BLOG THIS! Highly Suspect Wisdom for the Widely Disinterested Masses
Oh, just that day eight years ago when we stopped at the pizza joint on the way home from school, our Friday tradition. Over many dozens of visits, she never once deviated from her standard order: two cheese slices, one chocolate milk. No oregano, no parsley, no parmesan. No toppings of any sort, ever. PLAIN. CHEESE. There were better and more convenient places around, less oily, more adventurous, thinner crust. But she liked this one. I never ordered anything myself, as a fatty grease bomb in any disguise --Quarter Pounder, Pad Thai, cheesesteak, pepperoni and onion, even if tasting good on the way down, always makes me slightly nauseated and needing to lie on the couch for an hour afterward. On this particular day I saw her staring at the poster on the wall above us, slice paused mid-shove, somewhere between intrigued and vaguely intruded upon.
"Know who that is?"
"He was in the Beatles."
"Kind of the most famous band of all time."
Chewing, glazing over.
"What's weird is, it may also be the dumbest band name of all time."
Looks up, slight interest at the coming slight.
"Because it's a pun. Not spelled Beetles, but BEAT-LES. Like, a musical beat? Rhythmic notation? We all grew up with them as a given, as ever-present, and so no one questions it. That's just their name. But if you think about it, "The Beatles" has zero nuance or even marginal coolness. It doesn't represent them or the breadth of their music in any way. Sure, there were the Eagles and Buddy Holly's Crickets. There were the Monkees and the Turtles, Camel and Whitesnake and all the other animal names. Then other dumb puns like Def Leppard and Led Zeppelin. And even your slightly clever ones like Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, Camper Van Beethoven and Dead Kennedys. I mean, they would have been better off as The Mop Tops. Or Paul McCartney And The Liverpool Three."
"He seems sad."
"Who, Lennon? Yeah."
"Well, probably because someone shot him."
"The world, little peanut, is a crazy place. Sometimes there are no real answers. Even to important questions."
"Take a picture of me."
She got up and stood next to The Man, uncannily approximated his expression.￼
“You have sauce on your face.”
I snapped the pic.
She nodded, satisfied, finished her milk.
We drove home.
Either music is one of the most essential components of what it is to be human, or it’s a complete con, a series of random tonal patterns with which we comfort ourselves, a false indicator of complexity to refute the meaninglessness of existence. After all, what is the history of human life but a generational document of trying to make life bearable? Drugs, food, art, meditation, theology, astronomy, willing denial, maximum risk, egregious consumption. In the end, we usually come back to music as the most pragmatic, sustainable, honest dose of Soma available. The question is, why does music even exist? Did it arise from the cadences of primitive language? Or did language arise from our proto-human ancestor’s first proto-rhythmic grunts? Is the desire to recognize the mathematical distance (intervals) between notes encoded in our neural framework, or is it learned? Can it just be a function of the evolutionary fortuity of having a particular kind of (auditory canal/ears) hearing apparatus? Many animals of course have far superior hearing, and advanced abilities like echolocation, but they do not have music. So why do we? In a larger sense, music is ultimately without significance in terms of survival, in the same way that athletics are pointless and full of manufactured import, but it’s hard to imagine enjoying life without either. Rhythm is elemental to every genre of music, including, and maybe especially, the intentionally arhythmic. It’s also elemental to athletics and many of the other things we value, from sex to dance, from coexisting in a city full of people to a simple daily grace. I’ve come to believe that the music I prefer expresses the truth of who I really am in ways that no words or paragraphs or endless manuscripts ever could. And often does so in a mere twelve measures, let alone a searing horn solo or three-minute radio-friendly tune. Why does music matter more or less to me than the person crossing the street in the other direction? And why does a very particular style of music speak to me on what feels like a molecular level? Did a particular set of intervals have meaning to my ancestors, carried down through countless generations, stored in the lizard brain and finally released during the moment-of-fertilization chemical wash that etched my helix with JAZZ like a cattle-brand? I wondered all this while singing “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” in the shower this morning. All my best self-indulgent and faux-intellectual musings reveal themselves in the shower. Either way, Eddie V and Diamond Dave brought it all home before I was even towel-dry. Everything is random in polyrhythm. Nothing is random in 4/4 time.
