i went fishing with my family when i was five

I can tell you what good art isn’t:

It’s nothing pro-forma.  It’s nothing rote, or trite, or usual.  It’s not hollow, or false, and good god, it isn’t easy.  Is it this?  I don’t know.  He’s obnoxious, I’ll say that.  Also weirdly compelling.  It took some nuts to stand up there and continue droning into the silence after the last wave of nervous laughter had passed.  After a while you have to accept that the message isn’t in the words.  Have a gander, I’ll wait:

So, then, what is the message?  Maybe something is wrong, hidden beneath the drone, something that can’t be said.  Maybe it’s a zen koan, a repetition that breaks the words down to their component nonsense, which is important, here, because…?  I mean, it’s effective, playing on discomfort in an Andy Kaufman manner, but after the novelty fades, is there anything behind it?  Form trickery without substance is a hallmark of onanistic academic poetry, and it really fucking bothers me.  Was this poem successful art? Was it good?  Man, I don’t know.

Did it make everyone there uncomfortable?  Yes.  Does it have value beyond that one-off discomfort?  Eh.  Is bald discomfort, in and of itself, interesting?  No.  Yes.  Shit, I don’t know.  Would I enjoy seeing it live?  Not particularly.  Did I post it on the bindle and write about it?  Yes.  Does something generating discussion mean it has worth or merit?  Not necessarily.  Did it make me think about the meaning and definition of art?  Sure.

But hell, look, here’s the point:  It’s okay to giggle!  It’s okay to smile!  It’s okay to not be so gravely serious and competitive about art all the time!  Art exists solely and exclusively to explain and enrich our lives.  That’s it.  It’s not about money, or fame, or critical acclaim; it’s about solace, and the thousand roads to joy.  This entire droning poem, more than anything else, is a joke.  It’s a very silly joke.  Just because they stopped laughing doesn’t mean it’s not funny.

Was it a good poem?  God no, it was an awful poem.

Was it successful?

Oh, art.  You make my head hurt so good.

Featured post

the cage it called

Whatever he was asked about Zen, Master Gutei simply stuck up one finger.

He had a boy attendant whom a visitor asked, “What kind of teaching does your master give?”  The boy held up one finger too.  Hearing of this, Gutei cut off the boy’s finger with a knife.  As the boy ran away, screaming with pain, Gutei called to him.  When the boy turned his head, Gutei stuck up one finger. 

The boy was suddenly enlightened.

a Phosphorescent song

forever dolphin love

I was talking about fruit from the Mac Demarco music tree here recently, and this performance is the prime example.  Check out Mac back there in the blonde fan-boy wig, happily playing back-up egg-shaker.  He’s much more famous than Connan Mockasin, but here he is on stage without a guitar, grooving and singing along.  Watching him back there, just happy to be hanging out, asking no part of the spotlight, really makes me smile.

As for this video, I’m putting it here as much for myself as anyone else.  Much of it is from Connan’s second album, Caramel, and the real delights don’t start for me until around the 23:00 mark when they begin ever so slowly to tease out Forever Dolphin Love (30:00), and then again at 51:00 for Megumi (57:00).  But if you’re looking for something to put on in the background at home, I recommend it all.

The sound is mixed better than any live recording I’ve ever heard, the aesthetics are on point in all aspects, and they’re just having such a good time together up there.  The music is complex and sneakily potent, drawn from a jazz background and then played in an almost lazy, laconic style, like he’s not even sure how his guitar works.  Make no mistake though, that weird little Kiwi is a serious god damn musician.

If you’re looking to up your hipster cred, here’s your chance:  Connan Mockasin is currently on every indie musician’s list of hopeful underground collaborations (most recently he featured on a James Blake song).  What he has chosen to express is undeniably strange, but you can’t argue with his ability to articulate his vision.  The guy is a scientific singularity.  Though he draws from a thousand influences, you could never mistake him for anyone else.

