I pop up via soundbite at the 2:20 mark in Glambilly's "What Would Jenni Do (WWJD)," from their 2009 Cavalier Behavior album.
Monday, January 31, 2011
Sunday, January 30, 2011
From remarks Jon Kabat-Zinn made at MIT in 2006 (via Speaking of Faith):
If we're not careful, we wind up with the kind of conceit that we are the center of the universe. It's an occupational hazard of being packaged in a body, that the whole universe is outside and you are obviously the center of it, and you relate to it through all your senses, including potentially this capacity for knowing….
But the question is what if we were to take the name we gave our species seriously and actually train to familiarize ourselves with the full perspective, the full dimensionality of what it means to be really human?
Friday, January 28, 2011
In the first century, Seneca learned of his daughter's death weeks after the fact; his letter of consolation to his wife likely arrived days or weeks later. We see and read tweets of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions moments after events occur, as they occur. The gap between event and telling is narrowing rapidly. None of this is news. As the surfaces of atoms repel other surfaces of atoms, will this gap finally stop narrowing, the cleavage between action and documenting reach a firm endpoint? Or will the gap continue to diminish, will knowledge of an event—updates, tweets, texts, pics—one day precede the events themselves, giving us the kind of Pre-Reality we've always wanted? (It's got to stop, right?) Oh there are satellites, and millions of miles, and seconds and the atmosphere and immutable laws of physics. We'll conquer those, too. Don't bother sending me an email, I already know what happens.
"Vista Forward Backward Button PSD" via Glossy Icons
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
FOLLOW THIS GUIDE
ESSAY THE NUMBERED AREAS AS DIRECTED
1. Note that areas for essaying are marked with numbers. These numbers correspond to subjects shown below. Refer to this subject guide as you work.
2. Begin essaying at the beginning, middle, or end, filling in all subject areas marked by the same number.
3. Note that some subjects must be mixed to give greater variety in subject. When mixing these subjects, begin with the "most pleasing" and add small amounts of the "less pleasing" until desired subject is obtained (or avoided or misremembered entirely). Mix enough language to cover all corresponding numbered areas.
4. For a pleasant past, add more sentimentality to subjects. Otherwise, subjects should be used full strength. You may wish to separate and define certain subject areas by using thin black lines of wishful thinking.
5. Remain within the outline. Don't blur. You won't be able to do this.
6. Don't look too hard at your essay. You might miss something.
1. What you don't know
6. What you wish happened
7. What you recall to the best of your ability
8. What you don't remember
9. What you're ignoring
Subjects should be tightly closed after essaying, or they may dry out. If you think you're finished, you're not.
Thinking Boy image via Fun Draw. Instructions more-or-less lifted from the great Paint By Number Museum.
Monday, January 24, 2011
I just watched Albert Lamorisse's 1956 short The Red Balloon for the first time in over 30 years. Like so many others, I first saw the film in grade school, in my case St. Andrew The Apostle, in Wheaton, Maryland, sitting in the all-purpose room (or was it the library?). Maybe we we kids were annoyed at having to be inside, or maybe it was a cold day and we were happy to be indoors. I remember stiff metal chairs, the whirring of the 16mm film strip, the dark room. Most of all, I remember the red balloon.
I was entranced for a lot of reasons—the solitude of the boy, the vividness of his imagination, the tormenting bullies. Much of the movie had blurred to an indistinct gray over the decades, but certain images remained indelible; I was curious what I might experience watching the film again as an adult. Remarkably, The Red Balloon hasn't aged at all, despite its post-Second War setting, much of which doesn't exist anymore or has been radically restructured in the last half century. The half-hour short remains as haunting and heartbreaking as it was when I watched as a kid. What I noticed this time around was Lamorisse's ingenious filmmaking, the wide-shots and cramped alleys, the skittery, hand-held joy and the boy's smacking footsteps echoing down the streets. I should qualify: I did respond to the film's form and style as a kid, I just, of course, couldn't articulate it. Great art communicates before it is understood, said T. S. Eliot, and I wonder if he had children in mind as well as adults.
