When the promise of a brave new world unfurled beneath a clear blue sky

3 08 2017

I had to have been high when I saw Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii.

I mean, who watches a Pink Floyd concert film sober?

JT and his roommate took me and maybe some of the other freshmen from our floor in Sellery over to the Humanities building, where they showed free films in lecture halls (Harold and Maude was regularly featured). JT & roommate were both sophomores, way into music, and likely to be high whenever it seemed like a good time to be high—and in a classroom watching Pink Floyd play long trippy songs in an empty amphitheater would seem to be a very good time to be high.

I knew Pink Floyd well enough—had a couple of albums, knew songs from a couple more—but was never a super fan. I learned that night in Humanities, for example, that they had a song called “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”, which I thought (then and now) was a great title. And I learned that young David Gilmour was beautiful, and that whatever drug he had taken had turned his pupils into teeny-tiny dots amidst a startling blue.

Anyway, there’s a semi-amusing countdown of Pink Floyd songs over at Vulture penned by someone who seems to hate that he’s a Pink Floyd fan. I didn’t click on the links to the songs themselves (on Spotify, which I haven’t joined), but did watch a number of the vids, many of which were live.

And, oh man, look at those concerts! I never saw Pink Floyd live, and most of the big shows I did see were either at Alpine Valley or at Summerfest, but that concert footage—guys mostly standing around, a few women ahhhhh-ing off to the side, and LASERS! and NONSENSE ANIMATION!—that. was. a concert!

I haven’t seen an arena show in. . . huh, ever, so, again, I can only go by what flashes across my computer, but it seems like most of the big acts touring today put on A SHOW. Plenty of music, yes, but dancing and more dancing and, oh look, another dancing routine. I can’t really say if this is better or worse than the old standing-around-noodling model, but it is a distinct change.

Guessing (again): the Grateful Dead were the premier stand-around-noodling band. Yeah, yeah, the Dead (and their ilk) are called “jam bands”, which, okay, is cooler than “noodling” band, but either way, not my thing. The Dead were still touring when I was in college, and you couldn’t swing a bong in Madison without hitting a Deadhead, but, nope, didn’t do it for me.

Didn’t hate ’em, didn’t love ’em; just thought, Okay.

But Pink Floyd? Yeah, they were all right. Biting, angry, inscrutable lyrics, and long (so very long) songs to play when you got in from a night out and needed to float back to somewhere in the vicinity of sobriety before falling asleep. What more could a teenager want?

One final memory: At one point while hospitalized, J and I were allowed out of the ward for a few hours. We walked down Lakeshore path over to State Street, where some kind of construction was going on outside of Memorial Library, the zone bounded by plywood sheets.

These sheets were, of course, a canvas, and on one, someone had spray-painted shine on you crazy diamond.

Both J and I, day-passed from a psych ward, thought this was pretty great, and I took a picture of her in front of it. J had a lot of bad days, but that was a good day, for both of us.





Stop making sense

8 04 2015

wis-smAnd so they lost.

I didn’t go to a bar, didn’t follow the game online (tho’ I did check early in the second half to see the Badgers up), didn’t even stay up to see how it all turned out.

It is unlikely they will get back even to the Final Four anytime soon.

So, three reactions:

1. The critic-of-the-NCAA side of me is mildly satisfied with the loss, insofar as it makes it easier for me not to pay attention to college sports.

It’s a shitty reaction, I know, and only reinforces the fact that my so-called principled stand against exploitation is weak and requires reinforcement.

(See also: TBI and football and hockey.)

2. The fan side is sad.

I noted in the last post that a week away from the game and the game won’t matter; here it is two days out and it doesn’t matter.

Still, a win would have nice, and I would have enjoyed it, however fleetingly.

3. I really don’t like being a fan.

Some of the teams I have rooted for—Badgers (various), Brewers, Packers, Habs—have done well, some have not, and I had a lot of fun rooting for them when they won. Losing could be a bummer, but only of the most minor sort.

And then at some point the teeter tottered and the fun fleeted and the bummedness hunkered down, and I ended up ginning up serious mopes over losses.

That just seemed silly to me, so I stepped back.

This isn’t a critique of sports or any other kind of fandom (in fact, I kinda wish I had some of my old music-and-theater mojo back), and I’m making no point beyond the very small one that, for the most part*, for me, following sports stopped making sense.

