When I first met Jake Paleschic, the leader and songwriter of Patriot, he was reading Flannery O’Connor, whose tough short stories say life is serious. Patriot is just as real. Gritty, not unlike James McMurtry, Jake’s music makes you care. He and his band play, everyone stops to listen. With his classical-guitar right hand, Austin on bass gives each note its own personality. Tyler’s fills on lead guitar sing, thoughtful. Where so many drummers bang away mindlessly, Peter’s playing feels personal. I always want to listen to these guys.
Mailman is really fun. Austin has free range for his talent, and Jon sings from his heart. I’m eager to get “Suburban Angst” recorded, one of their catchiest songs. Read more about Mailman on the excellent site FortLive.
Ralph White also played solo that night, as did someone else — if you know this other person’s name, leave it in the comments. And if you know the name of the original artist for the song “Hard Way,” leave that in the comments.
James McMurtry (Website, Twitter, Facebook) played at Dan’s Silverleaf in Denton, Texas, last Friday, June 29. I’d been looking forward to hearing him play for long enough that when news of his nearby show came across my screen I bought a ticket straightaway. His music sounds like hard work feels. Often its realism is nostalgic, and sometimes it’s touched by a dreaminess you might be surprised to hear out of this rough-looking guy. From “Levelland“:
Mama used to roll her hair
Back before the central air
We’d sit outside and watch the stars at night
She’d tell me to make a wish
I’d wish we both could fly
I found out about McMurtry by reading about his father, writer Larry McMurtry, of Lonesome Dove and Brokeback Mountain fame (I’m fond of the his novel All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers). That led to me finding one of his son’s best-known songs, “We Can’t Make It Here”:
At the Denton show his bassist Cornbread played with a classic Ampeg tone, a good heartbeat beneath McMurtry’s razor-sharp chords. Drummer Daren Hess kept the framework strong throughout. If my memory’s correct, guitarist Tim Holt joined the stage for the ninth song, “We Can’t Make it Here.” He stayed on for the remainder of the show (except when McMurtry played a solo song or two). Holt had a guitar teacher’s facility for putting in the right licks at the right times to top things off. As the show continued the band grew louder, the two guitars howling, and they closed the night by jamming out at such volume (for a small venue) that the speakers’ lack of distortion surprised me; the mix of the instruments and the gear’s performance was perfect — a sound a band gets once their success allows for good equipment and their years of effort are steadily paying off.
With regard to Occupy and Law enforcement, mayors and college presidents seemed to be charged with giving the orders, at least officially, and they are subsequently charged with taking the heat when the execution of any of their orders goes terribly wrong and produces violence, physical injury, and embarrassing Utube. Politicians and Administrators don’t generally like controversy, it’s bad for careers. I don’t think such people would give orders that would likely result in some really messy controversy, unless enough pressure were brought to bear on them that they would fear for their careers anyway. I think there are bigger forces at work here. [...]
I hear complaints that the protest is unfocused, that the protesters rejection of traditional hierarchy renders the movement ineffective as a political force, that it has no clear message. But I don’t see a problem yet. Occupy has been effective simply by coming into existence. No one organized Occupy ahead of time. A call went out and people showed up. They’re still showing up and their numbers and tenacity do have an effect. They get noticed. As for the message, one can google Keith Olbermann and hear the message, well written by Occupy and well read by Olbermann. Basically, occupiers want to take their country back from the banks and lobbyists. Their demands aren’t that different from those of the Tea Party. The two groups should join forces. They’re mad about the same conditions, though they disagree on where to put the blame.
The Tea party blames the government, Occupy blames the corporations that now own the government. Is there that much difference? Ultimately, we will all have to join forces if we are to call ourselves a nation. Right now, we are too polarized to be effective. We no longer recognize each other as Americans. The mayors and college presidents who call out the riot squads apparently don’t know that those are their fellow Americans getting beaten and pepper sprayed. Those are American sons and daughters. Those are American students, American librarians, American grandmothers, and American veterans, and when they get hurt, we all get hurt. The stick swinging has to stop. It serves no useful human purpose.