Full disclosure, it might take some work to get in there.  This sort of Funkadelic-meets-Pink-Floyd phenomenon didn’t click for me right away.  I recommend taking a maybe counter-intuitive tack and starting your listening with the bass player.  Close your eyes and find the groove he’s laying down.  Then work your way back through the instruments:  bass, then drums, then rhythm guitar and synth, then lead guitar, and last land on the vocals.  When you look up and it’s the middle of Forever Dolphin Love, and all that weird noodling has come together and your head is bobbing uncontrollably, well, come and find me — I’ll have Mac get you sorted with a wig and an egg shaker.

Connan Mockasin.

Seriously, get involved.

in which i seriously consider vats

i can’t stop thinking
about compression;

about how when you’re standing
on your feet all day they swell
so you lay yourself down
because the idea of pressing
blood against meat against bone
of pressing against the bone
on the bottoms of your feet
is unbearable
so you stay down
and discover the pressure
has just shifted to your back
to your legs to your ass you get
fat you get bedsores and still
wherever you’re making contact
there it is, pressing, so you stand
and then you realize this is it:

i have to shift this weight — i will
always have to shift this weight;

there’s no avoiding it; it’s unbearable
if you think about it too much,
and what is too much? any much.
but you have to work you have to
press something against something
in this life this compression you have
to have a job you have to struggle
to eat you have to age you have to
watch people fall away you have to
shift that weight you have to
walk out into the world

you just have to.

but maybe if we were wealthy
we could commission a vat
full of special buoyant liquid:
a vat to suspend us
softly,
indefinitely,
and we could live there and work
there and fuck there and eat
there and get out for tolerable
jaunts on our poor compressed
feet then run home and jump

(oh sweet freedom,
sweet airborn bliss)

back into the vat.

but my make-believe vats i know
are for make-believe people — rich
people — and we sick must stand
or lie down or squirm; we must
shift weight we must press meat
against blood against bone
we must press against the bone.

and let’s be honest:
even were we wealthy,
make-believe people,
we should not live in vats.

vats are not a solution.

the look

If you ever find yourself wondering what album to play while speeding down the coast of East Africa, high on cocaine and cane liquor, heading to a local white sand beach, feeling cool as fuck in your aviators while the hot wind whips your hair and the thing you love most in the world withers and dies in your senseless hands, well, wonder no more.  I got you.

“and now you’re giving me the look…”

pyotr

The story goes like this:

During his first marriage, Peter the Great (Pyotr Alekseyevich) took for his mistress a peasant woman named Marta Helena Skowrońska.  When his first wife died, he married Marta in secret, she changed her name to Catherine, and would go on to bear him twelve children.  Peter spent much of his reign rooting out corruption in his government, and Willem Mons, Catherine’s secretary, was accused of peddling access to the royal family through his position.  Catherine supposedly knew, but chose to ignore the offense out of affection for her secretary.  After Peter ordered his summary execution Catherine was furious — the couple didn’t speak for months.

The story also goes like this:

At some point during their marriage, Catherine took for herself a lover, this man Willem Mons.  When Peter found out, he had Mons beheaded, and his severed head preserved in a jar of formaldehyde.  Then he forced Catherine to take time each day to sit and look at it.

So… Yeah.

Andy Hull’s song tells the second version, from the alternating perspectives of Peter and Willem.  It’s almost pornographically gruesome, yes.  And there appears to be no evidence for any of it.  And I absolutely hate when art requires extensive contextual explanation, or a background in obscure esoterics, before it makes any god damn sense.  But this obtuse erotic torture fantasy somehow won me over, because despite all of that, what it really is, is a love song.  And it’s just brilliant.

“Oh Catherine tell me, was it worth it for him?”

a Bad Books song

Also, it’s worth noting here that when Peter died he had no male heirs.  During the succession crisis, the “new men” whom Peter had raised to prominence, for merit rather than birth, pulled off a successful coup against the return of the old aristocracy.  For the face of this new government, they chose Peter’s popular widow.  So this peasant woman, born Marta, now known as Catherine, would succeed Peter to the throne of Russia, and rule for two years as Empress Catherine I.  As the first female to sit the throne in her own right, she would set a legal precedent for the position that would come to include her own daughter, Elizabeth, and in time her great-granddaughter-in-law, Catherine the Great.

So?  How’s that for a happy ending?