*Except for women’s tennis. Yeah, as long as Serena is playing I’ll be paying at least a little bit of attention.

 





On Wisconsin

5 04 2015

Such a hypocrite, I am.

I don’t like the NCAA, don’t like the outsized role Division I sports plays at colleges and universities, think athletes should get paid and insured, believe that NCAA exploits the athletes in football and men’s basketball, and generally think that if the NFL and the NBA want minor league teams they oughtta pay for those teams themselves.

I would support the University of Wisconsin dropping out of the NCAA and fielding only club teams.

I have more-or-less stopped following football and hockey—a decision reinforced by concerns over traumatic brain injury—and am generally not a fan of basketball.

But can I tell you that I’ve checked the sports pages throughout the men’s tournament, and spent the morning reading report after report on the team’s win over Kentucky and its advancement to the championship game (even as I know that a week from now whether they win or lose won’t matter)?

But that tomorrow night I am sorely tempted to go sit my hypocritical ass on a barstool somewhere, watch the game, and scream

badgerL

Yep yep yep. . . .
~~~
Image: HarperCollins




Praise to thee, our Alma Mater

4 02 2015

I loathe Scott Walker.

That his politics are not my own should not, of course, surprise you, but that’s not what’s loathe-inducing about him.

No, what I hate about him is not so much that he’s conservative (whatever the hell that means, these days), but that he’s successful: he wants to wreck shit, and he does.

He wanted to destroy public unions in the state, and has pretty much done so.

He wanted to open up the great north woods of Wisconsin to mining interests, and has pretty much done so.

He wanted to slash Planned Parenthood’s presence in the state, and has done so.

He wanted to make a point about Obamacare, and has thus deprived poor Wisconsinites access to the expanded Medicaid program within the ACA.

And now he’s aiming for the University of Wisconsin system, seeking to further the process of privatization (which began decades ago) not just by further cutting state aid—$300 million in his latest budget—but by attacking the very collegiality of university governance itself.

Oh, and the swipe that professors don’t work hard enough? That’s a freebie.

The University of Wisconsin system, which has existed in various forms for almost 170 years. Compared to the University of Bologna or the University of Paris, each established in the Middle Ages, that’s nothing, but it is as old as the state itself (both were established in 1848), and has arguable played a key role in the growth of that state.

Not just in terms of economics and industry, but in terms of an ideal and a promise, a public institution in the best sense of the term.

And now Walker wants to cut it down to size, to cut it loose from both the citizens of the state and the citizens of the university, to turn it into a giant work-training facility.

And I loathe him because he might just succeed in bringing my beloved alma mater to its knees.

There is one bright spot: an early draft of a bill had deleted the phrase that “the search for truth” is “basic to the purpose of the sytem”, but apparently that was “a drafting error”, and the search for truth remains.

I doubt very much that it was a drafting error, and has only been re-inserted after its deletion was publicized. Perhaps this means that this terrible idea can be stopped.

But I had thought all of those previous terrible ideas would be stopped, and they weren’t. In fact, they were either popular enough to get him/not-unpopular enough to prevent him from being re-elected.

So, yes, I admit it: I loathe him because he’s effective. He’s good at wrecking what I believe makes Wisconsin a decent place to live, to work, to learn, and to wonder, to think that there could be something more, something better.

~~~

At least he’s given me a theme to use for his presidential campaign: Walker—Wrecking Ball 2016.





Hey look-a here, just wait and see

17 07 2013

The summer between my third & fourth years at Madison I worked “maintenance” for the university.

I put “maintenance” in quotes because we didn’t really do any maintenance—that was left to the regular civil service staff; mostly, we cleaned.

I’d worked food service the summer before, but “maintenance” was much better because there were more hours: full-time, M-F, in the Southeast dorms (Sellery A & B, Ogg, and Witte).

The first 4 or 6 weeks we cleaned all of the windows in all of the dorms, inside and out. The supervisors (also students) would come around and stand sideways to the windows to check for streaks and missed spots and ponies, telling us to re-do a bunch if we were on schedule, or just to wipe up the errata if we were behind.

Then they’d task us with various bullshit—cleaning out window wells, cleaning and painting dumpsters (not as bad as it sounds, actually), removing the tar that seeped up through the cracks in the basements. (Word was the Southeast dorms were built on a swamp, and tar had been used as filler. I don’t know if that was true, but tar really did ooze out of the cracks.) Anyway, they kept us busy until the end of the summer, when they needed us to do real work again.