He also blogs about his observations during his travels. Little observations and the powerful sense of place that shows up in his father’s novels appear in his songs, too; many of them are narratives of ordinary lives and the travails people experience. From “Out Here in the Middle“:
They broke into your car last night,
took the stereo
Now you say you don’t know why
you even live there anymore
The garage man didn’t see a thing,
so you guess it was an inside job
You made a reservation, a table for three
They said you’d have to wait,
somebody must have bribed the maitre’d
Boss got mad and he blamed it all on you
Food was bad and the deal fell through
Well out here in the middle
you can park it on the street
Step up to the counter;
you nearly always get a seat
Nobody steals. Nobody cheats
Wish you were here my love
Wish you here my love
The show had a sad point for me in that McMurtry’s music was one of the things my ex-wife and I shared. (My divorce concluded last month.) You have something with someone such as a marriage or a business or a band, and then the structure isn’t there anymore; you remember good things and bad things, and it’ll always be that way, but you come across things that remind you of what used to be. And there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s hard to take.
Divorcing, I’ve been going back to a lot of material from my earlier life, especially my teenage years when what other people said didn’t matter to me so much; in a marriage, or at least in mine, you are constantly having to compromise, appease, and betray yourself.
One thing worthwhile I salvaged from my teenage interest in the noxious ideas of Ayn Rand is the W.T. Jones History of Western Philosophy series. Jones was a philosophy professor at Caltech, and his otherwise little-known five-volume set became a bit more popular outside academia after Rand’s followers promoted the books.
W.T. Jones History of Western Philosophy
Volume 1: The Classical Mind. Second Edition (1969).
Volume 2: The Medieval Mind. Second Edition (1969).
Volume 3: Hobbes to Hume. Second Edition (1969).
Volume 4: Kant and the Nineteenth Century. Second Edition, Revised (1975).
Volume 5: The Twentieth Century to Quine and Derrida. Third Edition, with Robert J. Fogelin additions (1997).
I read them initially in high school: the late nineties. I understood it through about Volume 3. Sometime in the early 2000s I read it again on my own while studying philosophy in college, and I understood it through most of the 4th volume. Now I’m hoping to walk away with the whole thing understood.
All this philosophizing about life, on my and Jones’s parts, and I don’t even know who this guy is! I tried to read up on him tonight, but found little online. A retirement bulletin from Caltech explains helpfully that he specialized in world views, taught at Pamona College prior to Caltech, wrote seven books, and received several honors: he was a Rhodes Scholar, a Guggenheim Fellow, a Lippincott Fellow, a Proctor Fellow, a Ford Faculty Fellow, and a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar. The bulletin also quotes him as writing in 1977 that “One of the great aims of education should be to help students learn how to enjoy — enjoy, not merely tolerate — cognitive dissonance, cognitive ambiguity.” Very wise indeed.
A Seattle Post-Intelligencer article from 1986 reveals that his son, Jeff Jones, is a playwright. Jeff Jones wrote a collage-like play built from beach movies, Bible movies, Plato, and Latvian folk music. The article calls it a “beach biblical ancient Greek Latvian epic,” and it is part of a series the younger Jones titled, with apparent impishness, “A History of Western Philosophy.” (He also mentions going to therapy.)
I’ve been (re-)reading the elder Jones’s History of Western Philosophy almost every night just before turning off my iPhone flashlight. Aristotle definitely helps me fall asleep. Once I wanted to read the Copleston eleven-volume History of Philosophy — Copleston was a Jesuit priest — but in that series there are no translations for the plentiful Greek. Although I know some koine, Copleston’s Greek was still … Greek to me. An acquaintance has been asking why I’m wasting my time reading a history of western philosophy that isn’t Bertrand Russell’s. Because I’ve been told Russell is very opinionated in his presentation, whereas Jones quotes primary sources extensively and provides good context and what seems to be fair and only a little analysis.
Volume 1: The Classical Mind, by my bedside
There is really not much online about Jones, and little of his personality in his very objective, mostly humorless history. However, sometimes Jones reveals himself with his examples:
But is Plato’s psychological analysis of human nature correct? Is his account of the form “man” adequate? It seems clear that people who suffer from hangovers should not drink to excess and that people who have a tendency toward indigestion should not overeat. But one hardly needs to be a philosopher to discover this. How is Plato’s theory to deal with the man with a cast-iron stomach who prefers lobster to lyrics, boogie-woogie to Bach, and sitting in the sun to differential equations? We may agree that such a man is not living a well-rounded life, but are we justified in telling him that he is less happy than the man who lives a well-rounded life?
