Thursday, September 28, 2006

Free Energy! Light Without Heat! Lifts And Separates! #4: “Let Me Tell You The Good Life”

When I think of Grandma Laura, my first
thoughts aren’t about the glowing bra or
the adventures she had with the Nazis.

My first thoughts of Grandma Laura always
are of her smiling. Smiling while we talked.
Smiling while she was on stage performing.

She never denied that bad things happen.
And she certainly didn’t smile talking
about the Nazis. Or about the wars.
But it was never long before a smile
returned to her face. And even singing
sad songs Grandma Laura always managed
to sing the song—to interpret the song,
to perform the song—in a way that left
the audience smiling, somehow happy.

And I think of the things Grandma Laura
specifically asked me to remember.

The night that Grandma Laura disappeared
seemed to me the same as many others.
We talked in her dressing room. She performed.
We talked later and then I went to sleep.
The next morning Grandma Laura was gone.
All her clothes and both suitcases were gone.
My dad swears he never heard her leaving.

Before Grandma Laura left, when we talked
in her dressing room, it was a talk that
she asked me to remember. She had changed
behind the screen. She came out in the bra
and a long green skirt. The bra was dark but
as she talked it warmed and started to glow.

“I want you to remember this,” she said.
“Will you try to remember what I say?”

I told her of course I would remember.

“Remember,” Grandma Laura repeated,
“that all the things in the modern world, now,
all the things that make today’s world modern,
existed way back, when I was your age.
Global commerce and communication,
global culture in art, architecture,
entertainment. And global politics.
All those things existed. But everything
was different. It was a different world then.
I mean before Nineteen Fourteen. Do you
know why that date’s special? Nineteen Fourteen?”

I didn’t. The only big date I knew
about the world was Nineteen Forty-One.
But I knew there was an earlier war.

I guessed, “Was that when World War One started?”

Grandma Laura nodded. “You’re very smart.
Before the Great War we had telegraphs
all over the globe. And every ocean
was crossed and re-crossed by giant liners.
Every major city had skyscrapers
that architects tried to make taller and
more beautiful than previous buildings.
Europe had the world’s first airline—zeppelins
carried passengers to all big cities.
All the things that make today’s world modern
existed way back, when I was your age.
But all the things were different in those days.
And I think that’s what the Great War really
was about. I don’t think it was about
Germany fighting the world. Or treaties.
Or any of that political stuff.
I think the Great War was about changing
the thinking behind the things in the world.
Changing hearts and minds behind the thinking.
I don’t think it was this country against
that country. I think the Great War, with its
new scale of killing, new technologies
of killing, new politics of killing,
wasn’t war in the human sense at all.
I think the Great War was monsters starting
to take the planet away from humans.
I don’t know if they’re what we Christians call
the Fallen Angels. Or what the Arabs
call Djinns. Or what science fiction people
call aliens from another planet.
But whatever they are they hate humans.
They use humans to spread death. And to change
this world from what it was in Nineteen Twelve
to what it is becoming here and now.
Things weren’t perfect when I was a kid.
It wasn’t Arcadia. There was grief
and sickness and injustice and madness.
But back then all things, even the bad things,
were human things. The world was a human
place. I’m going to tell you something dumb.
But it’s important. Do you understand
something can be dumb, but important, too?”

I wanted Grandma Laura to go on,
but I didn’t want to pretend with her.
I said I didn’t think I understood
how something dumb could be important, too.

Grandma Laura laughed. “That’s okay,” she said.
“Someday I believe you will understand.
When I was a kid—when I was your age—
we could take an elevator up to
the highest floor of a high skyscraper.
You could go to an office and open
the window. You could open the window
and breath fresh air and look straight at the world.
When you traveled by zeppelin the windows
in your cabin and in the lounge opened.
Traveling from Berlin to Paris you could
stand by the open window and look straight
at the world. You could breath fresh air. Windows
opened when I was a kid. You could breath
fresh air. You could look at the world without
inches of glass between you and the world.
It sounds dumb, but remember it. Monsters
don’t need fresh air. Monsters don’t need to see
things straight. There are a million differences
between the world that was and what is now.
Not just different things, but different thinking
behind things. And the hearts and minds behind
the thinking. Monster hearts and minds versus
human ones. Will you remember all that?”

I told Grandma Laura that I would try.
She smiled and rubbed my head. Her bra was bright.
She told me to come listen to her sing.

Even when she sang songs that sounded sad
the way she sang them somehow made you smile.

I’ll always remember Grandma Laura
smiling, making me smile, everyone smile.

She sang this song that night in her glowing bra.
It sounds sad, but at one point everyone
sang along. That was my Grandma Laura!

This is what Grandma Laura sang that night:

Let me tell you the good life
It’s been good to me
Let me tell you the great good life
It’s been good to me
I’m going down, down, down, down, down . . .
In a sea of happiness

Let me tell you the good life
It took it all out of me
Let me tell you the great good life
There’s nothing left of me
I’m going down, down, down, down, down . . .
In a sea of happiness.

I’m going down, down, down . . .
I’m going down, down, down . . .
I’m going down, down, down . . .
I’m going down, down, down . . .
In a sea of happiness—
I’m going down

Three little fishes
In an itty-bitty pool
Singing boop-boop,
Wannum, choo!
Three little fishes
And a Momma fishy, too
Singing boop-boop,
Wannum, choo!
“Swim!” aid the Momma fishy
“Fast as you can!”
And they swam and they swam
Right up over the dam!

But me, I’m going down, down, down . . .
I’m going down, down, down . . .
I’m going down, down, down . . .
I’m going down, down, down . . .
In a sea of happiness—
In a sea of happiness—
In a sea of happiness—
I’m going down

The End

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Free Energy! Light Without Heat! Lifts And Separates! #3: The Paperclip Nazis

“Only in Germany did they possess
the metals industries to fabricate
wire to our extreme specifications.
Only in Germany did they possess
chemicals industries to formulate
a fluid with the composition and
purity of its components our plans
required. We had to stay in Germany.

“Or abandon our work. Everyone felt
another war was coming. The Great War
had changed Europe. We feared that the next war
would change the world. If we did abandon
our research we feared that we could never
get an opportunity to resume.

“We felt—many people felt—horrible
changes coming. We hoped we could work fast.
We hoped to verify our theories and
construct prototypes before the next war.

“We worked fast. Made progress. But not enough.

“No matter what you might read nowadays
everyone recognized right at the start
the Nazis were evil. The White Rose group
framed all their dissent in religious terms.
For their insight they were all beheaded.
But everyone saw. Everyone, like us,
had their own reasons to stay, go along.

“Himmler himself oversaw all advanced
industrial research. But we believed
we were smart, thought we could fool the Nazis.
We thought we could show just enough progress
to continue getting resources but
withhold the foundations of our thinking.
Our reports and demonstrations were all
carefully planned. We believed we were smart.

“And for a very long while we were smart.

“We celebrated in late Forty-three.
Our experiments confirmed our theories.
Our final stage prototypes functioned well.
We contacted Allied agents. A deal
was worked out with the Americans. They
would extract us and much of our work. We
would help them develop infrastructure
to manufacture our technology.

“And we did get out. Of course Himmler still
had our reports and early prototypes
but without the knowledge inside our heads
there was no way for him to develop,
expand on and exploit what we had left.

“We felt smart, safe, successful. The Allies
were winning the war. We were in Detroit
surrounded by great industrialists
and research scientists. They understood
our theories, our prototypes. They began
the planning stages to start production.
We believed that we had fulfilled our dreams.

“We’d manipulated, fooled the Nazis.
It had never occurred to us there were
larger—almost incomprehensibly
larger—manipulations in motion
around us. We learned. Then we learned again.

“The Americans brought over von Braun.

“He was a Nazi scoundrel who didn’t
care about employing slave labor or
firing missiles at British civilians.
But von Braun was angry because Hitler
made him work on missiles and not spaceships.
The Americans promised they’d let him
work on spaceships so von Braun came over.

