Disruptive Juxtaposition

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Two reminders

1.) CDs are in the mail. If you've gotten yours, have listened to it, and are ready for the liner notes, let me know.

2.) Haven't yet expressed your interest in a CD? There is no expiration date on this offer. If you're new to DJ and have no idea what the CD's about, well, it's a mix CD complied for and about my brother Jon, who's no longer around. Let me know you'd like one with an email.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

When life was great

A Paul Simon snippet to kick me off tonight. Because on the radio, on the news, there is zydeco, there are feathered costumes colored magenta and lime. It’s been good to see the revelry in New Orleans today on this Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. The Times had a great shot—and I’m sure there will be no shortage of eloquent photography coming out of today’s parades—which put a parade in the background and in the foreground a broken architectural frame that had once been a house or a building’s front façade. In a city so devastated, it’s been good to see that the celebrations for which it’s known and which go so far in determining its character persist, and even thrive. This is a sentiment that’s been written and written about w/r/t post-Katrina efforts and I feel silly reiterating them, but there we go all the same.

On a related note, did you know that as a derivation of Fat Tuesday / Mardi Gras, today is also known as National Pancake Day? This has its history in the fact that it’s been customary to use up excess flour and random food before Lent begins tomorrow on Ash Wednesday. Farewell to the flesh and all that. In sober observance of National Pancake Day, no less illustrious a standard-bearer than IHOP gave away free short stacks of pancakes between 7 AM and 2 PM. Alas there was no IHOP close enough to home to make the trip worthwhile. Plus, ahem, girlish figure and all that.

I also heard, in some of the Mardi Gras post-Katrina coverage that I watched this noontime, that many of the New Orleans arts establishments have had their holdings and collections injured if not destroyed by the Hurricane. (Like the Event, it’s only right to capitalize.) Seeing some of the sculpture gardens, those sculptures with their great flat brown skirts of floodwater at their feet, made me think about the potential we have when some calamity visits and afflicts us. It is our opportunity to either Option A) labor to return the damaged artwork as nearly as we can to the way it was before, or Option B) preserve some vestige of the damage in the art as it is repaired, so as to remind ourselves of the damage done and the worthwhile efforts expended in preserving it. Here’s your generic statue. It’s all marred along the legs due to the flooding. Do I paint over the watermarks and make it look as it had before? Or do I incorporate the watermarks into the new life of the statue, and update my museum’s informational placards accordingly? This thought immediately aligned itself with our own struggles to comprehend and abide with the new fact of having one less member in our family. In a large sense, it’s moot to make the comparison between the restore-vs.-commemorate issue I thought of when I saw the water-damaged sculptures, because who can argue with the fact that we as a family and as a set of friends and as individuals have been profoundly scarred by what Jon did. It is not our luxury to conjecture and what-if our way back to a pre-Dec.-17th state or mind or being; we have been inarguably and irrevocably affected. Still, there’s worth in the comparison, for me at least, in that the impossibility of Option A might force me into an Option B-type of daily operation, for which an example might be, oh, looking at Jon’s photograph for more than the duration of the average glance, or writing a poem that traffics in less abstract concepts and more in direct specifics. Because restoration is not an option in this case.


Sending out an application to the University of Pennsylvania at Bradford in the morning. They need a creative writing instructor. For all of you readers who work at the University of Pennsylvania at Bradford: here I am. Let’s talk why not?

Also in the Outbox: dozens of CDs of Jon’s mix. Any readers who haven’t communicated their interest yet in having a copy, know that it is never too late to say “Yes, I too would like one.”


Also seen today on the TV: a snippet of Roseanne Barr’s (upcoming?) appearance on Larry King Live. And I’m sorry – maybe I’ll never live this down. But Roseanne Barr looked good. Anyone know Rachael Harris, the blonde commentator with tortoiseshell glasses from various VH1 pop-comment shows like I Love the 90s and Best Week Ever? Roseanne Barr had that whole look going, and it worked. May posterity proclaim that you heard it here first. And while I'm making potentially-damning confessions, let me share the guilty pleasure that is The Superficial with you. It lets you keep up with celebrity goings-on, but it's okay, because it mocks them. I know it goes against my whole let's-be-earnest-and-kind-all-the-time initiatives, but that's why it's a guilty pleasure.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Wandering stars

11 AM

I wanted to title this post "I am not writing enough," but two people in as many hours have called me on the absurdity of this statement. While I cede to their better judgment, the statement isn't so much to woe-is-me all over the white page of your computer screens. Rather this statement is to remind myself publicly that writing is one of the chief avenues I have open to me in terms of understanding the world and what's happened. That holds true for other people as well. Further,
reading what's written is the corresponding parallel oppositely-bound avenue, and failure to write enough means that people are failing as a result to read enough... what am I saying. What I am saying is that I'm concerned about the falling-away of certain resolutions to communicate to the utmost with everybody as much as humanly possible. I want to rededicate, reconsecrate myself to this purpose. Only on several cups of dark roast coffee do I feel sufficient power to do so.


11:30 AM, thereabouts.

I'm at a transition point in this scene I'm writing for Good Ground. I'll be right back in a few minutes.