There are so many great moments: the breathtaking tracking shot early in the film as the boy, clutching the balloon, runs across the bridge, the steam train roaring beneath him:
The balloon following the boy through the streets, playfully but obediently, the unspoken friendship growing between them:
The boy vaguely recognizing a kind of kindred spirit in a painting at an open-air street market. (At the same time nearby the balloon, off on its own, gazing curiously, maybe longingly, at its own reflection in a dusty mirror.) The boy's staring at a feminine doppelganger, another kid transported by, and requiring, little more than her imagination:
A girl's blue balloon crushing on the boy's balloon, a hint of complexity that even I got as a kid:
A fantastic shot of a narrow alley among many through which the boy is chased by the town bullies, the claustrophobic mise-en-scéne perfectly translating his fear and anxiety, the proximity of the boys and their terrorizing, the helplessness, the close calls:
Of course, the balloon's destruction at the hands (and feet) of the adolescent mob. I remember the throat-tightening sadness I felt as a kid watching the balloon's withering descent:
And the fantastic, surreal act of the city's hundreds of colorful balloons, hearing the boy's distress and converging from all corners, rescuing him en masse, lifting him away from his heartaches and over and beyond a city made up of bullies and uncomprehending grown-ups.
Well, I would imagine, you know, it's a story that has to do with the heart. You know, it's a love story, it's between the things you cherish the most. It's this poor little boy, we'll call him Pascal; he seems to have a grandmother, no sisters, no parents, and his only hope in life is his—his only real, real friend, you know, close friend is the red balloon. I would say all kids have, you know, either a pet or a dream that is close to their life, that makes sense.
Makes sense. I was happy to hear him speak of the film's power so many years later. In the world cast by The Red Balloon, a pet, a dream, a balloon, they're all the same.
While I was thinking about The Red Balloon, the Kills' "Black Balloon" from their Midnight Boom album popped up providentially on iTunes shuffle. Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince's lyrics bear no relation to the film, but the melody evokes the boy's melancholy, the "farewells" in both movie and song rising and falling evocatively. I include it as a kind of echo.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Vanishing Point via Innovations Learning.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
Thursday, January 13, 2011
here and The Fine Delight here. I handle the Q's as well as the A's at Nervous Breakdown; there's also an excerpt from AC/DC's Highway to Hell. The Fine Delight is a new site devoted to all things Catholic in contemporary and classic literature.
Speech balloon via The Pink Sylphide
Speech balloon via The Pink Sylphide
Friday, January 7, 2011
I'm not a big lyric guy. I respond to a song's groove, beat, melody, and overall feel before I digest the words (though lyrics, pre-comprehension, contribute to a tune's feel, of course). What's meaning in a three-minute rock & roll song? The body listens, the mind unburdened. I love how in American Idiot the great songs—the galvanic title track, "Holiday," "Jesus Of Suburbia," "The Boulevard Of Broken Dreams," "St. Jimmy," "Homecoming," among them—work as songs, on their own, eighth-note rocking or evocatively melodic or sometimes both; and when I take a step back I can see how the songs blend into the large canvas. There was talk at the time of the album's release that Green Day was doing a reckless thing in releasing an album to be heard front-to-back; nobody was listening to albums anymore. (This reaction as even more pronounced when Green Day released the sprawling 21st Century Breakdown in 2009.) The trick is: the songs work individually, can be plucked (hey, like singles!) from the album, with lives of their own.
The story in American Idiot, the album? I liked it, was moved by much of it, the scrim it hung against the Bush administration's growing follies and arrogance—when Armstrong sang "Welcome to a new kind of tension / all across the alien nation / where everything isn't meant to be OK," he clarified some things for me, anxious and troubled as I was in response to looming warning threats, fear, and the manufacturing of required enemies. And the tune's incredibly exciting, especially the chorus, Cool and Dirnt rocking ferociously behind Armstrong: political bromides go down a lot easier for me if they're launched by a band that sounds like Hüsker Dü covering Cheap Trick. But I didn't need the story, really. Just the songs.
