Friday, October 18, 2013

A Former Student Ate His Dead Girlfriend's Tit, or: The World Is a Colorful Place Full of Mysterious Degenerates

Over the past four years, I have had the distinct and unique honor of teaching adult students at several community colleges the wonders and magic of writing and oration.  These students have come from all walks of life and a variety of backgrounds: several are former members of the military, several are seeking a second career in a field much different than their first career, several are high school dropouts who completed the GED program and now want an Associate's Degree (and even a Bachelor's later on), many are parents with delightful children and more than a few are 'former' criminals and convicts: a couple of 'reformed' drug dealers, an actual pimp who made young ladies work they asses good and, most recently, a man in his late 40's who murdered his ex-girlfriend (while under the influence of a powerful cocktail of drugs and booze) by stabbing her multiple times with a kitchen knife, stripping her naked, cannibalizing her one lady lump and then keeping her corpse in the bathtub for days.

Now, about this whole Tit-Eating thing: when this ex-convict was in my class, I had no idea he had this kind of history.  I rarely, if ever, do.  Students come into my classes - some in their twenties, most a lot older than me - and it's not as if the main office hands me a dossier with their life histories, criminal records and psychological test results.  It isn't until much later (if then) that I find out from other meddling, gossip-y instructors about the nature of some of the student clientele.  I was in the faculty room, and one of the other teachers (a professor of business) was talking to a colleague about this particular murderer.  It essentially came down to "You know about [student name]?  He has quite the checkered past."  I informed both of these instructors that he was in my class over the summer, and actually a decent, if quiet, student.  Ever the skeptic, I wondered how on Earth someone like this was not only allowed to be let out of prison, but was allowed to you know, take classes ... or take classes with me, to be specific.  I was told that he served his 20+ year sentence and was freed (under some kind of supervision).

The crime was committed in a neighboring state in the early 80's, he was only a teenager at the time and the heavy amount of narcotics he was taking contributed to his deranged state.  Since then he was a "model prisoner," turned to Jesus and wanted to positively contribute to society.  My reaction of shock and disbelief was certainly understandable: why is this man not locked the hell up?  Like forever?  What kind of judicial system lets cannibals out to roam the streets?  I understand he served his sentence, but who in God's name is going to hire this PCP-lovin' mammary muncher?  When I got home, I immediately rifled through my collected materials from this person.  It turns out the essays he gave me for class were ... well, they were quite normal.  For his process-analysis essay, he wrote about how to fix and do maintenance on a bicycle.  For his 'personal narrative,' he wrote about a friend from high school who joined the Army.  I was waiting to read something in there that 'gave away' his nefarious and disgusting past, but there was zilch, nada and nothing.  He wrote, and forgive me for saying it, like an adjusted individual past middle age.  The pimp I had in class?  He was ever so vocal about his 'methods,' and even offered to loan me one of his honeys (I politely declined).  The guy who robbed an armored car in NYC and served time in federal prison?  He couldn't talk enough about it.  The dominatrix who told me I looked like Jude Law (in a very noble attempt to get an A out of me even though I knew she was full of shit)?  Her process-analysis essay was about how to tie up a john.  But there was no way this fellow was going to write about eating part of his dead girlfriend.

When I told friends and family about this, lots of eyebrows were raised.  Are you sure?  (Sadly, yes.)  Were these other teachers who told you this making it up?  (Sadly, no.)  Why is this guy on the street?  Did you know?  I mean, if I was aware that someone is capable of this level of deviant behavior would I have treated him any differently than I did or graded him differently?  I certainly wouldn't have probed deeper (to quote one generally inebriated, perpetually stoned acquaintance: "You could have asked him what it tasted like!"), but I most likely would have been more cautious around him (though, as I recall, no one in class - some of whom had to have known - minded sitting next to him).  It just raises so many questions: what drugs were you on, exactly?  What did she do to make you stab her?  Were people in prison scared shitless of you?  When you turned to Jesus did he do a spit-take?  What company is going to look at your permanent record and say, "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is cool as fuck, we need someone like you hanging around the office."  He better not ask me for a letter of recommendation.

