Happy Valentine’s Day

Tom Waits, an icon and inspiration

Today’s beautiful song…  As much as Tom Waits was (and is still) a balladeer, it seems somehow accidental that he wrote and sang this song.  I love the 1970s introspection, like he’s talking to himself…  I wish I could have that time machine and go back and sit next to the piano for this one.

I love the way this song makes me feel.  I am so glad not to be lonely.  Hoping that anyone who’s lonely today will feel less lonely listening to this gorgeous little dream.

Life is good. (What about death?)

You’ve probably seen those “Life is good” tee-shirts.  Maybe some of you own one.  A dear friend of mine abhors them, and I think her abhorrence has to do with 1) the ridiculously overly simplified message 2) the faded, pseudo “weathered” quality and bad cut of the tee-shirt, and 3) the bad font and design used.  (I’ll add the evidence to my left as an exhibit for the prosecution.)

But let’s stick with the watered down and nearly meaningless phrase, “Life is good” for a moment longer.  Most people I know would say that Life is a lot of things.  Kind of like soul, perhaps?   George Clinton knew how complicated soul was, when he wrote,  “What is soul?  I don’t know.  Soul is a  ham hock in your corn flakes.” Soul is a lot of things, apparently, some unexpected, perhaps tasty, and surely poetic.

And now let us turn in our dusty lunatics hymnal to John Dee Graham, another musical scholar, about another related overused and vapid expression (“It’s all good”).  John Dee Graham says, “Anyone who tells you that it’s all good is either an idiot or a liar. Because it’s not all good.” (John Dee Graham is the lovable crank who ad libs, in a live performance of a song of his that was used for that firefighter movie with John Travolta, “Cheer up Travolta!”  But that recording was before Travolta’s son died, so I don’t know if JDG would say the same thing so glibly today.  Still, I doubt he’d say, “Life is good.”)

Life is complicated.  Even that is an empty platitude, because now the word “complicated” has been simplified and watered down by that other phrase that’s all over the fracking place, “It’s complicated.” I see it most often posted under relationship status on Facebook.  Yeah, life is complicated.  Relationships are complicated.  Sudoku puzzles (for me) are complicated.  Folding an origami crane is complicated.

But for fun, let’s presume for a moment that Life is good.  Does that mean that Death is bad?  (Is death the opposite of life?)  Isn’t it all really a big circle, a wheel, or something round, that continues, like Ouroboros (I had to do a google search for that name), the snake eating its own tail, forever and ever?  When we can unattach enough to be detached, isn’t that a more complicated and also more accurate way of looking at it all?

To quote another musician on possibly related topics, or at least the recycling of carbon (and life):

“Come down from the cross, we can use the wood.”

“We’re all gonna be just dirt in the ground.”

I’ve been around a lot of death this year.  I don’t know the answer to these questions.  I know about the deer body we saw decomposing across the street in the Clifton Gorge park.  It melted pretty fast.  The other day, I wondered if my precious Houdini, who we buried in 2007, is more than bones now.

What about death?   I want a tee-shirt.

Susan Boyle…finally.

I kept hearing about the phenomenon named Susan Boyle. I read articles about her, but only today watched the video of her singing on “Britain’s Got Talent.”

Caveat: Fantine’s song from “Les Miserables” works on me the way that Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and Tom Waits singing “Somewhere” from “West Side Story” does. That is, just a few notes into the song, nearly every time, I am crying.

So watching Susan Boyle’s rendition was no exception. Something in those songs about the bitterness of still having dreams, despite living in the real-ness of the world. Knowing that dreams are sometimes impossible to achieve, and yet still having hope that some day, some how, somewhere…there’s a place for us.

Watching Simon Cowell watch Susan Boyle sing was almost as interesting as her performance. (I haven’t seen him on TV that I can recall, but I know the snark of reality TV precludes judges from gushing. Still, the look on his face as he watched her sing was sweet.) I have no idea if it was true surprise–I don’t know (and don’t really care) whether he feigned his reaction, and had already seen the contestants perform before broadcast.

Okay, so now I understand all the  frenzy about Susan Boyle. She has a beautiful voice, pouring from an unglamorous body.  I hope she can enjoy her life after all this hoopla.   And I hope that people stop judging others like books, by their clichéd covers.

Interdisciplinary Aesthetics

“Interdisciplinary Aesthetics”

I thought I came up with this term the other day, but alas, a quick google reveals I cannot claim it.

Interdisciplinary Aesthetics. I thought, “This should be an academic field!” In my dream department, the teachers would be people like Joy Williams, Joss Whedon, Lynda Barry, Dave Chappelle, Tom Waits, the guys from Sleepybird, the creators of “Mad Men” and “Nip/Tuck” and “Deadwood” and whoever thought up that “Think Different” campaign for Apple computer. And lots of other people who seem to get that the disciplines of 2-D and 3-D art and literature and theatre and music seep into each other and can and should collaborate on a cellular level.  (6/15/12: I’m adding Jon Langford and anyone else he wants to bring to the guest list.)

