February 10, 2008
Who is Stephin Merritt and Why do People Think He's a Cunt?
The first time I heard Stephin Merritt's voice I was on a date, at a Perth Festival movie. The film was my pick, Pieces of April and it was a winner. I loved the soundtrack, but I had no idea who it was by. It was only after the movie finished and we were both congratulating me on my pick of movie, that record-boy boyfriend told me the music was by The Magnetic Fields, or rather, the guy from The Magnetic Fields with the magnificent baritone and the synthy, floaty vision of music that is all his own, and that no one else can touch in terms of its scope and its precision.
I started listening to 69 Love Songs and discovered more of this vision; of pop taken orchestral, of perfectly formed electronic worlds attracting and repelling, while Merritt engages, not entirely altruistically, with the notions of love and sincerity.
Yet despite the sometimes snippy tone and always clever punning, the album is indeed a collection of love songs, and one can feel the labour that has gone into not only individual songs but the variety of songs that Merritt has compiled in the cause of his grandiose ambition. And, as almost all music critics agreed in 1999, he succeeded: 69 Love Songs is one of the true pop opuses of our time. But then why is Merritt's personal reputation as unpopular as it is with journalists and, well, many who have had anything to do with him?
From what I can work out, a lot of the controversy started with a blog post by The New Yorker music writer Sasha Frere-Jones that criticized Merritt for not having enough black artists in his top 100 records. It was largely Frere-Jones being provocative, but also just plain stupid, as John Cook points out in this article which seems to be the final word on the whole fracas. What is left over is the idea of Merritt, while not evidently a racist, as a nonetheless unpleasant man, who may in fact derive pleasure from torturing journalists with his paper-dry responses and silences that aren't punctuated with any kind of "ah", "um" or "well . . ." to signify that he isn't done. It's also said that people generally assume he hates them, and of this he is aware, but can only promise that he doesn't. It's just that British people understand him better, he says, the American way doesn't really apply to him, even though he is an avowed East Villager who sits at the same cafe everyday, writing his music with his chihuahua named Irving Berlin by his side.
To anyone who wants to diss Stephin Merritt because of hearsay or some touchy journalist who expects their subject to be a performing monkey, I say have some respect for the man who has given us this music. If he gives us nothing else, he has at least given us 69 Love Songs and I'd buy that album for anyone's birthday present or feel a connection with anyone who had it sitting on their music shelf; it's just that sort of an album. It's one of the greats of not only my lifetime, but the lifetime of my twenties, that crucial decade where anything that helps you find yourself is attached to with almost religious significance. Let Stephin Merritt live in his own world when he's not entertaining us with his music---his own Merrittocracy where people still dance on whirling tables in those Busby Berkely dreams. And check out this amazing video by NPR wherein he writes a song in two days, locked in the NPR recording studio. It's very cool.
February 6, 2008
The Diary of Holly Hobbie
I had a serious car accident today. Got spun around as I was turning right in front of oncoming traffic. Thankfully the five star safety rated Golf took the impact but it scared the bejeezus out of me. I'm not hurt (neither's he) and all parties are insured, but still . . . add this on to the dramz my family's been having lately and I've had two of the worst days of my life in a row.
I don't know why I'm writing about this. It's just that it doesn't seem quite real and I figure maybe if I post a blog entry on it, it becomes more legitimate. Maybe I also want to let people know what happened; this feels big, and a blog is a way to keep in touch with people. But also, mainly, I have decided to make my online journal my own personal diary in an effort to keep the quality of my writing up to scratch, and also, because it's fun to see my words on the various internets of the world. Is that so very terrible?
