During the game between Holland and Uruguay today, I found myself supporting the Orange at the start and then rooting for the Uruguayans by the end. Why? I love the sport, and Dutch football exemplifies its structures and psychology best: a team, with everyone able to function in all roles, ruled by a democratic consensus that is enforced by a tough cadre of leaders, usually four or five players that traditionally have included two defensemen. But also I support the Dutch because the team is the most ethnically diverse of all European football teams. But should I support this? Dutch mercantilism promoted exploitation of people around the globe in the name of spices or banking.
But then why root for Uruguay? It is a seedy, lonely country, based on my two months working there, but formed at the turn of the century by an interesting anti-religious intellectualism that has never been matched in the Americas; the word god was not allowed to be capitalized in the media, for example, and partly from this kind of practical humanism the country grew into a refined economic power whose cattle ranchers became the world’s 6th-biggest economy, as Uruguayans still brag on today. But the country destroyed its indigenous population, as mercilessly as any nationa in the Americas. The players on Uruguay’s national team are simply descendants from Spain, unlike the players on Mexico’s national team, for example, most of whom can identify with that country’s enormous indigenous populations. Mexico’s talismanic player is actually named Cuauhtémoc, after the Aztec ruler famous for standing up to the bizarre tortures administered by Spain’s conquistadors searching for gold. No name means more to a Mexican than Cuauhtémoc, but nobody on Uruguay’s team could possibly have such a name: Diego Forlan, Uruguay’s top player, is a blonde, blue-eyed hero who looks like he summers in Marbella among the bikinis and yachts, which is, actually, what he does. At least Forlan plays for Atletico Madrid, and not the fascist big brother from the same city, Real.
Which brings me to tomorrow’s game:
Like any European, I hate the German football team. There is not a nation in Europe that does not openly hope to beat the Germans, not just for the joy of sport but for the symbolism of defeating the continent’s social aggressor, for whom there is still bitter rage. Ask any person in the Netherlands if he or she understands or speaks German, and they’ll all say they do but would never admit it. For no country is the hatred of its neighbor more palpable than the feelings of the Dutch for the Germans. Betrayal, genocide, rank militarism; you can still be brought to tears in any number of Dutch towns once a year as they ring a bell and ask for silence to remember the brutality of Germany. When England won the World Cup in 1966, Winston Churchill remarked smugly, “Now we’ve beaten them at our game and also at theirs,” referring to football and war. In the hilarious joke about European character in heaven and hell, the Germans in the former are the engineers and in the latter they are the police. (The Swiss, I must digress, are the bankers in heaven and the lovers in hell!)
But the Germans are in an interesting situation. They have color in their team. And color in numbers, including an American (from Brazil), an African (from Ghana) and the best player in the world, a freaking Turk. The racism, jealousy and hatred of one people for another cannot be better expressed than the social standing of Turks in Germany. I won’t go on about it here, but refer you simply to Fassbinder’s mind-bending movie “Ali, Fear Eats the Soul,” about the interactions of the German whose chest swells with pride for the Fatherland and the immigrant who tries to eke out his existence among the Teutons. The Turk is swashbuckling his way out of Germany into the British football leagues with a performance that is sublime, and threatens to do for all immigrants in Germany what Zidane did for all immigrants in France. For years, intellectuals have begged Zidane to say something about the social status of Algerians in France, and he has adamantly refused. But in private, his tongue rasps the French character and spears the racism in Marseilles and in the press which have made growing up Arab in France such a prickly endeavour. Zidane in 1998 won the World Cup with a team that was mostly Arab or immigrant or African, and not lilywhite. Nothing has brought French skins closer together in the fraternal codes of constitution the French copied from the USA. Equality and brotherhood has only happened in France when a football is being kicked. So what does this mean for Germany?
Must I root for the Turk to slalom his way through Spain en route to a skewering of the Dutch?
I lived in Spain. From 10 years old to 16 years old, my formative years. And I kept going back until I was 23, and now I go back every year searching for something about myself that I do not realize is missing until I am there, among the cork trees and broken castles. Shouldn’t I root for Spain?
