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.
I went to David Bowie Is, now in its final days at the Brooklyn Museum, and saw – among many things – the famous Pierrot costume. It is a puffy wonderment. It is, of course, the genius of David Bowie to pinpoint a character that dates back to the 17th century and upcycle him as a figure of punk-era malaise. Rock and roll didn’t know it needed more sad French clowns, but it did. Bowie was well in tune with the times in 1980 – as always – and made a record that shakes with fear and anger. Which befits our unstable times as much as it did its own. Running scared feels like the default collective mood of right now: it’s all paranoia and insanity, everything feels like it’s cracking up.
Tom Waits before he went full-weird (was still weird but) really flaunted the true nature beneath the weirdness: an ooey-gooey starry-eyed hopeless romantic and a great documentarian of American life. Before he settled into his current persona – a mad carnival barker from an alternate universe where the Great Depression never ended – he was basically… Bruce Springsteen. Up until their paths diverged in the 80’s, those two practically shared the same diner booth, so to speak. They were both gravely-voiced troubadours in porkpie hats who sang about the plight of sad and lonely people (and also occasionally covered each other’s material.) Tom Waits is in own way as much of an Americana buff as anyone. If his songs evoke images as vivid as an Edward Hopper painting, it’s probably because he’s spent a lot of time looking at Edward Hopper paintings. He’s not the bard of the working class like Springsteen is. He’s the bard of the people below that, the dimebag hobos and floozies and all-night-diner wenches and the old men who sit on corner stoops all day because they’ve got no place else to go – people who live in a world where the Great Depression literally never ended. And he sees them with a sympathetic eye and he understands that what those people really want is some love and a little dignity and someone to listen to their stories. Everyone in those all-night diners and bus stations and wet street corners is just looking for a warm body and a sympathetic ear, and maybe some whiskey too.
More Roxy Music, because Roxy Music is the soundtrack of my life and if you haven’t guessed yet, I spend as much time curating the soundtrack of my life as I do living my life. That’s because life is such that there’s days and weeks destined for the cutting room floor for every moment that ends up in the highlight reel. Music just adds the illusion that there’s something meaningful going, an old trick filmmakers like to rely on. If the music is Roxy Music, I can pretend there’s something glamorous and poetic running through my life.
“I can always pretend that I’ll fall in love again…”
As you all know, I have a real weak spot for Roxy Music. They make me feel like I have feelings! Feelings are gauche, of course, but I enjoy the concept. Of course I love things that are suave and depressing as well. I love the intersection of the sleazy and the poetic. I love when sincerity comes dressed in a suit of ironic detachment. I love a whiff of the Romantic aesthetic. I love romantic downfall. The seductive value of sadness and of sad posturing. Posturing sadly while dressed seductively. I like the idea of seduction as a high-concept game akin to chess, as opposed to a game of shoot-the-ducky.
Sorry to disappoint our hunters of literary allusions. This song actually predates the Stephen King novel of the same title by two years. That novel was a prescient dystopia that predicted the bleak futurism of popular franchises like the Hunger Games series, and um, a lot of our current reality too, unfortunately. Which is also on-theme with Al Stewart’s song, which is why I had guessed that the song may be in allusion to the book. But then I checked the release dates. Stewart’s song is, I guess, about the cold war, or the war war. It may be about a spy or a criminal, but my guess is the man’s a political dissident, which would be a very legit reason to be on the run from shadowy forces, and also very definitely something Al Stewart would be into researching.
If there’s one literary allusion that people never seem to get tired of, it’s Shakespeare’s play about the two kids who fell in love and killed themselves. It’s become a collective byword for romance, even though, as a love story, it’s not very encouraging. Well, I’ve never understood it, but I don’t have much use for either romantic cliche or Elizabethan dialogue. Thankfully, in this case, the allusion doesn’t grate on me. I love Dire Straits, and smart writing is one of the things I love them for. It would take an idiot to think that Romeo and Juliet represent happy romance, and Mark Knopfler is not an idiot, and he uses the allusion to signal romantic failure. That’s not exactly accurate, either, since the titular characters didn’t fail at romance in the traditional sense, but it works. The romance crashed and burned, maybe not on the level of suicide and murder, but enough to look like a tragedy to the writer at least. That I can relate to a little.