26 November 2010

i meant to say


this is probably the most predictable blog post i've written, but that doesn't especially worry me. after all, being predictable in certain respects points to consistency, stability, self-assurance. nothing too bad about that. and besides, i'm writing about something that has been a constant in my life for nearly twenty years.

as many of you already know, on november 24th, the world suffered a loss, unmarked by the vast majority, but tremendously important to a small, devoted group. peter christopherson, member of throbbing gristle, psychick tv, coil and several other music projects, passed away- peacefully but unexpectedly- in his sleep. his enormous influence in underground music can hardly be overstated and it is sad to think that such an important creative force has been stilled.

although his work was decidedly off the mainstream, "sleazy" found his way into more homes than most people realise. before becoming famous/ notorious as a musician, he was a designer at the much-lauded design firm hipgnosis, who produced some of the best known album artwork of the 70s including pink floyd's "animals" and led zeppelin's "houses of the holy". he was also a skilled video director, making music clips for coil, as well as better-known acts (robert plant, ministry, sepultura, yes, paul mccartney). from the outside, he seemed to be one of those people you want to hate, because he was just so good at everything he took on.

i never met or corresponded with christopherson, not because he seemed either inaccessible or unfriendly- as far as i can tell, exactly the opposite was the case- but more out of a sense of awed shyness. i could never figure out exactly what to say to someone who'd had such an impact on my life. and that's no exaggeration. coil, more than any other band i can think of, changed my life. a lot of my musical taste developed because i was lucky enough to meet up with people who knew more about it than i did. coil are the exception to that. i'd heard of them, i'd even heard their cover of "tainted love" (which was played to me as if it were a joke and which i had taken as such), but i'd never listened to them, really. i had started doing a radio show when their album "love's secret domain" came out and, despite not knowing anything about them, i became sort of fascinated with it. there was something about the steven stapleton cover art that spoke to me. for weeks, i would pick up the case and study it, but would never listen to it, because i was convinced that i wouldn't like it and that it would somehow be a let down to the beauty of the art. but finally, one day near the holidays, when i was alone in the station with nothing better to do, i decided that i might as well give it a shot. so there i sat on a stool in the cramped record library, hunched over a stereo set up that could at best be called "quirky" and something just changed.

i've never quite known how to describe it, but there was a definite shift in the angle of my musical tastes during the hour it took me to listen to that album. and yes, rather than just scanning through to get an idea of what it sounded like, i did end up listening to every minute of it, practically without moving. it was not merely that i liked the music, although i absolutely did, but that it was one of the only times i'd found something which fulfilled everything i personally wanted from music at that moment. not having enough knowledge to sort out and imagine the possibilities, i'd never been able to envision (enhear?) what that might actually sound like, but here was a group of eccentric englishman i'd never met who apparently knew what i needed better than i did. no one had ever pointed me towards them as a band i might like (i knew more people who derided them), but, somehow, there i was, in a sort of shock, just me and coil together.

of course, an important aspect of that experience was that the band served as a door to a musical world whose existence i'd suspected, but never confirmed. there were other bands who had a profound impact on shaping my tastes, but the point of genesis was always that moment hearing "love's secret domain". and however my tastes may have shifted in the interim, i never stopped loving coil. they're one of the few bands who i feel managed to have a long career without losing quality, becoming neither predictable nor forcing themselves in an ill-fitted new direction.

i think that if i had corresponded with peter christopherson, i would have liked to have found a way to explain that to him, while trying not to sound like a sycophantic git. (i can sound like one here and feel like i'm not embarrassing myself.) people for whom music becomes intertwined with living take our heroes seriously. they may never meet us, but we follow always at a discreet distance, watching what they do and waiting expectantly for what will come next. we are bitterly disappointed if they choose to rest on past laurels and we can barely contain our excitement each time they give us something new. what we hope in return is that the burden of our expectations is an incentive and not a cage, that they take heart in the fact that around them are unseen others who believe that they are bright stars in an increasingly dark world and who feel our lives diminished by their passing.

anyone wanting to leave a final word can do so here.