Yeah, still pretty dark, I know.

on failure and sadness and beautiful things

“…and the man goes walking, I go walking, through the forest and I run into five hundred thousand Galicians who are walking and crying.  And then I stop (a kindly giant, an interested giant for the last time) and I ask them, why they’re crying.  And one of the Galicians stops and says:  because we’re all alone and we’re lost.”

Joshua Clark Orkin

holes

On the moon there was neither air nor wind.  Its vacuum was perfect for preserving memories unscathed.  No one could unlock the heart of the moon. Aomame raised her glass to the moon and asked, “Have you gone to bed with someone in your arms lately?”
_____The moon did not answer.
_____“Do you have any friends?” she asked.
_____The moon did not answer.
_____“Don’t you get tired of always playing it cool?”
_____The moon did not answer.

~

Tengo had no idea, of course, what Aomame had offered to the moon that time, but he could well imagine what the moon had given her: pure solitude and tranquility. That was the best thing the moon could give a person.

–Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

wild with the okayness

Percy Wakes Me (Fourteen)

Percy wakes me and I am not ready.
He has slept all night under the covers.
Now he’s eager for action: a walk, then breakfast.
So I hasten up.  He is sitting on the kitchen counter
__where he is not supposed to be.
How wonderful you are, I say.  How clever, if you
 __needed me,
____to wake me.
He thought he would hear a lecture and deeply
__his eyes begin to shine.
He tumbles onto the couch for more compliments.
He squirms and squeals: he has done something
__that he needed
____and now he hears that it is okay.
I scratch his ears.  I turn him over
__and touch him everywhere.  He is
wild with the okayness of it.  Then we walk, then
__he has breakfast, and he is happy.
This is a poem about Percy.
This is a poem about more than Percy.
Think about it.

–Mary Oliver, Swan

 

riptide

“A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drownded, for he shall be going out on a day when he shouldn’t.  But we do be afraid of the sea, and we do only be drownded now and again.”

-John Millington Synge (1871-1909)

Joshua Clark Orkin

comedown sunrise sickness

There was a decade when I only saw
the dawn (that livid blue sky those
pastel pinks and yellows that searing
fresh white sunlight) when I had
been a bad boy; when the drugs
had run their course and anxiety
had spread her wings to rise in full
to whip and rule the comedown. Those
were bad nights, bad mornings, bad
signs in the maze of my wreckage.

Born blue-eyed and squinting,
I’d always been by nature
a sunset colors kind of boy —
a moon and stars, a fading out,
a darkening down to crispness,
starry night relief kind of boy.

Now that I’m sober I’m not quite
the night owl I was but neither
am I getting up early.  It’s hard to tell
when exactly it is that I live.  I know
it’s better; that I live without excuses
and without hangovers, with less guilt,
less waste, without comedowns —
But for all its saddening sickness, all
its anxiety and loathing,

I never see the sunrise anymore.

And guilty now I miss coming sick
out of the darkness on some empty
rooftop with fear on my mind, confusion
on my lips, throwing my skinny arms wide
(fingers shaking in the spreading light)
in pain and rage and sudden stillness,
to embrace the fact of my life.

it was the nature of things

“His mind was freshly inclined toward sorrow; toward the fact that the world was full of sorrow; that everyone labored under some burden of sorrow; that all were suffering; that whatever one took in this world, one must try to remember that all were suffering (none content; all wronged, neglected, overlooked, misunderstood), and therefore one must do what one could to lighten the load of those with whom one came into contact; that his current state of sorrow was not uniquely his, not at all, but, rather, its like had been felt, would yet be felt, by scores of others, in all times, in every time, and must not be prolonged or exaggerated, because, in this state, he could be no help to anyone and, given that his position in the world situated him to be either of great help or great harm, it would not do to stay low, if he could help it.

All were in sorrow, or had been, or would be.

It was the nature of things.

Though on the surface it seemed every person was different, this was not true.

At the core of each lay our suffering; our eventual end, the many losses we must experience on the way to that end.

We must try to see one another in this way.

As suffering, limited beings —

Perennially outmatched by circumstance, inadequately endowed with compensatory graces.

His sympathy extended to all in this instant, blundering, in its strict logic, across all divides.”

–George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo

a Townes Van Zandt song

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