Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Nature or nurture?

Upholstery eater (photo by Aunt Nicola)
Terry and Traer tell me they found big chunks of upholstery gone from the back seat of the car, only to discover that their 16-month-old daughter, Nya, had been eating it. Interestingly, when they told Terry’s mum, she said that Terry and his twin brother also used to eat car upholstery. Then the other day I had a conversation with Sherry, the mother of a 17-month old who CANNOT STAND to eat two foods of different textures together. It turns out that Sherry’s in-laws are almost phobic about not eating sauces or condiments, separating the food on their plates so that it doesn’t touch, and making sure they consume each serving fully before going on to the next. No spaghetti and meatballs for them, or pizza, or....It makes me wonder if there's anything to the nurture part, if we're as original as we think we are, or just walking bundles of endlessly reshuffled genetic traits--and if Nya would tolerate a little ketchup with her upholstery.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Built to Spill

Unattributed photo from the Web

Yawn. I’m trying to stay awake until I can go to sleep, after a late evening last night, when Maria and I went to see Built to Spill (an alt rock band, if you don’t know them, which my friend, Larry Gipe, turned me on to years ago, one of my favorites) at Pearl Street in Northampton. I’d hoped Dinosaur Jr. would also be on the bill (as they are in the upcoming New York shows) but no…which is hard to understand because J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. lives in Northampton. Oh well. It was great anyway. First of all I love Northampton and I love Pearl Street, which is your quintessential rock club. When I came to New York at the height of the punk scene in 1976, I lived on the Bowery across from CBGB’s and my orientation was the East Village, then full of clubs that looked and felt the way Pearl Street does now (but, with no cigarettes, doesn’t smell the same, thank God)—an ambiance where I’m at home. Plus Pearl Street is a small venue where major bands play, so you get to see them up close and personal—and you couldn’t find a better audience. Let me rant on a bit about fidgety New York audiences who make it hard to get into the groove when they’re constantly going in and out for drinks, texting, taking pictures of themselves and their friends, and TALKING AS LOUD AS THEY CAN SO THEY CAN BE HEARD OVER THE MUSIC. I sense that most of them aren’t into music at all, just there so they can say they went—while Northampton audiences are clearly hardcore fans who, with single-minded concentration that can’t help but contribute to the energy of the performers, are soaking up every moment. They even dance.

Whew! Glad I got that off my chest.

So, Built to Spill. Wow. Unlike most rock songs that are made up of vocal lines supported by guitar riffs, Doug Marsch’s unlikely Neil Young-ish voice veers in and out of epic, sprawling jams (and I’m not a jam fan, per se) that create loud soaring layers of shifting noise so dense that, although you can see guitars, a keyboard, bass, and cello up there on the stage, it’s almost impossible to attribute what you’re hearing to any recognizable instruments—except for the powerful beat that holds it all together (despite drummer jokes I really am going to be a rock drummer in my next life). It’s a sound that envelops you, takes you over, soaks into every pore. After “Velvet Waltz” I leaned over to Maria and said, “That was like having sex” to which she answered, “Yeah, if you’re tripping.” And they weren't even half way into the set. Olafur Eliasson talks about making people aware of themselves—“seeing yourself seeing”—as an intention in his art—well, this is about “feeling yourself hearing.”

So I took the day off from reading Sarah Palin emails (you want to read them but you don’t want to read them), and while I’m tired, I also feel psychically cleansed and ready for…whatever.
(When I checked there were still Built to Spill tickets available for Thursday 9/25 at Terminal 5 in New York, but Friday is sold out. And this is Jeremy Goodwin's informative article about BTS in the Berkshire Eagle. We're lucky to have a good music writer here. At one of our open mics, Jeremy read my Billy Joel post with me—taking the part of BJ, of course— and it was hilarious).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Alaska Women Reject Palin

I spent yesterday trying to write a blog post about art (art? what’s that?) when I, like everyone else, was obsessed with what Sarah Palin’s candidacy has revealed about this country. I’m wondering why (except for a mention in a column by Maureen Dowd, who happened to be in Alaska when it took place), the allegedly biggest protest rally in Alaskan history was not covered in the mainstream press. 1500 people showing up in Anchorage (pop.128,000) is, percentage-wise, like over 700,00 people gathering in New York City (pop. 8 million plus). The rally was totally grassroots, dreamed up by two women over coffee, and despite some rather extreme attempts at sabotage, succeeded beyond their wildest expectations. You can read about it here and here. I hope (if people find out about it--pass it on!) it will spur similar rallies in cities the press can’t ignore. I’m poised to go to Washington, and have been ruminating on possible acronyms such a movement could inspire, such as Feminist Women Against Palin, or FWAP!

