Friday, August 29, 2008

Project Blog It: Certitude

I am certain that Barak Obama and his Obamanations are quite nice people.

Senator Obama unquestioningly and with certitude will defend Israel’s right to exist. Yet certainly Palestinians, too, have the right to defend themselves against the incessant encroachment upon Palestinian lands and the destruction of Palestinian infrastructure at the hands of Israel.

I am certain that queer Americans do not appreciate being sandwiched between abortion, gun control, and immigration within Obama’s long-winded speech last night, as if we were mere issues or not even tax-paying citizens (second) and human beings (first). Certainly queers are not interested in being the new nigger.

I am certain that the middle class is mere rhetoric and self-misperception. The middle class does not exist; it is a figment of politicians’ (un)imaginations. Yet certainly 95% of Americans still claim to be part of it. (I am certain that the only other self-misperception that remains more prevalent is the claim to Christianity. But just because you says it, don’t makes it so.)

I am certain that the Athenian portico set of Obama’s speech similitudinarily served as Washington in general as well as the White House specifically, as if to remind us that this (half) black man, this Halfrican American, looks like he belongs among the alabaster columns designating the Halls of Power.

I am certain that there is nothing of real power within the word “change,” especially when etymologically it simply means “exchange” or “return, to turn back.” Certainly it means even less after being used far too many times these past few days. I am certain that far too few people in Denver saw it that way.

Despite my many reservations, however, I remain certain that Obama would be an improvement over the alternatives. I’m just tired of the uncritical hero-worship signifying the utter uselessness of American political culture.

I am certain most people would disagree.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: Ancient Heart

It was the summer of ’89, while working at the General Cinema in south Arlington, that I discovered Tanita Tikaram. Because of my weekly pay, I was visiting music shops at least once a week to stockpile tapes and increase my already vast collection.

I had never even heard of her before. But there was something about the cover that spoke to me: the brown and green fonts, the sepia photo of her standing in an empty landscape, the scribbled drawings. I bought the tape and had no idea what I would hear after I popped it into my truck’s player.

It was smooth, with a strong country vibe, but with some heartbreaking lyricism that still mesmerizes my ears. Every song, including those I don’t care much for, contains some poetic nugget worth contemplating.

I’ve carried these songs on my back across the world. “I Love You,” “Valentine Heart,” and “Twist in my Sobriety” sometimes have bubbled up as I was walking a dark back road in some dusty country. When I was living in Ukraine, I bought her ’98 tape The Cappuccino Songs to try to recover from some of the damage suffered in that sad, sad country.

By then, even Tanita Tikaram could offer little assistance. She had, however, warned me all those years ago.

“The lie is the angel, it doesn’t exist.”

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Big Gaping Kitty

Malika, the newest cat to cross our threshold, was spayed Tuesday at our veterinary in south Arlington. After moving to Plano, our veterinary is an hour’s drive away. I went to pick her up yesterday. Her shaved belly revealed a handful of stitches, but she didn’t seem to mind them at all.

When I returned home from work Friday afternoon, I laid with her on the sofa. She stretched across my chest and gave me sweet kisses on my chin and neck. When the phone rang, I put her on the cushions while I talked to my friend.

Somewhere about ten minutes into the conversation I glanced at kitty who was sitting up and noticed a strange, ear-like fold in her belly. She had already pulled out two of her stitches and was well into the third.

I screamed something about a giant hole in my kitty to my friend, hung up, and immediately dialed the vet. One hour later, we were in south Arlington getting her belly stapled back together.

The women in the vet’s office coo and praise Malika for being so beautiful and sweet. Apparently only my two 14-year-old cats and I know the real Malika, who bites our faces and fingers when she’s sleepy. Since she’s a cat, that is pretty much a continuous state. In many ways, she’s like a child who tries its damndest to fight the urge to nap and instead unleashes its hellion nature on all those nearby.

I mistakenly thought that they had removed all of the mean parts when they took out her uterus and ovaries.