But what is Spain? And what is its national football team? If Spain loses to Germany, it will be because there is no such thing as a Spanish nation, and there will never be. No Catalan is Spanish. No Basque is Spanish. Galicia and Valencia mean more to its bloodholders than any alignment of political territories. And Spain is not the cradle of fascism, but it is its primary exporter and experimenter. Knowing anything at all about Spain and football means you must root for FC Barcelona and against Real Madrid, the team Francisco Franco loved with all his heart as he imprisoned and murdered artists and homosexuals and thinkers and poets and anyone who did not see his vision of a hierarchical Spain, where bloodlines determine intelligence and social standing and economic opportunity. There are players on the field tomorrow (or today) for Spain who would spit on the country’s flag in other more private circumstances, especially in Catalunya or Bilbao or Guernika. You cannot walk in the Basque province and not notice the names in Spanish blacked out, and the unlimited expanse of anti-Madrid graffiti. Catalunya has never been its own country, and is now the main economic force of Spain, providing more than 40% of the country’s economy, and if there will ever be another new country in Europe, it would be Catalonia, if the residents have their way.
Here are some interesting tidbits to consider as you root through these final stages of the world’s best sporting competition:
Dutch football great Johan Cruyff’s son is named Jordi, named for Catalunya, and the son actually played for the Catalonian national team several times. There are towns in Spain that are Dutch. 100% Netherlanders, congregated together for the sunshine and clean air that do not exist in Europe’s sweltering armpit, all in towns that quietly practice a new kind of social apartheid. But if you are sympathetic to Catalunya, how do you root for the region’s enemy, the united idea of Spain? But to root against Spain is to root for Germany or Holland. Germany has color on its pitch for the first time, and this is a profound thing for Germany. In “Schulz Gets the Blues,” the all-time biggest box-office winner in Germany’s cinematic history, an accordion player discovers zydeco on the radio and then plays it at his small town’s annual picnic to a stunned reaction, when a village elder stands up and shouts “Stop that nigger music!” That movie was cathartic for Germany, allowing for a public admission of racism and social stratification that will have every German you know in guilty tears if you talk about it with them for more than 10 minutes.
But Germany? How can I support German football? How can I root for the enemy?
Why not throw my allegiance to the Dutch?
Bercause here is football in Africa, and here is football in South Africa, and the saddest thing that ever happened to Africa is the colonial pillage (with plenty of African help, to be sure) of the past few centuries, and the saddest mark of all colonialism is apartheid, which in my generation is the darkest strike against humankind that I can imagine. The British in that European joke I mentioned before are identified in hell as the cooks, and in heaven as the police, in recognition of their generally well-intentioned efforts to be fair on international and regional issues. The British made apartheid. But it was Dutch farmers who lived it and turned it into evil. The Afrikaner is a Dutchman. The Afrikaner is everything Africa must put in its past.
And here are the Afrikaners, ready to take on Germany, where immigrants are relentlessly discriminated against, no matter what you think you see in Berlin, or ready to battle Spain, whose existence as any kind of team reminds that the Spaniard is willing to kill his own, as Franco did, to preserve a family’s good name, and who exported the Conquistador, whose rapaciousness and profit-seeking still keeps people with the wrong skin color on the wrong side of the bottom line.
And Holland’s fight against Spain or Germany will happen in South Africa in front of millions of people who cannot hear Dutch or think Dutch without being reminded of their own utter worthlessness.
We are what we play. We all play football. The enemy will always win, as long as somebody is keeping a score.
Years ago, I fought Exxon. Now I find it hard to go after BP, since they are the only petroleum company to invest in alternative energy. But then I tell myself to stop bleating like a sheep and learn to bite like a snake: we are all guilty, no matter what miles per gallon we get or when we turn on the heat or take a shower, but that doesn't mean we can't act like responsible Americans and do everything in our power to subvert the production of dinosaur fuel. But how? When? Does it start with a simple declaration that our enemy is the plastics-maker and the gasoline dispenser? Do we say so out loud, or as a whisper, or only in the mirror? Gas kills, we know, but which American kills gas? When? How?
