August 17, 2014

The difficulty of knowing when to give something your attention

I almost missed a tremendous experience this afternoon.  Wandering the contemporary wing of the Baltimore Museum of Art, I stepped into the room in which they set up revolving video installations. I'd heard the hummed tune coming from the room a few galleries away and was, as always, curious.  Coming around the corner inside the darkened black-walled room I found myself facing a screen projecting 15 pairs of lips humming the same song.  Contemplated it for a moment, then began to decide that there wasn't anything to get out of it and turned to go.  But then I stopped myself, partly because I'd wanted the opportunity to sit down for a bit and partly because I told myself I should give the thing another chance. Worst case scenario, I'd get a little rest and hear a soothing melody.

So instead of plopping down on one of the two benches, I stepped into the farthest back corner of the room and sat down on the floor against the wall facing the screen.  As I watched with eyes flickering from one set of lips to another, my ears began to pick out individual voices and variations of the song.  After a while, I closed my eyes to listen to let it relax me.  Within a few seconds, I realized that the sound had changed.  It had become one voice, one harmonious tone, like a symphony.  I opened my eyes and again, within a few seconds, without even realizing what I was doing, again began picking out unique tones as I watched, the individual voices within the harmony.  At that point, a big, silly, delighted grin spread over my face in the dimness of the room and I sat there alternating between open- and closed-eyed listening.  Various people came in and out of the room, doing what I'd initially begun to do-- Watching for a moment and then turning around to leave.  I noticed a few glance over at me in the times when I had my eyes open and wondered if my smile made them wonder whether they were missing something or if I was just goofy.  After the song had played a dozen or so times, a group had formed in the room and, listening to the whispers of a woman standing near me, it seemed some of them were more interested than others had been. I pushed myself up from the floor and, on my way out, leaned over to the woman who'd whispered and said "Close your eyes and see if you notice that the sound changes".  But I didn't stay to see if she tried it.

At the entrance, I stopped to read the interpretive placard on the wall.  It seems I had vaguely gotten what the work was about, through the metaphor of harmony.  "Getting" contemporary art doesn't happen often for me.  I'm sometimes moved by pieces I see and can find my own meanings in them, but am more frequently left unmoved and/or perplexed.  And moved or unmoved, I pretty much never feel that I "get" it, even with the help of interpretive signage.  So the fact that this piece clicked for me when I thought of it in musical terms means something to me.

This is a small portion of what I experienced--

The full video can be seen here, but unfortunately not in a perpetually repeating loop the way it was displayed at the BMA.

The lyrics of the song are quite lovely, too--

Your sweet expressions 
The smile you gave me 
The way you looked when we met 

Easy to remember 
But so hard to forget 

I hear you whisper 
"I'll always love you" 
I know it's over, and yet 

Easy to remember 
Oh so hard to forget 

So I must dream 
To have your hand caress me 
Fingers press me tight 

I'd rather dream 
Than have that lonely feeling 
Stealing through the night 

Each little moment 
Is clear before me 
And though it brings me regret 

It's easy to remember 
But so hard to forget 

The song was written by Rodgers and Hart and originally sung by Bing Crosby.  But, somehow, as poignant as the words are, that hummed version is so much more affecting than Bing's.

August 2, 2014

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part III: It's so cold in the D

The Christian religion takes Sunday as a day of rest.  Jack White fans in Detroit this week took Tuesday instead, as it was the day in between his insane show at the Fox Theater and an upcoming one at the Masonic Temple.  Instead of watching him blow our minds musically, we were going to take in a ballgame and watch him throw out the first pitch.

The game was a much needed respite for all of us, despite the beating the Tigers took in the 7th inning.

Woke up on Wednesday morning battered and bruised, having been rained on and baked by the sun over the last few days, exhausted and ill-fed, having cried a bit and laughed much, and sleeping through the shiveringly cold night in a section of abandoned Detroit under the watchful eyes of the guardians of a Gothic temple of secret Scottish rites.  But, dammit, I loved every minute of it and wouldn't have been anywhere else if you'd paid me to be, even with the damned screaming seagulls at 6:00am.  

Fortunately, the weather warmed up and the people running things at the Masonic helped to make the day extremely pleasant for us, to the point of the general manager of the Temple taking me on a mini-tour of the interior after I asked him about the history and architecture of the place.

As for the show that night, I was initially hesitant to talk openly about portions of my experience, afraid that sharing it widely would diminish it.  It was so very intense and I've found that sharing the things that are meaningful to me sometimes backfires when others don't get it.  But writing is how I process things and part of this experience was very public, so I've decided to go ahead and put it all out there.  

