Thursday, November 1, 2007

Samhain/Halloween Deireadh Fómhair 2007

October resounds with imperial Roman authority; the month in Irish softens into "late harvest." A reminder of what All Hallow's Eve even in its commercialized, big-box Party Central instant-store frenzy, echoes dimly as trick-or-treaters crunch the leaves of millions of American sidewalks at dusk. I spent a day off yesterday on what's a ritual of my own, every two months or so. I get my hair cut (or styled as it sure ain't for $6-- an early and telling influence of meeting my dear spouse now nineteen autumns ago) on Melrose in West Hollywood, which sounds more glamorous than it is. Unfortunately, the uber-trendy Urth Café bustles near where I used to park, filled with exactly who'd you expect to see there, as the joint's often featured in those celeb-fave recommendations found in Vanity Fair, Vogue, NYT or LA Times sidebars. Valet parking to drink mocha frapps or whatever the caffeinated classes chat over ostentatiously.

So, I know places a few blocks away where I can park free for two hours, saving the coins I used to increase WeHo's tax base with-- as if that DINK gay mecca-cum- Russian pensioner's home needs my quarters. My hair always bristles with the gunk, a half-dozen times annually, that I get after my trim, usually while hearing Jonesy's Jukebox at noon and getting a bit of arcane rock trivia from Charles to boot. I find how little I listen to radio now, and how few of the bands I hear, or lament not hearing. Is this inevitable nostalgia, or a sign of the tedium of most bands today?

After, it's a dash across the always congested avenue to the Bodhi Tree, the New Age emporium. I rarely go in the main store, but a quarter-hour in the used annex usually suffices. I started coming here when I had to get here by bus from Westchester, immediately prior to meeting my dear wife, and the sections I scan spines in take little time in my efficient routine.

Monitoring the cash register, there's been the past few years an articulate brunette who reminds me of my classmate fifteen years ago in my teaching credential coursework, Penelope. This clerk is also German, from her accent, and strongly resembles my former friend. (I say former since I lost track of her, although it's odd since she'd go to the SRF--speaking of holiday festivity-- regularly, and that just a mile up the hill--and on the way--from us.) Well, she was in a brocaded Tibetan-type outfit, I am not sure due to Halloween or her New Age identification. I had exchanged small talk once in a while with her when buying books over the years once in a while, and always wondered if she was, perhaps, Penelope. But, I think I heard her called Sharon by another worker. So, Sharon is regaling a visitor with her recent contretemps at an outdoor concert, say, as at the Greek Theatre or the like.

I figured her as pretty demure. But, she lashed out, in her recounting how she vehemently told off a couple on their first date who kept babbling for an hour during a show. She spun around to tell them "will you f-ers shut the f- up or will I have to call security?" Sharon and the other woman continued to excoriate in such terms those whose rudeness ruined the women's enjoyment of other concerts. So much for the cultivation of inner equanimity. It encouraged me that Sharon and others at Bodhi Tree, evidently, remain beneath their beatific mien as frail and moody as I am!

I have wondered about the mental state of those frequenting the aisles, whether customers or employees, on past visits. Talk of Urania, zazen, magick, and crystals all have predictably filled the air. Once, my burrowing into a box of overstock books on Christianity sparked a hissy-fit from a sibilant WeHo stereotype. Somehow, my chutzpah miffed him. I assured the loopy local that I as a regular peruser I knew what I was doing and no harm befell anyone. Or as the Wiccans archaically advise, 'if thou harm none, do as thou wilt." It does always take me aback a bit when workers in public lapse into four-letter slang, on the other hand. Still, the store encourages positive vibes, dude. I guess the friendship she shared with the woman stopping in allowed for intimacy and verbal frankness. Here I am about to browse Sade yet tut-tutting about the f-word for all to hear. Priorities.