We could say, of course, that the man who prefers boogie-woogie to Bach simply doesn’t understand Bach. This line of argument is not without force. Bach is difficult; where the untrained ear hears only noise, the musically educated ear hears “exquisite harmonies.” Hence it is not surprising that a great many people prefer boogie-woogie. If, however, they were to study music, they might find that an increased musical appreciation repaid them for their trouble. But suppose that, after devoting some time to Bach, the man who prefers boogie-woogie says, ‘Well, I still don’t see anything in classical music.” We might be tempted to reply, “If you don’t, then so much the worse for you.”
This retort discourteous is, of course, not conclusive, and Plato would not have wanted to rest his case merely on the possibility of cultivating one’s taste. He wanted to maintain that the nature of man really is what he described it to be and that the man who doesn’t find it so is mistaken, not merely deficient in taste.
“Boogie Woogie” performed by Count Basie’s Blue Five:
Bach Prelude & Fugue no. 3 in C# Major, Well-Tempered Klavier Book 1, performed by Glenn Gould:
I’m going to read W.T. Jones’s History of Western Philosophy and sit in the sun at the same time!
Singing, Rebecca never met a tied whole note she didn’t like; her voice glid well over the dreamy, reverb-heavy atmosphere Brian brought with his guitar. Darby’s drumming created the right stoner-rock framework, and Sybil’s bass, strong as a piano’s bottom strings, undergirded it all.
(Maybe it’s captious to criticize, but the addition of eccentric fills from Brian and Darby would bring greater detail to their soundscape.)
Thanks for the Burnett’s Whipped Cream Vodka, Sybil!
You can hear DJ NOiCE in this video compilation (video montage? I can never keep the lit-crit terms straight). This was the first time I’d ever used my (DSLR) camera to record video, and the first time I’ve ever edited video by computer. What strikes me about the video is how much uninhibited fun everyone’s having.
Travis is a talented drummer. But all and all what this instrumental band did was stare at the floor and play progressive rock to one another. They were talking to themselves, but at least they seemed to enjoy it.
Downstairs by the coffee bar Hyung-Joo Kim tore it up on cello for passersby. He’s a graduate music student at UT-Austin.
Stereo Type Writers faced a diminished crowd since by then the burlesque troupe had left. It was also their first real gig; each member earned a dollar. They deserved that $3, though, since they persevered bravely despite minor equipment problems and overall venue exhaustion. Their straightforward music was at its best when their enthusiasm radiated. Kevin Brown’s confidence on his fuzzily distorted bass drew my attention the most. It’d work well for this group to find an exciting singer who, not bound by an instrument, could move into the crowd.
Too many drastically overestimate their skill at discerning details of audio such as music. Listen to this basic A major guitar chord:
Can your ears “reach into” the chord and pick out all three notes? (Test yourself by singing or humming each one individually.) Or do you just hear the chord as a composite? It’s easier when someone plays the notes together and then separately, as above. If you want a real challenge, go mash down a bunch of random piano keys (a “tone cluster”); then, without releasing the keys, try to sing or hum each note separately.
Do you hear a few huge, blocky piano chords, or do you hear hundreds of individual notes also? Serious music students have a hard time distinguishing all the different notes, too, so much so that they sometimes refer to ear-training courses as “fear-training” or “ear-straining.”
My understanding — and this might be wrong — is that, with chords, the mind (on some level at least) hears both composite sounds and individual tones at once, always. So maybe in your subconscious you’re hearing it all. I’m still leaving out overtones and features such as vibrato.
This is my brain. Not joking; the MRI people copied me a DVD.
I’m also unsure of whether the conscious mind, hearing chordal music, rapidly switches its focus from one individual note to another (and the composite waveform) or if it’s truly capable of hearing multiple tracks at once. (If I had to guess, I don’t think the conscious mind attends to much of anything with perfect simultaneity, when you drill down to individual instants, simply due to latency limitations of the physical nervous system.) For whatever it’s worth, computers can only complete one task at a time — they just switch between them so quickly we imagine they’re “multi-tasking.”
