Thursday, March 29, 2018

Pocketful of Wry

Yesterday on the sidewalk two small birds were having it out-- a bonafide squall... a few others flew in for the entertainment; two extras got involved in the fray.  It was like a game of 3-card monty... squawkers and gapers and rooters and much flapping around.  Finally I got a glimpse of the prize-- it was a chicken wing-tip-- like a discarded piece of Kentucky fried bucket-stuff on the sidewalk.  Hey, hey, I shouted to the sparrows-- not even pigeons who have no shame in this town-- that's your cousin there you're tearing apart-- what are you, cannibals?  Or maybe the processed stuff which passes as meat at KFC has no authentic bird DNA.  They dispersed, only to return when I got a few feet ahead... to peck it out until death....

I thought about Aesopian philosophy-- mocking bird humor-- an Ogden Nash or Edward Lear would surely come up with a limerick.  A Wall Street parallel?  A dog-eat-dog kind of thing?  What occurred to me is the fact that people have lost sight of the 'prize'... they will duke it out, compete, race and grab out of some instinct... kind of a Donald Trump thing-- going all out for a political campaign when you have no idea of what you might do if you actually win.  And, as we suffering Americans have learned well, not only does the best man not win, but the worst man wins, the best men stay home, the race ends in a brick wall collision-- no trophy, no pride, no victory-- just a kind of sick realization that you ruffled your feathers for some kind of cannibalistic irony...  a bad joke... fuel for all the cartoonists and comedians and late-night talk-show hosts.  I'm not laughing this week.

Last Saturday school kids led the country in a meaningful protest against gun-violence; they spoke with emotion and pride-- the mourners, the victims-- the girl vomiter who displayed her facial wounds to millions on international broadcasts, while the president-- the Commander-In-Chief whose worst pain is from a hair transplant procedure-- played golf or watched shark-week TV.   The demonstration totally eclipsed this year's NCAA tournament and imparted another ironic meaning to  Sweet Sixteen.   Brackets lost their edge anyway; the hype this year seems larger than the competition. Wth the exception of the first round, the winners seem less appealing-- no dreams, no legends, no compelling stories.

On the train this week I sat beside a homeless girl-- Maria from Panama who came to New York for her boyfriend-- shining and bright-- having won hands down her high school talent contest, she hoped to become a star, but had to sell her violin and saxophone for food.  Where is her joy of winning? What harsh lesson has she learned here?  I wanted to take her home with me, but I can no longer do these things.  I can no longer saddle myself with more causes and sorrows and sicknesses; I am worn from not even three months of the new year; my shadow is dense and dark-- daylight savings time seems ill-omened and premature.

One of the workers in my building complained to me about the way some new tenants have treated him-- with disdain and disrespect; these people who have bankrupted old Wall Street firms with their greed and shenanigans, their margin-trading and derivatives manipulation.  Here they are, the criminals and crime-masters of finance, buying weighty shares in my coop, throwing their power around like the entitled brats they are, tearing down walls and wrecking old fixtures as they move onward, losers become winners...  You are a good woman, this man told me, with his thick accent; you will be rewarded by Jesus; I believe this, he said, pointing to his heart.

My friends question the existence of a God who countenances childhood cancer, these senseless innocent killings... I do not hold Him personally responsible;  I know this is not the way the world works.  There are no Superheroes who catch falling infants from burning buildings, but firemen and people who reach out and sacrifice themselves for others.  We honor them, we decorate their graves and donate money to their families... but who are the winners here?  I don't know anymore.  All day the nursery rhyme has been going over and over in my head-- the Trump-as-King is in his counting house, counting out his money, the Queen is in the parlor (Trump Tower) eating bread and honey; the maid is in the garden hanging out the clothes...along came a wing-eating blackbird and snipped off her nose.  It seems the poor and the good are being punished here; they are shot and homeless and suffering from asthma and cancer and poor medicine while the losers have become the winners.  Crooked men are we, the new Americans, with our phones and selfies and downloaded lives-- broken brackets, crumbling White House, obscene coffers and man-made poverty; we are no longer dreamers but streamers.   Maria in the church basement cradling her empty violin case like a baby, waiting for her sad supper on a paper plate, singing a song of sixpence...


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Now You See It….

Many years ago I was working at a highbrow art gallery and made my first important sale to a rock star.  As he handed over what was then a small fortune, he asked me, politely, how he could be certain that his new painting was real.  You can't, I assured him; but I can.  I knew.  In those days part of our rigorous art education was connoisseurship-- we looked and studied masterpieces and were tested on deciphering fakes and forgeries from the real deal.  At a certain point, you get a feel for it-- you just 'know', like fresh-baked cookies from the boxed kind, like a green plant from a plastic one.  Guitar collectors search and play and touch and study-- the real musicians just 'know'... they pick up a guitar and it sings its history-- its wooden roots-- the skill of the luthier who lovingly put it together with electronics and bits of material so that its soul matched its beauty.  The best of them, like old paintings,  have passed through one or two owners who played them and loved them-- broke them in and seasoned the wood... they feel experienced, layered.

