November 2000

You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin' out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud

Bob Dylan,"Like a Rolling Stone"

After the demo, Creemie and I went to have brunch. First at Grange Hall (a restaurant she is obsessed with), but we were afterhours there. So we went to Cowgirl Hall of Fame. I love Cowgirl because the Maragritas are HUGE. The food usually isn't so hot. But for brunch, I had the most scrumptious poached egg and Hollandaise thingy...and a mimosa. YUM! Our waiter was a Brit (this after the demo was held outside a British citizens store). During the brunch conversation we were talking about this personal Creemie forwarded me from PlanetOut for a "Quirky Prude" and how we both thought she was a scream. I had at first recused myself of her because I thought she was too much of a fussy anglophile for moi. Then I realized all the music I listen to: Sandy Denny, Fairport Convention, Richard and Linda Thompson, Maddy Prior, June Tabor, Jean Redpath, Delgados, Doves, Belle and Sebastian-- BRITISH! So when I said this, the male and female couple next to us stopped talking and sort of looked over at me. Then when they began talking, I heard the woman's wonderful Brit accent! It was British connection day! But it is weird that like everyone at Cowgirl seemed to be Brit, I mean did the Mekons really have that big of an ifluence?

This was the first time I have seen Creemie in years. The last time I saw her was years ago on New Year's Eve. We were having a party in our apartment in Brooklyn (my roomies and me)and then we were going to go to our friend Chip's New Wave party at Pyramid. But I didn't make it because one of my roomies copped right before the party so we were all drinking champagne and shooting and by the time midnight rolled around I was too far gone to go out. My roomie had to tell Creemie I wasn't going anywhere and she got sort of mad. Then, the next day she went with some of my roomies and their friends while they tried to cop pills, but the guy who was their connection got busted or something. I don't remember. All I remember is the look of disgust on Creemie's face when she realized I wasn't gonna go to Pyramid. And that was just the tip of the iceberg...for me. She didn't see the worst, and I'm glad for that.

But she also didn't know the pain, the horror, the layers of anger and disgust I've been living with trying to get myself back to some semblance of normal. It is hard to talk to people I used to know when...I was more than just a hardcore addict. I lost all my interests, my sense of humor, my entire life was completely ripped from me. I didn't talk to anyone but users and losers and abusers and all I could see was another angle to get money or get drugs...all I thought about was my habit and how to feed it. Now that I am in recovery, I am starting to find myself and my interests and my friends have been wonderful enough to take me back. I am grateful but I can see them trying to figure things out. How did I end up an addict? You don't look like one, you don't look so terrible (or I do look terrible depending on when they saw me last). And I get nervous. I make jokes constantly, I can't look at people. I can't face what they see as me. It is dumb, I am creating a wall between myself and the people I love. I am fighting it, but it is hard. Maybe even harder than not using sometimes. Someone once warned that I was going to feel like a deer caught in headlights when I went back to life, and that is most definitely exactly--IT!

Now I wish I could write you a melody so plain
That could hold you dear lady from going insane
That could ease you and cool you and cease the pain
Of your useless and pointless knowledge

Bob Dylan,"Tombstone Blues"

I was playing around with one of those dumb "recommendation" generators and it asked for my favorite film. At first, I was going to say Gas, Food, and Lodging then I took that back because although I love it, and I love Alison Anders, I figured the generator would only come up with more "indie film" titles that I've seen. So instead, I thought some more, and I remembered one of the films that had a huge impact on me was Agnes Varda's Vagabond. When I was 19, and I saw that film, all I wanted was to die in ditch somewhere. I thought Sandrine Bonnaire was impossibly appealing in her decrepitude and squalor. I still have a poster for that film hanging on my wall. I've learned some important life lessons since then, like only in films do you JUST die in ditch. In real life I had to go through some really ugly and disgusting shit before that was gonna happen to me. I had to try really hard to die, I don't think I've ever come close. I know I wanted to, and was getting closer to it, but not close enough, or fast enough, so instead I wanted out. That was what was so great about Vagabond was that Bonnaire's character seemed so resolutely set on her fate, she never tried to get out of where she was and I loved that. No apologies, no nothing, she just was. And there was a certain appealing pride in that. There still is--maybe not the fuckedupedness of the character, but to be yourself without apologies is a lesson.

