“I remember when your head caught flame.”
I passed through my motherland (Missouri) today, en route to Tennessee after abandoning my (not so) stronghold in the mountains of Colorado. For those following my seemingly willful courtship with disaster, I returned home after several weeks of being displaced from a thousand-year flood only to lose my job a month later. Since like most humans on this planet I still subsist on money and electricity to support a mediated/subjugated lifestyle, I had to hustle to find a solution and found one in my mother’s motherland.
But what I really want to talk about is Michael Jackson.
I remember seeing the video for “Smooth Criminal” for the first time as an 11 year old in 1988 and realizing in that moment what an artistic mistake it was for Michael Jackson to select “Bad” as the titular framework and audiovisual initiation to his follow up to Thriller (1982). Bad (1987) was the end of the legendary MJ / Quincy Jones collaboration that began with Off the Wall (1979), and the beginning of the end for Michael’s out-of-this-world command as an image artist. By 1987 the effortless impossibility of his ’83 Motown performance had devolved into something more alien than otherworldly, a mutation distilled to perfection by Corey Feldman in real life and in the entirety of Dream a Little Dream (1989), but especially this scene:
My feeling is that Michael was fucked up on pain and painkillers by that point, the real beginning of the end occurring at approximately 6:15pm on January 27, 1984 during the ill-fated filming of a Pepsi commercial in support of The Jacksons’ Victory tour, when Michael achieved apotheosis by going up in flames. Watch how alone he is here, his supposed brothers oblivious to the plight of a genuine god burning at the stake/stage. There is no coming back from a trauma like this. If you’ve been wondering what kind of triggering event would lead someone to eventually seek out a straight up oblivion drug like propofol as opposed to say the narcotic depths of heroin, This Is It:
ATLANTIS, book four of the Blood Work series and the last to be released, is now available in a limited edition of 33 copies from Deathbed Editions.
The trailer features footage of my town Lyons CO getting washed away this past September for those curious what a real deluge looks like.
George Lucas’ first choice to direct Return of the Jedi was David Lynch. He wanted a gun for hire that didn’t belong to the Director’s Guild of America (i.e. someone not American) or an up-and-comer brazen enough to not care about getting blacklisted by the DGA (Lucas quit the DGA after they fined him for having his director credit appear at the end rather than the beginning of Star Wars). Lynch was the latter and declined the offer to make Dune instead, so Lucas went with British television veteran Richard Marquand.
I’ve seen Dune a thousand times and I still can’t really imagine what a Star Wars directed by David Lynch would be like, though I guess we get glimpses of what could’ve been in Jedi’s opening act, with Jabba’s plump grossness akin to the fat repulsive Baron of House Harkonnen in Dune, along with an entire action sequence staged around an abyssal/vaginal/rectal hole in the ground.
But I can imagine what Robert Altman would do to Star Wars, thanks to The Making of Empire Strikes Back and whoever had the genius idea to strap a mic to director Irvin Kershner and record him on set the day they put Han Solo in carbon freeze (a full transcript of the recording appears in the book).
The star of Altman’s Star Wars is not Luke or Lucas, but Kershner as he relentlessly works out his most problematic scene, hitting up Ford, Fisher et al while trying to get at the truth of what Billy Dee Williams calls offhandedly “an impossible situation:” our heroes’ loss of agency as Han Solo is frozen in carbonite in front of his horrified friends and shipped off to his presumable death. This is one of two impossible situations orchestrated by Vader on Cloud City, the other occurring a few minutes later when Luke’s solution to losing his lightsaber hand and learning he is Vader’s son is to toss himself into the oblivion of an air shaft (also to his presumable death). In both situations, our heroes’ knowledge of the impossibility of their situation is key. This is Vader’s signature move and one Kershner wrestles out of the script. As he explains on set to Fisher: “See, the whole scene was based on ignorance before and I want it to be based on knowledge.”
Other highlights from the transcript include Fisher obsessing over her professional insecurities especially as they relate to Ford, which plays out like a recurring gag (Fisher: “So now he’s pissed off because I’m pissed off, because I have no right to be pissed off at him.”), David Prowse (Darth Vader’s body) unsolicitedly pitching Kershner his new fitness book called Fitness Is Fun, and Ford coming up with the iconic Leia/Han “I love you” / “I know” refrain on the spot.
Heads up that THE LUCIFERIANS, the fifth and final book of Blood Work: The Apocalypse of Dan Hoy, is available as of Christmas Day over at Solar Luxuriance.
