The heaviness, oh the heaviness

22 04 2014

Kathy’s death has really thrown me to the ground.

Chris‘s death was a surprise; Tracey‘s wasn’t.

Kathy’s was somewhere in-between: I’d known her cancer had recurred, but somehow didn’t think through what that meant. And because I didn’t think, I didn’t make the effort to contact her, to let her tell me how she was, to tell her how very much she meant to me.

With Chris and Tracey, things felt “even” somehow. Chris and I had been in at most indirect contact for years—with which we were apparently both okay—and C. and I did what we could to be with Tracey as she rounded that last curve.

They died too soon, but the loss is the loss of them, not also of unsaid words and unspent moments.

Not so with Kathy. I feel like I let her down, that there was something I could have given her that I withheld.

I don’t want to blow this out and make it sound as if  ‘but for me, she died alone': Her family was with her at the end, and I’d bet her many friends and colleagues were with her before then. No, Kathy would not have been alone.

And yet, I would have liked to have given back to her at least some of what she gave to me. She deserved that.





Listen to the music: the sound of silence

2 01 2014

The weekend after the burgarly, still trying to get over the fact I’d been burglarized, I heard Chet Baker on CBC Radio.

My Funny Valentine—that slow narcotic tenor, simple, soft. A November day in Montréal  and I was bereft.

I don’t think I cried about what was taken—I was too pissed—but I was very sad about the Chet Baker.

Of course, the cd could be replaced, and was. I got to know the Plateau and Mont Royal neighborhoods very well in hitting all of the cd shops, and became friendly with one proprietor on St Denis—got some great stuff on his recommendation.

In that sense, the burglary wasn’t all bad: it got me prowling about some near-east side neighborhoods, made me comfortable with the Métro, and I ended up picking up a fair number of Canadian artists. I’d still rather never have been burgled, but there were pleasures in the recovery.

I do miss some cds which, it turned out, were irreplaceable. Some were local discs I’d picked up in Minneapolis, but one loss in particular pains me: Chris Lowe.

No, not that Chris Lowe, which is the problem.

My Chris Lowe was (is?) a singer/songwriter from New York who played and sang at my friend M.’s wedding. He gave out copies of his cd at the wedding (the artwork for which won some kind of marketing award), and I listened to the shit l out of that cd.

It was a bit uneven—it sounded as if the songlist stretched back a ways—but he had a nice way with a lyric, and I’m a sucker for sandpaper voice. It was lovely and lilting and sad.

I did make a tape of it, and I do still have a boombox that plays tapes, but I want that damned cd—which I can’t find, because my Chris Lowe shares a name with another musical Chris Lowe,  super-famous Chris Lowe.