I'm not going to go into extensive detail of the entire show, but it was obvious within a couple of songs that this night was a celebration.  Jack played and played and played, throwing himself into the music and around the stage with absolute joyous ferocity.  In contrast to the show at the Fox on Monday night, it seemed tonight that he wasn't going to stop.  So many moments between songs, he'd get a look on his face when it seemed he was trying not to smile but having trouble containing it.  Other times, the grin was uncontainable.  There were a few quiet moments, such as one after he'd gone side-stage to interact with his kids and then just stood there in contemplation for several moments.  There's no telling what he was thinking and feeling in that moment.  The rest was just non-stop motion and exhilaration.  He played so many songs that fans have been wishing for on this tour. Then during one of those songs, My Doorbell, he came over to our side of the stage, as he'd done several times through the show, and pointed and motioned.  Sharon, who with Eleanor had been to several shows in a row leading up to this one and noticed by Jack at them, was lifted up from behind by our friend Daniel and pulled onto the stage by Jack's road crew, then I hoisted myself up and Eleanor did the same as the roadies reached out for us and Daniel helped out from the crowd side. The three of us ended up at the mic with Jack, singing the last chorus of the song.  As we headed side-stage when it was done, my legs gave out and I ended up on my back on the stage, arms splayed.  Kicked my feet in giddiness a couple times, then hauled myself up yet again to head to the side, where the three of us were allowed to watch the rest of the show with family, VIPs, and whoever else was there.  One of Jack's roadies was in front of me, as he had to be constantly ready to run out and upright any pieces of equipment knocked over by the tornado on-stage, so in order to see I crouched down on my knees next to him, singing along and rocking out with as much abandon as I'd done down in front of the stage.  Then it was over and we were ushered along with the rest of the side-stage crowd down and around into the bowels of the Temple until we ended up in the Grand Ballroom where, again, we ended up milling about with various family, friends, whoever that were there.  Talked with a few people associated with Jack (the excellent show opener Benjamin Booker, Benjamin's drummer, Jack's drummer Daru Jones and his sister, Jack's bass player Dominic Davis, and Dominic's wife Rachael, who is the newest satellite in my Jack White musical solar system).  Eleanor had struck up an acquaintance with Benjamin at the shows I'd missed, so he offered to take us upstairs to the dressing room area to perhaps meet Jack.  We ended up again milling about, this time in a hallway full of family, friends, a few of Jack's fellow musicians from other bands, and whomever.  Got up as far as his dressing room door, where we had a view through the chaos of him saying goodnight to his kids before they were carried out looking very sleepy and grumpy. Then he came out himself, stopping to briefly hug almost every single person in the hallway, including us, as he made his way out.  And that was it. No words exchanged with him, I'm not even sure there was even eye contact, but there was definitely a profound euphoria, more intense than any I'd felt over him before.

But, of course, I couldn't forget I was still on the roller coaster.  When we were hanging out in the ballroom wondering what was going to happen next and talking to people, a thought began to dawn on me that I might have barged into something I wasn't supposed to be a part of.  At the end of My Doorbell, Jack had said to us "Give me a kiss". As my two friends were not only directly next to him but also taller than me, they each leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. As we separated, he turned around and headed back to his amp away from us.  Realizing we were about to be ushered off-stage, I took a couple steps to follow him and when he turned back around and saw me, he leaned down for me to kiss him on the cheek as well (after which was when I fell down on the edge of the stage in gleeful delirium).  And downstairs, when Jack's bass player came over to talk, he greeted Sharon and Eleanor with enthusiastic recognition.  It was then that it began to dawn on me that perhaps Jack's gesture to come up on-stage hadn't been meant for all three of us.  This was the 24th time I've seen him live in four years, including 12 shows on his last tour and three just this week.  With the exception of two seated shows, I'd been up front at every single one.  So he'd seen me many times before, but not with the frequency that he'd seen my two friends recently, and who knows whether I'd registered in his awareness at all at any of those previous shows.  So my thoughts began to turn neurotic as I started wondering if I'd made a gung-ho assumption and barged into a situation I hadn't been meant to be a part of, which led to euphoria mingling with a sick feeling of embarrassment.  The next morning I was still waffling between the two, wondering who that gesture from the stage had been intended for and whether that was why he turned and walked away before I could plant a kiss.  It's just as likely that it was an issue of proximity and him being focused on continuing the show, but neurosis was having a hard time letting me see it that way.  So I get to carry on with my life, dealing with day-to-day things and going to future shows on Jack's tour, never knowing whether I was supposed to have one of the most unique and special experiences of my life or not.