Petting a calico cat I had never gotten so close to before there, I pulled its tail gently and skimmed the spines. I paused at a newish paperback of Sade's collected writings (some of them; not sure if to be disappointed or not that he burned 3/4 of his MSS-- I think of Sir Richard Francis Burton's Catholic wife tossing that Victorian explorer's erotic notes and papers into the fire, to the immeasurable loss of scholarship). It was a dollar more than the same giant (750 pp.) Grove paperback that was there last visit, but which was the older 60s printing with a broken spine. This one was a newer reprint. It had a Courbet painting of two gentle, post-coital nudes, and more tasteful typography, but the same omnivorous omnibus inside. Maurice Blanchot's essay, Sade's letters and philosophical treatises, and an excellent introduction made this--not the old paperback I had from 1965 of "Justine" alone, as the work I needed for my reading that I have been pursuing on and off the past few months á la Foucault and Bataille and historians and lit-crit into studying intellectual sources for the passages in Joyce that perplex and intrigue me. Trouble is, I don't like a paperback that enormous, as the pages separate too easily from the cheaply glued spine. So, I demurred in hopes of a cheap edition of the 1965 hardcover.

Georges Bataille's "Erotism: Death & Sensuality," as a reviewer on Amazon mentioned, used to be the work on the subject before Foucault displaced his colleague. This book fascinated me when I read it in grad school; I never bought it, however, and its appearance in the philosophy section tempted me. But, even at half-price, it was considerably battered. I also am not buying books if I can find them at the library, so I put off this purchase. The equation between taboo, murder, violence, and the bounds of the sacred and the erotic all engaged Bataille's typically restless imagination. This collection combined a longer monograph on how sex and murder among primitive peoples shared links, with briefer essays on related topics-- including Sade.

If Bataille had been out in the age of Stonewall, disco, and AIDS, perhaps GB would have kept the rank that was pulled by his savvier, flamboyant disciple. But, recalling "Story of an Eye," Bataille's surrealist pornography, or erotic satire, certainly kept its own vivid evocation of the demi-monde. I think he wrote this as a record of his fantasies, and it cannot be taken as realistic any more than the events in Sade's dungeons. Some argue the same send-up in Sade of the whole sexual dance we follow, and I suspect this may be true. It's hard to keep a straight face when reading him; you can say the same of "The Story of 'O'." Yet, there is a tenderness in the latter, a spiritual longing, that many critics-- like Bataille's student, Pierre Klossowski, in my recent reading of his essays on the Marquis-- find absent from the debauched noble. Perhaps "Story" betrays, as Graham Greene astutely guessed early on, the hand of a woman at the pen. The via negativa to enlightenment that Pauline Reage charts for her heroine, by contrast in Sade-- so suggests Klossowski-- represents a negation of the divine, a defiance of the merciful, that so outrages the outrager that he, in Sade's raving litanies of transgression, can at last fall into the trap of exhaustion. The punisher's catalogue of sins adds up, but cannot find the frisson the sinner needs unless there is still a moral order, a purity, an order to batten against and swear at and taunt with blasphemous assertions and ever-more ludicrously lavish deeds. Feared for his foaming raillery, perhaps Sade can be tamed as the male libido's reductio ad absurdam? A quick aside: in medieval considerations, "libido" itself, as Augustine classified it, equated with sin.

This in turn roams back to Joyce's Nighttown, and other places in the psyche of not only Bloom and Stephen but Molly-- and, I aver, other assorted females in passing. The Catholic tendency to limit and the Jewish to expand, both collide in Dublin and perhaps too on Halloween as I witnessed it last night. More anon.

Before I left, I riffed through a book Layne has, but remodelling's removed from the place I always had left it unopened. "Carver Country" had b&w photos and excerpts from Raymond Carver's writings. As I teach "Cathedral," I paused at a blind man's two pictures. One had his eyes crossed. At first, as I was leafing the book in reverse (my Hebraic habit), I saw a more "normal" shot of a man on a sofa smoking and drinking. But, the first shot had the man with his eyes totally crossed; I realized he was blind, and the inspiration no doubt for the man in the story. I also noted Tess Gallagher in a field near Sequim, labelled on our visit as the world's lavender capital. But, the season had ended by our visit three weeks ago. She stood in the grass, and I could not help but wonder if this was the same expanse where now, across the highway from the town (where we had stopped for gas and I could survey the boomlet in construction that would open another small-box, strip mall in another open field), a massive subdivision marred the fields.

Here, and with a link to a 1986 piece by Tom Jenks on Tess and Ray, is a picture of them, perhaps near Sequim. Layne and I have been noticing the press given the wish by Tess to publish Ray's stories before the editing given them by Gordon Lish. I mean, finally, to read them all. When I met Layne, it was almost exactly around the time Raymond Carver died, and I remember her talking about him as her favorite writer.

