Afraid, Ashamed, Misunderstood

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Mike Tyson, who, despite his insane and destructive public image, has always been an extremely honest, thoughtful and eloquent spokesperson for Devastationalism, was the subject of an article in last week’s Sunday Times. The piece concludes with Tyson talking about his sobriety and his ongoing struggle for some of that elusive peace of mind, with a rather stunning example of obiter dictum:

“I just say I’m not getting high today,” he said. “I’m not promising them I’m not getting high tomorrow. I’m trying to figure it out. I’m in an abysmal world trying to figure it out.”

On an eerily similar note (insane and destructive yet honest, thoughtful and eloquent), Philip K. Dick’s last completed novel (published shortly after his death from a stroke in 1982), The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, opens with this paragraph:

“Barefoot conducts his seminars on his houseboat in Sausalito. It costs a hundred dollars to find out why we are on this Earth. You also get a sandwich, but I wasn’t hungry that day. John Lennon had just been killed and I think I know why we are on this Earth; it’s to find out that what you love the most will be taken away from you, probably due to an error in high places, rather than by design.”

“Get me to the nearest Barnes & Noble!” right?? The story is told in the first person by Angel Archer, a narrator of such charm and charisma that Dick claimed in interviews that he literally began hemorrhaging and had to be rushed to the hospital upon completion of the novel, he was so distressed to be separated from her after the book’s long gestation and writing process.

One Year Down

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There were — are — some things I definitely plan(ned) to post up here to mark the one-year anniversary of this blog (born November 19, 2006). But, alas, as they are all still in “progress,” this will have to do for the moment. And actually, I think it does quite nicely. A declaration of love undying from a Devastationalist Ur-text, Max Beerbohm’s side-splitting, heart-broke and weirdly beautiful little book, Zuleika Dobson:

“My heart is no tablet of mere wax, from which an instant’s heat can dissolve whatever imprint it may bear, leaving it blank and soft for another impress, and another and another. My heart is a bright hard gem, proof against any die. Came Cupid, with one of his arrow-points for graver, and what he cut on the gem’s surface can never be effaced. There, deeply and forever, your image is intagliated. No years, nor fire, nor cataclysm of total Nature, can efface from that great gem your image.”

And an anniversary song, too, why not? The All Girl Band live, drunkenly defying traditional gender roles! Take that, America!

I Want That Man (Tom Bailey/Alannah Currie)

It Distresses Us To Return Work Which Is Not Perfect

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When I hit the pay-per-view button I was expecting to be mildly amused by the movie Venus, but I had no idea that it would be very nearly perfect. It wasn’t the movie I was expecting to see at all. I am in awe of writing so intricately nuanced — bleak and unsentimental, yet suffused with real-deal joie de vivre. I can’t help but compare this view of sex, love, friendship and aging against an ostensibly agreeable movie like, say, Knocked Up, and shake my head at how wrong we’ve got it now. Peter O’Toole is pretty much the last of his kind, and the world will be a much greyer and drearier place when he goes. (This recent appearance on Letterman is beyond priceless.)

It Ain’t That Barbie Doll

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There is an essay in the new American Scholar by a poet named Christian Wiman (I’d never heard of him, but he is the editor of Poetry magazine, if that means anything to anyone out there) that is basically a description of Devastationalism and his subsequent deliverance from it. I wouldn’t normally read a journal essay by an academic poet, especially one relating how he found the “meaning of life,” but I was lackadaisically skimming through the magazine one evening and Wiman’s piece hooked me when I realized what he was actually writing about. And though there is the to-be-expected ick-factor, the ratio of insight-to-ick is quite impressive — around 90/10. Here is the key paragraph:

“It is necessary to have had a revelation of reality through joy,” Weil writes, “in order to find reality through suffering.” This is certainly true to my own experience. I was not wrong all those years to believe that suffering is at the very center of our existence, and that there can be no untranquilized life that does not fully confront this fact. The mistake lay in thinking grief the means of confrontation, rather than love. To come to this realization is not to be suddenly “at ease in the world.” I don’t really think it’s possible for humans to be at the same time conscious and comfortable. Though we may be moved by nature to thoughts of grace, though art can tease our minds toward eternity and love’s abundance make us dream a love that does not end, these intuitions come only through the earth, and the earth we know only in passing, and only by passing. I would qualify Weil’s statement somewhat, then, by saying that reality, be it of this world or another, is not something one finds and then retains for good. It must be newly discovered daily, and newly lost.

Of course this made me curious to hunt down Wiman’s poems, but, hater that I am, I’m still worried that I’ll, um, hate them. Anyhow, you can read the entire essay online here.

