Devastationalist Masterpieces


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On the back cover of the paperback edition of My Pilgrim’s Progress, George Trow’s second, and ultimately fatal, attempt to trace the line of Western Culture’s post-war descent into inanity, there is a blurb by the literary pundit, Sven Birkerts, that embodies the root of that inanity with uncanny perfection.

It reads:  Trow models the thrilling possibility that one can, from the stronghold of one’s own experience and knowledge, decipher something of the world.

As if there were any other way!

You might be thinking that that sentence could be taken a number of ways, but it’s even worse in context :

It’s an ambitious venture, especially as Trow proceeds with no authorized historical perspectives or terminologies. He goes forth solo, walking into the jungle with his compass and knife, a bit of an old-school anthropologist. What amazes me — and contributes to the true readerly excitement — is that in many ways he pulls it off. He models the thrilling possibility that one can, from the stronghold of one’s own experience and knowledge, decipher something of the world; that the murk of late modernity can be pierced and rendered at least partially comprehensible.

Here is an established public intellectual, one of the men our culture has specifically tasked as an arbiter and caretaker of creativity and free expression, and he is openly professing his amazement that someone could actually make sense of the world without the aid of authorized perspectives and terminologies. As if using one’s subjective experience in that way were somehow a form of illicit thrill-seeking. He might as well be wearing a sign that says, “Don’t think for yourself.” Disgraceful.

Pyramid of Night (Mackay)

Andy Mackay

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Sometimes it seems that the human condition can be summed up as standing dazed and bruised at the bottom of various slippery slopes and wondering, “How did we get here?”

One answer might be our mistake in taking it for granted that speed, ease and convenience are always and everywhere inherently desirable qualities, ideals to be considered above all others in shaping our world. When the actual truth is they have blood-sucked the value from virtually every human activity that has ever fallen under their tyrannical sway. They are the insidious de-values, quietly replacing the deeper satisfactions of considered, diligent effort over time, from which human pursuits previously drew meaning.

In practice, this means that we are too quick and too enthusiastic when it comes to adopting simulacra, allowing virtual things to stand in for their actual predecessors with no questions asked. (E.g., a phone call is not an actual conversation, an MP3 is not actual human beings making music.) And the thing we need to be on guard for is that the technologies driving this process always tend towards increased individualism and isolation — away from the real world, real encounters, real relationships — whereas the original things were, by definition, tactile, tangible, social and communal. The scariest part is that over time, as the avatar stands in for the actual thing, people (gradually but inevitably) forget there ever was anything actual. The avatar becomes all we ever know.

Recently, a friend sent me a demo of a chilling new song that he was inspired to write after watching an ad for a dating service on TV. The song did a good job of capturing one unutterably sad and depressing aspect of the process described above, which is the commodification of romance — people shopping for love like they were ordering shoes from Zappos.

And of course there are upsides to it, just as there are upsides to cell phones, iPods, Facebook and all the rest. Speed, ease and convenience in all their glory, beckoning and beguiling. But in the end, what’s on offer is too creepy for words. It really is like a dystopian sci-fi novel, with all of us would-be Winston Smiths contemplating suicide in our grimy little bedsits, while the omnipresent Big Screen offers salvation only through deeper levels of solipsism and alienation.

This passage below is from Michael Kimmelman’s exceptionally illuminating book, The Accidental Masterpiece (2005). (Exceptional in that it is one of sadly few contemporary documents — by a formally educated, mainstream critic no less — that eschews theoretical frameworks and instead demonstrates a deep personal understanding and appreciation of the chaos and messiness that underlie how art is actually created and experienced by human beings in the real world.) I hijack this passage from its original context (Kimmelman is discussing the effect Kodak’s rise at the turn of the last century had on society’s notions of preservation and memory) for my own purposes, so it is only fair to note that Kimmelman goes on to argue for other side later on in the same chapter, making a rather poignant case for the transient beauty of snapshots and even color-by-numbers paintings:

“Before cameras, educated, well-to-do travelers had learned to sketch so that they could draw what they saw on their trips, in the same way that, before phonograph recordings, bourgeois families listened to music by making it themselves at home, playing the piano and singing in the parlor. Cameras made the task of keeping a record of people and things simpler and more widely available, and in the process reduced the care and intensity with which people needed to look at the things they wanted to remember well, because pressing a button required less concentration and effort than composing a precise and comely drawing. During the last century, the history of amateurism in America, whether it entailed snapping photographs or painting pictures or tickling the ivories, like so many other aspects of life, increasingly centered on labor-saving strategies to placate our inherent laziness and to guarantee our satisfaction, a promise, if you think about it, that should be antithetical to the premise of making art, which presumes effort and risk.”