When the suggestion for a new product came back, it mentioned this new DVD of Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy and I was thrilled to see that. I don't have a DVD player so I can't really enjoy it but the thought of seeing those Cocteau films made me happy. LordOuch emailed me about the Sundance Channel "screening" Kieslowski's Decalogues and a Maya Deren film. I ran to the listings and found that the Deren was part of a special film fest called something like "Every Picture Does Not Tell a Story" put together, in part, by Anthology Film Archives. I have a medium to large tolerance for experimental film. Actually, my major problem with experimental film is its boosters (like in Underground Film no.2--where talking empty heads abounded). The Deren was "Meshes of an Afternoon" which is a film I've seen a million times, but not recently, and I forgot how visually exciting it is, and how great the soundtrack is. And how chicly the characters dressed. And how LA looked so sexy--the little bungalow is so hot. Then the other films on the show were okay, but I fell in love with this one by Jeanne Liotta Muktikara which is a silent visual meditation on this pond. It is primarily in black and white (but some of it is hand-tinted in a lovely purple color) and it is a slow moving, but ever building look at the water, the trees, the clouds, the play of light and shadows, and it is so sensual, sexy and so goregous it almost made me cry. I sat there watching those abstracted landscapes flow and it totally brought me to another place. I forgot how easily I can just lose myself in a pretty picture. For a long time, I figured that my aesthetic sense and the desire to find beauty and try and disappear into it, was a waste and useless. I believed so much in it and in aesthetics that I ordered my world around it. Then it didn't keep my life from falling into chaos. When I needed to plug the holes in my psyche, beauty, aesthetics, images, music, the ability to love and have passion and let some work of art make me feel alive was enough for a bit, but then it didn't help after a point. Art wasn't therapy and I was using therapy as art and I hurt myself doing it. So I resented things that asked me to just appreciate them on an aesthetic level. Hell I resented anything that made me think. In this club that sends out broadsides to tell me what I should be doing, they tell me that "my best thinking got me into using" so I distrust thinking. And I am constantly being told that I overthink everything. Well, I THOUGHT about that, and I decided there is nothing I can do about that, but I can try and not let the thinking become self-destructive. So I am trying to re-learn and appreciate all the stuff that I turned against. However, I still have my love for country music and CMT.

Am I making sense...Am I intelligible? Or am I muttering? I think it stands a chance of being useful. That's the point of writing it all down. It's not just an aid to private introspection. But am I being too meditative? Too introspective?

Denis Johnson, The Name of the World

Watched the Story of Adele H. today. It was directed by Truffaut and stars a really young Isabelle Adjani. The film is based on the Journal of Adele Hugo who was Victor Hugo's youngest daughter. It is not a great film, Adjani has her moments, but overall the film makes what could really be a harrowing and disturbing story (in a good way) pretty tame and Harlequin romance like. It is basically the story of how Adele Hugo followed this British Lieutenant to Halifax because she was in love with him. He, of course, was not in love with her. At first he supposedly did love her and pursued her (when he was in Geurnsey and she lived there with her family while Hugo was in exile)and sent her love letters that talked of marriage. She at first was not interested, then, she went against her family and threw everything away to sneak off and spend time with him (I think it is implied that they had a sexual relationship). In typical heartless cad fashion, he discards Adele as soon as he gets what he wants (her) and is no longer taken with being close to the Hugo family. So he goes to Halifax, and she runs off without telling her family to be with him there.

Once in Halifax, Adele and the Lt. meet up. She says she is ready to "obey" him and will not be "violent" any more. He tells her to leave. She responds by begging him to love her. She will do anything for him, she says. The best scenes are the ones where Adjani sits in her room all messed up writing reams and reams alternately trying to exorcise the Lieutenant from her mind (she says things like she will never marry, marriage is slavery, marriage is psychic death, all sorts of radical things) and to imagine that things work out (she writes her parents that she has married the Lt., she imagines their life together)between them. I could completely identify with this. There were a number of embarrassing things Adele H does to win over her man (offer money, offer sex, offer a prostitute, let him sleep w/other women while they are together and he accepts her favors but then turns down her pleas for him to love her) and she degrades herself pretty thoroughly. Scarily enough, many of these are things I've done myself. The writing scenes offer the opportunity for a particularly close relationship to the character and I am now hoping to find a copy of the Journal of Adele Hugo (in English and I'm not sure they were ever translated) because not only did she write like a fiend (her journal was discovered in 1960 and published not long after) but she coded her journal so that the language was extremely idosyncratic. To finish the story, Adele Hugo ends up going completely mad, never gets her man, then he leaves Halifax and goes to Barbados she follows him goes even more insane, and is returned to France by a Negro slave and lived the rest of her life in an institution.

