March 2003 Archives
Overheard at the Aislers Set show at the Knitting Factory last night: "You know, when I was little and I got mad at my mom, I used to scratch at my belly button, because I figured that was how we were connected. I'm sorry, did I just T.M.I. you?"
Lisa tells me to show you all a photo of one of the nice people I met in Helsinki:
One other Finland story: one morning, we met up with a group of students from a big university in Helsinki. "How many of you read Helsingen Sanomat every day?" I asked. (It's the big serious paper, the equivalent of the Times.) A forest of hands. "And how many of you sometimes distrust it, or suspect that you're not getting the whole story from it?" A roomful of young Finns, looking at me perplexedly.
A really good idea: Protest Records. Yes, the Beasties track is awful, but I really like the Jim O'Rourke one, and I bet there'll be more good stuff shortly.
So the empire thing. The general attitude of Finland was "Look! Look at us! Look how beautiful we are, and also how Finnish! We've got a whole big world of culture that's distinctively Finnish! It can all stand on its own! It's so GOOD! It's so WELL-DESIGNED! We have so much pride in Finland and everything Finnish! We have saunas that will cure any trouble you have, and you can stop any Finn on the street and hear all about them! We think hard about how everything is experienced, and we want you to tell all your friends how lovely Finland is! You like us, please! Say you like us!" A couple of people have called it "a friendly little puppy of a country," but that's not quite true: it doesn't just want to be loved and paid attention to, it wants to send out waves of Finnish goodwill across the world.
St. Petersburg, on the other hand, is formally exquisite but totally surly. It's a real surprise to leave the Helsinki airport (spacious, hyper-contemporary, high-ceilinged, gleaming) and arrive an hour later at the St. Petersburg airport (flat, squat, sawdusty, grim). As we waited in line to get through customs, there was a woman in a military outfit stomping around in four-inch spike heels, looking very bitter about something. For most official transactions, one pays in rubles; for everything else, everybody's much happier about greenbacks. (At e.g. state museums and the Kirov, ticket prices for foreigners are about ten times what they are for locals.)
The vibe toward Americans was generally "we need you but we hate you," as Chris Knox sang. There were many more signs in English than I was comfortable with, and many more free papers in English, too--one doesn't see too many free papers in Russian here in NYC. One night, Sasha was walking home alone from the nifty little veggie restaurant we found (called "The Idiot"--yes, in Roman characters--their menu was haltingly bilingual, their food and prices quite good, their vibe convivial and expat-centric, and Andras remembered it from a previous trip), and asked a policeman if he could point him toward the Hermitage. The guy shot him a look and didn't say anything. A few blocks later, a car pulled up with a few military police; they pulled Sasha over, demanded his passport, frisked him, searched him, and kept asking him "guns, drugs? guns, drugs?" After leaving him sitting around for a while, they gave him back his jacket and waved him away; as he was heading off, one of them yelled "Hermitage--that way."
It was not clear to me which the Russian restaurants where Russians eat were. We went to a very high-end place called something like Cafe Russia (I may have this wrong) where the food was superb, but the prices & general mood were such that I can't imagine locals eat there like ever. Ditto for the "'rustic'" wooden restaurant out in the country near Nicholas II's palace where we had a $35 prix-fixe multi-course lunch, complete with singing balalaika-and-accordion ensemble whose repertoire included "Tico-Tico No Fuba" (I was semi-expecting "Katrussja" and "La Paloma" too, but didn't hear either), and which had maybe two other patrons when we were there. I did go one afternoon to a little cafeteria with no English on its menu but lots of piles of very fresh vegetable salads, and by far the lowest prices of anywhere I ate. When I sat down at one of the communal tables, I noticed that the woman next to me was reading an Anglophone paper; chatted with her for a few minutes and found that she was in fact a translator/tour guide, who gave me her card and asked if I knew anybody else who was coming to town and might need her services. On reflection, I suspect that might be why she was sitting in the cafe reading an Anglophone paper.