“But von Braun was trivial. He worked with
chemical engines. Chemical rockets.

“Why did the American make a deal
with this Nazi scum, we asked ourselves, when
America had fine chemists themselves?

“We didn’t answer that question. Not then.
We told ourselves the politics of war
must get so complicated that sometimes
individuals cannot understand
the decisions made by politicians.

“Then our world changed. Rather, something happened
which caused us to realize that the world
around us was much different than we thought.
Our world stayed the same. Our vision sharpened.

“The Americans brought over Kammler.

“Hans Kammler and his whole group. Kammler was
Himmler’s equal. Kammler had built the camps.
The slave camps. The death camps. Built and run them.

“The Americans brought over Kammler.

“Von Braun was a trivial scoundrel and
we could pretend we didn’t understand.

“But some things are so plain, bluntly evil
they can be understood regardless of
whatever complications surround them.

“The Americans brought over Kammler.

“It became clear to us, then, the Nazis
were not losing the war. We understood,
then, the Nazis were just being absorbed
into something larger. Something that could
deal with, give place to, pure human evil.

“So one by one we withdrew. Some retired.
Some went on vacation and stayed away.

“There were some individuals and groups
within the American government
as appalled as we were when the Nazis
regrouped and reappeared under new names
in the American business world and
in American academia
and even America’s politics.
These individuals and groups helped us.
They gave us what protection they could when
Kammler and his stooges tried to exact
revenge on us for leaving Germany.

“But we were done. And the Nazis were strong.
We had delivered our life’s work to them.
The very people we had escaped from.

“I slipped away, taking one prototype.

“Eventually the American
industrial base developed enough
to recreate our technology. But
they do not. At least not publicly. Why?

“I believe we were right many years back.
We were right when we feared that the next war
would destroy the world the way the Great War
destroyed Europe. The whole world was destroyed.

“Not the buildings and bridges and such stuff.
When that stuff’s destroyed it can be rebuilt.

“What we didn’t foresee—couldn’t have guessed—
was how a war could destroy ideas,
blast minds to wasteland, smash hearts to rubble.

“We were thinking of wires and chemicals.
We were thinking about things. It never
occurred to us that people who made war
simply didn’t give a damn about things.”

(Tomorrow: Free Energy! Light Without Heat! Lifts And Separates! #4: “Let Me Tell You The Good Life”)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Free Energy! Light Without Heat! Lifts And Separates! #2: How It Works

My grandmother often sang at the club
owned by my father’s aunt and her husband.
My dad’s aunt was Grandma Laura’s sister.
The club was a neighborhood supper club,
not a fancy night club. In the Sixties
and early Seventies most neighborhoods
had lots of little restaurants and lounges
with live music. It was mostly local
bands and performers. Local musicians
made a little money and customers
enjoyed live music. Later, however,
the so-called economies of DJs
playing tapes made such places history.
Customers made do with recorded songs.
Local musicians were left high and dry.

Before and after her performances
Grandma Laura spent hours talking to me.

Once when she’d been wearing the glowing bra
on stage, in the dressing room she changed clothes
behind a screen while I sat on a couch
by the make-up table performers used.
She changed into a black skirt and green blouse.
When she sat down at the make-up table
she was still carrying the glowing bra.

It still glowed in her hands but was fading.
Grandma Laura saw me staring. She smiled.
“What do you think of this garment?” she asked.

I told her my dad thought it was a trick.

She laughed, but it wasn’t a happy laugh.
“That’s my son,” she said. “But what do you think?”

I enjoyed talking to Grandma Laura.
She listened. She took me seriously.
Lots of adults don’t really talk to kids.

I picked my words carefully. “I don’t think
it’s a trick. I don’t think it’s real magic.
I think it’s something else. But I don’t know
what kind of thing it could possibly be.”

Grandma Laura laughed again, happy now.
She rubbed my head. “You’re my grandson alright!
It is not magic. It is not a trick.
This garment’s science and technology.”

She tossed the bra to me. “Feel it,” she said.
“Don’t be shy. Looks like fabric, doesn’t it?”

I nodded. “It looks like fabric,” I said.
“But it doesn’t feel right. It’s cold. It’s hard.”

“That’s right,” she said. “It’s not fabric at all.
It’s wires. It’s metal and stuff like metal.
It’s many different kinds of the thinnest,
most amazing wires ever created.”

I said, “The wire near the body’s different.”

“You have good eyes. All the wires are so thin
they are woven together just like thread.
But the wires against the skin are special.
They’re called composites and they don’t conduct
electricity. Shall I tell you how
the garment works, how it generates light?”

I frowned. “I don’t think I would understand.”

Grandma Laura frowned, also. “What you don’t
understand today, you might tomorrow.
Always learn whatever you can. Later
when you learn more everything might make sense.”

I nodded. “Okay. Tell me how it glows.”

I was still holding the bra. She pointed.
“Those thousands of wires are hollow,” she said.
And they are not just hollow. The thickness
of the open interior changes
in a very calculated manner.
A very special fluid circulates
inside the wires. Body heat makes it warm.
Convection currents make the fluid flow
through the changing inside diameters
of the wires. The patterns of the changes
make the fluid form vortices. Do you
know that word? Do you know what vortex means?”

I had read some science fiction story
where a giant whirlpool caused a ship to sink.
The writer called the whirlpool a vortex.
“Is a vortex something like a whirlpool?”

“Yes, you are my grandson,” she said, again.
“And yes, a vortex is like a whirlpool.
Inside the hollow wires the fluid spins,
and pressure makes it spin even faster.
The spinning and pressure become so strong
that a tiny percentage of atoms
can’t even exist in a normal state.
These atoms become particles we call
virtual state matter. Then they’re so strange
they pass right through the thinnest metal wires.
When they pass through the wires, two things happen.
The thin wires develop a potential.
That means if you connect the wire’s free ends
to some simple circuitry you can make
electricity. To run a motor.
Or radio. Or recharge batteries.
Anything. The second thing that happens
is the virtual particles quickly
lose energy and reconstitute as
mostly normal photons. Photons are light.
We see the photons then as shining light.”

No matter how hard I tried to picture
all that stuff I had no idea what
an atom was supposed to look like, or,
even worse, what virtual state matter
was supposed to look like. But I did own
a transistor radio and I knew
the batteries were always running down.
Grandma Laura said that the glowing bra
made electricity. I wondered if
it was like batteries. Did it run down?

“If someone puts this on,” I asked, “would it
glow forever? Would it ever run down?”

Grandma Laura raised an eyebrow. “That is
a very good question. And the answer
is no. Not forever. There’s no such thing
as a perpetual energy source.
But since the vortices break down atoms
even though there’s just a tiny amount
of fluid, there are a lot of atoms.
A lot in this case means a vast number.
Kept at body temperature that garment
would eventually break down enough
atoms so that vortices wouldn’t form.
But even if it glowed around the clock
it would glow for about three hundred years
before the vortices inside lost shape.”

I was still holding the bra. “Wow,” I said.

“Oh, yes,” Grandma Laura said, nodding. “Wow.
Just imagine shirts made with this technique.
Or jumpsuits. Or tents. Imagine panels
people could put on their roof in the sun.
Lingerie like that bra was just a lark,
a way to demonstrate the principle.”

Suddenly the bra in my hands felt like
handfuls of pure diamond or sheets of gold.
I very carefully put down the bra
on the table between us. I looked up.
“Is somebody going to make those things?
How come nobody’s ever heard of this?
Why does my dad think it’s some kind of trick?”

Grandma Laura let out a long, sad sigh.
She sat back in her chair. I never thought
of her as old. She was in perfect health.
Singing on stage she was as beautiful
as any of the young women singers.
But at that moment, when she sighed, sat back,
I realized this was my dad’s mother.
It occurred to me she must be about
seventy years old. Or even older.