Well, maybe some night I’ll sit down with a bottle of something and dig my way through the cyberverse until I bump into that eponymous cd and take it home with me, where it belongs.

~~~

Again, this list is a bit out of sorts since I started it before the great cd mash-up, but as I’d only posted once previously on lost cds, it’s only a little disordered.

7. Afro Blue Band, Impressions
8. Chet Baker, in a soulful mood
9. Tony Bennett, Perfectly Frank
10. Bettie Serveet, Palomine
11. Andy Bey, Ballads Blues & Bey
12. Mary J. Blige, Mary
13. Blue Up? Cake and Eat It
14. BoDeans, home
15. David Bowie, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust. . .
16. Billy Bragg, Back to Basics
17. billy Bragg & Wilco, Mermaid Avenue
18. T Bone Burnett, The Criminal Under My Own Hat
19. Cannonball Adderly Sextet, In New York
20. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, The Good Son
21. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Henry’s Dream
22. Exene Cervenka, Running Sacred
23. Bill Charlap, All through the night
24. Barbara Cohen & Little Lizard, Black Lake
25. Leonard Cohen, The Future
26. John Coltrane, The Art of John Coltrane
27. John Coltrane, Live at the Village Vanguard
28. Elvis Costello, Brutal Youth
29. Elvis Costello & The Brodsky Quartet, The Juliet Letters
30. Mary Coughlan, Live in Galway
31. Cranberries, No Need to Argue
32. Celia Cruz, Queen of the Rumba
33. D’Angelo, Brown Sugar
34. Miles Davis, Birth of Cool
35. Miles Davis, Bitches Brew
36. Dead Can Dance, Into the Labyrinth
37. digable planets, reachin’ (a new refutation of time and space)
38. Dire Straits, Making Movies
39. John Doe, Meet John Doe





It’s another round in the losing fight, pt III

6 09 2013

Rounding out the reconsideration:

3. It’s not unfair when you lose. Yes, if the game is rigged or there are payoffs or some other kinds of undermining going on, that’s unfair. But loss in and of itself is not unfair, in sport, argument, or politics.

And loss in these areas is just loss, rarely anything more. It’s not evidence of conspiracy, of the evil of your fellow humans, or of the breakdown of civilization. It is not The End.

“Win some, lose some” (or, for the more ursine-inclined among you, “sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you”) is the point, here.

4. It’s only unfair to use your rules against you if the rules were unfair to begin with. Kinda a mouthful, I know, but it pretty much gets to the point: If you’re fine with the rules when you were winning, it’s gonna be tough to garner sympathy for THE INJUSTICE OF IT ALL!!! when you’re losing.

Relatedly, if it were fine for you to write the rules when you were in charge, then it’s just sour grapes to bitch about other people writing rules when they’re in charge.

5. That you lost or are unpopular doesn’t mean you’re oppressed. If you live in a political culture of strict majority-rule losing can lead to repression, but neither the politics nor the culture of the US is strict majority-rule. Almost no political win or loss is final (cf. “win-some-bears-get-you”), and even in those cases where the culture seems to have shifted decisively, as with same-sex marriage, those on the losing side can continue to fight as long as they have fight in them.

It’s true that those who oppose civil recognition and the normalization of same-sex relationships will likely have their arguments dismissed by those who already think such relationships normal, and may be called bigots and homophobes. Those opponents might feel they can no longer bring up their views at work or in public, and worry that there may come a time when they have to choose between their principles and their jobs or a friendship. Going along to get along can, in fact, feel pretty damned oppressive.

But here’s where #4 comes in. If it’s terrible that you no longer feel you can voice opinions which you once offered freely, was it terrible that those who disagreed with you felt they couldn’t voice their opinions? And if it’s terrible now, why wasn’t it terrible then? And why isn’t it terrible for other unpopular opinions? And, to sharpen the point, if you lose your job or a promotion because you hold political views contrary to those of your boss, is the problem the contrary views or an at-will employment system which does not protect political minorities?

I do have some sympathy for those who feel they can’t speak up, precisely because there have been times I’ve kept my mouth shut rather than make trouble. You don’t want to be That chick or have to explain why you would even consider holding the views you do over and over and over again. If you are out of step, it is easy to feel stepped on.

So, yes, JS Mill had a point about social conformity: it often is oppressive! To live among others is to conform, which means there’s no way to escape such oppression.

But that there are consequences for nonconformity doesn’t always mean one must conform: If you can, in fact, live with those consequences, then perhaps you are not oppressed—or, at least, not helplessly oppressed.

I, for example, don’t care much about money, and I live in a culture—and in a city, especially!—which prizes financial gain. That I haven’t sought to maximize my wealth marks me as a kind of loser, and when I visit family and friends who own houses and don’t make shelves out of wine boxes I think Jeez, I am doing life wrong.

Still, most of the time I am able to live with the consequences of my choices and priorities. It’s a pain in the ass that I have to think about money as much as I do, and think that if I made just a wee bit more I could happily minimize my cash anxieties, but I’ve managed to cobble together a life of which I at least have a shot of making sense.

Am I oppressed? I don’t think so. Out of step in some important ways, yes, but as long as I am able to step out, to live my own absurd life, well, I can live with that.

~~~

And yes, there will be a caveats-to-the-caveats post.





Don’t want to be a richer man, pt II

29 08 2013

Back to unpacking that hastily stuffed post:

2. Losing status is not an injustice. It’s not fun, and it may feel unfair, but the loss of status in and of itself is not unfair.

Status can be earned or unearned, related to deeds, to relationships, to kinship, something taken or something granted. It almost certainly is culturally dependent—what earns you status in one culture may earn you contempt in another—and, depending upon that culture, may be related to justice or not. In cultures in which people think they deserve their status, they are likely more likely to believe that changes in the culture which lead to changes (loss) in status are unfair.

This could be seen as the aims of the civil rights movement in the US were absorbed into society and instantiated in governmental and corporate policy. As a result, those who had formerly only to compete with one another for position were instead forced to compete with those who had been kept out of the game.

To switch up the metaphor: white men could no longer count on always being first in line for jobs, promotions, college admissions, and sundry other social goods. They lost status.

That they did so, however, was not unjust. American society was formed out of the ungainly mess of egalitarianism, white supremacy, patriarchy, justice, toleration, conformity, segregation, integration, settlement, escapism, hard work, and luck, and as the polity shifted away from over supremacism in terms of both race and sex, the sense of “who was best (for the position, say)” shifted.

The liberationist in me would say Not damned nearly enough, but I do recognize the shift has occurred, and in a direction which has benefitted me and, I would argue, society as a whole: I think it is better to live in a society in which the placement of one’s reproductive organs  does not determine one’s prospects in that society, or where  people”will not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.”

(I know that’s an overused phrase and not even his best one, but on the 50th anniversary of the speech, it seemed apropos.)

