Posts from — December 2011
James Woods, Los Angeles, 2005
Living the Dream
By Michael Foldes
There’s a lot to love about photography, but few photographers who make it relatively easy to understand why. How they do it is another thing. It’s not just in the equipment they shoot with, the finish of the paper they print on, or their subjects, but the connection the photographer makes to a moment that will be forever fixed in time. Hang forty or fifty of those moments in a gallery, or in a long hallway, and you have what truly can be called suspended animation. Crisp. Clearly visible to the unpracticed, as well as the practiced eye. Past perfect.
The following interview, with portfolios including images from his books “I Love You but I’ve Chosen Rock,” and “Leaving the Comfort Zone” (both from Hatje Cantz Publishing, 2010 and 2008, respectively), provide ample evidence of Heine’s interpretive visual skill, dedication to craft, and long-term love of music. Born in Hannover and schooled in Berlin, Heine moved to Los Angeles in 1998 where he added to his portfolio of celebrities, musicians and West Coast life. The recipient of numerous awards, his work has appeared on album covers, in magazines, advertisements and in music videos. From the following interview and images, we think you’ll know better why.
Ragazine: Where do you call home, these days, and where is your studio?
Olaf Heine: That’s a difficult question. What’s home? On a physical level I’d have to say that my base is in Berlin these days and that is also where my studio is. I love the city. Berlin for sure is my home. But I have spent quite some time in other places the past fifteen years. I’ve split my time between Los Angeles and Berlin for eleven years. LA is kind of a home too. Berlin and Los Angeles are twin cities and although they are quite different, there are a lot of similarities in a deeper kind of aspect. I am still travelling there every few months spending time with friends and colleagues and also shooting there a lot. Taking the best of both worlds if you’d like. On a deeper, metaphysical or spiritual level I also must say that Ibiza/Spain became kind of a home for me. I am spending my summers there since the mid-nineties, did quite a lot of shoots there and got married there a few years ago. The small island in the Mediterranean is a very calm and inspiring place for me.
Q: When and how did you get involved with photography? Did you start out working for an agency, or another photographer?
A: Ever since I can remember, ever since I was a little child I was taking pictures. In the first place it was just for fun, for the sake of playing around with this little technical gadget. But then I started recording my past time. I documented my family, my friends and my life. Later, in my teenage years I started going to concerts a lot and that’s how I became involved with music photography. I grew up in a little village and besides photography I loved rock music. So the camera became the door opener to this fascinating world, gave me the chance to get out and travel the world. I am self taught and happened to know a few musicians in my hometown who trusted me when they needed an album cover.
Q: Who or what would you say has been your principal motivator to take pictures?
A: If it wasn’t for my affinity for music I’d probably be an architect. My motivation was really to become a part of the music world and to record my life. I didn’t play an instrument but I loved that whole scene, the friendship, the bonding, the travelling circus atmosphere. So the camera gave me the key to that world.
Q: Do you have a formal education in art, design or photography that you bring to a session?
A: I am self taught and learned by jumping in at the deep end. I studied a lot of books and bugged a lot of people who knew about photography. I made tons of mistakes and learned from them. After I worked as a photographer for a few years I finally moved to Berlin in the early nineties and attended a photography school (Lette-Verein).
Q: What kind of camera(s) do you favor, and why?
A: Without sounding arrogant or comparing myself, but would you ask Picasso about his favorite brush? I find discussions about technical aspects or favorite cameras, lenses, etc. boring and dull. I work with a whole lot of cameras. Whether I use a small or medium format, whether I use digital or analog, whether I use Photoshop or Polaroid, that really depends on my idea or vision for a certain image. I sometimes even use snapshot or video cameras to produce images.
Q: When you’re still shooting film, how much do you manipulate in the darkroom? Do you scan and work digitally after the fact? What papers do you like to print on?
A: I do manipulate sometimes. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Again it depends on the subject. I just finished an advertising campaign with Germany’s national football team which I didn’t Photoshop at all. But then again I like to freedom of being able to do so if I wanted to. Same in the darkroom (even though I have to admit that I didn’t enter any darkroom since the late nineties). But my printer has the possiblities and I like to sometimes take advantage of it. As for printing, I still like a good old silver gelatine print.
Q: What kind of shoots do you enjoy most? Fashion? Musicians? Products?
A: In general I enjoy the shoots that give me most creative freedom and productive collaborations. In the past this has been the case a lot in the music industry. But ever since they lost a good deal of money through the digital age and the downloading of music files, they have also lost their courage, which makes it harder for a photographer. There is more pressure to succeed and therefore less and less creative leeway. I am also a big football (soccer) fan, so working with a lot of talented players, especially with the ones from my favorite team give me a lot of joy and happiness. I’m living my childhood dream, right?
Olaf Heine/Leaving the Comfort Zone
Q: What photographers do you admire, and who would you most like to work with (living or dead)?
A: When I started out I admired documentary street photographers like Cartier Bresson or Robert Frank. Especially the latter’s dark and moody visuality had an impact on my earlier work. I am also a kid of the eighties and grew up admiring some of the most talented black and white photographers. I like the diversity of Albert Watson for example. Bruce Weber is another one. His ‘Let’s get lost’ documentary about Chet Baker had a big influence on my work.
Q: Did you have a mentor? Who?
A: This would be German photographer Jim Rakete who was doing great b/w portraits of the German music scene in the eighties. I met him in the early nineties and even assisted for him on one or two occasions. He supported me quite a bit and gave me a lot of advice.
Q: What’s the most remarkable aspect for you in being a photographer?
A: The most important aspect in photography for me is that I get to see so much of the world and meet so many talented people. It really is about the moment itself, the process and collaboration. The journey is the destination, isn’t it?
Stroke, Berlin, 2008
Q: If you had your choice of subjects/projects to shoot, what would it be?
A: I do have my choice of projects sometimes. Besides my commissions Ialways work on personal projects. Throughout the year I try to take some weeks and months off to develop and pursue certain ideas. There are portraiture portfolios of different people as well as landscape and architectural projects.
Q: Obviously you’re not intimidated by fame. Have you always found it easy to work around ‘personalities’?
A: I try to look at my subjects in their entirety and not just in relation to fame and stardom, if you know what I mean. To me it’s more important that I work with creative minds and that makes the collaboration challenging and thrilling. Their fame is irrelevant to me.
Q: Who or what was the most difficult subject you’ve had to photograph? Why?
A: Of course there are shootings that are more difficult than others but I would’t tell you who those were with. I try to be as loyal as I can to my subjects.
Q: Do you have any favorite photographs, or one in particular you wish you’d had a chance to shoot over?
A: No. I don’t. I try to not look back too much and/or regret… Everything happens for a reason and if I mess up, I mess up. I try to learn from mistakes and move on.
Q: Any advice for young people starting out in the business?
A: That’s a tricky one. What would I say? Forget about sleep the first couple of years? Be grateful and humble? Try to not be too satisfied with your work? No seriously. I would say that one should not concentrate on photography alone. There is so much medial interplay between the different creative forms nowadays. My job needs some fundamental knowledge in graphic design, advertising, architecture, fashion, film, marketing and so many other aspects. Take your time and look around is what I’d probably say.
Q: Thank you, Olaf.
Olaf Heine/I Love You but I’ve Chosen Rock
All work copyright Olaf Heine; used with permission.
Anja Wiroth Agency | Alexander Str. 9 | 10178 Berlin | Deutschland
Fon: +49-(0)30-509-161-41 | Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Weiss Artists Inc. | 6311 Romaine St. #7234 | Los Angeles | Ca. 90038 | USA
Fon: +1-323-461-1084 | Mail: email@example.com
This edited interview was conducted via e-mail from October through December, 2011.
December 25, 2011 Comments Off on Olaf Heine/Photography, Interview
We were in the second day of a two-and-a-half day train trip to Urumqi in Xinjiang Uygur Zizhiqu from Wuxi Jiangsu Province. This was my very first travel experience in China. My student invited me to spend the holidays with him and his family in Yining, on the far western edge of Xinjiang. This was spring holiday season and all the students everywhere in China were finished with exams and traveling home to be with their families for Chinese New Year. Every train everywhere was sold out. I was late buying my ticket so I ended up with a standing ticket. This meant I would have to stand in the isle of the train for the two-plus days to Urumqi. As luck would have it though, when we boarded, we were given a sleeper car because they had run out of seats on this train. The only caveat to this was we had to sit four to a lower bunk that fit three people. The bunks were stacked three high but we were not allowed to sleep in the upper bunks. Rules are rules in China. So everyone for two plus days sat and slept sitting up. The train was packed. Having a seat was good fortune. I was lucky, my student talked the conductor into letting the weiguoren (foreigner) sit with him. On this trip, Colin (my student’s English name) discovered a girl from his hometown in the same car we were traveling in. Wu Yuan Yuan, Colin’s middle school classmate. Tired and bored, I wandered through the train taking pictures and caught Wu Yuan Yuan deep in thought. It ended up being a very long trip for all of us.
I photographed the woman wearing the dress at The Highball event in Columbus, Ohio, around Halloween. I combined that image with an HDR shot of a waterfall I took a couple of weeks earlier near Lake Tahoe. The background clouds were shot during a sunrise at Mt. Shasta, CA. I used Photoshop CS5 to merge the images.
I was fortunate 23 years ago that a friend gave me a Beta copy of Photoshop. It was a challenge to figure out how it worked without a manual. Playing with the software seemed the best way to learn and it was and is a fun process.
The Floating Dress
As for the photo of the floating dress, this piece was part of a large show in Prague, Czech Republic, in November. The exhibit was housed in 3 large buildings called NEW ART. It was made up mostly of university art professors and work by their graduate students. All of the work in the show had to be no older than 20 years and seemed to be made up mostly of Czech and central European artists. A good bit of the show was installation art rather than two-dimensional work. This piece was obviously an homage to the photograph of Marilyn Monroe standing over the New York subway grate, with her dress catching the breeze and flying up in the air. The photo was originally done by George Zimbell during the filming of Billy Wilder’s film “The Seven Year Itch”.
It was interesting to see such an iconic image recreated as an installation piece of art. The structure of the box fan on the ground echoed the structure of the subway grate and the dress kept billowing in different directions as if floating. The placement of the window behind the piece served to back light the dress, causing it become a bit transparent adding to the drama.
Regrettably, I didn’t make note of the artist who created the piece.
December 25, 2011 Comments Off on Photo Editor’s Choice/Jan-Feb 2012
The Corporation’s New Clothes
LA resolution puts people first
By Eleanor Goldfield
Unlike most days when my lungs are filled with smog, and my east coast tongue twitches with curt, smart ass one-liners to spew at unsuspecting “dudes” and “dudettes,” today I am very proud to live in LA. December 6th 2011: Los Angeles becomes the first major US city to pass a resolution stripping corporations of their constitutional personhood rights. And, as a side note, it’s my 25th birthday. Not too shabby of a birthday gift. The vote was unanimous: 11-0. The line of supporters ran out the door and coiled around the block as if Splash Mountain had temporarily relocated to the statuesque old Hollywood glamour of LA City Hall.
Move to Amend, the organization that put forth the resolution, has gained significant ground in the past few months. The LA chapter co-chair, Mary-Beth Fielder (who was recently interviewed on KPFK as well as MSNBC discussing the resolution vote, as well as the foundations and goals of the group) spoke emotionally after the vote.
“This is an incredibly historic day. Los Angeles is the first major city in the United States to call for a Constitutional Amendment to clearly establish that only human beings are entitled to constitutional rights and that money is not the same as free speech…”
“This is putting us back in control,” she said on KPFK a few days earlier, “giving us the power to regulate corporations in the way we see fit.”
The idea of us, we, the people, being back in control is at the core of Move to Amend’s agenda. It is also, interestingly enough, what is behind the Occupy movement. That correlation is a major reason why Move to Amends numbers have grown from the teens to the hundreds recently. I say interestingly enough because one would think that with all the national and international attention this movement has garnered, they would be the ones using that press to infiltrate the legislative branch of government, pushing pens into politicians’ hands and demanding the rights and freedoms of people be held above the bottom line, above any query regarding pizza as a vegetable.
As you may have noticed, if you’ve followed the movement, there has been much talk but little change. The powers that be haven’t nervously acquiesced to anything. The power of the people has not risen in any form due to the tents or tenets of the Occupy camps. The good intentions of Occupiers have been tarnished by lack of organization and vague goals, something that has either pushed people away or brought people to groups such as Move to Amend. In a way Occupy has given the movements such as Move to Amend the fanfare and show they needed to grow – the same way one gains the attention of a 2-year-old with a flashy toy.
Now, the soggy, torn up grass of my local Occupy LA camp is not what one would term flashy. In its 50-some odd days, the camp can easily be compared to any tragic Hollywood starlet − starting off shiny and new, full of hope and promise. But without guidance, fading into a fleeting image adorning nostalgic coffee houses, whispering among the who’s whos until the name fades, the memory a soft impression on a bygone era.
The first march drew thousands, each subsequent march clawing at the 1,000 mark and dwindling from there. And those are the marches that came to fruition. Some nationally planned Occupy marches just didn’t happen due to lack of organization and planning. Now, with the Occupy movement at a crossroads of fight or flight, these outside movements are picking up steam and using that first flash of recognition to catapult into the political spotlight.
* * *
On your typical November LA morning, the sun shining, a soft breeze and a comfortable temperature of 65/70, I made my third visit to the north side of the Occupy LA camp in less than a half hour. As I irritatingly turned the corner around a tent with a Ron Paul sign out front, I noticed a middle-aged man give a slight chuckle as he lit his cigarette.
“Looking for something?” he asked, shoving his hand back into his pocket and taking a deep puff.
“Well yeah. I’m trying to organize for my band to play and I keep getting bounced around like a damn pin ball. It’s ironically similar to a corporate call center.”
That produced a deep laugh. At the time, I didn’t find it funny at all. Trying to push back to solemnity I asked if he knew who I could talk to. He shrugged, sighed and scratched his unkempt beard. “I live here and still don’t know who’s in charge. Because no one is. Bitching about something isn’t the same as doing something about it. Right now we’re just bitching − in tents. I support coz I believe in the cause. But I don’t see it lasting much longer if we can’t get our act together.”
As I looked around, surveying a scene of mixed messages and little kinetic energy to speak of, I knew he was right. Not quite knowing how to respond, I returned his shrug and tried one last time to find the head of the arts committee who according to two people, but not the third, was also the head of the first aid tent. I left not too long after, seemingly with less information than I had come over with.
I live in downtown LA, about a 5-minute walk from the Occupy site, and of the dozen or so times that I went over there, I was, more often than not, disappointed when I left. Like the man I spoke to, I believe in this movement. I have based an entire band on it. I write, sing and work for the goal of a government of the people, by the people and for the people. But Occupy LA was not this movement.
