Monday, September 29, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: Melissa Etheridge

My twentieth "anniversary" is approaching. Twenty fuggin' years! (No pun intended.) What the fuck?!?!

Driving in Arlington, down E. Abram Street, past Meadowbrook Park where horniness and wine coolers blossomed into what tried to pass itself off as full-blown love. And subsequent heartbreak. I was a mere twenty-year-old boy with no business being out that night. On a school night, no less. Underage drinking. And raging hormones. It all sounds so much more trashy from the perspective of hindsight and middle-age conservatism. Although I'm still not quite above public lewdness even now.

It wasn't until late spring 1989 when I first heard Melissa Etheridge's "Bring Me Some Water" as I pulled into my work study job at the bank. Even after drinking myself blind--for I had indeed already turned twenty-one--and going through three counselors, almost flunking out of college, and following that blissful trajectory of random sex acts, I was still most definitely obsessed with the other boy who was caught with his pants down that school night early December 1988.

"Go on and close your eyes, imagine me there.
She's got similar features with longer hair."

I still maintain that she did look like me. With longer hair. He probably didn't see it.

I was working through this obsession for most of that summer. I had finally stopped driving by the house. Stopped calling the number and hanging up. Stopped defacing the car every time I saw it parked on campus. I was training my mind to think other things. I developed my own therapy that involved focusing on the color of random things: "That car is brown. This paper is white." After several months of knowing that training myself not to be hurt, not to focus on the pain, was the only way I was going to survive, something finally clicked. It probably wasn't until late that summer. After listening and taking to heart every word Melissa Etheridge sang on her album.

"I gotta do something. 'Cause if I can't love you, I don't want to love you."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Project Blog It: "Love is an art...

... you learn degree by degree."

Love is artifice, a construction. It is μίμησις; ποιέσις. It is, what Heidegger calls in "Die Frage nach der Technik" the "irruption of the bringing forth" à la φύσις, which, Heraclitus reminds us, loves to hide.

Love is τέχνη; it is erotic technology. It is the disclosure of the radically asymmetrical other in his own light. (Perhaps it's the far-too-young boy standing in the corner trying too hard to fade into the shadows he wishes would rather expose him to love.)

It is most definitely the 40-year-old man sitting at home on a Saturday night typing crazy shit in Greek and German after trying to salvage the technological shite cluttering his desk, the one who has somehow managed to transform an external hard drive into a useless piece of Chinese plastic with a yellow light.

Perhaps by the time I earn my final (and thankfully terminal) degree, technology—and love—will not be so useless.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: The Dream Academy

It was 1985, and I thought that the world would freeze.

“The Dream Academy.” What could be a more pretentious, schmaltzy name for a band? For an album? To some extent, you almost expect the oboe and timpani. You don’t expect the well-crafted lyrics to blow through you like a snowstorm in some northern town. You don’t expect the level of musicianship holding the really tight songs together—what would be “taken care of” these days by punching one button on a computer but back then required talent, skill, and dedication from classically trained musicians.

You certainly don’t expect to listen to this cassette after storing it away for so many years and still be thinking about the songs a week later. You don’t expect something with this much pop sensibility to have anything worth speaking about these days. You don’t expect the oboe and timpani and layered vocals to sound—in their very ‘80s sort of way—almost timeless.

But there you are. And with David Gilmour at the helm of production! And Peter Buck stepping in for one track. In some ways, this album is just too bizarrely good; these musicians just too damn talented to produce a top-10 hit. You half expect them to be the one-hit wonder they most definitely are.

I have to admit that the oboe was one of the chief reasons I fell for this band back then. At the time, I played oboe as well. And here was a band that had oboe solos on almost every track. It gave me reason to believe that I too could be a popular musician. In that way, the pretentiousness and schmaltziness of The Dream Academy was really quite effective.

Every song is catchy and listenable. Except for the last track: I never liked that one. It seemed like cheating after so many good songs. At the time—and still—“The Party,” with its self-referential allusions to other songs on the album was really quite novel and cutting-edge in that high-postmodern sort of way. After only one recent listening, three tracks still stand out in my memory: “(Johnny) New Light,” “In Places on the Run,” and “The Love Parade.” But I always liked those songs. I had just forgotten how good they were when I stopped listening to this two-track regularly decades ago.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Project Blog It: September

What do we even mean by the term September? The seventh month? Unless I'm counting on my fingers incorrectly, this is the ninth month. And what about that so-old-as-to-not-even-be-archaic suffix -ber that we now use only for the names of four months?