Given Palin's supposed popularity rating in Alaska, it's also enlightening to read the editorials in The Anchorage Daily News: Questions for Palin and one suggesting that the "Governor takes executive privilege too far."

Meanwhile, cleaning and reorganizing my painting storage this summer rekindled my interest in making more “journal” paintings—a series I did for ten years where I noted, in oil paint on canvas, words and symbols that represented the emotions and events of my daily life. The paintings were born of frustration—with my painting (what was I doing and why was I doing it? who was I doing it for?) and with a life circumscribed by illness, work, and no time for a studio practice—even if I wanted one, which I wasn’t sure I did. Eight years before I had “dropped out” at a moment of success, made the decision not to show my work, and from then on when I did do something in the studio, I did my best to make it unsalable—by painting over old paintings or using those crappy pre-stretched canvases (a decision I regret, because I like those paintings now). I also gave much of it away. When I did my first journal painting, choosing to use personal details as content was also an act born of perversity—who would care? (And ten years after that, when the art world was awash in intimate minutiae, seemed like a good time to give the journal paintings up).

Forty Days, 1992, oil on canvas, 80" x 48"

My decision now to make another journal painting has turned out to be weirdly synchronistic. I started the first with an old painting, 80” x 48,” which I ruled off in two-inch segments so that each represented a day, and added up to the exactly 40 days (a Biblical number) between my birthday and Election Day, 1992—when Bill Clinton became president, winning out over George H. W. Bush and Ross Perot. In each two-inch strip I noted what I did that day (on my birthday the art director at TIME, for whom I was working, took me to lunch at the Palio Bar—those were the days!—and son Matt took me to see a private concert by Soul Asylum, remember them?) and I ended it with figures derived from the election polls. That was, of course, before cell phones, when the polls were pretty accurate. The numbers started out Clinton 57-Bush 37 and ended with Clinton 44-Perot 17-Bush 39, while Clinton won 43-17-37. This time there are 42 days between my birthday and the election so I have to reconfigure a bit. Also the polls are now wildly inaccurate—but at least it gives me something to do other than bite my nails.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cape delight

White Crest Beach, Wellfleet, MA

When I was a kid growing up in Chicagoland (they actually call it that) every summer we spent two weeks at Hanson’s Cottages on Plum Lake in Sayner, Wisconsin, way up above Eagle River. Every morning my father got up early to catch sunfish, and my mother cooked them for breakfast. We kids rowed, swam, and occasionally fished, but the big event was when Mr. Hanson let us go with him on the Jeep to the dump where we sometimes saw bears. This is making my childhood sound more interesting than it really was. It did, however, form my idea of what a vacation should be: lots of reading, hanging out, and eating, somewhere near water. No air travel, nothing deductible.

This vacation at the Cape, the first like it in years, definitely qualified. After three lobsters, three crème brulees, an evening of manic living room karaoke, early morning pond swims, outdoor showers, too much sun, perfect surf, and haddock every morning for breakfast, I was refreshed and renewed. I didn’t read anything heavier than Spin and didn’t go near a computer. (I have to admit that there was a moment when I was tempted to post, but my friends restrained me. Friends don’t let friends blog on vacation.) The only downsides were mosquito bites and Sarah Palin’s speech accepting her candidacy for vice-president of the PTA, which we felt compelled to watch. However the next night, instead of listening to McCain, we went to a lecture by Thomas Nozkowski at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, which proved to be a more worthwhile use of our time. An artist who makes only about twelve small paintings a year, Nozkowski’s down-to-earth presentation made me itch to get back into the studio.

The September Spin I was reading had an interview in which Patti Smith, after stating that she's neither analytical nor philosophical, is nothing but philosophical. Resisting categorization, she addresses her multiple roles:

…my goal in life was never to become a musician. I’m not a musician. I drew and wrote poetry for ten years before I wrote Horses. I published books. Why do people want to know exactly who I am? Am I a poet? Am I this or that? I’ve always made people wary. First they called me a rock poet. Then I was a poet who dabbled in rock. Then I was a rock person who dabbled in art. But for me, working in different forms seemed like a very organic process. From an early age I studied people like DaVinci and William Blake and Jean Cocteau. They all did a lot of things. But if you want to call me anything, call me a worker. I do work.

The next time someone asks me if I consider myself more of a painter than a writer or vice versa, I’m going to say, “I do work.”

Thomas Nozkowski, Untitled (8-96), 2007, oil on linen on panel, courtesy of PaceWildenstein.

Monday, September 1, 2008

They're overreacting; it's not that bad

Route 20, Pittsfield, MA
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I'm off on vacation, sans computer, to see if it's possible to go without having an opinion for the next ten days. If so, see you mid-September.