I wrote about Russian MTV below, but the rest of Russian TV is pretty insane too. One news station had images from the war with no commentary at all; another was a German broadcast from some days ago (an occasional English bulletin at the bottom of the screen announced that the U.N. had decided to pull inspectors out of Iraq). After midnight, we found a station showing something that was clearly heavily inspired by The X-Files, except that the plot screeched to a halt every few minutes so that the female characters could take their shirts off and writhe around for a bit. There was also some kind of late-night art appreciation show, with a decrepit-looking fellow sitting at a desk in front of a battered paperback whose pages he never turned, monologuing with lots of hand gestures while a screen behind him showed a man walking very slowly through a museum that scrolled behind him as he stayed in the center of the frame and passed by one framed image after another. Sasha was providing a running commentary on what he imagined the guy was saying: "Here we have big picture of horse and landscape. Is good--landscape art, representational art, is very good. Pictures show people, animals, places, is good. Abstract impressionism? Is no good. Reminds me of time, middle of century, my whole family live in post office box. Color field? Is bullshit." There were also a few American sitcoms, translated rather than dubbed, exactly--one heard the original soundtrack with the translation lagging a few seconds behind it, in the style of translated political speeches on American news.
A few minutes before I have to run off & contort myself, so I'll note that I didn't fully appreciate Finnish design until I got to St. Petersburg, where there are some--no, okay, virtually all--of the most beautiful buildings I've EVER EVER seen, and nobody cares at ALL about the appearance of anything that's not at least a couple of hundred years old. We were staying in two large apartments on Millionaire Street (right down the block from the Hermitage), which had clearly been renovated very recently by the "throw a bunch of money at it and stop the effort right there" technique--bare white walls, fancy TVs and fancy VCRs that weren't actually compatible with each other, IKEA-ish furniture randomly thrown into each room, one-of-this-and-one-of-that towels, etc. Not bad taste: no taste in particular at all. Most of the Russian interiors we saw that didn't belong to tourist destinations were at least a little like that; the streets are very much like that. Also, the bulletproof doors had heavy top-and-bottom deadbolts, and could only be locked from the INSIDE as well as from the outside with a somewhat soft brass key. A group of Fellows actually got locked into their apartment for about 15 minutes yesterday morning--they had keys, they just weren't working.
Gotta go do yoga, but when I get back later today, a screed on the scary realization that I actually do belong to an imperial power, like it or not.
Hey, all. I'm back, safe, happy and not yet as sleepy as I ought by rights to be. Just sent an email to some friends about my music-related experiences on the second half of the trip; let's start with that, and I'll get to the other stuff shortly...
*CDs in Russia are virtually all bootlegs--even the ones sold in great big nicely-lit stores on Nevsky Prospekt in St. Petersburg--and generally cost 60-70 rubles a disc, meaning around $2. The CDs themselves are professionally pressed rather than CD-Rs, but the artwork is usually color-photocopied, curiously. Some enterprising company has been pressing greatest-hits packages of a whole lot of bands with exactly the same design as ABBA's Forever Gold--the crown, the gold-on-gold artwork, etc. I would've bought Black Sabbath Forever Gold, but the guy at the underground CD stand claimed he didn't have change for a 500-ruble note.
*For about 10 rubles more per disc, one can get MP3 CDs, with eight or ten hours' worth of high-quality MP3s. I bought a few things I figured I probably couldn't get back home, including one with the first ten Nurse With Wound albums (yes, you read that right--this is in the equivalent of, say, Sam Goody). They had the entire Merzbox as a three-disc set, and I am now kicking myself for not having dropped seven bucks for it.
*Russian MTV is totally freaky: half "Jenny from the Bloc"-type imports from the U.S. and U.K., half horrible gangsta-folk--guys with short hair, Ocean's Eleven suits and acoustic guitars whose videos are all about shooting people and looking tough and rich. One was a live clip; the kids in the front row were pumping their fists like they were in the front row of a hip-hop show, but NOT IN TIME TO THE MUSIC. Or at the same time as each other. At all.
