Disruptive Juxtaposition

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Name that tune

If I am lost for a day try to find me
But if I don't come back then I won't look behind me
All of the things that I thought were so easy
Just got harder and harder each day

December is darkest; in June there's the light
But this empty bedroom won't make anything right
While out on the landing a friend I forgot to send home
Who waits up for me all through the night

I dreamed I was dying as I so often do
And when I awoke I was sure it was true
I went to the window threw my head to the sky
And said whoever is up there, Please don't let me die

But I can't live forever, I can't always be
One day I'll be set on a beach by the sea
The pages keep turning; I'll mark off each day with a cross
And I'll laugh about all that I've lost

Inbox, outbox


o the new live Wilco record "Kicking Television." A disappointing show, and only for completists.

o the Putomayo 2005 Sampler.

o a check for $50 from Toshiba. Thanks, Toshiba!


o a submission of five poems to Black Warrior Review.

o an application to the Stegner Fellowship.

A man on my block died last night. Maryann, a woman two houses down to east gave me the skinny as I came back from my run. It happened like this: last night at 1 am or so I noticed two NYPD cruisers and patrollers taking statements at the house two houses to the west. Witnesses, those thick black statement pads like halved phone books, idling cruisers. I tried not to worry about it and safely got past the glance of one officer who regarded me and my 40 of Guinness in a plastic bag with a manner that was briefly but definitely interrogative. This morning, after the run, two cruisers remained there. I eyed officers going into and out of the bottom floor apt., which has a separate entrance from the rest of the brownstone. Scenes from Law & Order kept recurring to me. I imagined that if called on to provide any information, I wouldn't offer up anywhere near the same level of moxie and attitude witnesses do on the show. That's the show's most unconvincing element, I think. In the face of an actual life event or death event which will impact actual people, I like to think that I'd be more compliant. But so the old woman who turned out to be Maryann saw me stretching on the sidewalk and asked if I was alright - apparently joggers are rare sights in Brooklyn, and a young man sitting on the sidewalk in their eyes has got to be injured. No, I told her, just stretching. A man died down there last night, she said. I got up and went over. Apparently this man, John perhaps, was 42 and a bouncer. He had so many girls coming and going that it wasn't funny, Maryann opined. Apparently he drank, fine, but the Russian woman (beats me) found out that he'd been a user of some drug or other too.

Remarking that this occurence is "sad" and "a waste" seems to be a terrific understatement, and the fact that I even find myself writing about it makes its other dimensions appear, however partially. It's like the few weeks when my friend JBG lived in Springfield OR during the reign of some still-uncaught arsonist: every other night it seemed another house near his went up in a safety-orange cone of fire, and the sense of being either unsuccessfully hunted or successfully toyed with by some higher power made him uneasy in the extreme.

Also makes me think of Eamon Grennan's technique of calling on people in class - no rhyme or reason, no warning, just out of the blue: So right, good Hathaway, but what do you think about it Wil? Like a match of academic Battleship with questions instead of shells.

And the whole Gravity's Rainbow extended metaphor of artillery, ballistics, and brennschluss, i.e. main-engine cut-off (MECO in NASA acronymics): the point at which vector becomes set.

As to other volleys, well, it's time to leave the house and see.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What obsolete skill am I?

a vegetable garden
You are 'growing one's own food'.

You are guided by two words: 'Live simply.' You
value quality over quantity in most things, and
you have little use for the materialism and
consumerism of modern culture. You know the
value of hard work and try to be
self-sufficient as much as possible, and what
you do you do well. Unfortunately, no man is
an island, and you cannot do everything
yourself. Your puritanical work ethic makes
makes people think that you are weird, and not
much fun. Your problem is that growing one's
own food has been obsolete for a long time.

What obsolete skill are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Wow. A little surprised at the accuracy here.

Music Review: Antony and the Johnson's "I Am A Bird Now" via personal recollections and musings

I've been conspiring to invent tasks and computerized work for myself, despite my fatigue, just so I can put on Antony and the Johnson's second full-length "I Am A Bird Now." Checking websites twice and thrice, learning about obscure rhetorical tricks on Silva Rhetoricae, rereading old emails, just boring, inane stuff that shouldn't by any right keep me interested or awake even when it's 12:19 and I have a full plate of writerly activities in the AM.

But Antony and his Johnsons have created one of the most accomplished and lush late-night records released in recent years. I first put this record on in at 11:30 pm Sunday night, and listened to it 7 times in a row. That's without the "Loop" function turned on on my stereo; that's with the record ending properly, and with me hitting Play again in a very deliberate and conscious way. I've listened to it every night in the dark with the headphones on. When the 40,000 families who live above me wake up and ready for the day at 5:30 AM, I put the headphones back on and press Play again. I foresee playing it nightly until April breaks.

References to winter and evening aren't incidental. A&theJs include an incredible level of instrumentation - strings, layered vocal tracks by Antony, horn flourishes in one song - without ever overwhelming. Brief accents of flute in "My Lady's Story", for example, fill just the right amount of space in the song; the song is spare even as it weaves a beautiful smoky knot of melody and uses Antony's voice to best effect. All of the songs save "Fistful of Love" are down-tempo numbers of baroque beauty, as though Bach on his soul's darkest night sat down to compose not a requiem but a prom theme for you circa 1971, back when Carly Simon was big and "Wonderful Tonight" was years from drenching the AM waves.

And about Antony's voice: vibratto and melisma abounds in every note he sings, but it doesn't overwhelm in the way that, say, some opera taken from its stage context sometimes might. Boy George and Rufus Wainwright, to whom Antony's vocal stylings and poperatic sensibilities have both been compared, make appearances: Boy George and Antony duet through "You Are My Sister" like flying birds complexly assembling a wedding bower with ribbons in their beaks, and Rufus takes the lead on "What Can I Do?" as a fey two-note piano riff dances off-balance on the beat behind him.

Then, because this isn't enough, Lou Reed reads a little self-penned Hallmark poem at the start of "Fistful of Love": "I was lying in my bed last night / staring at a ceiling of stars / when it suddenly hit me / I just had to let you know how I feel". Cute, but yawn. Then Antony picks up the lead, his voice all over the oscilloscope, and those gentle horns that made Ani DiFranco's "In Here" so heartbreaking and rousing show up just where they need to. Here, of course, they go higher, to 11 if you will, and Lou Reed makes his guitar, which is way down and back in the mix, sound here like a Chicago bluesman's and there like a violin about to break. The whole exercise is worthy of Solomon Burke or Sam Cooke at his sexy best, but here there's just emotion rather than sensuality driving the effort.

It should probably be said that A&theJs won't be for everyone. Lyrically, the themes deal with mortality - check - fear of solitude - OK - and transgender confusion. Wha? Buh? But yes. Take "My Lady's Story": "My lady's story is one of breast amputation." Or the gospellish "For Today I Am A Boy", whose narrator yearns for the day he'll become a beautiful lady. And A&theJs probably make the publicists assigned to them quail: Antony can seem in some photos like Marilyn Manson's band's Pete Best: left off the docket, but not because of any real clash style-wise.

But if these are turn-offs for you, you'll miss out on some of the most original, considered, accomplished music of the last year. Call it chamber pop, call it popera, it doesn't matter. With the first spin of only their second record - and may they please keep them coming - A&theJs will work their way into your head and other, deeper, bloodier parts of you too. Expertly produced, exquisitely composed, "I Am A Bird Now" knows about everything you lost and want, and wants to convince you you'll be alright. You will.