Occupy LA was a collection of varied opinions, bound together by nothing more than geography and the manufactured feeling of community that a camping trip brings. It may sound harsh, but let’s be realistic. A leaderless movement has no future. The Occupy movement’s official stance on this states that they are a “not a leaderless movement, but a movement of leaders,” which to me sounds even worse. That’s like throwing a bunch of alpha males into a tent and seeing what they come up with. Probably not a clear cut plan of action…
A movement with no clear goals or plans for reaching those goals loses steam before the coals get hot. Bringing people together is a commendable feat. But once they’re there, what are you going to do with them? I first walked over, flag in hand, a journal full of ideas and plans, from events and shows to elections and business planning. At one of the GA’s someone suggested that our main focus be composting. Another time someone stopped me and asked if I would give my life for a communist nation. And still another time someone asked me if I’d like to fuck for peace. No joke.
Now, I’m not trying to come down too hard on these people. I thoroughly believe that people should believe whatever the hell they want to. And I commend the people in the Occupy movement who have worked hard, who have tried for change. But with that cluster fuck blueprint, significant political change is impossible. Not all these beliefs can live under the same movement. There is a communist movement. I’m sure there’s a fuck for peace movement somewhere, as well. But this movement, this idea based on our rights as US citizens, our freedoms and liberties, our future as a republic − this movement seeks to completely rework the corrupted and viciously powerful government corporation our nation has become. That’s one helluva tall order. And that order requires, no, it demands, fierce organization, determination and planning.
* * *
That said, the Occupy movement is invaluable. It may be about as organized as a mosh pit, but it has valuable attributes that can not be overlooked. Whether it means to or not, it makes use of the entertainment medium. Having been an activist for quite some time, my eureka moment came when I thought of adding my passion of music to my passion of political and social involvement.
Move to Amend isn’t trendy, it isn’t chic. It is what political movements should be: straightforward, determined and organized. However, that doesn’t always up your numbers. In all reality, people may say they give a damn, but until they’re either forced to or seduced, they don’t. Forced to is an awkward situation that either presents itself through a total national meltdown (not that I’m striking that from the list of possibilities) or literal force.
Neither one is something a peace loving movement should be aiming for. That leaves seduction. In the 1960s, it was literal seduction: Jim Morrison’s leather pants, Woodstock, mind opening drugs that just made you wanna dance and make out. But, be careful lest the seduction become more fascinating than the goal itself. The more solemn Civil Rights movement passed ground breaking legislation. The peace movement limped away from an arrogant government’s blood soaked retreat, embittered and hungover. But what if, looking at both strategies, we could intertwine the entertaining seduction of the peace movement with the solemn, heroic stand of the civil rights movement? If we let organizations like Move to Amend temper and focus the thrills and frills of the Occupy Movement…
Let’s learn from the past and avoid its mistakes. In the aftermath of the civil rights and peace movements, a visionary, one president and one presidential hopeful had been murdered. A war had been lost, embarrassingly so. The burnt draft cards and noble stands did not make up for the lack of diplomacy or intelligence in the halls of the mighty. The legislation of the civil rights movement was a shining positive. It came towards the end of an era, the end of a time when our country concerned itself with the rights and freedoms of its people. The haze of the late ’60s and early ’70s left the country with a sour taste in its mouth, and a depressive disdain not only for government but for popular culture. As if it were a last hurrah, the civil rights legislation signaled a move away from political and social involvement and towards apathy and distrust. Consider the timely beginnings of Neo-conservatism, free market experimentation and freedom crusades (i.e. South America in the early-mid 1970s).
Now, I don’t mean to write a lecture on the history of our fuck-ups. I’d merely like to point out that our history is the foundation for this movement. Our constitutional rights, our pitfalls and victories as citizens dictate the fight we are undertaking.
There is a quote by Penn Warren, used by my father in one of his books, and used by my mother in a painting that still hangs in the living room – I can recall passing it many times as a child, and being drawn to the rough edges of the papyrus paper she used, the strong profile of my father paralleled to that of a Syrian king. I can recall dissecting the quote, filtering it through my mind each year, further wrapping its meaning with my own history, patiently pondering as if it were a philosophical treasure map: “If you could not accept the past and its burden, there was no future, for without one there can not be the other, and if you could accept the past, you might hope for the future, for only out of the past can you make the future.”
Out of our collective history, let us make a better future.
This isn’t about one war, or one right. This is about all our wars, and all our rights. This is about everything that trickles down from the corporate peaks of a stolen government. So let us use all of our talents. Let’s seduce those who see this fight either as a hippie commune party or a droll gathering of intellectuals.
I sing, I write, I speak. There are those who make people laugh (Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert), those who lecture, those who teach. Every American has some way of contributing, because every American’s future is tightly tied to the path of this movement. Every American has a different way of joining − a different way they can be seduced. I’ve had people come up to me after shows and say they are not political at all, but wow that’s fucked up about the corporations. I’ve had people come with me to marches because they thought I was good looking. They might leave with blue balls but I’m happy to say every one has left with more knowledge and a spark to dig deeper.
Not everyone is cut out to be the one at the front, carrying signs and shouting slogans. I’m not. But understand that the march isn’t what the movement is about. It’s merely a means.
Let’s make it clear. As with the civil rights movement, we need legislation. Marches and protests are great but they are not the be all, end all. Concerts and events are fantastic ways of spreading the word to people outside your circle, but they are not the point of the movement. We need to push for our rights, not as some ethereal trend but as a tangible, concrete demand. It needs to be written, and it needs to be remembered.
We too easily get caught up in the Woodstock-esque charm of a campground, and veer off the path to change. Stay with it. Don’t take any victory, any freedom or any right for granted. If we don’t care enough to take back our country, why should it be given to us? “A republic madam, if you can keep it,” was Ben Franklin’s famous response to a woman asking what form of government the Constitutional Convention had decided upon.
Right now, we’re not keeping it. We’ve lost it. We’re fighting to get it back.
* * *
The Occupy movement didn’t fight. They weren’t that movement. Now maybe they will be. The tents may have left to make way for the real occupation; the occupation that will not sit down, not disappear from the political stages of this nation until we, the people, have gained our rightful place as the deciding force behind the government of the United States.
Together with organizations such as Move to Amend, we will take our country back, our rights; with organization and the clear cut goal of amending the constitution to firmly place we, the people, as the sole beneficiaries of constitutional personhood rights. At the post-vote press conference on December 6th, Council President Eric Garcetti, who first introduced this amendment to LA City Council said, “Every struggle to amend the constitution began as just a group of regular Americans who wanted to end slavery, who thought women should vote, who believed that if you’re old enough to be drafted, you should be old enough to vote. These are how American amendments move forward from the grassroots when Americans say enough is enough. We’re very proud to come together and send a message but more than that, this becomes the official position of the City of Los Angeles, we will officially lobby for this. I also chair a group which oversees all the Democratic mayors and council members in the country and we’re going to share this with all our 3,000 members and we hope to see this start here in the west and sweep the nation until one day we do have a constitutional amendment which will return the power to the people.”
Yes. That is the hope. That is the inspiration. That is our duty as Americans. Occupy your place in this country. Occupy the story of your citizenship. This country was great because of the people who made it so. It falls because we allow it to. It can only be lifted by the people, we, the people.
Whatever your contribution will be, whatever seduces you to this movement, this is our time, this is our fight. This is now. This is us. We, the people. In liberty and justice we trust. Think. React. Do Something.
About the author:
Eleanor Goldfield is a singer, songwriter and political activist. She is the vocalist for Rooftop Revolutionaries, comprised of Brian Marshak/lead guitar; Karim Elghobasi/bass; Lamar Little/drums. An interview with Goldfield by Ragazine Politics Editor Jim Palombo appeared in the September-October issue of Ragazine (Vol. 7, No. 5). See/hear more at:
December 25, 2011 Comments Off on Move to Amend/On Location, LA
Meets Theodor Geisel
Interview with Fernando Hereñú
by Mike Foldes
I don’t exactly recall how I came to know Fernando Hereñú’s work, most likely on a jaunt through Chelsea last summer, but I do know that soon as I saw it I had stepped into a world of fantasy that combines childhood dreams and adult nightmares. It was no surprise to find out that Hereñú, who goes by the nom de plume of Pulpo (incidentally the Spanish word for octopus), is engaged in comic book illustration. Citing historically diverse influences as Hieronymus Bosch, and Argentine illustrator Jose Luis Salinas, Pulpo invites us to venture with him into psychedelic realms where we can linger longer than with a fleeting thought. Hereñú was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1977, completed his Graphic Design studies at the Universty of Buenos Aires in 2002, and for the next four years he worked as a designer for Cartoon Network. He lives in Buenos Aires and is creative director for an online games company.
Q: How did you come to art? Were your parents artists?
A: I have no family artists. But all my relatives are related to sociology, anthropology and humanities, science… So when I was a kid we always had many art books in my house. We had a large library where they were almost all European artists of the 20th century. I looked at those pictures and was very confused, I remember much of it, could say that I liked but could not stop looking at art. Imagine a child looking to Hieronymus Bosch. That might be a good image on my childhood.
I started to draw early in my life. Was the only way I was quiet in my house.
I could spend hours and hours just drawing. My parents realized of it and then they send to me to study comic book to one of the best teachers in my country.
Q: Who was the teacher your parents sent you to, and what was his/her process of teaching, and working with you?
A: My teacher was Jose Luis Salinas, one of the drafters of the Marvel comics. One of the most important studies was the anatomy of the human body and another, perspective drawings. They made us work very hard. Where the human form and the handling of the pen was the most important. We students drew for hours drawing hands, bodies, etc.
I was among the younger students throughout the academy. I spent about two years and then went to work more on the comic mode. In this way, then, I got my job at Cartoon Network.
Q: What kind of work did you do in your first job at the Cartoon Network?
A: I really do not remember. The important thing to know at that stage was different illustration styles and meeting friends. Another good thing at that time was to know a little about the production of animated entertainment.
I think the best we had at that time was the quality of animation and illustration.
Fernando Herenu, aka PULPO
Q: What project/program did you work on? Can you see them on the web?
A: Now I am working for an exhibition in Salvador Bahia. I’m working hard for this. Since it is a project to purify the aesthetic lines. You can see it all on my page, http://pulpocorporate.tumblr.com/
My project is to continue the series. I’m working to further deepen the concept.
Q: What is the Bahia, Salvia project? Is it a commission?
A: Salvador Bahi its an important city in Brasil. I will be there this month because I have an exhibition there. I am going to present some abstract drawing. There are something strange that happened to me now, I don’t want to draw figurative things. I prefer to be more complex than the reality. The abstraction, it’s like a dark hole.
Q: How difficult is it to make a living for a commercial artist such as yourself? What would you tell others who are interested in pursuing careers in illustration, as artists or as cartoonists?
A: For me it would be much more difficult to live a profession other than as an artist. I think I could develop another activity. To me, life is 24 hours related to art.
Some artists are rich and others poor. But art has nothing to do with money.
But the most important thing I can say is that illustrators do this activity with the heart. Finally they will find a worthy a place to work. Art has nothing to do with the grasp of money. To make money there are other better careers. The career of an artist is to find within ourselves something to show others. It puts everything into images we think and feel.
Q: Where do you get your ideas? What’s the most “fertile territory” for your images. They seem too strong to be taken from café scenes.
A: I use a technique called Synchronism for composition. This technique has to do with surrealism. I do not plan a lot about what I do. I try not to think about them if possible.
Q: What is your preferred medium these days? Do you sculpt?
A: My preferred medium is paper and India ink. It is actually the preferred way that I always use in my career. I love drawing more than anything else. But the painting half seems tedious. I just love painting with the comic style, which is easy to give good volume. Like you, I am not really a person with great patience.
Q: How do you know I’m a person without great patience? (BTW, I am laughing out loud with that last answer!)
A: I wanted to say that I’m a guy a little (too) anxious to sculpt. I want to see something now. I want to create a painting now, I feel I have no time.
Q: What’s next on the agenda for you?
A: But I prefer to be more concentrated in the creation this year, because I have a lot of ideas that I feel have to take priority. Maybe I’m thinking to move to the U.S., France or Tokyo soon. That will be my next project.
Fernando Hereñú aka Pulpo’s first solo exhibition in New York, “Hidden Drawings,” took place at Tache Art Gallery in New York last summer, where his work is available. This interview was conducted via e-mail between September and December 2011.
December 25, 2011 Comments Off on Pulpo/Art, Interview
American Studies at a Crossroads
A conversation with
Donald Pease, Robyn Wiegman & John Smelcer
* * *
In the tenth anniversary of The Futures of American Studies (Duke UP, 2002), John Smelcer interviews the editors of that critical volume. The author of numerous books and over a hundred articles on American and British literature, co-editor Donald Pease is the Ted and Helen Geisel Third Century Professor in the Humanities at Dartmouth College and founder of Dartmouth’s Institute in American Studies. In 2000 he was the Drue Heinz Visiting Professor at Oxford, and for the past five years he has been Distinguished Visiting Professor at the JFK Institute of American Studies at the Freie Universitaett in Berlin. Co-editor Robyn Wiegman is Professor of Women’s Studies and Literature at Duke University and author most recently of Object Lessons , a wide-ranging exploration of the institutionalization of the study of identity in the U.S. university. From 1998-2004 she was co-director of the Dartmouth Institute in American Studies and from 2001-2007 the Margaret Taylor Smith Director of Women’s Studies at Duke University. Educated at Oxford and Cambridge, John Smelcer is the author of over 40 books and more than 400 journal publications, mostly in ethnic American literature, cultures, and languages. In the past two decades, he helped to establish and direct an undergraduate Native American Studies program at one university and a doctoral program in Hispanic Studies at another.
JS: Broadly speaking, American Studies interprets the development and expressions of national culture and subcultures and diasporas through the integration of a panoply of interdisciplinary academic subjects and methods, including, but certainly not limited to, history, literature (including ethnic American literature), ethnic studies (including folklore), social sciences, gender and sexuality, law, urbanism, ecology, religion and politics, economics, material culture, film and media, the arts (visual and performance), and transnational or global studies. Students and scholars of American Studies learn to think critically about American spaces, places, intellectualism, pluralism, and global connections. Have I missed anything or unnecessarily clogged things up in this definition?
RW: No definition of the field is ever complete, but in general American Studies scholars do aim for the kind of interdisciplinary reach you describe. In doing so, we encounter a variety of problems, beginning with a really basic one: what precisely do we mean by “American”? Historically speaking, of course, “America” is hemispheric in scope and there are many people in the world today who consider themselves American who are not from the United States. The challenge facing the field is about grasping the currencies of the contemporary world — what some people call transnationalism or globalization — without reproducing the cultural and political extension of the U.S. as a global hegemon, which entails a certain attention to what is particular about the U.S., its history, and its critical discourses. American Studies scholars are quite nervous when we encounter the demand for particularity, in part because it can lead so easily to declarations of American exceptionalism, which is a story the nation tells about its world historical singularity and god-given exception. Almost every war in the history of the U.S. has been buttressed by the exceptionalist explanation in which the U.S. acts as a model — the triumphalist term is “beacon” — for the rest of the world. American Studies today is more interested in what a bad example the U.S. has been for democracy, global security, and equality than the mythic story of how it has led the way. I think the biggest difficulty for the field is ultimately not about countering dominant narratives so much as putting the U.S. “in the world,” which requires a much broader and longer historical perspective that considers the U.S. in Thomas Bender’s words, “a nation among nations.”
