Saturday, October 30, 2010

Those Days

The other night I happened to look into the 92nd St 'Y' auditorium and there was my old hero Jackson Browne doing a one-on-one for the Songwriter’s series…. It was the very end, and the final summation was a moving acoustic performance (‘These days I sit and think a lot about the things that I forgot to do…and all the time I had the chance to…’). Poignantly—or not so poignantly, he commented that he’d written that song at the age of 16 (‘don’t confront me with my failures…I’ve not forgotten them’).

I couldn’t help thinking about his 2 deceased ex-girlfriends from the days when his romantic activities were newsworthy—one a suicide—and his rather over-dramatic relationship with Darryl Hannah (didn’t she pull the same public tantrums with JFK Jr.?) which made us girls slightly less susceptible to his murky romanticism and the Dorian Grayness of his ageless face and unchanged hair. After all, it was nearly 40 years since my first JB album.

Still, hearing the song put me into a nostalgic ‘stall’. I teared up, had a quick stab of sympathy toward the thug I have been involved with… was I transferring the soul of JB’s lyrics to my guy? Wasn’t Jackson’s reputation a successful womanizer with perfect hair who managed to extract and inject into his songs exactly the sort of nostalgia that anthemized our generation? I could actually smell the morning dew and stale smoke wafting into my college room as I lay with my first beautiful serious boyfriend and listened to ‘Late for the Sky ‘ on the turntable.

As I was leaving the 'Y' I remembered standing outside at a Jackson Browne concert—maybe 1973---- with several girls… waiting for a moment to maybe shake his hand, maybe to catch his eye, this musical poet who had seduced and captivated our young hearts and moved us to anticipate future regret. Funny, at the age of 60-whatever, Jackson had that same vacant look in his eyes which disarmed us all that night. That disconnect. But the song--- I would go home and youtube it to death until I was drowning in a rainy evening of nostalgia, regret and empathy even for my son whose 3rd i-phone contract had just been cancelled for non-payment and excessive use as a betting instrument.

Outside on the front steps was the usual nightly gathering of young college 'Y' residents.. .the music and drama school students smoking and socializing… the genetically evolved 21st century hotties feeling their prime. As Jackson left the building, they were not even shoving over to make his passage easier. What did they care, these downloaders of Lil Wayne and Nicky Minaj, followers of Entourage and True Blood, about a middle aged man with a guitar case? Kanye has not yet sampled ‘These Days’ or ‘Everyman’. Or even the Eagles version of ‘Take it Easy’… and if he did, who'd care about this guy? Like myself, he'd reached the age of invisibility.

No matter what we produce or how successful one is, you reach a certain age where unless you're Joan Rivers or maybe Donald Trump, no one really recognizes your persona anymore. Everyone needs a nametag by their 40th highschool reunion. In the public eye, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Oliver Stone, even Sir Paul and Sean Penn need to be captioned. They've become members of the cult of invisibility, like it or not. It is a kind of rite of passage... we go from generic baby to adolescence to some kind of beauty to faded greyness. Like the wicked witch, a bucket of water is all it takes to eradicate our flesh. And what remains? The song remains-- the lyrics, the music perhaps will be re-recorded by someone young and captivating... poems hopefully will be e-read, paintings will be hung and antiques appreciated. For the resistant, there is plastic surgery and botox, but for the rest of us there is TCM and the museum. For me, these are My Days. The song will always be My Song. For the others, there are ghosts. There are Those Days. And then some...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Deja Alanon

So I'm having a bad week. Full moon, pending dreary elections, moody weather, and ending a relationship which feels like a final farewell to anything vaguely impulsive and the last of my serial midlife crises. While virtually everyone in my life disapproved of the guy, now that I've broken it off, they've chosen this moment to rub my nose in the degradation of it and punish me when I'm down and solitary.

Tonight, reluctant to call a therapist and hitting a new bottom, I decided to go to an Alanon meeting. After all, the guy was apparently a drug addict-- or at least an alcoholic, and I'm a lifetime enabler. Not knowing the protocol, I entered slightly late, missed the 'reading' which was the catalyst for the sharing... and I'm listening to person after person trying to be thankful for some kind of abundance but hating themselves, their life, confessing to weakness, sounding totally self-involved and 'stuck'. Still, it is all I can do to keep from crying because I am feeling not just fragile but exhausted from 2 weeks of sleep deprivation and emotional abuse. I relate to everyone... but actually to no one. I pass when it is my turn to share, until there is a request for newcomers to speak....
A young attractive girl begins to cry, she has been engaged to marry a very successful and handsome young executive and has found instead that he is an addict, has witnessed her life falling apart, and she needs to know, wants to know... is there any 'tip' or suggestion as to how to simply get through these nights... it has been a month and she is inconsolable, angry, devastated....doesn't anyone have anything to offer?

And of course, I-- the dysfunctional meddling classic enabler, do the absolutely verboten taboo thing and answer her. I tell her--- I was in exactly her position, 22 years ago... the perfect husband, the perfect marriage, the envy of all my friends... but I was pregnant, and in another country... and it all unravelled. It will be okay, I tell her... you will find something to hold onto, you will find a way to get through and you will be okay.

