A Slideshow about Guilt: Personal, Collective, and a River in Egypt

A Slideshow about Guilt: Personal, Collective, and a River in Egypt

Also posted yesterday at The Daily Kos. I had a rather disturbing conversation the other day with someone I very much respect, someone—in fact—who has probably done more to improve my outlook on myself and even the world than anyone I have met in a long time. I had just shown him two slideshows, They Moved the Moon (about the California genocide of American Indians), and The Freshmen, a slideshow that started out as an attempt to find a foundation for dialogue in the pain that every individual inevitably experiences, but ended up being more like a prophecy of mutual doom amounting to a kind of self-genocide that would hardly be acknowledged (if ever) until it was far too late. He seemed to be saying that the problem was not with the world, but with me; and if I could just figure out the roots of my attraction to subjects like injustice, inequality, unmerited suffering, and genocide then everything would be—if not exactly all right—at least I wouldn’t be very concerned and therefore a happier, better adjusted human being.

I recognize that there is a good deal of truth in his point of view, I probably would be a happier, more well-adjusted human being, although probably never “normal,” at least in the normal sense of the word. This slideshow is to some extent a product of that conversation a few days ago, and I realize that I, with characteristic perversity, have responded to his call for more tightly focused self-exploration of my anxieties and fears with the goal of eventually forging a more optimistic perspective on life by doing exactly the opposite. While I wouldn’t have really thought it was possible for me to go darker after The Freshmen (which at least started out as an attempt to empathize with people I didn’t like very much at all), I think I may have managed it, in part by Guilt’s wider focus, and in part by its direct attempt to address subjects which are usually either suppressed, denied, or belittled in America: the toxic effect of social expectations and stereotypes, the use of a religion as a justification for exploiting and destroying the marginal and powerless, the silencing and even murder of those who dare to tell us truths we don’t want to hear, and the deliberate suppression of many of the more unpleasant parts of our own history that do not conform to our self-flattering image of ourselves, to our incessantly repeated mantra that “America is the greatest country in world” (I suppose it may be true, depending on what you think “greatest” means).

All of these slideshows essentially grow out of a subject (here, guilt) and a song (here, three songs). Perhaps not surprisingly I chose Marianne Faithfull’s song “Guilt,” originally released on her brilliant Broken English album, although this version is from a live performance on a late-eighties television show. I chose it largely because I thought the drums, and the propulsive drive of the song, were a bit sharper and crisper than on the original. This section largely deals with private and personal feelings of guilt, but also introduces some larger issues explored in the second section. For this next section, I chose a version of Iggy & the Stooges “Dirt,” originally released on the 1970 Funhouse album, although this one is from a 2011 live performance in Detroit, which I chose largely because of the late Ron Asheton’s stunning atonal guitar work. Here I really move into questions of collective responsibility for the way the world is and don’t really come to any cheery conclusions. The final section, to a large extent inspired by Arctic Monkeys “This House is a Circus” from their Favorite Worst Nightmare album (2007). The “house” in question is, of course, The White House, with Hair Furor being the embodiment and inevitable conclusion of the escalating fear, hatred, selfishness, and victimization that are undoubtedly hard-wired into human nature, merely waiting for the proper circumstances (unfortunately now) to bring them to full, poisonous fruition.

I would certainly understand if you decided not to watch something that I freely admit is pretty depressing (in fact, kudos to you for having read this far).  I should warn you that there are a couple of curse words (it is Iggy, after all), and one of them is even written out, a young woman flips off the camera, and a few of the images are disturbing, although probably not as bad as something you could see any day on cable TV. Personally, I’d rate it a PG. I hope you do watch it, in part because I think it works as an aesthetic object, in part because I think it is emotionally powerful and moving, and finally because they are pretty terrific versions of some pretty terrific songs.

Bowie & I: I Can’t Explain Anyway

Bowie & I: I Can’t Explain Anyway

In my memory, buying David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane album is inextricably connected with getting deeply into music, at least in terms of buying record albums. I’m sure I had a few before (I remember having the Beatles Second Album, which may have been a gift, and a couple of Monkees albums growing up), but it was probably about this time (I would have been fifteen in 1973 when the album was released) that I started working, making money, and having money of my own which I spent almost exclusively on books and records. By the time I had finished my teens, it was virtually impossible to get around my bedroom as stacks of albums or science fiction and fantasy novels basically filled every available inch of floor space except for narrow pathways so I could reach my record player and the closet where my clothes were.