DP: I agree with Robyn’s description of the interdisciplinary organization of American Studies. But the challenge she is talking about is well underway, as the recent “transnational turn” in American Studies has affected the most significant re-imagining of the field since its inception. It has been either the explicit topic or subtext of the last seven presidential addresses at the American Studies Association, the basis for innumerable conferences, and the term responsible for the founding of several new journals and book series. “America” remains the commonly accepted self-representation in American Studies Associations. But the term “transnational” is the most frequently invoked qualifier, undermining an exceptionalist conception and subsuming many of the variants that have drawn scholarly attention for decades, including such frameworks as the multicultural, border, and postcolonial. As “transnational American Studies,” the field is producing an encompassing geo-politics of knowledge that changes the way we imagine our work.
JS: Perhaps I should better describe the issue at question. Transnationalism and diaspora are generic terms that denote a wide range of migrant experiences, such as dislocation and relocation of ethnic groups and entails not only socio-cultural and psychological experiences, but also, because of the processes of accommodation and acculturation, entails a renegotiation of identity, one of the main themes in contemporary ethnic American literature/diaspora. This topic has become the subject of much interdisciplinary study. Does this mean that the transnational framework settles the problem Robyn identifies — that being American does not belong to the U.S. alone and that scholars need to find a way to differentiate between U.S. versions of globalization and the contemporary U.S. situation as part of globalization?
DP: The transnational turn has raised some questions of its own. Did the newly configured field foster an expanded sense of injustice and a cosmopolitan ethos? Was it a form of disciplinary imperialism designed to re-fashion social relations and cultural practices after the U.S. neoliberal model? Did the transnational framework foster an alternative to U.S. cultural and economic hegemony or embody the standpoint that Americanization assumed in the present conjuncture? While their responses to these questions vary, scholars agree about two significant matters: that Transnational American Studies scholars dismantled the foundational tenets and premises informing the methodology, periodization, pedagogy and geographical locations of U.S. American Studies, and that transnational Americanists have not as yet added a coherent order of intelligibility to the field.
JS: But all disciples go through transmutations, sometimes in fits and spasms, supplanting past paradigms and resignifying disparate pasts and futures. For instance, a myriad of subfields in anthropology exist today, which did not exist when I was an undergraduate almost thirty years ago, and ethnic American studies was still fairly new when I began college after the 1970s. How do we reconcile the recent emphasis on transnational perspectives within the foundational framework of American Studies? Can there be synthesis?
RW: Don’s description of the transnational’s remapping of U.S. American Studies has enormous appeal as an empirical claim about the practice and political investments of the field today. Countless books have recently emerged that take up the transnational as just such a radical reinvention, sometimes by paying attention to the important questions that Don offers about its implications, but most often not. My interest in the transnational turn lies in a different trajectory, as the rhetorical claim that underwrites its current celebrity does not supplant prior paradigms so much as imitate them. To be sure, the figure of transformation changes — from multicultural to border to diaspora to transnational. But the claim for transformation remains central. From this perspective, the transnational is the latest but surely not the last turn in which U.S. American Studies will repeat its characteristic reinvention of itself! The question this raises for me is “why?” Why do scholars spend so much time defining and defending the idea of a transformed field? I think it has everything to do with the anxiety that the object of study raises. It is as if scholars are trying to outrun the object’s global power by focusing on the formation of the field as the means to do so.
JS: I’d like to return to what Robyn said in her first response, i.e. that American Studies today is more interested in what a bad example the U.S. has been for democracy, global security, and equality. As I write this, today is the tenth anniversary of 9/11. It seems reasonable, to me, that Bush’s “War on Terror,” with its “us against them” policies reminiscent of the Cold War (a time when many tenets of American Studies were founded), should have spawned a decade of discourse about America’s exceptionality. Although published in 2002, almost all of the essays in Futures were written before 9/11 and, therefore, could not have predicted how that course of events would affect American Studies. I was not impervious to the spiritus mundi myself. Before his death in January 2010, Howard Zinn and I were planning a book organized similarly to yours to have been entitled, The United States of America(n Exceptionalism). Why do critics like Alan Wolfe view such thinking as anti-American? Indeed, in his 2003 New Republic review, Wolfe called my esteemed colleague and one-time teacher William Spanos (“American Studies in the ‘Age of the World Picture’”) “America-hating” (7), which I vehemently challenge. Spanos is part of the “The Greatest Generation” who served our nation proudly in World War II. It seems to me that a patriot can criticize national policies and histories and yet still love his nation. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say it is the duty of the informed citizen of a democracy to do so.
RW: Alan Wolfe also took aim, as you know, at The Futures of American Studies volume, casting nearly every essay included in it as the work of “bitter rejectionists” whose “hatred for America [is] so visceral that it makes one wonder why they bother studying America at all”. Don devoted an entire essay to examining the ways in which Wolfe’s attack reflected a near complete acquiescence to the heated language of the Bush Administration, whose rhetorical approach to the “war on terrorism” drew heavily on school yard machismo, as evinced by his much repeated proclamation, ‘if you aren’t with us, you are against it.’ In structuring his critique of American Studies through the language of hatred, Wolfe took part in the simplistic worldview revived by Bush, which made the critic who failed to affirm American innocence an enemy of the state. As John notes, this was a powerful tactic during the Cold War period which is also the geopolitical context in which American Studies was formally organized in the U.S. university. In both political moments, the idea that John raises — of patriotic critique — disappeared from public political culture altogether. Today, Americanist scholars are less interested in reviving the idea of dissent as a national duty or part of American identity than in pursuing the urgent questions that have remained unaddressed for the last decade: what role does U.S. foreign policy play in producing the very global antagonisms that the state “innocently” defends itself against? And what does it mean that our political elites today spend very little time soliciting popular support for wars and interventions? While Wolfe might be right about the way that dissent is at heart of contemporary Americanist work, his essay contributes next to nothing for the necessary analysis of these complexities.
JS: We’ve talked about the past and, to some extent, the present. But what is the future(s) of American Studies? How might you respond if a conscientious student were to ask you, “Where is the field headed in the next decade?” Several recent job announcements for Americanists state that the candidate should have a “dynamic understanding of where the field is headed.” Perhaps your response illuminates not so much where it is headed, but where it should be headed?
RW: In asking and answering the question about the shape of the field a decade ago, we felt certain that what was at stake for American Studies was about its future. Today I’m rather more interested in attending to the challenges of doing the transnational and postnational work that everyone now embraces, which is not about imagining where we are going but coming to grips with where we say we now are.
DP: I want to situate my response within the context of the significance of the recent transnational turn that Robyn and I both have affirmed. I do so to indicate its importance but without losing sight of some of the problems inherent in this re-orientation. The slogan “We’re all multiculturalists now!” suggested that multicultural and postcolonial attitudes had become the cosmopolitan norm. But transnational Americanists who encouraged the reformulation of multicultural conflicts that continue to take place within nations in terms of the cross-cultural processes carried out in between national and transnational imaginaries have sometimes ignored the structures of economic and cultural injustice that have persisted within the domestic sphere. In constructing alternative terrains of collective aspiration responsible for the production and reproduction of the everyday social life of subjects and citizens, transnational Americanists have argued that extra-national affiliations of domestic ethnic communities constituted the indispensable linkages interconnecting the US socioeconomic polity with Asia, Africa, and Latin America as well as Europe. They did so to elucidate the interdependence of the inequities and oppressions within the United States with the problems that had arisen throughout the global economic order. When Transnational American Studies scholars displaced the problems of the domestic multiculture onto these transnational environments, however, they sidelined unresolved multicultural and postcolonial discrepancies. By focusing on the political solidarities organized out of transnational commonalities, transnational Americanists also tended to ignore the intra-national trans-ethnic alliances fostered by domestic multicultural and postcolonial scholars.
Presupposing that domestic cultural and ethnic hierarchies could be suspended through such global exchanges, Transnational American Studies scholars left extant structures of power intact. The power relations regulating cultural arrangements within nations could not be magically transformed through the exchange of knowledge and experience between nations and transnational movements. But in the arc of the transnational turn, the exchanges between national American Studies organizations have assumed more significance than the reconfigurations of the relations among existing political constituencies within national cultures. In their assessment of the ways in which global economic processes have exceeded the nation-states regulatory powers, Transnational American Studies scholars may have engendered a change in mentalities but not in institutions or structures. They have called attention to disparate practices of spatialization, as they are evidenced in diasporas, migrations and borderlands, but the structured injustice at work in these spaces call for the instituting of postnational regulatory agencies and international courts of justice that have not yet emerged.
Since the social logic of diaspora communicates the aspiration of dispersed populations for such global tribunals of justice, questions posed by diasporas have reinstated the questions of the multicultural and the postcolonial within the transnational perspectives that had supplanted them. Diasporic migrant populations highlight the antagonism between the nation-state’s sovereign self-determination claims on the one hand, and the constraints dissevering migrant laborers from the rights to a fair wage, housing and health care enforced by enactments of local and global state of exception on the other hand. If multiculturalism and postcolonialism are the spectres that haunt Transnational American Studies, the peoples of the diaspora occupy sites beckoning transnational Americanists to return to these old haunts in the future. Transnational American Studies scholars have highlighted the role transnational and diaspora formations have played in challenging the state as the core governance apparatus regulating the economic, political processes within nation-state’s territorial borders. They have also attended to the ways in which states have reasserted sovereignty by assuming the abnormal status of the state of exception that installed the geo-juridical line disjoining transnational from diaspora formations. While the United States has assumed the global posture of a transnational state of exception there is no transnational democracy and there are no representative public institutions at the trans-statal level to recognize and adjudicate transnational cosmopolitan norms.
Under the new global conditions, I hope that in the future the field of Transnational American Studies take on responsibility for fostering what Michel Foucault called governmentality, which he defines as the “conduct of conducts.”‘ Governmentality links the norms informing an individual’s self-conduct with the forms of power through which the state governs the conduct of populations. As the placeholder for the transnational democracy and trans-state institutions that have not yet materialized, the Transnational American Studies movement has already assumed state-like functions. Scholars within the newly configured field exercise transnational governmentality in their efforts to undermine the juridical and economic constraints of the transnational state of exception, to accomplish the re-distribution of economic entitlements and cultural recognitions, and to re-map geographies. In the future I hope that Transnational American Studies will play a major role in inventing, fostering, reflecting upon the multicultural, postnational as well as trans-national mutations of the field of American Studies.
RW: What Don suggests here is that Transnational American Studies has yet to articulate its critical influence as a counter to state and market formations of power, which is why he calls for the field to engage more directly in promoting democratic institutions for transnational times. My sense is that the conscientious student needs to understand how the question of ‘where the field is headed’ performs, in its very claim to the future, a very long history in which the field vies with the nation-state for symbolic control over the meaning, authority, and political possibility of the geopolitical entity “America.” I am more interested in teaching the student about why American Studies scholars are so anxious about their relation to their object of study and what this teaches us about the challenges of being an Americanist today.
This article is being published simultaneously in “Rosebud”, the nation’s oldest quarterly literary publication that can be purchased at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and many independent bookstores. The simultaneous publication is an effort to bring select material in a timely fashion to audiences of both print and electronic editions. See http://www.rsbd.net.
Illustration at top of page: Valerie Brown
December 25, 2011 Comments Off on Discourse: American Studies
2011 – A Different Kind
of Top Ten List
By Jeff Katz
They’re all around you. On TV, in magazines, on the radio and in your daily paper. You love them, you hate them. They are the end of the year top ten lists. Whether you’re a movie, or a book, or a celebrity sex tape, you will be ranked. Does the #8 “Year’s Stupidest Criminal” wish he made it higher up the list? Hard to know.
Top songs and albums are, in my role as music editor, my bag, but I got to thinking. Is it so important what was the best music released this year? Isn’t that initial listen the most important thing? What makes 2011 releases so special? And while I spent my college years running the SUNY-Binghamton record store, Slipped Disc, and getting into heavy duty debates over who heard the first Violent Femmes album first, a serious jockeying for position on the “in the know” pecking order, I realize now that those to-dos meant squat. Being a hipster leads nowhere.
Is the person who bought their first Beatles 45 in Liverpool in 1963 so much better than the one who bought theirs a year later at Korvettes in New York? Did our hypothetical 1963 Liverpudlian love that record any more than a random Brooklynite in 1964? Pushing it further, did that 1964 teeny bopper derive any more pleasure than I did when I bought Something New back in 1979, completing my Beatle collection? How about the kid who discovers the Beatles right now, in 2011 through the life-changing remasters of 2009? Joy is joy – doesn’t matter one whit if the first time your hear a song is the year it came out, or decades later.
So here’s my Top Ten list of 2011, a two-fisted list of old and new. What they share is that they all came to my attention these past 12 months.
10 – Art Garfunkel – Breakaway (1975)
His is a lesser light, who rode a genius’ coattails (see that genius’ latest further down the list). There’s no two ways about it. Handsome? Yeech. Charismatic? Please. His voice is that of a true castrato and his lack of balls came through during his solo career. Yet, after watching the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert DVD (I was actually there!), I pulled out my copy of Angel Clare. “Garfunkel,” as he was billed on his premiere solo disc, shoulda been “& Garfunkel.” I liked some of his solo hits – “Wonderful World,” “Breakaway,” and Jimmy Webb’s “All I Know.” So I figured if I saw Artie’s ‘70’s LPs used, I’d buy them. Not a few days later I was at Last Vestige in Albany and there was most of his catalog at three bucks a pop.
Breakaway is surprisingly good and effective. The title track shines, and I was tickled to hear Garfunkel tackle, in English, my favorite Jobim tune, “Aguas de Marco.” There’s also the single from the short-lived Simon & Garfunkel, “My Little Town.” All in all, Garfunkel’s fey voice is put to fine use.
9 – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds (2011)
Despite their penchant for ripping off Beatle riffs, and Gary Glitter riffs, and everyone else’s riffs, I loved Oasis. Or maybe it was because of their plagiaristic “homages.” Either way, they made me happy. Yet their breakup didn’t bother me one bit, most likely because recent albums kinda sucked. Liam Gallagher’s first effort post-split, with his group Beady Eye, was predictably weak. Liam was the lesser of the two Gallagher brothers – his voice way too whiny, his songwriting talent non-existent. All hopes rested in big brother Noel’s debut.
He delivers with a strong set. “The Death of Me and You” is forceful and poignant in light of the band and family rift, and “(I Wanna Live in a Dream in My) Record Machine” stays on your mind. Who uses the term “record machine”? Eddie Cochran in “Twenty Flight Rock,” the tune Paul McCartney played for John Lennon and gained entry into The Quarrymen. And so the stealing continues, but it’s good fun.
8 – Syl Johnson – Complete Mythology (2010)
This monstrous box set of, to me, an unknown soul singer, became an obsession after seeing the still grinding Johnson at Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival this summer. The package is a beauty, with an exceptionally written booklet, five LPs with original covers, and a sweet portfolio of four CDs.
