatsby as the greatest American novel of the 20th century. That we love The White Album over Meet the Beatles, or that it's Picasso who sells mouse pads not Schiele or Rothko. My whole point is that we often say one thing as artists/art enthusiasts but it's the opposite that we really come out gunning for. We say that what we create is unique, when we know, in our heart of hearts that 1) it's not unique, it's a hodge-podge of our cultural/life/artistic experiences and 2) that we are terrified to be "found out" and called derivative. So fuck it, I'm here to say that I, Amanda Becom, aka That Obscure Object of Desire, will readily admit to ripping off every book, play, movie, album, show, speech or life experience I've had/see/heard/ hated/ loved to become the "artist" that I am. Oh yes, BTW, there is this excellent Magazine called Seed that I have been trying to get people to read for at least three or four years, that briges the gap between Science (capital S) and Art (capital A). It may sound pretentious but in fact, it's the opposite. It's incredibly accesible and in every issue there is; beautiful photography, moving articles between thinkers and artists (like, for instance, between a ballet choreograper and and an astro-physicist) engorossing articles about how understanding science helps make us better people, etc, etc. I seriously considered going back for a degree in Biology a few years back b/c I became obsessed with evolution and the different social sciences that evolution effects but instead I chose to do this. Which, as I mentioned, is not so bad, when you think about it. So anyway, a good weekend, though tiring, and a great conversation with Anna, whom I miss like my left arm. I'll post some picture soon so you guys can see some of the peeps I'm talking about. Also, not too long until I'm 29 and I'm proud of myself for keeping it this together.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Count how many times I drop the F Bomb, I dare you

So this is my column for the Hatchet for the upcoming June issue. I thought you guys might like a peek. I wrote it this morning between 1 am and 5 am. That being so, I drop the f bomb quite a bit, as I rely on my superior cursing abilities to replace erudite vocabulary when I get tired.
Ear Out of the Vacuum
Stuff I’m loving and hating and having complicated emotions about this month: Annuals, Corporate Sponsors and College Radio, 305 South and the always lovely Bowerbirds.
I promise to finish my top ten* high school albums next month but some of this stuff was too timely to delay and I am too long winded to try to fit everything in one column.