Fishbone and the English Beat played last night, and H.R. (from Bad Brains) got on stage and did a number, nervously, timidly, even, and the nostalgia got everyone jumping, but I kept thinking: What does time do to musicians? Why don't they innovate? Is it like any craft, where the need to make a living blunts the urge to take risks? A song steels itself from a spark, but why is it easier to be aflame when you are broke and desperate, rather than comfy and tricked out with 16g of RAM? It's great to see Robert Plant do something he could never have imagined 35 years ago, but can the Who write a new song anyone can remember within minutes of listening to it? Did Fishbone imagine, 20 years ago, they'd be in the same club, sleeping in a bigger bus, clearing $373 for the night? Would they have continued to do what they do if they did know? It's unsettling to see so much talent, floating rather than swimming . . .
I'm not interested in money, but I love the challenge of connecting the dots between memes. The process is more akin to investigating flight patterns after a crash: where did an idea fly from, get refueled at, become airborne for the first time? I am just now trying to articulate growing up with my own father, who turned on the CIA in 1970 when we lived in Europe to hide for three years while everyone looked for us. I was 10, my sisters younger, and we had a dog; my father was then 63. How he pulled it off beggars belief, still. So coaxing you into video and pixels in a very poetic and spare language, which you already speak so fluently, would be an exercise with vector-like benefits: no matter who such a project included or touched, the artwork would stretch to accommodate further interests and faraway curiosities, without ever losing its shape or original design. These sorts of efforts are rare, perhaps formulated in academic institutions as ideas but never really executed.
Have you seen the excellent film "Rivers & Tides" about ? This is the visual poetry I would hope to emulate, even if the very modest video we could get in a single afternoon would be a fraction of that movie's efforts. Let me know if you're interested in creating something quickly and smartly like this; perhaps it is perfect timing for a new book, perhaps it's just another pain in the ass a new book births. I'd certainly be willing to put up some effort and organizational power. Good luck with the book, hope it sells like hotcakes or iPods, tell your agent to look into making a graphic version for the which would be a certified money-loser but could very well create sales for the book that are not now imagined, never mind planned!
-- from correspondence with author James Brown, whose L.A. Diaries was terra firma in my frenzied flights over oceans of possibility and anxiety.
At the edge of everything, I seem to find the fullness of self. One more step leads into a fall or a drift which will break me to pieces. This balancing act, of leaning out over an empty drop, while still aware of orbits and anchors, is a path I’ve followed all my life. Like a trapeze flier, or walker of high wires, the attention I attract is not usually due to fond familiarity but to the possibility of failure. And of failure with consequence. Extinction, scars or exhaustion. But here at the edge there is energy and treasure to grasp and collect, not just from being in places without people, but from being forced by planetary grandeur to admit that in the end I am a person without a place.
Stefan Sagmeister likes hotel rooms as engines of inspiration. Especially when he just checks in to a new one, when he's away from the studio and has an uncluttered mind. But I love his insistence that good designers should schedule "regular" "non-client-driven" experimental projects. He keys in on the word "regular" to emphasize that such projects, which do not bring in income and may actually lose cash, should not be bumped from the work flow to make room for profitable corporate or paying projects. You can't really experiment on a client's time, and without experiment you cannot grow your creative skills; intuition and insight depend on repeated failure in laboratory-like thought processes. I'm very fortunate that I haven't had many corporate clients or paying gigs in the past ten years, so each of my projects results to some degree in outright failure. Does this mean that I am getting "better" as a producer and creator? I certainly have more inspiration and insight than ever before, and these elements in my thinking and spirit seem to grow markedly not on a calendar or clock but by each attempt at expression and by each abandonment of an expression to follow a new muse or moment.
Love comes without invitation or warning, and leaves the same way. So why would anyone spend a minute waiting for it? And why chase it? Except how can you deny how elemental love is, especially as you value solitude and knowledge more and more with age? The more you study, the more you know you don't know, the more love shines as something to admire or celebrate but not to possess or clutch. Letting love go is the best way to find out who you are, and how capable you may be in making love or rescuing it when it calls out for help, and asks that only lovers respond to its troubles. But here I am, putting a human sense onto an emotion that has evolved to help society survive and procreate. And I do this because I am impressed into creating a piece of literature that explains love and defends it only when it is capable of destruction, because to feel it as a comfort is an insult to what loving means: love kills you, if you are very lucky and very brave. Who expresses this? Why?
