The Discomfort Zone: Metal Machine Music, March Music Moderne IV

A while back I was contacted by Bob Priest, guru of Portland’s annual March Music Moderne Festival. Turns out he’s a fan of Psychopomp Volume One, and was wondering if I was interested in participating in the fest. His idea was to have me pen something of an introduction for a night dedicated to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, and afterwards the album would be played in its entirety while Butoh dancers performed.

Then on February 11th, my father died. This fully altered my understanding of this album, which has always sounded like a car crash happening between my ears. Afterwards it articulated the calamity of death, each abandoned bone falling down to the bottom of a well and smashing, leaving memories and rumors and ideas. It resembled the absurdity of selecting urns and speaking to lawyers and cleaning apartments, in between thoughts of actual grieving, and sharing conversation with others who knew him in different ways.

On March 8th, this is what I read to kick things off. It’s called “Ostrich”. Much thanks to Bob Priest for putting together such a strange/wonderful evening at Three Friends Coffee.

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Self-destruction and innovation sound the same.

Metal Machine Music: the lucky moment in Lou Reed’s life when he reduced Rolling Stone’s editors to red-faced rattle throwing toddlers screaming “I hate you!” tiny fists beating the air to spare the walls. It’s a headache hatched on vinyl. Some fans thought it was a mistake and traded it in for aspirin.

Lou Reed confessed to being really stoned, to listing instruments he didn’t use in the liner notes, but insisted the roast before the recipe was the finest cut of lamb. He declared it his 1975 effort to produce a novel in music form, even if it was an angry entity most would rather exorcize than read or listen to. It howls at my coyote ever hunting for the chance to laugh first and loudest about an Emperor’s missing clothes.

And yet.

Metal Machine Music’s second egg cracked into my ear in an airport on an airplane as I waited on the tarmac to head up and east towards Cleveland. In the air, the scene and sky change every hundred miles. They don’t change at all on the tarmac.

An interrupted dream called me back to the burning river. In the dream I met my father on a bridge, where he stood waiting with his camera, anticipating the perfect shot. After a moment or two I told him I was going back the way I came. He said that he would wait for the sunset. The question I never got to ask was split open by a ringing phone, and it was my sister, and my father was dead.

And there was Lou Reed placing a hood of his hated album over my head, whispering, “These are words for a limitless language.”

The flight attendant asked that I put up and stow all my portable electronic devices. I did, and Metal Machine Music kept going.

My father stamped his death shadow into a chair carried up the stairs by his best friend of forty years, who ignored my father’s insistence that this wasn’t a project for a man with a heart condition. Two months ago my father resuscitated his best friend after that heart attacked him, and in that moment my father must have known his own vessel was sinking. They were both 64, but my father was older. He went out as an armchair Viking, his last cigarette in the ashtray beside him, burned right on down to nothing as he took his final breath in its incense. His best friend climbed the stairs again to find him.

Descending from 30,000 feet, wheels lowered, warnings about electronics for the second time. Metal Machine Music squeals like birds released from a flaming cage.

The first thing I did right off the plane was identify his body. It was in a cardboard box against a north-facing wall. He was thinner than I expected, his skin cold, and blue trails bloomed across his forehead, maps marking his exit. I remembered that the last time I saw him I thought he didn’t have long to live, but that didn’t make me write him more. He never wrote if I didn’t.

It was in an archive of those emails that I found a song that he wrote to play at the end of his funeral. The beginning of the funeral was reserved for taps, a pre-recorded mourning played as a naval officer in crisp blues mimed blowing a bugle. All I heard was ohms and crackles, another slapped amp for every ceremonial turn of the flag.

I’ve never been one to fold in predictable places. I spread all over the room. I talked to the plastic surgery scars of my father’s forgotten acquaintances, the facial hair of my sister’s high school friends, the cleavage of the woman delivering the service, the nostrils of the funeral director who couldn’t figure out mp3s. All that left my mouth was static. In the air, the scene and sky change every hundred miles. My father’s not in the air at all. He’s bottled.