In teaching this individual, I apparently checked off an entry on my non-existent Bucket List I didn't know should be in there.  Future students: the bar has been set.  You have to collectively up your psychopathic game. You have a lot to compete with.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Everybody, Please Sell Out

It is 2013 and I believe it is now safe to grant everyone in the free world permission to officially Sell Out.  For countless decades the notion of even slightly compromising one's own artistic integrity for the almighty dollar - of letting one's noble ballad play over a commercial for douche, of letting one's persona be utilized to hawk products such as fast-food sandwiches, automobiles, tobacco products or ill-fitting and heinously overpriced clothing (stitched together by modern-day slaves) - was considered a damnable and shameful offense akin to fellating the Prince of Darkness on Good Friday.  Being deemed a "Sell Out" was usually followed by one's personage being referred to by any number of odious slurs and expletives and one's entire mystique and reputation unfixably shattered.

In the 21st century, this no longer applies, not simply because artistic integrity is as comically out-of-fashion as Dial-Up Modems and Voting Republican, but because things are too goddamn expensive, the artistic fields are flooded with self-confident hacks and YouTube has turned every ding-dong with a webcam into a virtual celebrity to trolls, frat guys, housewives and shut-ins.  It's about what sells, what's funny and what's disposable.  The great Bertolt Brecht once remarked, "Grub first, then ethics," but that statement can now be altered to the following: "Cashmere blankets, a sporty car with decent gas mileage, Netflix Instant, the latest Apple gadget, a stainless-steel refrigerator full of exotic fruits, the monthly cell, Internet and rent bills covered, then ethics."  You may certainly feel free to adjust the above entries to suit your eclectic preferences (vintage vinyl, a moped, a VIP pass to a strip club, neocortex-damaging club drugs, some purse with gold letters on it, etc.).

As delightful and eccentric as some of our most notorious cultural outcasts and rebels were, I cannot help but think if they were operating today they would need to have a Twitter and be active in promoting themselves, on late night TV trying to sell their cryptic novels, in ArtForum getting grilled about why they put green and pink together on the same canvas.  Henry David Thoreau would have been asked by H&R Block to do an ad for them.  Oscar Wilde would have to go on Piers Morgan's dimwitted program to promote some play and the two could debate matters pertaining to the U.K.; Wilde would be kicked off the program for saying something decidedly politically incorrect (and no doubt refer to Morgan as a bloated twat).  Lord Byron would be forced to make a fake apology on public television for wanting to fornicate with anything that walked; he would be harassed by the TMZ crew on a regular basis and routinely called a "pervert" and forced to hire a P.R. image clean-up team.  To make ends meet, individuals who shunned the spotlight and worked on their art in virtual anonymity would be forced by current cultural standards to at least make some kind of attempt to market themselves in one way or another.

Granted, some artists do shun the spotlight and avoid attention and are still quite good.  They resist labeling, they resist succumbing to pressures to conform, they exist in some kind of obscurist vacuum where a handful of "friends" know about them ... though even their friends are quick to dismiss and criticize and label them "kooky" and "perverse" if pressed.  In forty years time - perhaps after they cease to exist in human form - the materials of these individuals' lifetime pursuits can be "discovered," brought out, "appreciated" and sold and marketed for a lot of money ... ironically after they themselves no longer require any kind of income to live, eat, travel and so forth.  A dead artist is a valuable artist, but not to the artist him/herself.  Some brave souls have managed to maintain their artistic integrity and still have steady careers - David Lynch (who has directed commercials and TV shows ... but on his terms), John Waters (who is a wonderful spokesman for himself) and Richard D. James (who may or may not be making music using multiple monikers), to name but three - but largely this is a difficult field to maneuver around and requires its own unique form of self-preservation and ingenuity.

So instead of being broke and dead, there's a solution: dance the good dance for the masters.  Since the majority of individuals attempting art have minimal talent, sell off what talent can be sold.  You're a vacuous actress who photographs yourself making the same face over and over and over again?  You think you're Audrey Hepburn?  You have teeth like a horse, and at certain angles you look like a skeleton spray-painted with skin (three cheers for anorexia, right?).  But hey, if you think you're desirable, and someone wants to pay you to pose in a picture and grin goofily, TAKE IT.  Wrote one song of catchy brilliance and seventy five others of half-baked acoustic mumbling?  Find that one gem of a single and SELL IT TO ANY COMPANY THAT ASKS FOR IT.  Made some atrocious documentary about some country you visited for five minutes that features not one but ten children starving with bugs crawling into their eyes?  You're such a suburb-dwelling humanitarian!  MARKET THAT to the bleeding hearts with no brains.  Came up with some dumb-shit art project that involves you laying in bed with multiple people as a reflection of your inner torment and dissatisfaction with intimacy?  Hell yeah, sister, male genitalia is ugly: you HANG THOSE PRINTS UP.  You're a famous celebrity and don't make enough on your per-film salary (in the millions) and want to go to Japan and make even more money telling those trendy people to buy your cologne that bears no resemblance to your natural odor because they can't make a fragrance that smells like a closeted homosexual?  SPRAY THAT RIGHT IN THEIR FACES.