And this is from Mockingbird (1980), by the prototypically itinerant, alcoholic, mid-century, mid-list writer Walter Tevis, a breathlessly melancholy sci-fi ode to the redemptive power of books. It’s sort of like if Philip K. Dick had written Brave New World+Fahrenheit 451. This bit below is an illiterate and suicidal android explaining to his platonic human consort how their world came to be as it is. Though the consort knows very little about the past and has barely any concept of “history,” learning how to read has sparked her innate curiosity. She wants to understand how things fell apart. The android mentions that in the past there were these things called “streetcars,” and she wants to know what happened to them [and remember, this was written in 1980]:

“The automobile companies got rid of them. Bribes were paid to city managers to tear up the streetcar tracks, and advertisements were bought in newspapers to convince the public that it should be done. So more cars could be sold, and more oil would be made into gasoline, to be burned in the cars. So that corporations could grow, and so a few people could become incredibly rich, and have servants, and live in mansions. It changed the life of mankind more radically than the printing press. It created the suburbs and a hundred other dependencies — sexual and economic and narcotic — upon the automobile. And the automobile prepared the way for the more profound — more inward — dependencies upon television and then robots, and, finally, the ultimate and predictable conclusion to all of it: the perfection of the chemistry of the mind.”

At some point in your life, you may hear or read some variation of an argument that goes like this: “Don’t blame science or technology. Blame the applications of technology or the people who misuse it.” If someone should happen to make such an argument to you, I encourage you to respond by punching them in the face as hard as you can.

I’m American (Imster/Terhune)

Bootfoot

Is it a matter of fact
Or just a matter of faction?
Don’t believe a word I say
When I show you my reaction

I can still hear you saying to her
“Don’t tell” from another room
All you have to do it want it
And someone will give it to you

You tell me how you feel
Tell me how you’re feeling
But I think the way you close your eyes
Is a whole lot more revealing

I remember each word you said
“There’s love behind every move”
Is this how you act behind me
While I take it from you?

Well, I wait for a train
Or I wait for the tide
Or I’m wasting my time
I thought that you were mine

I’m American
And I want mine
I’m American

You go out and get it
Is that the way?
You get what you want
In the land of the big and the brave

But I can still hear you saying to her
“Don’t tell” from the other room
All you have to do it want it
And someone will give it to you

Well, I wait for a train
Or I wait for the tide
Or I’m wasting my time
I thought that you were mine

I’m American
And I want mine
I’m American

Wait for a train
Wait for the tide
Wait for a train
Wait for the tide

Well, I wait for a train
Or I wait for the tide
Or I’m wasting my time
I thought that you were mine

I’m American
And I want mine
I’m American

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This is from the Bootfoot MySpace page:

“Eleanor Imster and David Terhune wrote songs together and played them in a band called Bootfoot. Many friends, family, and a future husband, (Marc Fagelson) helped make the Bootfoot sound. Eleanor and David share a unique vocal blend, and their songs weave in and out of pop, folk, country and rock. Their CD “Bootfoot” contains 13 tracks that showcase this successful collaboration. It can be purchased by contacting bootfootmusic@yahoo.com.”

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This is from A General Theory of Love (2000) by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon (M.D.s all). They are talking about how memory stores and shapes love, guiding our romantic choices in mystifying ways:

A scientific theory of memory is therefore a map of the soul. Every such diagram must attempt to delineate the mind’s Dark Continent: why do people possess emotional knowledge that leaves no conscious trace?

Since time’s beginning, romantic partners have searched for each other with exquisite but obscure deliberation. “In literature, as in love,” wrote André Maurois, “we are astonished at what is chosen by others.” And they are every bit as amazed at us. The very concept of “compatibility” discloses that no all-purpose template for loving predominates. Sexual attractiveness contributes only a minor filter to this selectivity. The number of couples who marry is only a miniscule fraction of the many who fiind each other physically interesting. Not just anyone will do; in fact, to any one person looking for a mate, almost nobody will.

