Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Few Impressions of the Haiti Telethon.

I'm usually very anti-Auto-Tune because I think it kills the performance. But sometimes a performance needs to be put out of its misery.

Justin Timberlake and a Smurf squeeze to see if there's any blood left in this poor Leonard Cohen song. (Not much, apparently.)

And then there's Mary J. Blige. Maybe I was so moved by this because Kate McGarrigle died this week and she was often associated with this great and beautiful Stephen Foster song, but wow. Sublime and brilliant, I say.

Throw It All Away and Start Over?

This essay -- I found it via Andrew Sullivan -- was a slap in the face, in a good way. Here's the pith, but the whole thing is worth reading:
"The best thing that could happen to poetry is to drive it out of the universities with burning pitch forks. Starve the lavish grants. Strangle them all in a barrel of water. Cast them out. The current culture, in which poetry is written for and supported by poets has created a kind of state-sanctioned poetry that resists innovation. When and if poetry is ever made to answer to the broader public, then we may begin to see some great poetry again – the greatness that is the collaboration between audience and artist."
I don't know much about the world of poetry, but as I was reading this essay I kept thinking how you could easily replace poets and poetry with artists and art.

My painting teacher at Parsons, Regina Granne -- a great painter, whose teaching influenced me deeply in countless ways -- told us in no uncertain terms that art was an elite activity for an elite audience. (She could be brutal; she used to say, "Your parents will never understand.") But Regina made gorgeous, figurative, very accessible, paintings that most certainly have a lot to offer a non-specialist audience.

Personally, I go back and forth. I grew to hate the world of art school/foundation grants/academia, etc. that many of my friends at Parsons pursued. I don't blame anyone for trying to navigate that world -- it's the only way to make a living as a painter or sculptor these days. But the kind of thinking and talking and writing about art that's required to get attention and to prosper in that world makes me want to barf. It breeds artists who are very good at talking about art, not necessarily so great at making it. (The reason this is on my mind right now is because a couple nights ago I went to an "artist's talk" at a museum here in Austin. The artist was charming and smart, showed us slides and talked about things that inspire her, talked about "my process," all in a way that might lead you to believe her work would be fascinating. But the work was total crap. In my opinion.)

But, on the other hand, I understand the desire to make and enjoy work of a level of complexity and sophistication that the hoi polloi will not appreciate. ("Your parents will never understand.") I think the trick is to make work which does both things. Which connects with the crowd but offers additional pleasures to a more sophisticated audience. Artists like Picasso or Dali come to mind.

I think of Matthew Barney as a great example of an artist who is incredibly talented, ambitious, and interesting, but most of whose work is cavalier and deadly opaque to anyone who isn't primed to rave about it just because of who he is and which art world institutions have bestowed their seal of approval on him. I often wonder, when I look at his work (especially the films), what he might be capable of if he were subjected to different expectations. If, instead of being stroked and pampered by that clique, what if he had to respond to a general audience scratching its head and saying, "Okay, it's kind of interesting, but it's way too long, and what the hell does it mean?" I think he might do amazing things.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In Case You Wondered.

I'm not gay any more. Why? Because this is gay:


I got my settlement check today! The teller said the funds will be available at midnight tonight. I made a list for tomorrow:

1) pay credit card bills
2) pay back J the money he loaned me last month
3) renew the CSA membership
4) order spices (I buy spices bulk from a shop I love in Denver)
5) get a haircut
6) take my boyfriend out for dinner

I feel like white trash that won the lottery.

David Rawlings Machine.

This song is making me happy today.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Mrs. Johnson's Donuts.

Last night after the show, a group of us went to Mrs. Johnson's because it's right around the corner from the theater. (Okay, well, we didn't go because it's right around the corner from the theater; we went to Mrs. Johnson's because we wanted donuts, whatever.)

I couldn't decide whether to get 1 or 2, because, really, 1 donut is plenty, and I could be an adult for once in my life; but they're only 55 cents and, c'mon, 1 donut?? who ever has 1 donut? So I ordered 2. But -- and this is the great thing about Mrs. Johnson's and I don't know why it's always a surprise because it happens every single time, but it is -- no matter how many donuts you order, they always put them in the bag or the box, hand it to you, and then hand you 1 extra one. Just so you have one to hold and touch. And scarf down while you're waiting for your change.