My head is in the sand.

His ashes were heavier than I thought they would be, in a giant urn called a shaker with the image of a sunset sculpting it. He went from cardboard box to Parmesan cheese canister. There’s a reason cremation so often ends with comedy gold. We decided to spread his ashes later, because of snow blanketing his preferred parks and Lake Erie being frozen and none of us having any better ideas. Instead we talked about snow and cold and the impossibility of making angels with either ingredient.

In the final section of Metal Machine Music, amps challenge guitars to play themselves for a locked 1.8 seconds. I metronomed the loop and told anyone listening that I didn’t know when it would end.

There’s nothing to do after a funeral, except measure your own time beyond 64 minutes and tabulate what’s been wasted. So my sister tuned my father’s old guitars and ghost hands fielded strings. So I rode the pulse of 1.8 seconds of feedback all the way to a train station to launch my own Excursion on a Wobbly Rail, hoping for peace delivered by rear window.

I took my father’s camera, and waited for sunset.

Metal Machine Music is lava: destructive and fast, forging a fertile path for those who choose to climb or burn instead of run. Critics that couldn’t plot it and fans that found nothing to sing along to and strange sorts looking for something to slap them etched obscurity in stone. It was re-released a few years ago to delight and confound all over again, pasting a caveman painting on a glossy magazine legacy. Lou ostrich-tuned his outro.

Lou Reed’s musician hands conducted him away with the water-flowing 21 form of Tai Chi, the poetry of Laurie Anderson carefully framing his open-eyed exit in autumn leaves. My father’s musician hands placed his last cigarette in the ashtray beside him, and it burned right on down to nothing as he took his final breath in its incense.

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There are still many events going on with the Festival, so check the link above for full schedule information! Thanks to Kugot Butoh for destroying everyone’s comfort zone. We totally needed it. Not only was the dancing itself a mind bender, but the facial expressions of the many folks having their first exposure to such emotionally potent and difficult dancing functioned as physical confirmation of its efficacy. Here’s to more folks facing their discomfort zone in the future.

 

 

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The Falls Apart, or a Case for Hope

Headlines are murder to my eyes. Today’s reading allowed me to learn than the top 1% of the country now controls 40% of the America’s wealth – the highest percentage since 1927. These people send peasants in RVs to Burning Man ahead of them to establish elaborate camps they can parachute into, wearing the standard uniform of fuzzy legwarmers and cowboy hat and clip-in dreds for one-week of alt-culture tourism. The art they observe is also crafted by peasants who crowd-source funding to make the models they photograph and climb on happen for the adoring star-struck masses. This art is photographed by people holding Apple-emblazoned products envisioned into hand-held existence by a tyrannical man, and produced in factories so heinous that suicide is the only retirement plan.

Many Americans shed one-third of their bi-weekly income to taxes. They argue viciously against socialized medicine and government funded higher education, without realizing that they pay the same tax rate as most Canadians with none of the benefits. Medical care is either unavailable or discouraging of preventative medicine, resulting in Americans having the shortest life expectancy of any westernized nation. 36% of recent college graduates currently live with their parents, and cannot comprehend both eliminating student debt and paying a monthly rent. This is when they can get paid employment at all.

One percent of the country, those folks with the ability to take private fuel-wasting jets to exotic locations with tiny dogs trapped in purses, pay 35% income tax at most, and reduce the burden of this with a slew of deductions pushed through again and again by the wealthy politicians that defend the interests of their wealthy friends. They thank us for our labor by squabbling over the salaries of teachers, keeping the minimum wage a pittance, making bankruptcy laws more complicated while bailing out banks, failing to comprehend student loan forgiveness but allowing white collar criminals to walk, and considering the exposure of funds stashed in international locations a breech of privacy while having nothing to say about what Snowden sacrificed to expose how 1984 our world truly is.

