Notes From The Flip Side: 01.16.2005
"A certain ruthlessness and a sense of alienation from society is as essential to creative writing as it is to armed robbery. The strong-armer isn't out merely to turn a fast buck any more than the poet is out solely to see his name on the cover of a book, whatever satisfaction that event may afford him. What both need most deeply is to get even."
Scale Beyond Scale
It's safe to say, even as I write this on December 30, a comparatively early stage, that we will probably never have an accurate toll of how many have died - those who were swept away, lost and never to be remembered or counted. The current death toll is more than the population of the town I live in and more than the population of the town where I grew up. When you factor in disease, lack of potable water and edible food, and the consequences we can't even see at this point, we're talking about a true catastrophe with a death toll that will be multiplied by an as-yet unknown factor as the days progress. If you can, please help by donating some money to one of the organizations listed below:
Long Shot To Win The Race, Favored To Break A Leg
Fuck this whole waking up at 4:30 a.m. to puke on New Year's Day thing. And before any rumors start, we only had four or five glasses of wine - I just ate too goddamned many Kit Kat Bites. (Of course, especially given the source material, that made the toilet bowl look disgustingly foul when I was finished.) So now I'm up at 6:20, listening to records and still trying to polish off my list of favorites from 2004.
And as long as I'm at it, here are my resolutions:
- I resolve to keep doing the same goddamned things I am now doing and have always done.
Oh, and to eat at least one vegan meal per week. And more vegetables in general. The whole vending machine vegetarian thing? Not so much. I've realized that I've been eating to sustain all of the stuff I haven't been able to do over the past few years (i.e. jump around at shows, scream along, etc.) and it's slowly beginning to catch up with me. I have no intention of setting any goal other than eating a little bit better.
And not spending as much money on records of dubious quality.
Maybe this will be the year that I finally get my shit together - that I go to grad school, that I finish the novel I've been working on for about 11 or 12 years now, that somehow the 23 single-spaced pages which have been languishing on my hard drive finally reach some sort of fruition and completion.
See, I was talking with a friend the other day and pointed out that (if we haven't already done so at our age) we are unlikely to set the world on fire, that our work - good though it may be - becomes increasingly less likely to make a splash ... or, for that matter, even get noticed. That our recognition will likely come decades from now - if it comes at all.
I don't think I want much, but even as I write this, I know that I do because I want to write for a living. That's all. I want to be able to write creatively and not only eke out a semblance of an existence, but be able to live with a degree of comfort - nothing fancy. Just a house with electricity that doesn't flicker on and off if someone hits a light switch. Food in my stomach. I simply want to be paid for writing things that I would want to read.
I suppose my secret wish for 2005 is this - I want to be paid to write something that is worth reading, that enriches someone's life, that makes the world a better place. I want to write a sentence that makes both a girl straight out of high school who is sitting alone in her dorm room and a retired dock worker in Massachusetts say, "Fuck, yeah!"
And, perhaps even more to the point, I want to write words that make you realize that you aren't alone, that other people think and feel similar, if not identical, things. That isn't a secret wish. It's an explicit one.
When I started writing this evening, I was (and still am) exhausted. I spent 12 hours at work today - I was up at 6:00 a.m. this morning. It's almost 1:00 a.m. and I still haven't slept - still can't sleep. I was also frustrated and disheartened. I wanted to set about tearing up all of the old shit, all those half-finished stories and poems, those as-yet unborn signs of half-hearted failure and resignation. And then I put on Altaira's "Dudes."
It's too late for stage dives off the desk - I'd scare the cat and wake up the girlfriend and her kid - but to paraphrase something Davey once wrote, this song is enough to make me respark. It may feel like the 14th round and everyone else may be counting me out, but right now it's enough for me to sit in the corner - bruised, battered and bloody - while I listen to this song and smile, knowing that there's at least one good, righteous punch left in one of these arms. And sometimes, one punch is all it takes.
An Open Letter To Ted Leo At 5:15 A.M. On Friday, January 7, 2005
I recently checked Ted Leo's site and found a lengthy news update in which he wrote, "I lost confidence in so many things, but most importantly, in the fact that what I do is something worth doing." It's early, but I think my response is worth sharing, if only to remind each of you who see this that you need to tell people when they're doing something that enriches your life, that makes your day better. The last question I ask in most interviews is some variant of "What keeps you doing this?" The answer is usually the music, the community around the music or both. Simply telling one of your favorite bands how much their music means to you in a heartfelt way can make an entire shitty tour worth it if only because they know that at least they connected with one person - for any band worth caring about, that made the experience worth it and sometimes, that's enough. We don't all have a lot of time together and not all of it is good, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to make it all as great as we can for ourselves and each other, to transform life into a constant series of moments in which we are validated, appreciated and actualized.