What I'm saying is that we have things to pay for, and those things can get pricey, and working behind a desk and using one's free time to slave over one's art as a spiritual release from the monotony of everyday survival can and should be avoided.  Even if you're rich from mind-boggling luck and meager talents God bestowed upon you, you can always be more rich. Take the payments offered to you, sell yourself as if you mean nothing, never stand up for your principles, never covet your most precious creations, don't use your natural gifts to form an admirable body of work.  If you have millions to spare, don't even begin to consider using that treasure trove to fund the visions of basement-dwellers with minds of gold and stardust.  You don't have to be Henry Darger anymore (hell, you don't even have to know who Henry Darger was).  You just have to smile, do what you're told and watch that bank account skyrocket.  No lasting talent, no problem, right?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Philosophy Is Over

... so everybody just start burning those classic texts because we don't need them anymore.  What do I mean?  In late 2011 some in-bred Canadian genius (and I'm not referring to Justin Bieber) basically did what Plato, Rousseau, my man Kierkegaard, Sartre, Foucault, Aristotle, Hegel or Mill could do.  He ended philosophy as we know it.  Sure, Wittgenstein tried with his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and Kant got all bland and measured by talking about the Categorical Imperative, but they were nothing compared to this recent development.  Nothing.  And into mid 2012, it truly spread around ... like herpes.

This revolution in modern thinking came from a man named Aubrey Drake Graham, who has a Ph.D. from Cambridge and several honorary degrees (including ones from Johns Hopkins and Harvard).  He speaks multiple languages, has an IQ well over 100 and somehow survived being shot and rendered a cripple in high school to becoming a walking, talking, fast-stepping bundle of energy in his twenties.  In his magnum opus, La devise (translated into English as The Motto), he said four words: you only live once.

The world of intellectuals dropped to its collective knees.  Sartre's corpse turned over in its grave and had a cup of café au lait.  Kant's skeleton started shaking.  A stuffed Jeremy Bentham came to in its box in London, shuffled over to the iTunes store, listened to Dr. Graham's proclamation, raised his mummified finger to the cosmos and muttered (with a wax head), "This is what I was talking about!  He did it!"  All over the United States and Europe, the philosophy professors were taken outside, executed and had their offices gutted and replaced with photocopy machines.  Students all over the globe with degrees in philosophy had their diplomas simultaneously combust right on their walls, leaving only a shadow of the sheepskin that once hung there.

To call it landmark is an understatement ... and makes previous landmarks in critical thinking laughable in comparison.  It's so simple, too.  Basically it says - and I apologize if my translation doesn't give the original thesis its full due - "do whatever you want because your actions have no consequences on others or yourself and once you're dead who cares about anything or anyone."  That's it.  I must admit, my fingers and wrists and hands were trembling in ang ... I mean glee as I typed that (and no it's not because I have Delirium Tremens).  Come on, Aquinas, were you too busy eating bugs to think of that?

So if one is ever faced with some challenging life choice, it's probably best - according to Dr. Graham - to act whimsically.  Need money?  Commit crimes!  Crimes are beautiful and fun, and if you get caught, who cares?  So you end up with a life sentence in prison.  I repeat: who cares?  If you want to treat people like objects, it's fun to do so - they don't have emotions, they aren't human and their opinion of you is irrelevant.  Wanna make meth in your apartment and sell it?  I say bravo!  Pack up one day and live in an ashram; disown your family because it doesn't matter if they miss you or not.  If you don't have a soul, how can you possibly corrupt it?  Guilt magically evaporates: the pleasure of the moment is all.

Now, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer pondered whether or not such a thing as the Eternal Return is possible: the notion that time is cyclical and that the universe is recurring.  The Buddhists believe in karma - that bad deeds will be punished and good deeds will be rewarded (do good and good will be done to you).  Poets from various cultures and traditions have praised honor and trust and respect for one's fellow human beings.  In response to these individuals, Prof. Graham not only says that they are totally whack, but they're also pussies and should climb on his dick.