Without being too overtly nostalgic or anti-technology, it is somewhat bizarre how easily and without complaint we've lost touch with a life that was once a great deal more in touch with its surroundings, if only by necessity. Or the subconscious desire for mystery. When all is accessible, all is to some degree diminished by ease. Flying to a new city, finding an apartment with roommates on an index card pinned to the corkboard of the hippie grocery store, getting lost in a car that frequently broke down on various exit ramps, walking to a payphone to call for a tow and having no change in your pockets, looking for jobs in thumb-stain classifieds, carrying a Moleskine notebook filled with bad lyrics and bad poems, addresses and phone numbers, a few quick-snatch snapshots of that girl or boy you desire or miss stuffed between pages. Answering the shared rotary in the hall, writing down a message for your roommate and taping it to their door. Going into a record store and finding a rare album for a few bucks because the owner's personal knowledge was their only resource to approximate worth. Really looking at the person across from you. Gazing out windows, undistracted. Never once saying "Can you put that down for a minute?" unless it referred to a well-thumbed but engrossing Genet or Lawrence Durrell. Creasing open a heavy envelope, a long letter on lined notebook paper nestled with portent. Three channels, plus PBS. Every Friday night at the art theater no matter what was playing. Sleeping more deeply, and longer. Not sure we were gods, but maybe the better cherubim of our natures?
Socrates said that the closer you get to the truth, the more likely you are to be executed. While the abundant evidence throughout history to support that conclusion has frightening implications for the future of humankind, I often think of it in terms of music. Truly profound, innovative, and uncompromising musicians have always been metaphorically sent to the gibbet for the crime of seeing the world through a distinct, sometimes disconcerting lens. Even in the jazz world, John Coltrane was often misunderstood, derided, critically and culturally dismissed. From the outside, especially late-career, he was seen as a madman. John Coltrane is by far my favorite musician. The four-suite ecstatic and quasi-religious devotion “A Love Supreme” might well be his greatest and most complete work. For sixty years there was only one recorded instance of him playing it live (1965, Antibes). Now there are two, as this newly discovered and released recording from Seattle attests. Socrates would be proud. This is as close to musical truth as it gets.
Sometimes while reading the news each morning I have a vision of a whole new wave of Retro-Idealists replacing this tired immediacy, gangly young men with Cardigans and Meerschaum pipes, trim-bearded intellectuals who race Moto Guzzis past sidewalk cafes and listen to the Everly Brothers and read Kant, packs of vibrant young women simply replacing the crone-ish rebuking-class, impossible heels and scarves draped over their heads during screenings of I Am Curious Yellow and A Clockwork Orange at the art theater in town, smoking Chesterfields at the diner until midnight, discussing the merits of backpacking to Prague or Quito or Burkina Faso, all of them exuberant with sheer possibility, without fear of the potential to misspeak or offend, impervious to the monotony of contemporary political stasis and its attendant ills, without a cellular Apple-umbilicus to constantly massage and feed. Then I flip to the next article.
There is absolutely no reason for anyone of conscience not to delete their Facebook account immediately. Not to mention march in the streets in the millions demanding that it get the Ma Bell treatment. No one man, company, or platform (it's not a platform, it's a publisher and needs to be treated like any other publisher responsible for its content) should be allowed to control 70% of social media activity, and therefore a dangerous majority of communal intellectual, cultural, and political thought. In fact, Facebook should immediately be torn apart and forced to sell Instagram and WhatsApp. Its algorithms should be completely transparent and closely studied for their insidious effects, especially on children. As the crush of advertising (remember only 8 years ago when there was absolutely none in your feed?) makes it almost unusable, and the data harvesting continues, and we all conveniently ignore the fact that, despite endless editorials about ignored rust belt towns, the reason Trump was elected was manipulated Facebook analytics, for some reason we hang on. Especially because Zuckerberg didn't do it for any particular ideology, which in some ways would have been marginally more forgivable, but for cash. And now THIS. But of course we all already knew THIS, and every single permutation of it. The truth is that it's just too convenient a way to stay in touch in an isolated world. And, pathetically, as much as I try to be an ethical person, I'm staying for now. Up here in the far corner of the country, where I spend most of my day alone in an office, these pixel-interactions are genuinely meaningful, if mostly meaningless on the surface. I am a chimp and I need to remain in relative proximity to other chimps, or wither. Also, I am weak.
