Young or old

We are often willing to believe anything, especially when we want to believe it. I had friends in France – and still have them, actually – who told me at the time that Armstrong was on drugs and I refused to believe it, was offended by the notion, in fact. It was such a great story. And fun to watch. And we saw the USPS team in four different stages in various years. I held green boy up on my shoulders amid the throngs and snapped great photos on the Champs Elysée. And it was all a lie.

The photos are still great, and their frames durable, but now they’re just about the memories. Maybe they always were.

Do What You Should

As others on the internets have decried, Mr. Reed’s passing deserves more than an RIP post and a video. Much more. Here goes.

I like the Eno quote that only about 30,000 people bought the first VU record, but all of them started bands. I can trace the lineage of my own projects through at least a few dozen of these early adopters, as we would refer to them now. SNAIL played a version of What Goes On for years as part of our set, even as other songs got replaced by newer, better ones. That one seemed to never go out of rotation – and I sure hope now that we did it some measure of the justice it did us.

(Far) Too young to have have seen the Velvets, I did see Lou Reed perform once, as part of the big, weird Amnesty International shows in 1985. It was one of six shows that took place in the U.S. and included the first Police reunion, U2, Peter Gabriel, the Nevilles and Reed (and others). And we didn’t need binoculars. My buddy’s ex-girlfriend worked at Turtles Records and her manager, who had a crush on her, got us (alas, not the buddy) tickets on the sixth row. I could see Stewart Copeland jumping around backstage right before they went on. That close. So I actually watched Lou Reed play, drops picks and smile, from about 20 feet away. Thanks, Elaine.

And lastly, to keep this short, when green boy was born, I was very fastidious about what recorded music we would play in the house during those first six months or so – and I don’t know where this came from, it was just totally made up, much like the rest of the experience – and Mrs. Green let it fly, as she had many more pressing concerns. But all we listened to at home for six months was the Velvet Underground Loaded, Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue and Hank Williams’ greatest hits volume 1. We eventually loosened up, of course, and I think some heavy pop and Coltrane quickly followed. But judging by his progress so far, I’m sticking by the wisdom of this early episode in quixotic parenting.



This is not any of that “we are all Bostonians now” dreck. This is a reminder of what and who we really are, what and who a commonwealth really is, from none other than Mr. Pierce:

We will not be embarrassed that we share these things in common just because, elsewhere, governors let children starve, and the sick get sicker, and preach of self-reliance while cashing checks from faceless millionnaires. We will not be shamed by the yahoo creationism of the Louisiana public schools, or the cruel neglect of health-care in Texas, or the corporate chop-shop that is being created out of the state of Wisconsin these days. We will not feel slighted that there are more sweatshops elsewhere than there may be here. We will not join your race to the bottom. It has to stop somewhere. It might as well be here.

We realize there is corruption in our systems. (The last several previous Speakers of the Massacusetts House in a row have all been convicted of one felony or another. Top that, Louisiana!) We realize there is waste. We howl and rail against it as loudly as anyone does. We mock its beneficiaries, and mock ourselves for being foolish enough not to see it happening. Our uncles get us jobs on the country road crews. We still have a Governor’s Council, a vestigial Rivendell for political elves that last was truly relevant to anything shortly before they threw the tea into the harbor. But the essential point is that even the corruption and waste in our government belongs to us because the government belongs to us. We won’t give it away, or sell it off wholesale, or exchange it for a bag of magic beans proffered by the political hucksters fronting for oligarchical money power. There is corruption and waste in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, and in “Bobby” Jindal’s Louisiana. But you can’t see it. It’s the product of backroom deals and corporate brigandage beyond the reach of democratic accountability. That has been the great triumph of the conservative political revolution — it has managed to privatize political corruption.

MA is near and dear to me for many reasons, and this reminder that it remains one of the few places defined by the things we actually stand for is another new one.

Intoxicating Jibberish


That would be Warholism, as such. And the “Regarding Warhol” show currently being inflicted on [mostly]innocent visitors to the Met is not about the art world per se, but the art market and the our powerlessness at the whims of its savvy. Jed Perl:

Half a century after he became the artist of the moment, Warhol is more with us than ever, now the throwaway with a takeaway in which many see the key to the art of our time as well as the art of the future. Warhol has become his own ism. Warholism is the dominant ism of our day, grounded as it is in the assumption that popular culture trumps all other culture, and that all culture must become popular culture in order to succeed, and that this new high-plus-pop synergy relieves everybody of the responsibility to experience works of art one on one.

You could pick out any number of things on which to construct your finger-temples, this for example:

As for visitors to “Regarding Warhol,” they are given nothing but foregone conclusions—Warholism as a faith in a particular artistic future that eliminates any of the risk-taking involved in individual judgment.

Image: Jimmy Carter, noted not-Warholian.

Market aphorisms

Okay… now back to the important stuff.

A couple of years ago, I had lunch with art critic Dave Hickey while he was in town to do a lecture at the school. I ended up spending the entire afternoon with him, as everyone else on the schedule baled; it turned out that his rather salty reputation proceeded him. Anyway, he and I got along great and it was a fun afternoon. I really came to like Hickey, and even attended his lecture that evening with a painter friend, because I was sure there was no way he was going to say in public any of the things about art, painting, and teaching it that he had said to me over the course of that afternoon. Of course, he said every bit of it, as though I doubted him personally.

so, per James Wolcott, Hickey seems to now be on a semi-retirement interview tour:

Sarah Douglas: Hmmm…a sort of partial retirement then?