I was having a vigorous discussion Saturday with a visiting Frenchman about the art market, and out of my mouth came the word Authenticity-- like a sentry, like a pillar or goddess... like one of those lovely intangible names so many girls in the hood proudly wear around gold chains these days--  Destiny, Felicity, Cadence, Chassity (yes, I looked twice at that one... ).  Authenticity, in the end, is what matters, I heard myself saying… not the kind that is guaranteed by a stamp or certificate or committee when you buy a Warhol or a Keith Haring, but the real thing.

Back in the day, there were sketchy galleries on Madison Avenue who sold Picassos, Miros, Chagalls-- with or without signatures; most of these came accompanied by a piece of paper like a pedigree, guaranteeing their authenticity.  None of these galleries are currently in business; their provenance is a sort of black mark on the merchandise, even if it is real.  They reminded me of the papers issued when you bought a certain breed from one of those puppy stores which are also a thing of the past, buried beneath lawsuits and claims.   A guarantee of purity and lineage…  how were we to know this was a grey-market dog?  Would we return it after adopting it into our family?  Of course not.  Imagine the paperwork that comes with religious and historic relics--- Napoleon's penis which is insured for an obscene sum and would auction for far more-- who knows the absolute truth, the DNA nitty-gritty?

Most of us would be horrified if we bought tickets to hear a great rock band and ended up with their lookalikes simulating the music... or if they showed up and played cover songs all night.  We would know.  But the art world-- the quick overnight successes-- do we feel the depth of what they do?  Yes, Jean Michel Basquiat had a kind of genius-- looking at his work was like hearing the young Ramones at CBGB's before anyone told us it was cool.  But too many of us are happy now to hang a poor imitation of his unique style with a bunch of silly text scrawled across the page.  It 'looks' hip-- but it's really just bullshit.  Half the artists showing in galleries are wannabes or followers-- and the audience lacks the time or interest to investigate who their mentors were.  Most people these days get their blues from Eric Clapton, not Lightnin Hopkins or Blind Lemon Jefferson. People in general settle for the 'light' version, take their selfies and go home and watch Netflix.

There are so many awards-- nominations, honors--- a self-proclaimed candidate can produce a roster of accomplishments and offices held.  Is anyone really bothering to certify these things?  Our children play in sports leagues; virtually every child is given a trophy... it's misleading, not democratic-- and gives children the idea that they are the best when they are not even good.  It's a Snakes and Ladders game of fame-- press the right Instagram button, and you are an instant princess-- not that I am bitter about the easy success of the undeserving-- it's just the substitution of this, like artificial sweetener, that leaves a bad taste and ruins the dream.  And in the runway 'walk of fame'... who is bothering to distinguish what is authentic from the rest?  Some of us are.

In this day of fake news, puppet presidents, internet hoaxes, and instant fame, some of us can feel what is authentic, like an old patina-- not a manufactured coating.  You can feel beauty, too-- in people-- even older people who have not had their faces updated-- you can sense a certain grace in their hands, in their eyes when they speak to you: who they were, who they are...  like slow wisdom or a ripening.

When I was a girl, my favorite book was The Prince and the Pauper.  I loved kings and queens in disguise--- even The Princess and the Pea-- the way real heroic nobility and royal kindness shone through rags and tatters.  We no longer have the example of  'good' rulers.  Quite the contrary.  But there are still things out there to be discovered that are badly dressed and brilliant-- or unmarketed,
non-Instagramed, and wonderful.  There is more soul in a couple of the men I hear singing in the train stations than in all the top 40 recordings I can't name.  Talent is no guarantee of success, and too often the best of them drop out.  It's too damned hard.

I still can't get over that da Vinci painting... I mean, when I was ten, my mother took me to see the Mona Lisa on its world tour.  Of course we waited endlessly on a huge line, and we were rushed by the viewing stage... but it was magical.  Yes, it was curtained and 'presented' with theatricality-- but you could breathe its importance-- its quiet beauty.  I had chills... I nearly cried; it was authentic.  But that $450 million painting? It spoke not a word-- no song, no chills, no magic.  It was flat.  Like a bird that choked, or a clown in couture.  It just didn't feel right;  but then there are always those who want to believe in the charlatan, in the false messiah, the doctored unicorn.

For years I tried to imitate my mother's simple yellow cake recipe-- it just never came out tasting right.  I finally gave up and did things from scratch my own way and discovered something else.  I'm not a baker, I'm a bass player.  Of course I definitely have my heroes, and have plenty to learn from the masters, but the last thing I want is to sound like them.  I may never be famous or celebrated, but I'll be myself.  People used to ask my Mom what her secret ingredient was, and she'd laugh it off.  I finally realized it was her hands-- her skill, her unique story, the passion and love she baked in-- her inimitable recipe for authenticity.