Tuesday October 1, 2019

We need to organize. I mean organize on many levels: from the desktop upward. Do we want to “arrange” life? And if so, into what: something more? Or do we want a “range life,” as Stephen Malkmus of Pavement used to sing. What was that song about? There were times in my youth when it felt anthemic. I used to drive around a lot playing it on the car stereo. Yet where are we now? What would I hear if I listened to it today? After singing of his want of a range life in the song’s chorus, Malkmus follows the line with an echoey, oddly haunting if-than proposition: “If I could settle down, / If I could settle down, / Then I would settle down.” Is “range life” country-western? Is it a life of aim and ambition? And how does it relate to “settling down”? Biographically, the song was written in the midst of the band’s performance at Lollapalooza 1994. The music video—always-already a time capsule (the whole thing framed as if found in a lunchbox on a beach)—shows tour footage of the band wandering bemusedly among festivalgoers.

It’s like watching a home movie shot by visitors at a grunge-themed World’s Fair. Malkmus sneers somewhat haughtily from indie-land at the major-label acts sharing the bill, Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots, his voice drifting off into the clouds of a dream during the song’s finale. These topical references are enjoyable reminders of a particular historical moment. Yet today they interest me less than the song’s sentiment. Youthful arrogance, maybe, mixed with exhaustion and a sort of wistful melancholy about a life of crime. Was Malkmus feeling wearied by the festival, wishing he could settle into a home? I struggle with the song’s verses. They don’t quite cohere for me into a consistent narratorial voice, resembling instead a range of romantic-bohemian characters and personas: skateboarders, druggies, members of the Gen-X “doom generation,” some a bit pulpy, some a bit self-absorbed. Maybe I’m just singing this song to myself after too many meetings, wearied by work. Maybe the song just rehashes in advance plot-points overheard in the minds of tour-goers, kids raised on MTV.

Thursday May 10, 2018

Language is the domain wherein we learn our way in the cosmos. Without ignoring that preference for listening that sometimes makes me reticent to speak, I nevertheless feel moved to affirm here that by discoursing with others, we evolve our reality. It is in this spirit that, kicked up into dialogue by the music video for Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” I land upon one of performer Donald Glover’s other recent accomplishments, the TV show Atlanta. Graced by an ability to improvise without worry using the Entirety of Being, one becomes if not quite a god, then at least a medicine. Or, in a further act of diminution, an interesting thought experiment, as the experience is akin to discovering “Thou Art That.” Especially if by “That” we mean a dialectically-evolving ensemble of objects. Because of the persistence of injustice, however, the revolutionary in me deems the new worlds I wake to each morning insufficiently distinct from the worlds of yore. Marxism remains for me the discourse I call home, in the sense that it rarely any longer challenges me to revise myself, it rarely any longer situates me as subject within an actionable project of individual and collective self-betterment. Yet along its trail of thought I still thread the sentences of my days.

Saturday September 2, 2017

A cool wind sweeps over me, reminding me on this eve of another birthday that, as always, I’m headed north of the wall. One year closer. Local villains, I’m told, are acting out again. A conversation over beers takes a turn toward the fantastic when a friend and I catch ourselves imagining a character named Johnny Apple-Semen who, like a tall-tale, weird-porn version of Sven Birkerts, fights to win a future for books by rubbing inklings of himself over the exteriors of editions in libraries. We also, this friend and I, imagine the quarry here in town becoming the setting for True Detective, Season Three. At some point in the conversation, the friend leans forward and says, “Check out Cibo Matto’s ‘Sugar Water.’” Make sure, though, he warns, that you watch only when your head is elevated, and your consciousness is well on its way toward bliss. The point of “Johnny Apple-Semen,” we assure ourselves, is to imagine an alternate reality where violence is taboo rather than sex. The most questionable aspect of the project, however, is its presumption of an audience. But that, too, is the point. Critique is always an exercise of hope, however bitter, as it assumes first and foremost that one can conjure an audience through naught but the magic of speech. Anyway, following that advice, stoned I get, and (hello? “Sugar Water”?) watch I do. And it’s a doozy, temporally and perspectivally, little by little. Brilliantly multi-dimensional in ways similar to Michel Gondry’s video for The Chemical Brothers’ “Let Forever Be.”

Sweet lord, those late 90s Chemical Brothers videos. Psychedelic to the max. “Out of Control,” for instance, anticipates the Glorious Acid Communist Revolution of the Future by almost two decades. We must look, though, not just toward that which is coming into being but as well toward that which is. “And we affirm,” as did Socrates in Plato’s Republic, “that this is the good.” Except on some days, less so. Obligations pile up and feel like terrible impositions. Should the wage slave in me up and seek a new employer? That would require mesmerization and ventriloquy, wouldn’t it? It would require a voice and a presence speaking outward to a roomful of its peers, at the very least. Then again, perhaps it’s just a matter of smiling and nodding one’s way to victory, with a “rest upon thy laurels” finish.