Monday, July 17, 2006

Rambly post with crumpled wad ($1.75)

OK, I said I was going to write about dogs and Stephen Rodefer, so I shall, being a man of my word, I shall indeed write about dogs and Stephen Rodefer. Just you see if I don't. But by way of a warm-up -- because you don't just go straight into writing about dogs and Stephen Rodefer like nothing happened, for goodness sake -- here's a bunch of neat stuff, in no particular order, that's caused some manner of vibration in one or more of my sense organs in the last few days.

1. Tommy Turner & David Wojnarowicz's 1985 film Where Evil Dwells -- which can be downloaded from the 'Cinema of Transgression' page over at Ubuweb. I've really been getting in to Wojnarowicz in the last few weeks; earlier encounters with his work didn't feel satisfactory but I guess I just wasn't paying attention, or I was looking for something that wasn't there, or something. I think sometimes the presentation of his work can be somewhat occluded by the sense of him 'standing for' something-or-other (never quite defined) in relation to AIDS, as if that were some kind of summit. Which is possibly so, but it tends to detract from the continuity of his inquiries and their sharp candour in their encounters with history and with the societies invoked by his art. I had underestimated his intelligence, his radicalism, and the sophistication of his making as well as his thinking; and I hadn't understood the extent of his personal mythologies, their scope and distinction. (There's a good exhibit in the archive of the Queer Arts Resource which sets a lot of this up.) Where Evil Dwells is intense and schlocky and I find I like its qualities without very much liking it. But that's conceivably the happiest compliment you could pay a soi disant 'Transgressive' movie. Impossible to tell from twenty years' distance, anyway. Very weird to look at it in all its fumbly bleary black-and-white rawness and think of it as more recent than, say, Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want To Have Fun".

(If you don't know Ubuweb, by the way, it is -- of course you have no way of knowing this, but trust me, it is -- completely absurd that you're here right now instead of over there. Fly, my children! Fly and be free!)

2. There's a really nice moment in the interview with Miranda July which comes as one of the extras on the DVD release of her lovely Me and You and Everyone We Know where she's talking about writing the script without having much premeditated sense of the story she was telling, but instead wanting to be able to allow the changing moods of the screenplay to come from her own day-to-day emotional life, so that no matter how she was feeling, she'd always want to work on the script. She puts it much better than I do, and it might not seem like a very revolutionary idea, but it really struck me. Because I tend to think in fairly formal terms, particularly when I'm writing or conceiving a piece on a large-ish scale, and I generally tend to want to sketch out the structure and the dynamic shape of something before I populate it, it was quite a useful -- 'ow you say? -- oops upside my head, to imagine having that go-to relationship with my work. And if any medium ought to support it, theatre should. ...So we start work on Longwave in about ten days and I'm going to see what happens if I hide all my structural diagrams from myself for a while and just, uh, do it like we feel it. ("Telephone call for Bunky Green, is there a Dr Bunky Green in the bar?" etc.)

This mini-epiphany also made me dig out the Michael Andrews soundtrack CD from the movie and put it on repeat play for a while. Which in turn made me bid for a stylophone on eBay. (Everyone will be delighted to know that I didn't win.)

3. Allen Ruppersberg. My new hero. Not an artist I'd come across before, though now I notice him, of course he's everywhere, and I've obviously just been looking in the wrong direction. Very happily I made it over to Paris on Monday, with Rajni -- a belated birthday treat, to see the Los Angeles 1955-85 exhibition at the Centre Pompidou. Great show, large and dense and full of slightly unconnected propositions and therefore utterly exhausting in the summer heat; but before I stopped taking it in, I lost my heart -- lock, stock, and two smoking beagles -- to Al's Cafe. Here's a taster from a terrific essay by Allan McCollum, which can be read in full here:

The menu supplied by the beautiful waitress was on the outside perfectly normal-looking—but the "dishes" were rather odd. The first offering ("FROM THE BROILER") was TOAST AND LEAVES. The second offering was DESERT PLATE AND PURPLE GLASS. The third offering was SIMULATED BURNED PINE NEEDLES A LA JOHNNY CASH, SERVED WITH A LIVE FERN. And so on. From salad to desert, Al's Cafe mediated nature into sculpture, brought the forest and the desert to your table. And it was not, as I thought for a moment, a joke. When a person ordered a "plate," the waitress brought the order to the "kitchen" behind the counter, the "cook" (Ruppersberg) put together the dish (rather quickly, as I remember), and the order was delivered to the table—perhaps a SMALL DISH OF PINE CONES AND COOKIE ($1.50), or maybe THREE ROCKS WITH CRUMPLED WAD ($1.75).