Payback, however, can be just as rough. To honor the third two-hour roundtrip in four days, I gladly strapped on an “Elizabethan collar” when I got home. Considering her first name was Princess Stinky Butt, I have to confess that she now appears considerably more royal.

Project Blog It: Function of Art

Art has no function, but the function of art is to revolutionize society. Art that functions to revolutionize society is nothing but mere propaganda. But art that serves its functionless function transcends propaganda.

The function of art is to enact magic, but art that functions to enact magic is mere hypocrisy and superstition. Art that serves its functionless function transcends hypocrisy and superstition, thereby enacting magic.

The function of art is to enfold its viewer within a dialogue with being, but art that functions to enfold its viewer within a dialogue with being is mere kitsch and pretension. Art that serves its functionless function transcends kitsch and pretension, thereby enfolding its viewer within a dialogue with being.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: There's nothing casual ...

... about being a casualty.

Listening to these songs in the parking lot this afternoon made me feel a bit antisocial and embarrassed. I was sitting in the car with the windows down, and every time someone would walk by, I either turned the volume down to a mere whisper or ejected the tape altogether.

These songs are a bit in-your-face after 7½ years of substanceless rhetoric under Bush's regime.

Back before I claimed "post-political" as my personal ideology, I was a bleeding heart radical. I stopped eating meat in high school, which on the farm, in my backwater town—population 1700 (Salute!)—amounted to burning down a church and aborting Baby Jesus. Never mind the fact that I was still reading the Bible daily, speaking in tongues, and attending worship services. More on that later....

PETA and ALF were, aside from the National Geographic Society, the first organizations I joined. I purchased the Animal Liberation cassette directly from one of those organizations. It seems that I bought the Sun City tape from some big store bargain bin. I've often wondered just how much of my money went to support those causes, especially after the markdown.

Animal Liberation begins with "Animals are not ours to eat, wear, or experiment on" translated into several languages over ominous music. Ministry's Al Jourgensen was a master at producing the segments between the songs. For the most part, they are the only elements of this tape that still hold up twenty-one years later.

Regardless, this tape was not only a token of my then political involvement but also served as an entry point to music completely different from what I had been listening to before. Nina Hagen, Lene Lovich, Luc Van Acker, Shriekback. At that point in my musical experience, the only artist I had heard of prior was Howard Jones. I still think Chris & Cosey's "Silent Cry" is hauntingly sublime; the other tracks are almost unlistenable these days.

My funniest memory concerning this tape: teaching my then toddler nephews and niece the chorus to "Don't Kill the Animals." One morning I worked them up into a frenzy after several minutes of rehearsal and turned them loose on my mother. They surrounded her, chanting the never-so-subtle "Don't kill the animals. Don't kill the animals. The animals are free!" followed by the screeching and ascending "Hee hee hee hee!"

These days, I'm afraid the animal rights activists would have my head on a platter. I haven't eaten meat since I was eighteen, and I still refuse to buy products that include obvious animal by-products or use animal testing. But I now wear leather. And I have my cats declawed. And aside from that one year when I kept to a vegan diet, I remain a huge fan of all dairy products. (Don't blame me: my partner is from Wisconsin!)

I have tremendous respect for animals rights activists. Not celebrities who put their face in ads or wear tee shirts, but the real activists who burn down laboratories after rescuing animals. But there will be no more midnight, flashlight-wielding break-ins for me.
Come on, let's educate the mutated human race
By the super power of amazing grace
The missing link of human evolution
Is sexuality - it needs a spiritual revolution
My individual god-identity
Is what you've gotta meet
It's the rhythm of the beat!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Project Blog It: Seven Dwarves