Post-script:  Getting a Coney dog (Lafayette again, not American) into my stomach later that morning and then hitting the road for the drive home gave me a bit of a different perspective.  I realized that the stress and exhaustion of the week (and all the ones leading up to it) may well have triggered the neurotic speculation.  What I originally convinced myself was misguidedly barging into a situation I instead began looking at as recognizing an opportunity and going for it. We'll see which frame of mind lasts, and how this roller coaster ride plays out.

To be continued in August.

August 1, 2014

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part II: From snark to pathos

Arrived in Detroit mid-morning on Monday, after stopping to sleep for an hour or two along the road from Pittsburgh.  Met Sharon outside the Fox Theater and headed down Woodward Avenue in search of Coney Dogs (Lafayette, not American) and someplace with free wi-fi.  For a change, we weren't lining up hours early for Jack's show that night because the seats we'd paid a bundle for in the pit were assigned, not general admission.  Hah.  Like assigned seats in the third row, on the wrong side of the theater no less, would keep us away from the edge of the stage. 

And what a show it was.  When the first crashing notes struck as a sliver of light became apparent between the pale blue velvet curtains, Sharon and I bolted from our row and slammed ourselves up against the front of the stage directly in front of Jack and his silver lamé pants.  Obviously excited to be playing not only in his hometown but also his first show at the Fox Theater, he started the show at a frenetic pace.  But within a few songs, it became apparent he was pissed off at the number of people in the audience texting or just standing like zombies.  Eleanor later showed me a photo of a girl next to her who'd passed out in her chair. The girl next to me at the stage and the people with her stood stock still through the whole show, not even applauding, as if they were afraid the slightest motion would muss their oh-so-pretty hair or clothes.  I was tempted to call an undertaker to measure the girl for a coffin, she was so dead.  If Jack was seeing even more of that from the stage, no wonder he was so angry.  And was he ever angry.  When the curtain was swept shut after a short set, it almost seemed as if he might not come back.  

But he did, with the curtains being drawn back for another brief set that began with a frenetic Fell In Love With a Girl and ended with Jack shushing the crowd halfway through Hardest Button to Button and sarcastically telling us we were too loud before maniacally shrieking the last verse of the song at the top of his lungs and having the curtains swept shut again as the band continued to play.

At this point we were stunned.  To end the show like that, with none of his usual encore/set closers, with that insane ending to the song... But no, he came slamming back out for a third set that had a roller-coaster up-and-down pace and a relentless emotional intensity even for the softer songs.  At one point, I can't recall which song, he apparently reached out to grab a cymbal just as drummer Daru Jones brought a stick down on his hand.  At the end of the song, he stood at his amps with his back to the audience, struggling to remove the ring he was wearing on that hand. He finally wrenched it off and spun around yelling "Shit!!", then grabbed a glass of what appeared to be whiskey and smashed it against one of his amps.  Through all of this raging craziness, I was right there with him, pissed off at the audience on his behalf, laughing empathetically at his sarcastic comments, choked up and near tears when he chose to express anguish.  His performance of You've Got Her In Your Pocket is a perfect example of the mania of this show, beginning with Jack making a face and mimicking the people in the audience playing with their phones before muttering "Text, motherfuckers, text!" as he walked toward the mic (which didn't make it through the speakers but that I heard clearly), and then finishing the song with heart-breaking poignancy. Sharon and I were both in tears by the end of it.

The show finally really did end three songs later with Goodnight Irene, during which I put my arm around Sharon's shoulder and she reached up to hold my hand as we swayed back and forth.  When Jack stepped to the front of the stage right above us to encourage the audience to sing along with the last chorus, I couldn't give him what he wanted.  I mouthed the words, but kept my voice silent so I could try to hear him un-mic'd, as I had in Omaha, Nebraska two years ago.  

We all walked out of the astoundingly gorgeous theater afterward and I sat on a curb along the street trying to take notes about the show with shaking hands.  I hate seeing Jack frustrated and angry in that fashion, the same way I would sympathetically not want to see anyone feeling that way.  But at the same time, I love seeing him in that state because he takes those terrible emotions and uses them like lighter fluid, fanning his own fire in order to try to build one in the crowd.  As I was processing what'd just happened, I couldn't help but wonder what we were in store for two nights later, when he would be playing again at the Detroit Masonic Temple.  The only thing I felt I could be sure of was that it would be different.  And sure enough, it was.  

Confessions of a Jack White junkie, part I: Pittsburgh to Detroit

The road from Pittsburgh was all rain, shale rock, arctic bog, Queen Anne's lace, and herons on the wing.  I was following Jack White, even though he was probably either still in Pittsburgh or on the road behind me because I'd left almost immediately after the show there.