Which was one of the reasons why I was skeptical about seeing American Idiot. But I not-so-secretly wanted to go, and when Amy and I learned that Billie Joe Armstrong was playing the part of St. Jimmy for a month on Broadway, we decided to get tickets and drive up to New York from suburban Washington D.C., where we'd be visiting my extended family for the holidays. Our seats were three rows from the stage. I stupidly didn't see Green Day in the 1990s before they exploded, and am hesitant to see them now in the big arenas. Armstrong's appearance in the musical (allegedly secured to spur lagging ticket sales; he'd appeared in the production earlier) galvanized me, gave me a defensible reason to go see a performance that I might find embarrassing, or corny, or deeply flawed. Yeah but there's gonna be great songs, and Armstrong's in it, and we'll be a couple feet away.
Confession: a couple of Thanksgivings ago, Amy and I spent the afternoon watching Legally Blonde: The Musical on MTV. We were hungover, crashed on the coach, flipping through channels. The cute spunkiness of the leads caught us, and before we knew it we watched the whole thing, loving the showbiz fun and shallow diversion of it all. The money notes in the ballads, the soaring major-chord moments really slayed me (my defenses, admittedly, were lowered). Surprisingly, I found myself loving the conservative, formal neatness of the show's arrangements and storyline and dances and conventional, but affecting, songs in the book, and for the most part I suspended my impatience with corn and schmaltz. There's a time and a place, all that.
But I was really afraid what such theatrics might do to the tough and alive rock & roll I loved in American Idiot. I've never seen Tommy or Quadrophenia, or any large-scale dramatic staging of a rock & roll album, but I'd seen clips on YouTube and in my nightmares. (To be fair, American Idiot owes less to the hippy-drippiness of Tommy or the Romanticism of Quadrophenia than to the Who's tightly-arranged domestic tableaux, "A Quick One While He's Away," a fact observed by many.) I wanted to see whether the incarnation of Green Day as a new-century amalgam of the Who and the Ramones was urgent and valuable. Can a Broadway telling of punk alienation feel necessary and vital?
American Idiot was remarkable. An anonymous Fox News announcer intoned over the speakers, the curtain lifted, and the set was revealed, a stage cluttered with urban debris, a filthy slacker couch, and a bed, and, stunningly, a back wall, its immense height supporting dozens of television sets, each flickering, each blandly yet distractingly colorful, each blaring a sound bite from the 2000s, Bush to Trump to Survivor, a hundred inane statements colliding and growing in a din. Scaffolding the TV sets was a network of steel bars; behind the TVs a graffiti- and punk/hardcore-show-flier-covered wall. Moments passed before I noticed a beat-up car hanging from the ceiling.One guy hung upside-down on a chain, headbanging his way through the first several minutes of the song. It was visually very loud and, as contemporary Broadway can be, completely overwhelming. And it was very cool.
And that's the key to my enjoyment of American Idiot: the spectacle. There's a long tradition in rock & roll of spectacle adding to the fun. AC/DC was a nearly perfect rock & roll band in the late 1970s: smoke pouring out of Angus Young's book bag while he shredded onstage in his school boy uniform? Perfection. (Add to a long list Screamin' Jay Hawkins, 70s glam, Flaming Lips, Man Or Astroman, among many others.) But the cast in American Idiot aren't swallowed by the the strobe lighting, the noisy, cluttered stage, the volume of it all, they're moved by it; maybe they even create it. Clips of the show can look silly on YouTube; being in the theater, live, witnessing feet away the bodies colliding and the lights exploding and the sheer size of the stage, transforms the songs into dimensional things.