Now, I admit that I’m overloading “status” somewhat, leaving “justice” untouched. No, I don’t think justice exists outside of culture, but one of the enduring fictions of American culture is that, supremacism notwithstanding, justice bears some relationship to deeds, and that everyone deserves a fair shot at a decent life. The definition of justice didn’t change so much as did the “everyone” who deserved the fair shot: the pool of who were to be considered in matters of justice got a whole lot more crowded.

With the expansion of “everyone” to include almost every citizen, the status which had accrued to white male citizens simply for being white male citizens was necessarily lessened—not because status was taken away in an absolute sense, but, because it was granted to so many other people, meant relatively less.

To bring in yet another analogy: it’s not that white men got kicked out of the pool but that they had to share it. And yeah, if you’re used to having the joint to yourself, having to share it is a loss.

But it is not unjust.





Listen to the music: No I don’t want to hear it

13 11 2012

Four hundred and sixty.

That’s how many cds were stolen, four hundred and sixty: 407 pop, et. al., and 53 classical. Of those, I replaced 276 of the stolen pop, and 22 of the stolen classical—which means of course, that 131 pop and 31 classical were not replaced.

I’m no longer exactly sure how my cds are arranged—since they’re now all in my wine-box bureau, i.e., hidden away, I’m much less likely to rearrange them by various genres—but it looks as if my jazz, classical, traditional, and perhaps soundtracks are separated from the pop, blues, and electronica stuff.

So, had my collection not been pilfered, I would have already listened to:

1. Dot Allison, Afterglow
2. American Music Club, Mercury
3. Laurie Anderson, Mister Heartbreak
4. Laurie Anderson, Home of the Brave
5. Laurie Anderson, The Ugly One With the Jewels and Other Stories
6. The Band, The Last Waltz

I would have been able to replace all of these from the used bins while I was living in Montreal, but for whatever reason, I chose not to.

Right after the burglary, I was mad to rebuild my collection exactly as it had been, title for title, whether or not I had listened to or even much liked the lost cd. After awhile, however, I relaxed, and while browsing for the gone-away cds would also be on the lookout for new (used) discs that I wanted more than the old-used discs.

I do remember that I wasn’t terribly impressed with Laurie Anderson’s Mister Heartbreak, and while I liked Dot Allison’s cd, there were always others that, on my scavenges, I found more interesting. I can always get that later, I thought.

Yes, I did have renter’s insurance, but there was a limit as to the dollar amount of the cds they’d replace. I bought extra coverage, but it still wasn’t enough to pay for everything. (I’m not complaining: my insurer dealt with me quickly and didn’t contest any of my claims.) Anyway, that my coverage was limited meant that I couldn’t just stroll to the HMV and load up on [outrageously high-priced] new cds.

That was fine, actually, as I preferred with both cds and books* to prowl the used shops. I’m not much of either a shopper or a hunter, but my atavistic impulses emerge at the challenge of trying to find what I want in the bins and on the shelves.

Then there is the added thrill of coming across something that just looks. . . intriguing, and taking it home for the hell of it. Sure, that can happen at a new-goods store, but it seems that kismet is more likely at a hodgepodge kinda joint.

So while I didn’t  replace 162 of the cds (although there are a few I couldn’t find and still pine for), I did end up finding room for hundreds of cds I might not have otherwise.

On the whole, I’d rather I hadn’t been burglarized, but with the music, at least, the loss led to something more.

*Oddly, not one of my books was stolen. I wonder why that was. . . .





Mayan campaign mashup 2012: It was sad, so sad

9 11 2012

I am so enjoying the wailing and gnashing of teeth among celebrity conservatives.

Oh no, we lost America! America died! The makers have taken over! Alas and alack, we are ruined! No marriage, no babies, just guns and ammo and hunkering down for the coming doom!

Et cetera.

TNC has a post up on the denialism of such reactions, and many, many others have corralled the increasing number of howls into lists of lamentations and these are all so. . . incredibly. . . amusing.

I have zero sympathy for the pundits and professional liars, so my joy in their sorrow is pure.

Regular folks, though, the people who make no money spinning bullshit into gold but who honestly believe that Republicans have the best ideas and that the country will now be worse off under Obama than it would have been under Romney, I do sympathize with them.

I’ve been there. It hurts. It hurt to care and believe and work and lose. It always hurts to lose.

There’s a tumblr called White People Mourning Romney that, yeah, I clicked through, but I felt bad for doing so (and am thus not linking to it). There are a few screenshots of the Fox-Cons, but most of the pictures were of ordinary Republicans looking sad.

I didn’t enjoy that. People shouldn’t be mocked for caring about their country or hooted at because they wanted to win and are crying because they lost.

Politics is about a lot of things, but at the center of it is love. Karl Rove might believe the crap he spews, but he’s also paid to spew; the volunteers and voters just believe, and they do the work because they love their country and believe that their ideas and politicians are the best for the country.