A big chunk of that real work was cleaning up after bankers. The university ran seminars for businessfolk, putting them up in the dorms, so we did the maid-work, cleaning rooms, bathrooms, etc., during and after their stay. It wasn’t a bad gig: the dorms were air conditioned, and the bankers would often leave booze and food behind.

We were supposed to toss these leavings, but, c’mon, who does that? The regular civil service staff and the student workers had a silent understanding, each taking what was left and saying nothin’ to nobody.

As we worked these various jobs, our work crews would shift. I ended up maid-ing with a couple of girls I didn’t know very well, and, really, hadn’t been terribly interested in. Nothing awful: they had their group, I had mine.

They, however, turned out to be the perfect pair to work with. There were no awkward conversations about keeping the booze, and, like most (although not all) of the student workers, saw no point in working too hard. We did what we needed to, nothing more.

Anyway, what prompted this reminiscence was the one girl, whose face I can barely make out, but she had straight blond hair, who’d walk around muttering “she’s sure fine lookin’ man, she’s something else” at her friend (also blond, but curly), and they’d both crack up.

One lunch hour—for which we had to punch out—we took some of the leftover beer and whiskey and found a spot decently away from the main office and all ate together. I finally asked her about the line.

“Eddie Cochrane,” she’d said, then repeated, “She’s sure fine lookin’ man, she’s something else.”

I didn’t know the name of the song, but remembered Eddie (after briefly confusing him with Tommie) Cochrane, and way later found a best-of cd with, (what else) “Somethin’ Else”.

So, after that verrrrrrrrrry long prelude, for your listening pleasure:

I was listening to it early this evening. It’s a great song.

And not a bad memory.





