Monday, March 26, 2012

Home Is Wherever I'm With You

“There is no salvation in becoming adapted to a world which is crazy.” – Henry Miller

When travel is a way of life, the concept of home becomes malleable, fallible, and strange. Last week, when I was stepping out of my friends’ 70s camper bus to get to my flight back to New York and they asked if I was happy to be going home, I remarked that I’ve been on the road so much this year that the airplane seat is what feels like home. And I’m reasonably comfortable with that feeling, because surrender to travel, and to the road, forces a kind of magical thinking. On the road, connections are the natural state of being, whether it’s connecting between modes of transit, or places, or people. If you surrender to those connections with curious eyes, everywhere is new. And if it isn’t new, it’s your eyes that are. And there are positives and negatives to that.

Last Saturday I had occasion to explore Harlem and New York’s Upper West Side, which is new terrain to me, despite the fact that I’ve lived out here for seven years. I wandered into a café where the barista wore a fleur de lis necklace, which led us to talk about New Orleans, and that opened up a rush of nostalgia for that place that I’m feeling very acutely tonight.

New Orleans and New York are an intriguing contrast to each other. Both are 24 hour cities, and both afford each person the ability to take from it what they want to. But on a fundamental level there are differences that inform what each person can take. The most fundamental, I think, is their relationships towards money as a baseline for lifestyle. New Orleans seems completely uninterested in wealth. There’s an awful lot of vicious poverty there that is not to be discounted, but there’s also a lot of people that couldn’t be bothered to worry about money. Capitol is the life’s blood of New York, the current that propels its energy. Even for people that don’t care for wealth, a large amount of it is required just to make the basics of life happen here. I think the result is that New Orleanians tend to be a genuinely friendly lot, whereas New Yorkers are sincerely polite.

When I was exploring the Upper West, I came across Westsider Books, which must have signed a 100 year lease sometime in the distant past, because it was unusual to step into such a tall and narrow space on the main drag of Broadway absolutely bursting with cheap, old, and actually dusty tomes. I walked in with the traveler’s whim, to see what this new place had to offer, and its shelves were overflowing with favorite authors and topics. I turned a narrow corner and happened on the travel shelf where Henry Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi was staring at me. Henry and I became friends when I was in high school, and last interacted about a decade ago when I was enthralled with his sculptural writing in Tropic of Capricorn and Black Spring. I tried Colossus back then, because he said it was his favorite of his books, but it didn’t connect with me. So I sold it. But last Saturday, the book asked me to pick it up again, so I did.

Tonight, I was out of sorts. The weather in New York has turned from early summer to late winter so abruptly that an animist would call it spite. I took to the gym and read Henry’s monologue, where his thoughts on France and Greece connected strongly with my ruminations on New York and New Orleans.

He said:

The Frenchman puts walls about his talk, as he does about his garden: he puts limits about everything in order to feel at home. At bottom he lacks confidence in his fellow-man; he is skeptical because he doesn’t believe in the innate goodness of human beings. He has become a realist because it is safe and practical. The Greek, on the other hand, is an adventurer: he is reckless and adaptable, he makes friends easily.

After the gym I stopped at my local pub, Harefield Road, where every stool to the left and the right of me was occupied by people talking to the person they arrived with or otherwise looking at their cel phone. As I read more of Henry’s words, a lady came up beside me and was bantering with Nate, the scientist who pays for his education tending bar. She was interrupted by a lout she knew who came up and said, “I shoulda known you were the one wasting this guy’s time. Order some fucking drinks or I’ll kill you!” This was his joviality. I guess I shouldn’t have been appalled by this joke between friends, but I was. But I also didn’t say anything, because you don’t do that here, and when I looked around to see if anyone else felt the way I did, all I saw was a wall of faces illuminated by the screens of their handheld devices.

Henry says:

We need peace and solitude and idleness. If we could all go on strike and honestly disavow all interest in what our neighbor is doing we might get a new lease of life. We might learn to do without telephones and radios and newspapers, without machines of any kind, without factories, without mills, without mines, without explosives, without battleships, without politicians, without lawyers, without canned goods, without gadgets, without razor blades, even or cellophane or cigarettes or money. This is a pipe dream, I know. People only go on strike for better working conditions, better wages, better opportunities to become something other than they are.

It is a pipe dream. But when I’m in New York, I’m bothered more and more frequently by how we are a city of millions who ignore each other, and when we can’t ignore each other, are suspicious of each other. It's not that we disavow interest in what our neighbor is doing, it's that by assuming a posture of self-preservation, we disavow the concept of neighbor. New York is beautiful, intelligent, and advanced, but we’re the kind of advanced where eye contact is so off-putting that we use wireless devices instead of talking to our neighbor.