A lover tests the combination of himself plus serial others like a child juxtaposing jigsaw pieces until a pair snaps home. Love’s puzzle work is done in the dark: prospective partners hunt blindly; they cannot describe the person they seek. Most do not even realize, as they grope for the geographical outline of a potential piece, that their own heart is a similar marvel of specificity.

So, what makes your little heart go pitter-pat? Me, I’ve always been a voice man.

Which brings us to the forever incomparable Chrissie Hynde, standing steadfast and unblinking in the midst of this blazing conflagration from the Pretenders’ shamefully underrated second album. This particular song, incidentally, also makes a good answer to the question (should it ever come up), “Was James Honeyman-Scott really that good?” (The sheet music might even read: “Duet for girl and electric guitar.”)

The English Roses (Chrissie Hynde)

The Pretenders

Just before it rains
And the wind whips ’round the balcony
And the sky closes
On the English roses

And she’ll be pacing
‘Round and ’round and ’round and ’round her room
But these storms always find her
To remind her

To the endless sky
Of pink over grey
She looks for an answer
But it’s too late

Maybe it’s true
Some things were just never meant to be
Maybe not

This is a story
Of fruit cut from the vine
Forgotten, left to rot
Long before its time

This is a story
About the girl who lived next door
Looking for someone to hold

A wish made on a star
Brought her here tonight
In the courtyard she waits
A thousand broken dates

But she holds the hymnal
Where so carefully pressed
Is the English rose
She laid to rest

It’s only a story
Flowers in full bloom
Bouquets in every room

This is a story
Of fruit cut from the vine
Looking for someone to hold

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Wherever I travel, people always ask me if there are any brilliant new Devastationalist musicians I can recommend, preferably someone they don’t already know about. That’s easy. I always say Natalie Robin.

I first stumbled across Natalie and her music while playing MySpace hopscotch. Irresistibly, the headline quote on her page read:

“If you hate yourself, you’ll love my music.”

The songs she had posted at the time were spellbinding, and they swirled around and around in your head like good, strong red wine. And despite their woozy, hallucinatory qualities, the songs were rendered with impeccable precision.

And so for the next few months I raptly followed her new song postings (and the sudden, erratic, dead-of-night deletions) along with the general melodrama and self-deprecation of her elliptic commentary. It was by far the most Devastationalist thing going, and it was all the more impressive in that she made the songs all by herself on an old four-track in her bedroom in her parents’ house (I think she’s 23 or 24): writing the unflinchingly honest songs, playing all the instruments with alarming sophistication, singing the intricate vocal arrangements.

I’ve never met Natalie (she lives in the East Bay), though we’ve corresponded. She comes across as too bright and too vulnerable for her own good, occasionally extremely funny, more often shy, moody, prickly, eccentric, and harder on no one than herself. (You know, the usual stuff.)

The song below didn’t last very long online, and I’m glad I grabbed it before she took it down because it’s my favorite, an anthem of utter disillusionment. It’s hair-raising in its quiet intensity, chilling at its denouement. And it’s also insane the depth of things you can hear echoes of in this song (from Aretha to the Velvets). But I’m going to refrain from playing rock critic — you can listen for yourself. Then pay a visit to Natalie’s MySpace page and leave a comment gently encouraging her to get into a proper recording studio immediately.

Man and Himself (Natalie Robin)

Natalie Robin

Let me swallow your pride for you
‘Cause thats always been something you dont think that you need to do
And until we are buried under the earth
We settle for better, but mostly for worse

And if you were who you think you are
You’d be the only person I know that has it all
And if you were who you think you are
Things would be different and I wouldnt stall
To be near you

Let me follow the lines for you
‘Cause you think that you’re too good to stand here with the rest of us fools
And until you are gone from the touch of the sun
You settle to be the person you’ll never become

And if you were who you think you are
You’d be the only person I know that has it all
And if you were who you think you are
Things would be different and I wouldnt stall

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The other day I was sitting at my desk, idly Googling “loneliness human condition” — you know, as one does — and two results jumped out at me. The first was from the novel “White Oleander” by Janet Fitch. I’ve never read the book, but if the following passage is any indication, surely here we have located the bitter and bilious underbelly of Oprah bookdom:

“Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you’ll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in your way.”