The first 30 minutes of Gloria Rowlands in John Cassavettes' "Woman Under the Influence" is a role any actress would kill for, but few could play. She's mesmerizing in a trip to a bar, looking for a drink, while her husband works for the water department late one night; after a languid five minute sequence getting chatted up by a lonely loser at the bar, she is being groped in her own house and suddenly awakens to start fighting herself out of a near rape. She is distracted, swollen by the drink as all drunks are, pink and burpy, but she's also losing her marbles, losing her connection to the world that miraculously clings to her as mother, wife and neighbor. Why isn't this movie made today? Everythign is too slick, now, too seamless and perfect except when the nuts and bolts of perfection get in the way. Cassavettes gives you ten seconds at a time to establish his mood and directions, but then gives Rowlands all the time she needs to vex and vent. His hand is heavy to make a point, and a whisper when he lets you listen on your own terms, as a detached witness to disaster. And this accident isn't something you can say you saw coming; its effect is to leave you continually looking at the victims at the scene after the collision has happened, always a few seconds late. Masterful, beautiful, slowly contagious.
I was writing beautiful shit. I mean, pretty. And then a deadline moved into the movie, and the four scenes I have left (which explain everything) are suddenly shy as snow leopards. I washed the dishes, sang in the shower for an hour, called everybody and said nothing, read Camus and watched Monica Vitti, flirted and threatened and made people cry and laugh and curse me upside down, and still the writing hides . . .
. . . and I must respond to that email about appreciating Picasso and incomplete impulses. You're right about giving respect until it is no longer deserved; the problem with being older is that you find few of your friends warrant respect on intellectual grounds. Emotionally, of course, and psychologically, of course. But in the stream of ideas, our friends stop swimming when they find they can drift and eat and sleep in relative safety without expending much energy. That's fine when building a nest or a skyscraper, but doesn't sharpen a mind one whit. So what do you do then, as you find yourself swimming a faster, deeper, more lonely current? Can you be friendless, and not sink? What happens if any compromise means the current slips away from you, into the further recesses of your imagination, and you never see where it leads? My anxiety, in words and pictures and movies, is this absurd trip to a place where no one can go but me, from where many messages may be broadcast, but no affections received. It's the secret of the self, this destination, which many people would like to hear me describe, but to which nobody can travel with me. If I don't go there, I will always have friends and always will live an open book of respect and appreciation. But it's not in my nature to ignore the depth of my feelings or the length of my thoughts, so the plunge happens, alone.
I'll use this writing somewhere, soon. Thanks for prompting it.
-- from a correspondence and dialogue project with Mark W.
"It's probably the best way," her voice says, as she breaks up over the line.
She will always be going where the reception is in danger of failing, so she can be herself, in her own universe. And in that place, there is no room for me. I do not fit. Because I come attached to a million dreams, huge balloons that carry me in unknown directions. She falls in love, or she fights with a friend, or she just wants to dance, and she will not notice if she punctures a balloon of mine. But then her universe is quiet, and her imagination starts working without schoolwork in her head or a boy in her pants, and she remembers what happens when we are trying to make something, how thrilled she was to be the center of my attentions.
How far she swam to leave her universe and come into mine! She can't stay long, because that is not my nature, and she learns to fly, because escape will always be her desire. Other people will see us flying and shout "Look at those people in the sky!"
But can this ever happen outside of her dreams? Will she ever broadcast herself again to me? Because now she won't hear me. She no longer trusts me. Because she cannot listen to her own impulses nor trust herself, so how can she do these things with me?
"I am just like you," says me.
"No, no, nobody is," says she, and the reception breaks completely, leaving me in shocking silence, with her all alone in her dreams. She will drink and dance and get laid and maybe think of me in the middle of the night with a burst of anger or frustration, and think again that it is not her who has changed but me, and I cannot call her then and say: "I still want to watch you being you, and I am still looking for you, waiting for you to show me who you wish to be, so I can make a picture and say,
'Look, Maya, do you see?'"
Oh, she thinks, that person does not look like me!
But, Seanie, I love your picture.
Do you have more? Of me?
