Friday, December 14, 2007

Planned Obsolescence, or Always the Bridesmaid

Yesterday was a hard day.

1. I had resolved to go into the office, to see people I'm friendly with, but who I had not seen in months. My social anxiety flares.
2. I decided to shop beforehand, granted it was just for groceries and office supplies (being out of #10 envelopes as the impetus), but still I had to descend into the maddening psychosis of pre-Christmas.
3. Nervousness about embarking on test two of a new semi-social engagement (which I'm too shy to mention outright until it clearly takes) had me in knots most of the afternoon as well. And
4. I received 4 rejections, including one from West Branch where I sent a few poems TEN days ago. Generally they filter in one at a time. Four is a little harsh in a day. Four times being told I suck (okay, I know that's not what they say. But maybe they should. If I ran a magazine, maybe I'd just have a little note that said either "You Suck" or "You Rock" depending on which way things went in the editorial office). Then I got another email rejection in the afternoon.

The rejections, combined with the fact that I had spent some of the morning getting other things (both fiction and poems) ready to go out, made me think that maybe I'd hold off on sending anything else out for awhile. Every now and then the administrative aspect takes over, usually when I'm not feeling so good about the actual writing. So then it becomes something I can do INSTEAD of writing, which is not a good. I resolved to take a break from submitting things, because sometimes I feel like it does have an ill effect, enough for me to want to feel super indy again, as in a who-cares-what-the-rest-of-the-world-thinks focus on just me and my intimate dance with words and sentences.

Today I saw another thin envelope with my handwriting on it and I cringed. But it was the kind of no that gets me running again. One of those book-length poetry contests I thought I had no chance in hell at, called my manuscript "wonderful" and "strong", a semi-finalist.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Every tongue that gets bit always has another word to say or Better the serenading at home

Granted we got there late, just as Iron & Wine had finished pulling their instruments onto the stage. There wasn’t the time to sit back, watch the rabble in anticipation, witness the languor and rising irritation of people actually watching the opening act, take in the excitement of a show imminent. I don’t know what music played between sets. I mean, literally we sat down three minutes before the show began. We entered the lobby just as the college kids were filtering down to the bar for their third or fourth beer.

The air filled with the unplaceable floating odor of beer. The way breath smells, but collectively, as though every other mouth in the place had just tasted hops. The way my grandfather’s house smells after five p.m. It’s a smell I sort of miss, and the kind that’s even more prevalent in bars in this state since the smoking ban went into effect. I rarely drink anymore, since getting together with C, and it gives me a headache almost every time. Before I even finish the second glass of whatever I have. I had wanted to drink at the show, but actually forgot. It was this way with smoking as well when I did that. I often forget to partake of the vices.

I don’t do this much anymore either, going to concerts, but it’s only because of my mounting fear of crowds. My concern with coughing not kept localized, of massive infection brought on by a sneeze. There’s just something unsanitary about stuffing so many people into any one place. But that’s me. So why do other people go to a show?

1. Because other people are going, i.e. socialization. But I hate these people, there for the conversation, the getting dressed, the ones who often stand with their back to the band.

2. Because of love for the particular band. Okay, I’ll buy this. I was in love with Tori Amos once. Once I would have given anything to be in a room with her, even if there were rows and rows of people between us. (I’m only a little embarrassed by this confession. It was this way with David Bowie as well, but he rarely toured in my concert-going years.)

3. Because of the band’s reputation for an incredible stage presence. _Standing in the Way of Control_ excluded because it is nothing short of pure mastery, I continued to buy The Gossip’s CDs every time even though I never listened to them. While songs from the early albums came off sounding pretty much the same to me, the shows were exhilarating moments of rock and roll I wanted to live inside. Even before Beth Ditto took her clothes off, I was madly in love with her. I worried Brace Paine would turn his ankle, I stared. Kathy Mendonça hot on drums. I mean the show was mostly Beth, and the madness of the music that came off too controlled in the studio, but they were all always in top form. Which leads me to

4. To see what a live show can add to/rise above/yield something different or more than the recording we know.

To this end, which was my reason for going to the show last night, Iron & Wine, sadly, did not deliver. The band seemed tired, anti-social even, which I respect, but not so much on stage (unless one can turn it into a kind of freak show beauty a la Cat Power). The songs were well rehearsed, of course, but I felt like I was sitting in a crowd listening to the album. You know, actually, remembering that one trip to the Lillith Fair in ’96, some audiences want to hear exactly what they know. I am not this audience. If I want the CD as I know it I’ll sit in my bedroom, reading or doing other things while listening. I go to a show to get a feeling, experience something I can’t get at home. The only thing that fit this bill last night was my disdain for twentysomething strangers. At home I could have made them play my favorite song. And play it again if I wanted to hear it again. So there was no benefit, not really. I felt like I was listening to a bland studio session, with a few notable drawbacks to this even.

My theory. This show was sandwiched between Seattle and Vancouver, as almost any show we get is. We are not a large town. We are no city. There is nothing metropolitan here. But we aren’t the backwoods some acts seem to take us for. This was a throwaway show. Everyone seemed to be taking it easy. Perhaps someone was ill. I heard something about Sam Beam not feeling well. But the worst offense was that it seemed like they gave the sound guy the night off. I don’t know much about these things, but it seems that if you have a dozen or so instruments, you might have your own sound guy to work it all out. I would. Last night whoever was running sound had little clue what the sound should have been. Instead of the intricate harmony of so many instruments, it was a bit of harmony in the background drowned out by the screeching of two fighting cats. With the treble of the slide guitar and violin turned up twice as loud, everything else was lost and I felt like my ears should have bled.