And to balance things out, something a little more altogether fizzy, on the outlandishly deviant drinking habits of Antarcticans from an interview with a guy who works at the South Pole:

Sometimes the Air National Guard guys have a keg-tossing contest outside the bar at McMurdo Station. One time some folks held an exorcism for one of the machines that kept breaking down, where they drank whiskey and played songs for the machine. And this one guy came up with the idea to have a bunch of Depends adult diapers sent down so that everyone could stand around drinking beer and pissing themselves. I didn’t make it to that party, but a friend of mine did. He hooked up with this amazing woman after the party. He picked up a chick while wearing a diaper!

This guy apparently wrote a whole book about living and working in Antarctica (“Big Dead Place”), which is currently at the top of my to-do list. The interview comes courtesy of the ever-incisive Modern Drunkard magazine, and you can read the rest of it here.

Or of course, you could always go to the Raytheon website and simply apply for a job in “Polar Services” yourself.

In a World of Ruins the Ruin of Her Happiness Seemed a Less Unnatural Catastrophe

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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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Don’t Try

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“I propose that we look at the past again, because it matters, and because it has so often been dealt with badly. I mean the past as a phenomenon has been dealt with badly. We have taken too high a hand with it. By definition it all the evidence we have about ourselves, to the extent that it is recoverable and interpretable, so surely its complexities should be scrupulously preserved. Evidence is always construed, and it is always liable to be misconstrued no matter how much care is exercised in collecting and evaluating it. At best, our understanding of any historical moment is significantly wrong, and this should come as no surprise, since we have little grasp of any present moment. The present is elusive for the same reasons as is the past. There are no true boundaries around it, no limit to the number of factors at work in it.”

That’s from Marilynne Robinson’s “The Death of Adam.” She’s furious, but I admire how her densely simmering prose always maintains a sort of relentless precision and civility. (Though, witness this vial of acid she threw in the face of that smug jackass, Richard Dawkins.) I would call her a Devastationalist, but it’s only because she refuses to settle for anything less than this:

“I want to overhear passionate arguments about what we are and what we are doing and what we ought to do. I want to feel that art is an utterance made in good faith by one human being to another. I want to believe there are geniuses scheming to astonish the rest of us, just for the pleasure of it. I miss civilization, and I want it back.”

How do we deal with the past? With memory, both collective and discrete? I don’t know the answer, of course. Sometimes I think I would take a pliers and hack out my brain if it would give me a moment’s peace. Time takes a cigarette, right?

This is “Lonely Planet Boy” performed by The Lockhorns, live and drummerless. Me and Tex on guitars, and I don’t know who, either Joe Katz or Marc Fagelson on bass. You can hear me introduce the song as being “written by David Johansen…and maybe Johnny Thunders.” Which provokes audibly derisive and condescending looks from the audience (and probably Tex and Joe-or-Marc). What had shamefully slipped my Jamesons-ized mind was that Johnny had taken the song’s signature guitar part with him when he left the Dolls and used it again later to write what is probably an even more famous (and exponentially more Devastationalist) song.

Lonely Planet Boy (Thunders/Johansen)

The Lockhorns

Señorita See Ya Later Buenos Noches Bye Bye

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“Suicide is a legacy. As a problem-solving device, it’s in the forefront of my mind all the time. It’s like walking along the edge of a cliff. I’m in the country and the pump stops. What’ll I do? I know: I’ll kill myself. The roof is leaking. What’ll I do? I know: I’ll blow my brains out.”

— Kurt Vonnegut as quoted by Martin Amis in an essay in The Moronic Inferno.

“To appreciate people in your life the most, you kind of have to eulogize them while they’re living. And in order to do that you have to constantly imagine them dying tragically. I think I do that beyond my control.”

— Sarah Silverman talking recently about her relationship with longtime boyfriend Jimmy Kimmel.

Bandits

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The other night, a bunch of us were sitting by a window in the cafe at MoMA and we somehow got to talking about the difference between sadness and depression. The consensus seemed to be that sadness, no matter how severe, is a clean emotion, while depression is dirty, toxic, full of impurities. Eventually, someone said they would rather be bowled over by a tidal wave of sadness than take a single step through a shallow puddle of depression, and that made sense to me. While superficially the two states may manifest themselves in many of the same ways (and I’m thinking here of days lost drowning in one’s own tears), what they do to your insides is as different as the effects of corrosive acid and cool, clear water.

Once, back when I was in the depths of disrepair — when knowing the difference between sadness and depression would have meant the world to me — I was sitting on my sofa one night, methodically emptying a magnum bottle of Rene Junot, flipping robotically around the cable channels, and I chanced upon a movie called “Bandits,” a truly mediocre Hollywood caper starring Billy Bob Thornton and Bruce Willis as a pair of good-guy, gentlemen bank robbers who capture the imagination of the public during a string of daring robberies. Owing perhaps to the presence of Cate Blanchett (sporting fire-engine red hair), I allowed myself to get sucked in, and even in my bored and listless stupor I was able register the classic Devastationalist moment when Cate delivered one of the most trenchant lines in recent movie history.