Yes, some of them hate—politics is also about hate—and motives regardless are almost always mixed. But let’s give the ordinary losers the dignity of their love and hope and dreams.

As for the rest of them—Krauthammer and O’Reilly and Coulter and Lopez and that whole lot—-do not let pity interfere with your enjoyment of their dismay.





Listen to the music

20 10 2012

I have a lot of cds.

Eight hundred? Nine hundred? Somewhere thereabouts. Not as many as true obsessive, but, y’know, plenty.

I almost never listen to them.

Oh, I used to, oh yeah, all the time. In grad school I had a cheapo mini-system on to which I could load 7 cds and let ‘er ride. Music accompanied my descent into and out of depression (multiple times), and one of my preps for dissertation-writing was picking out the cds which would take me from, say, 8pm-2am.

I was never much for 45s, but when I hit junior high I started hitting Helen Gallagher’s (the requisite black-light/poster/music shop which dotted small-town malls way back when) for albums. I asked for Foreigner for Christmas and my best friend J. and I listened to her brother’s REO Speedwagon live album (DOOT doot doodlo-doot) over and over again. D. and I would sit in her brother’s bedroom and listen to Pink Floyd and AC/DC (Bon Scott era), and in a junior high art class I carved a KISS sculpture out of a bar of soap.

It was pretty much hard and classic rock all through high school (93 QXM? QFM? out of Milwaukee)—a lot Who, AC/DC (Brian Johnson, this time), Led Zep, Yes,Rush,Loverboy—as well as my aforementioned beloved Supertramp, and then, when MTV hit, what was then called alternative music (mainly British post-punk bands).

I bought albums at Helen Gallagher, I bought albums up and down State Street in Madison. I bought albums at the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis. And then when I decided to run away from grad school, I decided to sell all of my albums.

I bought cds instead.

I had just a few (20? 30?) when I hied on out to Albuquerque, maybe double or triple that when I slunk back to Minneapolis, where I was a regular at the Electric Fetus as well as a few other dusty shops in the Whittier neighborhood. I bought punk and post-punk and new wave and jazz and soundtracks and classical and electronica, then expanded into funky new-wave Nordic music and dub and neo-soul and soul and 1960s-era American and European singers and a few blues cds. I hauled boxes and boxes and boxes with me to Montreal, then set out to buy even more.

I ended up buying hundreds and hundreds of cds in the shops along Mont Royal and St Denis and Peel—but this was due in no small part to my apartment having been burglarized my first Thanksgiving in the city. Hundreds of those cds were replacements, but hundreds more were music which was recommended to me by music clerks and friends and stuff I’d heard on the McGill and U of Montreal radio stations and read about in the alt weeklies. I picked up Daniel Boulanger and Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sam Roberts and Athena knows how many chill cds.

I listened to it all.

My cd-buying fell off when I moved to Somerville, in part due to my reduced financial circumstances, but I still hit up shops in Somerville, Cambridge, and Boston, adding both replacement and new stuff. I had so damned many cds that they overflowed my (generous) storage; I followed my downstairs-neighbors’ lead and took them all out of their jewel cases and just kept them in their sleeves in boxes.

Which is how I transported them to New York. I bought a few cds here, but the urge to survey the scene fell off and never returned: my desire for music had always been abstain-or-binge, but for the past few years I simply haven’t been interested.

It’s not even that cd shops are scarce: there are still plenty o’ joints in the East and West Villages where I could score tunes if I wanted, and, of course, I could always download stuff.  Nor is it that I hate all new music: I think Lady Gaga has fine set of pipes and I’m charmed by Adele and and Janelle Monae is somethin’ else and I’ll hear bits on WNYC or in stores and think Oh, that’s nice.

But the urgency, the need, to own music is gone. I don’t even bother buying music by acts I already know I like—Emmylou and Beth Orton and GY!BE—much less feel that I have to make any effort to find something new.

C. has said that there really is nothing new out there, and I think she may have a point. Some of the newer stuff I like sounds a lot like the music I listened to in the 1980s, so why not just listen to the old stuff? The one genre in which I have bought stuff is classical and (a very few cds of) opera, and that because it is all new to me.

It’s not bad that my enthusiasm has waned—more money for books!—but it is a loss. I loved music, loved listening to it and thinking about it and searching it out and sharing it and dancing to it and everything everything everything. I’ve lost something I loved.

So, I have a plan. I’m going to listen to every cd I own, in (rough genre-and-alphabetical) order, to re-acquaint myself with the sounds that once so moved me.

I’m not trying to recapture my youth (hah!) or somehow go back in time, but given how much this all once mattered, it’s worth it to see if I can recover or rediscover what was once there.

If not, if it’s gone, then I’ll let it go, I’ll let it all go.

But I don’t think it’s gone. I think I just need to crouch down and put my face close and gently blow those fading chords back to life.








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