Archive for November, 2011
There’s been a sudden build up of Joan Baez in my life. The most recent instance was learning that she played for Occupy Wall Street on Veteren’s Day. But that’s just the latest, and it’s almost irrelevant (I was working that day). I must go back.
My dad emailed me saying he’d dug up Joan Baez / 5 from somewhere. I’d gotten it years ago from an old girlfriend, and could never listen to it because it was vinyl. He said “There But For Fortune” was the gem.
Last week Robbie, asked me if I had ever read Joan Didion, and when I said that I hadn’t, he loaned me Slouching Towards Bethlehem. I’d heard of it, obviously, but I’d never known it was a collection of stories from the point of view of a journalist.
Last night, I couldn’t sleep. My cycle is so off that I didn’t really fall asleep until 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning. But Steve had to sleep, so I laid around in the dark. I pulled up my iPod and, for whatever reason – probably having to do with pop’s email – was drawn to Joan Baez In Concert, Part 2. I’d had it right on my iPod for years but had never listened. It was quite nice; I especially liked “We Shall Overcome.”
I also loved “Tomorrow Is A Long Time,” a Bob Dylan song that I never quite gave a chance to exist on its own (I only knew it on Greatest Hits Volume II, which I never listened all that often because most the songs sound better on the albums that birthed them rather than clumped together). Somewhere along the line, I felt that Suze Rotolo was my favorite of Bob Dylan’s significant others. By that same note, all the songs about her (like “Tomorrow”) were some of my favorites too. They’re different from the love & heartbreak songs from Blood On The Tracks because they’re younger, longer distance, and more innately New York City.
So I woke up around noon, and read more Joan Didion. I found the third story in – Where The Kissing Never Stops – was, coincidentally, about Joan Baez. It was written in 1966, taking place after Baez was dumped by Dylan. It hardly mentions that relationship at all, but it does mention Baez’s existential adrift-edness. She wanted to learn more about politics, wanted to be part of the nonviolence movement. She didn’t want to sing, perform, be on television, have a mild impact on many. She was seeming to prefer a profound impact on a few.
I was pleased with certain descriptions of The Strong Joan Baez. Some old war veteran codger is trying to get her attention in a courtroom, calling her “scum” and “spaniel.” She never moves her eyes from the rostrum, never giving him the relevance. To do so would lend his superfluous comments a small possibility of efficacious power, might shed a light of validity on immaterial catcalling. To waste no energy and spare no attention on it is to destroy it nonviolently.
I’ve viewed Joan Baez a certain way for awhile. I had this narrative of her as a tragic follower who missed the boat when she Dylan left her, and swam downstream with a bunch of activist peons in an obscurity and irrelevance relative to Dylan. I saw her in 2007, and it was pretty good. But there was stage banter about Dylan. I think she called him “his majesty.” I think some man in the crowd yelled, “There are worse ways to go down in history than Dylan!” She shruggingly agreed, “Yeah, I know, you’re right,” or something.
That man was an idiot, and it was sad for Joan to shruggingly agree. A lot of people surely don’t just remember her for “Dylan” (i.e. that she made him big, that they fucked for years, that she sang “Four Letter Word”). She has a world more experience with commitment than Bob Dylan ever seemed to. There’s something to be taken from that, when it comes to the vitality from happiness.
They were both young, and, in a way, I admire his then-energy more. But to look at him now, he’s committed to touring. He rarely seems to do much of worth outside of The Never Ending Tour, and making an album every now and then – some better than others. That seems to be his world, and it seems to be insular. I read what someone who was traveling with him as opening support said in Rolling Stone a few years back: “He never once spoke to me. He doesn’t speak to anyone.” Or something like that. This is his little commitment now. I’ve seen it three times – it was good each time, but I only really enjoyed it twice.
Is his insular, career-based, “art”-centered kind of commitment better or worse than a commitment to a greater social cause? It probably depends, because the latter is more broad. But if the latter is being done correctly, then his commitment appears more self-serving. He told Rolling Stone, “I don’t play for the people in the nosebleeds.” And yet there they are, and they most probably paid to get in. I wouldn’t call him washed up; most of his new albums are supposed to be vital. But I would call him a fish, going back to the spawning ground.
Joan Didion describes a five hour and fifteen minute hearing, which I presume happened in 1966. It’s a bunch of bourgeois assholes complaining that The Institute For The Study Of Nonviolence in the Carmel Valley was an eyesore and that it would plummet property values all around. And there, with her back to them, her attention to importance, and with a stoicism I now must aspire to:
“Miss Baez sat very still in the front row. She is extraordinary looking, far more so than her photographs suggest, since the camera seems to emphasize an Indian cast to her features and fails to record either the startling fineness and clarity of her bones and eyes or, her most striking characteristic, her absolute directness, her absence of guile. She has a great natural style, and she is what used to be called a lady.”