So. I went to go see the Annuals play at Urban Outfitters to benefit WKNC, a good cause if at a weird venue and a stranger time (7:00? Really? I felt like I was at an all-ages show like the Cradle used to have, you know, the ones that were popular, oh, fifteen years ago. Jesus, fifteen years? Really? At seven o’ clock I should have been getting in bed, apparently. Because I’m old. Get it?) It was in relation to Free Yr Radio (http://www.freeyrradio.com/) a series of concerts across the country sponsored by Toyota and Urban Outfitters that hook up with college radio stations to provide exposure and give support. Let me get one thing clear, I’m all for supporting WKNC and everyone from the station was super nice and they did a good job, considering that the fucking rock show was at seven scratchin’ o’ clock and there was no fucking stage. Yes, you heard me. No stage. Now, I will admit that I was cranky about the interview I had with Annuals. It went not so well. Think rain, loading dock behind Urban Outfitters, twelve minutes to do a half hour interview and little response to some questions that were probably too complicated to try to ask under these circumstances (i.e. the benefits to freedom from ownership of intellectual property as promoted by Jonathan Lethem in Harpers. ("The Ecstasy of Influence, February) Okay even I hate myself for that one). The thing about this interview that upsets me is not that the band was unresponsive and slagging me off but that clearly these guys are kids. That’s not their fault, I know, actually, thank God they aren’t in their thirties otherwise I would be having a melt down over the seemingly irreconcilable differences between who these guys are and the music they make. It showed me that when you make art and put it out in the world it really doesn’t belong to you anymore; that people are going to make of it what they will and make of you what they will (which of course ties in nicely with the whole Lethem article but I digress). Listening to Annuals’ perfect song "Brother" or several of the other tracks from Be He Me, despite the fact I’m not really a fan of the album, I thought I could hear real intellectualism behind the composition of these songs. Don’t get me wrong, these guys aren’t dumb, and they certainly didn’t strike me as morons but there was a chasm behind who the artists were in my head (and the songs as well) and the band I was talking to. I’m sure I’m just going to piss of some die-hard, Raleigh-based Annuals fans, (serves me right, I suppose) but what this whole thing is about is that I failed the band by letting what I expected shadow my reaction to what I got. It was a rookie rock journalist mistake but I took comfort from a friend, a fellow rock critic, who turned me on to Chuck Klosterman’s essay about interviewing The Streets and undeniably fucking it up with expectations. I should also mention that I probably pissed some of the band member off by confronting them with my theory that they struggle to build a real and dedicated local audience b/c they blew up on the internet before they really got a chance to do so. I was quickly told that I was wrong, that "We paid our dues for eight years, it’s just that when we first started out, we were like, a high school band." I don’t think I’m the only one who believes that this does not count because, you see, they were a fucking high school band, but again, I digress. Right, no stage. On the "Free Yr Radio website I found this little blurb: "and Annuals put a new spin on the phrase, "Of the people," by asking to not have a stage or riser so they could play in the crowd. If this were an expletive-laden site, you'd see the following: _____-ing cool." Well, this is an expletive-laden magazine so I’m just going to say it: Not FUCK-ing cool, at all, in fact. You know what happens when a band plays on the floor in front of you? If you are more than two people back you can’t see them. I will say that Annuals are a fun and challenging live act, but when you can’t see them change instruments a million times or even see past the shoulder of the Amazonian lady in front of you, it’s not that fun. I was also just kind of bugged by the whole corporate sponsorship of independent radio thing, though my boyfriend says I’m being an asshole about this. I guess I’m being an asshole because I’m being oblivious to the inevitable and already residing relationships between corporations and independent radio, but it feels like just another thing they can turn into a commodity. Which may be the best reason for freedom from intellectual property I can make so, Jesus, read that article will you? One of the band members told me that the worst thing about music today is the term "indie". He said, in fact, "I mean you can’t be indie and be on Capital records." I don’t know how much I agree with that statement because indie is more than being independent music, it’s become a culture and it’s always been about an attitude. What I do know is that saying this whilst standing on the loading dock of the Urban Outfitters you are about to play in at a concert sponsored by Toyota seems kind of obtuse to me. One could argue that he hates the term indie because he’s tired of it being applied to the band and that is a fair argument. Annuals make music that is layered and indulgent and at times unbearably tension filled but apparently that does not necessarily translate into indie. It clearly doesn’t translate into a lot of things. I think these guys have talent, I also think they blew up on the internet before they even got their collective feet wet and that may mean they are on the defensive. I hope it doesn’t mean more events like this one. I mean Urban Outfitters might be good enough to buy cheap jewelry from but it’s not where I want to see my rock bands perform. Especially at seven o’clock, for fuck’s sake. Am I being ridiculous in thinking that the closing of King’s may beget even more of these awful things? If we had more viable rock venues in Raleigh then maybe Annuals could not only get their feet wet but dive all the way in. Make me look like an asshole. I hope they do.
Speaking of viable music spaces, there was a great show at 305 South in Durham, inside the Anti-Mall. If you haven’t been there yet get off your asses and do it. Burly Time Records had a showcase of bands including my local favorites, the Bowerbirds, in support of the new album, Hymns for a Dark Horse as well as local music maverick and Renaissance man Jenks Miller in his solo debut as Horseback and his new album Impale Golden Horn. Horse references aside, (I have been constantly confusing the titles and the name of Jenk’s band for the last two months) the new Burly Time records is putting out music that is thoughtful and important in that it touches the people who listen to it. This is music that rings true. The Bowerbirds are even better live than they are recorded, and the new album is a must for anyone who loved Danger at Sea, as well as anyone who believes that things like a softly pounded drum and the voice of an instrument can help make this world a better place. Horseback is that rarest of species, complex music that seems simplistic (as drone music often can) yet still resonant and deeply emotional. Not surprising, given that this projects, one of the seven that Jenks currently play a role in, is the one that funnels the rage and fear and sorrow that often accompany suffering OCD, as Jenks does. Someone I love has OCD, the kind that you need medication (some will tell you) for, the kind that makes him get up at four thirty in the morning just so he has enough time for his routine before he can go to work. It’s a hard thing to live with, because it’s like all your fears, the ones that keep you up at night but which, thankfully, only reside in your head, are suddenly manifested into real, tangible monsters. Toothpaste can become a monster, or blood.
So you guys have homework. Read that fucking Jonathan Lethem article. Go see Annuals and become a ridiculously addicted local fan; just don’t call them indie. Go to 305 South and get jealous of Durham, as it has the most vibrant and viable local venues for local bands. Then start a smartly run and magical rock club here in Raleigh. While doing all this visit http://www.burlytime.com/ and buy the new Bowerbirds and Horseback albums. Recycle you beer bottles. Dream of something dark and write it down. Okay, you can skip the last one, but that’s it. See you next month for the second half of my top ten* high school albums. But only if you’ve done your homework.
See the Bowerbirds at the local 506 on June 22nd for Charles Latham’s "going away forever" party or the next day, June 23rd at 3 at the "Rock and Shop" Market in Moore Square. If you are going to Bonaroo, check out Annuals, as they will be playing. On a stage, no doubt.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The new "Cowbell"

So Jeff and I were watching TV last night and we saw a commercial for the new exhibit at the Natural Science Museum of Raleigh "Hunters of the Sky" that was pathetic and low budget and typical of Raleigh resources for things like that and at the end there was this bad still montage of a Bald Eagle that progressed frame by frame along with the sound that eagles make, you know, that cry sound that is not exactly a caw and really hard to reproduce unless you are 1) an eagle 2) wierdly gifted. I laughed at it and he looked at me strangely, and asked me why I was laughing. I admitted to him that secretly, whenever I hear that noise it makes me think of when someone tells a bad joke or there is an akward silence, that should be the sound that fills the void. You know, like,your at a party and some obnoxious guy is trying WAY too hard to be that guy, the funny guy at the party, and he says something stupid and common like, "Come through the back door? That's what she said!" Cawwhhahh. For whatever reason it made us laugh really hard the rest of the night. He told a guy at work today and it's already started catching on. It's the new cowbell, except that instead of being a demand for "rocking out" it's a plaint for "JESUS, THAT WAS SO LAME THE ONLY SOUND WE CAN HEAR IS AN EAGLE, CRYING FOR MERCY. AND QUIET".
Welcome to my world.