The case, thankfully, has been made.  Adopt the philosophy immediately and never regret it.  If some miscreant challenges you and asks, "... but what if you don't only live once?," brand that unbeliever a heretic and cast him/her out of the kingdom.  Thinking is merely a thing of the past.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

I Left Part of My Thumb in Paris, France

I returned, a couple of weeks ago, from my third trip to France (and second to Paris).  While on my last two trips I went with other people, this time I was fortunate to accompany my parents, who had never been to the City of Light.  I was worried, of course, that being in a country that's somewhat averse to speaking English (and a little on the snobby side) would be a problem for my weapon-toting, high-energy Father, who seems to be fine in places that speak Spanish (he loves the brutality of Mexico and Central America) because he can freely shout in their faces ("HEY BUDDY, WHO DO I HAVE TO KIDNAP TO GET A BURRITO?") and they seem all right with it.  In France, however, they don't take kindly to that kind of aggression and forcefulness.  More than once I had to try to pull him away from people ("I'M GOING TO PUT THIS STOOL DOWN RIGHT HERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FLOOR AND YOU BETTER LIKE IT.") and control his temper.  It's not an easy task. 

When my Father wasn't trying to start fights or intentionally mangling the language or lacing it with pejoratives ("BAWN-JOW-ER QUEERBAIT I WANT A JACK DANIEL'S AH-VECK GLAH-SEE."), he was fine company, because my Mom and I were able to accompany him to one of the Meccas of Bloodshed, the beaches in the Normandy region.  Being a Vietnam Vet and former Marine, this was heaven to him.  Our tour guide was an incessant French chatterbox who must have had a Ph.D. in naval warfare or something, and my Father ate up everything this man said.  It didn't matter that getting to the WWII Memorial in Caen required walking about nine miles (long story), it was what he was there to see, come hell or high water.  He even yelled at a frightened female crossing guard (who did not speak English) to get us in the right direction ("THE BEACHES! THE BEACHES! OMAHA! WHERE THE HELL IS IT?").  Quivering, the crossing guard waved her arm in the direction of the north and inched away from him.  The Normandy tour was the main selling point for him; seeing Paris again was mine.

As I mentioned before, my Father likes to ... travel with ... items ... that can harm people.  Or even his own family.  One night, my Mom and I discovered our new favorite apéritif: the Martini Rouge (sweet vermouth over ice with a lemon wedge).  We had a few (to say the least) and a few other tasty beverages (Jameson by the barrel).  At the end of the day, when we returned to the hotel, I realized that I wanted some candy and a cigarette before I went to bed.  My Mom bought a bag of sweets from the Montparnasse area earlier in the day, and it was in a plastic bag with a red bow that, I swear, was like glued onto the bag and simply wouldn't come off.  In my not-quite-sober brain I thought, at that moment, the best thing to do would be to ask my Father for a knife to cut open the bag.  He had knives on him (several, actually), but what he threw me was ... a mini-hatchet that he was also carrying with him.

Now, instead of asking for a knife instead of the hatchet, I thought maybe for a minute I could be Davy Crockett or some shit and lop the top of the bag off with it.  I was wrong.  I was also wrong in using (for whatever godforsaken reason) my left hand to swing the weapon.  With one swipe I missed the bag entirely and sliced right through the right side of my right thumb.  I jumped in shock as blood - oh so much blood - cascaded down my thumb and onto the following: my bed, the hotel carpet, my pants, my long sleeve shirt, a pillow and the bathroom floor and sink.  There was so much blood I thought I removed the thumbnail, too.  My Mother, who actually enjoys the sight of blood (she should have been a nurse), leaped up and proceeded to grab towels and try to help me out.  I was barking (and laughing) "Why did you throw me a hatchet?" while my Father proceeded to clean out the inside of a pistol (he had that, too) and shake his head in disgust.

Eventually he forced himself to get up, examine the wound ("THAT'S A LOT OF BLOOD BUT I'VE BLED WORSE.") and cauterize it with a cruder technique than they could teach in a 3rd World medical school before leaving the bathroom, instructing me to keep my thumb in the air (to stop the blood flow) and going back to cleaning his beloved pistol.  My Mom wrapped my thumb in a smallish towel and we used (a lot of) tape to keep the towel on my thumb.  Adrenaline pumping, I couldn't just go to bed.  My arm and pants and clothes covered in blood, I realized I needed that cigarette, so I took my battle-scarred self outside to pace around the Rue d'Orsel.  While heading out the door my Father made a point to yell, "DON'T GET LOST. I WON'T LOOK FOR YOU" ... which goes without saying.