Granted, there’s a lot of repetition here – backing tracks used over and over in different incarnations, phrases used again and again in a number of songs – but I didn’t know the guy and a full scale immersion into his canon was a tremendously enjoyable experience. Syl is best known for the Wu-Tang’s sampling of “Different Strokes,” but he’s got a lot more where that came from. Plus, any catalog that has multiple songs about short dresses, hot pants and the power they contain is worth your time.
7 – Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello – The McCartney/McManus Collaboration (1998)
The songwriting summit of McCartney and Costello was much in the news in the late ‘80’s. “Ah,” pundits cried knowingly, “Elvis will provided the hard edge that Macca’s been without since he and John Lennon broke up.” It didn’t turn out quite that way. Much of what came out on Paul’s Flowers in the Dirt and Off the Ground and Elvis’ Spike andMighty Like a Rose was soft. It was, on the whole, very good stuff, but it was soft. There was a higher brand of wit and emotion in their product – “Don’t Be Careless Love,” “Mistress and Maid,” “Veronica,” So Like Candy” – but, of course, it was never possible to recreate Lennon-McCartney in McCartney/McManus.
Or was it? Turns out there was one song that was inexplicably left off all the albums that contained parts of the team’s effort: “Tommy’s Coming Home.” It’s a beautiful tale of a girl waiting for her dead soldier boy to come home. The lyrics are superbly realistic and imagistic; the two voices soar in and around each other. It is one of the best songs in either artist’s solo career and it’s contained on this album.
6 – Eilen Jewell – Queen of The Minor Key (2011)
How great is Eilen Jewell? Even Tom Hanks is on this hard-drivin’, genre-bustin’ pixie’s bandwagon. Her latest turned the heat up during an already steaming early summer. Queen runs the gamut of styles; the opening and closing swamp-twang instrumentals surround an abundant sampling of traditional country, rockabilly, honky tonk, forlorn ballads, torch songs and the occasional 1950s’ guttural sax. Jewell embraces it all with style and energy, and, regardless of song type, pure authenticity. Maybe that makes her hard to peg but it’s the key to her wonderfulness. And it’s all delivered with a healthy amount of enjoyment and humor. Each song is a highlight, not a bit of filler in the mix.
Her band, a band she’s managed to keep together since 2006, cooks. The big star, the main man, is guitarist Jerry Miller. He’s Duane Eddy, Link Wray and James Burton rolled into one. (Note: Eilen Jewell’s Miller is not the same Jerry Miller of Moby Grape, the height of the Haight-Ashbury bands that came out of late 1960s’ San Francisco. Regardless of what you may read on the Internet, it’s not the same guy). Eilen Jewell is a turbocharged kewpie doll. Don’t be fooled by her innocent looks or you’ll be left behind. Queen is a good place to start.
5 – Emitt Rhodes – Emitt Rhodes (1970)
On a sweltering July day I journeyed to New Paltz and Rhino Records. There, waiting for me, was Rhodes’ debut. From the first spin I was in love. Rhodes is a McCartney clone and one can overlook how wonderful that can be. Sometimes we forget just how large McCartney looms as a melody maker; Rhodes was heavily under his spell. Like his musical hero, Emitt plays all the instruments as he laid down the tracks in his home studio. These are pearls, each and every one, Like the aforementioned Oasis, there are snatches of familiarity, but Rhodes is more his own man than either Gallagher. Emitt Rhodes was the album I listened to the most this year.
4 – The Baseball Project – Vol. 2, High and Inside (2011)
Like a typical Yankee pennant winner made up of high priced superstars, The Baseball Project brought big guns together to win it all. After their debut album, Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows), Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate), Linda Pitmon (Golden Smog) and Peter Buck (R.E.M.) went their separate ways, but came back this year with a new collection, Vol. 2, High and Inside.
The thirteen tracks cover a wide range of baseball history — Tony Conigliaro’s lost possibilities, the travails of the ’86 Red Sox, the death of quirky phenom Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, to name a few — and travels through straight ahead indie rock, to surf music, to Steely Dan inspired rock. Bemoaning the early death of “The Bird” in the opening number “1976,” Wynn sings “What does it say for the rest of us when our heroes die and leave us alone?” That’s deep stuff. “Here Lies Carl Mays” closes the album. Yankee Mays, whose pitch killed Indians shortstop Ray Chapman in 1920, croons from the grave, defending his career and expressing the remorse he never showed in real life. It’s a beautiful song about the curves life throws and how we are often left futilely explaining our actions to no one. Sad and touching, it’s the epitome of what The Baseball Project does well, presenting universal emotions disguised in a sports song.
3 – Doug Dillard & Gene Clark – The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark (1968)
Sundazed Music can always be counted on for quality reissues. They have beautiful taste and that was made clear with their three Gene Clark reissues of 2011. Clark, the most-forgotten but most important of The Byrds, was returned to the pedestal he should always rest upon. For me, Fantastic Expedition was at the top of that trio.
The soft, often quaking, depth of Gene Clark’s voice on the lead track “Out On the Side” will break your heart. But this opener is a head fake, a rock song that serves as an amuse-bouche for an eight-course bluegrass feast. “Train Leaves Here This Morning” is bittersweet wonder, redone years later to much lesser affect on The Eagles’ first album. The country pickin’ gospel of “Git It on Brother” is a rollicking hoot and the only non-Clark penned tune. (Gene wrote or co-wrote every entry except this Lester Flatt number). From start to finish it is a wonderful record.
2 – Paul Simon – So Beautiful or So What (2011)
I’ll admit that I am predisposed to like a new Paul Simon album. From the get-go, Simon’s solo work left Simon & Garfunkel in the dust and, among his peers (McCartney, Dylan to name two), Simon’s solo work has been an unparalleled run of excellence.
So Beautiful is ridiculously good, bouncing effortlessly from the seriousness of Iraq and life after death to the goofiness of the secret of existence contained in an old Gene Vincent tune. “The Afterlife” is as funny a take on eternity as Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life, and it’s only 3:40! “Dazzling Blue” is an amalgam of Simon’s solo styles. Over tabla and clay pots, Simon strums a tale of a leisurely drive out to Montauk. It’s followed by “Rewrite,” where Simon thanks the Lord for interceding as he revises his work and his life, accompanied by djembe, glass harp and bass talking drum, in another fusing of the exotic with the common.
So Beautiful or So What mixes the best of Paul Simon; super melodies over solid beats, with words that’ll make you smile as you think. So, where does So Beautiful or So What sit among Paul Simon’s 12 studio albums? Classic.
1 – Liam Finn – FOMO (2011)
As with Syl Johnson, my Liam Finn focus began at Solid Sound. I’d heard of him, the offspring of Tim Finn, the effortless popsmith of Split Enz, The Finn Brothers and, for a short time, Crowded House. This apple is so close to the tree that it never fell off.
Liam’s songs are a life force, powerfully driving. From “Neurotic World” to “Jump Your Bones,” FOMO will move you. The drum and bass pulsate in a distinctive way. Finn’s voice floats lightly, though not weakly, above the music. Like his father before him, Liam has as many hooks as a tackle shop, but the best song of the bunch is “Cold Feet.” It was my favorite song of the year, the one I turned to most often. My #1 song belongs on my #1 album.
Happy New Year!
December 25, 2011 Comments Off on Jeff Katz/Music
How To Feel Life
The basement stairwell is dark, no ghosts in the corner where I go to smell my mother
in an old black file cabinet that holds her life, lost that February day as snow wisps floated
across the highway, cold angels promising to lay a coat by midnight.
I carry her keys, on a golden chain with a large brass C, insert one at the cabinet top,
wait for the welcome pop of the lock, metal against metal, it’s open.
The top drawer — bank files, an old business ledger, a stained satin book with raised pink
flowers, Our Baby’s First Year, my sister’s history in great detail down to the final ounce
in her bottle, mine beneath, jotted afterthoughts seven years later.
The third drawer — the death drawer, funeral guest book, cemetery plot papers, two glass
cylinders, seven-day mourning candles, one for her, one for Dad, empty save for burnt wicks.
The bottom drawer — jewelry, safe from intruders, my pearls, her pearls, my gold, her gold,
bracelets, earrings, filigree pins, all hidden under the death drawer.
I savor the second drawer, slide the hinge, pull it open, there it is. Her makeup case, red leather
(Red is life, she said, tie a red ribbon on your babies’ cribs). I unsnap it, inhale her stale
sweetness, pull open lipstick, remembering the sound she’d make as she smacked ruby lips
together, mwah, mwah, and then paah! she’d open her mouth, forming a wordless O
as if surprised. In a plastic container, pressed powder, a cracked circle. She’d reach over,
pat my nose with the soft pad. Why is your nose red? she’d ask, clogging my pores to bring on
next week’s rash. Put on some lipstick, she’d tell me then, you look pale, tired, you should rest.
Eye cream, blue to match her new polyester pantsuit, pants for a lady who’d always skirted up
for her man, her love who’d slipped away on another winter night.
She’d pull out the red leather bag at lunch, shared tuna at the diner, sugared pancakes at IHOP,
Kosher corned beef at the deli, I’ll take my half home, eat it later, she’d tell me as she prepared
her face to reenter her lonely apartment when I’d leave to ply the highway home.
I close my eyes, take another whiff, snap the clasp, lay it in the drawer of scents.
Next week I’ll return to feel her around me, hear her words, nice girls don’t shave their legs,
stay away from Palisades Park, don’t let a boy touch your body, your nose is red, your lips
are pale, you need rest you need rest you need rest.
I pull the key from the lock, push in the oval — click — and climb the stairs toward my life,
vow to change the bulb on the wall before my next visit to the place where I go
to smell my mother.
About the poet:
Gail Fishman Gerwin’s memoir Sugar and Sand received 2010 Paterson Poetry Prize finalist designation, and she earned four consecutive Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards honorable mentions. Her poetry appears in journals including Paterson Literary Review, U.S. 1 Worksheets, Jewish Women’s Literary Annual, Caduceus, Calyx, The American Voice in Poetry, and Lips.
December 25, 2011 1 Comment
This is that fruit
Hanging like an emblem over many a shadowland.
It looks a bit like a green-colored grenade
Or, at times, like a heart too—
Interior filled up with the tantalizing smell of gunpowder,
And its taste—inexplicable!
The place where we used to live in childhood, there was a haunted house nearby, full of ancient trees and creepers and moss. One evening, starting up from his siesta and in the manner of a detective protagonist, my grandfather took me with him to that house. A forlorn place swaying in the breeze. From among a cluster of trees he pointed to me one. It was an ordinary tree with a few fruits hanging from it, which looked like grenades to me. It was the mewa. Custard-apple mewa. My grandfather said — These are fruits of paradise. The only heavenly fruit allowed to be exhibited on earth. Look at them closely and keep it quiet. No sooner had he said this than our bodies shuddered like fire-crackers. Engulfing me along with my thrills, my grandfather’s pox-spotted fair body and dusk-colored long beard blew in the sporadic draft.
The sun is setting on the other bank of the clear-streamed Harabati. On that horizon, a distant banana plantation begins to appear. A guerrilla boy emerges from the plants and wanders all alone as if in a fairytale—
Without his cohorts, cut off from his group forever,
Whirling about and always getting lost,
A guerrilla boy all by himself
With a custard apple in his right hand, a grenade in his left,
On the left ear a little ring, a Kalashnikov hanging from the shoulder,
Wearing a steel-colored jacket, a bullet necklace on the neck
With his heart in the middle—all kept in place with a lot of pins.
In the distant, sunset-smeared banana plantation, an outlandish guerrilla boy.
Talks nimbly—in precise terrorist terms.
There is neither other language nor idiom among the vegetation than this—
And against terror—frequent, wonderful little acts of terror…
Having accomplished each one of them, cupping his hands he drinks water
And whirling about and getting continuously lost
This guerrilla boy becomes a solitary terror artist.
And this is that fruit
Hanging like an emblem in many a shadowy land
The sunset-polished, dismal grenade fruit
With the tantalizing smell of gunpowder inside,
And a taste—inexplicable!
The grenade, on the other hand, is a wonderful earthly fruit,
A bit tangy, but still a delicious earthly fruit,
Hanging like an emblem in many a sunny land,
Full of the addictive smell of an exotic fruit inside.
This evening the mingled smell of custard apples and grenades are driving alien forests insane.
An outlandish guerrilla boy
With a custard apple in his right hand, a grenade in his left,
And his heart in the middle. Thus balancing the fruits
He staggers across that perilous bridge on the road to heaven,
Knocks at heaven’s gate with news of a yet more exotic, symbolic, earthly fruit…
A long way behind him, the queued up pilgrims of virtue wait for their turn,
They are an alarmingly long way behind…
This is that fruit
Hanging in many sunny lands of the earth like an emblem.
[Ataphal; Translated from original Bengali by Subrata Augustine Gomes, poet, writer, translator]
About the poet:
Masud Khan (b. 1959) is a poet, writer, and translator who emerged as an important poet in the 1980s, mostly supported by counter-cultural little magazines. Over the past two decades or more his poetry and essays have featured in magazines in Bangladesh, India, USA, UK, Belgium, Romania, Malaysia and Canada. Sajjad Sharif writes about Masud – The poetic language he uses is also multifarious – “tatsama” (Sanskrit root) words are often paired up with vernacular or colonial English, a constant slippage of nouns and adjectives shining up old-fashined sentences. In the end, language sets up like trap a network of sound.” Masud Khan’s poetry has appeared in a number of anthologies including Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond (Norton Anthology, New York/London), and Padma Meghna Jamuna: Modern Poetry from Bangladesh by Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature. Presently a resident of Toronto, Canada, Masud Khan works as an electrical engineer.
[ Extracted from the Kaurab, a literary webzine & reprinted with permission:
December 25, 2011 Comments Off on Masud Khan/Poetry
The Postmodern Economic-Social Principals
of Why Everyone Is Such a F**king A**hole
By Scott “Galanty” Miller
Myth #1: As a society, we’re closer than ever now because of the Internet and other forms of mass media. We’re all “connected”.
Define “closer”. Define “connected”. Millions of people are “connected” to Kim Kardashian. They follow her on Twitter. They watch her television programs. They wear her clothing line. They read about her personal life. But are they “close” to Kim Kardashian? No. They’re not. I watched Kim Kardashian’s wedding on TV. I didn’t see you there. You weren’t invited. You and Kim Kardashian aren’t close.
The Internet connects us in superficial ways, via the exchange of information. But yet the Internet pulls us farther apart emotionally. It separates us. Why? Because it’s big. It’s vast.
Have you ever had to relay sad news to someone? It’s difficult. It’s an emotional experience. But now let’s say you had to give sad news to fifty people today. It’s difficult the first time… and then the second time… and maybe the third time. But by the time you’ve reached the fiftieth person of the day? Your emotions and compassion and your ability-to-empathize have faded. And your feelings of “I have an emotional connection to this person” shift to “I have a craving for burritos. Is Taco Bell still open?” By the time you’ve reached the fiftieth person of the day, you’re just phoning it in. Hence, we have the expression “phoning it in”, which means, essentially, “lacking emotional interest in whatever activity in which you are engaged”. And the Internet is – figuratively and literally – a big cell phone.