Goodbye, blue sky

21 04 2013

A break from being a ghost; my head’s not in it.

~~~

I.

Early ’70s. I remember evacuating the  SmallTown elementary school at least once, possibly more than once.

Bomb scare.

It wasn’t scary. It seemed almost normal. But exciting, too.

II.

Mid-eighties.

On assignment for the Cardinal, to interview a physicist in Sterling Hall. My first experience in a building with radiation stickers on doors, emergency showerheads in the concrete-block halls.

Sterling Hall was bombed in 1970 by Karleton Armstrong, Dwight Armstrong, David Fine, and Leo Burt, in protest against the University’s involvement with the military during the Vietnam War. The Army Mathematics Research Center occupied 3 floors in one wing of the hall.

The bomb wrecked, but did not level, the building. The AMRC was barely damaged.

It did injure three people: Paul Quin, David Schuster, and Norbert Sutler.

It killed Robert Fassnacht, physics post-doc. He did not work for the AMRC.

The bombers fled. Karleton Armstrong was caught in 1972 and served 7 years in federal prison. He returned to Madison, where he had a food cart on the mall by Memorial Library. He thought for awhile the bombing was wrong, but then reconsidered again, stating that because the cause was just, so too was the bombing. “It just should have been done more responsibly.”

Fine was caught in 1976 and served 3 years in federal prison.

Dwight Armstrong was caught in 1977, and also served 3 years; he died in 2010.

Leo Burt was never caught.

III.

I had been fascinated by and drawn to the radical history of UW-Madison, and was, honestly, disappointed by the lack of political involvement by most students in the 1980s.

Yes, there were anti-nuke and US-out-of-Central-America and anti-apartheid protests—the anti-apartheid protests were the largest—but it was far more a party than political school.

I don’t know how I felt about the Sterling Hall bombing, then. I’m sure I felt that it was horrible that a man was killed, but it’s quite possible that I felt, as Karleton Armstrong later did, that “It just should have been done more responsibly.”

IV.

My second novel is set, for a time, in mid-/late-eighties Madison.

The events of the 70s do not go unmentioned.

V.

Part of my disappointment in Madison was surely political, but it was just as surely an adrenaline slump. I wanted to be where the action was, and there was, for all intents and purposes, no action.

Except, vicariously, in the Cardinal newsroom.

I remember seeing the tear-off from the AP machine that someone had waxed to the wall outside of the Cardinal office announcing the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

Pre-internet, if you wanted the news as fast as it was made, you had to be in a newsroom.

More than once, I stood over the AP machine as line by line the rest of the world unspooled in a windowless office in the basement of Vilas Hall.

VI.

In September 2001, I was in Montreal. On the eleventh day of that month I had, as I often did, ridden my bike up and down Mont Royal for exercise, showered at a nearby building, then made my way to my office.

I listened to the CBC before I left that morning, but not until the phone call from my parents and a pop-in from a colleague, did I know what was going on.

I couldn’t stop watching the news.

I wanted to be there, only—goddess help me—not for solidarity.

I wanted to be where the action was.

VII.

At some point between my 18th and my 40th birthday I thought seriously about the Sterling Hall bombing.

I’d like to think it was earlier rather than later, but when I did, finally, think seriously about it, I concluded that if you don’t want to kill people, you don’t plant bombs where people are or might be.

I am not a pacifist—I lack the courage to be a pacifist—and thus recognize that there might be instances when it is justified to use a weapon, to build a bomb.

But not in protest. You cannot responsibly bomb in protest. Never in protest.

The ends never justify the means.

VIII.

I paid attention to the bombing in Oslo.

I note the bombings in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Somalia. In Syria.

But not the same kind of attention. Do bombings matter less in war zones? Would there be war zones without bombings?

The people, they matter.

IX.

It caught the edges of my ears, last Monday.

What? What? Bombings in Boston? What?

Frantic for news. WNYC continuing with an interview about the Human Genome Project. There’s been a fucking bombing! Give me the fucking news!

Headlines on news sites, little more. Boston Globe site overwhelmed. NPR: headline, nothing more. NBC: headline, nothing more. CBS: headline, nothing more. CNN: headline, nothing more. Finally, a link to New England News Network, then WBUR.

Finally, NPR switches over. All three going at once, trying to pick out what happened.

Once again, less out of solidarity than wanting to know, just to know.

X.

I have become skeptical of solidarity in the aftermath of tragedy.

There might be some, good, reason for this: what does it mean? How will it matter? Isn’t this easier than anything else?

Sometimes coldness is in order. To see, clearly.

But I am skeptical of others because I am skeptical of myself. I want to be there, to be in the mix, to mix myself into the event and claim it for my own.

I want, goddess help me, the excitement. The vicarious thrill.

XI.

Sometimes distance is in order. To see, clearly.

What happened to Krystle Campbell, Lu Lingzi, Martin Richard, Sean Collier, and the scores of other victims did not happen to me. I don’t know any of them; I have no connection to any of them.

This is not my tragedy.

It is only when I see that it is not mine that I can see what it means to those for whom it is. Empathy can mean looking for your own face amongst the affected, but sometimes sympathy—for the other—is the better option.

Sometimes you have to stand aside, to let the others pass.

Respect a discreet distance.

Let them be.





Friday poem IV

4 12 2009

What lyric this week?

A poem for war?

Or perhaps a poem for my aching head, dunned twice with migraine.

Or for the half-awakening in which Chelsea dipped into that triangle between arm and body and air and purred me back to sleep, even as I cried, again, at her absence.

Sifting through the cut-outs, I could find nothing. And then I came across this poem by Kelly Cherry, who taught a poetry seminar I took at UW-Madison.

Cherry was a bit ornery, a bit odd, and a hell of a teacher. She had definite ideas about poetry—no misspellings and odd capitalizations, and you goddamned better well know the difference between lie and lay—but she didn’t seek to stamp herself into all of our styles.

Her approach was, instead, Make your work, better.

I have kept that with me for over twenty years, and try, and more often fail, to live up to that in my own teaching.

This poem was originally published in the Atlantic in two columns. I’ve inserted a stanza break between the two columns, but it’s possible that this was meant to be  a one stanza poem.

Regardless, it’s lovely: a grace note to us all.

Grace

You know of course that you haven’t earned it.
For if you had, it would not be what it is:
Beauty of the candle after you’ve burned it,
The dark bird rising like smoke, always from ashes,
Remembrance of heat and light, describing itself
Invisibly upon the air of the mind,
That takes the life lived in a fury of self-
Love and remakes it into something that shined

So brightly that it might have been a star;
Instead of a candle you were burning at both ends.

And now the night grows black, wherever you are,
Except for the golden shimmer than descends
To the earth through miles of lonely outer space
And lights up your misspent live, with saving grace.