However, I've been thinking in general about deleting my account since 2016, and have been very seriously considering it over the last year. For now it would be nice to have some conversations that were less cynical commentary or expressions of anger, no matter how warranted, and more toward organized action about what an exodus en masse might look like. Then leaving might mean something. And I would be 100% in.
Just a shot back from when I thought you could make money as a photographer. Real film developed in darkroom, no effects or filters.
Oh, just that week in 1989 when we stayed at a little house on Lake Erie into which I scandalously dove naked every morning ("It's natural, man!") and made cheap pasta and played chess and sat on the candlelit porch deep into the night typing terrible poems and Malbec-addled free associations (actual typewriter!) on delicate onionskin paper, a sheaf of which I still have but have never once read, the hiss of an Ellington cassette and its compositional brilliance keeping the mosquitos away, still imbued with the idea that it was only art that would save us, nourish us, that aesthetics weren't a subjective philosophical construct but a concrete mechanism that we both, in our youth and naiveté and as-yet-discovered sparking creative brilliance, knew the exact formula to. It was just a matter of time.
I'm fairly sure I know who stole this record. It was just posted in a vinyl forum I'm in. Look closely at what's stamped beneath the title. Freshman year there was a dude in my dorm who lugged his entire stereo, speakers, and many milk crates of records all the way to campus, while most of us just brought a duffle bag of clothes, a couple pretentious books (Kafka, Camus, maybe a rando Fyodor) and a toothbrush. I used to go to Stereo Guy's room, partake of a little Greater Ohio Area Ditchweed, and spin records. Most of his stuff was meat-n-taters classic rock, but he was also into fusion. Which is to say we listened to a ton of Mahavishnu Orchestra. At any rate, one day I swung by for another round of John McLaughlin solos and the dude had a stack of new records. All jazz. Mostly be-bop. I had a radio show at WYSO then (2-4am, everyone's favorite time slot). All of Stereo Guy's new records had WYSO written on the covers in black marker. You could get away with pretty much anything at that school. In fact, most of our parent's hard-earned and grudgingly forked over tuition went not toward academics, but the maintenance of an illusory, consequence-free bubble. However, taking records from the radio station was not covered. "You're gonna get nailed for that," I said. "Nah," he laughed, tamping down the business-end of the cigarette he'd just rolled with the stem of the silver mushroom he always wore on a chain around his neck. A few weeks later, he got nailed. And was immediately banned from the station. Not too long after, there was talk around the music department that someone was pilfering albums from the Listening Room. Could have been a coincidence. Stereo Guy dropped out before the end of the year, and I never saw or heard from him again. This, of course, is pure conjecture on my part, but I would bet my body weight in gold coins captured during the Second Punic War that the same dude waltzed off campus for the last time with this 1968 stereo copy of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" under his arm. How fascinating that someone in the heartland just bought it, three decades later, in their local record store.
Today is Charley's birthday. She is four years old. Later we are having a cake made of veal and also something that sort of looks like veal, before tearing apart a celebratory pile of empty boxes with our teeth. After a dinner of additional veal with some carroty-looking chunks, we will have a few post-prandial waters in lappable steel bowls and tell stories about the old days on the Kansas City Marrow & Mailman circuit. Simultaneously the best and most disquieting thing about Charley is the human-ness of her eyes, a widely remarked upon quality inherent in this particular breed. Her stare speaks volumes. It is tempting to read a complexity there, a higher philosophical understanding of the world and its people, their purposes and flaws. Despite the fact that she regularly displays an unusual intelligence, I have come to believe, like a 1932 ticker tape machine, what she actually has is an endless furl of paper spinning through her head that contains four repeated phrases:
1. "Is that by any chance food, food-adjacent, food related, food-remnant, briefly food-contacted, something inedible I will eat and throw up later anyway, or food?"
2. "Physics and canine physiognomy aside, is there a way that I can get even one increment closer than the already sweaty closeness I am currently enjoying curled like a donut on your lap?
3. Can you open the door for the seventeenth time this hour so I can madly and barkingly chase that non-existent thing again, a quixotic backyard trot which always ends with a resigned piss upon the newly planted?
4. If I could dig a bone-hole large enough to bury this whole goddamned clown show of a world in, covering the existential fallacy of meaning let alone the verifiable meaninglessness with paw after paw of moist dirt, and then tamp it all down with a single dismissive sniff, I'd be on that toot-suite. Oh, you better believe it."