It still amazes me that much of how we measure time was devised so long ago in Babylon. The original 360 days per annum had a nice equivalence with the 360 degrees of a circle. Time as well as space were marked by the same measure.

Yet somehow--via the Hebrews, via the Persians, via the Greeks, via the Romans, and/or via the Goths--we still have seven-day weeks hearkening back to when there were (only) seven gods, seven wanderers: the sun, the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. But our Woden's Day never turned into "Middle Day" during the Industrial Revolution.

During the so-called American Revolution, our Founders never shot at the clocks or renamed the months after their newer gods of Liberty and Justice. The French do everything with so much more panache. We just kept shifting the equinoxes until Easter finally fell on Easter again. Not too early, not too late. Finally Washington's birthday could be set in stone.

And we're still using the name of a month that hasn't really existed in about 1600 years.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: Rising from the East

Bally Sagoo is one of those rare musicians and DJs who can take something as ethnically cramped as a Bollywood hit and make it an international sensation. I don’t remember when I first heard about him, heard his music, but Sonia passed this cassette on to me when she was leaving Japan in 1998. I guess this story would be more interesting if I knew where she had come across it.

Music was one of the most productive ways I was able to survive the two years I lived isolated and on display in Japan. Being a very visible ethnic minority in an overwhelmingly homogenous society was sometimes hard to bear. Even worse was the ghettoization with the other foreigners with whom I had even less in common. Every time Joanna would declare that we were best friends, I would always correct her with the adverbial phrase in Japan.

Funny that out of the foreign friends I actually made during my time in Japan, Joanna is the only one I’m still in contact with.

I don’t remember the last time I spoke with Sonia, one of my longest-held and dearest friends from our days of under-employment at the International Office at the University of Texas at Austin. We kept in touch across several countries and continents over the many years, but since she married and started a family, we’ve barely spoken.

It was nice that our time in Japan overlapped for about a year: my first year in Shimonoseki was her last in Kumamoto. We only got together maybe four times during that year, but that was plenty for us to get into trouble.

When I visited her in Kumamoto over Thanksgiving, I very easily convinced her to shoplift a trinket that she desperately wanted but didn’t want to spend money on. I can’t even begin to sort out the international insensitivities we indulged in while staying in Nagasaki during Golden Week. Who knew that sleeping in public at a strip mall was considered taboo in Japan? And that was only after we horribly offended a few war veterans at a bar the night before by telling them they were responsible for Japan being so fucked-up these days. Ah, good times when alcohol and the truth flowed freely.

I had been listening to world music for a few years already, but during my time in Japan and afterwards, I managed to increase my collection considerably. Bally Sagoo’s “Rising from the East” was a catalyst, especially when I began to recognize some of these songs at the Indian restaurant I frequented in Kokura, Kitakūyshū. This cassette was a good soundtrack to those crazy times in Japan.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Project Blog It: "It is the hour of departure..."

The hour of departure is not the departure. It is the anticipation for the leaving that remains to come. It is the last minute rushing around the one instant that was planned and pre-planned days, weeks, and months beforehand but then appeared as if out of nowhere, calling to fruition and completion the agreed-upon timetable, the temporal contract to leave where you had always found yourself and go someplace new. It’s the beginning of the motion but not the motion proper. It is the preparation to depart that is itself already a departure.

When I leave, I usually know I’m going months in advance. Ticket bought. Documents in tow. But before actually leaving, I first have to leave my house, having packed my bags. The trip to the airport, to the train station, to the port is the worst leg of any journey. But once inside the terminal, I already feel as if the journey has finally begun, all the while enjoying the last few minutes where I have yet to leave.

The anticipation of leaving is never the journey. Not the time in transit at 30,000 feet. Nor the nine hours on an overnight train. The journey is what happens when you arrive at a new destination, the transformation that takes place when we return home and remember what has transpired. The journey cannot be mapped, cannot be located geographically. It only happens inside perhaps the soul. And that’s precisely why we must go.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Zimba Leaf
March 19, 1994 - September 6, 2008

Rest in peace, my little green-eyed "monster." Zoom zoom.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: 1999

I was dreaming when I wrote this.