Things I actually enjoyed:

1. The music, sure. Problems with the sound, but still a good listen. Better than listening to Rainer bark, which is what I am hearing right now.

2. That, like a lot of music I love, I realized even more fully how voice is generally used as just another instrument in many songs. Perhaps this was more fully accented by the fact that, with the fighting cats, voice was relegated to the bank fence as all the other instruments were.

3. The woman yelling STEVE, STEVE, STEVE, pacing back and forth two rows ahead of me for about ten minutes.

4. That there was less required clapping than usual. I do admire a band who will provide a musical liaison (or even some random sound) in between songs.

5. Figuring out that his hair looks pretty much as mine did in junior high, perhaps with slightly more frizz and, of course, sans the beard.

6. Trying to figure out the inexplicable, yet not unwanted mass exodus 2/3rds of the way through the show. This I finally decided could be attributed to the short attention span of the college student. (And I felt bad for C. Every now and then I get a hint of what it must be like to live in a town where everyone you run into is a current or former student. I mean, I’m horrified enough when I run into students I’ve had when I’m not expecting it. And this only happens once or twice a year.)

7. But the best moment came with the standard yelling of Freebird! from out in the crowd. Sam Beam threatened to play, as apparently he had the night before when prompted. “What else can I do if you ask for it?” Small laughs in the crowd. Then someone yelled, “What about Hot for Teacher?” In this moment the crowd got small, so small, all of us in on one thing, all understanding, everyone laughed, Sam laughed, actually lost control for a second or two. It’s a moment like this, some kind of transcendence, that I need if I’m going to venture out to a show, if I’m going to stay up past my bedtime. Unfortunately this is the only moment of this that I got.

When Sam Beam joked, referring to the show the night before, about having played Freebird, “you should have been there, you should have seen us last night,” I have to say I had to believe him. I hear it was a really great show.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Quantum Physics and The Art of the Possible

While there isn't much that disturbs me more than a child prodigy who has elevated him/herself unnaturally beyond normal capacities without putting in the time, I am fascinated with accounts of people suddenly explosively excelling in one discipline due to a proficiency in another.

What am I talking about? Well, a word to prodigies - I don't think it's so much the skills themselves that frighten me when I see a two-year old hammer down Chopin's Polonaises in G minor (which Chopin himself wrote while practically still in the womb). What bothers me is Oprah's (or insert alternate venue) adoring crowd. Skill is skill, right? I close my eyes and it's the same music, take the child away and it's the same painting, photograph, surgery, math problem solved.

Really I think it's the crowd itself. The attention lavished, the focus, fetish. Somehow any spotlight on a child--and I don't mean a dance recital filled with parents and camcorders--I mean the pre-pubescent opera singer on Ellen, etc. Any spotlight like this on a child seems precious and pornographic. We the spectator are attracted to the small child performing an adult act.

The exception for me (perhaps strangely) is a child actor. In this the child that acts the best is the child who can forgo/ignore the audience and simply "be." Right? That's what we expect out of good acting. A child actor is doing something childlike, pretending to be someone else. Kids do this all the time. Or I did anyway. I don't know, maybe this is a completely hypocritical division. And perhaps I can't fully explain, except to say it is. That said, I don't like seeing child stars on talk shows on in magazines either. It's the public eye, not the screen itself, that seems voyeuristic and exploitive to me.

This is not where I meant to go with this at all, but two things diverged this week. I started watching Season One of Heroes and I started reading Amir D. Aczel's _The Artist and the Mathematician_. How do these meet? Well, child actor Noah Gray-Cabey from Heroes apparently studies advanced high school math (he's 11) and got his start as a piano prodigy. At age 3 he could watch his father play something, memorize what his hands did, and repeat it correctly the first time. The book talks a lot about the integral link between math and other disciplines. Aczel shows how cultural movements were a direct result of mathematical movements and (occasionally) vice versa, one making the other possible. This interests me. The book focuses on how structuralism in linguistics and mathematics (instituted by Bourbaki) served as a catalyst for structuralism in other fields, most notably anthropology (Levi-Strauss, who is really considered the "father" of structuralism), which doesn't particularly interest me at the moment, as well as literature (making Oulipo possible) and literary theory, to name a few.

This made me think more about quantum physics shaping both photography and painting and allowing for the current (somewhat long-standing) trend for fractured narratives in both writing and film. Quantum physics (which I haven't really read about since junior high school when I wanted to learn how to time travel if at all possible, and haven't thought about since Quantum Leap and Sliders both went off the air) shook up our relationship to time in such a way that cause and effect became severed. Up until then a work of art generally reflected one moment in time, the shakeup allowed for the changes that allowed for cubism to examine movement in painting. Not the implication of movement, but movement itself. As in Duchamp's series of paintings of his brothers playing chess, or the nude descending the staircase (was this Duchamp? I think it was, but I'm not in the mood to fact-check myself). Even in the latter's title we have movement. I'd never thought about the title as such a key to not only the picture itself, but the attempt/statement it was setting out to make. A motion picture in paint, animation of one frame.

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Anyway, my thanks to quantum physics for giving me permission to continue creating a mess when I write instead of making sense.