7 PM.

Listening to Rammstein now. It was my soundtrack to a poem I just wrote. Jon used to listen to this CD when he had a particularly large number of pounds to bench-press, and the music worked him up to the point where more often than not he could indeed make the number of reps and weight. I confess that I was concerned about listening to it, maybe even a little afraid. It’s much less disturbing than I had feared. Probably, this is due to the lyrical content being in German and therefore obscure. Now that I
research them, however, and since they’re inert on the screen without any music to animate them, they seem fairly tame. Sure, there’s the occasional song about incest and emotional recrimination down the road, as in “Tier” (or “Animal”), and there’s nothing nice about “Buck Dich” (“Bend Over”) – a sample lyric being “Bend over, I command you / Turn your visage away from me / I don't care about your face / Bend over” – and well let’s just let that one stand. But the songs are well-contained in a narrative sense or in terms of how neatly they convey a thought. By and large, they lack complexity: usually there’s a slight or a crisis, and that slight or crisis either is revenged upon or is re-asserted. Not so much in the way of the unexpected, in these songs. Which was to be expected. But. There’s something of old John Donne in these lyrics.

“Bestrafe Mich” (“Punish Me”)

Punish me
Punish me
Straw becomes gold
And gold becomes stone
Your size makes me small
You may be my punisher
The lord takes
The lord gives
Punish me
Punish me
You say yes
And I think no
Include me in your prayer
Before the wind blows even colder
Your size makes me small
You may be my punisher
You may be my punisher
Your size makes me small
You may be my punisher
Your size makes him small
You will be my punishment
The lord takes
The lord gives
But he only give to those
Who he loves
Punish me

If we set aside masochistic implications, we can see that there’s coherance if nothing else in the way that the narrator maintains his absolute submission to the “you” of the song. Whether that “you” is the Lord or someone more earthbound isn’t completely clear, although context implies that we should take the “you” to be God, and the references to the Lord to be a sort of Faustian knuckle-biting aside (i.e. the way you mutter about somebody when that somebody’s still around). There isn’t much to speak of in terms of linguistic complexity or wordplay. A very basic development comes at the end of the song in terms of the old “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” idea being reworked to invoke the narrator’s feeling of spiritual barrenness. Even though “You say yes” (i.e. to salvation, forgiveness, love?), the speaker’s certainty that he deserves punishment remains unchanged. Alternatively, there’s a possibility that the “you” is saying yes to the speaker’s request for punishment, in which case the speaker’s request to also be included in his prayer complicates the interaction: the speaker wants the pain he feels sure he deserves, but he also wants to be prayed for. This request for prayer contains equal but opposite impulses, in that the singer (or supplicant) may want true absolution and divine favor, or may feel more sure than ever that he is SO lost that not even prayer may save him.

All of this close reading puts me in the mood for some lip-smacking John Donne. Take a deep breath and read it aloud, cuz here he comes:

Holy Sonnet XIV

Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Let’s be clear about this comparison I might seem to be making here. 99% of me rails, rails against the very notion of comparing these two texts, because they don't. Compare, that is. But that 1% of me hears a similarity to the Rammstein text in the way that this narrator seeks to interrogate and clarify his relation to a) a higher power and b) himself and his place in relation to that higher power. The Donne—and naturally I’m being uber-redundant here—is many times more complex than the song, even if you give the Rammstein song the handicap of being sung (they are meant to be sung after all).

For all of that, however, I like to think that there was a similar reflective power in the song for Jon as composing the poem seemed to be for Donne or as reading the poem, now, is for me. Jon did not, let’s be honest, spend the time to look up and draw analogies between the narrator of the song and his own spiritual / emotional state. That’s our work, now, in the aftermath. And I continue to believe that in certain cases certain brands of this music appeals deliberately to a sort of blinders-on, the-world’s-not-worth-it mentality that America’s neo-cons are not completely wrong to want to legislate against and want to check. I have more to figure out regarding my feeling on that score. Still, for the time being, I feel as though I’ve come to a kind of affectionate terms with this band, at least. As for the other bands in Jon’s regular rotation, time, as it so often does, will tell.


11:20 PM

On nights when I’m out late at the Big Top of Capitalism, I’ve taken to driving a certain stretch of Route 5 on my way home. This stretch of Route 5, heading west, allows me to avoid the Hinsdale Rd—Milton Ave.—West Genesee way home; instead, I get about three more miles of highway, which miles are almost always deserted. A dark golf course extends on my left, and on the right there’s not much—some scrub brush buried under the snow and beyond that a set of average hills. The whole segment road angles down at an easy slope of about 5 degrees, a pitch that coupled with the darkness and late hour and lack of traffic makes the 65 MPH I’m travelling at seem much faster. It resonates with me because I’m made to think of my cross-country travels, which I miss. Usually I have on something reflective yet upbeat, like a cut by supercool French band Air or My Bloody Valentine: something with ambient guitars and fuzz, but melody as well. I classify such music as Night Driving Music, and it gets me thinking about plans that involve travel and relocation. I’m only recently arrived here to this house, and there’s a good amount of work, work of various types, to be done. But my time as a striped-pants huckster of Crap, a vaudevillian’s bamboo crook in my hand as I jitterbug on a milk crate, brother, those days are coming to a rapid close.

There’s a site you should explore. The Rita Project is a non-profit based in New York City which seeks to prevent and contend with suicide by using creative means. The Press section explains their work best.