Road-trips are, of course, a great time to think things out, either obsessively or with a greater clarity than usual, depending on one's frame of mind. Thinking about the show last night in Pittsburgh led to exploring my relationship with Jack and his music in a way that's been creeping around in my mind, noticed but willfully ignored until it surged forward along this drive.  

My relationship with him has recently become a complicated one.   His current tour began at the end of May, a week and a half before his new album Lazaretto was released.  The first show was in Tulsa, the "campfire in the desert of [his] mind", site of one of the most wonderful of his shows I've experienced yet (to give that statement some context, last night in Pittsburgh was show number 22 1/4 in just over four years).  I had sworn after seeing him in Tulsa on his last tour that, come hell or high water, I would be there again the next time he was.  So what did he and his business managers go and do? They scheduled this Tulsa show on a day when I was going to be stuck in Las Vegas on the annual business trip from Hell, a trip there was no way in Hell my boss would let me take a day away from.  From the night of that show, when I cried a little bit before falling off to sleep in Las Vegas, my relationship with Jack changed.  For the first time, I felt an aching sadness from the things he did.  

And then Lazaretto was released.  I've already written in detail about how that record affected me, how certain songs hit way too close to home even as my response to the album confused me by swinging back and forth over the course of a couple of days.  Through all of that, I was hearing from friends who were going to the shows that I was missing because of work and my guts began to tie up in knots.  With the first of my own shows not coming up until the end of July, the excitement I've felt in the past over seeing Jack was replaced by anxiety and a terribly ugly jealousy of my friends.  My friend Sam was at a show during which he sat down on the edge of the stage and then rolled off into the crowd, letting people reach out to support him and grab at his hair and she was one of the many who made physical contact with him.  Two others, Sharon and Eleanor, began a run of shows in mid-July that had them right up at the front of the stage for several nights in a row, holding up signs for Jack and having him come over and acknowledge them as he was playing.  Normally I try to be rational about that sort of experience-- What does it really mean when someone like Jack acknowledges your existence? Nothing, really, because you exist as a fully developed human being whether he is aware of you or not.  But at other times I can't deny the thrill that comes from even the most brief interaction with him, whether it's two sentences of conversation in the Vault chatroom or two seconds of eye contact and, if you're lucky, a wink from him from the stage.  So with my emotions already in upheaval over missing shows and from my response to the album, I found myself not wanting to hear about their experiences lest I turn bitter and begin making diminishing comments about them.  I wanted to be happy and excited for these friends, but kept getting caught up in my own self-centered and self-pitying concerns and that in turn made me loathe myself, which led to more self-pity. It turned into a pretty ridiculous cycle.  At a time when I should have been feeling euphoric anticipation, I instead felt like I wanted to throw up and then crawl into a hole.  

Then my own turn finally came.  I met up with Sam, Sharon, Eleanor, and our friend Helen in Pittsburgh for Jack's first show there in several years.  We camped out for hours at the venue so that we'd be first in line, sitting through rain, chilly wind, and then swampy heat and a nerve-wracking line experience in order to get our chosen spots at the front of the stage.  

My memories of the show itself have already become indistinct, but I very vividly recall my reaction to it.  It started out as usual, with an explosion of sound and motion that swept me up immediately.  And yet, as it progressed I started to feel as if I were just going through the motions.  I felt a growing disconnection to what was happening on the stage.  When Jack slowed the pace of the show for the lovely acoustic You've Got Her In Your Pocket, all the emotional upheaval that had been building the last several weeks suddenly came to a head and I began to cry.  When he followed that one up with Alone In My Home, the song on Lazaretto that'd been a punch to my heart, I had to put my head down on the rail and just shut everything out for a moment.

I was almost completely still and insular for the next handful of songs.  When the pale blue velvet curtains were pulled shut after the first set, I almost didn't even applaud and, again, kept having to put my head down to hide the fact that I was crying.  But when the curtains flew open again to a fresh explosion of Blue Orchid, something snapped and it was as if all the confusion and upheaval I'd experienced leading up to and during this show was drop-kicked away over the mountains surrounding Pittsburgh.  I don't know what happened, but I suddenly connected with every song that followed, especially a letter-perfect and incendiary Black Bat Licorice, exactly as I should have, giving myself over with complete abandon.  When the skies began to pour down just as he sang of not being afraid of standing out in the rain at the beginning of Would You Fight For My Love?, it was a joyous thing, instead of something I'd been wishing for to camouflage my tears.