*In the Helsinki airport, at a somewhat more legitimate CD stand, I saw the Bangles' new album Doll Revolution, which I didn't even know was coming out. I thought "hey, wouldn't it be cool if that title meant they were covering Elvis Costello's 'Tear Off Your Own Head'?" Then I turned it over and saw that it did, so I bought it. On a first listen, that's the best song on it, but I'm just glad they're back.
Our last night in Finland, following a tempest of a day: trips to the Nokia, Iittala and Marimekko factories, plus a university and probably some other stuff I'm forgetting, plus a reception for an art prize of some kind (all the candidates were on the walls, all were Nordic, most were identifiably ripoffs of notable artists from elsewhere in the world--we were making jokes about "oh, this one's by Ilpo Richter... and here's a Pekka Basquiat... and a Mika Goldin..."), and finally a light meal and sauna at the home of a pianist/accordionist named Pekka, at whose apartment there were a bunch of other musicians hanging out, and a great deal of very casual but magnificent operatic singing went on. And Andras revealed his hidden piano-playing talents, followed by Anya doing the same, and Elizabeth picking up an accordion for a bit too. I was thinking for a few minutes that this was exactly the sort of party I wish I went to all the time, where people would just casually make music for fun, but then I realized that they weren't the amateurs-in-the-true-sense I was thinking of--the people driving the merrymaking were actual professional musician types. But still.
Not sure if I'll have web access in Russia, for which we leave early in the morning. Be well, and be safe, and love to all reading. See you Sundayish if not before.
Finns, as it turns out, also love PowerPoint. Boy, do they ever love PowerPoint. We've visited some truly beautiful buildings where they've sat us down in conference rooms and showed us PowerPoint slides for an hour or so at a time rather than letting us actually see the contents of the building. (We did get to see Kiasma this morning, though--nice contemporary art museum, though as a couple of us pointed out pretty much none of the Finnish contemporary art we saw likes to stick its head out too far. I was very fond of an installation by Markus Kahre, though, whose point I will not reveal for the benefit of those who have not yet seen it.)
The other thing Finns have introduced me to: the 'pineapple cherry,' a weird little fruit that is first sour, then sweet, then sort of musty. It's shown up on the two identical petit-four trays I've encountered so far. Love it.
What I do not love is the eschaton, but there's not much to be done about that from here.
Comment & let me know how you're doing, okay?
After years of hearing people make jokes about how much Finns love saunas, it's still sort of surprising to realize JUST HOW TOTALLY OBSESSED they are with saunas. We took our second this morning, and have been invited to the house of a pianist we met last night for a light dinner and yet another sauna Wednesday night. (He was playing at a party that Elizabeth's friend was hosting; Allan impressed him mightily by recognizing the Comedian Harmonists song he was playing, and rushing over to the piano to sing along with him.) We also visited the house of an artist friend of Elizabeth's who looks exactly like I imagine Baba Yaga (although her house doesn't look like Baba Yaga's). And we met an expatriate American yoga/pilates instructor who wants to take us out to a hip-hop club... if she can find one...
This morning, after the sauna & a neato buffet breakfast, we headed to a former Nokia cable facgtory that's now a cultural center/mass of artists' studios. Then we went on the WORST BUS TOUR OF ALL TIME--supposedly an architectural tour of the city, but with a guide who genuinely Didn't Get It. Consoled myself by purchasing some odd Finnish candy, which I bet people I see in the week or so after I get back will get samples of.
Every time I turn on CNN it depresses me, despite the fact that I'm generally listening to it in the hotel's bathroom with its wonderful heated floors. Luxury, terror, you name it.