Racism and sexism and anti-gay wackery and all its bullying offspring are all alive and well, and often captured on Youtube for international astonishment and horror that celebration of terrible exploits trumps desire to enter adulthood without jail time. Organized media outlets pay more attention to a legal-aged starlet gyrating on stage and singing about molly than they do young women still forced to grapple with virgin-whore dichotomies useless to modern society, and black women used as stage props for wealthy people unable to reinvent themselves unless it happens on-stage and thoughtless. Despite the disappointment expressed by parents about someone supposedly once a role model for young people, many would testify that they never saw themselves in the perfect skin and teeth and predictable hair colors of any of Disney’s darlings, and therefore emerge from the non-scandal gif-happy and undamaged. Young people who want to see themselves are better suited to Canadian television anyway, where the transgendered, queer, bi-racial, cancer-stricken, stoned, and gun-totting reality of the waking world happens on your pimpled prickled face, whether you ace the SATs or not.

Back in the world of guns and ammo and soldiers that aren’t supported during or after service, we’re prepping for an unsupported and unpopular war with a country most Americans can’t locate on a map, supposedly to defend citizens sadly murdered by chemical weapons. Our leaders seem downright annoyed by anything that slows bomb drop, and international news outlets can’t isolate a villain since we so loudly stormed the castle before facts were readily available for dissection, with a mission to solve killing people by killing more people more swiftly and brutally that their last best efforts. That’ll teach em.

Sometimes I fantasize about what would have happened if we’d made it all the way through WWII without dropping the Atomic bomb. Maybe we could have spared ourselves becoming the world’s hypocritical high-powered policeman in favor of actually developing our country and supporting art, the environment, and education. Instead we continue on as the final scene of Dr. Strangelove, a cowboy straddling a bomb like a bronco as it sails downward on the winds of mixed information and haste.

And honestly, I can’t even write about the environment at this point, as even the word threatens to squeeze the lump in my throat to cancerous proportions. Between the radioactive waste and oil regularly dumped into the ocean, to fracking, to the oil executives and big oil supported scientists that continue to deny climate change, to the few cities that can’t get their shit together enough to have a recycling program (the most basic of environmental efforts), to the dwindling rain forests and reefs…I just can’t. It makes my outsides cave into my insides to consider that there are still so many that can’t clock in to the simple fact that we share a common pulse.

So why do I feel such an unprecedented sense of hope and joy?

As the financial world becomes more and more depressing for all of us without a financial world to speak of, what we truly do with our time becomes more interesting. While I recently read that broke people have less time for creativity, on account of being overly preoccupied with said brokeness, I’ve found that acknowledging its potential to eat away at your time pops the bubble and allows that dormant creativity to resurface. The broke world is populated by eccentric artists, dedicated bloggers, activists, musicians, self-styled pirates, and comedy gold. Absence of easy-buy solutions leads to things that are pop-up and brightly painted and salvaged and re-purposed and spit-polished into shine. It’s a challenge that pushes the brain beyond immediate convenience and into daydream, where many of us are better equipped to pilot anyway.

Maybe it’s because, as someone who once volunteered as a sexual assault survivor advocate, I know that rapes in all hideous forms have been happening since the dawn of man, but this is the first time in my lifetime they’ve been widely reported and loudly condemned as heinous by all but the most out of touch CNN reporters. Headlines from India happen alongside our own, making sexual assault an international issue of shared outrage and demands for change, and bold women like India’s Red Brigade taking to the streets to defend their own while the slow wheels of justice finally begin to turn in their favor.  Sure, advertisers continue to objectify women to sell body spray and bad music, and this will likely continue until well after I’ve taken my permanent dirt nap, but dammit if there isn’t a loud, articulate opposition finally assuming center stage and forcing the uncertain hands of prosecutors still hesitant to paddle the powdered bottoms our fortunate sons.