God, the first time I read that I laughed so hard it almost made Diet Coke come out my nose. “Murderous with disappointment”! How brilliant is that! That phrase alone makes me want to go out right now and get completely hammered with Janet Fitch. Anyone who could craft such a succinct and pitch-perfect Devastationalist credo is all right in my book. And the crazy thing is, this quote turns up on dozens of blogs and personal web pages where people aggregate their favorite and most inspiring quotes. Apparently some kind of scarily misanthropic nerve has been struck here. I still strongly doubt I could ever bring myself to actually read the book, but the movie is now in my Netflix queue — I’ll happily pay to see Michelle Pfeiffer speak those words.

The second quote, which also turned up in more than one of the Google search results, is by a Seattle-born Theravadan Buddhist monk, Ajahn Sumedho:

“We suffer a lot in our society from loneliness. So much of our life is an attempt to not be lonely: ‘Let’s talk to each other; let’s do things together so we won’t be lonely.’ And yet inevitably, we are really alone in these human forms. We can pretend; we can entertain each other; but that’s about the best we can do. When it comes to the actual experience of life, we’re very much alone; and to expect anyone else to take away our loneliness is asking too much.”

To me the interesting thing is that he’s using almost the exact same words as the protagonist of “White Oleander” but his message is meant to be one of comfort and transcendence, in contrast to her message of embitterment and isolation. It just kills me how tiny and subtle the difference is between these two mortally opposed ways of looking at the world. You can read the entire essay here.

Certainly, I’ve held both viewpoints at various times. Life events and certain kinds of inner temperaments can isolate you and leave you feeling stranded or alienated, but our minds still try to find ways to reach out to each other, across great distances of both time and space if necessary, to feel the reassuring thrum of psychic resonance. Not that it’s always easy to achieve. But as far back as I can remember I’ve never felt completely disconnected, and that’s because of music.

Music made me feel less alone, and I know that’s a big part of why I surrendered so completely to it. And I mean it made me feel less alone literally, in the sense of a community to belong to and lyrics that miraculously were generous enough to encompass my misfit concerns. But I also mean it in the abstract spiritual sense of being at home in the universe and feeling connected to humanity.

Speech and gestures and body language and sex are all wonderful, of course, but sometimes they are simply not enough to communicate the things we need to communicate. Sometimes they are not even enough to provide evidence that we are engaging with living conscious spirits similar to our own. Music (and not just music, of course, but all art) provides that evidence when we need it the most, and communicates some of the things words and gestures are helpless to convey.

Wide Eyed Fool

Bettie Serveert

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I saw Caitlin Corless play live in a cramped little club and was astounded at how complete and self-contained her talent was. It was not the biggest, most wide-ranging and all-encompassing talent, but it was a talent fully served and fully realized. She knew what she wanted to express and had developed the necessary aesthetic and technical competency to express it. Heart, mind, fingers and voice all seamlessly serving a simple, clear vision.

After her set, I stopped by her table to pay my compliments and see if she had any CDs. I was nervous, intimidated by the audacity of both her youth and ability. At close hand she had that extraordinary shyness and self-possession — almost stuck-uppedness — that I have observed in other extremely talented singer/songwriters. This, of course, only increased my high regard, but between us there was not much psychic ground left for conversation. I stammered something like, “You’re really good at this…” And she replied, “I hope so; I’ve been doing it since I was 10.” (I don’t remember the exact, ridiculously young age she gave.)

Luckily for me, she was sitting with a more tipsy and talkative friend who introduced herself as Caitlin’s “publicist,” and explained that, No, Caitlin had no CDs out, no real recordings at all in fact besides her Garageband bedroom demos. I asked if there was website where I might hear some songs, at least? Caitlin’s publicist shook her head, Sadly, no website, but she was kind enough to scribble the address for Caitlin’s MySpace page on a napkin and send me on my way.

The part that really gets me is that here’s a person who’s been working on her songwriting with evident dedication and diligence for at least a decade, who obviously takes her art very seriously, and yet, for all her investment of time and energy, is almost un-Google-able and has never been inside a proper recording studio. In other words, it seems to me like she makes songs in order to live and get through her days but that she’d almost rather keep it to herself. (Not to overstate the case here — I’m guessing she wouldn’t mind a little more recognition, but clearly, that’s not the main reason why she’s been doing it.) The idea that people commit astonishing art in private that we may never know about is very endearing to me, while also a bit mind-boggling.