There must have been some kind of divine intervention, because I managed to save one of them for breakfast this morning. They say your body will tell you what it needs, and my body told me it needs a donut.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What Is My Obligation?

M and I met a group of friends last night at BearBQ at Rusty Spurs, J and D and A and a big group of girls. The name might suggest a room full of fat hairy men eating burgers, but the crowd was more diverse. It was packed and fun and not too cold, so with a little help from a few of those tall gas heaters everyone could be out on the patio.

We talked about the Senate election in Massachusetts and how we're all just weary of trying so hard to hold onto the heady optimism we felt when Obama was elected. My friend D said that if the health care bill doesn't pass, he's ready to emigrate. He's sick of the whole thing. How many times have we all told ourselves and our friends just that? Ever since Reagan was elected, we've been saying to each other, "If [blank] happens, I'm leaving." D has spent the last few summers in Mexico and loves it there.

Very tentatively, because I don't know much about Mexican politics and government beyond what I read in American media, I asked if it would be any better there. I wondered if, even with all our frustrations with American government, it isn't at least more stable and less corrupt here than in Mexico. At least here, things that would be remarkable in many countries happen without fail, like for instance the peaceful passing of government from one party to another after an election.

I'm not one of those who believe that despite its flaws the U.S. is better than anywhere else, but I have for the most part always believed in the potential of American democracy for bringing out the best possible kind of society. I've always believed that as we keep working on it and stay vigilant, it gets better and better. ("The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.")

But my faith has been rocked hard by this story confirming the details of the absolutely horrifying things our government is doing. I'm reading G√ľnther Grass's memoir, Peeling the Onion, in which he tries to come to terms with his membership in the SS as a teenager in Nazi Germany. At a time when lots of average folks knew what the Nazis were doing, lots of average folks didn't do much to stop it, and we smugly condemn them. "Good Germans". But what am I doing?

I know that any pontificating I do comes from a place of relative safety and privilege. Though you wouldn't know it from my income these day, I have some tenuous claim to being a member of the privileged class, at least as long as I hide my sexuality. (But in this age of no privacy I'm fooling myself if I believe I can hide that.) For now, unless the Tea Baggers take over, I may be safe. I will probably never be one of the tortured. But what is my obligation, knowing these crimes are being committed by my government?

It's hard to imagine why our elected representatives are not expressing the level of outrage these revelations call for. The reins of government are peacefully passed back and forth, but is that only because they're being passed back and forth among essentially the same people? Are we fooling ourselves, and how much? Knowing what we know about Bush and Cheney's war crimes, and our system's apparent inability to acknowledge and condemn the crimes, I wonder how it can be possible any more to assume the best of our government.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Away We Go.

I just watched a really wonderful movie called Away We Go. I had this film sort of on my radar a while back -- I think I saw a trailer for it which mentioned it was written by Dave Eggers, one of my favorite writers. And the cast includes Allison Janney, Catherine O'Hara, etc., lots of my favorite actors. Then I think it disappeared, or maybe it was never released in Austin, I'm not sure, but then M, the guy I've been seeing -- I've called him my new boyfriend a couple times recently when talking about him to other friends, such a heavy word, but we've been spending a lot of time together now for several weeks, so what else do you call that? more on that topic later, I'm sure! -- M recommended the film to me and I put it at the top of J's and my Netflix queue.

Much of the conversation with the director (Sam Mendes), the cast, and others interviewed in the "making of" mini-doc on the DVD was about how the story is all about notions of home and family. And I guess it is. (The outline of the plot is that a couple is expecting a baby and they go on a trip to several places with the intention of finding a good place to move and raise their child.)

But for me, the story seemed to be much more about how life is filled with nearly unbearable sadness and that the most we can hope for is that we will have someone to lean on and help us get through it. Which I think is what all of Dave Eggers' writing is about, and which is pretty much my philosophy of life, which I guess is why I love Dave Eggers.

I want to write a bit more about the story, in relation to politics, culture, etc., but I will save that for another post. For now, I think I just want to recommend the film and not say too much about it. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who might want to watch it. It's a beautifully written and acted film, very funny and touching. Watch it! (Don't be fooled or put off by the very Juno-like feel of the graphics. It's a much more interesting story than Juno.)