Out of these horrors, Truffaut crafts an alluring and sexy film that is oddly unmoving and sort of flat. Although, I have a feeling the real story is far from unmoving and flat. I found one book, La Miserable:Adele Hugo by Leslie Smith Dow that is about the "love affair" but that is it. More must be known.

Oh weird connection: The ship that Adele Hugo takes to Halifax is called "The Great Eastern" and that is the title of the latest cd by the Delgados that I've sort of been listening to. A web site I found says that the Delgados title relates to a flop house in Glasgow, but I like it better relating to the ship. And the two songs that I really like off the cd "The Past that Suits You Best" and "Been Accused of Stealing" really fit the film.

Been thinking about reading the new bio of Lester Bangs lately. He's someone I think is an amazing writer. Don't really like the critic who wrote the book, but Bangs is another story. I, of course, empathize with him because he was an unbalanced addict and while not every unbalanced addict can write--he could. LordOuch gave me the URL for one of the best essays I've read by him on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. I almost stopped breathing when I read a couple passages that were so filled with dread, sadness, melancholy and struggle. That piece, to me, is the perfect synthesis of writer and subject. So many of my favorite writers have a huge (though I'm sure unacknowledged) debt to Bangs. Most of them write about art (because that is what I know most) but they have a way of writing themselves into the text and offering a way into their little world and the world of the artist they are enchanted with and the whole thing is just magical. Usually, sadly majestic...but nonetheless brilliant. I wish I had this ability, but since, I don't I will say this: you cannot go wrong reading anything written by Bruce Hainley, David Rimanelli, Collier Schorr or Hilton Als. Even when they have bad days (and they do sometimes miss their targets)they are capable of stunning prose.

Sometimes I wonder about the legitmacy of criticism. And why so many critics I know are such unhappy people. Artists are frequently unhappy as well, but it is a different thing--it is a given that they are creative types. Everyone accepts that they are a little wacky to even want to do what they do. But with critics, people tend not to see them as writers, but as nasty bitter people. Sometimes this is not wrong. But almost every really good critic I've ever met has had an even stronger creative drive than many of the artists I know. Artists cannibalize life to turn it into their craft (for the most part those that don't are rare) and critics are supposed to be detached observers illuminating the struggles of the artiste for the masses. The critic makes it possilbe for us to grasp the sheer scale of brilliance presented by a particular work of art. This is not what the most successful critics do, in my opinion, even though I think that is what most people expect of them. Writers/critics like Bangs and the people I mentioned lose themselves in the art they write about. They are searching for meaning, for order, for anything that will make sense of their overwhelming passions and desires, and when they find it, they become enraptured, enchanted, in love and that is what they build their criticism on. But it is sometimes hard to write that sort of thing, they too are cannibalizing their lives and feeding it to readers. The are being eaten alive by their struggles and we read it and relate or identify...but can I really? They are locked in a fight between the artist and the role that is expected of them by their readers that they will offer us some sort of way into whatever it is they write about. By using their own psychic pain to give us the "in" they make criticism about them, not necessarily about the work. The author of the Bangs bio decries that. I'm not so sure that is a bad thing, but I think carried to extremes it is. And not everyone is Lester Bangs, not everyone has that sensibility and sensitivity.

I sort of lost my point here which is this: I think it is a strange thing to write ABOUT someone else's creation. To create something that is purely and totally only about something else, instead of just creating something for the sake of creating it (as most art is considered to be born of) seems odd and alienating. I have written some criticism, not much, and it is a hard thing to do. I can only say what I see and hear, and offer my impressions, but who am I to judge whether something has merit, or is good or bad (as critics are often asked to do)? writers critics are put in an untenable spot of being told that they must offer up something that will treat the work of art as a commodity on the level of is Charmin better than ScotTissue? Yet what they do is creative as just is not recognized as such (how many people think they have better opinions than the reviews they read?). So I guess my point is that being creative sucks sometimes. Making a living as a creative person requires so many compromises...I'm whining I know but I'm confused about the entire venture of criticism.

More November 2000