Tonight, when I walked home from the gym, I looked at the tall buildings, the beautiful people, and the expensive restaurants on the way, and I missed New Orleans. I missed Flora Café, and I missed Devin playing the piano after she served me a cup of coffee, and I missed the musical Monday streets that affirmed the fact that another week had begun and we are all still here, in this, together.

New York is where I live, but it’s aloof, and it greets me like a visitor. New Orleans is a place I get to when I can, but it greets me like a friend, and sometimes, like a brother.

In travel, the concept of home becomes malleable, fallible, and strange. And sitting at my desk and writing this letter to you, I long for New Orleans, or for the airplane seat. I love everything about what I do, but what I do is home, and where I reside, well…

Henry says:

“All France, it has often been said, is a garden, and if you love France, as I do, it can be a very beautiful garden. For myself I found it healing and soothing to the spirit; I recovered from the shocks and bruises which I had received in my own country. But there comes a day, when you are well again, and strong, when that atmosphere ceases to be nourishing. You long to break out and test your powers.”

Right now, home is vocation. Everything else is observation.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Secular Sabbath

Earlier today I got to participate in a panel at Columbia University on Alternative Comics in NY and used the time afterwards to wander around uptown. It's an area I never get to, so it was visiting a new place, which, if you read this blog regularly, you know is one of my favorite things in life. Anyway, I went trudging up Riverside Drive and came across the Riverside Church, a beautiful Gothic behemoth covered with ornate carvings.

As I passed each carving and took in their superb craftsmanship, the subject matter reminded me of why I left organized religion. Look at these people:

An obvious reading is that this is a representation of Heaven, and of the icons of holiness and piety. But what I see is a giant, well-appointed tenement filled with solemn people being judgmental. And early on, I remember thinking that if Heaven is a giant, joyless banquet of judginess and ass-kissing of the divine, I really didn't want any part of it.

I decided first on agnosticism, and then on atheism. It seems to me that one of the great challenges of the 21st Century is to achieve a public morality that has nothing to do with God. Too much violence, too many bad laws, too many cynical power grabs, and far, far too much repression have been achieved under the guise of religious morality. I self-identify as an atheist because I think life is too important to put any power higher than that of human goodness. Human evil is, of course, the inverse, and organized religion attempts to curb that. But I think, ultimately, people should do the right things because they're the right things to do, not because there's a cookie waiting for them on the other side of the death bed. I think we should cherish the relationships we have in our life while we're here, because a spiritual reunion in the hereafter is much less important than the beauty of the bonds we can form in the material world.

When I walk past a church like this, I see vast beauty created by human hands and human minds. I can't imagine a power more creative and transcendent than those two things.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"It is a human number. That number is six hundred and sixty six!"

Today is the 30th Anniversary of Iron Maiden's masterpiece The Number of the Beast. The album was a breakthrough in many ways, offering two of the band's most iconic tunes (the other was "Run to the Hills"), but especially for cementing their melodic sound fusing prog and metal influences into the popular imagination. Up the irons, boys. You've done us proud.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Vtails

This blew me away:
Weird guitar shapes were also instrumental in heavy metal's visual lexicon. The Gibson Flying V symbolized the ultramodern styles of players like Michael Schenker, K.K. Dowling of Judas Priest, and later Kirk Hammett and James Hetfield of Metallica. Though its spacecraft shape seemed very timely, the Flying V dated to 1957, when, in response to taunts from rival Leo Fender that his guitar designs were stale, Gibson president Ted McCarty crafted the unconventional instrument along with the equally metal-ready Gibson Explorer. Though middle-aged by 1983, the angular axes became weapons of choice for heavy metal, aerodynamic props for a new range of choreographed onstage moves, like magic wands for unlocking the power of a mighty wall of Marshall Amps.
-- Ian Christe, Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal

Crumble Town

Spring's arrived in New York, so Scout and I took the ferry out to Staten Island for a day of exploring last Saturday. It was my first time making the ride, which proves the point that no matter how long one sticks around New York, and I've only been here 7 years now, there's always something new to discover. We took the bus out towards the Greenbelt hiking trail and missed the connection bus just as we were getting off the first one. Good thing. We tromped uphill and came across the wreckage of the old Sea View hospital. After crawling through a not very persuasive fence we explored the ruins. It was apocalypse porn on the order of an episode of the Walking Dead. Here's some pictures:


















And in the midst of all of that was this happy guy:

Old Sea View hospital is located at 460 Brielle Ave in Staten Island.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Skeptical



I've been listening to this tune pretty consistently throughout the current election cycle. It's flawless Motorhead. Everything from the angry dirge of the bass, to the indignation in the chorus and the bleakness of the lyric make this one of the finer down tempo metal anthems I've encountered in a while. And as a bonus it works equally well as a break-up song and as a response to watching one of the Republican presidential debates.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Truthful Advertising?

Walking to Bushwick to visit a friend, I came across this billboard:

Egads.