I am actually in Finland, right now, as I type--specifically in the business center of my hotel, which has this weird Finnish keyboard where none of the punctuation marks are where I expect them to be. The flight was uneventful, except for my near-total inability to sleep during it (Pluto Nash was showing on the screen, and has lots of flashing light effects). We were met at the airport by Elizabeth Kendall's friend Ulrika, and whisked away to our beautiful five-star hotel, which became a Hilton fairly recently. In each of our rooms, there was a bag from the Finnish cultural-embassy people, including over 30 pamphlets about the glories of Finnish culture, a great big heavy book about the Finnish Art Deco movement, four CDs (hello, Esa-Pekka), a T-shirt, and a copy of the new issue of Helsinki This Week, which is in fact a bi-monthly magazine. Then we were whisked off to the sauna: beautiful wooden steam rooms and a heated pool with a little wall-waterfall, followed by orange soda of some kind (basically halfway between Fanta and Orangina) and a buffet of three kinds of sausage (sigh), good bread, very good sweet mustard, and a passionate explanation of the original Finnish artwork housed in the hotel itself.
Hotel rooms are pretty much the same everywhere, though mine does have a couple of nice perks I've discovered so far: a balcony, from which one can overlook the frozen river (on which some people are walking, although there are visible holes in the ice, eek) and an extra TV speaker in the bathroom (so one can listen to the Spanish-language Hi-NRG Eurodance channel during one's shower).
Our first actual event-type events are tonight; details when they've happened.
I made a new mix CD this week, and called it "Native Tongue Interference," after the term they use in the call centers in Bangalore to describe what happens when one of the people who answers the customer service lines from American companies lets their own accent slip through their façade of "Americanness." The idea is that, as much as I prefer my mixes to be sonically and formally varied track-to-track, I'm hopelessly socialized into gravitating toward a certain kind of two-to-four-minute guitar-rock song, and on this particular mix I'm foregrounding that tendency, to the point of starting with a Nirvana song (and having a lot of others that start with a brief drum flourish before the Great Big Guitars break into the mix).
Not much updating lately, because I've been getting ready to skip town--I head for Helsinki (and subsequently St. Petersburg) tomorrow, & will return a week from Sunday. May or may not be able to update from over there, but there'll probably be stories when I get back.
To keep you occupied in the meantime, here's Rebecca West's amazing essay "The Duty of Harsh Criticism," originally published in The New Republic in June, 1914, at the beginning of another war; it came to my mind today in a meeting of the NAJP group, in a slightly heated discussion of harsh criticism in general. Tell me what you think.
To-day in England we think as little of art as though we had been caught up from earth and set in some windy side street of the universe among the stars. Disgust at the daily deathbed which is Europe has made us hunger and thirst for the kindly ways of righteousness, and we want to save our souls. And the immediate result of this desire will probably be a devastating reaction towards conservatism of thought and intellectual stagnation. Not unnaturally we shall scuttle for safety towards militarism and orthodoxy. Life will be lived as it might be in some white village among English elms; while the boys are drilling on the green we shall look up at the church spire and take it as proven that it is pointing to God with final accuracy.
And so we might go on very placidly, just as we were doing three months ago, until the undrained marshes of human thought stirred again and emitted some other monstrous beast, ugly with primal slime and belligerent with obscene greeds. Decidedly we shall not be safe if we forget the things of the mind. Indeed, if we want to save our souls, the mind must lead a more athletic life than it has ever done before, and must more passionately than ever practise and rejoice in art. For only through art can we cultivate annoyance with inessentials, powerful and exasperated reactions against ugliness, a ravenous appetite for beauty; and these are the true guardians of the soul.
So it is the duty of writers to deliberate in this hour of enforced silence how they can make art a more effective and [less] obviously unnecessary thing than it has been of late years. A little grave reflection shows us that our first duty is to establish a new and abusive school of criticism. There is now no criticism in England. There is merely a chorus of weak cheers, a piping note of appreciation that is not stilled unless a book is suppressed by the police, a mild kindliness that neither heats to enthusiasm nor reverses to anger. We reviewers combine the gentleness of early Christians with a promiscuous polytheism; we reject not even the most barbarous or most fatuous gods. So great is our amiability that it might proceed from the weakness of malnutrition, were it not that it is almost impossible not to make a living as a journalist. Nor is it due to compulsion from above, for it is not worth an editor's while to veil the bright rage of an entertaining writer for the sake of publishers' advertisements. No economic force compels this vice of amiability. It springs from a faintness of the spirit, from a convention of pleasantness, which, when attacked for the monstrous things it permits to enter the mind of the world, excuses itself by protesting that it is a pity to waste fierceness on things that do not matter.