Yellow Dress (Caitlin Corless)

Caitlin Corless

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Here’s a song that did not bubble up from the depths of my iPod. I heard it for the first time just the other night at an extraordinary open-mic show. I was stunned and amazed. The boy/girl, guitar/mandolin duo performing the song there was English, and at first I thought it must be one of theirs. (I had never even heard of the Waifs before.) Later, I went back to my room and downloaded the original version. Resignation or defiance? It’s hard to tell. Homesickness for the homeless.

London Still (Donna Simpson)

The Waifs

Wonder if you can pick up my accent on the phone
When I call across the country, when I call across the world
I see you in my kitchen, I can picture you now
As you toast to your small town when you drink the happy hour

I’m in London still
I’m in London still
I’m in London still

I took the tube over to Camden to wander around
I bought some funky records with that old Motown sound
And I miss you like my left arm that’s been lost in a war
Today I dream of home and not of London anymore

I’m in London still
I’m in London still
Yeah, I’m in London still

You know it’s okay, I’m kinda happy here for now
I think I’ve finally grown up and got myself a lover now
And if I ever come home, and I, I think I will
I hope you’re gonna wanna hang at my place on Sunday still

Oh yeah I hope you will
‘Cause I’m in London still

You know we got it sorted, yeah, we really got it down
To a fine art on Sunday in a sleepy Sunday town
I wonder what I’m missing, I think of songs I’ve never heard
I’m dreaming of your voices and I’m dreaming of your herb

I’m in London still
I’m in London still
I’m in London still

I’m in London still
La-la-la-la-la London still
I’m in London

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When I was making my first baby steps towards recovery from Devastationalism, at the sunset of the 90s, one of the angels the universe sent my way was a gushingly creative, spiritually magnetic man called Steve Pagnotta. Steve was an owner/manager of Tortilla Flats (which made him my ostensible “boss”) and he had the rotten luck to see me at my worst, night in and night out over a period of years. I know he loved me, but he absolutely hated dealing with me too. It must have been murderously frustrating for him trying to get through to a tequila-soaked brick wall that reflected nothing back but a big “Fuck You” in wobbly neon letters. I wonder if he has any idea how much of what he said to me over the years did ultimately get through and how much I owe him.

It was Steve who first articulated for me the idea that life was a gift, that the world was full of unimaginable wonders, that every moment of life was precious. It’s corny, basic stuff, but everybody’s gotta learn it somewhere. And Steve, for all his wide-eyed spaciness was no ingenuous sap. He had a hard core, and no illusions. His motto was not some New Agey mantra, but the grimy and hard-won conclusion of a somewhat rumpled, slightly seedy blackjack dealer. “Life,” he used to say to me, “is the best deal you’re ever gonna get.” And the way he said it was a little bit mean, too. Like you had to be an idiot if you were seriously holding your cards waiting for something better to come along.

He was right, of course. Being a human being is the best deal going we know of. And to not take responsibility for bearing that gift is beyond pathetic — it’s a bloody tragedy. To refuse desire is to refuse everything that is rewarding in life. And to disdain active agency — the freedom to choose and go after the things you want — is to turn your back on the ultimate joy and privilege of being a human being. Not that you always get your heart’s desire, of course — but it really is all about the journey.

Thanks to the magic of iTrip (the magic being that the cheap little hunk of plastic works at all) I am becoming well reaquainted with the thousands of songs that dwell in the murky depths of my iPod. So many little Devastationalist wonders about which I had forgotten completely.

To Cry About (Mary Margaret O’Hara)

Mary Margaret O’Hara

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Just the other night (over chilled melon soup swimming with huge chunks of fresh Maine lobster), we were talking about music and I was extolling the virtues of a certain famous singer whose recent work evinces a newfound generosity of spirit. It does seem people get kinder as they grow older (though some, alas, succumb instead to the hideous disfigurements of bitterness and spite). Someone at the table agreed that generosity of spirit was rightly prized, being a rare commodity, but that even so, meanness was underrated. And of course, it’s true — done right, there’s nothing quite so thrilling as unabashed vitriol. As long as you’re not on the receiving end.

