I'm feeling like one of those cartoon characters, hoisting myself onto the ledge of the deep well of September, having clawed my way up walls with no footholds, no light… the tarry residue of recent events stuck to my skin, matting my hair, coating the bottom of the pit with the purgatorial sludge of beyond-my-control.
For those of us who have been watching the PBS Vietnam documentary, we are somehow haunted by the resonance of the messages-- or the absence of message-- in those events which both brought us together and split us apart. History and hindsight are crucial to understanding. Lack of transparency, skewed communications, mixed motives all contributed to the catastrophe that was this war. These lessons are surely not absorbed or understood by our current Lego-esque president who is tragically under-qualified for most any position of leadership. We saw various styles of politicians; were often betrayed by those we trusted most.
Besides the personal losses of recent days, the political climate, natural disasters and tragedies have made our lives that much less 'safe', our nights that much more sleepless. Despite the news that the average American's income has risen, I find my artistic friends more encumbered than ever with impossible rents, dwindling income, constantly inflating everyday expenses. I have down-sized virtually everything-- buy nothing at this point except cheap food on sale at varieties of markets. It requires vigilance and time to glean the necessary information, and miles of walking to achieve the smallest victory over the relentless threat of poverty like an enemy ambush, waiting to take me down.
I do not miss the tiny luxuries-- a coffee in a cafe, occasional sushi box, new boots-- and manage to find museums and exhibitions without fees, but in this time of desperate global need I feel humiliated that I cannot contribute. I'm no longer young and able-bodied enough to be part of some rescue or rehab coalition, and I have little to offer but my cheap grief, no matter how heartfelt. 'You ain't changin' no lives here, baby,' my local homeless man reminds me when I sacrifice an occasional quarter into his cup. It's humiliating.
So I'm especially offended by the grotesque luxury culture that seems to be a sort of status quo among way too many Americans, whether they can afford it or not. Because I was gifted a privileged education, I did rub shoulders and trade licks with some of these people in my past. They make fun of me and occasionally offer me money; when they show up at gigs I buy them a drink. I do accept payment for my books and cds. But last week one who happens to be building some new residence of palatial proportions called me up and told me he's thinking about buying a urinal. 'You mean like the Duchamp, I asked in utter disbelief, realizing that for a split second I registered 'unicorn'?' 'No,' he replied, 'I'm not that sophisticated. But for my billiards room (contiguous to the cigar bar)... I thought it would be a hoot. ' So I laid into him… about how I knew plenty of guys I could get to provide poolroom atmosphere and men's room grit, who would grind out their cigarette butts on his mahogany floors and stink up the place with street-sweat and the poetics of ghetto-slang and give him credibility. Not to forget the gender ramifications, etc. He can always rely on me for a 'dressing down', as he called it.
I hung up and in my head began to rack up the unpaid debt people like Banksy owe Duchamp. For me there was one urinal. He did not keep on repeating himself and was incredibly clever and inventive. I remembered walking with another friend, passing one of those exquisitely quilted walls layered with various random graffiti souvenirs and posters-- rippings and peelings that rival any great Ab Ex museum painting for beauty and depth. My friend wanted to remove one of the particularly brilliant postings and have it framed for his collection. We argued. Next day I went back and sure enough, it had been skillfully excised like the work of some plastic surgeon.
It's not enough that these people have made LVMH and Ferrari massive billionaire brands… that they own and own and renovate and build and collect. They now must own what was made by and meant for everyone-- especially the poor among us who don't have the same access to visual artistic stimulation. Basquiat has become the quintessential collectible of these inner sanctums and massive living rooms. The Basquiat I knew who threw his gut and brain onto old doors and walls… is now the ultimate status symbol. Duane Hanson used to make facsimile sculptures of homeless people-- like his wink to these collectors. In my old art dealing days I placed one of his Museum Guards in a huge Park Avenue foyer. A sort of joke, but with another meaning that boded ill for private art fantasies. A version of Jean Michel is rolling in his grave, while the worse version feels flattered. Andy, too. Fortunately for me, there are so few museum shows I really regret missing lately; it seems these institutions have bowed to the culture of Instagram and popularity. Art galleries are filled with stuff that seems amateurish and shallow. But I'm a cranky old no one. What do I own?
On top of my plate of cheap rice this week has been the disgraceful intrusion of a lone hater with a fake name, hiding behind a pretentious Facebook profile and slandering and posting accusations and falsehoods. I play music… I go home. I write books and columns, I give my poetry away almost daily. I worry about how to pay my monthly maintenance; I stretch dollars and perform tiny economic acrobatics. It is distressing and discouraging. For three days I cannot shake the image and repeated accounts from the Vietnam documentary about the hills-- the bloody, senseless military operations to occupy a hill-- causing massive casualties and deaths… and then… the hills are abandoned-- like a wicked game, like the ultimate Sisyphean war tale. And then my stalker-- attempting to level the tiny reward of my creative inner conflict, like a grenade of hatred. I am haunted; I am angry. I own this.
The 18-hour series ended with the anthemic 'Let It Be' playing over the final credits. Somehow this infuriated me. Let it be? A message of apathy and concession after reliving the whole disengorging saga of the 1960's? The Beatles? Let Puerto Rico be, as President Lego would do? Let Mexico be? Let the rich eat cake and the poor starve? Let the current pop culture undermine history and prioritize sacred museum space with the products of fashion and commerce while they discard the true foundations and sacrifices that constitute art? Not me. I will fight. I will resist… old and weak as I am, I will try to express my contempt for what is morally hideous and grieve for the poor under-acknowledged saints and martyrs of this abysmal culture whose memory grows shorter and shorter, dimmer and dimmer… fade to black.