Even when people don’t have good ears for music (by which I don’t mean they’re literally tone-deaf, just that they aren’t highly skilled at perceiving details of audio), we typically say they can identify for themselves whether a piece of music is “good” or not. Of course it’s really their subjective experience of the music that they’re labeling as good or bad.
We don’t extend the same leeway to people evaluating visual art, however. We don’t expect someone with bad vision (and no corrective lenses) to make astute judgments about a painting they can’t see well. (A good way to train the eyes, by the way, is field-guiding.)
Why the double standard? I think because most of us are more familiar with sight; most of us live our entire lives without wondering about our ability to discern pitches in the audio we take in.
Once, a long time ago, my friend Bryan told me he only heard heavy metal as a kind of static-y noise. He couldn’t identify its pitches; later, after repeated listening, he could hear them. Try it yourself: here’s an instrumental Metallica song, Orion, as originally recorded. Skip ahead to :56 if you want to cut to the chase and get past the quiet intro.
Do you hear the bass guitar and the multiple notes of the multiple guitars? Or is it just one moving block of sound with drums banging away? People do in fact hear it quite differently. Now try the same (well, practically the same) music played on piano (by the fantastic VikaYermolyeva). Generally people hear pianos more clearly than other instruments.
I think current research says babies are pretty much always born with perfect pitch, also known as absolute pitch — the ability to distinguish and name notes. To someone with perfect pitch (who has also learned the Western musical alphabet), a guitar string vibrating at 440 hertz produces an A, not just a sound. (Perfect pitch doesn’t mean singing in tune; it might help someone sing in tune, but perfect pitch is a perceptual skill, not a skill involving the voice box, diaphragm, tongue, etc.) Growing up, children aren’t taught to associate the notes they hear with a musical alphabet, and so their perfect pitch fades away. Some adults can indeed learn it, though.
Basic ear-training makes music more enjoyable even for non-musicians. Now, go smush down some piano keys.
Thanks to Cynthia’s review, Wifely and I both read the novel, and we found it so worthwhile, the book has since become something of a touchstone in some of our conversations.
Now with the kindnesses out of the way, here’s my quarrel, or really, quibble jumping-off point. In the course of otherwise spot-on praise for Yates’ novel, Cynthia gives the following as a thought on the book:
The novel is flawlessly structured, three acts, and eminently filmable.
Confirming what I thought, my OS X dictionary gives the following definition for “eminently”:
used to emphasize the presence of a positive quality
Maybe Cynthia wasn’t using the word so specifically, but regardless of authorial intent…and setting aside commerce, writers upping their audience — i.e., considering aesthetics alone — why is it a positive (or a negative) quality for a book to be filmable? We don’t say: “That’s a great sculpture; after all, it’d make a fantastic piece of photography” or “That’s a great painting; after all, it’d make an excellent symphonic work.”
Connections between artistic content remixed into another art form can be worth pursuing and elaborating and evaluating, but I don’t see any basis for using as a criterion of aesthetic appraisal the ease with which an artistic piece can be remixed to another art form.
By the way, one of my favorite remixes of artistic subjects is Rachmaninoff’s symphonic poem Isle of the Dead Op. 29, composed in the early 20th century and then recorded with Rachmaninoff himself conducting. And yes, it’s “beginner’s classical,” shut up. Arnold Böcklin’s painting Isle of the Dead inspired Rachmaninoff’s piece — apparently the black-and-white version:
Here’s the color version:
And the music, low-fi and split into two parts due to copyright and YouTube limitations:
Anyway, the (wrongheaded!) idea of using as a criterion of qualitative judgment an artwork’s capability to be transformed from one art form to another got me to thinking: what can a novel do that no other art form can do? The closest (non-textual) art forms are probably plays (in performance) and movies (“movies,” not “films”; I don’t screen films, I watch movies). What can novels do that those art forms can’t do? I’ll not consider plays, as I haven’t thought much about them. So: movies.