Outside I was half-trembling and half-laughing at my own idiocy, but out there I had what I consider a vision from God (or the City Itself, I'm still not sure which).  I'm certainly not a peeper, but in the one apartment window across the street appeared a woman in her late 20's (it's hard to tell) placing clothes on the wrought-iron railing ... and she was completely naked.  No bra, no panties, long dark hair.  She saw me looking (and I was really looking) and didn't flinch or cover up: she just kept putting the clothes there from a basket she had nearby.  I had cigarette after cigarette, chaining one to the other (because it was too awkward to light a new drag with one hand), while she kept putting clothes out.  Now, I'm not necessarily one for Symbolic Moments in life (though I've had a few), but this naked, unfazed woman spoke to me in her non-verbal, shamelessly French way, "Everything is going to be all right, you fucking drunken goof."  When I eventually went back to the hotel room, I informed my Father what I witnessed, although he was less than impressed ("YOU SAW FREE TITTIES. SO WHAT.  I'M WATCHING LINDA FIORENTINO DUBBED IN FRENCH ON TV.").

The next day was our last in town, and I replaced the gore-soaked towel that was wrapped around my thumb with layers and layers of toilet paper (and tape) so it looked like a circumcised infant's severed pecker.  We piled the bloody towels in the corner of the bathroom with a note on it (and some Euros) for the maid as a kind of apology for the mess (though my Father said, "SHE'S AFRICAN SO SHE'S USED TO SEEING THIS KIND OF THING.").  We bolted out of town and flew straight to Dublin, where the rain-soaked Irish were more than happy to provide some liquid nourishment for my throbbing thumb (and mind).  One day I hope to return to Paris for a third time not because part of my thumb was disposed of there (although that is so very fitting), but to once again experience the gloriousness of one of my favorite cities in the world.  I just won't be bringing a hatchet ... nor catching one from anyone, either.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

#Occupy Logic and Reason

As some of you may be aware, there are people around the globe waging a war against the richest "1%" of the population, protesting against the extremities of Capitalism and the unfair wages the "99%" of the rest of the population are suffering through. And when I say "waging a war" what I mean by that is there are individuals who have taken to the streets with their tents and their baggies of food and their heavy clothes and they are expressing their disgust by sitting down and holding up signs and spreading bacteria to each other. It's as brutal a campaign as has ever been waged against the Powers That Be, more brutal than the Battle of Stalingrad or the Battle of the Bulge or the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. In those battles, there were things used called "guns" and "knives" and "bombs," which led to direct casualties and disfiguring deformations and bloodshed and sorrow. In this battle, the Battle to Be Seen, Tolerated and Quietly Dismissed as a Farce, they're making hot cocoa and yelling and saying things other people told them to say because they read them on a blog and act really, really, really indignant and use that disappointed face your Mom used on you when you wet the bed.

The 1% is clearly cowering in fear.

The occupiers, chosen by Time Magazine as the Most Ineffective Protestors in the History of Protesting, are certainly getting their share of press and attention and pepper spray to the face. Their Goal is simple: they're mad. And ... they're still mad. Okay, let's face it, they have no goal. Except to be looked at and kind of noticed, like those obnoxious nerdy girls in the cafeteria who can be heard over everyone else but everyone does their damnedest to ignore and roll their eyes in disgust. Most people are waiting for them to give up and return to their cozy apartments with their parents, where they will once again go on Monster and CareerBuilder to get those part-time jobs they've been avoiding so defiantly.

The Occupiers have a brave and strong leader ... okay, wait, they don't have a leader. They have The Internet. And as we all know, The Internet is a great place to find people arguing with each other over the dumbest crap, people posting animated pictures of cats in boxes, people claiming celebrities have died (when those celebrities are alive and well), people posting videos of themselves talking about chicken wings and people obsessively stalking people they'll never know, meet or interact with in person via useless, sycophantic, soul-crushing social networking sites.

Meanwhile, on the other end, the 1% are sitting and trembling while wearing their poorly-tailored Dolce and Gabbana suits and clicking their computers and feeling remorse over making godlike sums of money. They are so glad they are not being tasered or beaten with clubs. They're partying in clubs with each other ... but doing it with the weight of the world on their shoulders. When they sail on their company yachts and fly in their company jets or do karaoke at their company parties, I'm sure they are deeply disturbed and concerned with the well-being of those who have never flown first class and have racked up thousands in credit card debt. I'm sure those sleepless nights they experience are due to worries about proto-hippies calling for a Change. I'm sure the 1% are swallowing Xanax by the fistful, praying for a sweet release from the agony of their existence. On the limo ride to their offices every morning, I'm sure they wish they could take all their money and make it rain: not on strippers, but on the poor, the weak, the infirm. Those collecting unemployment. Those making minimum wage. Those who drive beaten-up Chevys and are forced to smoke L&M's because those Nat Shermans are simply too expensive.