In other words, I plan to disappear like Marcel Duchamp, which is to not quite disappear. I’m about to leave…oops, I haven’t left yet but keep on looking. I’m about to leave. I’m giving it all up for chess, that type of thing. I’m actually giving it all up for statistics. My mother was an economics professor. I’m proficient in math, and statistics, game theory, symbolic logic and all of that. I want to write a creative writing book about the statistics of literary prose accompanied by software so you could compare the statistical shape of your writing to that of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Dickens, Ray Carver or David Foster Wallace. My idea is to provide professors a way of teaching creative writing without having to read quires of crap. Also, I really believe that most of the problems with literary prose tend to be statistical. They have to do with sequencing, and the calculus is helpful in gaining this sort of information. When I was in graduate school I invented a grammar based on the paragraph rather than the sentence—very radical at the time. I also had works by writers in three states of revision so I could say: the numbers are like this here, and then here and then here. So I could make empirically based observations about intention. Hemingway means to do this. Gertrude Stein means to do this. D.H. Lawrence means to do this. I was fighting against professorial Freudian and Marxist musings on the artist’s intentions. I hate all that woozy political and psychotherapeutic crap applied to books and art.

What about art critics? Do they have any place in this system anymore? They used to have an influence over whether people bought things or not. Do they still have that?

We have no power at all. We just market aphorisms. This is mostly because of magazine economics. Good critics are expensive. I am expensive. Academics work for free to get tenure, and, since they are worried about the approval of their colleagues, they are fearful of making value judgments. Also, most of my peers and contemporaries learned how to write magazine journalism. We know how to do a transition, we know how to do a lead, we know what a hook is, and we’re literate. Most critics today come out of art academia, where they don’t even understand the future-imperfect tense. People like me, the late Bob Hughes [see Jim Kelly’s perceptive eulogy on Robert Hughes at VF Daily], Chris Knight, Peter Plagens, Jerry Saltz and Peter Schjeldahl—we’re sort of like sewing machine repairmen after the sewing machine has gone out of fashion.

The iPhone 5

Some of the many problems with the new iPhone 5 were formally aired in this important exchange between makers and end users of the product.

Why we do it

It’s not just green, but it’s not not just for green that authors are turning to self-publishing and e-books. International digital distribution rights is the mouthful of the moment, and everyone seems to know this. Since going down this path, I’m continually learning about a process that keeps seeming new, that differs significantly from former perceptions as vanity publishing though it is essentially the same thing. Maybe that, too, was a sham:

Much has already been written about the earthquake in conventional publishing caused by these technological advances. The enormous increase in the number of self-published books is one of its primary aftershocks. According to Publishers Weekly, the number of self-published titles in the U.S. jumped from 133,036 in 2010 to 211,269 in 2011. Of these roughly 45 percent were fiction. And some significant proportion of this impressive number must be literary fiction.

By “literary” I mean the kind of novels that vie for the literary prizes, the pool of serious, high-quality fiction out of which emerges the books that last. What does the rise of literary self-publishing mean for the future of literature?

It is no longer possible to dismiss the kind of self-publishing McBurney practises as vanity publishing. The mainstream can no longer claim to be the only quality stream. Self-publishing has simply become too attractive an option.

There are several good reasons a novelist chooses to self-publish:

And she goes on to list them. The thing to notice about this is that it’s working. People are buying e-books. You still have to have a really good story  AND you have to work to get it read and reviewed. Other than, sure, everything has changed.

The 2012 Election

I would much rather sit out most of the run-up, especially July-September, to most elections. Usually the Greens find a way to be a way for some of these; not this time. It’s not that I’m against politics. I love it. It’s great to read and to talk about, especially if your side is doing well and ours is. And the Republicans are a bankrupt fraud.

But what that fraud leads to is discussions or articles like these about medicare:

If Medicare were a discretionary program funded through the standard authorization/appropriation process, there’d be no distinction between cutting the appropriation for program purchases and cutting the program’s funding. But Medicare isn’t a discretionary program, so what Obama did was decrease the pace at which the trust fund spends down. At earlier stages in the ACA debate, this was the focus of the great “double counting” debate since the Obama administration likes to say that the cuts both reduce the budget deficit (by reducing federal spending inside a 10-year scoring window) and increase the projected lifespan of the trust fund (because the unspent money is in some sense “in” the trust fund), which is really more a quirk of trust fund accounting than a real feature of the law. But whether one likes trust fund accounting or doesn’t, if you’re going to run around the country alleging that money is being taken from a Medicare piggy bank then you’re necessarily working from within the trust fund accounting framework. And the way it works is that Obama’s reductions of reimbursement rates keeps the piggy bank full longer, while if Romney repeals them the piggy bank will expire sooner.

On its face, a clear win for the forces of intellect and decency. Unfortunately, that’s not what we’re surrounded by.

Make it stop. I know: we just need to get motivated. I’m not that cynical and both sides don’t do it. It’s not that. It’s just that one side has decided that its best hope is to make the whole thing so stupid that no one cares or pays attention, which makes it close and they win.

Okay. Now, I’m motivated. Thanks, dumb other side.