So here's what I thought about after the show on the drive that night from Pittsburgh to Detroit--  I've not had many relationships in my almost half a century of life.  Men have not gravitated towards me, and the few who have were mis-matched, people that I should have had brief flings with and then moved on from.  But they were the only ones so I held onto what little I got from them, believing at the time that it was worthwhile and that I had to make the most of it.  At this particular period in my life, what I choose to make the most out of is what I get from Jack and his music, in lieu of other relationships that I don't seem destined to have.  I've seen other women joke on the internet about him being their "imaginary boyfriend" (Juliette Lewis among them) and I have to admit that what he does in a way does fulfill that sort of role.  His music, watching him perform, reading and hearing the things he talks about in interviews, all summon up emotions that some of us out there wish we could get from the men around us but can't, either because the men aren't Jack or because they just don't exist at all.  (Though the recent essay Jack My Heartby William Giraldi in American Oxford, certainly indicates that men can also have this sort of relationship with Jack White)  Some people might read that and think that it's a sad thing, but it's just what is.   Life is a combination of circumstances and the choices we make.  We can control our choices, but we have limited control, if any at all, over circumstance so we have to get the most out of the situations we find ourselves in.  So I, and others, make the most out of the intellectual and emotional stimulation that we get from Jack's music and ideas.  

So my recent emotions in regards to him have ranged from that aching sadness to intensely ugly, wanting-to-scratch-eyes-out jealousy, bemusement, worry and anxiety, even a little bit of alarm.  Also, though, sometimes at the forefront and sometimes as an under-current to the ugliness and anxiety, there's still been the euphoria, the adoration, and the infatuation.  I've joked so many times about being a junkie for him and his music, addicted to the thrill of him, but it suddenly doesn't feel like a joke anymore.  It's real.  And yet I wouldn't give it up for anything right now, it's become too fulfilling.  So I'm just gonna stay strapped into this roller-coaster ride for now, thank you very much, it's nowhere near the end and I have to see where it leads. You can be sad for me if you want, I'm too busy to care.

Confessions of a Jack White junkie: Introduction

In all the time I've had this blog, I've only ever had one negative comment, to wit:

Jesus Christ. More stupid ramblings of a freakish Jack White fangirl. Will you ever shut the fuck up about Jack fucking White? Do you ever listen, watch, think, say, or do anything that can't be tied to Jack fucking White in some fucking way? Jack White. Jack White. Jack White. Jack White. Jack White. Jack White. Jack White. Jack White. Jack White. Jack White. Geeshie Wiley? Jack White! Keith Richards? Jack White! Charlie Chan? Jack White! We get it: you're fucking obsessed! You seem to think that verbosity and mind-numbing analysis of every little mundane detail somehow separates you from the other fangirls. Well, it doesn't. You're a fucking drone. Shut the fuck up already. Thanks.

At the time, I was dismissive of it because I realize that person's issue is really with themselves, not with my writing.  But right now, what I'd like to say to that person is this-- Fuck you. I write about Jack White because discovering his music four years ago caused a sea-change in my life.  Foremost, it's made me come to experience music in a completely different way.  My musical choices have become like a vast solar system, with his music as the Sun and everything else I listen to now a collection of planets, moons, asteroids, and satellites radiating out from him. Some are related to him directly, some tangentially, and others seemingly not at all but discovered through connections to him.  The way I listen to music has also evolved and become enriched, which I've written about before, because he compels me to pay more attention to what I hear, to learn about it and understand it.  Surprisingly, this more cerebral approach has caused me to feel the music I listen to more profoundly.  And, possibly most importantly, because of him I have a wider circle of friends right now than I've ever had in my life, people I've met through social networking sites dedicated to him, and then spent hours and hours in lines and at the front of the stage with. People with whom I've shared some deeply emotional experiences.

Because of all this, I write about Jack White.  If that or my verbosity annoy you, my anonymous troll commenter, then fucking stop reading my fucking blog and fucking go find yourself a different fucking corner of the internet in which to spew your fucking ire.  Because I'm going to continue writing about Jack fucking White.

For anyone who's still interested, stick around.  Jack's currently on tour and the roller-coaster ride is about to begin.

Part 1

Part 2

Part III


July 17, 2014

Crows, pistachios, and banjos

Went for a bike ride this morning. A short ride due to time constraints, along the C&O closer to the city than I normally ride, beginning at mile 23 and heading down to Great Falls, just 15 miles from Georgetown.  Pulled up for a break at Great Falls under a shady tree next to a paddock of sorts built for the mules that pull canal boats for tourists on the weekends-- Just a small area bound by a wooden fence on three sides with a gate enclosing the fourth, with a bench next to it for the mule handlers.  Nice spot on a weekday to sit and eat pistachios and watch geese and tourists wandering along the canal between the parking lot and the tavern-turned-museum & visitors center. 

