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The Alien Suggests a Song

The Alien Suggests a Song

We live in a towering multiplex, on a shining hill, the Alien and I. And for the last several years, we’ve enjoyed the sights and sounds here, for the most part, living so close to the heavens, able to touch the clouds on certain days.

But along with those breathtaking moments, and those white, fluffy clouds, we’ve had to, on occasion, deal with some rather obnoxious neighbors now and then. Loud, boastful, given to incessant claims without the slightest merit, these neighbors appear all too certain in their ugly wrongheadedness, which continuously puzzles and worries the Alien.

He struggles mightily to reconcile all of this with our landscapes, earthly arts and sciences, and he wishes our neighbors would read Wittgenstein, and heed the ending of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:

Whereof one cannot speak thereof one must be silent.

Not long after this remembrance of Viennese wisdom, a spark of inspiration hit me. Perhaps it was the good red wine. Perhaps it was the cloudless day and the radiant sunshine that reflected the best we can be. I introduced him to the music of Ray Charles. We listened to several of his songs, and laughed merrily when we happened upon this one.

So it was settled. This would be our gift to our neighbors, when they finally leave the tower:

 

Ludwig Wittgenstein, who may well have been an Alien too, died in 1951, ten years before Ray Charles recorded Percy Mayfield’s song. My good friend believes that creative sparks never die, and time, as we earthlings perceive it, is an illusion. I like to think they all knew each other well, in life, in death, or in the Bardo.

 

The Alien Suggests

The Alien Suggests

The Alien Suggests

Go camping. Go together. Share a tent, a fire. Build the campsite with one another, for one another.

Wake up to the sounds of brooks and rivers nearby. Pause and listen. Walk in the forest together, or by yourself when the dawn appears. Climb the mountainside for kindling and a peak at the sunrise over the distant hills. When you face forward, spin, take in your 360s, your panoramas.

The old metal coffee pot is on the grill. Share it with friends. Leave your phones at home. No TV. No news. Swap the virtual for the real. Swap bad fictions for the real.

Laugh and sing with one another, like you did when you were young and unafraid. Like you did before you fell for the lies and distortions and myths of the modern world – the lies, distortions and myths of the reaction to that world.

The canoes are safe. The river flows just right for them, as if it were made for those canoes. A mix of solos and small groups on the river helps the focus on the wake you create, on the rhythms you endorse. The hawks play at making ten above you. They play at a language all their own but every bit as real as yours.

There is no one in the forest until you pull your canoes up to the shoreline and disembark. There are beings there, already, but they hide from you at first, then make themselves known. Walk softly. Let them be. Listen for the language they toss to the wind, and the wind itself.

Across the universe we evolve to feel our own worlds are beautiful – to us. But it’s been my impression, since I first set my “eyes” on this one, that yours is uniquely so. My evolution should counter that impression, should render it impossible. Actually, it should, in all probability, make me see ugliness and bleakness and death here, not life, and truth, and sparks one might call “divine.”

But that is what I see and feel, when I follow you on your climbs, and in your boats, and when you sing and laugh beside the campfire. Truth and beauty and other explosions of aesthetic bliss surround me, become my panoramas too.

Camp, make love, not war!

 

_____

*All photos by Douglas Pinson, with constant help (and frequent nagging) from his alien friend.

Community Bookstore Live

Community Bookstore Live

I bumped into this today, thanks to the Paris Review’s “Staff Picks.” A series of video chat sessions with some truly excellent writers, perfect for pandemic times. Well worth a look:

Community Bookstore Live videos

Life is swirling too intensely at the moment, throwing me around the house, making me bounce from ceiling to floor to wall and back again, like a bad Disney dream.

No friend of mine, Writer’s Block. No boon companion. But he’s here, there, and everywhere on the page. The blank page. White, laughing and cruel pages, so far this month. I can only hope 2021 will end up being a productive and significantly more enjoyable year, when all is said and done. Time to put 2020 into the ground forever and ever!

 

Send work, oh ye artists, scribes and flaneurs!

Todd McGowan’s Universality and Identity Politics

Todd McGowan’s Universality and Identity Politics

Identity. It is to die for, sometimes. But we’re driven to form them – against. We become Not-our-parents, Not-our-siblings, Not-our-classmates, but never purely so. And rarely without a multitude of complications. There is always a mix, a set of contradictions that includes conformity with, too. They flow in and out. And while we develop our identity forms, we paradoxically become less in sync with our many selves. Our perceptions of the way others see us shape these forms even when we fight against. This, that, or them. The fight itself, or its passive acceptance, can mean we’re out of sync. There is no winning here. There is only contradiction and paradox.