But just as I was thinking about age,
Grandma Laura inhaled a long breath and
sat forward in her chair. She grinned at me.
When she grinned, she looked like she was glowing.

But she looked like she could glow forever.

(Tomorrow: Free Energy! Light Without Heat! Lifts And Separates! #3: The Paperclip Nazis)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Free Energy! Light Without Heat! Lifts And Separates! #1: Grandma Laura

I don’t even know if Grandma Laura
was a scientist or businesswoman.
Heck, I’d always thought she was a singer.
I think, however, even as a kid
I knew she had done some kind of spy stuff.

No one in the family talks much about
the family’s past. And no one talks at all
about Grandma Laura. But I miss her.

It wasn’t until I got to high school
that I connected her disappearance
to the whole glowing bra and spy business.
I guess I always just had imagined
she had gone off on a singing tour and
met and married a guy somewhere far off.

I’m still convinced today that whatever
caught up with her she would have seen coming.
She somehow would have got out of harm’s way.
I think she disappeared to stay safe, not
because the Paperclip Nazis got her.

After all, I know she didn’t create
what I as a child called the glowing bra—
what fringe-types call the Nazi vortex bra—
alone. In Germany there was a group
with contacts that helped her get to Detroit.

Talking to me, she just said she had ‘friends.’

When I learned they helped in her first escape
from the Paperclip Nazis I figured
they must be powerful friends. She even
stayed openly in Detroit after that,
even sometimes wore the bra while singing.

I have no idea who her friends were
or what kind of connections they maintained.
I wish they had been powerful enough
so she wouldn’t have had to disappear.

But she hasn’t disappeared from my mind.
In fact, she had specifically asked me
to remember some of the things she said.
And I’ll always remember what she said
about how the Nazi vortex bra worked.

(Tomorrow: Free Energy! Light Without Heat! Lifts And Separates! #2: How It Works)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Get Well Soon, Marianne Faithfull! #5: The Monkee And The Fox

Today is the final day of Get Well Soon, Marianne Faithfull! Week.

Today’s quote comes from a man whose songwriting and performances shaped my consciousness—for better and worse—far more than I’d normally admit.

And when this man did whatever it was he did that started MTV, he shaped the consciousness of the whole modern world—for better and worse.

But more importantly than this consciousness-shaping stuff, this man actually has met Marianne Faithfull.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mike Nesmith:

I was staying with John Lennon during the recording of the Sgt. Pepper album. He would come home and play the acetates from the day’s sessions. “What do you think of that sound? Do you think there’s too much bass on there?” And of course I just didn’t have any way to talk to him because he was just rearranging my musical realities at the time. I said, “This is just miraculous. This is some of the most innovative and creative and interesting stuff I’ve ever heard.” And he showed me a picture of the album cover. So when he said, “Do you want to come down and hang?” I was there. The only thing I can really remember about the sessions, however, was Marianne Faithfull—whoa. I thought, “This is the rock and roll mama of all time.” And I was unabashedly just stricken. She was with Jagger. When she wandered into the room, I thought, “Oh, this is what the fuss is all about.” She was some stone fox, I’ll tell you.


Marianne Faithfull, you stone fox, get well soon!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Get Well Soon, Marianne Faithfull! #4: The Twenty-Six Muscles Of The Human Face

Another Groupie Story
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Late one weekday after the young man had put in an eight hour day writing computer programs for an insurance company in downtown Chicago, he left work, tired, and boarded an elevated train. He took the train north to Lincoln Park where he lived, but he went one station past his normal stop. At the Belmont Avenue stop, the young man got off the train and his eyes were bright and his step was lively. He’d gotten on the train tired, but by the time he got off at the station past his normal stop, his energy had returned because he was going to a music store which was due to have gotten its first shipment of the new Steinberger guitar.

The young man walked into the music store. The first thing he did was thank the heavens no teenage kids were shopping for new amps and rattling the walls with grunge power chords or squealing heavy metal raunch. The young man waved to the sales clerk he’d talked to the week before. The sale clerk nodded, and pointed to a stool near the front of the store. The clerk reached down, and when he straightened up he was hold the most beautiful guitar the young man had ever seen.

The new Steinberger guitar was built after the same design as the famous Steinberger bass. A small, black rectangular composite body and a twenty-five inch, twenty-four fret neck. “Have a seat,” the clerk said. “I’ve got you set up by the Fender fifteen. Big enough?”

The young man shrugged. “I’d be happy to play it through a Pignose. The fifteen will be fine. Do you mind if I go to an alternate tuning? I like to play in fourths, but sometimes the sixth string breaks . . .”

“The tuner’s on the body,” the clerk said. “Go for it. I don’t think you’ll break these strings.”

“Got it,” the young man said. He sat down and looped the thin, light strap over his shoulder. He plugged in the guitar, switched on the amp and lightly hit a G-major 7th chord to test the tuning. He adjusted the volume on the amp so as not to shake the walls, and then struck more chords, working his way from low to high. He gently rotated the tuning knobs and brought the B-string up to C and the high E-string up to F. He played a harmonized scale, from low G-major 7th on the bass strings up to G-major 7th on the high strings.

The clerk listened to the young man tune up for a moment, then smiled. He patted the young man on the shoulder and told him to play as long as he wanted. “Just put the guitar on its stand when you’re done and switch off the amp.”

“I don’t get paid for a couple of weeks,” the young man said. “It’s going to take me a while to save for this. Today I’m just going for a test drive.”

“No problem,” the clerk said. The clerk left the young man alone and returned to his station behind the counter.

The young man turned slightly away from the showroom, turned slightly toward the amp so that his attention was completely focused on the guitar hanging just above his stomach. The high-tech, composite materials created a guitar that weighed only about seven pounds. With the strap supporting the instrument, after a moment the young man didn’t even feel a sensation of weight to the guitar. He only felt the absolutely flat, amazingly thin neck between the pad of his thumb and the tips the fingers of his left hand, and the strings under his thumb and three fingers of his right hand.

The young man played finger-style jazz, no pick, plucking chords like a small harp or single-finger runs of scales, arpeggios and melodies.

He was in love. He was just warming up and hadn’t yet played a song, but he loved the way the guitar looked. He loved the way the guitar felt. And he loved the effortless way the strings flexed under his fingers, stopped against the low frets and gave the pickups in the composite body an absolutely pure tone to put out.

The young man started playing with a pop jazz song called “Sweetheart,” by Ken Burgan. He’d heard it on a Maria Muldaur album and liked it so much that the next day he worked out the melody and a harmonization. Then he played a jazz version he’d worked out of the “Moon Flower” song Dorothy Lamour sings in “Road To Bali.” Then he played some BTO songs, a jazz version of “Not Fragile” and a simplified, one guitar version of his favorite BTO song, “Blue Collar.” He also played some songs that he wrote himself, but he was beginning to wonder just how long he could stay in the store without wearing out his welcome.

He played “Sweetheart,” one more time, putting more swing into it, letting the high notes tell the story of a girl working as a donut shop waitress in love with a customer who tells her his problems with the woman he’s in love with and then leaves the waitress to dream of him.

The young man stopped, then. He let out a long breath. He switched off the amp, then slipped out from under the guitar’s shoulder strap. Holding the light guitar in both hands, he looked at it, looked at it some more, then put it, gently, into its stand.

The young man stood up and turned around. And stopped where he stood before he’d even taken a step.

There was a teenage girl sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, staring at him.

She was wearing bell-bottomed jeans, which the young man hadn’t seen for about ten years, and she was wearing some kind of deep blue jacket that hugged the shape of her body. Her hair was light brown. She was sitting with her knees pulled up against her chest and her arms wrapped around her legs.

One time the young man had been walking home from work. It was early evening. He’d walked from Michigan Avenue to Oak Street and was walking west on Oak when he saw Pete Townsend walk into a ritzy club on Rush Street. An actual real-life gaggle of young man and women went in after Townsend. A smaller gaggle of gorgeous teenage girls too young to get in the club took up station outside, some sitting on the curb, some leaning against the front window.