23 November 2010

in dreams...


i've always been interested in dreams. after all, this is where your mind does its cleanup of events and ideas without the distraction of the outside world. it may catalogue things directly, but, more often, it applies a sort of symbolist system that even its owner does not understand. and it's a powerful process. we've all woken up from an unpleasant dream that casts a shadow over the day, or been disappointed when we discover that the extraordinarily happy dream we were having is over. in fact, the process is powerful enough that the body has to heavily sedate itself- if you wake up suddenly during the night, you will quite often feel the after-effects of this sedation- to keep from acting out the scenes that it sees while dreaming.

sometimes, the question of why we dream what we do is easy to answer. if someone close to us is sick, it is fairly common to dream of them. if there's a lot of stress at work, that tends to carry over into the dream world as well. but the most interesting ones are those that cause you to wonder if you ate funny mushrooms before going to bed. far from your parents appearing as archetypes or the simple symbolism of a physical journey representing a mental one (according to some), there are dreams that occasionally make us wonder not just what they mean, but why our mind would come up with these things.

i had one of these last night and i'm still trying to come up with any notion of what it all points to. it falls into the category of a dream that is neither good nor bad, although it did have some tense moments. so i thought i'd share it and let others try to inperpret it for me, or take the opportunity to share some dreams of their own, or simply to wonder (as many have) what's wrong with my head. here goes:

the dream starts in a small apartment. this is either a film or play that i am watching with others (one of whom is my fiancé dominic). as often happens in dreams, the line between film/ play and reality gets blurred, so that i am at once participating in and observing the drama. living in the small apartment are four elderly ladies. they are or are played by former stars of the silver screen and all are plagued with problems. some have health problems, all seem to have some level of mental problems and one, called katherine in the dream, has locked herself in her room for years and is drunk almost all the time. no one has seen her for ages save the people with whom she shares the apartment (and them only infrequently). she violently objects to being seen at all.

the dominant woman in the apartment, who looks a little like bette davis circa whatever happened to baby jane, appropriately enough, but who in the dream i'm quite sure is marlene dietrich, likes to drink and bother katherine by throwing open the door to her room and insulting her. at these points, katherine gets very upset not at the insults, but at the fact that someone can see her. in the instance of it i see, she bawls drunkenly that she cannot bear to have the door opened because "i have big eyes and it hurts them". all in all, it's a highly dysfunctional situation.

then, surprise, i'm there in the scene. i don't precisely know how i relate to this group, but i'm interacting chiefly with a young boy, maybe 4 or 5 years old (this must be a dream) and telling him about this book my mother had when i was younger that i used to read all the time. the book featured profiles of four stars of the silver screen who were just like the four ladies living in the apartment. (note- there is some truth here. my mother did have a book called four fabulous faces that profiled the screen lives of gloria swanson, greta garbo, joan crawford and marlene dietrich and i loved looking at all the pictures, particularly those from the silent era with their ornate costumes and stylised makeup.) the little boy tells me that he has to work on a project for school with one of the women. he's apparently related to one, although i'm not sure which, other than to say that it's not katherine. the old lady is supposed to help him, but they've gone out.

when they return, poof, i'm no longer there, i'm back to watching the scene from afar. the women are shocked to see that the boy has drawn katherine out of her room and has her helping him. she is wearing a papery mask over the top half of her face, with openings for her eyes (which are quite large).

then things get a little weird. i'm no longer watching a film or play, but in the middle of things, in a very large, unkempt room with a lot of bizarre crap inside it. at one end of the room, raised on a sort of dais, is a very large heap of what looks like upholstery behind which, i'm advised, resides katherine's mother. she has not been seen in decades and is the head of a sort of cult that believes women and children must never be seen by the outside world. the woman's husband is puttering around, his chief purpose being, apparently, to ensure that this rule is upheld. there are children in the room, i know, but i can't see them. i try to warn them that there is a bad storm coming, something like a tsunami that threatens their home and their lives. i'm encouraging them to evacuate, at least for the sake of their children. no dice. so i recruit the help of a couple of friends and we start gathering up the babies that are hidden around the room (which bears a sort of resemblance to a derelict church, now that i think of it). there are also kittens hidden in there and i occcupy myself with rescuing them (shocker!) since they are obviously not cared for. the place is disgusting. layers of moldering garbage everywhere, black dirt encrusted on everything, damp, stinking surfaces... it's bad.

the woman becomes furious at the idea that outsiders might see her children as we rescue them and that we'd dare to question her right to keep kittens. she does not appear, but sends her husband, the old thug, to try to stop us. at the same time my mother, who is evidently one of her followers, comes out and tries to argue with me. i'm unsympathetic and using her seems to make me even angrier than i was at them, even more convinced of the righteousness of my actions. we are able, with some difficulty, to evade the husband, although we receive some injuries. the giant storm approaches in our wake, but the little ones, human and feline, are safe. And, one assumes, the dread matriarch and her loathsome consort are about to be destroyed.

the scene changes to a sort of school dormitory. i'm there, although i'm not sure why. i get the sense that i have just arrived there, rather than having attended the school for a long time. the school is run by the same cult i've just apparently defeated. there are boys and girls, but since they're all from the same cult (save me and, i believe one or two others who have been accepted), it doesn't count as outsiders seeing them. although i've evidently been allowed into this school, the others are suspicious of me. they keep their distance and a couple of the boys harass me verbally or physically. as it turns out, they are right to be suspicious. i am disgusted at their practices and i don't keep my opinions to myself. i have one friend there and i am constantly voicing to her my opinions on these people and their beliefs. i run into a couple of sisters to a childhood friend of mine (an actual childhood friend, not just one in the dream) and they try to argue with me, to no avail. i'm particularly derisive of rules that force women to wear clothes that hide them almost entirely from view (more like menonite outfits with cloaks than burqas, by the way.)