Internet activism is often a mix of the serious and the hilarious, and can be a terrifying hammer capable of shutting down the sites of big banks and disrupting Amazon sales with tech savvy anonymity and aggression. It’s an unscripted and masked mass of millions that’s been sorely needed for too long, and the inability to pinpoint a single voice to silence makes the collective roar ever louder.

Cities throughout the country are choosing to take a turn for the green, from Detroit tearing down deserted neighborhoods and turning them into large community gardens, to the addition of bike lanes and vast recycling and compost programs in places as traditionally conservative as Columbus, Ohio. Many folks moved to radical outposts like New York, Portland, and San Francisco to get away from the stranglehold pillage-the-village sorts had on Midwest communities, and as that grip loosens the mood of the country changes to one that values local farmers, big trees, and clean water, and favors change over fostering a world built on a vision that was never responsible or sustainable in the first place.

There’s also the exciting return to a craft-based economy, after years of relying on employers to doll out cookies and raises and actually treat individuals like human beings instead of cogs in the machine. Even brief perusal of outposts like Etsy makes it easy to see what people are doing as alternatives to day jobs — and this sort of things was barely possible just twenty years ago.

The Falls Apart, a young adult story I’ve been working on for a long, long time, is about a group that exists to witness and record an end. Our end has been snowballing from ball to boulder since 9-11, a day when many Americans awoke to join the rest of the world in feeling anxiety and uncertainty towards the tools of our destruction. It was, quite literally, our Tower card.  I feel very much a Falls Apart, and that it’s a cause for celebration, not depression. It’s something that will allow us to understand both our privileges and the ways in which we needlessly suffer, and how to cultivate joy in the midst of such challenges. Each headline I read that pains me and seems to hasten this end inevitably also brings joy, as we grow ever closer to the kind of break that brings great revolution and enlightenment. The next birth will be as painful as the last, but it is, and will be, change.

In 2014 I plan to take to the rails and roads and hit up as many festivals and celebrations of expression as my personal economy allows. There are so many people producing outrageous creative exclamations that it would be a shame to not record these, and the way they reflect everything happening in the world and the impact on everyday people. This creativity also reflects the early stages of great new things, a physical representation of prayer and great hope that the coming Star will be a brilliant one.

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Tourist Seasons

midwestern tourists with white socks pulled halfway up their calves in polo shirts with muted tones. Deep in exchange with drug-addled tokens of lost rave days, negotiating mouthfuls of tentacles. A sentence escapes, directions and change and ten salutations to old mischief and gods lasso’d from plants and sci-fi pages.

Foreign travel informs other language encounters, avoided with translation devices churned active with charades. Just like overseas both parties are nervous, and then someone takes a picture and buys a doughnut.

My eyes on the mother, stout firm and grounded from three children sliced from her body. She won’t offer her tale unless asked, and then it’s all getaway cars and field goals and journals inked thick with secrets. This woman won’t hug like she’s been interrupted. She’ll press her breasts into mine until they grow.

Her male counterpart something else all together, propped around wars and his grandfather’s wars and the job he was supposed to retire from until he didn’t. A camera saluting the labors of silver miners, his hands those of harvest. His wife will graduate to crone without having been abandoned, but if he’s asked who he is he won’t answer.

Meanwhile the ravers recall friends, all dead, who once occupied pants with enough fabric for two and filled dance floors with movements that would better serve some city, before one was left to foam her overdose alone so no sick sort suffered prison. Big city burdens bruising small towns long after notions of illegal dancing.

At twenty it’s not possible to measure the collection of bodies and faces and pick which hand will pull the card of cancer, will avalanche all the way down the mountain with no memory of bodies to cushion them. Image preserved of a cloud kicked up by two cowboys who never knew horses, stamping time in high desert lines while my tent became shelter for lizards. Daytime heat would force our retreat under mushroom canopies, then night resurrected lost thunder. We listened without hearing the warning.