After a while, I noticed a lone crow swooping and floating back and forth over both tourists and geese. It turned and headed in my direction and I figured it'd either fly past towards the river behind me or up into the tree above me.  Instead, it came straight at me, apparently only realizing about five feet away that I was there, at which point it suddenly swerved up and over me. I swung around on the bench expecting to see it disappear into the trees along the river but, nope, there it was, perched on the gate of the mule paddock behind me.  It was obviously fairly well acclimated to people and probably a heck of a thief and beggar, judging from the way it sat and stared and softly squawked at me.  So I unshelled a pistachio and quietly reached up from the bench to set it on top of the fencepost at the corner of the paddock.  The crow sat there looking from me to the fencepost and muttering to itself for about half a minute, then walked tentatively along the railing, hopped up to the post, and snatched the nut.  A quick swoop back to its spot on the railing.  It tried to swallow the pistachio, but apparently decided it was too big, so it tucked it between its feet and pecked out little bits to nibble on until it was small enough to swallow the rest.  

I unshelled another and placed it on top of the fencepost. This time the hesitation and squawky muttering lasted longer, so I stood up and, quietly asking the crow if it didn't like the salt'n'pepper flavor of the nuts, moved the pistachio to another fencepost along the middle of the rail farther away from the bench.  After a few moments, it smoothly swooped to the opposite end of the railing and tentatively walked its way up to the middle fencepost and hopped up.  It picked up the nut and held it for a moment, then set it back down and hopped down from the fence to the ground inside the paddock, where it found another nut I'd apparently accidentally tossed over my shoulder with empty shells.  The crow took a few nibbles and then began picking through the grass for other fare.  When nothing else turned up, it opened its wings and took off, this time heading off over the river, then swerving back past the paddock and across the canal to perch on the chimney of the old tavern/visitors center.  Definitely had to have been that salt'n'pepper flavor that turned it off from the pistachios.  Made me wish I'd just gotten plain ones.

Ended up the day at the Baltimore Museum of Industry to see Dom Flemons take part in "Banjos on the Waterfront", an outdoor concert in conjunction with their exhibit "Making Music: The Banjo in Baltimore and Beyond".  I've driven past the BMI many times, even ridden my bike past, but never stopped in.  Definitely need to go back again when the full museum is open-- The banjo exhibit was small but terrific and the few industrial displays I could see beyond it looked really fascinating.  And I have to thank my friends at Wax-O-Holics for turning me onto Dom.  Formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the man's a great musician and a very engaging performer.  See for yourself--

And ain't this somethin', Dom with Pokey LaFarge--

June 25, 2014

Son House and Foucault on desperate passion

"Then the last type of madness: that of desperate passion.  Love disappointed in its excess, and especially love deceived by the fatality of death, has no other recourse but madness.  As long as there was an object, mad love was more love than madness; left to itself, it pursues itself in the void."

Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization.

June 15, 2014

Jung on concealment and repression

"As soon as man was capable of conceiving the idea of sin, he had recourse to psychic concealment-- or, to put it in analytical language, repressions arose.  Anything that is concealed is a secret.  The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic poison which alienates their possessor from the community.  In small doses, this poison may actually be a priceless remedy, even an essential preliminary to the differentiation of the individual.  This is so much the case that, even on a primitive level, man has felt an irresistible need to invent secrets; their possession saves him from dissolving in the unconsciousness of mere community life, and thus from a fatal psychic injury.  As is well known, the many ancient mystery cults with their secret rituals served this instinct for differentiation.  Even the Christian sacraments were looked upon as mysteries in the early Church, and, as in the case of baptism, were celebrated in private apartments and only referred to under a veil of allegory.

However beneficial a secret shared with several persons may be, a merely private secret has destructive effect.  It resembles a burden of guilt which cuts off the unfortunate possessor from communion with his fellow-beings.  Yet if we are conscious of what we conceal, the harm done is decidedly less than if we do not know what we are repressing-- or even that we have repressions at all.  In the latter case we not merely keep a content consciously private, but we conceal it even from ourselves.  It then splits off from consciousness as an independent complex, where it can be neither corrected nor interfered with by the conscious mind.  The complex is thus an autonomous portion of the psyche which, as experience has shown, develops a peculiar fantasy-life of its own.  What we call fantasy is simply spontaneous psychic activity; and it wells up whenever the repressive action of the conscious mind relaxes or ceases altogether..."

C.G. Jung, from the essay, Problems of Psychotherapy.