I just hit your site to see if there were any shows coming up in Central Illinois, saw that you're playing Seattle soon and let my buddy Philip know. He's a newer fan - he's been doing a lot of writing about mental illness for the Seattle Weekly lately and was looking for something new to listen to, something that would remind him why he liked music.
And then I saw your update.
See, it's 5:15 a.m. where I am and I'm awake. I've already been up for about two hours because I couldn't sleep anymore. Insomnia has been kicking my ass lately - nothing really helps, not staying up, not laying down, not yoga, not meditation, not reading, not pacing. The doc gave me a handful of sleeping pills, but those haven't been working lately either.
All of that is merely context, a framework for what's next.
See, what comes next is that I've been listening to "Shake The Streets" for about the last two hours. I put it on when I woke up and it's been on ever since as I sit here and write, as I work on my site, as I'm doing creative things that are making me feel better and may mean something to someone else. It is a source of fuel and energy; as I sit here, I feel awake. It's cold outside, my feet are freezing and yet all I can think about is how much more alive I feel right now than I did on Wednesday or Tuesday, how this two minutes in the corner of the ring is restoring enough that I can not only get up for another round but also know that I've got enough left for at least one knockout punch.
I wish I could tell you how much your art means to me; how inspiring it is, how I've driven hundreds of miles to see your shows and never been let down (even on that night when your voice started going in Champaign-Urbana), that I've never been disappointed by one of your records or even a song on one of them and that all of them have a place in my head and heart, but I can't think of a way to describe those things and do them justice, so I'll merely say that I spent an entire day at work on the day after "Shake The Streets" came out and never made it past "Me And Mia." Ten hours. One song.
Don't ever question what your music means. I worry about whether I'll ever write something that someone will think is worth reading a second time, whether I'll ever be able to write things that make people's lives better and inspire them and make some semblance of a living at it instead of burning candles at both ends, but I also know that if what I do has any effects, I am unlikely to see those ripples in any way other than the periodic random email, much like this one that I'm sending to you.
So here it is. I can't explain the depth of the words that follow, but I hope you have some idea based on what preceded them.
Thank you. For everything.
Even The Mona Lisa Is Falling Apart.
I was listening to NPR while running errands this morning and heard the question, "What happened to us?" in a piece on "American Dreams." I drove around thinking about it for a while - what happened to my country, what happened to politics and civility ... these days, that question can be asked in so many ways that it is purely and simply bewildering.
And it can also be asked about my relationship.
You see, we're moving out into separate places. This isn't necessarily a split, but it is a last-ditch effort to head off what would have been that eventuality. Sometimes, a system needs to be disrupted to break a cycle. In this case, the cycle was that we were going in circles - we would fight and not resolve anything and go right back to fighting again with increased intensity. It was bad going on worse, pissed going on sad.
And so it came to pass that a week prior to this update, the shit hit the fan - I thought about it for a few days and made my decision. We're going to keep going to counseling, but in the meantime, we need to spend some time apart to work on things by ourselves. And that is about all I have or care to say on that subject at this moment.
Off The Top Of My Head ...
- Now that I've actually found and seen the video of Jon Stewart's appearance on "Crossfire" ... wow. I'm left speechless. Check it out for yourself. Media Matters: Jon Stewart on Crossfire.
- For the record, go CNN. Fire that mouthy little bow-tied punk.
- Wow. Who could have guessed during the PMRC's salad days of getting the crap kicked out of it by Dee Snider that those stupid warning labels would someday come back to haunt ... science textbooks?
Razor Crusade. Cecil Taylor. Albert Ayler. Benjamin Britten. Jackie McLean. Ike Turner. Philip Glass. Dvorák. Boards Of Canada. Chopin. Horace Silver. Charlie Hunter.
"The Chronicles Of Riddick," "Dodgeball," "Hero," "The Day After Tomorrow," "The Bourne Supremacy," "Shaun Of The Dead," "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind," "Miller's Crossing," "Napoleon Dynamite"
Patrick Brown, editor, "Filthy"; Ian Christe, "Sound Of The Beast"
Paul Avrich, "Anarchist Portraits"; Bertrand Russell, "Why I Am Not A Christian"; Umberto Eco, "Island Of The Day Before"; Alan Lomax, "The Land Where The Blues Began"; Peter Guralnick, "Lost Highway" and "Sweet Soul Music"; Steven Heller, "Graphic Design History" (edited with Georgette Ballance); Gunnar Swanson, ed., "Graphic Design And Reading"; Daniel Guerin, "No Gods No Masters"