I was very aware of music, and read Robert Hilburn, the longtime popular music critic at the LA Times, religiously. While he had his detractors, and I didn’t always like every musical suggestion he made, I will always be grateful to him for exposing me to so many different artists and genres. In the early seventies, glam rock was happening, more in the UK than America, but it certainly had an impact in the big cities, including Los Angeles, and I was an Anglophile from very early on, so the fact that Bowie was more popular in his homeland than in the US was–if anything–a kind of recommendation to me. Bowie’s very conscious experimentation with multiple personas and public bisexuality was a source of both attraction and anxiety for me and one day, having somehow scraped together four dollars, I determined that I was going to buy his new album, Aladdin Insane, which was being praised to the skies by Hilburn. The punning title, with its promise of both magical transformation and a kind of companionship in my own mental struggles with the “strange changes” that I was going through, was undeniably an attraction too, while the striking cover art seemed both a more overt statement of a kind of gay aesthetic, and a more hidden one than the limp wristed photo of David in a phone booth that graced the back of Ziggy Stardust, an album which I was very much aware of, but hadn’t yet quite summomed up the courage to buy.

As I remember, at this time the only local record outlet, which sold a very limited selection of music, was Thrifty Drugstore, a big chain at the time. I think only the sleeves were out in the racks, so you had to take the sleeve to the cashier and exchange it for a copy that actually had a vinyl album inside. I remember taking the sleeve out and putting it back several times as I built up and then immediately lost my nerve. I think I finally realized that I was making more of a spectacle of myself in my public indecision than I would do actually purchasing the record so, like ripping off a bandaid, I walked briskly to the counter where the young, dark haired, female clerk checked me out. I think she gave me an odd, slightly searching look, but that was probably my imagination (Does she know? I’m sure I thought at the time).

After that, I was off, getting into Mott the Hoople, T. Rex, and even the New York Dolls, and very quickly into many other musical genres as well. I soon got a license, then a used car, and after that the record stores of the San Fernando Valley, and even the iconic Tower Records down on Sunset, suddenly became accessible to me and I discovered not only used records, but really esoteric things like imported singles and albums, which were instrumental in getting me into punk rock a few years later.  I actually saw Bowie once in 1974, on his Diamond Dogs tour when he did a five day stint at the Universal Amphitheatre (here is a link to a video of “Cracked Actor” recorded at one of these shows, and a live recording drawn from the entire run has also just been released–I had completely forgotten, by the way, that he performed the song with a skull, although I remember the shades and the sweater). Anyway, here is my video tribute. I chose these two Who covers not so much because they reveal anything about David, but because they really nail what he meant to me at the time: a slightly inexplicable attraction coupled up with a sense of the opening up of near limitless possibilities: gender, art, politics, literature, everything. Where have all the good times gone, indeed?

I’m also going to include David’s official video of “I’m Afraid of Americans,” partly because I identify with it (which is odd, at least according to my Passport, I am an American), and partly because I had been thinking of making a slideshow about it. After looking at it, however, I doubt I could do better, and there is simply no way I could replace David’s magnetic presence in it. So, if you haven’t seen it, enjoy; even if you have, it’s probably worth watching again. Sort of unfortunately, it seems even more timely today than it did when it was released.

A Slideshow for my Psychologist

A Slideshow for my Psychologist

I was looking for a good version of “Leftover Wine” a song by Melanie Safka I remember listening to a lot as a teenager, with the thought of maybe making a slideshow about it. Melanie had a big hit with her single “Brand New Key,” but the album I listened to at the time was the live recording of her 1970 Carnegie Hall concert.  I sort of stumbled across this, which is a song from that concert, with a slideshow already made and posted to YouTube by Adamfulgence. It’s probably as good as anything I could do, and it even includes the lyrics (which I really haven’t figured out how to include yet). I hope everyone (including my psychologist, who isn’t really a Freudian anyway) takes it in the spirit of fun and affection that I truly believe she intends (I think she still occasionally performs, so I use the present tense). I realize that it doesn’t exactly fall under Politics or History, and only vaguely under the already vague umbrella term “culture.” However, I do say this is a personal blog, so consider this a personal slideshow, even if it was created by someone else.