So the guy who spoke endlessly about putting his left foot in front of his right until the timer-person had to stop him...interrupts me, and tells me there is absolutely no 'crosstalk' permitted at an Alanon meeting. Meaning this is not group therapy, but each person just 'shares' and the rest listen politely, pass a 'hat', hold hands and recite the 'serenity prayer' even though their boyfriend at home has just been threatening them with a switchblade, their mother is dying of some oozing horror and it is on their shirt, or their kids have just locked themselves in the bathroom and are smoking up many grams of crack.

Meaning also that in my current state of utter failure as a romantic partner, as a friend, as a musician because my emotional state is affecting my performance... I have now not only Failed at Alanon, but sabotaged the whole program. Of course, one kind woman sheepishly offered the pathetic defense that my transgression was heartfelt, and it was... but this did little to dispel the aura that there was a traitor in their midst and that the poor young girl whose boyfriend was in rehab was now damaged beyond repair by my maternal instinct and my obviously shitty advice.

I was once warned by an 'ex' not to ever enter these 'rooms'... that this is not the sort of thing I could find credible, that I would absorb the deep unhappiness of each of the participants and I inevitably would question the appropriateness of my candidacy for the program as a whole, as did he...

Of course since no one of my friends is speaking to me, I may now seek refuge with the pitbull himself, or I may have to find a 12-step program for people who fail at 12-step programs.... or I may have to weigh my cross and my star and my horoscope and see which of those might lead me to find my higher power. I seem to gravitate to the lower power, you see... and there doesn't seem to be a B-side to Alanon, or AA, or to any of my issues tonight. I seem to have learned very little from my relationships, except that love still seems to be the thing that all of these people cannot master, despite the steps, the meetings, the higher power thing... that whether or not we love ourselves, we seek some kind of company... and sitting in a circle in uncomfortable chairs, like a pro-tem anti-depressant, is not going to heal me or that poor beautiful girl who was trying desperately to assert that her boyfriend didn't 'deserve' her. Someone will, I wanted to say. Someone will... at least we hope so.

Truth is, we deserve nothing. We get what we get, we give what we give. Some of us give too much and it feels good... or it hurts. People hurt us, things hurt us, we hurt ourselves. This is how I know I am alive. Love hurts, birth hurts, death undoubtedly will hurt too. I read a great Bob Marley quote this morning... he seemed to know something about love...'Truth is, he said, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.' Healthy, addictive, generous, selfish... we all come back for more in some form or other.

So pick up your pen or your guitar and get over it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fall In

(introductory essay to Steven Spazuk monograph published by Projekroom, Montreal)

I read somewhere today that seeing a place for the first time in the dark is like reading a poem in translation. Writing about art is like using words to describe that place to a deaf person. Reading what someone has written about art is like touching a woman with gloves on. And to read this in translation… well, the clumsy metaphors go on ad nauseam.

The first time I saw Steven’s work was several years ago at the “Affordable Art Fair” in New York City which then branched off into Scope and Bridge and the Red Dot fairs… but at the time it was all there was for the ‘indie’ galleries and mostly you had to wade through plenty of crap to find something that you felt you couldn’t afford not to buy. It was one of his multiple-image pieces, and it was large and for me unaffordable and I tried to talk the gallery into some kind of arrangement but when I came back it was sold.

So then I had to go back and look at it multiple times and regret and try to do that sour grapes thing and hope that the buyer wouldn’t pay or would cancel and still I’d have to face the fact that I didn’t exactly have the cash in hand.

And I never saw it again. Except in my mind, where I yearn for things like that painting, at this point in my life, the way I used to yearn for other things. And where, with my exhausting passion for art-historical credibility, it settled like smoke and I began to qualify it...

When I was young and studying art, a poet wrote me a late-night note on torn paper that said “Of all those devine (sic) in the darkness, you are the darkest...” and the 4th word was indistinct and maybe said ‘defined’ or divine’ or ‘de-vined’ but it would have been inappropriate to even form the question. So I ended up spending months of poet nights in the tower-room of an abandoned building without electricity where we built a fire and talked and smoked and awoke after hours of unbearable passion with our skin cold and clammy and bathed in soot. I can scarcely remember his name, or the incredibly obtuse things he said to me but there it all was, in the Steven Spazuk painting — the smoke and the bottomless unabated desire and the terrible dark ghost of lost passion.

And other things. In the beautiful smooth surface, there was the captured essence of smoky moments, and there was killing and there was love and a man falling as from the towers, and the trace of birds and insects, and weapons and desire and even hope and the smell of candles and blood and touching and flesh and the frozen ice of painting that protects them.

I later searched for Steven—as I could-- on the internet. His titles were in French, so I further understood his technique… working with a candle, he painted with ‘la suie’ which is the ‘suis’-- the personal essence of who he is, the eye/I of the surrealists, the Latin ‘sum’/sum of Being of the medieval philosophers.