1. My Usual Route
A foundation of any kind seems to set in a geographical routine for a time. School’s an example. In my first two of university, I hardly got to know Portland because my routine was set around campus, going to class, getting to know the people in my immediate vicinity, etc. It was sort of a stupid waste of time (I commonly think of some time 2006 to some time 2007 as the most useless year of my life thus far). But I was just getting the feel. By 2008, I starting to stretch out.
Most jobs, if they last long enough, set a geographical routine. Between 2006 and 2011, I only had one job outside of downtown Portland (canvassing, see below). When working for Enterprise Rent-A-Car on SW 4th and Pine, I hardly had to lift a finger since I was living on campus. Life was very oriented around downtown. It was for the fact that I drove around that I learned some ins and outs of Portland in that span.
There was some irony that when I finally got a job on campus, I was finally living several miles away. But I had my first bike in Portland by then, so I cultivated a route. It got very old after awhile, so I tried some different ones. The second most popular one took a little longer, but I found it was for the most part more soothing.
When I worked at Mississippi Studios, I was couch surfing / homeless. This made the idea of geographical routine somewhat different, but I think it still adhered. After all, I spent considerably more time in North Portland, specifically around Mississippi Avenue… Lots of non-work hours puttering around in the Miss production office.
There’s a real gravity, and if it’s a good job, then there’s something warm about that. After all, if the gravity has to be there, then it’s good to be pulled towards or orbit around what’s desired.
With the painting jig I was dancing October 28th to November 12th, the geographical routine was right around 7th and 14th. Artie’s Hardware was on 14th; Westside Market was right across the street. Walking a few blocks up 7th to 14th for either of those two places was my most common walks. I got to know it well.
Another common practice I fell into was almost any morning I had change, I bought a banana for 30 cents from the fruit vendor on 7th and 12th. They were several cents cheaper than the bananas in the Westside Market, and they were pretty good. I bought a few oranges also when I felt like I was getting sick. I even shared one with Piepo one afternoon out on the street in the sun.
I used the Chase several times once I found out there was an actual bank on the second floor. I scowled at the MacDonald’s. Even though I got off the L train on the 6th Street stop, I would typically walk underground to 7th, walk the platform of the 1,2,3 all the way to 12th before I emerged. I only once walked south of Waverly. I went north occasionally – Home Depot and another Benjamin Moore seller were up on 23rd.
The jig is over now and I probably won’t be walking that stretch with any regularity any time soon. It wasn’t particularly beautiful in itself, but I wasn’t displeased at having to spend a lot of time running up and down the drag on some errand or other. My purpose for being there made it all worthwhile! Here’s to where ever it is next.
It wouldn’t have been complete without some of this.
2. My Motley Trio
It took me while to really learn how to get on the level with co-workers. My first ever job was as a canvasser for Sierra Club / OSPIRG. The ultra-left politics that I perceived in my co-workers pissed me off. It took awhile for me to warm up to them, and I was just growing fond when I got the boot (fittingly, it was because I wasn’t good at hustling people in the name of the environment).
So it was up until summer of 2009. I was working at Portland State and the first several months were fairly awkward. But after that summer, as I was becoming a man taking my projects to their limits and whatnot, I was catching fire. I purportedly had a “Ferris Bueller” thing going on, with the freedom and the charm and that.
There was still awkwardness with some, but a lot of the time it depended on the person. Sometimes it’s while dealing with people I’ve somehow slipped into a subservient role to – not necessarily a boss, but just a Big personality (which I usually don’t like, it’s usually not earned). Perhaps it’s astrology. Whatever the reason, it’s not gone.
With this particular project, there was very little. Brent was sweet, friendly, sincere and very competent. Piepo was all of those things, but he was also very shy. English wasn’t his first language. Still, we developed a rapport. One evening when I finished up and told him I was heading out, he said, “I like working with you. You have a good attitude. I really enjoy what I do. For me, it’s like a game.” He said it’s hard to find people who have a similar disposition (not in those words). I told him the three of us should get a drink some evening. He’d invited me to grab a bite with him one afternoon a few days before and I declined saying I had to go. I didn’t have to go, so when I did, it was with a regret that hasn’t gone away.
The three of us would often go up to Artie’s Hardware and sometimes to other places. It felt weird to be walking around with them because I didn’t really know them. But we were together for our common purpose, which sometimes is as good a reason as any. Piepo and I went up to Home Depot several times and I was so delighted by how he didn’t put things back where he found them. I also rented a car and drove out to Hicksville and/or Long Island with Piepo. He told me about Puerto Rico.