But they do matter. The mind can think of a hundred twisted traditions and ignorances that lie across the path of letters like a barbed wire entanglement and bar the mind from an important advance. For instance, there is the tradition of unreadability which the governing classes have imposed on the more learned departments of literature, such as biography and history. We must rebel against the formidable army of Englishmen who have achieved the difficult task of becoming men of letters without having written anything. They throw up platitudinous inaugural addresses like wormcasts, they edit the letters of the unprotected dead, and chew once more the more masticated portions of history; and every line they write perpetuates the pompous tradition of eighteenth century "book English" and dissociates more throughout the ideas of history and originality of thought. We must dispel this unlawful assembly of peers and privy councillors round the wellhead of scholarship with kindly but abusive, and, in cases of extreme academic refinement, coarse criticism.
That is one duty which lies before us. Others will be plain to any active mind; for instance, the settlement of our uncertainty as to what it is permissible to write about. One hoped, when all the literary world of London gave a dinner to M. Anatole France last year, that some writer would rise to his feet and say: "Ladies and gentlemen, we are here in honor of an author who has delighted us with a series of works which, had he been an Englishman, would have landed him in gaol for the term of his natural life." That would have shown that the fetters of the English artist are not light and may weigh down the gestures of genius. It is not liberty to describe love that he needs, for he has as much of that as any reasonable person could want, so much as the liberty to describe this and any other passion with laughter and irony.
This enfranchisement must be won partly by criticism. We must ridicule those writers who supply the wadding of the mattress of solemnity on which the British governing classes take their repose. We must overcome our natural reverence for Mrs. Humphry Ward, that grave lady who would have made so excellent a helpmate for Marcus Aurelius, and mock at her succession of rectory Cleopatras of unblemished character, womanly women who, without education and without the discipline of participation in public affairs, are yet capable of influencing politicians with wisdom. When Mr. A.C. Benson presents the world with the unprovoked exudations of his temperament, we may rejoice over the Hindu-like series of acquiescences which take the place of religion in donnish circles. The whole of modern England is busily unveiling itself to the satirist and giving him an opportunity to dispute the reverences and reticence it has ordained.
But there is a more serious duty than these before us, the duty of listening to our geniuses in a disrespectful manner. Criticism matters as it never did in the past, because of the present pride of great writers. They take all life as their province to-day. Formerly they sat in their studies, and thinking only of the emotional life of mankind--thinking therefore with comparative ease, of the color of life and not of its form--devised a score or so of stories before death came. Now, their pride telling them that if time would but stand still they could explain all life, they start on a breakneck journey across the world. They are tormented by the thought of time; they halt by no event, but look down upon it as they pass, cry out their impressions, and gallop on. Often it happens that because of their haste they receive a blurred impression or transmit it to their readers roughly and without precision. And just as it was the duty of the students of Kelvin the mathematician to correct his errors in arithmetic, so it is the duty of critics to rebuke these hastinesses of great writers, lest the blurred impressions weaken the surrounding mental fabric and their rough transmissions frustrate the mission of genius on earth.
There are two great writers of to-day who greatly need correction. Both are misleading in external things. When Mr. Shaw advances, rattling his long lance to wit, and Mr. Wells follows, plump and oiled with the fun of things, they seem Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Not till one has read much does one discover that Mr. Shaw loves the world as tenderly as Sancho Panza loved his ass, and that Mr. Wells wants to drive false knights from the earth and cut the stupidity and injustice out of the spiritual stuff of mankind. And both have to struggle with their temperaments. Mr. Shaw believes too blindly in his own mental activity; he imagines that if he continues to secrete thought he must be getting on. Mr. Wells dreams into the extravagant ecstasies of the fanatic, and broods over old hated things or the future peace and wisdom of the world, while history falls in ruins about his ears.