The girl in front of the young man in the music store looked to him as if she were some kind of alchemical amalgam of all the most amazing features of those magical looking girls he’d seen following Pete Townsend. Only this girl wasn’t waiting around for a famous old Brit rock star. This girl was staring at him.

The young man took half a step forward.

The girl stood up. She stood up slowly, unwrapping her arms, first, from around her legs. Then she stretched out her legs and put her palms flat against the floor. She folded up her legs in a slightly different manner and pushed herself onto her heels. She stood up. When she was done she was quite a bit closer to the young man.

The young man took another half step forward. He very consciously didn’t clear his throat, but very consciously spoke clearly. “Hello,” he said.

The girl moved closer to the young man, but he didn’t see her feet move. He was staring at her face.

Artists who keep track of human anatomy say there are only twenty-six muscles that control all movement on a human face. They say only eleven of those muscles control all of our expressions. Those artists say there are only six basic expressions and they say expressions of happiness are only eight variations of one of those six basic expressions.

Those artists should have seen the face of that teenage girl standing in front of the young man in the music store.

Without actually moving her lips or her eyes or her eyebrows into anything the young man could have called a smile or any other particular expression, the girl’s face, in fact, seemed to be cycling through an infinite variety of expressions, all communicating pleasure, approval, desire.

Her face was like, the young man thought, George Harrison noodling about on a zither, exploring micro-tonal intervals around a pedal point. In the case of the girl’s face, the young man thought, the pedal point wasn’t a tone but rather something like a complex, repeated, melodic theme, a body message that had nothing to do with eleven or twenty-six muscles, nothing to do with six expressions or variations on them. The girl standing in front of him was using some kind of face magic to communicate the absolute and unmistakable message, “Kiss me. Kiss me right now.”

The young man had once thought long and hard about what makes rock and roll different from all other forms of expression. He’d decided it was about content, explicit and implicit. He’d decided rock and roll was about three things: desire, fulfillment and loss. Pop and jazz creations typically focused on one or sometimes two of the elements, but rock and roll dealt with all three. Sometimes one or another element would be alluded to rather than spelled out, but he’d decided that real rock and roll always includes those three elements.

Rock and roll was not, after all, about a woman who buys a stairway to heaven and lives happily ever after. Implicit in the content is that she will eventually find out the stairway doesn’t really go to heaven . . .

The young man liked jazz, but he liked jazz that stood shoulder to shoulder with rock and roll without getting munched up into what people called ‘fusion.’ He liked Zappa. He liked BTO.

The young man knew he wasn’t going to marry the teenage girl in front of him. But he also knew that teenage girls who sit on the floor of music stores watching guys play guitar don’t expect the guy playing guitar to marry them. The loss was implicit.

The young man felt as if the twenty-six muscles in his face had each called over five or six of their friends and now all the muscles were working together trying to tug back his lips into an idiotic grin. But he told himself, Be cool.

The girl’s face didn’t change. Or, rather, the girl’s face didn’t stop changing.

The young man leaned forward. He kissed the girl. She kissed him back.

Inside the young man’s head, Keith Moon kicked over his drum kit. John Entwistle stepped aside and stood watching. Pete Townsend shoved his guitar neck deep into an amplifier.

And the crowd went crazy.



Get well soon, Marianne Faithfull!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Get Well Soon, Marianne Faithfull! #3: The Architecture Of The Groupie Landscape

People who have never experienced the groupie dynamic typically imagine things like two fourteen year old girls wrestling in the doorway of Jimmy Page’s hotel room, pulling hair, scratching, kicking each other while Page lounges on the carpet watching, laughing.

But judging the groupie dynamic by scenes like this is as misguided as saying, for instance, that San Francisco is a city of ugly buildings because there are a lot of funky McDonald’s fast food restaurants there. The (so to speak) architecture of the groupie landscape is a panorama of skyscrapers and cottages, elegant spires and sprawling campuses, glass and steel, bricks and wood, an inspiring vista in all directions. And, unlike the self-similar fractal trivialities of the Mandelbrot set, where ever you look at the groupie landscape what you see is always uniquely beautiful, interesting and cool, never repeated regardless of what dimension you move your point-of-view through.

Music is less visual than painting, but the painting world participates in the same groupie dynamic as the music world. Here are some views—visual and textual—of part of the landscape. Quotes and images from Eyewitness Art: Manet.

Antonin Proust recalled walking with Manet when a woman carrying a guitar stepped out from a café: “Manet went up to her and asked her to come and pose for him. She went off laughing. ‘I’ll catch up with her again,’ cried Manet, ‘and if she still won’t pose, I’ve got Victorine.’”

Victorine Meurent was Manet’s favorite model. According to his friend Théodore Duret, Manet first met Victorine in 1862, “… by chance in a crowd in a room in the Palais de Justice [and] had been struck by her original and distinctive appearance.” She was then just 18 and had worked as a model in Thomas Couture’s studio, although by that time Manet had already left.

According to the writer, Tabarant, Meurent posed for Manet “with long intervening lapses, for she had a will of her own.” She went to America at the end of the 1860s, but returned to France in about 1872 and disappeared into oblivion.

Meurent was known as a “fantastic character” who played the guitar and who could also paint (she later exhibited in the 1876 Salon when Manet’s own works were rejected, and again in 1879). She was to enjoy a dubious kind of fame in her role as the naked courtesan ‘Olympia,’ and her grace under the pressure of the attention she received from the press, as Manet’s model, attests to her strength of character.

Isn’t it odd that the writer said Meurent “disappeared into oblivion” when, today, her face and body—and thanks to the skill of Manet, the object of her attention, something of her character and spirit—are viewed and admired, experienced, by thousands of people every day in museums around the world, in books around the world, on the internet around the world?

That’s a strange kind of oblivion.

It’s a timeless oblivion. A magical oblivion. It is an oblivion that is bright and warm under the strange sun of Magonia, a sun that illuminates a very interesting landscape. A wonderful landscape.


Get well soon, Marianne Faithfull!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Get Well Soon, Marianne Faithfull! #2: Groupie Totems, A Brief Introduction

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Mud sharks. Mars chocolate bars. Dental alginate. I’ve never before put up a post that required both a forward and an afterword, but I want to fit this topic into one day and maybe this topic should have a full week to itself.

This groupie story involves a groupie totem. It’s not a mud shark, like the one Frank Zappa sings about. It’s not a Mars bar, forever associated with Marianne Faithfull. And it’s not dental alginate, made famous by Cynthia and her friends. However a couple years after the totem in my story—a peasant blouse—changed my life, a musician named Dean Friedman gave the totem a song of its own. It’s my pick for the most romantic song ever written, and I’ll include the lyrics and a link in the afterword. Also in the afterword is a warning about groupie totems. They’re not always what they appear to be.

A Groupie Story
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The young man would remember forever that Cathy had been wearing a peasant blouse the first time he saw her. He never remembered if she’d been wearing jeans or a skirt, or if she had on shoes or sandals or was barefoot.

The young man had never before been away from home. He was on summer vacation between his freshman and sophomore years of high school. He was one of a few dozen high school students staying in a coed dorm at an Indiana college. Based on samples of their writing they had been selected to participate in a writers’ workshop at the college. He’d moved into his dorm room the day before the workshop started. Now it was afternoon, he was in the dorm’s student lounge and he had no scheduled activities until the workshop started the next day.

The young man looked around the lounge. There was a large, square, carpeted area in the middle, surrounded by a raised rectangle topped with yellow cushions. Around the room’s perimeter there were couches, chairs and study carrels with raised sides. With the undergrads home for the summer, the dorm housed only high school kids on campus for various workshops. Young men and women were scattered around the sides of the lounge as singles and couples, some reading, some talking.