‘Soot’ being such a hideous word in English… it is misleading even to use it. Rather ash… or smoke… or shadow-painting because the shadows of his imagination appear… some by chance, some because there is no ‘chance’, in the world of the deep subconscious. They are clinically accurate x-rays of the soul—precise and accusatory, and they are smoky and osmotic and elegant…like the ghost of a dancer who enchants and torments you and then disappears. They are musical and they are funny. They are bathed in color, some of them, but underneath, the darkest of us remember the ash of cremated bodies, the horrible haunting smoke of holocaust incinerations, the smell of war-death, the smoke of memories we try to burn but which taunt us with scent and visions and dreams…. the grey veil which shrouds Dickensian nightmares in old London…. the terrible and wonderful atmosphere from which genies and devils emerge in our darkest fantasy… the mark of Christ we bear on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, above our eyes… and the exhaled smoke of the lover whose memory is killing, even after years, after many loves and births and joys and sorrows-- the one we let go, because we cannot keep dreams.

From my poet I have a box of cigarette butts. I don’t know why… somehow this is my souvenir of the smoky nights. I heard he died of some wasting stomach cancer. He haunts my dreams, on occasional lucky nights. In my house I now have a Steven Spazuk called 30 Vracs. Every visitor pauses before this; it commemorates 30 verses from another dark poet. Without reading the poems, without understanding the language, the Spazuk images emerge like a conjuror draws things from nothing. They are art and they are palimpsest, they are the painting and the pentimento all at once, the shadow and the being….then there is the color, and the shadows of color, along with the color of shadows, and the ‘suie’ like the breath of a dark angel, the translation of a dream.

For me the paintings are the witness of intimacy, a kind of painterly photograph of the desire which precedes the moment, the memory of what will never be in the film, the thing that a sculptor sees in the marble before he carves, the untranslatable—just there, simply there. It is not a sketch we feel, but the ghost of the thing which compels the artist to sketch. Not the song but the singing, pure and simple….an indecipherable metaphor that is instantly understood by the smoky of us, and which makes all of this description absurd and awkward and a little pathetic. The way the dream begins to evade us as we try to remember… and disappears. This is what Steven is painting, with a candle as his tool, using the black ‘suie’ from the flame, coaxing images from the shadows, fixing them beneath a surface, so they in turn continue to bring to light the imagery of his ‘suis’ as works of art.

But don’t take my word for it….

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A photograph of someone that I knew

In the event of something happening to me....
We are straining our ears here, for the quasi metaphorical rising, amidst the horrific war news, the floods and sludge, the killing, the economy, depressing elections looming... of the human canaries who are being brought up the half-mile into light, knowing the meaning of patience, of not knowing, of the prayer of faith in human ingenuity and persistence, of clinging to the fragile relentless hope of engineers and workmen who are bringing them, one by one, as they came into this world, back.

One wonders how the order is determined, the ebb and flow of human generosity among such a crew pre-accustomed of course to confinement. The rising. The world is again addicted to TV, a kind of baptismal hope, the lessons of the Chilean people who only months ago endured a traumatic earthquake and were rather stoic about their recovery. A Marquez-esque morality tale here... this does not happen everywhere.

I am reminded of the man in Kiruna, Sweden, who paints murals for the miners who endure the 6 months of darkness even when they come up to the freezing surface to break. Trompe l'oeuil landscapes in the stone walls, lit by a kind of eerie mercury glow....

I think of other mining families in other disasters whose loved ones were not so lucky, who endured days and weeks of waiting only to find the nightmare of endless entombment... how unbearable the joy of these families for them...

Coming uptown late last night---4 AM on the #6 train, through the deepest tunnels I am able to find in my city... with the night MTA miners working the tracks, and the tired wrecks of celebrity riding the cars. We working girls seem to find one another at this hour, we take safety in numbers, acknowledge without eye contact our long shadows and nightshades. Across from me last night--- a young prostitute, boots and bag of matching turquoise, impossible heels, suede leggings soaked and ruined by the passing Monday thundersquall, her nearly punk red wig slightly misplaced, eyes deep and wet and her mouth pale. She was beautiful, in a hard, unclean way, and while the black women next to me eyed her with disdain, I dared not judge her who had worked her body equally hard and perhaps bore some inner physical wound we could not see. Her shirt was tight and of a darker blue, with a sequinned heart embroidered exactly where hers might still be... a thin roll of flesh at her waist, but her legs were fine and long... we exchanged admiration... and she began to weep, without looking away...it went on--- 4, 5 stops-- as I got off, I did not touch her, but our mouths in unison pulled wide and I felt her turquoise sister soul somehow....we working girls, she a miner of something no one will rescue...I wonder if she is watching CNN from a mattress somewhere... I can smell her earthy thin perfume, her musky damp sex, hear her hoarse voice, the rocky dry weeping.

Dios mio, a woman cried. My husband. There are lonely people in New York who will never know this joy, who are trapped and sad--the rich, the poor, the huddled, the solitary, the imprisoned, the addicted.

Don't go talking too loud, Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck...you'll cause a landslide.