Yet no effective criticism has come to help them. Although in the pages of Mr. Shaw enthusiasm glows like sunsets and the heart of man is seen flowering in a hundred generous and lovely passions, no one has ever insisted that he was a poet. We have even killed his poetry with silence. A year ago he lightened the English stage, which has been permanently fogged by Mr. Pinero's gloomy anecdotes about stockbrokers' wives and their passions, with "Androcles and the Lion," which was a miracle play and an exposition of the Christian mysteries. It taught that the simple man is the son of God, and that if men love the world it will be kind to them. Because this message was delivered with laughter, as became its optimism, English criticism accused Mr. Shaw of pertness and irreverence, and never permitted the nation to know that a spiritual teacher had addressed it. Instead, it advised Mr. Shaw to return to the discussion of social and philosophical problems, in which his talent could perhaps hope to be funny without being vulgar.
Mr. Wells' mind works more steadily than Mr. Shaw's, but it suffers from an unawareness of the reader; an unawareness, too, of his material; an unawareness of everything except the problem on which it happens to be brooding. His stories become more and more absent-minded. From "The Passionate Friends" we deduced that Mr. Wells lived on the branch line of a not too well organized railway system and wrote his books while waiting for trains at the main line junction. The novel appeared to be a year book of Indian affairs; but there were also some interesting hints on the publishing business, and once or twice one came on sections of a sympathetic study of moral imbecility in the person of a lady called Mary, who married for money and impudently deceived her owner. And what was even more amazing than its inchoateness was Mr. Wells' announcement on the last page that the book had been a discussion of jealousy. That was tragic, for it is possible that he had something to say on the subject, and what it was no one will ever know. Yet this boat of wisdom which had sprung so disastrous a leak received not one word of abuse from English criticism. No one lamented over the waste of the mind, the spilling of the idea.
That is what we must prevent. Now, when every day the souls of men go up from France like smoke, we feel that humanity is the flimsiest thing, easily divided into nothingness and rotting flesh. We must lash down humanity to the world with thongs of wisdom. We must give her an unsurprisable mind. And that will never be done while affairs of art and learning are decided without passion, and individual dulnesses are allowed to dim the brightness of the collective mind. We must weepingly leave the library if we are stupid, just as in the middle ages we left the home if we were lepers. If we can offer the mind of the world nothing else we can offer it our silence.
Lisa's been researching show bunnies (as in actual rabbits, not as in scantily clad women at auto shows) for a photo project she's doing. A couple of days ago, she was looking at a page of photos of cavies (the cavy is a sort of bunny-relative), and said "Douglas, you have to see this--it's me!" This would be a breed called the Texel...
I had lunch today with two fabulous dramaturgy students from my Aesthetics & Politics class, who are convinced that more people should do dramaturgy. While I was talking to them, I suddenly realized that what I really want to do is be a dramaturg for comic books--not an editor, exactly, but someone who comes in early in the process of developing a new series, does a bunch of research, acts as a sounding board, and helps the creators develop a specific look and feel for it. (I'm realizing that this process is incredibly important for new comics, which often take a while to develop their aesthetics, and these days tend to get canceled before they can do that; the best new mainstream series of the last few years, as well as some of the best indies, are the ones that clearly had a lot of why-is-this-series-different-from-all-other-series discussions before anyone started writing or drawing the actual pages.)
After seeing Jules Feiffer speak at the New-York Historical Museum (hyphen sic) last night, I decided against my better judgement to go to Barnard and see Boyracer play rather than going home, finishing up my Brecht presentation, and getting the sleep I need so badly. I'm glad I did, actually. Boyracer, as it's been for a long time, is Stewart and whoever he can convince to get into a car with him (actually the bass player is his wife Jen, who has a sparkly green bass that I totally covet; I should know, but don't, who the drummer is--he sang a few songs that were really good). All their songs sound like they've been edited to remove the boring parts, down to the inessential beats, regardless of what that does to the overall structure. They brought on an extra feedback-only guitarist near the end, who ended their set by hurling himself into the drum set, much to the drummer's surprise. Hugely fun, plus they namechecked the Fat Tulips from the stage. I bought a stack of CDs from them, since that seems to be my response to any sort of emotional stimulus these days.