It's like Fluxus-on-vacation meets Arte Povera meets, oh I dunno, Brautigan. Or something. Only better. -- There doesn't seem to be an awful lot of Ruppersberg on the web, nor is there much in the exhibition catalogue. I'll have to keep my eyes peeled.

One question I had by the end, which it was hard to answer from the presented evidence, was whether Chris Burden and Paul McCarthy really did dominate the Los Angeles performance scene in the early/mid 70s to the extent that the exhibition (more-or-less tacitly) implies; or whether they now appear to have dominated simply because their work has been better documented and preserved. If Burden, in particular, really was so exceptionally prominent, one can't help speculating that he must have been as much a constraining or bullying a presence as an inspiring or liberating one. At any rate, his most notorious work really does strike one, in the context of this exhibition, as -- precisely -- stupid. Which may have been the necessary means, of course.

4. Crying at pop songs. Ever since I came off Seroxat for the last time in 2000, I've been, at certain times of the year (which appear to have slipped round, incidentally -- it always used to be April and November, but not any more it seems...), liable to burst into tears if a song catches me off guard. I'm not, on the whole, a person given to overmuch weepery (though I'm awfully susceptible to deaths in films, the soupier the better), so it's always interesting to go through this biannual phase and see what it is that trips me up.

So: three in the last three days. First one was ELO's 'Mr Blue Sky', which suddenly revealed itself to me as almost impossibly, complicatedly perfect -- I suspect I had the same reaction the very first time I heard it, and I guess overfamiliarity has tended since to obscure the detail of the production and the particular and immense pleasure of the harmonic sequences. (Also, the ending just overshoots, for me; eventually it's risible rather than merely, magically, preposterous.) There was a band called Fred that played the Spiegeltent while we were in Cork -- it all looked a bit like this, give or take a v+t -- and they did a frankly irresistible cover of 'Mr Blue Sky' with which, I'm afraid, Tonstant Weader could be seen and/or heard "singing along"... Point is, it's a good song. It's a good song. There is no Bruckner symphony and no Rossini opera to which I would rather listen, given the choice of 'Mr Blue Sky'.

Then last night it was Radiohead, 'Fake Plastic Trees', though in my defence (if I need any), that was some way through Julien Temple's superb Glastonbury documentary, which had quite a strong cumulative emotional pull, and if there's one thing Bends-era Radiohead don't especially need help with it's emotional pull... The only fly in the garibaldi is the bottomlessly dismaying and seemingly unforgettable knowledge that David Cameron chose 'Fake Plastic Trees' as one of his Desert Island Discs.

And this afternoon's blub-inciting anthem was 'Alone Without You', off of Mark Owen's second album, 'In Your Own Time'. This is a song that's felled me more than once in the past, too... -- in particular: if, towards the end of last year's Edinburgh festival, you saw a fat malcoordinated iPod-wearing man dancing a bit unsteadily down Rose St at about 4 in the morning (like a pissed-up teenager on prescription steroids) and then suddenly stopping and sitting by the wall crying fit to bust, I'm definitely one of the two or three hundred people it might have been. And there are other songs of his that have the same effect. 'Stand', for example, from the extraordinary third album 'How the Mighty Fall', could make a steeplejack's dad cry like Juliet Stevenson in Truly Madly Deeply. AND THAT'S A FACT.

Today, actually, I was completely fine with 'Alone Without You' right until the end: it's quite a steep fade and just as he's going into it he sings: "I sit in the car without driving", and that just got me. Which is funny, there's obviously something about this driving-not-driving motif because the first time I ever really got knocked for six by pop-crying in public, while I was coming off the antidepressants, was in Tower Records in Piccadilly (RIP), and they played (of all things) "Driving With The Brakes On" by Del 'Bloody' Amitri. It was like someone had hit me in the face with an enormous framed picture of everyone I ever loved who didn't love me back. I sat on the stairs between the ground floor and the mezzanine with an armful of amazingly credible and unpleasant alt.rock CDs that I hadn't bought yet, and sobbed my tiny wizened black heart out to Del 'Bloody' Amitri. It was like, if they'd ever given Alan Bleasdale his own hidden camera show...

I don't know what it is exactly about Mark Owen's solo stuff that so infallibly finds the pressure points at the base of my skull and the plimsoll line of my heart. I do think it's incredibly underrated work, particularly 'How the Mighty Fall', which was (I thought) an awesome development. When the Guardian asked me to pick my highlights of 2004 I chose Mark's single 'Makin' Out' as one of them, and for the next two weeks I got endless emails from over-excited Take That fans applauding me for my impeccable taste: which was a slightly eerie experience but nothing compared to what he presumably deals with every day, particularly with the tenth anniversary reunion stuff having, uh, relit everyone's fire. (YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE.) And yet when I met him, a couple of years ago when he wrote a pair of impeccably beautiful songs for a silly show I did called Nine Days Crazy, he was unbelievably level-headed and faultlessly gracious. (Big Johnny Cash fan, too.) Swear to God the feller deserves a medal.