Who knew that way back in 1982 we had the technology to cram 11 rather long songs onto one two-track cassette? What took two LPs to contain would now fit on this new medium albeit with a few drawbacks: because the reels held more tape than usual, cassette players sometimes couldn’t pull all that tape across the deck heads at a consistent rate, causing the audio to flutter and drag. Sometimes more “sophisticated” tape players would misread the tension of the tape and, thinking it had reached the end of that side, would switch to the other track in the middle of a song.

Girl, you got an ass like I’ve never seen.

Who knew there was such a talented artist from Minnesota who could pack religion, sexuality, violence, lyricism, and danceability into 11 songs that ranged from pop to soul, from electronica to funk, from rock to ballad? I have to admit that Prince was the forbidden (musical) fruit that satisfied my ears as well as the cravings of my teenage libido. “Little Red Corvette”—whose imagery is both apparent and elusive—stands out as a success that has transcended its own historicity as well as my own immaturity.

“Let’s Pretend We’re Married”—the title says it all. I remember hearing—really hearing—the line near the end of the song for the first time at Lake Tawakoni, listening to this tape on Chris’ jam box, on some cool winter day around 1984: “I’m not saying this just to be nasty; I sincerely want to fuck the taste out of your mouth. Can you relate?” It was like pulling off a scab, like jumping into a fire, like a deep cut across the chest. It was dirty and illicit, and I wanted to hear it again and again.

Of course, “Can you relate?” became a catchphrase for the rest of my high school years.

Not knowing where I’m going, this galaxy’s better not having a place to go. Now I know.

I’ve always been a huge fan of “Lady Cab Driver,” especially the rape scene that bizarrely turns into something like a proselytizing: “This one is for the rich—not all of them, just the greedy, the ones who don’t know how to give.” Which one is more fucked-up here: Prince for conceiving such a song, or my twisted, pseudo-religious, horny ass that sang along all throughout my teen years? We’ll let the Son of Man judge.

Ha!

Thank U, Prince, for getting us through the 80s. And for getting us off.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

This is not how I am.

The vitriol coursing through my veins. The black, black cloud of grief nestled in the corner of my soul. I find myself torn between these two old pals lately, and the knot in my belly tells me I need to let them both go.

I’m stunned when people who are at least just as intelligent as I am and presumably much better educated (having graduate degrees from Ivy League universities) are utterly uncritical about the pure shit of American political culture. I vote Democrat and I have long supported Obama, but I know when he is merely pandering to the voters and resorting to inconsequential rhetoric. The Democratic National Convention nauseated me nightly.

But how can anyone (especially someone with a Ph.D. in art from Princeton) listen to the hooting and hollering of the Republican crowd (who weren’t even above booing when non-Republican politicians were mentioned!) and think they could share a common policy goal with that? That anybody could think that someone who has been in municipal and state government for the past sixteen years can be considered an “outsider” to politics is beyond me. Thankfully, the McCain/Palin ticket has no chance of winning, but too bad intelligent Americans are going to have to endure the next couple of months of their asinine oratory on top of the insipid speechifying of the Democrats. What am I doing wrong if I can be so critical of my own party, my own candidate, while smarter people heedlessly throw themselves into the NASCAR-watching throng?

Rereading through Heidegger’s Being and Time for the past several days has got me thinking much more about being. And time. And the horizon of my own being-toward-death. Losing one of my precious cats yesterday makes me even more aware of the mortal vastness of this life. Or perhaps I just mean the vast mortality. Not Hiedegger’s “possibility of the impossible” but rather Lévinas’ and Blanchot’s “the impossibility of the possible.” The death that recedes. The death that is forever (not) to come yet remains always already present. Without remains.

Philosophy on death doesn’t even do justice when you’re holding a dying animal in your arms. It's too paltry. Too human.

Now that the move to the suburbs is over, now that the Seattle conference is finished, now that the semester has begun, now that my schedule is much more codified, I’ll try to be a bit more tuned-in here. I’ll be back to posting my Two-Track Tuesdays this week. I’ll get back to posting the Project Blog It entries. I’ll even try to post more personal things, more real things, more thoughtful and reflective things. Don’t give up on me or my blog just yet.