In my tentative answers I’m going to put aside style, too, since sentence-level quality, I think, is a) not obligatory for a novel to be good, and b) not inherently novelistic. So, my first tentative answer: maybe novels can represent time, the workings of memory, changing perspectives, and the inner experience of emotions and thoughts better than any other form. As an example of what I mean (UPDATE: screenhead.com’s list of the hardest novels to film), Theodore Sturgeon’s excellent short story The Man Who Lost the Sea (legal full text at link) — warning, spoiler in the third quoted paragraph:
Say you’re a kid, and one dark night you’re running along the cold sand with this helicopter in your hand, saying very fast witchy-witchy-witchy. You pass the sick man and he wants you to shove off with that thing. Maybe he thinks you’re too old to play with toys. So you squat next to him in the sand and tell him it isn’t a toy, it’s a model. You tell him look here, here’s something most people don’t know about helicopters. You take a blade of the rotor in your fingers and show him how it can move in the hub, up and down a little, back and forth a little, and twist a little, to change pitch. You start to tell him how this flexibility does away with the gyroscopic effect, but he won’t listen. He doesn’t want to think about flying, about helicopters, or about you, and he most especially does not want explanations about anything by anybody. Not now. Now, he wants to think about the sea. So you go away. [...]
His head isn’t working right. But he knows clearly that it isn’t working right, which is a strange thing that happens to people in shock sometimes. Say you were that kid, you could say how it was, because once you woke up lying in the gym office in high school and asked what had happened. They explained how you tried something on the parallel bars and fell on your head. You understood exactly, though you couldn’t remember falling. Then a minute later you asked again what had happened and they told you. You understood it. And a minute later . . . forty-one times they told you, and you understood. It was just that no matter how many times they pushed it into your head, it wouldn’t stick there; but all the while you knew that your head would start working again in time. And in time it did. . . . Of course, if you were that kid, always explaining things to people and to yourself, you wouldn’t want to bother the sick man with it now. [...]
Say you were that kid: say, instead, at last, that you are the sick man, for they are the same; surely then you can understand why of all things, even while shattered, shocked, sick with radiation calculated (leaving) radiation computed (arriving) and radiation past all bearing (lying in the wreckage of Delta) you would want to think of the sea. For no farmer who fingers the soil with love and knowledge, no poet who sings of it, artist, contractor, engineer, even child bursting into tears at the inexpressible beauty of a field of daffodils—none of these is as intimate with Earth as those who live on, live with, breathe and drift in its seas. So of these things you must think; with these you must dwell until you are less sick and more ready to face the truth.
(Oddly for a science fiction story originally published in a straight-up “genre” magazine — The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction — “The Man Who Lost the Sea” was selected for the 1960 edition of The Best American Short Stories.)
I’m not sure a play or a movie could represent the Sturgeon story, its workings of time, memory, changing perspectives, and inner experience as well and as concisely — or even at all. But that’s a huge disjunction: are plays and movies able to represent the Sturgeon story — just not concisely or well — or is there something inherent to the story that cannot be translated to another art form? I think that depends on how inherent an aspect of an artwork has to be for it to be considered inherent. ;-) And, how good does the movie have to be? The movie could voice-over or crawl tons of text to get closer to the original fiction format, but that (probably) would become annoying. You never know, however; artists are always figuring out new techniques. All the same, because representing time, memory, changing perspectives, and inner experience is at least a huge strength of fiction (and especially the novel), more and more I try to emphasize those qualities in my own writing.
I said first tentative answer, so how about this second one, which I can describe best in a metaphorical way? Novels are like multicharacter, revised, organized daydreams — or, imagine being a kid and playing with dolls or figurines, making up stories. That’s basically what novels are, I think, but not so much created daydreams worlds as the daydream-y experience of personal identity as a network of multiple narratives, comprised of images, emotions, etc., and stuck into the context of particular settings and social histories/influences and so forth. Sorta sounds like Bakhtin’s account of polyphony in Dostoevsky. But I haven’t read enough Bakhtin yet to say much; besides, his name sounds like Bactine.
Please don’t DMCA-takedown me, Bayer
This way of looking at what’s unique to novelistic form doesn’t seem to strongly entail the memory rumination or time aspects or changing perspectives I mentioned earlier, but yeah, I think fiction — especially when it avoids too much exposition and abstraction — stages a vehicle for experiencing a daydream related to identity and traveling in a specific historical or social context. Yet in “When Narrative Fails,” an article in May 2004′s Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, J. Melvin Woody makes an interesting case that other forms of art can do this, too:
“Why [...] should we limit our understanding of the constitution of the self to the narrative? Indeed, why limit ourselves to language? Do not music and dance often articulate our passions more eloquently than any literary form?”