Right now, it's an emotional bloodbath. I have no clue how it will turn out. Maybe once the Occupiers win and the 1% give in, we'll have some New Wave Utopia come into being ... or some kind of New American Pact in place that everyone will happily sign. Maybe Wall Street will close its doors and turn its focus onto things like preserving the environment or making sure the hungry get fed or making sure health care is provided for all citizens. Maybe the birds will chirp a little louder. Maybe the sky will suddenly undergo a physics-defying transformation, and turn to a brighter, more fluorescent, Yves Klein-inspired blue. People will smile more at each other and crime will be nonexistent, because human nature will change permanently and no disagreements or law-breaking misbehavior will be necessary. Maybe the ozone layer will be replenished. Researchers, with their new lease on life and respect for human dignity, will release those cures for AIDS and cancer they've kept locked up. Children will respect their elders. Adults will respect their children. The world will give itself a massive hug and pat on the back and shake its own hand.

I wait with bated breath.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Lehigh Maneuver

Way back when I was an undergraduate in college, I used to frequent these things called parties ... semi-often. (Those that know me: stop rolling your eyes.) I couldn't help it I went to a supremely dodgy, astoundingly cruel institution for my learnings; it was just the culture to drink, drink, drink (the infamous chant of "Drink that drink" still keeps me up at night). So on Thursday, or Friday, or Saturday or whatever other day something was going on, I'd be there, Solo cup in hand, standing or sitting around, watching the inanities unfold. There was drinking, there were retarded beer games, there was blaring, awful music, there were my classmates fighting against time and the call of adulthood.

One friend of mine, "Derek" - name changed because he's now a professor of philosophy at a prestigious university in the South - was one person who used to (sometimes) accompany me to these 'festive gatherings.' You see, these 'gatherings' used to, in the best (or worst) of cases, get supremely out-of-hand. Like, violent and ridiculously out-of-hand. Not always, mind you: sometimes they would fade out and die peacefully and everyone would stumble on their merry way. But in the case of the Bad Ones, alternative measures needed to be in place.

Derek and I got trapped a few times in some bad situations, enough so that simply talking our way out of whatever shitstorm brewed was becoming stressful and there were certain 'locations' and individuals we learned to steer away from. We've seen girls "pushed" off balconies, guys thrown off balconies, people vomiting blood, people tossed in pits of chocolate (and, as it turns out, feces), sparkling wine dumped in Jacuzzis (not a good idea), bricks thrown through car windows, bottles thrown at locals and other things it's best to keep repressed. Now, I never got hit by any objects (... intentionally) or tossed anywhere or gotten slammed with a bar stool (I know someone who did) and the worst things I ever got involved in were shouting matches with strangers (some of whom went on to become half-decent acquaintances ... and investment brokers) and a precious few tasteless shenanigans. The reason why neither Derek nor I got into any major trouble is that we learned how to figure out when That Precise Moment was going to take place in which things were going to take a turn for the worse and it was time to Run ... Like Hell.

You see, That Precise Moment is the Exact Time in the evening when The Mood changes from fun and pleasant to something more dark, ominous and potentially hazardous (or, conversely, crushingly mundane). Don't get me wrong, danger in small doses is quite thrilling. But there are those (cough, cough, my father) where the level of danger is simply never high enough: the threat of physical harm, police intervention or a messy brawl with neighborhood thugs, for them, is where True Bliss is at. For those of you that delight in anarchy, God Bless. But for Derek and myself (not to mention a few other people we knew), that became tiring and, frankly, stupid.

Derek was an obnoxious Philosophy major and I was an obnoxious Psychology major, and together we thought we had it figured out. See, parties generally don't just start off batty (and for those that do, do a 180 and find someplace else to go). It's the environmental factors that play into it: what kind of people are at the party? Who will eventually show up at the party (invited or uninvited, it doesn't matter)? Did two (or more) people enter the party already arguing? Is there some sociopath at the party who has a history of stirring the pot and causing problems? Exactly how much alcohol is there? What kind of drugs are there? What time of year is it? Is it cold outside? Is it warm outside? Is it exam week? Is there a serious rivalry underway between two fraternities or sororities? Is the school cracking down? Are the police out and about? Are the locals/neighbors pacing around outside with nothing to do?