I couldn’t come up with the alternative Seven Dwarves’ names on my own, so I asked various family members–all who live in trailers in east Texas–to help me out. Here's what we came up with:
  1. Bobcat Jesus – because bobcat is Daddy’s favorite animal & Jesus is his Lord
  2. Farrah Lantana – because Farrah is Mama’s favorite hairstyle & lantana is her favorite flower
  3. Gypsy Rhiannon – because that’s Sissy’s two favorite Stevie Nicks’ songs
  4. Sam Whiskey – because that’s Granny’s favorite Burt Reynolds’ movie
  5. Snoopy – because that’s what Other Granny names everything
  6. Mike Hunt – because that name always makes Cousin Billy laugh
  7. Princess June Bug – because nothing seems more magical
If I were Snow White, I’d run screaming.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: Boomtown

David + David's Boomtown is not the kind of cassette you want to have in your pickup truck as you peel out of the gravelly parking lot of some abandoned grocery store after getting stoned and picking a fight with your white-trash lover. There'd be no coming back from that trip.

Maybe in ten years' time someone would track your sorry ass down. You'd be living on the West Coast with other junkies and amateur alcoholics, all too burnt by the sun you've been staring far too long at.

You didn't see the sharp turn ahead--one never does--when taking a year off from college became a way of life. When your parole officer started dealing. When your heart became as burnt out as your lungs from cheap smokes and bags and bags of grass. When sleepless nights were measured in six-packs. When a sober sun never rose, and the colors of the dawn looked just like the bruise on your busted lip.

Writing in the dark of the afternoon with the shades pulled down and the air conditioning refusing to cycle off even though it's set at 80 in the 107-degree afternoon, I long to pour myself a drink. Back then, it would've been vodka mixed with some juice. Now I drink whiskey, 10-year single malt. Straight.

David + David never made it big. They were far too smart and talented. Their critique of the vacuousness of the 80s veneer was far too subtle and intelligent to get much airplay. They were certainly in the minority when it came to making sense of, and good music in, Reagan's America.

Toni Childs, who sang backup on Boomtown, cut a few albums of her own. David Baerwald released some solo work to critical acclaim. None of them, however, received the recognition they deserve for redefining music of the late 80s, for writing smart songs about social and personal ills. Their reach was wide, though: even The Belgian knew their songs. In their flannel-before-flannel-was-cool shirts, we see here the evolutionary "mistake" that would lead to full-blown grunge a few years later.

The cassette case is broken and cracked. I'm nowhere near the kind of person I was when I first heard "Welcome to the Boomtown" on Dallas radio and went out immediately to buy the tape. It's been years since I listened to these songs, but they are still cool and smooth and just what is needed. Like a chilled single-malt whiskey. A little rough, a little refined. But still the only thing worth living for.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Project Blog It: Strawberries

To contribute to Project Blog It today, I decided to post an excerpt from a book I've been writing over the past few years based on the journal I kept during the time I lived in Ukraine:

Saturday, June 10, 2000, L-

We had been waiting for the ordination service to begin since 10:00 AM. Finally, around 11:30, we left the choir loft of the cathedral and sneaked back downstairs to leave. The organist began playing the benediction as soon as we were too far down the road to consider turning back and abandoning our walk to the city for drinks.

We changed Polish złoty for a handful of Ukrainian bills and found a café where Przymek could have his coffee and I could get a Coca Cola.

Kostya saw something he wanted: ice cream smothered in whipped cream with strawberries and some kind of smaller version of a strawberry whose name in Russian and Polish is different from “strawberry” but whose name in English I didn’t know. Years later I was to find out that poziomki are simply wild strawberries.

My Ukrainian friends—who are actually Ukrainian transplants to Poland—spend a lot of time singing songs, performing for me, asking me to fill in the gaps to missed lyrics of American pop songs: “Bye bye, Miss American Pie, drove my what?” “’Chevy’—it’s short for Chevrolet: a kind of car.” “To the what?” “’Levee.’” “What is this ‘levee’?”

Using universal sign language, I describe a river—my frame of reference: the Trinity in Dallas—and the mounds of earth keeping the river from overflowing its bounds. Here, too, I mentally reference something close to home: the Wycliff Street bridge, over which I pass daily to work, except those days when the Trinity is flooded.

