Don’t Try


“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

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