June 13, 2014

Get out of my head, Jack White. Or, how the music we love can backfire

In Madness and Civilization, Michel Foucault wrote of Renaissance-era "ships of fools", on which societies would load their madmen and send them out into the harbor to get them out of the cities and isolate them.  Or to isolate the cities from them, whichever.  On Lazaretto, Jack White sings of being put down in a lazaretto, those old island fortresses where the sick and disabled were quarantined.  That idea of separation, of isolation, has become pertinent for me lately and been much on my mind.

I got away from writing here regularly for a while, in part because everything I wrote was beginning to sound so self-obsessed and sometimes self-pitying, to the point that it was becoming tedious even to me, much less to anyone who might've stumbled across those ramblings on the interwebs.  But also because as I got deeper and deeper into Jack White's music, I became involved in the community of his fans.  It began at a message board, expanded to the Third Man Records Vault and another message board, to a couple of Facebook groups, and, most importantly, to people I've met face-to-face at his shows.  I still wrote about Jack's music here because there was so much in it that inspired me and that I wanted to dig into and mentally digest.  But more and more, I didn't need this place to get my thoughts out, I was able to do it in all those other places and get instant feedback, have dialogues instead of these rambling monologues.  I came out of isolation, at least via the written word.  Physically, I'm still separate, as all of these people I relate to are spread around the U.S. and I see them rarely, whenever we gather for a show.  The rest of the time, it's me on my own, until I sit down at the computer and reach out.

But lately something's been different.  It's been building up gradually for a while, a feeling of disconnection, of distance, from the community I've felt such a part of, from both the internet "friends" I relate to and the real friends I've formed an emotional connection with.  Is it my old pattern rearing its head, my apparent inability to have long-lasting relationships with people?  What's behind that, anyway?  Whatever it is, it started out early.  I was always one of those kids who was off by themselves with a book or exploring in the woods.  I had friends, but still spent a lot of time alone. Then an incident in 6th grade led to complete ostracism, turning me into one of those kids sitting shunned on the side of the playground.  High school was no better, especially after I became one of three punk rockers in the entire school and walked a daily gauntlet of derision from the jocks and popular kids.  Exposure to my parents' constant arguing didn't help, either, as it was just one more thing to block out, to build a wall against.

If you've ever read the book Cold Mountain (and I mean the book, not the film Jack White was in), you may understand when I say that I strongly identify with the main female character, Ada, who is described as "eccentric and bristly".  Ada's physical isolation in Black Cove is, of course, a metaphor for her isolation from people in general, which is due in large part to how she chooses to relate to those around her.  She has little patience for the accepted mores of the city culture she was raised in, and is at a loss in the completely unfamiliar realm of country society.  She frequently ends up saying the wrong thing in the wrong way, often as a means to keep people at a distance either intentionally or unconsciously.  As a result, there's a wall around her, built by her own hands using the bricks of other people's inability to comprehend her.  To say that I understand that alienation would be an understatement, despite the friendships I've formed over the last few years.

For the past couple weeks, that feeling's been intensely strong.  Part of it is envy of those friends whose schedules have allowed them to attend recent shows on Jack's current tour for the new album.  These are people I genuinely like and have enjoyed spending time with, but I find myself not wanting to hear from them because the few details I've heard of these shows make me bitterly resentful that I've not been there.  It's an ugly reaction, one that makes me loathe myself, and that makes me retreat even further from these people because I don't want to expose them to my ugliness.  But the last few  days, it's become even worse. Without any rational clue why, I've been peevish, angry, melancholy-- lashing out, crying while driving in the car, having arguments with people in my head that I wouldn't allow myself to have anywhere else, stuck in isolation inside my own brain instead of focused outward.  Then it dawned on me-- Part of it is this record, Lazaretto.  This depressed and angry mood's been with me ever since the night I received it last week, from the moment I read The Admitting of Patience, a play in one act at the beginning of the book that accompanied the album:


(one act) 

(Male or Female) 

 I fantasize about hospital beds, 
jail, work camps, the army. 
I thought of branding myself, 
 tattooing a message to myself 
With a symbol that I can't be 
at peace with anyone. 
 A raft, A boy in the water. I'm hurt, 
but not afraid of physical pain. 

 (M or F) 

 I don't feel very good about myself. 
People always leave me. 
Nobody can stand me for very long. 
I wish I could cut my tongue out, 
or take out the part of my brain 
 that has opinions. Or cares. 
I wish I could be simple. 
Be quiet, introverted, or shy. 
I'm half way in between a wallflower 
at a party and elvis presley. 
People love one or the other. 
In between is no place to be. 


 I see.

