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Archive for the ‘Absurdity’ Category

2015 was a Kingdom of Bullshit. We were assaulted by a relentless barrage of bullets and bile from real-world terrorists & political hate-mongers, all while media-trolls across the spectrum stoked the blazes for revenue clicks. It all fed our frenzy so hard we became indignation wendigos, our frothy jaws devouring each other’s fury and spewing it back so forcefully we even hated those we should’ve considered comrades. South Park killed it this year with its satire of the Outrage Industrial Complex, but the most 2015 show by a hair has to be Mr. Robot. It captured the zeitgeist perfectly without ever quite snagging the zeitgeist’s attention, but something tells me (even if it’s just wishful thinking) it’ll have a much bigger cult by the time Season 2 starts in 2016. Yeah, in a lot of ways Mr. Robot is just picking up where Fight Club left off 16 years ago— but goddammit, it’s about time somebody picked up where Fight Club left off.

2014 Was a Flat Circle

2013 Was The Climb, Time After Time

2012 Was Louis C.K.’s Foolish Flailing

2011 Was Walter White’s Mad Cackle

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Sin Esperanza - Frida Kahlo, 1945

Sin Esperanza (Without Hope) – Frida Kahlo, 1945

Doctor Gordon was unlocking the closet. He dragged out a table on wheels with a machine on it and rolled it behind the head of the bed. The nurse started swabbing my temples with a smelly grease.

As she leaned over to reach the side of my head nearest the wall, her fat breast muffled my face like a cloud or a pillow. A vague, medicinal stench emanated from her flesh.

“Don’t worry,” the nurse grinned down at me. “Their first time everybody’s scared to death.”

I tried to smile, but my skin had gone stiff, like parchment.

Doctor Gordon was fitting two metal plates on either side of my head. He buckled them into place with a strap that dented my forehead, and gave me a wire to bite.

I shut my eyes.

There was a brief silence, like an indrawn breath.

Then something bent down and took hold of me and shook me like the end of the world. Whee-ee-ee-ee-ee, it shrilled, through an air crackling with blue light, and with each flash a great jolt drubbed me till I thought my bones would break and the sap would fly out of me like a split plant.

I wondered what terrible thing it was that I had done.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

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Of all the rock albums that currently exist, Green Day’s Insomniac is one of the greatest.  Today it turns 20 years old.

“I believe that truth only has one face: that of a violent contradiction.”  – George Bataille

“I’ll be scared later.  Right now I’m too mad.” – Bugs Bunny

Insomniac‘s got nothing to prove to you, or anyone else in this sick machine we call the world- yet it’s got nearly everything to prove, and will do so gleefully.  (It’s a twisted mess of contradictions like that.)  Most of all, it’s gonna prove to anyone who’ll listen that it’s the epitome of punk-loving, no-bullshit rock n’ roll.   

Insomniac is a black sheep overshadowed by its overachieving, chart-topping, Grammy-winning brothers (Dookie and American Idiot). It’s cynical bumper sticker philosophy from a smart-ass high school dropout who had just become a husband, father, and multi-millionaire rock star in the span of a year.  It’s a live news report from the front lines of This Eternal Apocalypse, where the reporter keeps miming jerk-off gestures at the camera.  It’s Johnny Rotten Vs. Groucho Marx in a Monster Truck Demolition Derby.  It’s bouncing around a padded cell in furious figure-8s, propelled by rocket roller skates.  It’s an amphetamine-fueled kegger crashing a Dark Night of the Soul.  A jittery sugar-high at a spiritual rock bottom.  The 33-minute existential crisis of a masochistic dingbat who ultimately finds salvation in the spine-chilling, mind-boggling, gut-busting absurdity of it all.

“Do what you will, this world’s a fiction/ and is made up of contradiction.” – William Blake

“I’m a smart ass but/ I’m playing dumb” – Billie Joe Armstrong

Q: Is Insomniac “Punk”?  A: What the Hell does it matter?