Time goes by, technology fails. My stereo receiver now requires a series of very firm whacks on its side to work when it's playing vinyl, and can no longer understand any signal from the computer; it would probably cost more to repair than to replace, and will take at least two weeks to repair. My printer has a tiny little broken piece of plastic that means I have to hold paper in place the whole time it's printing anything, and it still often can't handle printing; it would definitely cost more to repair (professionally) than to replace, but I sort of refuse on principle to spend $70 or so because of a broken 3-cent piece of plastic. A power-strip failed and plunged the living room into darkness at night for a couple of days until I grudgingly went out and got its replacement today. It's at times like these that I invoke the official provisional store motto of Curious Book Shop from the days when I was working there: "It'll Do For Now."
Massive influx of good music lately--you could say that I have thousands of good new CDs from the past week alone if you count the alarmingly great new DBC singles-club single, "Jane" by Cordelia's Dad, as a thousand of them. But I've also just gotten my hands on eight mix-CDs by a Hungarian friend of Andras's (who seems to be particularly enamored of Blurt and the Ex), a couple of smoking collections of early-'70s funk and groove stuff from the Flying Dutchman label, some new Azalia Snail demos, the In Out's Il Dito, an awesome anthology of forgotten British glam called Velvet Tinmine, Get the Hell Out of the Way of the Volcano's Everyday Examples of Humans Facing Straight Into the Blow, a collection of Peel sessions by the Blue Orchids, Rob Swift's Under the Influence mix CD of obscuro funk (on which I finally heard Eddie Bo's "Hook and Sling," and it was as good as I'd been told), the new Mika Vainio record (if I'm going to Finland I'm not going without hearing that first, I figured), Ethiopiques vol. 13... I may also have to become a bike messenger to afford all of this.
Actual quote from an email I just sent one of my professors: "Or: is there a way to make genuinely negative culture that anyone would actually want to spend time with, or does one have to spike the Frankfurtian cod-liver oil with Louis Armstrong singing 'Mack the Knife'?"
The long endurance rally has started--the must-get-everything-done-NOW leadup to the Finland/Russia trip. Yesterday the Fellows headed down to the Finnish Cultural Embassy for a briefing/meeting with some Finns (which as Allan pointed out will forever rhyme for a certain segment of Americans above a certain age with "folks in Siam do it/think of Siamese twins" (which in turn makes me think of some piece a group of tape-pranksters whose name I'm desperately trying to remember did in the mid-'90s, looping from Ella Fitzgerald's version of "Let's Do It": "think of Siamese twins/think of Siamese twins/think of Siamese twins...")). They showed us a movie about Finnish culture, beginning with a sequence in which a group of Nordic-looking cavemen engage in some kind of battle, emerge victorious, impress the local cavewomen and toddle off to start Finland--I am not kidding.
Coco's class missed a meeting last Monday thanks to the snow, so we made it up last night with a trip to Julie Mehretu's studio. Mehretu makes stunningly detailed semi-abstract drawings with fine-line Rapidograph, and turns some of them into paintings, some of which are "maps" of others--she has little gestural characters and groups of characters that move around landscapes, interact with each other, establish territory, etc., and she tends to do a hyper-detailed layer, cover it with a sort of plastic, do another layer on top of that, cover that, etc.--up to nine layers in each piece. There's a gigantic painting she's spent the last four months on (whose structural core is diagrams of post-colonial African capital-city architecture) that'll be up at the Walker Art Center soon, and it's fantastic & totally absorbing--I kept thinking of Duchamp's "Large Glass." Also, it turns out she's from East Lansing (!) and used to come to Okemos to play in the Suzuki orchestra (!!).
Today: recording email writing band practice party Reputation Tune_In. Tomorrow: draw draw draw draw draw Tiffany Mills at the Guggenheim. Next Wednesday: presentation at NYU. Next Thursday: presentation in Aesthetics & Politics. Weariness setting in already.