There is a novel by Doris Lessing called The Golden Notebook. It tells the story of a young woman with writer's block and contains her four separate diaries: a black notebook recounting her experiences of childhood in Africa, a red one accruing the details of her political life, a yellow one for her creative life and a blue one which exists for personal reminiscences and thoughts. However, as she begins to fear she is losing her mind, she confronts the compartmentalization that has taken over her life and establishes The Golden Notebook, the one which will unite all of her experiences into a single volume, thus coming to terms with the chaos of life and the inner turmoil of the mind. And so it is that this becomes my golden notebook. I haven't made the decision lightly; basically I have learnt how to trust myself and I'm positive this won't be a bullshit, imprudent blog. Also, I publish anonymously so people won't be able to google for me without knowing a bit about me. And, I don't keep a Facebook, so this is my way of letting people know what's going on in my life without all the obsessive minutiae of inter-facebook anxiety. This is just me, having a write at the end of a day.
BTW, the crash wasn't my fault, though that has yet to be officially determined (but the cops and the tow truck drivers were on my side). The other driver sped up on an orange light, even though I was out in the middle of the intersection. I remember screaming and a bit of a bump but thankfully there was no other trauma. I have a bruised knee and that's it. One thing's for sure though; the whole business can be so expensive---loss of income and so on (use my car for work)---that it really makes me want to be financially secure for the future. Thankfully, because I'm in a partnership, one supports the other, but fact is I still need to be able to support myself, so I at least stand a chance of supporting us, if and when the need occurs.
Dementia: (from Latin de- "apart, away" + mens (genitive mentis) "mind")
In my line of work I see a lot of people with what is usually called dementia. I find it the most fascinating of diseases; so little is known about it, and the causes are incredibly varied. What I do know from working with people with dementia is that they seem to be happy enough once they are in the full grip of the disease---of course, that is no umbrella statement (a lot is unsaid, or unable to be said), but by and large, they seem able to occupy themselves, on a journey that engrosses them wholly and fascinates them endlessly.
One of my clients who has the worst dementia I have seen is unable to carry out just about any daily task. He can eat the food you prepare, but sometimes does not know how to use a spoon, or does not understand what it is to eat, or that he needs to sit down, or even what a chair is. At least, I don't think he does. You never can tell. Sometimes I think they just like to prolong engagement---I really don't know for sure. What I do know is that he is forever straightening things; napkins, books, cups of water, rugs. Everything has to be in shape and order and this seems very important to him. He's been known to hit care workers, but I have never had this problem with him. I trust him completely and I always make the time to sit down with him and have a cup of tea and to listen to what he has to say. A lot of it doesn't make sense, but he still knows so much! He knows that the care aides are only trying to help, but he also knows that they don't help when they make them do things he doesn't want to. He knows that I am not scared of him and that I will not force him to do things. And he knows to have a sense of humour; he laughs at his own jokes and engages very politely when you take the time to talk to him. But it is his obsession with putting things right, and straight, that fascinates me the most. What is going on in the brain there, what ordering principles are at hand, and what does it all mean, anyway?
A family relative had dementia too (compounded by Parkinson's, which is a tragic combination) and his son spent a lot of time talking to him about things, and in the end, came to understand that his dad was on some sort of journey. And not just a metaphorical one; he talked about going up through corridors, down stairs, through this, that and the other. It was like his mind had become a house, and he was navigating it physically rather than eidetically. He too, had the same fascination with form and order and shapes.
I would like to do further studies in dementia, particularly the process of writing autobiography, or life books for the person with dementia. There is still a lot of coherence that can be gleaned from their conversation, and by talking additionally with family and friends, you can put together a picture of life which can be recorded in writing, photography, video, audio or website. I'm reading Emergence by Stephen Johnson and would like to take some courses at the Alzheimers Association, but my new year's resolution forbids it; no active self-improvement (but the book is only incidental self-improvement; I've wanted to read it for a long time)
In some ways, theories of emergence and adaptive learning make me think of the crazy device Bjork was seen using at the Big Day Out. I wasn't there (I love the Aracade Fire too much to see them for the first time at a BDO) but Paddy told me all about it and sent me this link. http://www.wired.com/entertainment/music/news/2007/08/bjork_reacTable This machine represents in many ways, how I suspect the the brain works, demented or not. I think this could be a new direction for me, but I'm not going to do anything active about it this year. Just read books that interest me anyway and remember that this year, it's all about my writing and not about careers and professions. The harder I chase those things, the further they slip away, anyhow.
