Monday, March 30, 2015

The Poet Winks (ogonblicken)

The death of Tomas Transtromer last week felt sad for me.  My Swedish friends had gifted me all of his books, and although I could never summon the passion he seemed to elicit from his countrymen, I also recognize that poetry suffers from translation.  He seemed an underdog for the Nobel prize, though a Scandinavian frontrunner for years, and beloved by a certain cult of New York musicians like Tom Verlaine.  His interviews were charming, and while I was living in Sweden I learned a stroke had left him without speech, but still writing poetry.  Perhaps this informed his work; he was also unable to use his right hand, but continued to play piano, which he'd loved, with his left.  My image of him, from what I've read,  is that he became weightless and papery at his end, and dissolved into the mystical landscape he evoked.  We mourn not the man, but the fact that there will be no more poems.  Yet the ones we have will grow;  the Nobel prize assures this.  I dreamed of him-- of my Swedish ex-boyfriend singing a song I think I wrote for him, in my dream… but of course all of this disappeared in the morning.

I've always been obsessed with bed art.  Paintings of beds, sleeping women… people at their most vulnerable and most 'open'.  The way you must trust, in order to sleep--- trust your partner, trust your surroundings, yourself.  You must not fear being apprehended in the act of dreaming, when you are most naked, when you are maybe most beautiful.  The intimacy of sleeping with someone the first time is much more difficult than the sex.  Passion crosses over into love while you sleep and dream.  It is like fresh, wet paint that becomes a painting.

Of course people like Tracey Emin choose to throw this in our face, to blow it up, as artists do-- because the act of betrayal, of abandonment, is maybe most flagrant in the context of beds… of coverings and uncoverings, of couplings and uncouplings.    I swear to f---ng God I never slept with that woman,  one of my drummers used to assure his wife, because he'd only had sex with some woman in a bed.  But it calmed his wife.

Lately I find myself more passionate about art than about men.  I seem to have outgrown my expectations of people, and find myself drawn to art like a kind of religion.  The pursuit of paintings obsesses me in my non--working moments.  At night I scroll through auction after auction, looking for my mate,  the way maybe some people are searching and OKcupid for human completion.  At an art fair this weekend, I was browsing the wares in some booth and one of the senior gallery staff kept trying to start up a conversation.  Finally, as I left, he asked to see my necklace.  I'm trying to flirt with you, he explained.  But I very seriously told him the brief story of my simple jewelry.  I didn't answer that I was trying to meet the art.

Something I learned from running an art gallery years ago-- is how to make a decision.  Because nothing in my life was ever really clear cut--- except these paintings.  There was a budget, there was a price; there were things that were possible or not quite possible, and I had to deal with the boundary of impossible.  I learned how to trust myself to make a selection.  I learned how to separate things that were superficially beautiful from things that would grow on me, that would reveal themselves to me, with time.  It is a lesson that informs my life, and one I cherish.

So Friday night I did bring home a painting, after agonizing between mine and another with which it seemed to be having a dialogue on the wall.  I felt like I was interrupting a conversation, a relationship…. but to take both seemed greedy.  And the one I brought home spoke to me.  It somehow had something to do with the Transtromer landscape which I had never quite grasped, but there in its mystical moonlight, I could sense this transition.. between evening and night-- between life and death.  All night I was sleepless-- maybe longing for its companion, even though the artist himself had been present at the sale and seemed emotionless about whichever one I selected.   I awoke many times, went into the next room and turned on the light to see my lovely painting, but felt its solitude, its strangeness.  Saturday I emailed the painter; could I pay him next week, etc. for the other… and late in the day he apologized; it had been sold.  So I felt this terrible sense of betrayal, of disappointment-- that felt disturbingly close to that teenage devastation when some boy you are longing for, who you know, you KNOW loves your soul and your essence, even though you have never spoken-- is dating the girl who sits next to you.

Of course, time is on your side when you are a teenager, and that boy eventually comes around… but the art--it is perhaps lost forever.  I briefly had a fantasy that one of my friends who craves my art had gone to the fair and stealthfully carried it off under their arm… but that was my teenage sense of betrayal, and I am adult and a professional.  I know when to stop bidding at an auction; I know about letting things go; I know that sometimes the dream is better than the possession, and my tiny landscape with the strange evening light and the one stroke of sky in the greenery will remind me of this, will suggest the longing, the unfinished question of solitude and the hidden mystery of Swedish night poetry and the left-hand-only piano melody soundtrack that will make it even more 'mine'.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Under Cover

More than 30 years ago, I made my first demo-tape.  A keyboard player who worked with some rockstar really liked it-- took a copy, gave it to his boss.  A year later, my song was on the radio.  A little changed, rearranged, but it was definitely the song.  Funny--- no one had contacted me; I hadn't signed any papers.  I called a friend; he recognized it-- then we called the keyboard player.  He stammered and stuttered, apologized… apparently it had been 'adopted' or folded into some recipe which someone else seemed to think he'd invented.  But the hook-- even the lyric, the theme--- it was there…

My friend consulted a lawyer.  You are going to be a rich girl, the lawyer said to me.  But what was the meaning of this?  That I would sue some huge record company-- me, a small-time new artist with a 4-track demo?  We had meetings, we had papers… and I pulled out.  It wasn't about the money, it was the shameless version of apology I received from the producer--- about how maybe you hear something, and it stays in your subconscious, or it re-emerges with an idea-- it may or may not be mine.  What-ever.   It was the first music-business lesson.