it's early in the semester and, in order to save who i can, i plan to use a bus that's due to stop in for some reason to smuggle out anyone who is uncomfortable with the cult's views and lifestyle. i quietly go around getting word out to those who i think may want to escape, generally with some success, although in a couple of cases, the attempt backfires badly. there's a lot of suspicion around and there's tension as to whether or not we can sneak out before the school authorities catch on. most of the people i communicate with are female, but there are a couple of men, including my friend james beddington (hi). he has been in the cult a long time and it is difficult to get him to come along, but, once convinced, he becomes one of our greatest assets, having the respect of many of the younger kids.

when the great day arrives, it's obvious that some are suspicious of what we are doing. some of the cult loyalists try to physically block our way or even assault us. some try to sneak on the bus to try to convince the others to return on pain of damnation. i almost throw one guy off the bus, since he has been one of my most tenacious tormentors, but he pleads with me that his desire to defect is real and james finally convinces me to give him a chance (correctly, as it turns out). the bus takes us to a hotel where we can hide out. we have one room for every two people and are settling in for some much-needed rest (the bus ride appears to take about a day) when members of the cult show up and start filling in the vacant rooms around us. they are showing up in the rooms of their former brethren and scaring them to death with tales of what will happen to them and their families, scaring them so much that they are being persuaded to come back. recognising the threat, more and more of the defectors start piling into my room, seeking protection in numbers. i try to fend off the cultists, being the only one there who is completely immune to their arguments, but i'm worried that they are just going to kill me to get to the others. all those who have followed us seem to be exceptionally fat, something emphasised by the fact that they are wearing loose robes in a sort of light grey colour.

while we are trying to think of what to do, i realise that one of our number, the one i had not wanted to let come, is missing. i immediately suspect that he has turned back, but find out that he went out for something to eat. somehow, james and i intercept him and sneak him up a back staircase that fortuitously opens across the hall from my room. we all try to get as comfortable as possible, although the room is tremendously crowded. the cultists try to break through during the night, but in the morning, they have to go back to their compound. we board another bus that drives us to a central train station, where we split up. everyone has someone they can go to and we all shake hands. only beddington a the one i formerly didn't like stay with me. the one i formerly didn't like doesn't seem to have anybody to go to, but we finally persuade him to go stay with an aunt and to stay in touch. then james and i take off to a safe house where we want to figure out how to keep the cult from tracking any of us down.

as soon as we arrive, james announces that he's leaving and going back to the cult, not to rejoin them, but to kill their leader, since that will effectively destroy them from the inside. i'm convinced he's lying and that he's actually just rejoining them, so we part on very bad terms (no, we have not had an argument in any way, so no easy interpretation there). i start taking out large amounts of garbage- furniture, bedding, etc. as i do, i see james already reunited with the cult and i try to hide. he comes over and reiterates what he's doing and this time i sort of believe him, although i'm still pretty rude. then i go and sit on a terrasse and meet with an operative against the cult to determine what we should do next.

*

that's it. in all its speciously plotted glory, that is what i dreamt about last night.

21 November 2010

i am kissing you goodnight

i found this on my computer while doing one of my routine searches of writing so that i can make myself feel badly about everything i've left unfinished. i'm not sure if this is something i completed or not. it was, as far as i can tell, written in early to mid-july 2009 and i can't for the life of me figure out where it came from. in fact, other than the title seeming familiar, i have no idea what it is, what it was written about or what i intended to do with it. nor do i have any idea what i will do with it now that i've found it. so i'll put it here and hopefully that will remind me of its existence from time to time.

I am kissing you goodnight
Old sickness, or new,
Cool real and bathing my red eyes
Moon’s water reflection
Of anything I once believed I wanted,
Passed into boxes
And dying of neglect in their corners.

I slept last night with alligators
Kings of the black water
Unchanged in all memory,
Patrolling guards
Invincible and perfect;
Time gives all the armour needed
And instinct does the rest.

All eyes turned then to the celestial shift
Some meaningless supernova
A million years ago
Dispersed into quasars, message broken
Gone to static.

All the sweaty words
Ringing promises or flippant jokes
Breaking points and breakthroughs
Drained of hope
Of life
Of beauty
Scattered to nothing
The world would be no different without.