And when/if we put on the clothes of identity politics – a most misunderstood and misused term (like socialism, anarchism, and universality) – we most likely need enemies. We need far more than just Not-our-parents and Not-our-siblings. We need walls, and borders, and a baleful amount of “othering.”

In Todd McGowan’s brilliant book, the above (and more) is hashed out, theoretically, and pragmatically, with a host of references to historical periods, movements, thinkers and systems. He builds his case step by step, using an almost Hemingway-like method of keying off the previous sentence to amplify and extend.

It’s a relatively short book, but provokes a great deal of thought, on moral, ethical and social grounds, and unlike so many contemporary attempts to assess the present via the past, there are no hidden agendas here.

Light bulbs will flash. Surprises fill the pages. You likely won’t see things the same way again.

More on this in the days to come. Happy New Year to all.

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Phoebe Freakin’ Bridgers Knows the End is Here

Phoebe Freakin’ Bridgers Knows the End is Here

Catharsis. We always need at least a bit. In recent times, in the light and darkness of current events, the degree of need has elevated, worldwide, to levels (perhaps) previously unknown. Because along with the endless crises of war, and war, and more war, hunger, homelessness, poverty, and environmental destruction, we also have a pandemic in the mix, and a politics of fear and division that seems to have taken over most of the world.

As is usually the case when perfect storms are raging, we get a lot of people telling us what we really need right now, the special something to at least temporarily alleviate said crises. I’m guilty of such (annoying) gestures at times too, but I won’t be in this particular point in the space/time discontinuum. I will say, however, that I’d strongly suggest . . . it’s just a suggestion, mindya . . . that we may well benefit from some Phoebe Fucking Bridgers (the brilliant and oh so timely name of her website), especially this song/lament/journey/dystopian shock show right now.

It’s Catharsis × 10, as well as being strangely, beautifully vulnerable, edgy, laden with contradictions and just plain old original. In other words, she rocks:

 

Zeitgeist Voices Figure it Out

Zeitgeist Voices Figure it Out

Fiona Apple really doesn’t care what you think of her. Well, that’s the impression I get when I consider the way she handled her early stardom, back in 1996, and the fact she’s only put out four albums since then. Her most recent, Fetch The Bolt Cutters, released this past spring, seems as fresh as her first, penned when she was 17, 18 and 19. Back then, she seemed like a unicorn of sorts, bold, but vulnerable, classically trained, but willing to step out and away from tradition. And she could scat. She could jazz it up and still sound like the newest, coolest woman on the block. Actually, not just new — beautifully strange.

“Under the Table”

So when I heard her song on the radio, I didn’t even know it was Fiona Apple, but I did think it was something new, fresh, and influenced by Fiona Apple. Why did the chords, the bridges, the runs hit me that way? Primarily because Gen Z and Millennial singers, especially the women, love to scat. They love to run words into one another like there’s too much in their heads in need of quick release, and far too little time to do so. Perhaps. Maybe. And then they chill. And then they scat again. Chill. Scat. They do Ella, and then Nick Drake it. Bebop to Hip Hop and somewhere altogether different.

“Figure it Out”

Listening to a local alternative radio station, Blu DeTiger caught my ear, sounding like the current manifestation of the Zeitgeist in several ways. All of 21, she scats too, vocally and with her bass, and her lyrics throw a mix at my ears of fatalism, damage, stoicism and cool. It’s impossibly understated. Humbly confident. Blu “made the scene” as a DJ first, played bass, OTJ, “graduated” to Tik Tok, and now she’s full-fledged. I think she and Fiona should make records together. Pass the torch!

A Belated Update on This Life

A Belated Update on This Life

Some well-deserved recognition for a must-read book:

Professor Martin Hägglund wins the prestigious René Wellek Prize

Martin Hägglund’s This Life has been awarded the René Wellek Prize for the best book in the field by the American Comparative Literature Association. The Wellek Prize is generally considered to be the most prestigious award in comparative literature. Past winners include Umberto Eco and Edward Said. In their prize motivation, the awards committee offered high praise for This Life:

Before and After

Before and After

The Scream, by Edward Munch. 1893

One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream. — Edvard Munch (1892)

 

The past before us
Is the past we all share now

Twice past
Twice blessed

Roaming through the ages
When we jammed into rooms
Bars houses apartments

Together breathing the same air
Breathing the same context in time

An earlier landscape internalized
For physical connections we took for granted
For fun for chances to spar and joust
In person together

Together but apart in our mind’s eye
Because we could be that way
That aloof that cool
But still there

Pre-pandemic
Meant pre-separation

Pre-pandemic
Meant we panicked about different things

To say the least because we could
Say the least and get away with it

The air we breathe
The air we pass on to others

Is existential now
     We are each other’s crisis

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