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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

OUTTA TOUCH

george segal, parking garage, 1968



On the news at this moment the newscaster is talking about a "heat wave" that's a problem somewhere. I've wondered where the notion came from among people I've seen over the last few days that it's so unbearably hot. To my memory, this is the mildest summer we've had in 25 years at least. My first summers here, 35 years ago, the thermometer touched 90 maybe one day in the summer. About 10 years later it began creeping upward until the hottest day of the year touched 100 several years ago and has done it consistently every year since, except this year. This summer it touched 90 one time. I happened to mention while talking in Selma's that it was a mild summer. Did that ever get a broadside of protest. I was thinking we live in the same place, their temperature has been the same as mine. Now I get it. The news is talking about a heat wave someplace like Texas and people dying. So the people around me in the mildest summer at least of their experiences here are believing it's hotter than it really is because the tv says so. Yesterday, in response to somebody griping about the heat--I'm thinking 80 is not hot--I said, "It's summer," and got called for being a smart-mouth. Again, I remind myself of the power of television.



It made me reflect on the immensity of what I'm not aware of by avoiding television. I don't know the names of any sports stars except, of course, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. Don't know of anybody in pop music now except Lady Gaga, and that because she's such a bizarre presence. And enchanting to me like Nina Hagen and Patti Smith were in their time. When I sit in front of a television it's to watch, most often, a foreign film of my choice, and most often made over the last 60 years. I don't keep up with anything new anymore. It has been so long since I've kept up with the new that I'm not even aware of who is a hot dog in the New York art world. When I hear mixes made by young friends on a cd, I hear every variety of rock and roll from rockabilly to Paul Anka to hard-core, even 40s crooning. What's new under the sun? The present moment in rock being a kind of anything-goes market tells me something new is  brewing, a new sound. I've an idea fusion from all over the world is coming into pop music here. New rhythms, new ways of seeing and hearing, putting parts together in new ways.



In the span of time between the dying out of the first surge of rock and roll in America and the "British Invasion," Spencer Davis Group, Dave Clark Five, Rolling Stones, we had a lull in pop music when all kinds of tv pop was played on the radio and the "folk movement," Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, were the beginnings of "underground," in that you had to buy them to hear them. The Brits were livening up the radio again, then Bob Dylan plugged in and created what has been called rock ever since. From then to now, Bob Dylan has been the most amazing human phenomenon of my lifetime, up there with the guy that walked the wire between the World Trade Center towers, Philippe Petite. Bob Dylan is and has been for a long time the Mozart and Shakespeare of songwriting. He has put Cole Porter and Richard Rogers, every songwriter that went before, in the shade. It can be said somebody wrote a great song and somebody else wrote a great song. Then there is Bob Dylan, who has written volumes of great songs, and performed most of them in arrangements that define the songs. He played a harmonica in so distinctively his own sound that no one else can use that sound without sounding like Dylan. To my ear, and to my ear alone, as far as I know, his last 4 albums are his finest to date. Like English playwright Harold Pinter, he waxed better and better in a steady progress. Like a runner from Kenya, the leader of the pack, the one out in front that nobody can catch up with.



I recall the time an aunt who lived in North Palm Beach jumped in my face over the phone because I hadn't heard that Conway Twitty died that day. I've always preferred the Clash to Conway Twitty, the Clash and just about any other band. He never tripped my trigger. He might have if I'd ever paid attention to him, but there are hundreds of bands and singers I'd listen to before Twitty, multiple hundreds. Big deal. According to her, I needed to get out of these mountains and get in the "real" (lol) world where I'll know what's going on. Conway Twitty dying is something going on? Might have been for him, but it was nothing for me. She asked me, confrontationally, if I liked him. I said I don't necessarily like him, but I appreciate him as a musician. Then I was lectured to that I can't appreciate something I don't like. Maybe she can't, but I can. It was more than she could bear that I wasn't upset over Conway Twitty dying. She was getting me upset, but he didn't bother me at all. It was one of those times I wanted to go outside and scream into the center of the bowl of sky overhead, So Fucking What!  Michael Jackson doesn't trip my trigger, either. So what? All it means is I'm not 12.



I couldn't figure out how living on a cul-de-sac in a Florida suburb watching television and listening to country music radio was an example of "in touch" with anything. I'd rather be "in touch" with the people around me, the people I live among, my friends, than anything in the pop world. I see and hear plenty of it, but mostly with indifference. It's rare that I hear a pop song and want to know who did it. When I hear an old-time fiddle tune, or a banjo tune, or a Carter Family song, that's when my ears dance. Right now I have a Friday night source for some of the finest musicians in SW Virginia and NW NC, who blow my mind with their music every Friday night. Live. Small audience of people who know each other. I'd so much rather be "in touch" with the music of Scott Freeman and Willard Gayheart than anything on the radio like Kieth Urban or the Dixie Chicks. I'd rather put on a cd than listen to just about anything on the radio. No XM or any of that radio in the house requiring $20 or so a month. By this time in my life I have cds of all the music I like to listen to, from dance music in Kinshasa to Chicago blues, Taj Mahal, Tibetan nuns, Santana, mountain banjo, and the list goes on so long I can't even start a list. Conway Twitty's name failed to make the list.



Finished a painting today by signing it. I've fussed and fussed with it until I sit and look at it for hours and see nothing else to do. It's complete conceptually and complete visually. It has something of a visual dance. It's night and I can't get a picture without glare. Will get a photograph tomorrow. In original conception, it was a head, a hairless, eyebrowless man's round head. Eyes closed. Initial title was The Old Abbot. The head is the upper half. It is done lightly, almost ghostlike, more like a hologram, though with opaque paint instead of transparent light. Bottom half is a hand print, first time white, then light purple on that and a very pale yellow on top. The same colors used to paint the head. The hand pushes forward boldly while the head fades back a little ways, perhaps an arm's length. A word in stencil spelled vertically to the left of the head, OTHER. Between the head and the hand is the horizontally stenciled word, AND. Then rising from the space between thumb and forefinger the diagonal word, SELF. I'll let you have it from there to make of it what you will. I don't know that my way of seeing it is the only way, so I'd rather let you, like one seeing it on a wall, apply your own meaning. I don't want to limit it to only one meaning. It's not a riddle. It's a visual entertainment only. Any thoughts it might inspire are your own. No test will be given.



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