If the circumstances turn out a certain way,
this is every woman's nightmare.
I come in to her small ranch outside Vegas and find her in an empty hot tub, huddled and in tears. Daddy is bleeding from his eyes. She doesn't look at me or acknowledge me and my camera. "Daddy's bleeding from his eyes, like tears, dark, burgundy." I can't say anything, you never can, but I sit on the edge of the tub and she reaches up her hand to touch. "I know it's impossible, Blue, since it's only been two months, but I can feel it kicking."
No way. She says she can feel it trying to come out. Daddy is dying, and she is pregnant, giving birth. "It's like a race. I have to win," she says, and she repeats this a dozen times. I can see her belly and thighs straining, and I tell her to relax, that she will win the race only if she relaxes, and this gets her out of the tub and into bed, where she's asleep seconds after lying down. She sleeps until the next dawn, when the caw of some bird wakes her up in fright. I smile, she smiles, and the fright flies out the window.
Daddy will be happy to see you, she says. Maybe, thinks me.
The think tank is spooky at night, and the hairstylist wants to know if I am afraid of ghosts. There is not a spirit who I wouldn’t be happy to meet, I tell her, and if there are any in this building they will certainly come looking for me. Because my creative impulses are finding similar beats in people ready to make some noise. Thieves are in charge, more here in Iceland than anywhere else in the world, and they are using the national values of family to keep the citizenry in the dark. So people fed up with being ripped off by a handful of redneck aristocrats find my quixotic campaigns either amusing or inspiring, and new friends seem to be everywhere, tuned to the possibilities of revolt. It makes for an interesting new year, when anything can happen and probably will.
Photography is the province of the privileged. There is a wide discourse current on the Net which asks us if the proliferation of cameras is a good thing for photography. Aren't there too many people taking pictures? Hasn't the medium turned mediocre, with any impulse for creativity instantly gratified for a few hundred dollars and 12 megapixels? The people who make this argument tend to be the amateurs who once shot with actual 35 millimeter film, and they are aghast at the arrivistes passing them by with 3,000 shots a month. For a blue collar stiff like me, improperly self-educated, the situation is wonderful: anyone (almost) can shoot and document their own barrios and inner souls without suffering the interpretations and infatuations of the rich. And Diane Arbus, bless her soul, was rich, the daughter of a man who sold furs in Manhattan. Arbus studied under Lisette Model, who was so well-off she had a maid to tie her shoes; Lisette as a teenager still did not know how to tie shoelaces. No wonder it is tempting to say now that Arbus was mining the veins of poverty for her own profit as she stalked transvestites and circus freaks. She put in her sweat, after all (working with her husband on fashion shoots), and the equity allowed her to capture faces and places the rich rarely encountered. But what did she say about these people? What did she think? Does Diane Arbus still influence how we shoot? Or did she know, somehow, how shallow her lifetime of images would become? Was it that despair that drove her to suicide? Because in the end, what is a photographer left with, if the only impulse to shoot is to record what you see? Which photographer can you say has recorded what he or she felt about themselves? Well, actually, Arbus: How many times did she admit the freaks she shot were simply her mirrors? Her weird photographs actually seem to say more about her than they do about her subjects. That realization alone would be enough to drive her to the pills and overdose. It's tempting to read that possibility into her thoughts, but she left us with too little to mull. Like other well-heeled photographers who made their names by wandering among the poor, all Diane Arbus really left us was a bunch of arresting images with very little explanation for not only their existence but why she made them.
"Loose Girl" is the story of Kerry Cohen's life, wherein she evolves from confused loose teenage cannon to confident psychologist and human sexuality expert. Book is utter bullshit. It might sell only to readers with prurient inclinations toward both dirty sex and confession. Why can't female sexuality ever be portrayed properly at bookstores? Is Hell paved with notches showing every boy a girl ever allowed into her pants? Even this book, which purports to be of a journey from anxiety to confidence, can't help but degrade promiscuous behavior. Probably because society's bookstores are run by men, assisted by women who want things to be run by men. Well, almost everyone goes from teenage angst to a sense of midage mediocrity, and Cohen's story is just more proof. Anecdote after anecdote reveals Cohen's current apprehension about her past behavior, when every tryst underscored her neurotic personality, but to Cohen this is a shocking scientific evolution, and she fails to see the other side of the equation: the millions of men who buy porn every month on their business stays in the local Hilton who are looking for a glance at the good girl next door who has the guts to do something naughty even if people are looking. Rent the movie Belle du Jour instead of buying or borrowing this tripe from Kerry Cohen. Or you can read an excerpt from my own treatise on sexual power, my forever-unfinished but still-expanding Burn & Scar.