The impact of that practically brought me to my knees. It did bring me to tears, and I don't mean just welling up in my eyes. I mean shoulder-shaking sobs.  Good lord above, talk about identifying with something someone's expressed.  And then to put on the record and discover the song Alone In My Home, in which he sings 

These stones
That are thrown against my bones
Break through
But they hurt less as time goes on

And alone
I build my own home
To be sure
That nobody can touch me now

That's followed immediately by That Black Bat Licorice, with its refrain of 

Don't you want to lose the
Part of the brain that has opinions?
To not even know what you are doing?
Or care about yourself or 
Your species in the billions?

Listening to these two songs feels as if he's been in my own head, pulled out my own thoughts and feelings and experiences, all those incidents of feeling the wrong thing, thinking the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, offending people and pissing them off, alienating and feeling alienated, and retreating into self-imposed quarantine.  I'm not quite vain enough to believe I'm the only person who's listened to these songs and felt such things, but that doesn't diminish the impact. It's not been good. I love both songs, one of them is very beautiful, the other very witty, but the effect of them has left me feeling a bit on the edge of madness, or at least sociopathology.  Far from the euphoric feeling Jack's music normally inspires in me.  How do I reconcile this?  Wallow in it and hope it passes on its own? Stop listening to these songs?  Smack myself upside the head in the hopes of knocking some rationality back into my brain?  

I don't know. But I told someone the other night that I'd caught myself wishing I could be like a crazy homeless person, standing on a street corner ranting and talking to myself.  It would be easier than trying to be a normal, civil person, at least until I can figure out how to get back out of this state of isolated insanity. 

June 8, 2014

Modes of transportation: How fast is a black castrum doloris?

Thanks, Wikipedia

"She's built for speed like a black castrum doloris..."

Delightful irony from a man who professes to dislike irony, at least of the hipster variety.  One of the best songs on the new album, too, one that I had a feeling I'd love based on the title alone-- That Black Bat Licorice.  The rest of Lazaretto, though...?  After being bowled over when I first listened the other night, I ripped the record for the car the next morning and went out for a drive.  There's something about listening while driving that gets me deeper into music, probably because the music fills the car in a way that it doesn't fill my apartment and, in the right circumstances, there's nothing else to distract me from listening fully.  And I've written before about the combination of high speed and good tunes being my favorite, most easily-accessible high.  Somehow, though, I came home from that drive feeling distanced from the music.  The drive to and from work the next day was the same.  As a devoted addict, it scared me a bit that I might not be able to connect to this record.  I felt that all of the songs were good, but I just wasn't having the visceral, emotional reaction that I normally have to Jack White's music.  I wasn't getting the junkie rush I've gotten from every one of his other albums.  Was it jetlag from the previous week's business trip in Las Vegas?  Was it the the songs themselves not grabbing me as much with repeated listenings?  Did I overreact on first listen because I'd been anticipating this record for so damned long?  I dunno. But today I threw my bike on top of the car and went for a drive with Lazaretto again, heading further from home, out into more rural parts of Maryland.  Past the congestion of traffic, able to flow swiftly along first the highway and then curvy backroads, the songs began to sweep me away and I was suddenly transported by them the way I'd expected to be.  Would You Fight For My Love?, in particular, soared on the highway in a way that it couldn't in the distractions of heavier traffic closer to the city.  That Black Bat Licorice, however, is a great rush hour tune, having inspired me the previous evening to roll down the windows and let it rattle its way out of the car at full volume as I inched along one of downtown D.C.'s main arteries.

So when I arrived at my destination, I pulled the bike off of the car and hit the trail.  And damned if the songs didn't come with me.  Entitlement, Alone In My Home, Fight For My Love, Black Bat, all played through my head while riding, interweaving with each other.  Fight For My Love, again, turned out to be a galvanizing song to move to. When I turned around to head back after a bit over 13 miles, it began a repeated refrain in my head as I kicked into high gear, both literally and figuratively, and began flying along fast enough that I prayed more than once I wouldn't end up having to dodge any snakes or squirrels. (Rabbits are fine, they hop off the trail when they hear you coming.  Squirrels, on the other hand, dash back and forth like dingbats before deciding which way to go. And snakes just lie there in the way.)  Then Black Bat Licorice and Three Women began alternating and I got into a zone, keeping up the high gear, high speed pace for miles.  Got back to the car with rubbery legs and a big smile on my face.

Sometimes the journeys music takes us on just don't follow the road we expect.  Does this mean that I broke through my temporary disconnect with Lazaretto?  I've no idea. Could be just another phase in my exploration of this record, with today's good vibe expedited by great driving conditions and a terrific bike ride.  But that's fine.  As the old cliché goes, after all, the journey can be more important than the destination.  

So how the hell fast is a castrum doloris, anyway?