Some went without gravestones in favor of ash recalling dormant volcanoes. Other shells had one autopsy, two, with neither revealing an answer. Others assume phantom forms to warn big eyes away from empty houses. Names and faces preserved through clothing artifacts collected in a bag, honoring a time when tshirts stopped short. Robots and aliens stitched in homage to sounds, silked with sweat and ringed in candy.

If they ask who I am, I won’t answer. A sugar different from the offering of this city, stolen from plants and sci-fi pages.

 

 

 

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Death Posturing

You’re done for. There’s one thing, then another, and there’s nothing after that.

What does that mean? A cleverly concealed pocket-knife could wiggle me away from a railroad tie-down, and suddenly my sour mid-life expiration could alter to paper-skin ancient, eyes pearled and body bent to occupy chairs that wheel and rock. Or maybe future-me belays from broken cells to cyborg, monocle red-laser eyes special-crafted to aggravate cats and melt thicker thoughts from enemies. Half of me bones braced for dusting, the other half sculpted new, locked in with hook and screw.

No: you’re done for friend. Tally your hoe for the waltz-step through endless white curtains before frail begets faint and both retinas blink blank.

Huh. Well, movies suggest quaint segments of life should be summoned from my switchboard for long walk companionship.

- A hair-pinned and pressed grandmother I never had, apron-clad and bespeckled and pulling a tray of cookies from an eye-level oven.

- Running around an endless oak my Midwest backyard didn’t know, not pursued by a bell-bottomed sister screaming and swinging a neon-green plastic bat.

- A chaste slow-dance sponsored by Hallmark, swaying driftwood to puritanical tracks bleating of love as candy-hearts and water-spun roses, embracing someone well-washed I wouldn’t love.

In this canned universe no one is giggling maniacally in a way that inhibits oxygen intake, and never at creatures who audibly sigh and scowl “Come on!” after eighteen agonizing minutes in a pharmacy line.

No. My friend, this isn’t a movie.

Switchboard triggered even still. Images summoned from sun-baked scalp:

- Me tent-locked during green-sky opening, water rushing underneath (vinyl surfing), testing stakes. Outside wind speaks a more threatening tongue and activated ears ask eyes to answer.

- Mambo bullwhip-crackling wet green ground to coax drummers furious as she summons lost Africa from belly slumber for Papa Legba. Oh, Papa Legba.

- Me fay-cozy between two monstrous redwoods, boots pressed to one trunk and back suction-cupping the other, daring tension to inch me upward, or rigid curve me catapult.

- Freshly plucked baby in my thrice-born arms, learning air without water. Me drinking in. Spirit lands unseen.

- Tomato caterpillars caged in Styrofoam egg cartons, round padded feet slow stepping fresh-clipped leaves for rapid gobbling post antennae inspection.

- Wild-haired man burdened by backpack, patterned and pierced, blue current skulking the street after me so I don’t leave – not then, not ever.

- Bodies thick on a fire escape suddenly more dangerous, talking in spirals about events that lightning struck uniform corpses to make us all mad magicians, striping our eyes, dotting our lines. Then many are two and touching.

- Lying on a blanket in the high desert plains, techno-blasted and cowboy-capped, dehydrated mouths calling sounds from lost dimensions where all are copper and exterior-wired.

So you’ve accepted death?

Not for a second. Three times this bell has rung for me, a stale drone from far-away towers eating air for the ankle-grip. Three times you’ve finger beckoned and I’ve snaked away in debt to doctors and water. I could still learn to swim a little bit better, could still highlight heart with a kinder crayon, could still find words to darken white pages (no curtains, no waltz) letter-sparked by anonymous alchemists to leave me better remembered.

Does any of it actually matter?

I can’t hear you. The sky is breaking. My palm boasts six stars.

No one’s read to me in awhile.

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Two Crows, 2:36AM (1)

2:36AM

Two crows on the fence, waiting.

They tell me: Listen.

I do.

Listen harder.