January 29, 2008
Some ill-composed thoughts on Paris
Paris turned out to be just Paris; and that, of course, was more than enough for me. Paris had only to be Paris: Paris was just so.
It helped that within 30 seconds of strolling the streets, a handsome man came up and told me I was beautiful even though Patrick was right beside me. It helped that I spent my first night drinking Strawberry Fields at a bar that was so full of life that everyone was clapping their hands to the music and the waiters were dancing. It helped that we were staying in the Latin Quartier and that our 400 year old hotel was in the same building as Shakespeare and Co. And it helped that the women were so naturally beautiful that you could lose your heart a hundred times a day, if not to their wan loveliness than to their coats, which were cut in the most flattering ways I've ever happened to notice.
All my life, Paris has been the city of my dreams. For as long as I can remember I have stared at that country on the world map and mentally transported myself to tiny Normandy fishing villages, chateaux of the Loire valley, and the lavender fields of Aix-en-Provence. Somewhere deep, deep down, I think I've lived in France in past lives; I feel that I've know the country and that I've loved the city that is Paris. So it was surprising when I found myself undeniably nonchalant as we rolled into the Gare du Nord late that first night.
I figured out why soon enough. For all the frothiness and fervour surrounding the idea of "my first trip to Paris!", Paris was just a city. It was a city, like I come from a city. I guess I expected magic, but, happily, I found solid ground instead. But I did feel instantly at home in Paris; my head was on straight, I could problem solve, I could speak the language, and I was strong enough to really help people. That's what Paris was like for me. I just felt better in it.
It's just that for the longest time, when I pictured myself in Paris it was as a single girl, and I'm not that anymore. I'd live in Paris for one reason and one reason alone; to break hearts; regrettably, of course. But suddenly, I don't want to do that anymore. And as great as Paris was, as much as I felt a part of the people, being part of a couple, Paris loses something. The natives are just too good looking and they're way too forward to risk going there as a couple. Better to leave the living there to past lives and adolescent fantasies about being the centrepiece of every cool bar in the city, every pictoresque place dans le parc.
I'd always thought Paris would be the greatest city on the planet. It came damn close: New York nixes it and Montreal does too. But it is still top three. And I know that if I come to be in any severe need of finding myself, I will go to Paris to do so. If I go to any city at all . . .
January 28, 2008
Blog. Fart. Hiss.
I'm in a stinker of one today. A dark, shiny mess of a place
It's my first night alone in months . . . literally
I was worried about being alone so I cooked a nut loaf (the vegetarian equivalent of "the roast"), prepared some potatoes for roasting and some brocolli and spinach for steaming. I then set about calling all my friends, telling them to come over and enjoy some gin and tonics ("I've got the Hendricks, hey!") then a meal as wholesome as they were likely to get in their lives. No one bit. Everybody busy. Linda alone. Linda in bed now with the lappy, a single malt and the air conditioning. What will become of this?
In my sorry state that only a self-indulgent, "I've got nothing else to do" kind of post can fix, I'm going to compose two lists for your voyeuristic pleasure. The first list is things that I know for sure. The second is a list of things that I don't know. And then I'll make like Dr Phil and believe that a public airing of dirty laundry is the only way to truly get it clean. So I will try to as honest as I can and as true to my mood as I can, and see if the veil of fug lifts after my publishing
January 18, 2008
The Thought Fox
Out in the middle of it there is a frozen-over pond, a small one, but it takes up most of the vista that we're permitted by the trees to see. Every direction reveals the same thing; white, crusty snow and evergreen trees, spruce and birch. I am strangely pleased when Gus takes out a cigarette and leans back on the ATV to smoke it. I move towards a particularly smooth hump of snow and drop my knees into it, deeply and snugly. Gus warns me to be careful but I am expert at ignoring warnings about the cold. No one understands how hot my resting constitution is; they don't get that it can be -20 and, providing I've got one thermal top on, I won't feel any cold at all. I love this climate. In this climate I can breathe. FInally, I can really breathe.