Myth #2: As a society, we’re more compassionate than ever now because of the Internet and other forms of mass media.
A story came out about a dolphin that lost its fin in an accident. So engineers built a prosthetic fin. That’s compassion. A Disney movie was produced, based on this true event. And that’s nice. But this is an individual example of the human spirit, our species’ biological ability to feel and display compassion and kindness. This is not “society”. Society is much more powerful than ‘biology’. Society guides us. It teaches us. Society is “The Cove”, a 2009 documentary film about the annual, inhumane dolphin slaughter inJapan. Biologically, human beings have the ability to understand – to “feel” – this cruelty. So then why are people such a**holes? Because we’re being guided by a corporate “Internet” society. And this technological economy has no compassion. It can’t. The economy doesn’t have the biological ability to “feel”. Our economic system doesn’t even have a biology.
Compassion requires an emotional connection. All human relationships require an emotional connection of some kind. Otherwise, the relationship is not of humanity. It’s just a “goal”. The direct and indirect interactions we have with other people within the massive global economic system are not relationships. They’re goals. If one purchases a picture frame from Amazon.com, there are several people involved: the customer who wants to buy the frame, the Amazon employee who puts wraps the frame and ships it, the subcontracted worker in some factory in a foreign country who makes the frame. These people are superficially connected, but they don’t really have a “relationship” with each other. Instead, they each have a goal. One person’s goal is to buy the frame. Another person’s goal is to ship the frame. As it relates to achieving their goals, these people have no emotional connection to each other. They don’t know anything about each other. As it relates to achieving their goals, they don’t really think about one another’s existence. And you can’t show compassion towards someone if you don’t know they exist.
The Hallmark Company employs writers to come up with generic words of sympathy. And they’re nice words. But do these writers actually feel anything when they string together these words? Can you mass-market sympathy for people who may or may not even exist? (I suspect that while Hallmark sells many sympathy cards, many of those same cards never wind up getting bought or used.)
Now, of course, within our own private social media world, we are aware of the people to whom we’re technologically connected. But they’re not so much living, breathing human beings as they are pictures and words on a screen. And so the compassion we show is a façade. If one announces the death of his or her mother on Facebook, hundreds of Facebook “friends” – many of whom the person hasn’t seen in years, if ever – will respond with words of compassion. But can they actually feel compassion here? Perhaps. But how authentic can this sort of compassion possibly be? One of my Facebook friends was the victim of domestic abuse. She updated her status to announce, only minutes after the real event occurred, that her husband had been taken away in police custody. Dozens of her Facebook friends added “like” to her status. “Human compassion” now amounts to the 1.5 seconds required to press the “like” tab.
Myth #3: Corporations can operate with compassion and heart.
No. Corporations don’t have compassion. Corporations don’t know compassion. By definition, any human emotion interferes with the goal of the corporation. A corporation isn’t a human being. And now, a corporation isn’t even a building or a logo or a product. Corporate America – this landscape ruled by technological machinery – is a system whose only goal is to maximize profits.
Think of it this way. How does a calculator work? A calculator is designed to achieve its goals. Any sort of “human emotion” would interfere with this goal. If you input “2+2=” into a calculator, the machine is designed to achieve its goal, which is to find the mathematic answer to the equation. (The answer is “4”, by the way.) The calculator doesn’t think about why you’re inputting this unsolved equation. The calculator doesn’t have the ability – it isn’t designed with the ability – to “think” in this way. And even if it did have the ability to think in this way, it still wouldn’t take time to ponder the “why”. Because that would slow down the process… of achieving its goal. The calculator doesn’t make moral decisions about the equation. Perhaps you want to find the mathematical answer to “2+2=” in order to help you plan out a bank robbery, or a quadruple homicide. It doesn’t matter. The calculator doesn’t care. The calculator doesn’t make moral judgments. The calculator can’t have a “morality”.
Now, human beings have emotions. And human beings are using the calculator. They are operating the calculator. But this makes no difference to the system by which the calculator achieves its goals. Whether a person is nice or mean-spirited, compassionate or heartless, the calculator still operates in the same way. The way by which the calculator solves “2+2=” is the exact same. The speed by which the calculator solves “2+2=” is the exact same. A human being’s emotions are irrelevant to how the calculator functions.
When a driver cuts you off in traffic, he or she is generally not basing this action on emotion. Rather, you are simply in the way of the other driver’s goal – which is to reach their destination as quickly and conveniently as possible. Think of a calculator as that driver. The calculator is a selfish a**hole.
The economy guides society. This is inescapable. Even if you live in isolation, you’re still under the influence of the system by which K-Mart and Burger King and ‘Bed, Bad & Beyond’ operate. The economy guides human beings. And the economy is a giant, global-reaching calculator that controls us.
Group Size vs. The Postmodern Corporate System
Have you ever been the first guest to arrive at a party? (That happened to me once. And, as it turned out, I was also the only guest at the party. This was not a good party.) When you’re the first guest at a party, you converse with the host. And if the host is a good friend, this one-on-one conversation is sometimes very personal, emotional. Maybe your mother has been ill. The host will ask you about your mother. And you’ll spend a few minutes discussing how this illness has affected you personally.
Then a couple more people arrive to the party. If you don’t know them, you’ll introduce yourself. And so now this group of four people – you, the host, and these two new arrivals – is having one united conversation. (“2+2=4”) At this point, you will have stopped talking about your mother’s illness because it’s too “personal” to share within this bigger group, especially since you barely know some of the people in the group. As the group grows, you’re already losing personal, emotional connections.
This group of four people generally engages in conversation in the living room or the kitchen. At parties, guests tend to gravitate towards the kitchen.
Then three more people arrive at the party. Once again, even if you don’t know them, you’ll introduce yourself. And now there are seven people at the party. Yet, the party still consists of a single, united (though larger) group. And the group still engages in one united conversation. And the group still forms a pseudo-circle, with each individual knowingly taking a spot within the perimeter of the circle. And the group remains in the living room or in the kitchen.
After the ninth or tenth person arrives at the party, though, that big group starts to break down, figuratively and literally. The big, united conversation transforms into several different, separate conversations within the group… usually depending on the distance the guests are standing from each other. Partygoers become disconnected with the people in the group that are farther away. Guests begin having individual or smaller conversations with the one or two other people standing next to them. Also, guests start exiting from the original party circle; they leave the living room or kitchen and go to different rooms and areas, where they continue with their individual conversations.
There is a reason for this party dynamic. It’s not coincidental. Rather, it’s impossible to sustain a human connection with ten people at one time. It’s impossible to connect on any sort of real emotion level with ten people at once. Because not only are you talking to nine other people at once. But those other nine people are also talking to nine people at once. And this amounts to thousands of different interactions.
This party dynamic explains the corporate takeover of global society. This party dynamic explains Wal-Mart’s rise to power. And within this corporatization, human compassion has given way to emotionless goals.
Dyads and Triads
A dyad is a social group between two members. A dyad is, by definition, the smallest possible social group of human beings; it’s the smallest possible “society”. Less than two people is just one person. One person by him or herself is not a society. Rather, it’s social isolation.
A dyad is, by definition, the most emotionally and personally intense and intimate social group that can exist. It’s the most emotional. It’s the most intimate. It’s the most personal social group. But a dyad is almost the most unstable social group. It’s the least stable.
A marriage is a dyad. A marriage consists of two people: a husband and a wife. (Or a ‘husband and a husband’ or a ‘wife and a wife’, depending on which state you live.) A marriage is very personal, emotional, intimate. The kinds of things that you do with your spouse behind closed doors is much more intimate and personal than the kinds of things you do with, say, your co-worker. But yet a marriage is also very unstable. Because if just one person leaves the marriage, the marriage will disintegrate. Hence, the divorce rate is so high. (See? All topics always come back to Kim Kardashian.)
Two friends together make up a dyad. And two friends together are more intimate, more personal, they’ll share more secrets… than if a group of five friends are together. But a dyad is unstable. For example, if you’re meeting just one friend out to dinner, and that person cancels at the last minute, then there is no dinner. On the other hand, if you’re meeting five friends out for dinner, and one of those friends cancels at the last minute… then you’ll still go out with this group of four other people.
A triad is a social group consisting of three people. In other words, a triad is bigger than a dyad.
A triad is more stable than a dyad. But it’s not as emotionally intense. It’s not as personal.
If a married couple is meeting with a marriage counselor, this is a triad: a husband, a wife, and the marriage counselor. Of course, it’s not as personally intimate as a dyad. A married couple isn’t going to do the same things behind closed doors (or, for that matter, even argue with as much emotional passion) as they would in their counselor’s office. But a triad is more stable. For example, if one of the spouses gets upset during the marital consultation, and he or she leaves the office, a group still exists: the other spouse and the counselor.
A family of three – a husband, a wife, and a child – make up a triad. The emotional atmosphere is not as intense as if the couple were alone. The couple is not going to do and say the same sort of things in front of their child as if they were alone. But this group of three is more stable. Because if the father walks out on his family, the family still exists: the mother and her child.
The point? As a social group grows bigger, it becomes more stable. But as a social group grows bigger, it becomes less personal. A triad is not as personal as a dyad, but it’s more stable. A group of ten people is not as personal as a triad, but it’s more stable. Thousands of people together are not as personal as a group of ten, but “thousands of people together” is more stable. A corporation is “thousands of people together”. Hence, the biological aspects of human compassion, emotions, are irrelevant within a corporation. Hence, a corporation isn’t really human at all.
This has been the basis for economic change over the past 30 years. Corporations – giant, unfeeling groups – have taken over the economic landscape, leaving smaller businesses irrelevant. Individually-owned, independently operated businesses, “Mom & Pop Stores”, were personal. Everyone working in the store knew each other by their first names. But those small stores and businesses weren’t stable. Wal-Mart isn’t personal. If you work at Wal-Mart, you don’t know the other two-million employees within the corporation. You’re not going to know their names. You can’t know all of their names. But Wal-Mart survives for this very reason; Wal-Mart is big and stable and it is guided, not by individual emotion, but by its system, it’s goal.
Take, for example, a small, individually-owned business: “Joe’s Diner”. The purpose of “Joe’s Diner” is not to grow larger. Rather, Joe, the owner, operates the business with the goal of maintaining a steady, consistent profit margin and keeping the diner afloat. Plus, Joe, a human being, probably has other goals irrelevant of profit. For example, perhaps Joe wants to cook and prepare the food in the way he thinks best. Or maybe he enjoys maintaining the aesthetics of the diner’s interior; he hangs up photographs and wall art that have special meaning to him. And maybe Joe works to keep his business alive because it has a history in the community; all the folks in town have fond memories of eating at Joe’s place, and this is important to Joe. This is human emotion. But today, as a necessity to how corporations fulfill their singular goal – to be as profitable as possible, as efficiently as possible – these goal must take precedence over any real emotional, human connection.
Corporations are becoming more and more automated and impersonal. And as the economy guides society, human lives become more impersonal. The economy – this aspect of society – is, in the bigger picture, changing who we are.
The world of “Joe’s Diners” is fading. McDonald’s and Wendy’s and Pizza Hut have taken over. Take, for example, McDonald’s. McDonald’s is, by definition, a robotic system in which corporate stability comes ahead of people. McDonald’s, in order to maintain itself as a profit-making system, must keep corporate stability ahead of the individual needs and emotional of people… because people are always leaving McDonald’s. Low-level employees are constantly leaving McDonald’s. Middle-managers are constantly leaving McDonald’s. Not even the McDonald’s CEO remains the same. But yet… McDonald’s remains stable.
Conduct a five-year social study. Today, go to a nearby McDonald’s. The restaurant will have a certain “look” about it. The system used within the restaurant, like how you order your food, will be very specific. The food will have a certain taste. Five years from now, go to that same McDonald’s. The staff will be different. In five years, many, if not most, of the employees working there now will be gone. But, yet, five years from now, the restaurant will have the same generic “look”. The system used within that McDonald’s will be the same. The food will still taste the same.
“Joe’s Diner” has a certain look. But if Joe retires and someone takes over the restaurant, it will start to look different. The new owner will add his or her own personal, human touch to the diner. The new owner’s human emotions will play a factor in how the diner operates and changes. (And if the diner, now under new management, doesn’t change, it is will mostly likely be in honor of Joe. But, still, the human element plays a part.) If Joe dies, and someone else takes over the restaurant from him, the food will start to taste different. The new owners, the new cooks, will add their own personal food-preparation touches.
At McDonald’s, all of this is irrelevant. If McDonald’s introduces a new CEO tomorrow, then McDonald’s hamburgers will still taste the same tomorrow. And all corporations – all the goods and services that we use – operate in this way. Corporate stability takes precedence over humanity.
This is not to say that corporations don’t engage in charitable endeavors. But even this charity lacks any sort of human element. Corporations donate money, for example, based on how the donation functions within the corporation’s system of purpose. In other words, corporations aren’t created for the purposes of making donations to charitable foundations.
Here’s another way of putting it…
Corporations don’t give money to charity based on any sort of human element within the corporation. Pizza Hut donates a certain amount of money each year. The Pizza Hut CEO is irrelevant of this aspect of the corporate system. If Pizza Hut introduces a new CEO this year, the charitable aspect of the restaurant chain won’t really change. Pizza Hut will still give essentially the same monetary amounts to essentially the same charities as it did the year before. The new CEO’s emotions, his or her own interests and creativity, doesn’t play a factor. So when Pizza Hut donates to charity, it is reminiscent of people pressing the “like” tab after my Facebook friend’s abusive husband was arrested. It’s fake compassion. There is no real human element to it.
This “like tab” culture is socializing and affecting us – all of us. Regardless of whether you eat at McDonald’s, we’re still unable to escape the corporate element that it represents. We see it. We’re surrounded by it. We’re engulfed within it. And we’re becoming a robotic people numb to new ideas and afraid of change and without any creativity. We’re changing as we’re being guided by this alienating economic system.
“Everyone is a F**king A**hole Now” vs. The Corporate System
Ask anyone if they ever worked in a small, individually-owned store or restaurant or business. If they did, ask them if they knew the name of their boss – not their manager, but their boss, the person who owned the business. Ask them if their boss knew their name. In all likelihood, the answer to these questions will be “yes”.
Now ask anyone if they ever worked in a big-chain, corporate business, like KFC or Target or Bank of America. If they did, ask them if they knew the name of their boss – not their manager, but their boss, the CEO of the corporation. More times than not, the answer will be “no”. Then ask them if their boss knew their name. The answer will almost always be “no”.
Let’s say you have a job, you work for a business, and you get sick for a month. If you and your boss know each other, if you and your boss know each other’s name, then of course your boss will be more understanding of your situation. That’s humanity. We feel compassion for those to whom we are emotionally connected. Now, if you get sick and your boss has no idea who you are, and he or she doesn’t know your name, and he or she never even sees you… then he won’t care and he’ll have no problem replacing you. That’s human nature. We don’t care about what we don’t know exists.
Of course, giant corporations generally have some sort of employee health plan. But this health plan works within the structure of the system. It’s a necessary aspect of the goal of the corporation. There is no individual human emotion to any corporate health plan. There is no corporation inAmericatoday whose health plan includes a personal visit from the CEO, just to “see how you’re doing”.