There was only one person sitting in the center of the lounge. A young woman ignored the cushions and was sitting on the carpet and leaning back against the raised edge. She was writing in a spiral-bound notebook using a bright orange pen. She had brown hair that fell on one shoulder and she was wearing a peasant blouse that was slipping off her other shoulder.

The young man had never before been away from home. He had never been out on a date. He had played tennis with girls, but never, for instance, had lunch with a girl. He attended an all-boys, Catholic high school.

There is no conceivable mechanism in the known world to explain where the young man got the idea or the courage or the ability to do what he did next. His next action and its first sequel would be his first experiences of a larger, infinitely mysterious realm.

The young man walked into the center of the lounge. He sat down next to the young woman. For a moment, she finished writing whatever she was writing. Then she looked up. Her face was expressionless. Granite.

The young man said, “Hi. My name’s Mark. I’m here for the writers’ workshop. Are you with the writers or one of the other groups?”

She could have ignored him and gone back to her writing.

She could have told him she was busy.

She could have gotten up and walked away.

But she smiled. She told the young man that her name was Cathy and she was also there for the writers’ workshop.

And then came the first sequel, which propelled the two young people out of our world and into the embracing otherness of Magonia.

“I’ve got to say something,” the young man said. “I’m sitting here looking at you and you are fully dressed. But in some way that I can’t put into words it’s as if you’re naked. I’m looking at you and you’re fully dressed but it’s as if your clothes aren’t there and I’m seeing your whole body. I have no idea what this means or why I’m saying it.”

She could have gotten up and walked away.

She could have furrowed her brows and returned her attention to her writing and ignored him.

She could have called over the dorm monitor and complained about the young man.

But she smiled. Cathy said, “It’s funny you should say that because at home I never wear clothes. At home I’m always naked. I love being naked. I love eating breakfast with no clothes on or just sitting around the house reading a newspaper with no clothes on. It feels so free. I drive my parents crazy. I guess when I have clothes on my body still reacts as if I didn’t. I guess you can tell from looking at me I wish I didn’t have clothes on. That’s so cool. No one’s ever said that to me before. You must be a really good writer.”

You must be a really good writer.

The young man was gone, then.

For thousands of years, the human race has passed along stories of men and women being taken off to fairyland, to Magonia. Some never to return. The whole La Belle Dame Sans Merci mythos is built around a dark interpretation of this. Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite story—which he was never to film—was ‘Mary Rose,’ about a woman who disappeared to Elfland and had a less dark conclusion than Keats gave to his re-tellings. Oddly, there are few emergent tales in this mythos which have a classic, happy ending.

The young man was gone. Taken away. He would sometimes come back, but he would never stay. He didn’t experience a classic, happy ending with Cathy. But every one of the many adventures they did have ended happily.

The End

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

In 1977, just a year or two after the events in my story took place, Dean Friedman wrote the most romantic song ever written. It’s a song about his experiences with a woman in a peasant blouse. I don’t know if he took the name of the woman from real life, but, perfectly, it is a name from Elfland:


Way on the other side of the Hudson,
Deep in the bosom of suburbia,
I met a young girl, she sang mighty fine,
‘Tears on My Pillow’ and ‘Ave Maria.’

Standing by the waterfall in Paramus Park,
She was working for the Friends-of-BAI.
She was collecting quarters in a paper cup.
She was looking for change and so was I.

She was a Jewish girl. I fell in love with her.
She wrote her number on the back of my hand.
I called her up. I was all out of breath. I said,
“Come hear me play in my rock and roll band”

I took a shower and I put on my best blue jeans.
I picked her up in my new VW van.
She wore a peasant blouse with nothing underneath.
I said, “Hi!” She said, “Yeah, I guess I am”

Ar-i-el. Ar-i-el . . .

We had a little time. We were real hungry.
We went to Dairy Queen for something to eat.
She had some onion rings. She had a pickle.
She forgot to tell me that she didn't eat meat.

I had a gig in the American Legion Hall.
It was a dance for the Volunteer Ambulance Corp.
She was sitting in a corner against the wall.
She would smile and I melted all over the floor.

Ar-i-el. Ar-i-el . . .

I took her home with me. We watched some TV,
Annette Funicello and some guy going steady.
I started fooling around with the vertical hold.
We got the munchies and I made some spaghetti.

We sat and we talked into the night.
While channel 2 was signing off the air
I found the softness of her mouth.
We made love to bombs bursting in—

Ar-i-el. Ar-i-el . . .


A Warning About Groupie Totems: Something like 130 years ago, a French writer, Maxime du Camp, anticipated a problem that would come to plague the entire Western world when, commenting about Paris at the end of the nineteenth century, du Camp wrote, “One does not know nowadays if it’s honest women who are dressed like whores or whores who are dressed like honest women.” It’s like that, too, with groupie totems. Their only power comes from the groupie dynamic, from the coming together of a groupie and the object of the groupie’s attention. But lots of non-groupies for reasons of their own take on groupie totem affectations. Groupie totems can be seductive to non-groupies. Appearances can be deceiving. But the groupie dynamic never lies. And there are almost always clues. Sometime humorous ones. For instance, some groupies enjoy low-rise jeans. When non-groupies wear low-rise jeans, they almost always reach down every thirty seconds or so and tug up on them. Beware. That’s a sign. Some groupies enjoy low-cut shirts. When non-groupies wear low-cut shirts, they almost always reach down every thirty seconds or so and tug up on them. That’s a sign, too. Beware. There are real groupies and there are people who fuss with groupie totems as if the groupie dynamic were a kit you could buy from one of those TV shop-at-home-networks. It isn’t. The real deal is real magic.


Get well soon, Marianne Faithfull!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Get Well Soon, Marianne Faithfull! #1: A Groupie Metaphysics

This week is Get Well Soon, Marianne Faithfull! Week.

I’m going to have a couple of stories about groupies, and a couple of quotes about groupies.

People who have never experienced the groupie dynamic might be wondering if there is a reasonable connection between the Goblin Universe and groupies in general, or Marianne Faithfull in particular. I think there are (at least) two.

First, many new age people believe that when a person is sick or in trouble, they can be helped by having other people think positive thoughts directed at them. This week will be a simple, practical application of that idea, to help a very cool woman who is sick. The Goblin Universe is all about associative, acausal happenings.

Second, groupies are magic incarnate, they are the hypostasis of rock and roll. The coming together of a groupie and the object of the groupie’s attention is Magonia made manifest. It is Magonia, but it is the opposite of what Keats wrote about in “Lamia.” [Lamia pt. 1, Lamia pt. 2] This is the essence of Goblin Studies.

I start today with a quote that is not exactly about groupies, but rather is about the kind of magic this week will be exploring and celebrating. I’ve added emphasis to one paragraph:

In fact, thought Arthur as he looked about, the upper room was at least reasonably wonderful anyway. It was simply decorated, furnished with things made out of cushions and also a stereo set with speakers which would have impressed the guys who put up Stonehenge.

There were flowers which were pale and pictures which were interesting.

There was a sort of gallery structure in the roof space which held a bed and also a bathroom which, Fenchurch explained, you could actually swing a cat in, “But,” she added, “only if it was a reasonably patient cat and didn’t mind a few nasty cracks about the head. So. Here you are.”


They looked at each other for a moment.

The moment became a longer moment, and suddenly it was a very long moment, so long one could hardly tell where all the time was coming from.

For Arthur, who could usually contrive to feel self-conscious if left alone for long enough with a Swiss cheese plant, the moment was one of sustained revelation. He felt on the sudden like a cramped and zoo-born animal who wakes one morning to find the door to his cage hanging quietly open and the savanna stretching gray and pink to the distant rising sun, while all around new sounds are waking.

He wondered what the new sounds were as he gazed at her openly wondering face and her eyes that smiled with shared surprise.

He hadn’t realized that life speaks with a voice to you, a voice that brings you answers to the questions you continually ask of it, had never consciously detected it or recognized its tones until it now said something it had never said to him before, which was “yes.”