Am I dreaming?

No.

Perfect.

Listen.

Fine.

Triple-lock the door.

I peak through the blinds. Two crows on the fence. Still waiting.

Caw.

Do humans turn crow as purgatory, trapped observing the living with their kind-of-a-funny-stories and toddlers tied to harnesses and watch-checking clip-cloppers stomping concrete carpets rolled out to welcome rigamortis? Do crows bring death? DEATH, not scare-the-shit-out-of-movie-goers Tarot Death, where the card is played heavy-rings slow and the actress screams her curlers free before bolting from a candle-farm table glittered with moons and stars to meet piano-to-head closed-casket FIN. Not even real Tarot Death, where the hummus is surprise expired, or a cell phone falls into toilet and spares a happy unemployed the salty sulk of job offer.

And, okay this had better not be the Big Done, I’ve only just stitched the golden eagle to my crest, I’ve only now unrolled my scroll beyond the first few lines to reveal the big a-ha. You creepy trash collectors burdening my bins, what are you waiting for? What are you ready for? What do you know?

Caw.

Will their stink of death render me gothy, prisoner of cliché adolescent silken moon POEtry, liquid black eyeliner streaking white-washed sun starved cheeks, costume coffin bookshelf dark magicians Latin names red and gold print jackets internal juke box Death in June black metal Jay-Z? Different just like everybody else, symbol to the air Ra-Ra, subversive just like everybody else (as above, so below) I’m a pirate I’m a fairy I’m a witch I’m a Tim Burton movie I’m a fucking black stain at the picnic. Look how well we all match at the funeral, parasol stars with corsets clamped. Not a spot of dust on the top hat.

They’re waiting for you, Crows, in the graveyard, by the angel statue that sometimes weeps. They’re waiting for both Thought and Memory. Come as a set, come as you are.

CAW.

Well dammit, shit, for God’s sake, can I still read Rumi with your feathers in my face? Do crows fancy dervishes, whirling God intoxicated holy holy on earthbound playgrounds? Do they fancy Freyja flickers like me, twirling hair feet in air, Loki robbed and revenge plotting, deeper in the well for better sword crafting? Do black eyes seek amber mine as you peak through the blinds, do your feathers want my fingers, have your claws pre-drawn portraits? How did you find me? Did Odin send you? Tell me: how did you find me?

Caw.

They follow me and my bike five miles over the river.

Caw.

They sit on the wire while I wait for the bus, listening to an elderly man with a handlebar moustache (I name him Frank as all old men are Frank) tell stories about Belize and Coast-a-Ree-Kah to an Asian man half-listening between iphone glances. Frank sips coffee from an uncovered mug, like he walked out of the kitchen knowing his status as World’s Greatest Dad needed announcing exactly today. Ha ha ha, sip, ha ha ha. Crows?

Caw (Listen, Descendant of Fenrir.)

Frank lowers his cup and a droplet drips from lip, the concrete BOOM drums awake my hidden fur-lined ear.

(Close your eyes.)

Eyes closed (hear first, look later, it would be too much). Ghosts, nursery rhymes trapped in sidewalk cracks, spirits hobgoblining life from the nearly-living, prism locked reflections two dimensioned in humid air, at once alert to open. Yes. I can hear you.

Holy wow how’s it going she can hear did you notice she could too rah loo skippity skip skip hey she never loved me get me out of hello hi are you still listening ha ha hooray good to –

Caw.

This is not the stuff of bus stops. I should be nude for this amniotic slip and slide, this running up the rabbit hole. Bus arrives  my eyes dart to wire, amber to black, black to amber.

We will follow you. Twenty pairs of two, each two speaking as one. Caw.

At the top of the hill we’ll be waiting. Whisper when you ask of crows. Remember to whisper.

“Ladies first,” Frank gestures to the bus door. World’s Greatest Dad.

Whisper when you ask of crows. We’ll be waiting. Whisper.

Caw.

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