If you’re close to someone – if you’re in a dyad relationship – the person means something to you emotionally. If you’re not close to someone – if you’re living within the system of a corporation, surrounded by millions of coworkers – then the person doesn’t mean anything to you emotionally. This is the nature of human beings and all living creatures.
In order to fulfill this goal, corporations must continue to grow. Corporations must continue to get bigger and to grow more powerful and to multiply their profit margins. The corporation is, by definition, a system of economic growth. The human beings that occupy the corporation are irrelevant. The individuals within the corporation come and go. But the system remains. Only a human being can say, “Our profits are growing at the expense of the environment, so let’s change the system and slow things down.” Only a person can say, “Our Corporation’s goal is causing the social ennui of this community, so we should change our goals.” Without the human element, the system remains.
That corporations have become global enterprises is simply an inevitable product of the corporation’s growth. And every corporation is global now. Every corporation is part of the international community now, if only indirectly. Perhaps there are no Wal-Marts, yet, in third-world nations around the world. But Wal-Mart’s influence is still felt world-wide. Most of the products sold at Wal-Mart are not domestic. Wal-Mart merchandise is made throughout the world, sometimes under hazardous conditions, by people none of us will ever know or see. Do you know the name of the person who made the oven mitt you bought at Wal-Mart? And make no mistake about it – these people do work for Wal-Mart. The foreigners making this merchandise are basically indirect Wal-Mart employees. And these employees are not working under any kind health plan from Wal-Mart. That’s because to offer healthcare coverage to workers, when it’s not legally or socially required, when it doesn’t harm the public relations of the corporation, contradicts the profit-making system set into place. (It’s not entirely impossible that the CEO of Wal-Mart would visit one of the company’s stores in a different state and meet with some of the lower-level employees. But I’d bet Kim Kardashian’s fortune that no CEO of any major American superstore has traveled oversees to visit the workers in the subcontracted factories who are making the stuff that his American stores sell for profit.)
Now let’s say one of these foreign Wal-Mart employees accidentally cuts off his or her hand while operating an unsafe factory machine. Of course, the worker has no healthcare coverage. Do you care? Well, in theory, of course, decent human beings are saddened by suffering. So then why don’t you care? Because you don’t know that this worker exists. You don’t know them. You don’t see them. There is no personal touch, no human element, to the products that they make – that we use. These people don’t have names. And, regardless of how compassionate a person you may be, we still can’t have compassion for what we don’t understand exists. That’s human nature.
* * *
“Why is everyone such a prick?” is not a rhetorical question. There is an answer. Human beings are social creatures. We’re not “biological” creatures. This means that we’re dependent on society, on our social surroundings. And society is teaching us to be unfeeling and uncaring. Society, which is now a vast global corporate system that is virtually impossible to escape, engulfs us. The Wal-Mart worker who cut off his hand and has no healthcare coverage? That happened. This person exists. That suffering is real. And we’re all surrounded by this reality. When you’re surrounded by kindness and compassion, you’ll be kind & compassionate. When you’re surrounded by suffering, it affects you, It affects all of us – subtly, subconsciously, indirectly. You don’t have to know a person’s name, you don’t have to know that suffering is happening, to be affected by that nameless human being’s suffering.
In other words…
If we have no personal connection to people, then we’re not going to care if something bad happens to them. But if bad things are happening to people, and nobody cares, then the world becomes a lesser place. And when we live in a lesser place, we become lesser people. We become, for lack of a better term, a**holes.
The other day, I read an article about high school Internet bullying. We keep hearing about children committing suicide due to the harassment they endure on-line. It’s not that on-line bullying is worse than physical, in-person bullying. It’s that it’s less emotionally-connected.
If a child is bullying a classmate in person, on the playground, in the parking lot, and then the victim takes out a gun and he or she puts it in his mouth, well… I suspect that at that point, most bullies would stop what they were doing, at least at that moment. (It doesn’t matter if the bully feels compassion or not. Rather, the bully is going to stop because they can see the severity of the situation. They don’t want to get into trouble.) But if a teenager is bullying a classmate on-line, on Facebook, and the victim has a gun in his or her mouth… well, the bully doesn’t know that the victim is about to commit suicide. The bully has no emotional connection to his or her victim. So the bully isn’t going to stop the harassment.
Technology and the corporate growth have brought us all together globally. Indirectly, we’re all interacting with each other. But if you don’t know the people with whom you’re interacting, if you have no emotional connection to them, then you’re more likely to take advantage of them. In other words, drivers don’t cut their friends off in traffic. Those a**hole drivers? They cut off strangers, people with whom they have no emotional connection. Indirectly, on a global scale, we’re interacting with people with whom we have no emotional connection, with people we don’t care about.
Now, you might not like your friends. Maybe you can’t stand them. But you’re not going to cut them off in traffic… and you’re not going to leave them dying in the streets. But if a foreign worker loses their hand in a factory accident, or if something bad happens to someone you don’t know… well, we don’t have time to worry about that. We don’t have time to think about that… because we’re too busy watching “Keeping Up With the Kardashians”. But of course this is affecting us – subtly, subconsciously, indirectly, gradually, and negatively – because we’re all part of the same society now. And this society is teaching us to live without compassion. And it’s turning us into such f**king a**holes!
Actually, because of technology, Americans aren’t even emotionally connected to each other through the media anymore. In the past, when a popular television program was on, folks would gather around their TV sets at the same time to watch it. This “shared” time helped to unite the country. Now everyone is watching that TV show at different times: on DVR, on Hulu, on DVD, etc. Hence, we’re losing that unifying connection.
It’s rarely noticed that Facebook users post comments, and then respond and react to each other’s comments, at different times. Or, here’s another way of looking at it. Think of the last time you had a deep, emotionally intense, personally intimate conversation with another person. What if that interaction was broken up into different time periods? For example, you said something. Then you went out to the store for an hour. Then you came back and the other person responded to your initial comment. Then that person met another friend for lunch. Then the person came back, and then you replied to their response, etc. The conversation loses its emotional intensity; it loses that “human connection”.
About the author:
Scott “Galanty” Miller teaches sociology at the State University of New York at Cortland. He is also a contributing writer for the award-winning Onion News Network. His website is at www.scottgalantymiller.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @galantymiller
December 25, 2011 Comments Off on The Social Disconnect/Culture
(Who needs it?)
by Mark Levy
This is an age of excess. I bought a car that can go way faster than I have the nerve to drive. And the speedometer also includes speed markings in kilometers, which makes the speed look 38% faster. Oh, and there are seven − count ‘em SEVEN − digits on the odometer. That’s over a million miles in one car, or two round trips to the moon. Who drives that far? A million miles. Sheeesh. I’m lucky if I can get to a tenth of that − one hundred thousand miles − without my engine blowing up, like it’s already done in a couple of my previous cars.
The point is, my speedometer and my odometer and my car itself have much greater capacity than I need. The car also has four exhausts, which is one more than the space shuttle used to have. And it’s not just the car that exceeds the comfort range of most humans.
I also have a computer with a memory that’s the envy of every other computer on my block. If I write a 300-page novel every other day and store it in the memory of my computer, I won’t need to get another computer for a million years; well, over 850 thousand years, at least.
The folks who make hot dog rolls sell them in packages of eight, even though hot dogs themselves come in packages of six. I’ve been to many, many barbeques, but darned if I’ve ever heard someone request an extra roll for her hot dog.
My wristwatch is accurate to a hundredth of a second, but I can’t change my habit of telling my friend I’ll meet him for lunch “around noon.” The watch is guaranteed to work up to 200 meters under water. It would have to be quite a downpour to result in that much water on my street. And if I did find myself 200 meters under water some day − the equivalent of over two football fields deep − I don’t think checking the time of day would be my highest priority.
The hot water in my kitchen sink is capable of scalding the feathers off a chicken. But all I need is warm water to rinse plates before the dishwasher takes over.
As long as I’m in the kitchen, let me tell you about my new microwave oven. It exceeds my desire or capacity to use it. Its keyboard has about 90 settings, so I can thaw, simmer, and overcook. I can start the process immediately or I can instruct the machine to start cooking six days and 23 hours from now. I can vary the heat and the time for each of up to 999 cooking steps. If I google a microwave recipe someday, for example, maybe I’ll prepare pheasant under glass in that unit. But like most of us, now I use it just to boil water or make popcorn.
Speaking of popcorn, we all know that movie theaters now sell large, gargantuan, and humongous sizes of popcorn. But did you know that big box stores sell Cheerios in a cardboard box that’s 6 by 8 by almost 14 inches high? Who has a family that big? And who has room for a box that size in their kitchen? I would need a separate parking space for that thing.
My TV has a sound system that can be cranked up enough decibels to shatter my windows. I could be deaf as a post and still not miss a syllable. And the size of that TV! Gosh. The images are bigger than life. I get nightmares sometimes when I try to sleep after seeing Nancy Grace’s disapproving smirks two-and-a-half feet high. The TV has dimensions that overwhelm my bedroom or any other room in my house. In fact, if I didn’t have an exterior wall, you could see it from space.
December 25, 2011 Comments Off on Mark Levy/Casual Observer
Occupy Wall Street & The Rhodes Forum Redux
By Jim Palombo
Continued… (From Nov-Dec issue)
In last edition’s piece the notion of “actionable intelligence” – gathering and then putting into action knowledge/information – was referenced, as was my upcoming participation in the Rhodes Forum. This article is a follow-up to both of these. The first part, Occupy Wall Street, presents thoughts extended from my visit to Zuccotti Park in New York City just prior to my trip to Greece. The thoughts reflect what should be considered an action plan that might develop from the frustrated yet powerful spirit evidenced amid the Wall Street demonstrations.
The second part, The Rhodes Forum, relays another action plan that follows from my participation in the Forum. The participation itself, among the many individuals from across the continents, was a most noteworthy venture. The issues, from political, economic and religious détente, to the environment, to technological modernization and global networking, to the roles of the media, education and the youth filled the conference discussions, as well as the intimate meetings that occurred at breakfast, lunch, dinner and after hours. And, while taking some time to see a bit of Rhodes, talking with the locals amid their economic crisis, I was provided with some sobering yet provocative thought, especially in terms of what I had just witnessed in New York City and was now discussing at the Forum.
That being said, the hope is that you find the parts, particularly in the context of action plans and the theme of education, significant in terms of concerns that relate to us all. And as always, please feel free to let me know what you think.
OCCUPY WALL STREET
A criticism levied against the on-going demonstrations in the U.S. is that they appear disjointed and/or aimless in terms of any detailed plan to address the myriad of problems on the table. In other words, and particularly given the variety of people and interests involved, what is the formula by which meaningful, long-term, political and economic changes can be made? In that context, consider this. The fact that the demonstrations could appear “aimless” points to the very essence of a major problem we face in the country today. In short, without the adequate ideological analyses of the political and economic concerns at hand, how can it be expected that a purposeful plan to address and/or alter the course of global events be even understood, let alone developed? Furthermore, and as adjunct to the problem, even if an aim could be formed, given the fact that there is little trust that extends to the government, leadership, business, the media, etc. it appears that a receptive target is difficult to locate.
With this in mind, it is being suggested here that one of the primary aims of the demonstrations be turned toward the concerns raised via the Campaign for an Informed Citizenry (www.cicorg.com) In other words, as a demonstration’s “call to action,” it should be stressed that we need to develop better educational efforts from which to assist us and, very importantly, future generations in making more clear, consistent and informed decisions. And, as implied at the site, the target should be education, particularly the post-secondary arena, which has as its primary mandate better educating our citizenry. All said another way, it would serve the interests of the demonstrations and the global concerns they are tied to, to shift much of the focus toward that area best equipped to help us sort through the difficult problems we face. This may in fact, be the most effective strategy for improving our future possibilities. (The idea of improving civic education in the post-secondary arena could be actualized without much strain – by designing a series of one credit, interdisciplinary courses, administered at every year of the academic experience. The courses would integrate those experiences into ideological understanding, helping individuals on a consistent basis to better attach to both national and international concerns. It may also be that this move in the post-secondary arena would fuel similar attention – perhaps with the assistance of post-secondary players – at both the secondary and adult education levels.)
What is being proposed is certainly not a panacea, and the most effective results may not be as immediate as we would like. Yet, although work needs to be done to detail the process, the initiation of this type effort will provide the necessary focus, energy and spirit from which a better civically-equipped public will evolve, with solutions in the offing that may at this moment seem out of reach. We have done this with science and technology – it is no doubt time to do it with civic matters. All we have to do is look out our own doors to recognize the need. The demonstrations certainly have provided the impetus. And it’s time for those in post-secondary education to make their move accordingly. (It may be time to lobby education, and those lobbyists who lobby for it as well!)
The Rhodes Forum
As noted in the introduction, the Forum presented a grand opportunity to share thoughts and ideas with people from around the world. My particular role at the Forum was with the media panel, as a presenter of issues connected to my work as a public policy advocate and writer/journalist. In that context, I offered a review of the difficulties that exist in trying to discuss political, economic and social problems and strategies in a country that struggles with ideological understanding and dialogue. (See the May-June 2011 article in Ragazine, “When Ignorance Isn’t Bliss.”) And in addition to attending a variety of interesting and thought provoking sessions over the four days, I also addressed both the education and youth panels in terms of the model reviewed below. Again, this represents the action plan provided to the Forum in light of my participation. (For more on the Forum, please see www.wpfdc.org)
The Social Research Group Model
Consistent with the mission of the World Public Forum this model recognizes the growing need to develop better international dialogue concerning social problems, as well as the need to integrate the youth/student population in current and future policy planning. And although it has been the tradition of the Forum to not extend itself beyond the discussion-dialogue agenda, this grass-roots, cost effective, non-partisan, integrative project speaks to the notion of “actionable intelligence” (knowledge, information and wisdom that can be acted upon), something that given its upcoming ten year anniversary, may well be of interest in terms of increasing the range of Forum objectives.
In its non-complex form, the model is presented in terms of small centers that would be part of/ annex university systems across the globe. Staffed by undergraduate and graduate students from any number of disciplines, and with faculty assistance, each center would be responsible for first articulating the ideological context (political and economic frame, with reference to any religious impact) under which the people of the country live. From this level, any number of social concerns (like crime, poverty, education, jobs, health, etc.) can be examined to ascertain the extent of the problems, as well what has been offered to address the problems. This information can then be measured against the ideological frames to better analyze the form, function and success of the policies in place. This analysis would also point to potential ways/designs for possible future strategies.
As the centers will be located in different countries across the globe, it will be expected that the information gathered, while valuable on its own, could then be cross-referenced with other centers studying the same social concerns at the same time under their respective ideologies. This will provide the students with a grand communication tool, giving them the intellectual and practical power to think about important global issues, and to share their information accordingly. In the end, this should greatly improve understanding and dialogue from both ideological and social problem standpoints.
