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Monday, 25 January 2010

Mapping the Mind


Maps have always appealed to my aesthetic: thin, curving lines, muted colors, keys--a mystery within an explanation--paper, certainly, labyrinthine passages and waterways.  I use maps in my print work, hang maps of Brooklyn on the wall of my bathroom, inhabiting what's represented,  try desperately to read maps in an unfamiliar town.  Whether the places I have liked best in this world I like because I can navigate them, or whether I can navigate them because I like them best, I'm not sure.  I've got the kind of face people look for when they want to ask directions (poor fools), and sometimes, very rarely, can I reply with confidence.  But the first week I lived in Brooklyn I was asked to point the way toward Iron Chef House, and though I'd never been there, I knew immediately the way to go.  I was a tour guide at Sarah Lawrence, my mouth was my map.  In London, I could get lost by choice and never fear that I'd find my way back.  I know my way around Lancaster better than I do my hometown.  In Minneapolis, I learned certain routes naturally, confidently, with ease.  It was there, in Minnesota, that I began to think about my own map, the landscape of life--my mother was my age when she and my father lived here, she had two surgeries here that directly led to the allowance of my birth, and I stood in front of the home my parents shared in Dinkytown near the U of M at 8 in the morning, snow on the ground, and was so happy to be a traveller, to learn, as Paul Simon says, "how the heart approaches what it yearns."  

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope


"In ordinary life events are so unfrequent, and when they do arrive they give such a flavour of salt to hours which are generally tedious, that sudden misfortunes come as godsends - almost even when they happen to ourselves. "


Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

It is the view which the mind takes of a thing which creates the sorrow that arises from it.

Now is not the Time

I have touched the thought of distant life
at the edge of that park on a cold Spring night.
Your hand entwined in mine but just not far enough.

An idea, a concept, students talk about over tea;
you mean something to me.
I would keep you frozen, if I could,
and try to forget that I remember you.

Not now, not now, it is not the time
to melt to see rolling ground underneath.
It was Spring, it was Summer, it was, it was,
but now is not the time.

Sleep never came, soft breathing and quiet padding
pawprints of cats at night on the cool wood floor.
I have picked away at dams, left water pooling on the dinner table
and made it warp.

There is no space for my inconstancy, your
careless attention to the damp forest my mind.
Study, I try, these moulded texts,
feel them slip away and crumble from lack of touch.

There is a human who has studied me
and found all there is to know to hide.
Safer still to have tea, and not to sleep
and not be learned.

Fear, like objects in the mirror are closer than they appear,
can break the cup, spill and chip,
shards of ice longing to break free.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

My young friend! thou art ignorant in this - as in most other things ... that old man's heart is as soft as thine, if thou couldst but read it. The body dries up and withers away, and the bones grow old; the brain, too, becomes decrepit ... But the heart that is tender once remains tender to the last.


Ms. Robinson on Mr. Simon

     My friend GG balked when I said the words "Paul Simon" and "Indie Rock" in the same sentence, and as GG is a friend whose musical tastes and knowledge I often defer to, I backed off--but I don't think I'm completely ready to surrender. I grew up feeling instinctively that my appreciation for Paul Simon definitely classified me as un-cool amongst the people my age; his "world-music" tendencies, folk background, and appeal within the latter-day hippie crowd sealed his fate for the crowd I ran with. His honesty and lyricism, an embarrassment for kids my age--then, and now. I've never studied music theory and I'm not a musician, so I don't have a great vocabulary for speaking about things like tonality, texture, or structure and while I have got some (slight) aural skills, my perception in this instance is one that intuits Simon's aim as a songwriter. The classifications of Indie Rock--what mainstream means, record labels, and such--are not part of my articulation; Simon's musical intentions are. From what he was writing when he was working with Art Garfunkel to the the very early solo recordings, there is often an ironic detachment combined with sincere sentiment that seems to compose the precepts of what we generally think of as indie music. An emotional sincerity, intellectual irony, sensitive melancholy, and an unpredictable freedom to explore sounds. Elliot Smith came fairly early onto the indie rock scene and he and Simon share a similar sound/beat and vocal quality. "Waltz #2" is a decent example. Simon's "A Simple Desultory Philippic (or how I was Robert McNamara'd into Submission)" is too firmly rooted in the 60's to be used alone to demonstrate Simon's ironic simplicity, and "Slip Sliding Away's" heart strings are much more narrative (like a lot of his later music) than any music we usually identify as indie.  His tendency toward narrative songwriting is part of his genius--but is also a large part of what separates him from the indie scene that sings in a more alienated manner about their subject matter.   But have a listen to "Fakin' It", whose voice has a straightforward, presentational, layin' it on the line sensibility, and whose use of noise seems to anticipate indie music as we know it, or "The Sun is Burning" (Iron and Wine sing something that sounds like this tune over and over), and "Wednesday Morning 3a.m.", whose youthful longing lives in the dreamy realm that I find often characterizes the indie genre. "Think too Much A" and "Think too Much B" are also excellent examples of songs that I hear as progeny; if I were to imagine someone today attempting to write a pastiche of indie tunes, these might do.  Songs from his first solo album, like "Allergies", "Cars are Cars", and "When Numbers get Serious" are just weird enough for me to imagine them forerunners to songs by groups like The Mountain Goats and Vampire Weekend. And I bet there isn't an indie group around who doesn't wish they had written "The Only Living Boy in New York".

     Paul Simon has an enormous talent for reinventing his style; 60's troubadour, folk singer, pop soloist, poet, influenced by the music of Africa, electronic musician, musical lyricist, and on, and on. And it's within this infinite reach of his that I think one can find roots of the indie rock that so defines the hipsters of this generation; an approach to the musical form that often feels timeless by way of its inclusiveness.