Factoring all these elements in, Derek postulated The Lehigh Maneuver. It's based on intuition and experience, and can technically be applied to any number of situations. The Lehigh Maneuver basically states: when the official Mood of the Vicinity changes, it's best to find the nearest exit and excuse yourself from the place because once The Mood Changes, the Maximum Potential for Pure Fun diminishes when compared to the Maximum Potential of Ugliness (or, in select situations, Deadening Malaise). You think things will get "way more fucking cool" when they most likely will not. A night ended talking to the police or dragging a friend to the hospital or seeing a half-naked young lady run from a room and claim she was raped puts a damper on things.

Now, I learned ... and this was reinforced in other ways a little later in my life ... about always being aware of the exits in any location you are ever in. You walk into, say, a house, and there's a garage, a back door, a front door. There are windows. There may be a raised balcony/patio with steps. In an apartment, there's a main door but there's also (usually) a fire escape. In a fraternity, there's the pig chute (if you don't know, don't ask). Some bathrooms have windows you can squeeze out of depending on your size. Once you're aware of the exits, you will know which ones to get to should you need to.

I can tell what you're thinking. "Matt, you putz, why worry about ways to get out? It's a party! Sometimes things get out of hand, and that's all right! If you leave early, you might miss out on good stuff! Leaving is rude!" To this I say: I'm sorry you went to a liberal arts school. I hope you enjoyed your strawberry daiquiris and potluck and Carole King albums. And you apparently haven't been where either Derek or I have been. If you're afraid of missing something, you will find out about it later. People chatter. If you screwed up when you were there and feel compelled to just Get Out, time will pass and tempers will subside and the alcohol poisoning in the people you offended/irritated will have gone away and they will be in a much more civil mood. Derek, being the philosopher, always applied Bentham's rule: it's about maximizing enjoyment and minimizing drama and conflict and unhappiness.

Someone shows up high and carrying a crate full of pellet guns? Unless you feel like getting shot at (and you very well might), get out. Someone opens the front door and chucks in a (cheap) bottle of whiskey that smashes on the nearest wall and the ladies present yelp? Get out. You're bored as all get out and you can't stand talking to the same people about the same dumb crap over and over again? Pure Fun is over: excuse yourself to the bathroom and then make a hasty retreat. Someone outside crashes into a neighboring car and everyone inside runs out and starts yelling? Get out (or view the proceedings from a safe distance). Some pathetic drunk girl is leaning on you and burping uncontrollably and worried about the small-time issues in her life? Lean her against something else because she's a Fun Exterminator. The campus police arrive? Who cares if you're over 21, get out.

This maneuvering has led me to being something of an oracle nowadays to my (somewhat younger) friends, who are always amazed whenever I, out of the blue, say, "I'm leaving." Or just leave without saying anything. I can't tell you how many times, after I bid a hasty exit, they say to me the day after, "Oh man, you won't believe what happened after you left! It was ... awful. So-and-so got into a fist-fight with so-and-so over [Something Moronic]." Many, many, many times.

So if I'm at a dinner party I'm sickened with (for lack of Pure Fun and mandated Pleasant, Fake Interaction), I know when to leave. If I'm at a wilder gathering with caustic substances and a stressed and irked idiots, I know when to leave. Make yourself seen, then make yourself un-seen; maximize Enjoyment and leave when that Enjoyment is under threat by outside sources. Maneuver your ass out any available door. "But how do you know when to go?" I've been pressed. I just do. If you pay close enough attention to The Mood, you will too.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Nobody Gives a Shit About Your Band

So please stop talking about it. And making posters for it. And making t-shirts for it. And creating various websites promoting it. And asking people to pay for hard copies of your albums. And turning every conversation we have into the music you're making. What is it with almost every new and upcoming "band" or "solo artist" that took one course in marketing and another course in composition and turning into a virtual one-trick, one-dimensional droning pony? I don't know what it was like in the music scene of the '60s and '70s - because I was still in the process of being re-incarnated from my former life as an SS Officer - but the United States couldn't have humanly been flooded with this many poseurs.

Let's get a few things straight: you can't sing, you have great trouble playing an instrument and you own an iMac loaded up with pirated music software. You live in a town so small that a tree falling not only makes a sound, it kills 3/4 of the local population. Your Mom has kicked you out of the basement and the attic and your bedroom and moved you and your asshat friends to the shed, where you keep tripping over the lawnmower to get to your pedals. Your bassist can't remember any of the chords, can't remember to shower and thinks weed is a profession. The drummer you found on Craigslist is middle-aged and not allowed around children or the elderly.