It made me try to think of the meanest songs I had ever heard or loved.

Anyhow, all of this has nothing whatsoever to do with the song posted below, which is not mean by any stretch of the imagination. I just think sultry times call for sultry songs.

It’s So Different Here (Liam Sternberg)

Rachel Sweet

Footnotes:

Rachel Sweet’s first album, “Fool Around,” is one of the oddest minor materpieces of the 70s. Liam Sternberg (who would later make millions in L.A. with songs like “Walk Like an Egyptian”) had been writing these eccentric “pop” songs in his Akron basement and needed a singer to do the demos. Apparently his next-door neighbors had a teenage daughter who did a lot of musical theater and could sing some. That, of course, was Rachel Sweet. A demo went to Stiff Records in England, and Stiff took one look at Rachel and said, “Come on over and do an album!”

They must have recorded it all in a few days with whomever was hanging around (assorted members of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, etc.) and the result is a record that really doesn’t sound like anything else I can think of. It’s pretty dry, pretty spare, the arrangements are all a little clunky and not-quite-on, and the singing is way too knowing for a sixteen-year-old girl. But it’s catchy, it rocks, it’s funny and it’s heartbreaking. Underneath the pop-punk joke of an Akron Lolita lay somethng truly subversive.

Her American record company could not keep its hands off, of course, and they bungled the American release, badly. They blithely axed several songs, replacing them with more “radio friendly” tunes, then audaciously remixed (and ruined) the remaining original songs, even recording horrendously faceless new instrumental tracks in a few instances. (The album’s centerpiece, “Who Does Lisa Like?” falls victim to this diabolical process — a wonka-wonka Doobie Brothers guitar solo standing in for the mixed-out Les Paul/saxophone catfight in the break.) Not suprisingly, all this fucking-with-what-wasn’t-broke did nothing but hinder the record’s commercial prospects, and by the time she cracked the American charts, poor Rachel was dueting with the likes of Rex Smith.

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While we’re on the subject, I want to quickly say something about aesthetics versus content. Like most dichotomies, this one is pretty much false. There is, of course, as much information conveyed by any package as by its contents. And anyone who takes the time and effort to develop their own artistic voice will simultaneously be creating a personal aesthetic, by definition. What you have to say and how you say it will be inextricably bound and evolve together.

That’s why it always pisses me off when people rail against the supposed triumph of style over substance. Something may indeed have substance locked in a death-grip these days, but it’s got nothing to do with genuine style. Would that we were so lucky.

If I Ever Pay You Back (Liz Phair)

Liz Phair

I don’t have what it takes to stay with you
And I’m leaving in under ten days, it’s not what I’d planned
But anyway, you know, by and large anywhere I go
I won’t find anyone who loves me enough to make you look bad

And all the cars on the road are driving away from here
But I’m still looking under my nose to see who I am
And anywhere I go, standing at any kind of show
I won’t find anyone who can tell me what I need to know
That’s not how it’s done

And anyway, you know, by and large anywhere I go
I won’t find anyone who loves me enough to make you look bad

If I ever pay you back
If my money and wallet’s intact
I will probably be in a box lying down
Loosely suited in black

If I ever pay you back
If my money and wallet’s intact
I will probably be in a box lying down
Loosely suited in black

Addendum:

Other therapeutic “first things” over the past couple of weeks have included listening to lots of Lee Wiley (who probably deserves her own post) while reading Henry James (who sure as shit doesn’t need one from me). The very Devastationalist title of this post comes from “The Portrait of a Lady.” More of the passage is quoted below, but there is no substitute for the book itself, of course:

Isabel took a drive, alone, that afternoon; she wished to be far away, under the sky, where she could descend from her carriage and tread upon the daisies. She had long before this taken old Rome into her confidence, for in a world of ruins the ruin of her happiness seemed a less unnatural catastrophe. She rested her weariness upon things that had crumbled for centuries and yet still were upright; she dropped her secret sadness into the silence of lonely places, where its very modern quality detached itself and grew objective, so that as she sat in a sun-warmed angle on a winter’s day, or stood in a mouldy church to which no one came, she could almost smile at it and think of its smallness. Small it was, in the large Roman record, and her haunting sense of the continuity of the human lot easily carried her from the less to the greater.

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