In the movie, Bruce and Billy Bob split up after each job to better elude authorities and meet up a month or so later at prearranged hideaways. About a half-hour into the movie, Billy Bob is alone somewhere in Oregon, and running late for his rendezvous with Bruce, so he attempts a car-jacking. The driver of the car he tries to steal is Cate Blanchett, a repressed and free-spirited housewife who is marginalized and treated like garbage by her high-powered, yuppie business-guy husband. She and her husband have just had a fight, and she is out driving aimlessly to clear her head, singing along loudly to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” (!) while sobbing uncontrollably, babbling to herself and veering all over the road.

The car-jacking goes awry because in her state of profound upset Cate can’t brake in time and she hits Billy Bob, sending him sprawling to the pavement. He’s not badly injured, and somehow she drags him into the passenger seat and speeds off towards a hospital.

Billy Bob regains his senses and announces that this is a car-jacking. Cate continues to hurtle and screech down the road, barely missing several large trucks, talking incessantly and not really listening to him. Billy Bob pulls out his gun and tells her to get out of the car, now. “I’ll shoot you with this thing!”

She looks at him completely unfazed, “Oh, go ahead. It’d be an improvement, believe me…”

“I’m a desperate man,” he says.

“Desperate?” she says, “You don’t know the meaning of the word. Desperate is when you wake up in the morning and you wish you hadn’t. It’s knowing that every time you get behind the wheel of a car you’re only a tree away from ending the empty charade that your life has become! So don’t talk to me about desperate!”

Billy Bob realizes that it’s he who is in danger, and asks her to pull over and let him out of the car. “No!” says Cate. “Why?” asks Billy Bob.

“I’m feeling kind of fragile at the moment, I don’t think I should be alone,” says Cate, absently playing with the radio dial and careening all over the road.

Terrified, Billy Bob says, “You’re insane!” That bursts her bubble of self-involvement, and she turns on him, deeply offended:

I’m unhappy,” she cries, “It’s not the same thing!

Car-Jack Scene From “Bandits”

Cate Blanchett & Billy Bob Thornton

Charlotte Coleman Was The Bomb

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I had an opportunity to indulge my love of Charlotte Coleman (who died unexpectedly in 2001 of an asthma attack at the age of 33) this morning because “Four Weddings & A Funeral” was on TNT as I was puttering through an hour and a cup of coffee between the gym and walking to the F train (to go Christmas tree shopping in Park Slope).

I was first transfixed by Charlotte in an episode of “Inspector Morse” in which she played a troubled teen. It was the kind of supporting performance you sometimes see where afterwards you say, “Who the fuck was that?” (“That’s Marmalade Atkins!” my ex-wife exclaimed at the time.) Her last scene in that Morse episode contains the most indelible, inconsolable, forlorn and blood-curdling cry of “Mummmmmyyyy…!” ever heard on screen. I can still hear it. After that, I tracked her down in all sorts of odd little movies and British televsion shows, including her star turn in the miniseries based on Jeanette Winterson’s “Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.”

As for “Four Weddings,” I never saw it when it first came out for the same reasons most people still scorn it today — because I was sure it was lightweight, cute, sentimental … like “Friends”-in-London. But once I finally saw it, on TV, I realized it wasn’t really any of those things. It’s funny how things acquire reputations for what they are supposed to be, or superficially appear to be, even if they’re not really that at all, and how those reputations dictate people’s reactions just the same.

I’m not here to say “Four Weddings” is the best movie ever made, but it is smart, well written, very well acted and surprisingly unsentimental for a mainstream romantic comedy. The major story arc is kind of dumb, sure, but hopscotching across peak ritual gatherings is not a bad animating idea, and the movie’s milieu — the easy, drunken, familial camaraderie of an intimate group of post-college friends — is captured as it usually unfolds in life, without a lot of questions or explanations. I think that’s a cool achievement, and a rare thing to see in the movies. So I think it more than earns its rightfully famous funeral speech (the one with the Auden poem), which devastates me every time.

And, of course, it has Charlotte Coleman, wrapped in a sheet, in shades, in a cocktail dress, in sneakers, hungover, and holding a champagne flute, radiating undeniable waves of delectability from the margins of every frame.

Hash & Eggs

Home base in Portland, Maine. Marianne & I accidentally, luckily, somehow ended up right in front of this place, Becky’s, within our first five minutes in town and it cast a spell. The lord works in mysterious ways. Liam’s favorite restaurant in the whole wide world. (His first time there the waitress called him “handsome.”)

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