Seen and Not Seen

By keeping an ideal facial structure fixed in his mind…
Or somewhere in the back of his mind…
That he might, by force of will, cause his face to approach those of his ideal…

Wouldn’t that be nice? If that were true we would all be morphing and changing throughout our lives. Which we do, but only in one direction. We may not be able to change and improve our faces, realistically, but we can change and recreate ourselves by how we live our lives, which may be the harder challenge.

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Seems So Long Ago, Nancy

I think that the world throws up certain kinds of figures. Sometime in abundance, sometimes very rarely, and that some of these figures act as archetypes or prototypes for another generation which will manifest these characteristics a lot more easily, maybe a lot more gracefully, but not a lot more heroically. Another twenty years later she would have been just like you know, the hippest girl on the block. But twenty years before she was – there was no reference to her, so in a certain way she was doomed. – Leonard Cohen

That is a very lyrical and generous way to characterize what is, simply, the poet’s own memory of a person who struck him when he was young. And he’s right about it; the one person who lives differently, alone and unprecedented becomes the precedent for the next generation. Which is, in a small and lonely, heroic. This woman Nancy, whatever became of her, she sounds like someone I would know.

See Emily Play

I’ve often wondered about who Emily is and what she’s doing. I’ve read that she was everything from a British socialite to a child Syd Barrett encountered in the woods, both of which things sound legit. Either way, she sounds like kind of a sad person. If she’s a figment of Syd’s imagination, she’s clearly got to be pretty sad. Or, she’s a socialite, and her socialite life is hollow and meaningless and filled with miserable parties.

The Secret Life of Arabia

 

David Bowie may have been struck by inspiration watching his Middle Eastern neighbors in his Berlin neighborhood, but he really didn’t need to look as far as Arabia to find double lives and secrets. He was living in Berlin! If any city is haunted by generations of secret-keepers… Bowie certainly found the culture of the place to be simpatico to his own state of psychological unrest. The music he made there reflects states of manic energy, episodes of paranoia and depression, shards of hope and romantic longing, and, as always, diverse call-points of underground art and Hollywood fantasy. “Heroes” is a weird and bleak record in a lot of ways, but its highs balance out the koto instrumentals and fog horn-like saxophone solos, and it manages to go out on an almost humorous up note. It was escapist, and right, to evoke a Hollywood fantasy of mystery-shrouded Arabia, after a relentless journey through the secret life of West Berlin.

A Secret Life

Do you have some Christmas lights in your house, or maybe a lava lamp? Put those on and go lie down on the floor. You can’t listen to this record with the regular lights on. You can’t listen to it from your regular comfort position. You have to create an environment that opens your mind to different dimensions of understanding. Then maybe, you know, something visionary will trickle in. My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is not regular music. Brian Eno, for his part, was very much into the idea of making music for specific places and experiences: music for airports, music for moon landings, music for floating down the Nile, music for opening Windows, etc. Actually, it wasn’t so much about telling you what the music was for, but allowing the music to be unobtrusively part of your life and coloring your perceptions in a subtle way. This is not one of those experiments in ambiance. This is music you have to pay attention to. But it’s certainly good for coloring the perception.

Seconds

Know what we need more of? Songs about the Kennedy assassination. Just more educational songs about history in general, because it’s a pretty thin list populated mainly by The Decemberists and Al Stewart. There are, however, actually two synthpop songs about the JFK killing: this one and Sleeping In by the Postal Service. The Human League really made their contribution to society. Their 1981 album Dare is, in my objective estimation, one of the best records of the decade, and their sound and look became a blueprint for a bazillion heavily-pomaded synthpop groups who followed. I do, of course, have a particular fondness for the genre, from its avant-garde roots through its 80’s heyday to its current second golden age. I realize that synthpop is frequently very style-over-substance, as if huffing hairspray were somehow detrimental to one’s intellectual development. So I cling to the rare perfect synthpop record that has well-written songs about a diverse range of topics, which you can dance to, and the lead singer’s makeup is flawless the whole time.

Season of the Witch

If any hit song has undeservedly and inexplicably been bludgeoned into pop culture oblivion by excessive overplay, it’s this one. Is it because it’s catchy and very slightly ominous, or just because witches are very trending right now? Nothing ruins a cool tune like hearing it repeatedly shoehorned into some shitty piece of entertainment completely removed from its original meaning and context. It’s at the point where being made into an entire full length Nicolas Cage movie is not even the greatest indignity. Donovan, of course, must be earning enough royalties to purchase the Scottish highlands in their entirety, and no one could possibly begrudge him that, but when your song is being featured in a live-action adaptation of an Archie comic, I don’t know, maybe stop and think back to 1966 and how much you presumably cared about not appearing to be a greedy corporate sellout.