There's an affecting scene in the show's final third that took me by surprise: Tunny's in a veterans hospital after losing his leg below his knee while fighting in the Middle East. The bank of TV screens on the back wall show LED-green EKG lines changing into Arabic script as a burqa-draped woman descends slowly from the ceiling, twirling delicately in a harness. My Cheese Alarm sounded and I thought, Oh no.... Yet in the middle of the number, Tunny too is suddenly vaulted from his hospital bed into the air via harness, and he and the woman, who removes her burqa midair and is revealed to be his nurse, and with whom he falls in love by the end of the musical, move balletically. It sounds corny, and it is. In the theater it was beautiful, and poignant. Tunny and his nurse move together and apart over our heads, an unexpected pas de deux that softened the tone of the show without losing any of its urgency. It was the kind of moment I was hoping for, and the kind that I thought my native cynicism wouldn't have accepted. I was, happily, proved wrong.
Armstrong as St. Jimmy was a riot, what I'd expected: funny; devilish; sneering. Prowling the stage, leering through black eyeliner, he was clearly enjoying himself, and his appearance a third of the way through gave the show a real jolt. (The crowd—well, mostly the teens and 20-somethings in the crowd—started cheering at the opening notes of "St. Jimmy"). At the end, following a curtain call, the cast appears on stage holding guitars. Armstrong strums the opening notes of "Good Riddance," and the place erupts. Though it's hardly my favorite Green Day song, it fit in well as a closing number, and seeing and hearing Armstrong sing it reminded me that I came for his songs and for the possibility of those songs becoming new to me again.
Photo of Billie Joe Armstrong in American Idiot via The New York Times
Thursday, January 6, 2011
In Back Of
Driving to church, something amiss. I’d been an altar boy for several years and now it was my younger brother’s turn to say yes to mystery discomfiting like a strange shirt. I’d warned him: don’t get the priests angry, they have incredible tempers behind that patience, that imperturbability, they’ll turn on you and yell like a lion. St. Andrew the Apostle had incurred a new pastor, a steely man. Black jacket, black sunglasses, black mood. My brother had forgotten something. He was scheduled to serve the eleven thirty Sunday morning mass, not the ten o’clock. Father Steel was giving the ten o’clock. My brother was trapped in the sacristy, sweating out his realization. Father Steel’ll blow his top. My parents and I drive past the church at ten minutes to ten on Sunday. We see a pair of hopeless, squiggling legs squirming out from a window at the back of church. Little brown shoes first, then white socks, and black dress pants, then his brother, curly hair joyless in a fearful wind.
Walking with my older brothers and their friends up Amherst Ave., feeling lucky. Not too often I stroll with this older crowd, heading up to the 7/11. Tiny and inconsequential in squeaking sneakers. There is a photograph of my family walking to the bus stop on our way downtown to the Washington D.C. mall for the 1976 Bicentennial. I’m walking out front with my buck teeth and shaggy bangs, skinny little job, pretending to enjoy the attention. Now we walk up Amherst and I’m out front. Squinting in the high sun: an older girl on a ten-speed; her shorts are short, and they’re riding up. I’m a block or so from puberty, and the roundness of a kitchen apple can send me into spasms for an afternoon. I stare at this wondrous ass, this rococo visitation, all the while strolling, cool, right smack into a parking meter, cold steel cracking into the bridge of my nose. Whirling stars and hoots, and anguish, and clichés of disrepute to last a small boy’s day.
In the cooler, lower depths of the house we play Hide & Seek. My brothers and I spend hours away from the blind of August skulking around the laundry room and the basement: the astonishment of the other body; pale limbs and paler giggles materializing from the a dark corner or out from behind a washing machine. Loss, hard bone beneath taut skin, intimate smells. We search and search for our younger brother, who’s nowhere to be found. This hunt is taking longer than we thought. We look everywhere: behind curtains; beneath the pool table; in the closet. We find him beneath the sheets on my brother’s bed, wrapped in swelter. A corpse perspiring, a corpse dreaming! He gasps for air and rips the sheets away, looking for them in desperation. Don’t move, you’ll ruin the game.