Like the rest of the series: 33 copies, 33 pp.
(ATLANTIS, book four, will be published out of sequence next month).
This is what the houses look like on the way to my house. Last week I returned home after being displaced for three months due to the September floods in Colorado. Undoing the devastation is both an ongoing and perpetually deferred process.
In the meantime I can confirm that Britney Spears’ new album is better than Avril Lavigne’s and Lady Gaga’s combined.
This is not to say the Gaga album is bad. It’s a mixed bag but so is Madonna’s Like a Prayer, with three transcendent hits (“Like a Prayer,” “Express Yourself,” “Cherish”) obscuring all the sap and filler. There’s nothing here approaching the gradeschool rapture of “Like a Prayer,” but when Gaga’s just being an emotional psychosexual weirdo instead of indulging in art pop self-reflexivity it’s great. That’s really where it’s at for her. Her performance of “You and I” at the 2011 VMAs (for example) is one of the most confident pop performances I’ve ever seen. It’s not as iconic as Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” performance at the first VMAs in 1984 or MJ introducing the moonwalk to this planet at the height of “Billie Jean” during Motown’s 1983 TV special, but it’s just as legit. This is an image artist at the top of her class. Here Gaga split-personifies a spurned lover with the face of a pubescent Ralph Macchio. Everything about this is real:
For the past year I’ve lived in a valley at 6,500 feet, in a small community of homes tucked in the mountains of northern Colorado, surrounded by national forest. It’s just a fifteen-minute drive down the mountain to Lyons, a surprisingly vibrant town of twenty-five hundred or so that’s now drowning in water and sewage and pieces of people’s homes, and has been since the early hours of Friday, September 13.
I was with some friends at the Distillery in Lyons the night of the floods, but made it back up the mountain before the water tore through town in the middle of the night. It’s now several days later and entire neighborhoods are gone, the water is contaminated with E. coli, the infrastructure is destroyed, the St. Vrain river is now somehow a few hundred yards south of where it was, and most everybody in town is displaced for several months, or permanently.
Meanwhile, back at the homestead on that fateful night, we quickly lost power, water, phones, etc. By morning the bridges connecting various parts of the community were destroyed, and the highway connecting us to the global supply chain had succumbed to falling boulders & mudslides, the more precarious parts of the winding mountain road collapsing into the valley below. Unlike in Lyons, the houses, for the most part, were spared, but the community was completely cut off.
This was our situation for a few days, until somebody somewhere ordered an evacuation. My girlfriend Maggie and our friend Bernie visiting from NYC took the first helicopter out with our dogs – the only helicopter that day as it turned out, since the storms kept rolling in. I stayed behind for a couple of days until the storms finally passed, locking down the house and acclimating to a new reality, one in which I’m abandoning my home in the deafening roar of a Chinook helicopter, clutching my cats in a duffle bag.
This was literally a thousand year event. Only 1% of Colorado homes are even covered by flood insurance. People are displaced up and down the front range. I’m writing this from a hotel room in Boulder. I have shelter and kind people looking out for me, and a computer to share my lessons learned, en medias res, from this very wet, dry run for the apocalypse.
I watched Oblivion a couple of days ago. Haters won’t be able to get past its shortcomings or acknowledge its topical relevance beyond superficial references to drones and the surveillance state. Good thing I’m not a hater. Complete and total spoilers below.
This is the story of life as Tom Cruise knows it at the beginning of Oblivion: aliens from outer space destroyed the moon in an unprovoked attack on humankind, humans won the subsequent war but Earth was left mostly uninhabitable, and humans are now siphoning off the planet’s water resources (giant floating fortresses circle the globe, sucking up the ocean) and migrating to a new settlement on the Saturn moon Titan. Earth’s remaining inhabitants, at this point, are alien scavengers, the drones that hunt them, and the human tandems left behind to provide drone maintenance and manage the planetary system of water extraction. Tom Cruise is one-half of such a tandem, performing his duty with a sense of pride and adventure and no sense of history, his memory and that of his partner wiped clean every five years to ensure optimal team performance and facilitate their eventual reunion with the rest of their species on their new home planet/moon. This is the story of life that defines Tom Cruise as we join him in Oblivion.