05 November 2010

seven


i had a sort of a revelation this week. i think that early christians were really onto something. i've not become religious or started believing we are in the end of times, but i did have a thought that, among all the rhetoric, there's one thing they might have been doing right that everyone overlooks. i'm talking about the seven deadly sins. nowadays (and perhaps thenadays), these are thought of as the church's way of controlling and curbing the behaviour of members of its flock and as generally indicative of a restrictive, conservative, judgmental world view. however, looking at the sins, i think that the origin might have been quite different. Let's review the list for posterity:

wrath
greed
sloth
envy
lust
gluttony
pride

far from trying to establish limits on behviour on a random basis, selecting these as deadly sins- ones that further engender other sins- this seems like a list if traits to avoid because, frankly, people who exhibit them tend to be asshats. calling them "deadly sins" and implying that the sinner will rot and burn in hell for eternity is really just a way of trying to scare people out of these behavioural patterns when, one assumes, being diplomatic and trying to drop hints about it wasn't successful. i have this image of the early church elders looking at one of their brethren gobbling a share of the communal dinner big enough for four and selfishly devouring all the shrimp.

elder 1: he's doing it again. can't someone talk to him about that?
elder 2: i'll give it a shot, but he never seems to get the hint.
elder 1: please, last week he cooked and ate the sacrificial lamb. we ended up having to offer up a seagull to the lord and the next day some sort of animal destroyed half of brother patrick's garden.
elder 2: an animal? i just assumed he ate that too when there wasn't any meat left over.
elder 1: well say something, you're the senior one here.
elder 2: ahem, say there brother, there are a lot of people here and some of them might want to have some shrimp as well.
gluttonous elder: yeah, i left two. they can have those. it's not like it's a sin to eat shrmp.
elder 1: you, know, maybe we should copy that whole kosher diet thing. for them it's a sin to eat shrimp.
elder 2: screw that noise, i'm not giving up shrimp. maybe we should just tell him that it's a sin to eat too many shrimp.
elder 1: yeah, but then he'll eat everything else on the table and we'll starve to death slowly and painfully.
elder 2: ok, so what say we tell him that eating too much of anything is a sin?
elder 1: hey, that's not bad. do we have any biblical justification for it?
elder 2: a couple of the brothers are reworking the book now, taking out all that gnostic b.s. i'm sure they'd slip in a mention of it somewhere if we asked.

i'm not saying that's literally how it happened. for instance, i'm not sure how popular shrimp were at early christian tables. but you see my point. the seven deadly sins aren't meant to impose unreasonable limitations on our behaviour. they're meant to protect society from jerks.

that lecherous toad who grabs your rear end when you're just trying to enjoy a night out with your friends? tell me your life wouldn't be better if someone convinced that guy that he needed to dial it down or he'd end up in hell. (an ironic hell to match his sins, if you want to believe dante.) ever worked for a boss who dealt with problems by blowing up at anyone who crossed him? i have and believe me, the memory of him makes me wish that there was a hell, just so i could be content in the knowledge that his wrath would consign him there. i could go on with examples, but the fact is that, when you think about it, lazy, greedy, jealous people suck. it's a type of hell on earth having to deal with them.

and i haven't even touched on pride. sure, there's the type of quiet pride in accomplishment that one can have, but is there honestly anyone who loves to be around a person who can't shut up about the grandeur of their own accomplishments and who consistently believes that they know better than anyone how to do everything? perhaps that's why the church reserved a special place for pride at the top of the list, because even the butt-grabber was tolerable compared to pride man. after years of living next to the guy who had a critical word for everyone and had apparently done nothing wrong ever in his life, the holy fathers were probably hard at work looking for a caveat to that "thou shalt not kill" thing so they could send him to hell that much faster.

of course, the rules were enforced too rigidly and committing a deadly sin became as simple as having a lustful thought, being greedy was anything short of giving away all possessions that weren't strictly necessary to live. Perhaps this was because it was easier to just condemn something outright than to start playing around with the vagaries of reasonable boundaries. on the other hand, it could be that the men who originally came up with the deadly sins were intending to be reasonable, but that this got lost as the sins were handed down, generation to generation, and people started avoiding these sorts of behaviours out of fear rather than out of a sense of social responsibility. over time, perhaps people lost sight of just how objectionable those who embodied these seven characteristics could be and started thinking that the aim of the original doctrines was to make men and women aspire to a model of purity that no mortal could hope to achieve. (which in turn, would lead them to despair, which is not a deadly, but a mortal sin, a group of sins which are generally very, very, very bad in christian religious thought.)

so perhaps we should all spare a sympathetic thought for the early church leaders who thought these up, because it's possible that they did not seek to proscribe a code of behaviour, but simply to put in writing, in the parlance of the time "seven things to avoid if you don't want people to think you're a dick".
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