Several points should also be noted. The first is that the use of the internet, particularly the information provided by web strategists at the Forum, strongly supports the implementation of this international format. In other words, it is clear that there is significant opportunity to integrate the SRG model into an effective communications, website network. The second is that the organization of international centers can be initiated by universities whose countries were represented at the Forum. (Perhaps at the outset, a university in Russia, Austria and the U.S. would suffice, with more to be added as the format develops.) And, given that much of the resources are already in place within the university settings (particularly the student power/energy as well as interested faculty members) the cost of the program should not be restrictive. One can anticipate that with several universities and overall project development, particularly with the “grass-roots’ effort in mind, the initial year’s costs/budget would be minimal, especially as compared to the potential outcomes. (It could be that limited stipends will be provided to participating universities.) Finally, and related to both cost and awareness points, it should be expected that this format, once in place, would be attractive to any number of people and/or professional groups. This would mean that funding for center projects may well be available should this become of interest.
In short, this SRG model seems an ideal fit for the World Public Forum’s current and future plans. This is further evidenced by the acknowledgement given by those who participated in the Dialogue of Civilizations this past month, including those in both the Education and Youth Panel discussions. With this in mind, it is hoped that you will consider the support and development of the model in the context of a “World Public Forum project.” Again, it would represent a most fitting endeavor for the upcoming year, one that matches with the integrity and impressive agenda of what has already been brought to the Forum table in the past.
**It is no doubt that we have a lot of work to do, now and in the future. What is suggested in both the Occupy and Forum pieces is that education, with its mandate of making the world better understood, has its role in what we do and how we proceed. It may in fact, be the most significance arena we can turn to develop the long-term strategies and solutions we all hope will come. I will certainly keep you posted as to what develops with these possibilities.
General Research Concept Review
At each center, three levels of interest for creating a design from which problems can be analyzed and forecast. This would then allow for public policy input in terms of developing strategies and direct service practices.
Level 1) – detailing the economic and political ideological frame (including any religious references) – for example whether operating under corporate capitalism and democracy or state capitalism and socialism or communism, or under a certain function of church and state.
Level 2) – detailing social concerns – what are the social concerns and how are they integrated with the dynamics at Level 1? (What is implied at Level 1 as to what can occur at Level 2, and vice versa?)
Level 3) – detailing what social policy and practice exists – given output at Level 2, what should be recommended to address concerns in terms of both policy and practice?
**This process can be but into motion via the consideration of one social concern at the centers (crime for example) which can be plugged into the ideological frame and then examined as suggested.
About the author:
Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. His bio appears on the “About Us” page.
December 25, 2011 Comments Off on Jim Palombo/Politics
(Or, Boxed in By Box Sets)
By Jeff Katz
It used to be so easy. Go into a record store or a department store, find what you were looking for, pay and leave. Even when CDs were foisted on a public not looking for an alternative to vinyl, the same process adhered. The shift to downloads was different only in its delivery and absence of physical space and touch. In this era, when the public has grown used to the idea that free music is a new human right, record companies, the few remaining, have figured a new way to milk the public: deluxe editions of back catalog classics.
I don’t mind being gouged on music. Hey, I bought both collections of Beatles remasters, mono and stereo, AND Beatles Rock Band in the same month. We older folks, the 45-65 set, have the money and the desire to buy yet another copy of Exile on Main St. and those evil executives know it. My very real problem, a dilemma that has induced quasi-paralysis, is the wealth of options being made available. Sometimes there can be too many choices, anti-American as that sounds.
My initial enthusiasm for The Promise, the collection of lost Bruce Springsteen songs created during his forced hiatus between Born to Run and Darkness On the Edge of Town (Bruce was in legal limbo as he attempted to switch managers) was squashed as thoroughly as the hopes of the couple in “The River.” Should I buy the 3 CD/3 Blu-ray deluxe edition with facsimile notebook of Bruce’s lyrical jottings? Nice, but that was $90. What about the slightly lesser cost option, with plain old DVDs instead of Blu-rays? That was $80. Or should I go basic, CDs only, for a ten spot?
I wanted the remastered Darkness, but that was only available in the big money packages. I didn’t need the videos, in either format. So it came down to this: was a remastered version of my favorite Springsteen album (well, that and Tunnel of Love) worth an extra 70-80 bucks? Short answer: no. Long answer: no, but give me time to think it over. It took me months to come to that decision and, by the time I bought The Promise, I’d lost nearly all interest.
That was one year ago. Since then the situation has worsened. Massive reissues of What’s Going On, Layla, Quadrophenia, and many others have left me as confused as Jimmy the Mod from the plain original version of The Who’s masterwork. (I assume he feels the same way in the $130 version that I won’t buy). The worst of all is Smile. I’ve waited a lifetime for an official release of Brian Wilson’s teenage symphony to God, and now it’s here. Have I bought it? No. Is the 2 CD set the one for me, or is it the double vinyl album? The set I really want has 5 discs, 2 LPs, a booklet and hardcover book plus a poster. That’s $140, reasonable for what you get, but, really, not reasonable at all for music I already own. I have a bootleg of the record, and then there’s Brian’s own version from 2004. Seeing Wilson perform the entire work live went a long way towards ultimate Smile satisfaction. I know one thing, I’m not into the $700 package that lights up and has a Brian Wilson autograph. I could buy a piece of stereo equipment for that money.
So here’s what I’ve come up with. Each high end repackage of a timeless album finds a spot on my Amazon wish list. There they sit and wait, as I watch the prices like a stock ticker. One day, some day, I’ll find a copy of Achtung Baby for half-price. When I do, I’ll spend some time wondering whether it’s really worth even $70.
December 25, 2011 Comments Off on Jeff Katz/Boxed Sets
By Ann Bogle
The nicknames revealed the nature of our relationship but not our identities. His name was Hymen and his last name Bender. This was a conceit, because though he had had a vasectomy, he did not ravish me; he ravished me and wept for all those who ravished and did not weep. He had two sons and a daughter, and he had a proper wife whom he didn’t bother to divorce and an ipso facto wife, the mother of his littlest boy.
My name was Anneliese Neumann. One day we were listening to German language tapes. For me German was a school subject. For Hymen, who could pronounce German but not speak it, it was a poetic technique or element, shorthand for what ails the world.
“Anneliese, wo wohnen Sie?” the tape said.
“My name is Anneliese Neumann, and I live near Stuttgart,” I translated.
“Do you have a hat?”
“No, Mr. Siebler. I lost my hat in the river.”
Hymen said that Anneliese Neumann was like me, because she gave more information than was necessary.
Anneliese digested Hymen’s lie to the ipso facto wife that there was no other lover. Later, witnesses to the wedding at AMPs, to which Anneliese contributed earrings and cashews, must have told Patty otherwise. A bartender from a different bar, a man who looked like Kenny Rogers, performed the ceremony.
Kenny Rogers came into AMPs with another man who looked like the cousin of all the men in upstate New York. His eyes were dull as a dog’s and had a predictable closeness; his nose was sharp. They sat next to Anneliese, the way men often did when she was with Hymen, as if she were alone, and began to talk to her. Anneliese enjoyed these conversations more than Hymen did.
Hymen said, “It’s Kenny Rogers.”
“What are you doing with this ugly faggot?” was Kenny’s question.
“I love him,” Anneliese said.
“You love him, are you going to marry him?”
“I’m a schoolteacher,” she said and wrapped her legs around Hymen’s hips from her barstool.
“This is a secret marriage,” Hymen said.
“You have to have a ceremony, or you ain’t married, and if you ain’t married, then I can talk to her.”
“That would be up to Anneliese Neumann,” Hymen said.
“Let’s get married,” Anneliese said.
Kenny Rogers crossed himself and said, “Do you, sir … love, honor, fuck only her. Anneliese, he’ll always be sick, take care of him, and never talk to me?”
“I do,” Anneliese said.
Hymen, who often lectured Anneliese on the semantics of intercourse, laughed snidely.
“He doesn’t use the word ‘fuck,’ ” Anneliese explained.
Anneliese inserted one of her crystal drops in Hymen’s left ear and kept her left earring in. For a quarter, she bought a handful of cashews and plopped them on a red napkin.
“There,” she said to Hymen, Kenny, and the witnesses. “That’s the reception.”
In the Closet
Hymen had made a home for himself in the empty coat closet of the man with spectacular pectoral muscles. The pec man taped up a poster in there, while Hymen was at school, and, as a joke, he stored a gallon jug of urine. He drew skull and crossbones on a piece of masking tape and stretched the tape over the cover of the jar. When Anneliese climbed in the closet with Hymen, she worried a little that the shelf wouldn’t hold, and that they’d be splashed with urine and broken glass, all for a little privacy.
“Let’s go in the living room,” she said. “Your roommates are sleeping. They won’t mind.”
“No,” Hymen said. “This is where I live now.”
She couldn’t make love to Hymen in the closet. They lay side by side, on their backs, tracing the lines of street light that seeped through the slats in the door. During the night she woke to find him clinging to her, his face wet and contorted. She stroked his forehead and imagined leaving him there.
He said he had lost his son. She told him that it wasn’t true, that he could be a better father because he had moved out.
“I promised I wouldn’t leave him,” Hymen said. “I will never do that to my child.”
“You did,” she said to herself.
Killing the Spider
When he was a teenager, Hymen, the eldest of a record-large brood in Friendsville, Pa., cried when his mother and sisters stomped the life out of an enormous spider who had ventured into the kitchen. Seeing him cry, his mother, who cried herself when she thought she was alone, called the hospital. After that, the family and all the cousins—the whole town of Friendsville—said he was crazy.
Anneliese remembered this one day, when she and Hymen were leaving the student pub to look for the car, and the sky over that nameless stretch of humps in the Appalachian chain around Vestal was cornflower blue. Hymen stooped near the parking lot and popped a cornflower blue blossom in his mouth and ate it.
“And you’re the guy who cried when they killed the spider?” she said.
Hymen turned instantly sullen, and Anneliese, the driver, pet his knee from the time they got in the car until they got to the next bar on the parkway.
“I don’t think you understand how what you say affects people. You think you can say whatever you want, and that it won’t hurt anyone.” He said this three days after Anneliese had reminded him of the spider. He had walked to the grocery store with Nicholas to make the call.
“Papa, is that our friend?” Nicholas said.
“No, Nicholas. It’s Anneliese. Anneliese is Papa’s friend.”
“Can we see Anneliese?”
“No, we’re going home to make soup. I have to go,” Hymen said. “I just wanted to tell you that this upset me.”
The next day Anneliese was working at home when the phone rang. She picked it up and said hello twice. The caller waited before hanging up, long enough for Anneliese to hear a child’s voice in the background.
“She knows,” Anneliese said the next time she talked to Hymen on the phone.
“She doesn’t know,” Hymen said. “You’ve told everyone who knows, and you haven’t told her, have you?”
“You don’t live there anymore. You should tell her. If you don’t tell her, someone else will, and that would be worse.”
“No one has to know. No one has to get hurt. Someone is already hurt because you told him. I won’t do that to her.”
“He asked,” Anneliese said, even though Hymen had forbidden her to talk about Harry.
Instead of Quebec
One of their promissory jests was a trip, at bar time, to Quebec City. It never happened. The best they ever came up with was a trip to Carl’s. Anneliese was not allowed to talk about Carl, either, since he and his roommates sold cocaine from their living room. At Carl’s the women and men stayed up late and didn’t answer the phone. The men answered the door.
They always got to Carl’s late, and they never had to be anywhere in the morning. Hymen sat with the others in the kitchen. He had quit using cocaine, except on special occasions, which turned out to be whenever they went to Carl’s. Carl played guitar, and Hymen played harmonica; sometimes they improvised.
Hymen sang, “I’ve got the safe sex blues.”
The men were laughing, but Anneliese knew it wasn’t true. They avoided safe sex.
“He doesn’t have those blues,” she said, but no one looked up.
“I got me a vasectomy but the plague won out. It didn’t make a vas deferens in the end.”
Carl’s concern was with sexual hi-fi. He had a talent for keeping his women apart. One would leave minutes before another arrived, and no one, not even Anneliese and Hymen, knew how he did it.
Anneliese grew bored in the kitchen. She walked the rim of the living room on old acetate couches and sang Janis Joplin songs from the depths of her diaphragm, mentally correcting the grammar. Then she let her leg drop over the side of the couch, so it was visible from the kitchen, and lay there willing Hymen to come to her. Carl noticed her leg before Hymen did. Hymen resented it when Anneliese treated him as if he were like all other men.
“Mike,” Carl said. “Your woman’s looking for you.”
“I don’t have a woman,” Hymen said. “You can’t have a woman.”
“Well, she’s looking for somebody,” Carl said.
In the Beginning
Anneliese and Hymen had taken a class together, but they hadn’t known at the time that she would become Anneliese, Queen Anne from the Land of a Thousand Farm Machines. He remembered her lips because he had drawn them during her oral presentation on Dada in Zürich. She had known—because her friend had told her—that he lived with someone.
When they met again, the moon had conjoined with Jupiter.
She was angling for an escape from Harry, who lived in Manhattan and drove most weekends to see her. For some time she had been living on a transom between boredom and guilt. Harry was forty and her moral superior, and she wasn’t attracted to him. Hymen, people told her, was ugly and a drunk; whereas Harry had a sportscoat and a job. She had never had the feeling with Harry, as she did with Hymen, that she had picked him. It was for Hymen that she had spent high school parting the curtains.
Here was Woody Guthrie.
Hymen actually did jump freight trains, but it was only between Johnson City and Endicott. He wanted to move to Dublin and to see the cities of the world, but he stayed where he was to save the children.
They were so busy going to bars that they hadn’t seen Barfly, but they called Charles Bukowski on the phone. His houseboy answered at a home on Long Island. Anneliese told him that she had been a gatekeeper herself. “Put him on,” she said to the houseboy. “We are here reading his poetry, and there’s a part we don’t get.”
“Sorry, lady, but this is the wrong number,” the houseboy said.
“What is the right number then?” Anneliese said.
“I’m afraid I can’t help you.”
“Don’t be afraid,” she said. “Just let us talk to him. We are poets.”
Hymen was laughing at her antics, but he said, “You sound short on the telephone.”
“Here is my houseboy,” Anneliese said and handed the phone to Hymen.
“You can’t trust kids with the phone anymore. Sorry to wake you,” Hymen said and hung up.
It started because the man with spectacular pectoral muscles had gone to bed early after seeing the movie and saying to Anneliese, Hymen, and the others present, including Hymen’s proper wife, that Anneliese and Hymen were Barfly.
When the pec man had come in, Anneliese was jumping on the small trampoline that they used as a coffee table.
“Get off the tramp,” the pec man said. “You’re so elitist.”
The pec man talked that way to everyone, repeating things he had heard repeated in other contexts. He was in school, applying to school, and finishing a degree in deconstruction theory.
“I’ll have you know,” said Anneliese, a little breathless from jumping, “I have had thirteen clerical jobs.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” the pec man said.
Hymen’s wife, who was with them because her boyfriend had hit her, rolled her eyes. “Dumb but cute,” she said confidentially.
“The living room is not a gym,” Anneliese said solemnly in the tone of her mother.
The White Goddess
As good as Anneliese and Hymen together were Anneliese, Hymen, and Tom. Tom had grown up in Binghamton and had played with the children of the town’s
poets. He spoke in lyric riddles and knew how to whistle.