It's an advertisement for Fatherhood.gov, the national responsible fatherhood clearinghouse website, and I suppose it's supposed to inspire a sense of responsibility and reward for raising kids. But instead it just looks like an advertisement for birth control, or possibly vasectomies. The kids are kids, and as such, are a self contained unit. The elder is looking at himself in the mirror with the self-assured narcissism of an eldest son, while the younger looks to his brother for confidence and inspiration. And the father? Look at that sad bastard. He's tired, his eyes are flatlined, his features are slack, and he's moving without spark as his children feed off of each other. Maybe he's worried, or maybe he's lucky to not be thinking, but to just be waking up and out of it before going to a job he doesn't enjoy to feed these two spirited creatures standing next to him before he's had any coffee.

This picture doesn't make me want to be a father. This picture makes me glad I'm single.

This picture makes me think maybe it'd be cool to be a father:


It's probably too late for me to want kids. But come on, United States. Aspirational imagery might inspire folks to raise new, good citizens. This ad, well, the kindest thing I can think it says is: You broke it, you bought it.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ladies Night

Last Saturday San Francisco's RGB Gallery hosted the opening reception for "One or Two Things I Know About Her," a group show of drawings and photographs about women that featured contributions from cartoonists Trevor Alixopulos, Vanessa Davis, and Roman Muradov. I snuck away from the festivities at Image Expo to go across the bay and see their new work.

RGB is nestled in a crook on Fillmore just off of Union in the Cow Hollow neighborhood in San Francisco. It's more of a women's fashion boutique than an art gallery, but the owners showed good taste in their mix of cartoonists and photographers. I showed up around 9, and joined a busy local crowd, and was soon joined by comics peers Jeff Roysden, Francois Vigneault, editor of the Elf World anthology, and Floating World proprietor Jason Leivian.

The work on view was good, and consisted primarily of small original drawings and medium-sized prints of photographs. I'm gonna focus on the cartoonists, because they're who I showed up for.

I didn't know Roman Muradov's work before I got to the show, but I liked his ability to convey delicate forms with bold pools of color and the wispiest of lines. Here's a piece from the show I ganked from his blog followed by two crappy pictures I shot, and whose quality I apologize for in advance:




There's a fragile quality to these pieces. The colors are very soft, and they make the scenes ethereal. It was a pleasure to see them.

Vanessa Davis I met ten or so years ago on a visit to New York. I think I met her through Joan Reilly and Jon Lewis at one of the Artists With Problems drawing nights. It's been a lot of fun to watch her work develop from the uncertain diary comics she was making in the early 2000s to the accomplished and joyful color pieces that characterized her breakout graphic novel Make Me A Woman. The two pieces below were my favorites in the entire show:



I adore the joyful body language in these drawings. The victory dance of the first drawing is so convincingly rendered I can almost hear the lady singing. And the floating satisfaction on the face of the lady in the second drawing evokes the sublime satisfaction of something like a first kiss. Davis just keeps getting better: in her use of color, in her characters' acting, and in her ability to convey credible beauty. There's a palpable sense of pleasure that comes from her work, and it's intoxicating.

Trevor Alixopulos I met just over ten years ago at the SPX-iles event at Kristine Anstine and Mike Patchen's house in Oakland where a bunch of local comics folks congregated to swap comics and talk about what the fuck the events of a few days back, September 11, 2001, meant. Trevor was a prototypical punk rock kid then with a few issues of his comix zine Quagga out on the table. I don't remember what we talked about that night, but I know we talked for a long time, and that's a tradition that continues to this day. Trevor's an incredibly smart man. My obsessions flicker all over the place and wherever they go, when I bring them up with Trevor, he has an informed and intelligent opinion to share. At the gallery last Saturday we talked about the homogenizing effects of wealth on cities, and his new book Paper Mask, which is really damn good and I hope lands at a publisher soon.

If Vanessa's work radiates joy, Trevor's tends to radiate anxiety. They both embrace a sensuous, curvy line, but Trevor's lines reflect the motions of a nervous person twisting himself into knots. He also embraces the surreal and bizarre in a captivating way. I was especially interested in how he started using some strange abstract angular perspectives in some of the illustrations appearing in this show. Like this one, which I adore:


And this one:

I'm an unabashed fan of Trevor's work, so here's a few more pieces that were in the show, just because I like them:




I totally have a crush on this lady:


Finally, this drawing is a bold piece of storytelling that evokes a Southern Gothic bender:

The scene radiates sultry decadence, and reminds me a great deal of New Orleans. I could stare at this piece all day.

"One Or Two Things I Know About Her" is on view until April 7. RGB Gallery is located at 3024 Fillmore Street in San Francisco.

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All the good pictures in this post were ganked from each cartoonist's blog. All the bad ones are my fault.