Thursday, November 30, 2006

Thursday, November 16, 2006


From a note to a friend:

i go through periods when i shut people out for no good reason. i gravitate toward easy marks in close quarters, so as to avoid the hard work of excavation and explanation that occurs when i speak with an old and knowing friend. this is particularly the case when my good work is shadowed by writer's block. i have to lie to people and make them think that everything is alright, when i am fucking up a good job and remain frustrated with my inability to express my thoughts and ideas to the wider world. it's a funny thing, this writer's block which seems to cause speaking blockages as well.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Lost in the Plot

Though the Montreal band the Dears have a new and well-regarded album called Gang of Losers, I love the band for a single song from their last album. Whatever it truly is about, "Lost in the Plot," twinned with the following video, continues last week's theme of secondary school alienation, in this case of a young Black child in a northern white world.

Reasons why I love the video and song:

  • The combination of still and video photography;
  • The kid;
  • His valiant effort to dance to Motown-inflected indie rock;
  • The "Our love/don't mess with our love/our love is so much stronger" refrain;
  • Lead singer Murray Lightbourne's bright yellow maracas, which he throws to the ground at the moment when the song accelerates to its end;
  • The quick sequence of still photographs at the end of the video as Lightbourne wails "I promise not to cry any more";
  • The child's sad eyes;
  • Ending with a photograph of him on a snow-laden landscape.
I can't speak with any knowledge about the videography, such as the bright glare used to obscure the band through most of the video, though those techniques seem to make it visually textured and interesting. Regardless, it is the picture of the lonely child on a snowscape that hits me hardest.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Speaking as a Child of the Seventies

Before going through successive periods listening to WFAN in early October (baseball) and Air America in late October (politics), I would tune in a few different rock stations on my way to and from work. One morning as I came to stop for coffee, the old Bon Jovi song "Runaway" came on Jack FM or Q104 or some such station. It struck me that programmers at rock radio in New York have engaged in a conspiracy to rob me of my post-twenties identity, still vulnerable to deftly aimed stabs of aural memory, back to a time when I was very much an outsider, because of my skin color, fondness for books and politics, and lack of athletic ability.

Until the Seventh Grade, I wore my hair in a side part plastered down by Jabakusum coconut oil. As I moved through high school, I found a home in the freaks and geeks world of debate and speech. In the school where I spent most of my time, I was a bespectacled oddity, not black or white, with wrists that you could encircle with an adult thumb and index finger. Though I had many stresses during those years, my central drama, all the way through college actually, was my yearning for girls. The songs I heard on the radio and listened to on cassettes described an alien world of relationship and romance, exultation and desolation.

During my senior year in a class called "Leadership" (for reasons that remain unclear), the smart, preppy-dressing kids (no real preps -- the school was too working class, Jewish, and Catholic) who played soccer and tennis and bridged various social gulfs in our public school loved Bon Jovi and knew all the words to Livin' On a Prayer. (My high school was united in purpose and deed only one time while I was there, for a contest to write a metal band's name on slips of paper that would win us a concert put on by the radio station K-ROCK. Everyone worked on those slips of paper: jocks, nerds, preps, and the vast, silent, unnamed majority.)

I don't miss those days. And though I now work in a converted junior high school very much like my old schools, I am a fully formed person, mostly unafraid to be, with co-workers and students who share my values and value my personhood. And the music of this self is Pearl Jam, Wilco, Bloc Party, Broken Social Scene, Ryan Adams: modern, with shades of "classic" from an earlier era. But that doesn't stop the radio programmers from trying to keep me down and I remain subject to these Bon Jovi memories.