All things weird and wonderful, 36

8 01 2014

Why do we sing?

Why do we dance? Why paint and hop around and declaim in pentameter and chop stones into bodies and trees into ravens and how can people become so naked in themselves so as to become someone else, in front of god and everyone?

There were times watching some of the would-be soloists in the Gotham Rock Choir that I was embarrassed at how they let themselves just sing—just sing!—and let the song cover every missed note and skipped tempo and just, just sing.

And then I would be abashed, for so missing so much.

I don’t understand why we do this: let ourselves go in front of one another. I don’t understand why we sing and dance and conjure beauty and sorrow out of the rough leavings of this small world, I don’t understand this at all—except to know that I am moved by these conjurers, and their conjurings.

When I say there must be something more I don’t mean magic or angels but these conjurings, the way we take what we’ve got and make something other, something more, than what was there before.





My eyes are the stars in your deepest night

4 09 2013

From “Requiem” by Anna Akhmatova:

No, not under the vault of another sky, not under the shelter of other wings. I was with my people then, there where my people were doomed to be.

Instead of a Forward

During the years of the Yezhovschina, I spent seventeen months standing outside the prison in Leningrad, waiting for news. One day someone recognized me. Then a woman with lips blue from the cold, who was standing behind me, and of course had never heard of my name, came out of the numbness which affected us all. She whispered in my ear (for we all spoke in whispers there): “Can you describe this?”

I said, “I can.”

Then something resembling a smile slipped over what had once been her face…

(Wholesale blog theft from Brad DeLong)





Every move you make

25 05 2013

I know I don’t speak for everyone, but for me, the freedoms enjoyed by artists and journalists are worth possible breaches of privacy.
-Kathy Ryan

So said the journalist (or artist), not the person whose privacy is breached.

Given my rants against Google Glass and Facebook and the general hoovering-up of every last bit of ourselves in the name of Big Data, it is no surprise that I consider someone taking a photograph of me in my home an offense against all that is Good and Holy.

I draw lines between private and public, lines which, in practice, can be difficult to maintain. I want to reveal what I want to reveal and nothing more, but, of course, in the writing of this (now-less-than-) pseudonymous blog I say things about myself of which I am completely unaware.

I know that, but I choose—I choose—to do it anyway.

But sitting in my apartment on a cool spring day, drinking coffee and doing crosswords, no, I do not choose to have you record me, take something from me.

When I enter a public space I am aware of myself as being “in public”. I’m not much concerned I’ll be recorded—I am unremarkable in appearance—but I recognize, however gruffly, that if someone snaps a pic of me there’s little I can do about it. And even if you do grab me with your camera, I’ll almost certainly remain anonymous, in the background or a (drab) bit of the local scenery.

And, in any case, if I am in public so too are you: there is a symmetry of risk in our interactions.

(This is among the reasons I am leery of CCTV and apparatuses like Google Glass: the asymmetry of risk, which makes the person watched vulnerable to the person watching. And no, telling me I can even the score by recording back is not a sufficient answer, not least because such a response would force me deeper into a regime to which existence I object.)

In my apartment, however, I am not “in public”, windows be damned. That you can see me and I can see you is, of course, where the blur comes in, but part of living in a city means you maintain a set of manners in which the blur serves to protect privacy. I might see you playing your guitar and you might see me dancing, but we each let it go, unmentioned.

That we leave our curtains open as we strum or dance or eat or play with the dog or tickle the baby doesn’t mean we’re putting ourselves on display; it just means we want some light.

Yes, some people do put themselves on display, and within (generous) limits, that’s fine; that one person is an exhibitionist, however, does not mean the person next to her is.

This is, for me, theoretical. I live in an un-hip section of Brooklyn where few people would be so foolish as to think they could point a camera in someone’s window without consequence. I certainly wouldn’t advocate violence against that fool, but if the camera were, ah, rendered inoperable, well, them’s the risks you take.





You could be anyone, celebrate boy

30 05 2012

Late late, so quick quick:

A., a photographer and secretary in my CUNY department, has been hosting an Italian artist the past couple of months, and while she’s had fun with him and has learned from him, she’s also a bit bumfuzzled by him.