The three of us spent time outside of work one time. It was the evening of Monday November 7th. We went to a dinner party in Prospect Heights. There were several other people there, all of whom were connected through this house that Brent and Piepo built down in Puerto Rico. Since I was the odd man out in this way, I’m now set on spending a month there at some point in the future. It’s not a pipe dream: Brent said I was welcome to as long as I claimed a free month far enough out.
That evening was close to our time together coming to a close. The painting project would soon be over, Brent was soon returning to Mexico, Piepo to Puerto Rico. It’s a small world, but the routine (geographical and otherwise) and the trio we’d formed were coming to a close. On the subway ride back, I said I didn’t want the work to end – I wanted the fun to go on forever.
We all hugged it out as we parted ways that night. The ultimate ending wasn’t as graceful. I missed a final dinner – Stupidly. And I missed a final farewell with Piepo, sadly. But like Patti Smith says: “Paths that cross will cross again.”
A little while ago, Steve and I watched Tequila Sunrise. It’s a film written and directed by Robert Towne, who also wrote Chinatown – a feat that I appreciate – and Mission Impossible 1 and 2. So… I guess you can’t trust anyone.*
Anyway. I didn’t think Tequila Sunrise was striking me as it unfolded before my eyes. But I then beheld magic. Mel Gibson’s performance was unlike anything I’d ever seen. He was deft in the realms of humility, sad honesty, sadder lies, occasional humor, and leading the loaded cast through a lush narrative of lethal dangers in the lands of loyalty, legality and lawlessness; all amid the woes of a lyrical love lorn heartache.
I looked into his eyes and heard his sad little mote of a voice shimmer like a single sun ray blasting finally from behind a sad cloud cover into a swimming pool, and I related. It’s not that I feel anything like he does at the moment, but it’s such a human earnestness. Everyone feels that way sometimes. Like a crumb in the corner. It’s breaking slowly – soon it will be dust, either swept up or finally invisible.
I’m going to lay down a moment of lechery. Michelle Pfeiffer looks great in this film. The only time I can think of her looking better – maybe – is in Batman Returns. But this is tenuous. I have a bias of childhood memory. And she’s wearing a skintight shining leather suit, with bright red lipstick, licking herself, and uttering sexualities. So that scale gets tipped like bikini barista.
But Ms. Pfeiffer also acts like a Guiness Book of World Records. Her performance is heavy, informative to the vastness of this Earth, and full of the of history of human uniqueness. I remember no specific instances, but if you see it, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Kurt Russell’s fine too, I guess. His hair sucks. He’s the third wheel, so his shortcomings – superficial as they may be – are irrelevant. There’s also J.T. Walsh, I’m pretty sure, alive and well. And Raul Julia acting similarly to J.T. in the being alive and well. I think his work near the end of the movie is also quite funny, touching, poignant — all the right stuff. He was good; 1994 wasn’t kind to him.
In the next two decades, Mel Gibson turned into a sexist, racist, antisemitic, homophobic, pig-headed, richer, egotistical, hyper-religious Nazi scumbag asshole. But right there, in the immediate vicinity of Tequila Sunrise, Mr. Gibson was fucking Marvin Riggs. An crazy copper who always brought overwrought to a whole new level, who battle Busey and Apartheid, who sought violence, blood, and death in the name of justice and psychopathology, and who was shot to death in Lethal Weapon 2, with two sequels still springing up like flies in Shane Black’s ointment.
This Mel is nearly absent. There are only about 2.5 minutes of Riggism in Gibson’s sad-eyed man of the sex jacuzzi. The rest is dedicated to a sad every man trying to leave behind a troubled past. And as cliched as a troubled past might be for the story of a multi-million dollar movie driven by a trio of millionaire stars – that’s how good Gibson is. He opens my heart in the face of his priggish, overwrought action star, Nazism bullshit triple header. I’m softened and humbled.
The 1980s were a long time ago. It’s too bad those doe eyes won’t soon be resurfacing, replacing the stern, sadistic, puss-gnashing leer that I have to see every time I look at the Apocalypto Easter Egg, or hear every time I want to experience Ben Stein’s shrill 2008 campaign commentator gargle (as opposed to that smooth Bueller monotone — also of the yester yester yester decade!) in the form of the crazed misogynist, all-chauvinistic screed of a literal madman who ought to be confined somewhere deep in a facility that will deter his fascism, and the majority of his further public actions, and rehabilitate his unfortunately conditioned psyche into something that can hopefully be less harmful to both significant others and progressive movements dedicated to equality… while still retaining some hilarity and entertainment.
*Sometimes I ask myself: “Would you rather trust a candidate who accepts campaign money with the implication of a kickback later… or a Hollywood-type who accepts money for taking a shit?” The jury’s out, and until they come back, it’s going to stink everywhere I go.