So what are you going to do? Well, if your genre is some kind of rock, you're going to scream like there's a bamboo shoot being rammed into your pee hole. You're going to turn the amps up and make everyone forget you have no idea what you're going on about. You're going to make up a lot of the words because you left the Post-It note you scribbled the lyrics out on in your used Volvo. For the ten of your incredibly supportive friends that you robbed of $8 to watch you "perform" (when they were just hanging out with you hours before), you're going to shake and sweat. Somewhere in your twenty-minute set, you're going to play a shitty cover of some decent song from a reputable band but put your own "spin" on it by making it "ironic," i.e., making it completely unrecognizable. Someone in your band will be wearing plastic-rimmed sunglasses. Another will probably be in drag. It doesn't matter: it's gonna be loud. And loud is good, right?

Or, instead of the obnoxious, you can take the mellow road. You can brood. Oh, Christ, you can brood. Tired, disheveled, wearing soiled corduroys and a bracelet you stole from your dead Grandfather's casket, you can sing about hurt. The beard you sport makes the hurt look worse. And you can play your odes on an acoustic guitar you stole from a thrift shop while your former drummer shakes a tambourine and your former bassist holds your Pabst and nods along. Everyone in the slim audience will be waiting for your next deep proclamation, waiting for you to say the words that everyone thinks they experienced but really haven't because they still have their parents drive them to softball practice. You can talk about love. And remorse. But keep it Hallmark card simple. A C chord and a line like "you have the simplest head of hair / like a macaw ascending toward hope" will cause everyone to disintegrate emotionally. The ladies will swoon. The guys will swoon. The doorman will swoon. The girl at the service counter will be playing on her cell phone.

If the mellow road isn't for you, and you consider yourself more danceable and techno-friendly, you (and your pals) can do what Richard James and Daft Punk and the Fuck Buttons dudes did: gather as much equipment as possible and hook all that gizmo-y gadget shit together. There's a plug? Find a hole. See a hole? Find a plug. Just shove everything together. Hide behind it if need be. And then, after you've taken three and a half hours to set-up, start playing pre-recorded loops. Keep pressing buttons because that really gets people jumping. It doesn't matter if the loops and sound-effects are in sequence. It doesn't. But make sure it's loud. Add in an electronic drum-beat. Girls love a drum beat. And it doesn't matter if any of the sound clips go together musically: the few people in the crowd will be so loaded up on pills and grinding their teeth so hard it won't make a difference. Also, don't forget strobing. God yes, strobing. Strobing is God's way of keeping epileptics away from concerts. Remember that the strobes and the beats and the sound effects don't have to be timed together or anything like that. If people collapse from exhaustion, that means you're good.

Once you've decided what kind of musical hack you're going to be, you're going to have to remember to always play the part of the hack. And in being an expert hack, you have to advertise yourself with the aforementioned swag and handouts and flyers and websites. You need to pump up your band to such an extreme degree your friends will want to set your shed on fire and delete your number from their phones. The talentless are generally full of braggadocio; the meek are the ones you wouldn't know ever conceived of a song. For example, arguably the most thoughtful actual musician I know personally is currently huddled in his room wearing a cardboard box mask and a lab coat. He has Styrofoam shoved against the walls to keep out the "hum from the refrigerator." He doesn't perform in public, because that would involve leaving his bedroom. He doesn't record anything, because the very act of recording "murders the shape of the notes." When I inquired as to what he was working on just last week, he shook a piece of ripped crepe paper in front of my face and asked me if I thought it properly simulated the sound of a man with polio shuffling through a wheat field. He won't tell you he's in a band. He won't give himself an alias. He'll tell you about the celestial rhythm of millions of human breaths exhaling in divine harmony. Then he'll take his medication and sleep for fourteen hours.

In other words, all of you "musicians" need to start fazing yourselves out and you definitely need to delete SoundForge and Cakewalk and ProTools off your hard drives. Asthmatic Kitty and Warp and Matador aren't going to sign you. You need to recognize you don't have a voice (literally and figuratively), you can't just mash on buttons or chords and make something lasting and nobody wants a black size XL tee with your face silk-screened on it. You know what I really want to hear about? I want to hear about people doing the old-fashion-y kind of art that requires time and dedication. Tell me about your pottery wheel. Talk to me about ceramics. Making mosaics and tribal masks? Kitsch, but I'll take a peek. Video art? I'll view it (just please don't ask me to review it). Don't hand me a CD-R or a glow stick or a cup of hot tea to absorb my sorrows, hand me a hand-made ashtray decorated with a decal of a rotting lung. Or you can paint a picture. Get some goddamn watercolors and remind me what a fucking sunset looks like.

For the record, just make sure you keep your art in the shed.