We could have some scientists and other thinkers, too. I’m sure there are plenty of others who should apply when we open the department.

In those halls, you would find painters and writers and quiltmakers and dancers and drum-bangers and all kinds of rowdy, quiet, thoughtful, brilliant people. And maybe even some people who use (gasp!) computers as the primary medium.

Maybe we should pool our resources and everybody move to Denmark.

Discuss…

To go skating on your name

158439I had a very interesting piece of news today that I can’t share yet, but will post here when I can. In looking for the proper celebratory music, Tom Waits’ Alice gleamed from the shelf, perfect. On it went.

(It will come as no surprise to you that I love that album.)

So many of these songs transport me to a sweet, innocent, clangy, maybe steampunky time, somewhere not quite here, but close. The title song tickles the edge of myself: letters, words, and meaning combining into a circling cut, through something frozen:

It’s dreamy weather we’re on
You wave your crooked wand
Along an icy pond
With a frozen moon
A murder of silhouette crows I saw
And the tears on my face
And the skates on the pond
They spell Alice

I’ll disappear in your name
But you must wait for me
Somewhere across the sea
There’s a wreck of a ship
Your hair is like meadow grass
On the tide
And the raindrops on my window
And the ice in my drink
Baby, all that I can think of
Is Alice

Arithmetic, Arithmetock
I turn the hands back on the clock
How does the ocean rock the boat
How did the razor find my throat
The only strings that hold me here
Are tangled up around the pier

And so a secret kiss
Brings madness with the bliss
And I will think of this
When I’m dead in my grave
Set me adrift and I’m lost over there
And I must be insane
To go skating on your name
And by tracing it twice
I fell through the ice
Of Alice

And so a secret kiss
Brings madness with the bliss
And I will think of this
When I’m dead in my grave
Set me adrift and I’m lost over there
And I must be insane
To go skating on your name
And by tracing it twice
I fell through the ice
Of Alice

That end bit, “And I must be insane/To go skating on your name/And by tracing it twice/I fell through the ice/Of Alice,” eluded me for a long time. Finally I realized that “the ice of Alice” meant the letters of the word…

But what’s really on my mind is “Kommienezuepadt.” Watch this weird little video of on youtube: “Kommienezuspadt.”

(Pretend German)
Kommienezuspadt
Kommienezuspadt
Kommienezuspadt
Kommienezuspadt

Sei punktlich
Sei punktlich
Sei punktlich

Kommienezuspadt
Kommienezuspadt
Kommienezuspadt
Kommienezuspadt
And we can’t be late
And we can’t be late

(Pretend German)
And we can’t be late
Kommiene, Kommiene
Kommienezuspadt
Kommienezuspadt
Kommienezuspadt

(Pretend German)
And we can’t be late
And we can’t be late
And we can’t be late
And we can’t be late
Kommienezuspadt
Kommienezuspadt

Sei punktlich
Sei punktlich
Sei punktlich

Kommienezuspadt
Kommienezuspadt

Ha, ha, ha, ha
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha
Ha, ha, ha, ha
Kommienezuspadt

(Pretend German)
And we can’t be late
And we can’t be late
And we can’t be late
Sei punktlich
Sei punktlich
Kommienezuspadt
Kommiene, kommiene, kommiene, kommiene
Kommienezuspadt

Soon as I can, I’ll say more.

Who are you this time?

(Quoting Tom Waits before coffee is always good. I could do it in my sleep. Sometimes I dream about Tom Waits; it’s always some sort of message about myself as an artist. But that’s not what I was going to write about.)

I’m teaching this academic writing and discourse class at Antioch University McGregor and yesterday was the in-person kickoff. It’s filled with an amazing, inspiring group of students from several disciplines and programs, but the beauty was in how they found common ground, talking about an address given by Paulo Freire. The address was called, “The Importance of the Act of Reading.” (It’s great, you should read it.)

After the first part of the session, where I’d done a little spiel about Lynda Barry and my academic writing demons, this student asked me, “Rebecca, are you actually Tina Fey?”

I don’t know what prompted the woman’s question, was it because I was being amusing and silly? Was it my eyeglasses? My purple silk disco shirt? Or because I look like Tina Fey? (Do I?) Or maybe because I come across as anxious and neurotic? (Am I?) Whatever the reason, I will take it as a compliment. Tina Fey cracks me up; I think she’s pretty brilliant, though some episodes of “30 Rock” seem to be a bit like the creators are playing with their food, but I will forgive that. Everyone needs to play with their food sometime. And by the way, I wouldn’t mind Tina Fey’s salary.

But I said, “No, I’m Sarah Palin.”

I thought it was a funny and somewhat sophisticated comeback, which I’m not usually known for, but the student just looked at me. Which proves it: I am not Tina Fey. Tina Fey would have gotten a laugh.