and i said,
^a modest mouse song
art by rose tatarsky.
At the beginning of quarantine I finally got into Ableton seriously, went into a fugue state, and woke up ten days later holding an album made out of voice memos I’d had on my phone. The art is a picture I found in the philosophic collection I’ve been working on these past five years. There’s no real identifying information, but presumably that’s a shot PB took in Tibet or Mongolia in the early 20th Century. Or somewhere else, who knows — it really doesn’t matter. I’d like to stop talking for a while.
A couple weeks ago I sat down with my telecaster and pedals, and Steph got set up on a midi pad, playing drum samples through pocket guitar amps. We made a pair of one-take, improvised voice memos in my bedroom. Then Rose drew us some beans.
life is beautiful after all
We are my new favorite band.
“…Farewell happy fields
Where joy for ever dwells: hail horrors, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new possessor: one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what should I be, all but less than he
Whom thunder hath made greater?
Here at least
We shall be free;”
–John Milton, Paradise Lost
a Postal Service song
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
i can’t stop thinking
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
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
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,
we should not live in vats.
vats are not the solution.
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, a man named 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.
Andy Hull’s song tells the second version, from the alternating perspectives of Peter and the head. 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.
“…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
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
“Blessed are the anonymous and obscure,
for they shall be least interfered with.”
“and if I squint I can pretend…”
Joshua Clark Orkin
“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
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 that 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.
“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
When I think back on Tanzania
(on us and you and me and that)
it grips me again the old feeling;
all my ribs crush inward, I feel
the pain squeeze tight and biting.
But I don’t live in that feeling
anymore I learned I had to pry
myself away or die of disfunction
and I’ve grown so far and fast
it’s been a reincarnation; I don’t live
in that feeling, not anymore,
but I can — all it takes is reaching
back for it, because it’s there.
I know it’s a myth, I know that;
and the pain was so fucking hard
to let go, it was everything
I had left. Now most days
are calm struggles, peaceful
strain, you know? Familiar.
Most days are good days;
yet the pain is always there,
when and if I reach for it,
and I do — Because, because,
Because although this love thing
is a myth it’s only actually a myth
in the specific in that now it’s gone
and gripping it was gripping death.
But love? Sweet sentimental love
is not at all a myth itself — once
it was not even a myth for me;
it was once a self-evident truth, real
as the soil is real as real as anything
has ever been real altering everything
it touched and passed through.
If I take the pain out now and then
you’ll have to forgive me, because
though I and everything have changed,
though you and everything are dust,
though our myth itself became death,
before that death it was joy and after
joy it was love and after that love
itself had faded to myth it became
this sweet old bite of pain again.
And I suppose I’m sentimental
(and more than a little self-destructive)
but every once in a while I take it out
and set it on the floor of my mind
and stretch my hand out towards it —
— and when it bites me how I smile,
through the grimace how I glory
in the knowledge that it lives.
It took me a long time to realize I had been misled all my life about Success. In the end, I discovered, you have to do a thing for yourself because it pleases you. The thing itself has to be enough — all else is smoke and mirrors. There is merit and wisdom in picking a thing, devoting yourself to it, doing it beautifully, then setting it on fire. I learned, through much trial and error, that Fame is not Success.
This veneration of individuals, the gurus and cult figures, the phony idol worship, it’s all bullshit — people are just people, even famous people. Some of them deserve respect and admiration for their craft, sure, but so do all sorts of people. Fame itself is a vice, and a handicap; a careful-what-you-wish-for. Venerating fame is a sickness, and our society is terminally ill, while most of my favorite people toil away excellently in obscurity.
Anyways, you get the point. I’m not here to meditate on our collective obsession with gossip magazines. I’m here for Valerie June.
We met once, after a small show she performed at The Dock in Ithaca. She came out after the lights went up and stood by her merchandise table, where a line formed. Her hair was enormous and she was remarkably skinny. People came up to talk to her, and she talked to them. It was very sweet. Mostly though, people were talking at her, giving her their opinions on this or that, and I’m standing there thinking, “What are you telling Valerie June?!” So I got it in my head that instead I would just ask her for a hug, say thank you, then dip. This became the plan.
So I waited, and waited, and finally the last person left and she looked me right in the eyes. My mouth went instantly dry, as all my carefully cultivated opinions on fame shattered and rained down around me. I managed to ask her for a hug and, bless her, she gave me a good one. Then, having achieved my goal, I started to leave, and — she wanted to talk! She was asking me something or other, but at this point I was a robot working on its original line of programming: 1. Get hug 2. Say thank you 3. Leave. She’s being all fucking sweet and human and giving me this strange look as while she’s asking me something, I’m slowly backing away. I found myself saying “thank you, thank you” over and over again like a broken machine, while half-saluting her. Yeah, saluting her. Then I turned and lurched away.
So not my proudest moment. But I did get a hug from a talented and ethereally gorgeous woman. And I did get to eat crow and question my convictions, before having them reaffirmed in the best possible way. I’m sure it didn’t help me any that long before this encounter I had said out loud to friends (mostly joking) that I’d decided to swear off all other women and devote myself exclusively to her.
Don’t tell her that, okay? This has been embarrassing enough. But if you happen to run into her, maybe you could, I dunno, test the water a little for me?
I mean people are just people, right?
Even famous people?
“Well if you’re tired, and feeling so lonely…”
a Bob Dylan song