5. Michael Kindellan & Reitha Pattison, Word is Born. Fairly recently out from Arehouse, and not yet up on their web site. I must have missed the launch of this one in the disproportionately torrential cascade of promotional offal that the contemporary modernist poetry scene generates in this country at present. First I knew of it was lunch a couple of weeks ago with long drawn-out experimental pin-up Malcolm Phillips -- himself an Arehouse author (the beautiful and eerily ineffable poems for my double) and a reliably dilated portal for the culturally tantalised and compatibly louche. Malcolm pulled Word is Born from his bag and held it just out of (my) arm's reach, I think as a tactic for reviving my interest in poetry, with which I've had something of a falling-out recently.

So I had to get my own copy and I'm awfully glad. For a start it's an absolutely gorgeously made book, nicely set and elegantly weighted. And the concept, maan, is a serious hoot. Eight poems by notorious troubadorial schism-sower Bertran[d] de Born (I go with the authors in favouring 'Bertrand', I think; 'Bertran' sounds too much like a blue-collar programming language), translated independently by Pattison and Kindellan, and the two utterly divergent versions printed cheek-by-jowl, Pattison on the left-hand page of each spread and Kindellan on the right. There are huge swathes where it's impossible to imagine the two translations sharing a source text at all: and wherever there are more openly apparent momentary connexions, they only serve to recharge, rather than dispel, the tensions between the two sets. I think perhaps I am somewhat disadvantaged by knowing some of Kindellan's other work and finding it strongly attractive. (I'd link here to Bad Press's chapbook of his Baudelaire versions but they've naughtily let it go out of print so here instead, for my disappointed Francophile readers, is a ferret modelling a beret.) So I find I'm more naturally drawn to the recto, as the Archbishop said to the bookbinder. But this just adds to the fascinating arguments about reading and fidelity that the book itself is dramatising. It's a terrific project, full of movement and robust -- promiscuous, I almost said -- camaraderie. I still hate poetry, after all that, but mostly because so little of it is as rewarding as Word is Born.

And with a link worthy of Mark Lawson at his most vaseliney, it's actually M Kindellan who delivers us back at the doorstep of this post. Dogs and Stephen Rodefer. Well, the Rodefer part. Rodefer and Kindellan are our David Thewlis and Leonardo diCaprio (whatever happened to him?) for the next few mins. Hold on to your freezeframe buttons, kids.

What it is, and see now look I've built this up absurdly, it was only a passing Thing, but Michael has poetry in the most recent Chicago Review -- real gourmet stuff -- and he was kind enough to send me a copy and hoots if there isn't an essay in there by Stephen Rodefer, called 'The Age In Its Cage: A Note to Mr. Mendelssohn on the Social Allegory of Literature and the Deformation of the Canonymous'. Now I think it's reasonable to say that while Rodefer's got serious game, as a poet with the skill and the learning and agility and the proliferating vocal FX pedals to (actually) think through poetry -- and I absolutely intend both the duck and the rabbit in that phrase, nonetheless his work in recent years, and his boundless presence in and around other work (much of it indebted to his example and mentorship), has at times been so slippery, and so insouciant in its collapse of the categorical proprieties that help us to read poems (and poets) primarily (or at least at some level) regardless of the authorial egos behind them, that there has from time to time been something shambolic and even destructive about some of his interventions, both on the page and at the circus.

So it's an enormous pleasure to read something that has all of the risk-taking qualities that one can sometimes only grudgingly admire in SR, all of the gnarly sardonic bonhomie and livid j'accusery and purple diversionary fuggishness, but manages for once, for now, to frame them so as to add up to something more rhetorically satisfying than a horseracing commentary essayed by a sexed-up lunatic. Considerably more, in fact. Rodefer's interrogation of the half-hidden half-pantomimed manoeuvres by which canons are drawn, often before the work within has even gelled, is not as boorish as it may first appear; he is quite right to name (or, more often, to re-name) names. The circulations of this capital are not abstract, not yet.

For anyone not already somewhat versed in the histories Rodefer lampoons and the scores he unsettles, the in-joke quotient might make the piece sort of unrewarding. I only wanted to celebrate it because it's the first writing I've seen from Rodefer in a while that half-dares to live up to his own significance. Perhaps that's exactly what he's been trying to wriggle out of, but even so, "le style est l'homme meme" is surely the slogan on all this season's must-have straitjackets.

Right, I'm done. I know I was supposed to say the thing about dogs but that's a big piece and I've already gone numb from the coccyx outwards. Maybe tomorrow. Night all.

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