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.