Thursday, October 23, 2003

Sometimes, it's like this: just when you're ready to haul yourself back onto the horse, you get another kick in the head. Elliott Smith is dead, of course, and (hell) I know this isn't about me... but it is about all of us, perhaps.

Anyway, here's an article that kind of does the whole thing justice, since it was written well before his death. I'm in no mood, quite honestly, to read -- or to write -- heartfelt obituaries. Or lengthy ruminations on mental illness and addiction, for that matter. So let's leave it at that.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Such a long gap is unforgivable.

In my (weak) defence, I recently spent time in the two places most of us wish to avoid: first hospital, then jail.

I knew I'd named this blog well.

New updates very soon (annoying cryptic hints notwithstanding), and apologies to any readers who had assumed I'd pulled a Marcello or something (I am genuinely in mourning over the logically understandable, objectively upbeat yet subjectively lamentable demise of the brilliant Church of Me).

Thursday, September 18, 2003

No updates lately. Damn life getting in the way of blogging.

Of course, I didn't miss the passing from our crazy world of Mister John R. Cash. PopMatters ran a number of tributes, one of which was mine. Nothing elaborate or over-polished, or even particularly well-written, just a straightforward personal tribute to the man.

Note to self: must lighten up on all the death references here.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Sorry, one more MP3. This makes me feel like cutting off my legs and using them to bludgeon everyone who hates love and fun, even madness.

(That was the Constantines "Nighttime Anytime it's Alright", by the way.)

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Never completely convinced by Is This It? yet how could I -- or anyone -- not love this ("12:51" from the upcoming much-anticipated album)?

After that last admittedly sombre entry, here's some antidotal fun: first, a video (Real Audio, sorry) for "House of Jealous Lovers" by the Rapture (for some reason, it's really hard not to type Ratpure instead). This video is so cool that Canadian winters are jealous.

And, apparently randomly, to return to the Liz Phair -- or should I say Liz Phair -- shitstorm (sigh, I know it's old news, but with elapsed time sometimes come new perspectives, so humour me), was it all just a brief squall in a coffee cup? I mean, the record really hasn't sold all that well. How offensive can this "sellout" be? More seriously, was the bizarre kneejerking that took place on its release (as opposed to the earlier jerking of other body parts that no-doubt accompanied the much-loved Exile in Guyville) a symptom of sexism, or ageism, or both? I'm not sure about this Exclaim article's insistence that the alleged sexism only rears its disapproving head when female artists go poptastic, though.

The sexist undertones of these criticisms are positively outrageous, offering reason to believe that journos might not be ready for a woman whose lyrics are both sexually liberated and aimed at the mainstream. Pre-packaged sexpots like Britney Spears are forgiven their commercial aspirations only because their lyrics paint them as lovelorn and submissive young women.

This cited example of an acceptedly safe "prepackaged" Britney, even if true, can be offset by a mainstream-approved hammer-headed sexually-liberated Madonna, surely? Not to mention that other "mature" denizen of the pop charts, Ms. Minogue. But it did appear to be an obvious backlash, however elusive the motivations behind it. Can the alleged sexism even be unraveled from the apparent ageism? Who still thinks that adult females with rapacious sexual appetites are a bad thing? Whether at 26, 36, 46, who cares? And if it was male indie rock fans who did all the kneejerking, that makes even less sense. Is there anything more enticing to a geek fantasy than a confident fully flowered sexual woman (okay, other than a confident fully flowered sexual woman with a lightsabre and a generous view of open-source technology)? Who the hell else is the target audience for MILF porn, anyway? And why would they punish her for expressing in the pop arena what she did so gleefully in indie land?

There I go again, asking a shitload of questions and then refusing to answer them, dammit. There was (and is) more going on there, though, and I haven't figured it out at all. It can't be as simple a thing as young male sexism. I'm not saying it isn't sexism, just that it's not simply sexism alone. You'll note that the New York Times savaging was by a female writer, and yet check out Kenan Hebert's fairminded review at Gigantic mag for a counter-example (if only for the Ari Fleischer comment, which almost gave me a hernia). I'll give Kenan the last word, especially as I was too damn lazy to review the record myself at the time (for which this blog entry is only partial penance):

I have to respect it for what it is -- another step in the musical life of Liz Phair, another pool she's putting her toe into, another venue in which she wants to succeed. I wish her only the best. If we can't let our artists make their own mistakes, we never really loved them to begin with.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

I've been contemplating suicide lately.

Uh, I mean the topic, not the act itself.

Why now? After all, I worked with distressed children and youth for many years, some of whom attempted suicide, a tiny yet tragic number succeeding. I've known other people, acquaintances far removed from the work that I did, who took their own lives. I loved the music of Joy Division and Nirvana before Curtis and Cobain, respectively, ended their short sojourns among the living. Suicide is gut-wrenching, ugly. I refuse to romanticise it or glorify it, and yet am aware that dwelling on it in this way might achieve such undesired results, anyway. It's hard to deny, however, that the haunting reality of it has loomed large of late, thanks more to the twisted and tangled Web than anything else.

