Sam Amidon at LPR this past Thursday night. I have seen him about four times over the last seven years and every time I see him his performance feels just as magical and weird as it did the first time – maybe even weirder. Maybe because the magical deadpan weirdness from the last time manages to stay in place – even when an old folk tune is interjected with something not-quite-folk like dissonant chords or arhythmic singing, off-kilter improvisations or electronics reminiscent of a loud modem, as though to remind you that the very old thing that you’re listening to is not as old as you think. As though to say, if you thought it was an old thing, well, the joke is on you: today is still today at the end of it all. Even when he does his rendition of that R. Kelly’s “Relief” for the thousandth time, tells you all what a masterpiece it is while you laugh at the fact, but still manages to get you all to sing along, and with feeling at that – what could have been a gimmick manages to become something more transcendental. It finds a way to comfort and throw one off at the same time. Welcome to the new weird America after all – if you had any doubt as to what a strange place and what strange times we’re living in, or really, have been in, for a very long time.
From feet away: Loren Connors and Keiji Haino at the Whitney last night, performing as part of the Blues for Smoke show curated by Jay Sanders. Listening to these men make music is like taking part in a seance, except that you are never quite sure as to who exactly is the ghost and who is the medium. Matana Roberts performed on the second half of the bill, and yes, she is absolutely, absolutely a medium, and you can really hear the spirit coming through her instrument, through the breaking in the voice.
“Strange” is too easy of a word. Still I am drawn to a particular strangeness in sound. What other word – – for a long time I used to think that the meaning of the word “alterity” had something to do with time until I learned that it was more about the state of otherness than time, but maybe that’s where the strangeness of sound comes in. How do you do something so strange but beautiful so that everybody becomes fixed on you, how do you pull someone into your own sense, measurement of time. And to think of the blues in relation to time: how do you remake the source, the memory of your blues, into your blues; and then how might your blues, whatever the source, become someone else’s blues. Music as, almost always, as a way of making a kind of sound through a kind of time and as a thing with the intent of transcending. Something for the maker and something for the listener. Or, how might the strangeness of your sound be an act of love for the world, for the state in which it was, is, you wish for it to be. Every musical moment with the potential to be a small apocalypse, in the sense of uncovering hidden things, in the sense that time gets redefined, maybe. More for the notebooks, always.
from John Ashbery’s “Märchenbilder,” by way of an old gift from an old friend. Rediscoveries in between movements, a move.
It could be like a break in the radio. Such signals sometimes sound as if they lasted an entire life. Or future, or past, outside time. Like I said: a blade of grass has the status of a flower. To see in this tiny phrase, something more than just the black and white key..
(See also, Walt Whitman: a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars –– or: I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, / If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.…)
holy week blues, maybe.
“sunrise in outer space/love for everybody”
Two of my music students asked me about what I do outside of teaching today. I told them about work and graduate school and research, and I asked them about what they’d like to be when they grow up. One wants to be a scientist, the other a nutritionist. They asked me what I wanted to do when I was done with school and I said that I think I’d like to write more — that was the easy answer. I taught them about how all music is made up of intervals today. I hope those girls grow up to be amazing women; I think they will. Daylight savings time feels so good and so does the weather, and better days are ahead, I can feel them coming. Those might be the spring feelings talking, but mostly I realize that I am just so glad to have made it this far, these days. These days have been very good, I think better than what I gave them credit for.
The photo below: Chinatown last night, from the intersection of Eldridge and Broome. I can’t remember the last time I really thought about pairs of shoes dangling over a telephone wire but there were so many over this one, and I overheard a young couple in front of Vanessa’s talking about the shoes last night, wondering who might have died at the scene. As a kid I’d see them in our neighborhood from time to time and figured that it was something that boys did, maybe for bullying, maybe for sheer boredom, although I never saw it happen, nor did I ever think of the shoes as something to commemorate a death. A friend of mine tells me that he always thought that shoes over a phone wire meant drug dealers. A Wikipedia article on shoe tossing makes all these suggestions as well, although nothing really seems to be confirmed. The article is one of the most cryptic and poetic things that I have ever read on Wikipedia, in part because of the lack of confirmation for this urban folklore, in part because everything is almost matter-of-not-quite-fact. My favorite paragraph:
Others claim that the shoes are stolen from other people and tossed over the wires as a sort of bullying tactic, or as a practical joke played on drunkards. Others simply say that shoe flinging is a way to get rid of shoes that are no longer wanted, are uncomfortable, or do not fit.[verification needed] It may also be another manifestation of the human instinct toleave their mark on, and decorate, their surroundings. It has been reported that workmen often throw shoes if they are not paid for waxing floors.
Last night I ended up at Vanessa’s because I had decided to go on a very long walk through Manhattan, something I’d been doing a lot lately. I had spent 5 hours in a cramped public tax assistance office with little exposure to natural light and I needed the air. I am finding myself more restless these days, maybe because I’ve been anticipating so many changes and because everything is on the cusp of happening but things are not quite there yet, but on Friday night a friend told me that things are always like that. That must only be a part of it, maybe augmented by a recent sense of mid-20s crisis, maybe in part because I have been thinking about an old friend from high school who recently died. We weren’t terribly close in school but after I finished college he began to send me and I think many others emails, sharing his work, sharing his newfound mission to make art and change the world. He so much wanted to change the world, and I think at that time I was too sad to really trust in it. He would send us things over the course of several months, artwork, poems, his thoughts, apologies for sending so much information, although at some point I stopped saying anything back. I remember writing him back, telling him how I just wanted to keep food on the table, and I think that was the last personal email exchange that we had, and I’m starting to doubt that memory. I was thinking about him when the couple mentioned the shoes last night. I opened one of his old emails today and found a long text file filled with poems. I was thinking about the apocrypha of the everyday things that surround us, of the things that we remember, maybe even choose to remember about people when we find out that they’re gone.
In general I have been thinking a lot about the myths that encapsulate people, especially that the ones that we wish to be close to, or maybe, the ones that we wish we could have been closer to. And I’ve been thinking about how so often the myth stands for more than the actuality of things. The mysterious circumstances of things, of people. I don’t know how to be entirely clear about this. I am not so sure how precariousness falls into what I am trying to articulate, but maybe we make these myths for ourselves to create a barrier, to get through things. I have also been thinking, for a long time, about what it means to wander, to frequently be in tangent to something else, to not quite ever be secure. Wandering as a way to process our surroundings, the places where we get stuck, have been stuck. One way of saying, yes, I am alive, and thinking, now, where do I go. I look at the shoes on the wire and I think of how this could mean so many things for the one who throws them: I am restless, I am stuck, I am trying to move on, I am trying to maintain some distance from the ground, I am too old for this, I am in protest to my circumstances, I am alive, we are alive, we live here, we are anonymous, this is ours, and maybe, we are going to keep moving, for now.
old things from my grandparents’ belongings. things very small from far away.