Fenchurch dropped her eyes away at last, with a tiny shake of her head.

“I know,” she said. “I shall have to remember,” she added, “that you are the sort of person who cannot hold on to a simple piece of paper for two minutes without winning a raffle with it.”

She turned away.

“Let’s go for a walk,” she said quickly. “Hyde Park. I’ll change into something less suitable.”

She was dressed in a rather severe dark dress, not a particularly shapely one, and it didn’t really suit her.

“I wear it specially for my cello teacher,” she said. “He’s a nice old boy, but I sometimes think all that bowing gets him a bit excited. I’ll be down in a moment.”

She ran lightly up the steps to the gallery above, and called down, “Put the bottle in the fridge for later.”

He noticed as he slipped the champagne bottle into the door that it had an identical twin to sit next to.

He walked over to the window and looked out. He turned and started to look at her records. From above he heard the rustle of her dress fall to the ground. He talked to himself about the sort of person he was. He told himself very firmly that for this moment at least he would keep his eyes very firmly and steadfastly locked on to the spines of her records, read the titles, nod appreciatively, count the blasted things if he had to. He would keep his head down.

This he completely, utterly, and abjectly failed to do.

She was staring down at him with such intensity that she seemed hardly to notice that he was looking up at her. Then suddenly she shook her head, dropped the light sundress down over herself and disappeared quickly into the bathroom.

She emerged a moment later, all smiles and with a sun hat, and came tripping down the steps with extraordinary lightness. It was a strange kind of dancing motion she had. She saw that he noticed it and put her head slightly on one side.

“Like it?” she said.

“You look gorgeous,” he said simply, because she did.

“Hmmm,” she said, as if he hadn’t really answered her question.

Douglas Adams
So Long And Thanks For All The Fish

Get well soon, Marianne Faithfull!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Dirty Laundry In Cézanne’s Country #4: The Reply

Taking short, half-steps, Letty moved closer
to the path, to the strange pattern of clothes.
She moved her right foot, stared down, then brought up
her left foot. When she got back to the path,
she leaned forward with both hands on her thighs.
She studied how her roughly folded skirts
seemed to be nearly perfect triangles.

She took a step to her right and her toe
brushed against one of the balled-up stockings.
The stockings, that looked like a dot, were knocked
from their place in the pattern. The stockings
rolled down the path. They stopped by the basket.

When she accidentally kicked the socks,
Letty almost screamed. She looked left and right,
as if afraid someone might have seen her.

When the socks stopped by the up-turned basket,
Letty straightened up. Her lips were pulled down
in a deep frown. What’s wrong with me? she thought.
Look at me! Frightened of the dirty clothes!
I’m acting like— She stopped. Took a deep breath.

I’m acting like a little girl, she thought.

And then Letty smiled. She looked left and right,
as if she wanted to show off her smile.
But she was smiling for just trees and flowers.

Letty spoke, looking down at the laundry.
“I am not a little girl,” Letty said.

Taking aim, she kicked a skirt triangle.
The skirt tumbled, raising a little dust.
The triangle unfolded and the skirt
came to rest by the upside-down basket.

“I’m a grown woman,” Letty continued.

She kicked the nearest shirt, kicked it again
to bunch it up, then gave it a hard kick
to send it flying, too, by the basket.

“I came out here to wash clothes,” Letty said.

She kicked the rest of the balled up stockings
down the path and over to the basket.

She laughed as she ran back to what was left
of the strange pattern. “It doesn’t matter
if the clothes get more dirty,” Letty said.

Like a soccer player with cheering fans,
Letty kicked all of her skirts down the path.

“The clothes can get as dirty as they want
because I’m going to do the laundry.”

Letty kicked the remaining pants and shirts
to the basket. Breathing heavy, face flushed,
eyes bright, Letty tipped over the basket.
She kneeled down next to it and, piece by piece,
shook dust, dirt and leaves off the clothing and
put the dirty clothes back in the basket.

She stood up still smiling, took a deep breath,
and hefted the heavy laundry basket
up to her chest. She started down the path.

In the east, just visible through the trees,
the top of Mont Sainte-Victoire was shining
in the afternoon sunlight. But Letty
didn’t see it because she was walking
in the other direction with the clothes.
Most of the light shining on her was from
the sun overhead through shifting shadows
of tree leaves. But some light shining on her
was reflected light from Cézanne’s mountain.
Made of light and reflected light, Letty
walked off down the path to do her laundry.


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Dirty Laundry In Cézanne’s Country #3: The Message

Letty stumbled off the path but managed
to grab the trunk of a sycamore tree
before she fell. Heart pounding in her chest,
she said, aloud, “Thank God I didn’t break
a leg!” But then she thought of the laundry.
The clothes had scattered out of the basket
and the basket was up-turned on the path.

Oh, Letty thought, the clothes will get filthy.
Then she laughed at herself. So what? she thought.
They’re on the way to the washer-dryer . . .

Looking back at the path, Letty could see
the clothing spread out between where she’d tripped
and where the basket now was upside down.
Shifts of afternoon sunlight angled down
through the tall sycamores. The scattered clothes
seemed to glow in the shimmering sunlight.

Doesn’t look like they’re dirty, Letty thought.

Checking the ground in front of her, Letty
took a couple of steps back toward the path.

Looking up, closer to the path, Letty
gasped. In the golden sunlight, flickering
with reflected green from overhead leaves,
Letty saw that the clothing had fallen
and scattered not randomly but rather
somehow had fallen into a pattern.
A convoluted pattern of circles
and lines, some inter-linked, some tangent, some
crossing over and under each other.

Letty took a step sideways, studying.

It was just pants and shirts, skirts and blouses,
briefs, brassieres and socks. But they had fallen
with sleeves and pant legs forming lines, some curved
into rough circles. Other skirts and shirts
were folded into solid triangles
directly on the edge of some circles.
Some stockings had fallen end-to-end and
now connected the circles of clothing.
Some stockings were crumpled like little balls
and looked like dots in and out of circles.

“What the hell?” Letty asked, aloud. “It looks
like one of those patterns you see in crops . . .”

Letty thought, What the hell? She carefully
stepped over the path where she had tripped and
walked a complete circuit around the clothes.

She looked around, as if someone might be
hiding in the garden playing a trick.
She was alone with trees and potted flowers.

Letty stared. She thought, again, What the hell?

Letty thought, I’ve got to get some pictures.
She took one step back toward the house, then stopped.

She turned back to the strange pattern of clothes.
Wait, she thought. What’s going to happen here?

Regardless of whatever’s going on,
what’s going to happen next? If I take
pictures, even if I only show them
to Matt, everyone will hear about this.
Matt gabs. Matt tells everyone everything.
Even if most people don’t believe it,
some will. Heck, every summer we get folks
trekking through here thinking they are walking
in the footsteps of Mary Magdalene
because they believe she came to Marseille
at some point after the crucifixion.
If folks start talking about crop circles—
even weird ones made out of dropped clothing—
we’ll get those new age-Stonehenge-Druid types
coming around here. Not just around here.
But here. This cottage. This garden. This path.

This cottage is about the only place
Matt and I ever have relaxed, switched off,
just enjoyed being alone together.

In Paris photographers are always
bugging us because of who I am, and
back in the States Matt’s always jumping from
one media project to another.

The weeks we spend out here at the cottage
are the only times we have for ourselves,
just to walk up and be tourists in Aix
or down for a peaceful meal in Gardanne.

Letty took a step backward. Another.
She leaned back against a sycamore tree.
She stared at the clothes still bright in sunlight.

She spoke aloud. “Why did you happen here?
Why to me? What the hell should I do now?”

(Tomorrow: Dirty Laundry In Cézanne’s Country #4: The Reply)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Dirty Laundry In Cézanne’s Country #2: The Woman In The Garden

As Letty walked slowly and carefully
through the garden—depending on weather,
sometimes stonework would sink down or lift up—
she remembered once when Matt made her mad,
but even that moment had ended when
he tripped her up with a single comment.