I’ve heard and read much impassioned debate over what “punk” means, and whether or not that particular label applies to Green Day.  I care not to end such debates, however inane they may be, so for the heck of it, let’s examine some relevant questions through the lens of Insomniac (which happens to be Green Day’s punkiest album).  Like: Is “punk” really so much more than just loud, fast, hard, catchy tunes?  Does “punk” just need to say “Fuck It,” or wouldn’t merely saying “Fuck It” be much too lazy?  Shouldn’t “punk” value simplicity, honesty, brevity AND wit?  Isn’t “punk” about not being afraid to beg for anything in life, except maybe pity?  Shouldn’t “punk” only appear nihilistic on the surface, with a layer of giddy black irony underneath to shield the wounded, doe-eyed babe trapped at the bottom of its well of alienation?  Is Insomniac not really “punk” because it might be the shortest distance between The Sex Pistols and The Jonas Brothers?  Or because the gear doesn’t sound like it was swiped from a thrift shop?  Or because the band sounds like they rehearse four hours a day instead of four hours a month?  Or because they’ve sold roughly 85 jazillion records?  Didn’t The Ramones want to be The Beatles?  Are The Ramones not “punk” enough for you?  Is it possible Fugazi’s songs aren’t quite as enjoyable as their gimmick?

“I am large, I contain multitudes.” – Walt Whitman

“Hooray! We’re Gonna Die!” – Billie Joe Armstrong

Billie Joe’s often content to cut-and-paste cliches into his lyric sheet, and on Insomniac he practically trips over himself trying to demonstrate this.  Sometimes, he can just put a clever spin on an old cliche: “Better swallow your pride or you’re gonna choke on it,” and “My own worst friend and my own closest enemy,” and “Call it as I see it/ even if I was born deaf, blind and dumb.”  But just as often, there’s “Do as I say/not as I do,” and “I’m going nowhere fast,” and “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass,” and “Wish in one hand/shit in the other/see which one gets filled first.”  Yet when sung along to his exuberant melodies, and packed with the wallop of those superheavyweight guitars and drums, the cliches sound funny and fresh all over again.  This is no minor feat, I think.

“After all, what would be ‘beautiful’ if the contradiction had not first become conscious of itself; if the ugly had not first said to itself, ‘I am ugly’?” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“I perfected the science of the idiot.” – Billie Joe Armstrong

Billie Joe’s often been called a whiner- at least by the so-called Dean of the Rock Critics– and I suppose it’s a somewhat valid label.  After all, one of his most famous lyrics asks, “Do you have the time/to listen to me whine/about nothing and everything all at once?”  But his relentless, pitiless self-deprecation makes him one of the more tolerable superstar whiners of ’90s rock.  Compared to a lot of his peers- Cobain, Corgan, Cuomo- Billie Joe sounds downright stoic.  A paragon of reason, even.  And on Insomniac, Billie Joe sounds as rational as he’s ever sounded, probably because he’s genuinely at his maddest.

“Well what did you expect in an opera?  A happy ending?” – Bugs Bunny

Remember, kids, there’s a fine distinction between evolution and progress.  (Or, as Billie Joe says, “There is no progress/ Evolution killed it all.”)  Kind of makes you think: wouldn’t it be somewhat ironic if natural selection ultimately favored the Creationists?  Wouldn’t that just be a tragedy of hilarious proportions?

this post previously appeared on the site on 10/10/10, Insomniac‘s 15th birthday.

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Lately I’ve been experiencing some extra-trippy nostalgia thanks to Spotify and its “Discover Weekly” feature, which custom-makes playlists for me with algorithms based on the music I listen to on their wonderful social media-oriented platform. As the name implies, “Discover Weekly” tends to introduce me to cool tracks I’ve never heard before– but it also reminds me of cool tracks that I’ve somehow forgotten, even though they soundtracked hugely significant moments in my life.