He’s a dreamer—a dreamer! She says this with her hand in the air.

A few weeks ago he was looking to fall in love and stay in New York, but now he’s looking at all of the reasons to leave.

Fall in love! He’s here for two months and he wants to fall in love and have a relationship! He did not fall in love; he leaves for Italy in a few days.

He’s gonna stay here and he doesn’t have a job? How’s he going to pay the rent? She gave me a look.

It’s good he’s an artist; he should stay an artist. But what was he thinking? This is New York!

That’s one of the things I like about New York: You can say you’re an artist or a writer or a dancer and people will take you seriously, because here these are practical occupations. You are not dismissed as a flake for pursuing this work, even with the recognition of  the unlikelihood of making of living doing only this work.

New York: the place for practical dreamers.





All things weird and wonderful, 19

6 03 2012

Bought this in 1999? 2000? at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design student art show. I got a couple of good pieces, but this is my favorite.

Appropriately absurd, don’t you think?

~~~

I saved the artists’ names for the other pieces, but for whatever reason, I don’t have this one. If you happen to know who created this marvelous print, please let me know!





All things weird and wonderful, 16

3 02 2012

Joe's 5th Semi-Annual Beer Tasting Party!

I don’t even remember if I attended this event, but I loved the invite, by host/artist Kathy Radke.

At least, I think it’s Kathy Radke Rathke—I can’t remember if I got her name right. Anyway, she was a fucking amazing graphics artist for The Daily Cardinal, a small, blonde, impish woman on a graphics staff that was, hmm, yes I believe it was all men. She was the graphics editor for awhile, and the menfolk—I’m thinkin’ of John Kovalic and Mark Giaimo (on whom I had a huge crush, and who was so out of my league in every way), in particular—who liked to get chesty with one another and anyone else, all bowed before Kathy’s  fierce talent and sly dry wit.

Sly: yes, Kathy was sly. As political as the rest of us (the Cardinal, back in the day, always had a Marxist editor), she paid attention, and led with absurdity.

She was an inspiration.

One final memory: At my first Cardinal party Kathy’s younger sister and I got drunk and sang Shirley Bassey tunes, enjoying ourselves immensely crooning “GolllllllllllldddddddFINguh!”

So. I don’t know where Kathy is, but I hope she’s absurdly well.





I’d like to sing a song of great social and political import

26 01 2012

I missed her birthday.

Not that she’d know, given that she’s been dead for over forty years, but I used to know and celebrate the day Janis Joplin squalled her way into the world.

I think I’ve written this before, but what the hell: My friend K. and I taught this to a half-busful of Forensic [speech, not mortuary] Society high schoolers on our way back from some tournament or another. It was dark, the bus was old, the trip long. And if our high-volumed rasping pissed off the faculty adviser, all the better.

Janis was like that: the big personality you could hide behind.

I fell for Janis in high school, aping her in drink (Southern Comfort, when I could afford it) if in nothing else: I couldn’t sing like her, had no appetite for heroin, and was never as outrageous as I would have liked to have been.

Janis was too much, in every way. She was too loud, too drunk, too high, and way too sexy for someone who in no way fitted any conventional notions of sexiness.

You could see that, too, in those old photos and reels of her performing. She knows she’s performing when she sticks out her tongue or her chest or when she struts across the stage. She’s covering.

She never thought she was enough, but man, when she snugged that mic up beneath her lip, her voice spilled out and over her and everyone who heard her and then all her too-muchness was just as it should be. No cover, then.

There she is, in all her feathers, a few months before her death.

Of course, that she died was part of the fascination for my teenaged self—she suffered for her art!—but it was the fight in her, even more so, even if back then I could only valorize the suffering-unto-death, not that she suffered in the fight to stay alive.

I was listening to her recently, and came across a line I used to write on notebooks and bathroom stalls: Tomorrow never happens, man, it’s all the same fucking day, man.

Janis Joplin, absurdist. She would have been 69.








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