One of Hymen’s ongoing projects was to find Tom a lover. He lined up one woman who wore too much make-up, and when that didn’t work, told Tom that there was no reason to be ashamed if it turned out he was gay. What Tom liked was distance. He kissed Anneliese lingeringly when she and Hymen dropped him off in his driveway. No one had ever known him to have a steady girlfriend, but his name had been linked to a woman named Claudia.
Claudia wore jumpsuits in the primary colors and large wooden earrings shaped like safari animals. Anneliese met her when Tom’s sister graduated from medical school. Tom was the youngest and lived at home. His parents gave their children everything and expected only what they got.
Anneliese and Hymen went to the party for the food. Anneliese filled a plate and brought it to Hymen who was hiding in the study, reading a book about squirrel habitats. He was the eldest of his parents’ twenty children. He hated parents. He hated being a parent, and he hated knowing that the world would continue its ceaseless propagation despite his vasectomy.
“Claudia isn’t Tom’s girlfriend,” Anneliese said.
“How do you know?” Hymen said, dropping the book. She had smuggled a tiny bottle of tabasco under her plate, and he tapped it over an oyster.
“Her colors are too loud. Her hair is treated. She isn’t Tom’s type.”
“I think she’s very attractive,” Hymen said categorically.
Anneliese knew Hymen’s fantasy about the voluptuous hitchhiker in white lace lingerie and sheepskin vest, stranded at the side of the road by her insensitive biker boyfriend. Hymen comes along to save the day but gets them arrested on a technicality, and they’re forced to spend the night together in a single jail cell. The White Goddess, he called her.
“Well, she’s not exactly the White Goddess,” Anneliese said.
Hymen had told her two things about his attraction to her: He had never been attracted to a woman like her before (for one thing, he liked short, fat women, and Anneliese was tall and thin), and that she was more attractive to other people than the women he had married. He had a theory that she provoked sexuality in everyone. He didn’t get jealous, he told her; he was just concerned for her welfare.
Hymen stood like Donatello’s David, petulant, with his stomach thrust slightly forward and his back swayed. His hair fell in thin braids over his shoulders. He had strong wrists and hands that he put on the table to win easy money arm wrestling in bars, easy because no one knew he had it in him. He also made some money under the table as an artist’s model, but most of that business he had diverted to the pec man, Tim. Ten years ago, he told her, men pestered him like flies. This she could imagine because she had seen a photo of him that was so striking, she had asked him who it was. “That’s me in my eyeliner days,” he told her. It was his knees that got her. They were square as stone wedges, and she couldn’t look at them without wanting to span them with the arc of her fingers
If it were true that Harry had wasted his time loving her, it was also true that he hadn’t saved time before he met her, so it was relative. Everything was relative. Everything was a choice. Every choice was a thing that stood between her and the door to her apartment. She’d go out, she’d come in, carefully avoiding the choice in her living room, a day, a week, a year, not choosing, carefully avoiding the decision and walking around the thing. The thing had a smell to it, like a body, and she thought of her past friends, who lived far away, how they didn’t have this thing to deal with; they had other things but not this thing, which was her thing, and she didn’t want it, so she called them, and as time went on, the living room smelled bad.
It took as much coffee to wake up the system as it took beer to let it rest. There was the additional bombardment of cigarettes. Hymen smoked Camels or he broke the filters off hers. At a certain time of night, nothing was strong enough. Two cigarettes at once. On Wednesdays they smoked cigars at Swat Sullivan’s Hotel. Old men went there, including George, who was hired to heckle at the readings. What George said from the sidelines mattered more than what the poets said in their wildest moments. Perhaps it was because the poets weren’t getting paid. George got five bucks. He agreed to keep it secret, but Anneliese knew.
“What are you doing with that ugly devil?” was George’s question.
“I love him,” Anneliese said.
“Love,” George growled. “You need a man to support you, buy you flowers.”
“He buys me flowers,” she said. “And cigars.” She was smoking a cigar at that moment, inhaling, holding it between her fingers like a fat cigarette.
“Jezebel,” he said.
She had to look that up at home. George knew his stuff. He was worth every penny. He knew “The Face on the Barroom Floor” by heart.
From an angle a face, that face, the face, his face, the first and final face, the face to wake to, the face to push against her face, their eyes open, connected like the ramp to the plane. Three days under the stars, a poster on the ceiling really, of the Creation of Man.
One of his ex-girlfriends had left them the keys. They fed the dalmatian, got up to eat and pee. There was plum betty in the fridge. Anneliese was surprised. His ex-girlfriend didn’t seem the type to make or eat plum betty. It was a waterbed. There were porn videos, and lingerie dangled from every doorknob. His ex-girlfriend was a counselor at the abortion clinic. She fielded tips from Florida when the clinic was about to be bombed and stationed troops of rednecks at the door.
Anneliese looked forward to going to her apartment because she could finish reading articles in Cosmopolitan. Women in Cosmopolitan had more than one lover. They knew what they wanted and how to be wanted. They thought wanting was a good thing.
She told Hymen, “I don’t know why I spend so much time trying to figure these things out on my own, when it’s all written down here.”
He laughed in a gentle way that pulled her up to their dance floor. It was important for them to see themselves as others saw them: artists or famous people. Their genitals were so swollen they were one person. It was Easter weekend. Good Friday to the Resurrection.
It was difficult to trace the infection when it happened, but she felt responsible. She called all three men and told them one story. She read them the brochure: “Chlamydia is not a flower. It is a dangerous sexually transmitted disease.” Two of them were negative. Hymen didn’t test. She figured that one of them would have gotten it from her had he at that point, that weekend, been with her, and the other would have gotten it had she had it then, that weekend, etc. Eventually she realized that it was not from her; it was from Hymen.
He denied it. They fought, not about spreading disease, but about lying. He had not been jealous about the broker, he said, but mad that he would have to tell Patty something. They would need to take the cure. Anneliese hadn’t known that he had been with Patty. Hymen told Patty that it came from wearing tight pants, and Patty believed him. That was one thing. Then the pec man told her that he had heard banging in Hymen’s closet. Hymen told Anneliese that his ex-wife had been crying, and later, that she had used a vibrator. These were sordid details, and Anneliese had to sift through them, again and again, so that she could say, at the end, that he still was lying, that there was medical proof of it and that he had been unkind to expect honesty from her without being honest himself.
Some nights Hymen climbed out of the closet to fulfill his fatherly obligations, and Anneliese prowled her apartment, a sphinx shut out of Egypt.
Her roommate’s wild days were behind her. Angelica had found a mate, and she had spent the last year trying to convince him of this fact. Geraldo was hard to convince. He had not put his past behind him. The phrase they used was “burning bridges.” Angelica would say of Hymen, “He certainly doesn’t burn any bridges,” and Anneliese would say of Geraldo, “His bridges are all unburned.”
One night Geraldo was out reinforcing the foundations; his ex-girlfriend was back after a year in Paris. Angelica must have been spraying perfume. She had been in the bathroom for more than an hour.
“Do you want to go out?” she said. Steam swirled above their heads and into the bedrooms like a question.
They were in their second year in the same apartment and had never been out together; that’s how important men were. They had heard the sorry halves of each other’s telephone conversations, had heard each other howl from the bedroom—crying or trying to come—but they had not gone out together, not even for coffee.
“Okay,” Anneliese said. “But what will I wear?”
“Black, don’t you think?”
Anneliese assessed her black stuff. Garter belt. Heels. Angelica wore size one. Nothing of hers would fit Anneliese, and nothing in Anneliese’s closet remotely resembled what Angelica was wearing. Angelica’s clothes were frothy.
She put on a slip, a skirt, a vest, and the heels. She observed herself from every angle to be sure she knew which parts were detracting. It was full battle dress. Drag, she called it. Hymen would feel he had missed something. She was all dressed up with no one to kill.
Anneliese hadn’t gone to a disco since she was fifteen, when it had seemed very important. They attracted a fair amount of attention. Angelica seemed to know a lot of people in the bar; men approached from right and left to ask where she had been hiding herself.
“Well, you know,” Angelica said. “Busy doing things.”
Angelica introduced Anneliese to the taller men, including a lawyer from a Yankees family. Two generations of his family had been on the team. His own career ended when his back caved in.
“What do you do when you’re not here?” he asked her.
“I teach,” Anneliese said. It was a variation of her standby. He wouldn’t want to picture the children.
“What I remember best about school is Henry James,” he said. “I’m inspired by Henry James.”
“Oh?” she said undramatically, seeing him suddenly as Alice James, drained of his athleticism.
“The beautiful sweeps of time,” he sighed, nudging her with his soft shoulder. “I have a favorite leather armchair where I read. I light a fire. You can’t resist it.”
“You just don’t go to the right places,” she said. “I know people who read Henry James for a living.” That was a brush off, she thought, but he still seemed interested. He asked her what she was drinking.
For one half-second she was alone. Then Angelica came back from the rest room, trailing a piece of toilet tissue.
“It’s sick in there,” she said, looking around. “Wall-to-wall people. Oh, my God,” she said in a whisper. “Don’t turn around, see this guy, coming up behind you. Say something in German.”
Anneliese turned around. “Guten Tag, Herr Siebler. Wie geht es Ihnen?” It was the only name that came to her.
“Hallo, meine Freundin. Wie geht es mit dir?” His “dir” undid her. She considered telling him she was visiting from Switzerland, but his German was faster than hers. He was a commodities broker. His parents lived in Mexico. Nazis, she thought.
“Bulgarian,” he told her.
The lawyer reappeared with the drinks but stopped to talk to someone else when he saw the broker.
“You want him?” the broker said, nodding at the lawyer.
“Nein,” Anneliese said. “He’s not my century.”
The broker raised his eyebrow provocatively. Everything about him was provocative. She had no idea what she was doing in this place, but she felt happy. No one could touch her, and no one knew her name.
“What are you drinking?” he said.
“That reminds me of the old one,” she said. “The man would say, ‘What are you thinking?’”
About the author:
Ann Bogle’s short stories have appeared in The Quarterly, Fiction International, Gulf Coast, Big Bridge, Black Ice, Mad Hatters’ Review, Wigleaf, Metazen, Blip, Whale Sound, Thrice Fiction, and several other journals. She received her MFA at the University of Houston, her MA from Binghamton University and her BA from University of Wisconsin. She is poetry, creative nonfiction and book reviews co-editor of Mad Hatters’ Review, and fiction reader at Drunken Boat.
December 25, 2011 Comments Off on Ann Bogle/Fiction
Everyone on the train swallows at the same time,
bonded by blocked passages. Some passengers
read passages from books. Was a book
originally named a book for its form?
Its particular material way of being bonded to itself?
Or is a book defined merely by the specific words,
their specific order, no matter their means of being presented?
You know why I must ask this question.
I wonder if this man’s O will bond to my B.
I desire certain molecular relationships not to get too serious.
We met today, let’s leave it at that.
Please, no odious bonds.
Don’t follow me home, my body
wishing for magic wands.
When you board it’s a risk you take, proximity,
the collision of clothing articles,
flesh coverings, flesh itself,
its natural perfumes bored to stench.
She could look it up and tell you with faux ease, but instead
she’ll admit not knowing the definition of the word particle.
How small is its unit? In what instances is it used?
Light? Water? Sound? Skin?
The last leg has a cramp and prays for relief, to bond
with a companion before bonding with Earth.
I’ll meet you right in front of the theatre.
It might rain later right in front of the theatre.
So I’ll look at the sky and imagine
it’s raining right now right in front of the theatre.
I like to be prepared. I’m over it
before it ever happened right in front of the theatre.
It doesn’t seem like the people are watching
the show right in front of the theatre.
Answer your phone and entertain your older sister
for 15 minutes right in front of the theatre.
Sure, kick a pebble while you’re waiting,
but don’t spit right in front of the theatre.
How do fashionable young women wear their hair these days
while waiting to underdose right in front of the theatre?
I’ll meet you right in front of the theatre.
If you eat my face and leave a gaping hole
my public appearances will be much more
highly requested right in front of the theatre.
You can smoke a cigarette and feel
even worse right in front of the theatre.
The smoke will fall in and the smoke will fall out,
just like the ants in the sauerkraut,
(the song your grandfather sang), right in front of the theatre.
Maybe he’s assembling one of those 5,000 piece puzzles
he loves to occupy himself with right in front of the theatre.
You think you saw a man hover
above the street right in front of the theatre.
Actually, you’re not sure you really saw
him at all right in front of the theatre.
Was it your uncle looking for 1/9 of an eye
belonging to a jigsaw unicorn to ride
into some future thinning cloud right in front of the theatre?
No, you’re not high right in front of the theatre.
You’re low enough to see slow death checking itself out
in a tiny mirror right in front of the theatre.
How do fashionable young women avoid harnessing
their dissatisfaction to their faces these days while
thinking insensitive thoughts right in front of the theatre?
Wait for your mustache to grow back right in front of the theatre.
Stand in an invisible bathroom line right in front of the theatre.
Will you choose chains, or will your prop be hot steam
seeping out of the pothole right in front of the theatre?
This is all too dramatic for me, you say
right in front of the theatre.
Each generation throbs
in a particular way,
but always a capacity for
Each has trod and tripped
on the universe.
The whole is not the half of it.
Who we are
is what we remember
Each longing to be
its better self.
To finally be
a mere monster,
in its own home,
which from so far away
this whole time to be
About the poet:
Jillian Brall received her Master’s in Creative Writing in 2009 from The New School. Alongside Gregory Crosby, she is co-creator/co-editor of the online poetry and art journal, Lyre Lyre. Poems have recently appeared in The Best American Poetry Blog, Praxilla Journal, Connotation Press, Esque, The Tower Journal, The Portable Boog Reader, Unshod Quills, and Ping Pong Magazine. She is also a musician and visual artist, focused on painting, collage, photography and video art.
December 25, 2011 Comments Off on Jillian Brall/Poetry
The Afternoon of a Town Supervisor
These nymphs that I would perpetuate:
And light, that it floats in the air
Heavy with leafy slumbers.
Did I love a dream?
From The Afternoon of a Faun—Stéphane Mallarmé
Reclined on his lawn chair in the garden,
an improbable, pearly airship slips in
through his hot droopy lids; it hovers
in an emerald sky just above his front yard’s
temperate trees, now grown swollen
into a thick, grasping jungle where
a seething tiger crouches, waits to wreak
vengeance on the neighbors, while a dowager
angel in a Dior evening gown, her hair
blown one way, her gown the other,
in no wind at all, plucks a harp above his four
bedroom, three bath, Dutch Colonial home.
Suddenly roused by the tiger roar
of the cardiologist’s Toro rider mower
next door, he is not puzzled by the sudden
absence of the airship, or saddened
that the trees are skinny again, with no teeth,
and that the sky is empty and pale blue.
He is content with his senses. A plain
thirst now lifts him from his chair.
He goes to the fridge, plucks
from a bunch of cool white grapes —
the store-bought kind — thick-skinned,
that when held to the sun do not shine,
and from which wine is never made.
December 25, 2011 Comments Off on Myron Ernst/Poetry