But the story is bullshit, and deep down Tom knows it, and so do we, but access to knowledge in space-time — and movies — is necessarily chronological. Things happen, and Tom eventually learns the alien scavengers are really humans, his human bosses are really aliens, and he is neither, functioning instead as the biological technology that mediates human/alien. Cloned a thousand times over and deployed across the planet with a minor armada of human-hunting drones at his disposal, Tom Cruise is the figurative and literal end of humankind. But as Morgan Freeman, in his capacity as leader of a rebellious band of human survivors, understands, he is also its liberation. In the role of our onscreen proxy, and with the help of Freeman, Tom Cruise comes to an ontological and empirical understanding of himself as not special, not unique, and not even human per se, but as an operator of life. This is why he tells the first clone of himself he meets “It’s ok, it’s ok,” as he chokes the life out of him. He is not bound by the parameters of life and death, but exists as a localized operator of a nonlocal consciousness and a standardized piece of biological machinery. He exists across time and space, but in the form of right here and now.
I’ve got a short piece up at the City Lights Blog on SF poet Elaine Kahn:
There’s a thread of disfiguring throughout that’s benign enough to be ominous — “I am cutting myself / out of a piece of paper”, “when I am cutting your hair in my mind” — but all of it comes back to time, which in Kahn’s work becomes the material and subject of human life: “Time is a mouth.” “It happens on you”, she says, referring to puberty and her indoctrination into the global system of lascivious, gendered control (“& the whole world stares / how the world does stare”), but she’s also referring to time as a condition from which we all suffer. As she sardonically puts it elsewhere, “You think beauty / is a good thing / to forgive,” with beauty reduced here to a cruel reminder (remainder) of what time does to it. But it’s also a reminder that human beings are defined on Earth by their intrinsic timeness — not just in their mortality but in their technology of language, which above all else is a means of communicating with the future. No other creature has access to history as a kind of virtual genetic code on which to build empires.
If the Greeks taught us that the gods are human, and Christianity teaches us that a human is god, what does the third trailer for Man of Steel teach us?
That the gods are alien, and that an alien is a god in human form.
We can look to the specific orientation of any god-alien-human nexus to tell us how the collective, conscious “we” self-identifies. In other words, our mortal narratives tell us where we are in the cyclic process of dimensional loss and renewal. Are we material subjects or are we gods, or are we gods trapped here as material subjects, with no recollection of having been anything else?
A straightforward linear god->alien->human orientation suggests a narrative of spiritual degradation, or dimensional loss, dropping us off in a reality in which we’re denied direct access to extradimensional input and must struggle to infer a larger context and make meaning out of sensory stimulation and our sense of time. This is the dominant orientation of systems like “science” and “government”, where knowledge is limited to a portion of the data field and subject to control by those invested in false consensus.
In the third Man of Steel trailer, divinity is posited as alien to this planet, and a god’s failure to convincingly identify itself as human is translated, or dimensionally reduced, into human terms: we are to take this failure as proof that we are not “alone in the universe” and that an alien form of life is something for us all to aspire toward.
In other words, to be human is to be alone, to be alien is to be not alone. This is “the god condition” here on Earth. In order to be together, we must not belong.
Isaac Newton writing on alchemy is like Jon Leon writing on the female image. I discovered this after reading James’ post yesterday and then paging through The Alchemy Reader from Cambridge University a few hours later. I’ve read Newton’s boringly fascinating work on Biblical prophecy but don’t remember him hitting the same kind of tonal impossibility he hits here, though I probably just missed it. I haven’t read his more well-known science writing. Regardless, in his writing on alchemy, at least, he creates a web of artfully banal tropes & action in order to pierce it with the crystal blue image of infinity. And he does it with a gesture that is both kidding and completely serious. This is perhaps the prototypical alchemical operation, or philosopher’s stone, and it’s also Leon’s modus operandi: somewhere beyond irony.
From The Commentary on the Emerald Tablet, Newton’s thoughts on the best known work attributed to Hermes Trismegistus:
This is the source of all the perfection of the whole world. The force and efficacy of it is entire and perfect if, through decoction to redness and multiplication and fermentation, it be turned into fixed earth. Thus it ought first to be cleansed by separating the elements sweetly and gradually, without violence, and by making the whole material ascend into heaven through sublimation and then through a reiteration of the sublimation making it descent into earth: by that method it acquires the penetrating force of spirit and the fixed force of body. Thus will you have the glory of the whole world and all obscurities and all need and grief will flee from you.
From Leon’s collection Right Now the Music & the Life Rule: (continue reading…)