They were in Toronto. He bought his clothes
from the Tilley Endurables main store
and she’d come along to help pick his stuff.
She said she’d never wear such clothing but
for fun she tried on a skirt and top and
liked them so much she bought them for herself.

That started what she called her Matt wardrobe.
She couldn’t believe she liked the clothing.
She was almost never surprised about
clothing and she blamed this surprise on Matt.
Outside the store, she kissed Matt and whispered,
“You make me feel like I’m a teenage girl.”

Matt hugged her and she realized he thought
that was a compliment. She pushed him back,
poking his chest with an index finger.

“I am not a teenage girl,” she told him.
“I have a son at boarding school. I make
hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
And you make me feel like a teenage girl.
You know: Clueless. At sea. Confused. Helpless.
Lost. Stuck. Desperate. Sinking. Sunk. Dependent.
No one wants to feel like a teenage girl.”

Matt forced himself not to smile. She could tell.
She wanted to punch him. But then he said,
“Being a teenage girl sounds exactly
like what it’s like being a teenage boy.”

That stopped Letty. She felt her eyes widen.
She felt: Clueless. At sea. Confused. Helpless.
Lost. Stuck. Desperate. Sinking. Sunk. Dependent.

She had always thought of men as having
the answers. Hell, of being the answers.
Simply, it had never occurred to her
that men moved through the same forest of doubts
as women. And that teenage boys lived through
the same tribulations as teenage girls.
She tried to speak but her lungs were breathless.

Matt hugged her. He kissed her with his arms tight.
“I’m sorry,” Matt said. “I say the wrong thing
all the time. Why do you put up with me?”

And then, of course, Letty wanted to cry.
So she just shut up and leaned against Matt.

That was when she first told him she loved him.
She was more surprised when she said the words
than she’d been when she’d admitted she liked
the silly Tilley Endurables clothes.
But she was too numb to feel angry. But
she felt so much like a teenage girl that
she wondered if she would ever grow up.

And now, Letty wondered, how many times
have I washed the clothing we bought that day?
How often have I carried this basket
to the washer-dryer in the garage?
How many times have I walked this pathway—

Under a patch of dry, brown leaves, her toe
struck the edge of a raised piece of flagstone.
Letty tripped. The heavy basket pulled her
forward and off balance. Letty screamed and
let the laundry basket fly from her hands.
She staggered, trying to get her footing
before she fell face first against the stones.

(Tomorrow: Dirty Laundry In Cézanne’s Country 3: The Message)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Dirty Laundry In Cézanne’s Country #1: The Garden

Laetitia kicked open the screen door and
stepped out into the garden. The screen door
slapped closed against the house. Laetitia leaned
back against the door. The laundry basket
in her arms was heavy with seven days
of clothing in it, hers and also Matt’s.
Laetitia caught her breath, bracing herself
to carry the laundry to the garage.

Her Paris friends, she thought, wouldn’t believe
she’d ever fit seven days of her clothes
in one basket, let alone her boyfriend’s.
Then she caught herself. Was Matt her boyfriend?

I’m living with him. Doing his laundry.
Lugging it like a wench through his garden.
Isn’t that what girls do for their boyfriends?
And look at this garden I put up with . . .

When Matt first purchased and renovated
the dilapidated cottage, Letty
asked a landscape designer from Paris
to look at photos and sketch a garden.
She’d shown Matt the beautiful layouts but
Matt ignored the plans for daffodil beds,
round tulip islands and iris borders.
Instead he removed all the plants and laid
decorative stonework over the bare earth
accenting the sycamore tree borders
and showcasing the ancient olive trees
and two pistachio trees on the grounds.
Then, salvaging plain, terra cotta pots,
Matt laid out almost two dozen zinnias
and marigolds along the garden paths.

Zinnias, Letty thought. She sighed. Marigolds.
American plants. Run-of-the-mill plants.

Of course, they did look pretty set against
the muted, reddish soil. Especially
the zinnias. Matt staggered their planting times
so some were always blooming all summer.

When a drawing Matt did of her appeared
in fashion magazines around the world,
her light skin against the dark ground, red hair
glistening with multi-colored zinnias
shimmering behind her, Letty received
more compliments for that drawing than from
the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue
she appeared in that month. She sigh again.

She wanted to miss what-could-have-been, with
daffodils and tulips and irises
but the simple flowers, American flowers,
set against bare earth and fancy stonework
had a kind of strange, magical beauty.
She didn’t miss what-could-have-been, rather
the garden simply made her think of Matt
and then every stone, tree, flower seemed perfect.

It kind of made her angry, too, that she
couldn’t miss what she wanted to miss and
couldn’t get angry that Matt hadn’t used
the fancy sketch her designer friend made.

She always thought one of the main reasons
you even have a boyfriend is because
you could be mad at him for everything.
But with Matt nothing ever made her mad.

She frowned, but it seemed so stupid trying
to get mad because she couldn’t get mad
that she decided she’d better just go
do the laundry before she went insane.

Letty took a deep breath with the laundry
in her arms. She walked into the garden.

(Tomorrow: Dirty Laundry In Cézanne’s Country #2: The Woman In The Garden)

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Weird Fact And The Big Romance

[Wayne] Thiebaud’s painting implies—in its evident sources, in its immanent effects—that a crucial American tradition in art is the eccentric empirical tradition, a tradition that begins at the beginning of American art with Audubon and weaves in and out of the conventional boundaries of illustration and commerce and high art and low, taking in at once “naive” artists like the simple fruit painters of the nineteenth century, illustrators such as N. C. Wyeth, forgotten painters like Selden Gile, and more acknowledged (if hard to place) masters like Stetteheimer and Cornell and Oldenburg and Steinberg. (Thiebaud himself might throw de Kooning and Johns in there, too, as more eccentric than we allow.) The elements of this eccentric empirical tradition, which prefers the Weird Fact to the Big Romance, are complicated, but its shared traits are evident. There is, first, a love of craft, though this need not be craft in the obvious sense, of skill at depicting the way things look. (Though for Thiebaud himself, of course, this is of great consequence.) It may involve craft in the other sense; the belief that artists should be quietly crafty—shrewd, able to calculate their effects, and create something that may seem naive and merely assembled, but that is in fact composed and knowing. This craftiness, whether that of Cornell making his boxes or of Ryder among his potions and lacquers painting his nocturnes, is a bedrock principle of the eccentric empirical.

Next, the subject of and materials of the American eccentric empirical must usually be ordinary experience, just what there is and recorded for its own sake—not, as Audubon puts it, at the service of a sublime system, but at liberty, dispersed. It involves a readiness to, in Johns’s famous words, take something and do something to it (and then do something else to it, the part that gets forgotten), which in turn involves a pragmatic willingness to see the world is just things, and more things, and still more things, and that’s enough. You love the things for their thingness, not in spite of it. And this acceptance of the world-as-things is tied to an urge to find some style so conventionally inexpressive that you can make it completely yours. Art can shade over, in the eccentric empirical tradition, into scientific description or ornithological illustration or found objects or commercial art or technical drawing or even into the forms of window display, and benefit from the shading over. There is, within this tradition and evident in Thiebaud, a belief that real feeling will come from its suppression within a system of design. It is not sublimation or understatement, but a soulfulness that comes from having a lot invested in the “wrong,” or at least the unconventional, object. It is a tradition whose sign is the dumb thing transformed through the loving acceptance of its dumbness. This acceptance is rooted, in turn, in the belief that, as Bud Abbot puts it somewhere about his partner, nothing and nobody’s that dumb. That the eccentric empirical is hardly the whole or even the very best of our tradition—it excludes the self-made Grand Mannerists, from Sargent through Serra—is obvious. But, like the equivalent tradition in our literature that gave us A. J. Liebling and Fisher, it is a sideshow often better than the big top . . .