Like “Stay” by Shakespears Sister, which appeared on my Discover playlist this week. When I saw the title, it rang a faint little bell, but it wasn’t like I immediately remembered how the song went or anything. For reasons which will become clear soon enough, I decided to look up the video on YouTube instead of just listening to the track on Spotify first. And as I started watching the video, a weird feeling crept into me. Here was this vaguely familiar Kate Bush-like fairy tale music, which I kinda liked, and yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should know it a lot better than I did.

Then came the bridge, at around a minute-58 into the video, and a most bizarre memory avalanched into my brain– my memory of the first time I heard this song, which was also the first time I saw the video.

I must’ve been around 11 years old, because the song was released in 1992. I was watching MTV, maybe a late night airing of 120 Minutes (because the song seems “alternative” enough for that show), but I think I may have seen it in broad daylight.

I distinctly remember seeing the section with the song’s bridge, where Siobhan Fahey barges in as a gothy demon goddess and savagely disrupts the tender vibe, singing “You better hope and pray that you make it safe back to your own world.” When I first saw that as a tender 11-year-old, I swear I thought I was having some kind of psychotic break. Clearly this woman with the possessed eyes stabbing my soul through the fourth wall was speaking directly to me and only me, warning of some supernatural peril that lay in wait for me. I was convinced I had crossed the threshold into some world I would never return from.

I remember being so shaken by that sequence that I couldn’t wait to see the video again, or at least hear the song on the radio, so I could be sure that the goth-demon part was actually part of the song, and not just something that had been transmitted directly into my mind by dark forces beyond my comprehension.

Ultimately, of course, I was comforted to learn that the bizarre bridge really was part of the song, that everyone else heard it too. I don’t know how long it took me to realize it, but I remember feeling a gigantic sense of relief upon learning that.

23 years later, it all seems a bit silly…and yet, it still seems pretty creepy, and still pretty awesome. So awesome that I can’t believe I forgot all about this song until now. Though I guess it makes sense if I simply repressed all my memories of this song out of fear & utter embarrassment. Whatever the reason, I’m glad to have been reminded of this priceless forgotten memory, and I can’t wait to see what other forgotten memories Spotify might uncover…

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the-leper-lazarus-clep-1631.jpg!Blog

The Leper – Rembrandt, 1631

 

I had tried to be fair. It is the one single thing no one will forgive you for, neither the communists nor the fascists, the rightists nor the leftists, the white racists nor the black racists… One will make more enemies by trying to be fair (marked by impartiality and honesty) than trying to tell the truth– no one believes it is possible to tell the truth anyway– but it is just possible that you might be fair.

Chester Himes, The Quality of Hurt
(quoted in Ishmael Reed’s essay “Chester Himes: Writer”)

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Snakes - M.C. Escher, 1969

Snakes – M.C. Escher, 1969

…consider a final parable, which comes from Aleister Crowley’s Magick in Theory and Practice and is said by him to contain the whole secret of practical occultism:

Two passengers are sharing a railway carriage. One notices that the other has a box with holes in it, of the sort used to transport animals, and asks what animal his companion is carrying. “A mongoose,” says the other. The first passenger naturally asks why this eccentric chap want[s] to transport a mongoose around England.

“It’s because of my brother,” says the second man. “You see, he drinks perhaps more than is good for him, and sometimes he sees snakes. The mongoose is [to] kill the snakes.”

“But those are bleeding imaginary snakes,” says the first man.

“That’s as may be,” says the other placidly. “But this is an imaginary mongoose.”

Robert Anton Wilson, Ishtar Rising

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Fake Picasso?

Fake Picasso?

An art dealer once went to Picasso and said, “I have a bunch of ‘Picasso’ canvasses that I was thinking of buying. Would you look them over and tell me which are real and which are forgeries?” Picasso obligingly began sorting the paintings into two piles. Then, as the Great Man added one particular picture to the fake pile, the dealer cried, “Wait a minute, Pablo. That’s no forgery. I was visiting the weekend you painted it.” Picasso replied imperturbably, “No matter. I can fake a Picasso as well as any thief in Europe.”

Robert Anton Wilson, Ishtar Rising

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