We don't see the longed-for fox, the flash of orange that I precognize every time I turn my head. We don't see a moose and we don't see a deer. We just see a loon, an ordinary loon on an ordinary pond. But this is not the real wilds. This is the easily accessible wilds, essentially Paddy's childhood back yard. Still, the air is like crystal and the colours are pristine. And all the moisture in the air has turned my complexion into that of a clean white peach. Again, I love this climate, I really love this climate.
We move though the trees and over sturdy wooden bridges. Despite the harshness of the environment, human life is taken very seriously in this part of the world and I feel safe in the ATV that Paddy's dad has prepared for us, and on the many little bridges that allow you to cross over a thousand icy streams. We stop at one of the cabins that we pass and Gus introduces us to two of his friends and we all share beers. They are hardy guys, real guys, in snow suits, who work off shore on rigs and eat the moose that they hunt when they're not. I look at Paddy, thin even in his snow gear, and quieter than the rest of us, and I know that he, too, is one of them, in his own way. That he is a real man of the land, though he does different work and has no interest whatever in killing animals. He is of this land, but he has escaped being from it. He is a Newf. And I can't stop looking at him in this new light. He comes from tough people. He is tough people, already.
But it is getting dark and a snow storm is predicted for tonight. Also, I am feeling the need for a hot chocolate and some of Paddy's ma's cooking. After we serially turn the snow yellow (the toilet was frozen), it is back on the bike machines and on to home. The beginnings of the snow storm have set in motion and we are riding back with tiny, constant flakes of snow flying into our faces and mouths. I can't stop giggling. The wind has always made me laugh---it is my favourite of the elements---but when combined with the beginings of snow, it takes on a more comical element; it has support, it's got back-up and the whole thing seems more fabled than without it. This trip has marked the first time I have seen snow. And I breathe it. I don't merely love it, I breathe it.
Once I am home I realise how tired all that fresh air has made me; I am tired to the bone. It is New Year's Eve but we are not up to much. When we finally pour our wine into glasses and toast to the years 2007 and 2008, I have already made my New Year's resolution and it is a long overdue one: that I will not actively pursue any more self-improvement. Period. Finally, mercifully, I am ready to make my way in this life. So there will be no more loathesome cross-examinations or tireless self-promotion on this blog; there will just be the directness of the hitting air and, hopefully, occasionally, something approximating the flash of an orange ribbon; the fox, my nature, running smoothly over this surface and into memory.
The Wolf and the Crane: A Russian Fable
One of the most interesting statues we saw in Russia was this one of the Wolf and the Crane, just outside the Kremlin.
I looked up the story and, as usual, it turned out to be one of Aesop's fables. It goes like this:
A Wolf had been gorging on an animal he had killed, when suddenly a small bone in the meat stuck in his throat and he could not swallow it. He soon felt terrible pain in his throat, and ran up and down groaning and groaning and seeking for something to relieve the pain. He tried to induce every one he met to remove the bone. "I would give anything," said he, "if you would take it out." At last the Crane agreed to try, and told the Wolf to lie on his side and open his jaws as wide as he could. Then the Crane put its long neck down the Wolf's throat, and with its beak loosened the bone, till at last it got it out.
"Will you kindly give me the reward you promised?" said the Crane.
The Wolf grinned and showed his teeth and said: "Be content. You have put your head inside a Wolf's mouth and taken it out again in safety; that ought to be reward enough for you."
Gratitude and greed go not together
This made so much sense from the point of view of tyrannical Russian rule. I swear the metaphorical translation of it would go something like:
Don't bicker and moan that you've been fucked by us in the past. Just be grateful we didn't fuck you in the ass!