Adam Gopnik
writing in, “Wayne Thiebaud: A Paintings Retrospective

Friday, September 08, 2006

Joni Mitchell And King George #2: An Epistemology Of Empowerment

No one much listens to King George these days

but back in the 70s she put out

two albums that many people include

as possible best-album-of-all-times:

“For the Roses” and also “Court And Spark.”

Songs aren’t alive, not like humans or

hierarchies, but songs somehow persist.

If corporations for some reason stopped

releasing her DVDs and removed

her MP3 download files from on-line

the songs of King George would not disappear.

Having heard her, I can grab my guitar

and strum and sing a big-note, easy-play

harmonization that is all mine of,

for instance, “Cold Blue Steel And Sweet Fire,” or

“People’s Parties.” Having heard is knowing.

Listening to is like ambrosia to things

we hear. Knowing is lifetime admission

to a bandshell with perfect acoustics.

No one much listens to King George these days

but to my ears all the songs of King George

are worth hearing. Especially these days.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Joni Mitchell And King George #1: The War On Terror

Joni Mitchell was the king of England

who was later known as Mad King Joni.

English settlers in North America

rebelled to replace Mad King Joni’s rule

with a hierarchy embodied in

a legislature, judiciary

and presidency. Mad King Joni died.

All humans die, even empowered ones.

Prometheus gave fire, not ambrosia.

The hierarchy that took the place of

England’s Mad King Joni is still alive.

Hierarchies get to drink ambrosia.

Also alive is the dichotomy

of empowered humans and hierarchies.

The non-West world empowers humans and

the West empowers its hierarchies.

Hierarchies always pump up the noise

when madness takes an empowered human.

That stuff makes the hierarchies look good.

Of course, the hierarchy that replaced

England’s Mad King Joni may be mad, too—

the legislature, judiciary

and presidency obsess on parties—

but the hierarchy isn’t aging

and the hierarchy will not die soon.

Hierarchies get to drink ambrosia.

(Tomorrow: Joni Mitchell And King George #2: An Epistemology Of Empowerment)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Cordon Sanitaire

So how much myth is good for us? And how can we measure the dosage? Should we avoid the stuff altogether for fear of contamination or dismiss it out of hand as sinister and irrational esoterica that belong only in the unsavory margins of “real” (to wit, our own) history? Or do we have to ensure that a cordon sanitaire of protective irony is always securely in place when discussing such matters? Should certifications of ideological purity be published attesting under oath that we are not doing dirty business with the Devil under the pretense of learned work, to pre-empt a working-over from Arthur Danto or Carlo Ginzburg?

The real problem—what we might call the Kiefer syndrome—is whether it is possible to take myth seriously on its own terms, and to respect its coherence and complexity, without becoming morally blinded by its poetic power. This is only a variation, after all, of the habitual and insoluble dilemma of the anthropologist (or for that matter the historian, though not many of us like to own up to it): of how to reproduce the “other,” separated from us by space, time, or cultural customs, without either losing ourselves altogether in total immersion or else rendering the subject “safe” by the usual eviscerations of Western empirical analysis.

Of one thing at least I am certain: that not to take myth seriously in the life of an ostensibly “disenchanted” culture like our own is actually to impoverish our understanding of our shared world. And it is also to concede the subject by default to those who have no critical distance from it at all, who apprehend myth not as a historical phenomenon but as an unchallengeable perennial mystery. As the great Talmudist Saul Lieberman said when he introduced Gershom Scholem’s lectures on the Kabbalah that became Major Trends In Jewish Mysticism: “Nonsense (when all is said and done) is still nonsense. But the study of nonsense, that is science.”

Simon Schama
Landscape and Memory

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Fons Et Origo

Eakins’s painting [William Rush Carving His Allegorical Figure Of The Schuylkill River] is not the only instance of a meaningful discrepancy between a model and its ostensible object. Twenty years before, Gustave Courbet’s Painter’s Studio had marked a much more startling difference between the standing nude and the work of art in progress. In a brilliant reading, to which this whole line of discussion is indebted, Michael Fried responds to the assumption that the nude is not, after all, in the painting by insisting that, in fact, she is. Once seen, it is impossible to miss the relationship between the river water, issuing from the grotto in Courbet’s painting, and the cloth falling down the model’s body and, as we must say, cascading into the pool of her dress. As Fried notes, the flow is not necessarily in one direction. It works as well moving from painting to model to drapery, and perhaps spilling out from the whole picture space into the lap of the beholder. But equally it is possible to paddle one’s gaze upstream, fighting the current, into the heart of the painting’s painting, toward the dark, rocky crevice at its center.

All this becomes more compelling when set against Courbet’s passion for anthropomorphic landscape. In the 1860s he painted a series of views of water-caves, all sited in his native region of the Franche-Comté. At the center of each is a dark opening from which the waters of the river Loue or the Puits Noir flow back and forth. And it doesn’t take a feverishly Freudian imagination to see them as vaginal orifices in the face of the rock, especially when, at about the same time, Courbet also produced at least one explicit painting of female pudenda, for the Turkish collector of erotica Khalil Bey. The artist gave it the title of The Origin Of The World. And if we are indeed meant to think of the water-caves of the Franche-Comté as a site of native origins—geological and prehistoric—it may be said that Courbet was indeed returning very far upstream.

Is this where we have arrived, then, in the middle of the industrial-imperial century, back in the Renaissance river grottoes, the dimly glowing fons et origo, where the secret of creation was promised in a fusion of wisdom and love?

Simon Schama
Landscape and Memory

Monday, September 04, 2006

Et In Arcadia Ego

The first time I encountered the phrase was not in a pastoral painting or poem, but as an object in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. It was inscribed across the pate of the skull that sat in ostentatious splendor in Charles Ryder’s Oxford rooms. When the great art historian Erwin Panofsky came to write his article on the two meanings of the classical motto, he congratulated Waugh for both grasping and exploiting its ambiguity. For who, exactly, was the “I” in “And I too was in Arcady”? Read innocently, the tomb inscription discovered by Poussin’s shepherds seems to be a wistful epitaph for a pastoral idyll enjoyed and then lost. The monstrous skull in Guercino’s earlier version, though, was unequivocal in its declaration that “even in Arcady, I, Death, am present.” The cunning of Waugh’s conceit is to lure the reader into assuming that Ryder’s revisitation of Brideshead speaks an elegy for a golden age when in fact it turns into a long graveside oration for the death of faith, love, dynasty, England itself.

Simon Schama
Landscape and Memory

Friday, September 01, 2006

Parking Lots At Night #4: The Next Day

I wanted to drive Shelby directly
to an emergency room for her cuts
but she wouldn’t even consider it,
so I took her back to my apartment.

Shelby took a hot shower. I dried her.
The long, deep, jagged cuts on her shoulders
and the back of her legs were still bleeding.
I covered them with gauze and bandages.
We hardly talked. She curled up next to me
in my bed. We fell asleep instantly.

The next day we woke up sometime past noon.
I checked Shelby’s cuts. The bleeding had stopped.
After getting dressed and eating breakfast
we both came up with the same idea.

In the bright afternoon sunlight we drove
back to the parking lot. We didn’t leave
the car. We checked out things through the windows.

There were no blood stains on the black asphalt.
The fabric and string lingerie was not
along the curb were we had seen it last
and we didn’t find it anywhere else
the wind might have blown it. We returned home.

Shelby healed quickly but she still has scars.
They’re not shaped exactly like teeth marks and
they’re not shaped exactly like claw marks but
they’re shaped as if something fierce had bitten
and clawed her skin simultaneously.

And of course even after all this time
we always think twice about parking lots.

Early in the day, if the sun is bright,
if there’s a concrete sidewalk near a slot,
we’ll sometimes park in a lot. Only if
we’re damn sure we’ll be out before sundown.

We do not mess with parking lots at night.

We don’t even tempt whatever’s out there.
Whatever it is, whatever it wants,
it is out there in parking lots at night.

We do not mess with parking lots at night.

The End