Ghostland Observatory is supercool. Desert head talks funny and looks funny and grows up wanting to be a comedian because everyone laughs at him. He's on a farm hours away from San Antonio, stuck in nowhere. But he makes it to Austin, gets discovered by a socially inept peer who happens to play a little piano, and the rest is history. Ghostland Observatory is the bomb. Not for the music, which sucks, but for the dancing and the vibe, which is utterly original.And the band does not allow itself to be marketed. This is the direction I need to be moving in.
Check out Ghostland Observatory's video "Vibrate" and ask yourself if you can really do a similar routine with your butt and hips.
the breeze brings memories of the dead, chats and chortles, but work is done until daylight puffs out because there are tombstones to clean and faces to paint, children to decorate in halloween, in skulls or flowers, so let the men debate sports and politics while the engines keep churning to keep traditions from falling out of favor, where most traditions would go if it wasn't for a mother to protect them, unless they have to do with killing or medals, at which time a man is only too glad to snap to attention; but for making the cemetery into a flowery display, fuck that, the males congregate around the results from the futbol or the scandals in the Mayor's office, unless it is their woman, their mother maybe, or hopefully Heaven forbids it their daughter, lying in memory beneath the stones, under the dusty soils and broken shreds of last year's celebrations of the day of the dead, in which case the man turns poet and bends to the task, choking tears and coughing for breath . . .
The college recruiter is 32, and is in the basement of the convention center in Portland, where he gets the attention of my niece Aisha. He's trying to sell her American University, even though his own alma mater is UNC. He feels guilty when potential students are turned away because they can't afford the $20K in annual tuition, but it's his job to recruit, so he's fishing for dollars anyway. He's still paying off his own college loans. Aisha asks him if he could be doing something better with his money than paying back loans, and of course he can think of a million things to do with the cash.
How do you feel about an innocent 12th grader getting dragged into a lifetime of debt, asks Aisha of the college recruiter. He wishes that schools are a lot cheaper, and he indeed borrowed to go to school and has a few years to go, and here he is trying to pay his nut by getting other fools to pay up and go to American U. So now he's got a degree and is working in college admissions, although he admits he hopes this won't be his job in another ten years, because he's afraid it will make him hardened. But it's not me who designed the system, he keeps saying, to which Aisha keeps replying: Yeah, but you're the messenger.
I arrive two days before she dies. With my father, it was a handful of hours. My mother went to the doctor and was told he wanted to remove her leg. She asked for a taxi and split. She would die with all limbs intact. They set her up in a bed in her living room, where her family could come for uncomfortable reminders of what is coming in all our futures. Hospice came and played Mozart, which she hated. Force fed her until she couldn't go to the bathroom any more because of the state of her leg. She didn't eat another bite, and didn't go to the bathroom again. No more potty, no more norurishment. Men with a funeral car came and zipped her up into a body bag. I helped them carry her out to the car and they drove away. I helped my aunt write a laughable obit for the newspapers. Seems like my mother founded the Sorbonne and brought peace to the Middle East and I didn't even know it. Controversy started soon afterward, and my brother-in-law came up with the best quip: "This is her way of getting more attention from her family." I have to admit I thought she would take a lot longer, and drag everyone with her, but I was wrong. I apologise. She left the world the same way she came in, with no grand plans and not at all eager to make the place any better than she found it. But I suppose we can say this about most parents if we stop to think about it. My parents were both humorous, extravagant people, but not heroic in the slightest. Mikey Cormier calls me and says I can join his Orphans Club, and from the sound of it, a few beers on his tongue and sadness in his tone -- he and my mother respected each other quite a bit -- he is calling me from that Club. I will have to go and see what it's like.