Friday, December 28, 2007

September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,'
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

"September 1, 1939", W.H. Auden

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Implied Author

I make the new world from the stuff of the known world. Here we come to the heart of the matter. To write well, I must first be bored to distraction; to be bored to distraction, I must enter into life. It is when I am bombarded with noise, sitting in an office full of ringing phones, surrounded by friends and loved ones on a sunny seashore or at a rainy funeral - in other words, at the very moment when I sense the heart of the scene unfolding around me - that I will suddenly feel as if I'm no longer really there but watching from the sidelines. I'll begin to daydream. If I'm feeling pessimistic, I think only about how bored I am. Either way, a voice inside urges me to go back to the room and sit down at the table.

"The Implied Author," Orhan Pamuk
Other Colors, 2007

Shah of Shahs

The causes of a revolution are generally sought in objective conditions - general poverty, oppression, scandalous abuses. But this view, while correct, is one-sided. After all, such conditions exist in a hundred countries, but revolutions erupt rarely. What is needed is the consciousness of poverty and the consciousness of oppression, and the conviction that poverty and oppression are not the natural order of this world. It is curious that in this case, experience in and of itself, does not suffice. The indispensible catalyst is the word, the explanatory idea. More than petards or stillettoes, therefore, words - uncontrolled words, circulating freely, underground, rebelliously, not gotten up in dress uniforms, uncertified - frighten tyrants.

Shah of Shahs, Ryszard Kapuscinski

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Our Band Could Be Your Life

The night of their appearance at the huge Pandora's Box festival in the Netherlands, Kramer went to fetch Haynes for sound check. "It is firstly most important to state that, on this night, Gibby had eaten an entire handful of four-way acid tabs and drank an entire bottle of Jim Beam before the sound check had even begun," Kramer notes.
Leary was furious at Haynes for getting wasted for such an important show. "Fuck that stupid-ass motherfucker," he snarled to Kramer. "I hate this fucking band. I swear to fucking Christ on a stick, I hate this fucking band more than I hate myself. And that's a lot. I don't even care if we ever play again. If you can't find him, fuck it. FUCK IT!!!!" With that, he began smashing a couple of guitars with his bare fists.
The festival featured several stages, and Kramer eventually found Haynes at a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds show. As Kramer tells is Haynes was completely naked, repeatedly fighting his way onto the stage and charging at Cave as hulking security guards punched and kicked him off the ten foot high stage and back into the audience, where he would remain for a few seconds before trying to claw his way back onstage again. Finally, guitarist Blixa Bargeld came forward and kicked Haynes in the groin with a pointed German boot. This time Haynes did not get up.
Kramer pushed his way through the crowd to come to the aid of his bandmate, only to find him laying unconscious. "I bend ove rto see if he is still alive, but he seems not to be breathing," KRamer says. "I poke him in the shoulder. Suddenly, like a volcano, he bursts to life and swirls his fists in every direction, clipping me but good, along with a few innocent girls, and drawing the ire of their boyfriends and the enraged security guards, who are now motivated to leave Mr.Cave to his own devices, descend the stage and join the boyfriends in administering a thorough and none-too-subtle beating upon Gibby's face, head, and shoulders, until he is once again unconscious on the floor.
Or so it seemed. Actually, Haynes was only pretending he'd been kocked out, and as the hired thugs walked away, he rose to his feet and began screaming a them, "DUTCH FAGGOTS!!! GODDAMN FUCKING DUTCH FAGGOTS!!! A WHOLE FUCKING COUNTRY FILLED WITH NOTHING BUT FUCKING TURD BURGLING FAGGOTS!!!! I FUCK YOUR ASS IN HEAVEN AND HELL!!!! FUUUUUUUCK YOOOOOOOOU!!"
"The ensuing chase and capture as the stuff dreams are made of," Kramer says, "Stark naked like the day he was born, beaten, bruised, bloody, and tripping, this icon of modern music ran like Jesse Owens through the entire complex, down the halls, up the stairs, grabbing beer bottles from people's hands as he went and throwing them down on the concertgoers below. A hail of beer cans, bottles and miscellaneous garbage rained down upon the Dutch persons as I finally caught up with Gibby just as a throng of the biggest security guards I had ever seen caught up with him too.
"At this time there were perhaps twenty hands upon him, holding him down, and although Gibby is completely crazy, he is not stupid. 'I'M SORRY!!! I'M FUCKING SORRY!!! PLEASE DON'T BEAT ME ANYMORE! I HAVE A BRAIN TUMOR!!! I CAN'T HELP THE WAY I AM!!! PLEASE DON'T HIT ME AGAIN!!! IT'S AGAINST MY RELIGION!!!!"
Haynes then made a successful run for the dressing room and slammed the door behind him. Kramer could hear Leary and Haynes screaming at each other inside, and when he finally worked up the courage to open the door, he found the two of them smashing guitars, bottles and chairs in what Kramer calls "the most potent example of bad behavior I have ever seen. To this day, more than fifteen years later, I have no more vivid memory of the effect a life in music can have on a human being."
Just before they went onstage, Haynes chugged an entire bottle of red wine; moments into the set he dived straight into the horrified crowd, which parted like the Red Sea. Haynes knocked himself unconscious on the floor, to warm applause from the theater's security team. "I look down at Gibby," recalled Kramer, "He tried to move, but then collapses as vomit begins to pour from his mouth."
After the show Haynes was irate about having been unconscious for most of the show and insisted on getting paid within five minutes or he'd be "taking it out on your Dutch testicles!" Haynes snatched up the fistfuls of guilders and stuffed them in a pair or pants in his guitar case, but almost immediately forgot that he had een paid and went on yet another rampage, streaking through the festival complex and screaming that he had been ripped off."

-Michael Azerrad, Our Band Could Be Your Life; from the chapter on the Butthole Surfers

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Literary Criticism

Literary criticism--unlike, say, music criticism or art criticism--enjoys the advantage of existing in the same medium (language) as the art it explores or esteems. This can give literary criticism a delicacy and an inwardness that are harder to achieve elsewhere. But, at the same time, this may be why literary critics are given to competitive envy.

Dylan's Visions of Sin
Christopher Ricks