Nevertheless I think my second answer is pretty strong, and pertinent to why reading fiction is not just another hobby or preference, but something people who have the ability and resources and time to read it really should do so.
Saturday night, December 11, I went to a Rammstein concert at Madison Square Garden, my ticket purchased by the best wife ever, Wifely. At the Garden, for about 2.5 hours, the band wonderfully bulldozed my ears. The full set list’s at the end of this post.
To get to the concert, I took the D-line from my friends Janna and Julie’s apartment in the Bronx, then walked a few blocks through Manhattan. A hand-holding, formally-dressed teenage couple arrived at about the same time I did, also threading their way through the assortment of headbangers in fishnet stockings and/or leather jackets & the like. The couple showed an elderly usher their tickets. “No,” he told them, “you don’t want a Rammstein concert.” He gestured. “You want that over there, the stage play.”
I went in.
Nice view! Freebie iPhone pic by me.
Luckily, I (purposefully) missed the opening act, some obnoxious group called Combichrist. I sat (with a great view! How awesome is Wifely???) next to a guy named Kirk, with whom I talked for a while; his girlfriend goes to NYU, he studies education in Pennsylvania.
I wondered if the techs soundchecking the guitars were going to play the main Sweet Leaf riff (the Black Sabbath song title refers to especially tasty tea), or if the tradition of using that riff for metal soundchecks was just an American thing. Well, Rammstein’s soundcheck was really short, which was sort of surprising — just a kick drum check and a power chord check. I have to say the kick drum sounded incredible reverberating around Madison Square Garden.
The lights blacked out suddenly, and after a Spinal Tap-worthy smashing of an artificial wall, the band came onstage for the night’s first song, “Rammlied” (“Ram-song”). The lyrics start with (and frequently repeat) the word “Rammstein” (Ram-stone), which the crowd loudly screamed, fists pumping and heads a-bang, as a very emphatic spondee. I was definitely among the fist-pumpers, for once at a concert where I wasn’t so self-conscious. When the German verses begun, the largely American audience’s fists lowered, their heads rose, and their faces searched one another, puzzled as to how to proceed. Then the chorus came back (Ramm-! -stein!) and the crowd resumed its chant. Any German the crowd managed seemed mostly mumbled until a familiar-enough word crossed by. This was amusing. For all we knew, Till Lindemann, singing mostly in German, could have been cursing us out the whole time!
Here’s what the music sounded like — seriously! Did I not tell you Rammstein plays Bavarian folk music?
During “Ich tu dir Weh” I saw, through the scrim of pot smoke pouched above the bottom floor, a man dressed head-to-toe as Santa Claus, moshing in the pit as intensely as anyone else. Like the band themselves, most Rammstein fans above their teenage years do have a sense of humor about this music and its subculture.
The concert ended with Till enunciating very slowly and very carefully, something like: “We are Rammstein. We thank you very, very much, America.” The closing song was “Engel” (“Angel”), and we walked out to a piano rendition of it, which was quite spooky and nicely fit my sudden sadness at the concert ending. I was so happy, though. On the way back to the Bronx on the D, my ears were, like, deaf, so on my headphones I listened to Patty Griffin, not coincidentally among Wifely’s favorite music.
By the way, before the concert, some guy standing by the elevators handed out what looked like playbills to passersby, some of whom happened to accept them. On the back, I noticed, MSG Entertainment, apparently Rammstein’s management — whom as a ticket-holder I have no relationshp with — asserts the following (though in all caps, and among other things) as part of a “license” (their word) that they granted:
No smoking, alcohol, drugs, weapons, laser pens, food, bottles or cans allowed. By your use of this ticket, you consent to a reasonable search for prohibit items and you agree that you will not transmit or aid in transmitting any description, account, picture or reproduction of the event to which this ticket admits you.
For a disturbing, if overblown, take on Rammstein, try this essay by Claire Berlinski: Rammstein’s Rage. (FYI, at times the essay mis-translates in a way that misleadingly bolsters its points; but, it’s still worth a read.)
Deciding on a sticker or a wall hanging or even a T-shirt takes me a long time. I have to intuit whether the motif-y object will influence me the way I want. When I saw this red sticker, though, I decided in only a few minutes that it belonged on my laptop (my constant companion!) as a reminder for how to live life. You have to take risks, but first — some backstory.