Starting here, a long entry on The Church of Me. This piece shook me, quite honestly. I don't want to go any further or deeper than that, since (blogs as public records aside) concerns of courtesy and of privacy seem very relevant here. I will say this, though: I respect Marcello Carlin as a writer, I don't know him as a human being (although in that regard his writings speak favourable volumes), and I'm glad he's still around whispering and sometimes raging into the loneliness, writing about music (and via music, the tormented muddled ecstasy of our lives).

Within days of this came the news of the suicide of Dr. David Kelly in the very same Oxfordshire countryside. The events that led to this are exhaustively documented elsewhere, and the full ramifications are yet to be revealed, so I can mercifully skip them here.

Then there was the even more recent death of poet and novelist Colin Mackay by his own hand, two days after completing his autobiography. A combination of the trauma of war and a deepening sense of personal failure seems to have been the trigger... or, rather, the slow-burning fuse. His story, what little I know of it, is harrowing. Read the Guardian Obituary linked to. By attempting to engage more with the world, he seems to have unwittingly tripped the events that led to his own despair.

The Church of Me appears again, by way of a gutsy and unflinching tribute [scroll down a-ways] to the music writer Ian MacDonald, who ended his own life just two weeks ago. I honestly can't decide whether the following passage is profound or maudlin. Maybe it's both:

How can one describe the magnitude of the horror which descends upon a human being when, in one lucid second of despair, they catch a sideways glance of themselves in the mirror and realise that they are just one near-invisible speck in an obscure corner of the universe? To spend their lives searching for perspective and recoiling in pain and horror when they finally find it. The realisation that the world they knew and loved has gone, is of the past, exists only in their memory, and that nothing lies ahead except further struggle and pain. Why bother to preserve such a life? The pills are to hand.

Is it the twin assault of the personal and the universal that finally does for people? Do both have to be present for someone to truly relinquish perseverance? If so, the fraught and frantic events of the rough human consensus we call history might have repercussions both large and infinitessimally small -- and who's to distinguish them?

This led me to search out MacDonald's long 1999 analysis for MOJO of another well-documented suicide, Exiled From Heaven: The Unheard Message of Nick Drake. "Analysis" is, of course, a ridiculously inadequate word to describe this tour de force of empathy, erudition, mysticism, poetry and a kind of creeping, solidifying despair. You can sense MacDonald's struggle with many of the same issues which sapped Drake's will to continue living (just as, above, Carlin makes explicit his similar empathic reading of MacDonald himself). Of course, hindsight helps immeasurably, but take these passages:

What an observer sees as blank passivity may, to the person experiencing it, be a logical sequence of sane, if sombre, thoughts obscure to those not much given to reflection. Psychology text-books admit that "depressed" people are often more realistic than the "well-adjusted"...

...Without feeling the turmoil induced by wondering why things exist, let alone empathising with the suffering which existence involves, it's nigh on impossible to comprehend what Drake is saying. Even so, such issues have dogged many of history's greatest minds; indeed, "depression" and the ultimate questions of existence are often interwoven...

...Drake did live in the same world as everyone else and, to a fair extent, enjoyed it. On the other hand, most of his social engagement was through music which, being his only certain pleasure, became first a form of escapism and finally the only thing that made life tolerable for him.

It's nigh on impossible to separate author from subject here.

Leaving aside yet another resurgence of interest in Lester Bangs, who I've also touched upon recently here, the sheer insistence of these deaths has wrestled my attention away from the usual mundanities of my life (such as remembering how to make money again). I'm not sure what to do with that -- other than create this blog entry and depress the living fuck out of any unfortunate passersby who stumble upon it -- but it seems important to mark these spectral synchronicities of pain in some way. Perhaps as warning signs. Flashing buoys indicating jagged rocks. I mean, we're all of us damaged in transit, one way or another, but that's no reason to abandon all hope. Or, for that matter, abandon the hopeless.

I think I sneered at all those yapping TV-heads who claimed, after 9/11, that nothing would be the same again. I'm beginning to realise that, on many, many levels, they were right. Something very nasty slipped into the world at that moment. We've been trying to deal with it ever since (two years already!) and not doing a particularly stellar job of it. Our helpless and barely repressed rage at the Bush administration to the south is doing us harm. What to do? Trite as it sounds, we need to reach out more, pay attention to those whose stares grow duller, more blank, as their hopes atrophy. Music is one great way to do this, possibly the greatest. People may be faltering, but I believe in music. Let's keep playing it, writing about it, dancing to it, beating on it, blasting it, asking impossible questions of it, ruining the silent dread of the night with it, aiming its multi-barbed laser tip at the quailing heart of our collective frozen horror, at the very least offering our frightened world the slimmest chance of a thaw.

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