Books, plays, singer-songwriters, thoughts while pogoing (May 9, 2001)

[In response to the group moderator’s asking if anyone had read the Greil Marcus book Lipstick Traces, recently mentioned in the New York Times:

Me read book long time ago (not in bathroom); book in storage across great ocean, not handy for reference. Me no live in Texas. Me no see production either, but sounds like fun (I actually think it would be a hit in Ljubljana; the Slovenes eat up this kind of stuff). Lipstick Traces is heavy going sometimes, but food for thought, though some of it may be wishful-thinking booshwa (I read somewhere that John “Rotten” Lydon once was asked about the purported Pistols-Situationist “secret history” and retorted, “If that was the case, it was so secret that nobody told us.” (Which may well have been the case…certainly, no one seems to have told poor ol’ Sid…) I do love that the two producers didn’t bother to finish the book before deciding to turn it into a stage show; how punk is that? Though I have to say, I resent a 55-year-old writer (Greil M.) hijacking the Official Meaning of *punk rock* from us too! Do these people have no shame… ; – )

[Nancy the moderator wrote]
> and since we’re talking about books/writing and there are several
> writers (poets, songwriters, journalists, nonfiction writers) on this
> list… a great article from the NYT that really got me thinking this
> a.m. that has nothing to do with LBers, other than the fact that the
> author sounds and looks like he might be one of us.
>

He does sound like one of us, just another slob on the bus, except that Rosen doesn’t have to ride the bus and sticks to typing in the maid’s room. As another writer working at home (though me no work in maid’s room, me no have maid or kid, me type in kitchen these days), I can certainly empathize with a lot of the things he says. The stuff about the muse leading you into unexpected corners (there’s a reason they call it the SUBconscious, after all), for sure. A couple of summers ago I attended a two-week writers’ workshop in Spoleto, Italy, and the emphasis was on new writing, and I thought I’d spend most of the time writing serious treatises on life in Slovenia and about the Balkans, and instead, almost all of the writing I did turned out to be about New York and my family, and at the end-of-seminar reading I laid ’em in the aisles with a risque comedy-farce. So, there’s no telling where Ms. Muse will lead, you just have to have the good sense to follow if she’s decided to stick around…

Also, I do nod my head knowingly at the business about feeling sheepish about working at home in slippers, or, let’s face it, working at something as non-concrete and non-metallic as writing, period (if it makes you feel better,it might help to put on a shirt and shoes, if not a tie and jacket, while you’re typing away, or the equivalent female uniform if you’re an equivalent female). Rosen compares himself to his nanny’s husband the welder; I walk outside and down the street and look at the construction workers, constructing and deconstructing all day, and the Yugoyuppies entering and exiting the glass tower of the nearby World Trade Center Ljubljana (oh, yes, there’s one here too), or I think of my father, a one-time refugee from Germany who for five decades repaired electric motors in Queens. (I wonder if there are welders who feel themselves unmanned when they spot freelance writers on the street. Probably not.) There’s a fine line between nursing the muse and goofing off, and you just have to have a great deal of stubbornness (which I do have, if nothing else) and it helps if at the end of the day you can tell yourself honestly that you’ve accomplished something, or that you’ve at least accomplished something that may one day lead to an accomplishment, or something that might mean something to someone else, and score one for Independence once again. Or something like that. The picture does get blurry sometimes.

So, Nancy, did you ever put together any coherent thoughts about J. Lennon that you could share with us? Sorry, me still no like the guy, think he was a hypocrite. (Ever read any interviews with John’s older son Julian, who a year or two ago was going on about how his father was the public face of Peace ‘n’ Love, yet for the first 20 years of his, Julian’s, life, basically ignored him? I’m also not too crazy about Yoko; though I think most of the public may well judge her to be worse than she actually is, a sort of leech-devil that doesn’t mean she’s either that or a goddess, which others seem to consider her to be.)

Hey: whether a singer-songwriter likes it or not, when I’m listening to one, my experience, as an engaged listener forever in love with pop music, is that I’m sitting/standing there (or even, in my younger days, pogoing) hearing someone deliver the Received Word; that the lyrics I’m hearing are coming from someone in possession of the truth – or at least *a* truth. A singer is a kind of Pop Guru, the fans are disciples lapping it up; that’s the basic relationship, in all its basic inequality. (And that’s what punk, and its DIY mentality, tried to take apart and to an extent, for a while anyway, succeeded at, by dragging the gurus and gods down into the muck with the rest of us. But the basic paradigm remains.)

A few years ago, I would have argued that the piece performed should stand apart from the performer and be judged on its own merits; now, I’d have to say the two are in fact inseparable. If the singer/painter/whoever is a selfish egomaniac, or a sullen, self-destructive monster, that’s eventually going to come out in the wash and color your subsequent experience of that artist’s work (even if this doesn’t happen until after the artist’s death). On the other hand, if the artist is a modest, intelligent, optimistic, selfless delight loved by everybody she’s ever met, that will also, one hopes, eventually come out (though gossip columnists aren’t going to hop as high to get a piece of that one), and enhance your enjoyment of her work. Character counts; honesty is key; walking it like you talk it is key.

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