Recently I’ve been cleaning out a closet, partly so wifely Kate can put her work clothes there. Cleaning out this closet entails dealing with old CDs, always a weird nostalgia trip. I ran across in one box the Japanese release of Megadeth’s 1999 album Risk, and the sticker was inside the case, waiting probably a half-decade for me to find this use for it. Glad I hadn’t throw it out. When I look at the laptop now, I really don’t view the sticker as connected with Megadeth — just as an independent artwork.
Risk album cover
About that album, however: with it Megadeth tried to get away from their same-ol’ same-ol’ bellocisty and incorporate some fresh ideas from techno and other musical territory. Aging, they’d realized life wasn’t all about aggression, and further atempts to bring forth art that spoke only of hostility rang false to them; but, on the other hand, they (and, I presume, their biz overlords) wanted to still please the angry-teenager fan base. Trying to please everyone made the new elements sound unsure, just poor compromise. Not a brave enough risk.
A 1999 live version of Risk’s opening track, “Insomnia,” which is quite good, I think:
Alternate music for the frailly eared: the best recording, to my taste, of a particular Bach piece that made it onto the Voyager Golden Record.
Megadeth’s demeanor in the live performance above suits the angry young adults they once were, but in 1999 they were nearing their forties, and by that age I think it’s definitely time to have sequestered anger for release only when absolutely necessary. See as contrast artists such as Sting, whose long career has evolved through many styles, attitudes. Artists can’t force themselves to create once-agains of their past art; they’re no longer the same people. Unfortunately for 2010, Megadeth, currently out of tune with themselves, sound like such parodies of their youthful selves that I won’t embed a representative video. I must clarify, however, that I really enjoy most of their music, including Risk, and I wish that love to be noted.
Judith Butler has a passage about the necessity of taking risks, written in the context of ethical theory (emphasis mine):
… we must recognize that ethics requires us to risk ourselves precisely at moments of unknowingness, when what forms us diverges from what lies before us, when our willingness to become undone in relation to others constitutes our chance of becoming human.
Generally I interpret — maybe wrongly — that Butler quote in terms of small and difficult interpersonal interactions. You’re having a longstanding quarrel with a friend, for instance, and you’re not sure what you should say the next time you see them. The real trick is, in the actual moment of interaction — when what [has formed you] diverges from what lies before [you] — simply to risk yourself despite the context of uncertainty (what will happen?) — at moments of unknowingness — to risk making yourself vulnerable — to become undone in relation to others — and try to do whatever the right thing seems to be, fear be damned, consequences subordinate to honesty.
Sometimes I feel I’m not living up to the need to take risks with my own creative writing. Probably that’s just my self-criticism module out of whack, but who knows, maybe it’s trying to tell me something. Here’s perhaps my best story ready to go out in the mail (as multiple simultaneous submissions) once some certain literary magazines open up their fall reading periods:
“Flares” ready for snail-mailing
When I wrote this story, I wasn’t at all concerned with grand ethical notions of risk. In fact I just wrote, wrote, wrote, laying down words like so many bricks on a path across a few months(!). Now I write faster, in more mature ways, even, but few other works of mine quite affect readers as intensely as this one, I don’t think. So maybe, likely, it was just good luck: every so often as a fiction writer you create a 10-out-of-10 story, not an 8-out-of-10. Goes with the work, maybe. But I wonder how I can push myself harder to take risks, to say vulnerable things well…
Listening, I kept imagining the guitarists as making for us in the audience conversations with their guitars, and I was pleasantly surprised at how closely their personalities and their playing seemed to match. Will Douglas struck me as a fun guy whose performance resembled kind, pleasant talk — especially I’m thinking of the piece he played by Johann Kaspar Mertz, “Lied Ohne Worte”; Michael Dailey gave small benevolent smiles at the conclusion of each piece he played, all of which sounded effortlessly articulate, fluent, and well-spoken, filled with the neat nuances artful speakers include when they converse; and, Emma Rush brought an enigmatic, mysterious, almost secretive touch to her playing that became most exciting when she dazzled us with Jose Luis Merlin‘s “Suite Del Recuerdo.” I’d enjoy hearing any of these three perform again. When it came to a close, I realized the concert had made my world seem to brightly open more widely than before.