I want to show these friends the pictures I have in my head and yet I regretfully acknowledge that anything short of a Vulcan mind meld would be inadequate. I wonder what pictures they have in their heads and wonder what it is of their world they wish I could see.

“Fuck off.” “Acquaintance.” “Take a piss. Take a shit.” These are some of the things I later teach Przymek over a bottle of Ukrainian beer. I scold him for being lazy with his tongue when speaking English: he too often has relied on “z” instead of a better “th” sound.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Two-Track Tuesday: Reflections

I cried a tear.
You wiped it dry.
I was confused.
You cleared my mind.
I sold my soul.
You bought it back for me.
And raised me up
And gave me dignity.
Somehow you needed me.

Thus begins this 1979 K-Tel compilation of pop ballads. Reflections is most likely the oldest cassette tape I own and probably the first pre-recorded tape I ever purchased.

I listened to the entire tape again over this past week, and the sound quality is fairly good for something so anachronistic and obsolete. I guess I'm lucky to have one of the last Camry's with a standard tape-player.

It's difficult for me to remember who exactly I was when I saved enough money to buy this at Perry's, the dime store in the next town over. I know that I was a fan of this first song, "You Needed Me" by Anne Murray, as well as a fan of the two songs by Barry Manilow: "Even Now" and "Could It Be Magic." These songs were some of the first pop songs I learned to play on the piano after I started lessons at about the same time this cassette hit the market.

I was far too young to have understood anything about love or sexual relationships, but I sang along with each song as if I indeed had suffered the tragic heartbreaks sung about by these (more often than not one-hit) pop stars. To some extent, the translation to what passed itself off as religious devotion back then was easy enough; hell, I had even heard Anne Murray's hit sung in a church or two. But, of course, with the subjunctive adverb, "So high that I could almost see eternity," changed to the declarative, "clearly." Such things impressed my far-too-easily impressed mind back then.

Now at 40, I don't recognize the part of me, then at 11, that would've wanted to spend his hard-to-come-by cash on such a compilation. Each song comes across to me now as pure kitsch, even the Chopin-inspired introduction to Manilow's "Could It Be Magic." Even Chopin comes across to me as kitsch these days, though. Each song's hook had gotten caught in the impressionable, overwrought, and melodramatic heart worn too openly on my sleeve.

That melodrama, I do recognize at times, especially when I try to feel what it was I felt back then. I'd like to be able to cling to this music as to an emotional life raft once more. I deeply mourn the loss of such naïveté: it was such a huge part of my childhood and early adult life. But I'm faced with too much truth about who I actually was at the time and its conflict with who I thought I was.

I played the role of the wounded lover, the unlovable, at 11 because I had been conditioned by generations of abuse and neglect to never accept love. My angst was too much a manifestation of the pain heaped upon my too young and too sensitive mind. I no longer need those ghosts to keep me company. That little, sad boy is no more, not even the man I am today.

What could I say to that kid now? Can I just casually toss that cassette in the recycling bin and forget it (and he) ever happened? Not likely. But I also don't feel the need to hang on to something outgrown like a pair of shoes, two sizes too small for a heart that has expanded in the past three decades, so much so as to totally embrace such a scared, lonely boy, to hold his hand in the dark places of the world, but also to let him go when it's time.

It's time.

Friday, August 1, 2008

♥ + 5

While driving to Allen last weekend for a fiasco of a cook-out, we heard Haircut 100's "Love Plus One" on the radio. Afterwards, I confessed that when I was in high school I had written a similar song entitled "♥ + 5." I even sang the parts I remembered.

In honor of my 17th anniversary today, I hearby reveal those long-lost lyrics. I won't sing them to you, but try to imagine them sung by Prince in his "Raspberry Beret" heyday.

♥ + 5 (is wot i feel 4 U)

1 day i met U
1 + 1 = 2
a common skin, a common soul
2 ½'s make 1 whole

♥ + 5 is wot i feel 4 U
No-1 alive + ["adds"] 2 my life like U

I never finished this song, and I don't plan on finishing this relationship. Happy anniversary.