Later, I was asked to co-write with a pop-star.  This meant she would cover my song and we would split royalties.  When I protested, they said they'd rewrite the song and I'd get zero.  Second lesson.
Besides, if my music was so eminently adaptable, maybe it was generic and not good enough.  Back to the drawing room.

So the Pharrell/Marvin Gaye thing registered as something of a 'Huh?' moment for me. I mean, there is little I hear these days that is not traceable to something else.  The production may be updated or changed--- the beats, the sounds-- but the melodies are so non-memorable.  I'll bet after the Grammies this year, the only person who really saw a spike in sales was whoever manufactured John Mayer's glasses.  The visual seems to have eclipsed the song.  The spectacle, not the soundtrack.  I'll bet Stevie Wonder has noticed this.  And then there is Angus Young--- in the same clothes he was in the first time I saw him, almost 40 years ago.

I'm about to publish a small book of poetry and have been obsessing about the cover.  The Bo Diddley song has been going over and over in my head.  It's odd-- in old times, books looked pretty much the same-- leather bindings--- occasional hand-tooling and gilt trim for the very rich.  But what was important and valued--- was the text.  A book was its contents.  Now?  So many are so under-read.  The classics are recycled, reprinted-- covers evolve, books are 'styled' to sell as objects.  Sometimes, in 'new' books,  good writing is hidden beneath the plot; like a metal guitar shredder, the 'notes' obscure the absence of core melody.

When I was younger I did a Sunday afternoon solo gig on Bleecker St.  Don't you know any covers, the owner used to complain? No, I answered, priding myself on my principles.  I actually wrote a song called 'Cover' so I could finally answer 'yes'.  And one called 'Undercover'.  That one felt right.   I am neither a borrower or a lender.

So now it is the first day of spring, and we in New York City are about to get a dusting of snow.  Our sidewalks and streets have just been stripped of the last of the winter 'cover' which revealed underneath a vast layer of soaked and pressed litter-- like fossils of Christmas and Valentine's Day and thousands of candy wrappers and flattened Starbucks cups everywhere.  Walking down Madison Ave… to my right were the clean shop windows filled with all the bling a rockstar's wallet can buy… and to the left, is the gutter spread of trash, of objects covered with the grey-black film of melted dirty snow.  Jewelry, garbage, leather bags, garbage, porcelain, garbage… art galleries…garbage… until I began to reverse the order and really everything lost its meaning, its 'cover'.  Later today this will change… like a new coat of paint, the sweat and spit and dog-shit and the papers-- everything will be magical again for a few hours.

There is another author with the same name as mine.  Her book is about incest--- about her father raping her, her childhood trauma.  I don't know what the cover looks like.  My own father thinks I wrote this book.  He hasn't spoken to me for years, but he really hadn't spoken to me before, so the mistaken identity thing was a kind of icing on his paternal bitter cake.  It's useless for me to explain that this is another person, because having a reason to excommunicate me-- it suits him.  As I was contemplating my cover today-- maybe a moment where I'd hand my finished book over to my father and receive exoneration-- I began to think.. .well, this never happened to me… but other things happened.  The fact is there is shame in my family history and cause for shame.  Cover-ups and substance abuse… and my own father never harmed me, not physically-- but his absence and lack of sobriety caused childhood trauma that shouldn't have happened.   The irony is, I am the one that spent years trying to apologize--- trying to atone for his sins, trying to appease his anger.  So maybe, in a way, that other girl is me, has uncovered things that are not so far from the ones that should not have happened in our house, even thought the 'cast' is different.

Making up my bed this morning, I thought of all the things that happened, inside these covers, and other covers--- the intimacies, the passion, the nights of refusing intimacies, the hours of sickness, of feverish children who feel entitled to pass nights of illness in their mother's sheets, of nights of grief and desolation, of nightmares and beautiful dreams of our missing loves that cruelly disintegrate as we wake. The way my son and his girlfriend spent hours picking the quilt that dresses the bed in their new apartment.  Because so much of their life will take place there, and it is important.

In truth, my father, like most people,  will never read my book.  He won't listen to the songs I've recorded, and that is fine.  But he just may see the cover.  Or not.

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