I had returned from Ameoba Records-- surprisingly few revellers in Hollywood's heartland earlier in the day-- where I bought used/promo, for the sake of example concerning my tastes: Von Sudafed (collaboration of Mouse on Mars Teutonic techno-mayhem with Mark E Smith of The Fall's Joycean-streamed, eruditely scattered, determinedly slurred Mancunian vocal onslaught); Teenage Fanclub (early British 1995 compilation of odds and ends from when they rocked, sort of); Mitch Easter's solo CD (production wizardry and guitar mastery); Thurston Moore's solo CD (pastoral Connecticut apparently calming NYC skronk); Fiery Furnaces' newest (like their rest I know it'll be annoying and a testament to ADD meets ProTools, but their ambition does make mush of its peers-- and they covered The Fall's "Winter" a few years back!).

Finally, my one extravagance, the opposite of any MES-inspired effort: Mellow Candle's "Swaddling Songs." The cult classic Irish- freak-folk-psych LP from the dawn of the 70s. A bit wispy, from the one song I had on my iPod, but I hoped-- from what I have read-- not too wimpy. I had talked to the folk section's buyer last summer about this disc, and he acknowledged how rare it was to find, as the few copies he'd get for the store got snapped up quickly. Well, it was $20, but I knew how much more it was on the Net, how sporadic it could be seen, so I snatched it.
Steven Malkmus regarded this as one of his must-hears, by the way. And, my musically kindred spirit, Lee Templeton, acknowledges this record too as a necessary investment for we who explore the roots of Irish contributions to current folk and rock.

A home visit to what's been called in more than one recent article "grey" Rockaway Records, in hue and ambiance, also scored a couple of hits and near misses. I never go out of my way anymore to go here. I used to spend hours there, and in the thousands of dollars adding over a decade of intensive late 80s-90s clacking of jewel cases. Now, I stop in a handful of times a year.

When the store was thrice its current size, the walls resounded with the bang of dozens of customers rifling the stacks. The turnover of what you'd find was astonishing in the pre-Napster days. Now, it's shrunk to a concrete core, with often an even ratio of supercilious employees to hipster customers. I did find the re-issue of "Daydream Nation" maybe eighty cents cheaper than on my Amazon wishlist, so I bought it. But-- and two of those employees who refused me have seen me there at least a dozen years-- you can no longer open shrinkwrapped promo/used CDs to sample. They used to sticker the price on the cover and allow you to listen. So, forget the Editors' new one, and forget spending much money there. They are competing with Ameoba, so why they do this is beyond me. Getting to hear before you buy used is Rockaway's only advantage against the cellular darling's inventory. You do pay more at Ameoba, unfortunately, but "Swaddling Songs" or Von Sudafed don't show up on the Silverlake shelves. I was intrigued by Great Lake Swimmers, a Low-ish, Neil Young meets chamber-folk, project from Canada and disappointed by Bryan Ferry's Dylan cover record. Ferry's talent remains vocally, but the arrangements however well-produced smacked of too much gloss and not enough raunch. I admit I will return there, not finding it cheaper elsewhere, to get Layne the Minus 5 "Gun"-- she'd like the Wilco connection to this, Scott MacCaughey's long-running Seattle indie super-cult project.

Finally, off to take Leo to Silverlake again for hanging out as Flava Flav, and Niall with the Los Feliz contigent. Our co-host did not want to open the three-dollar bags of chocolate unless there were sufficient supplicants to demand them. Before Layne and Niall could return from their second round of appeals, the front door was shut and lights were out. Considering the fact that the hosts owned an opulent manse in a fine neighborhood, a few cents' worth of Snickers, even impecunious me reasoned silently, could be given out in, say, larger handfuls to the teens who increased as the night went on and the tots had retreated with parents in tow. We had supplied hosts and neighbors with Thai food, and I admit until my spouse accounted for our largess my own befuddlement at so much take-out. Now, chastened, I understood as a dutiful helpmeet must after, well, nineteen years. As Bataille's collected essays are titled: "visions of excess."

I wondered if this reaction against expenditure could be attributed, although at some remove by now, to similar Irish Catholic patterns of behavior. Earlier, I had chatted with the other host about Irish and its constructions that place hunger or thirst or weariness "on" one at a remove, or allow one to have a thing only as "at" one, or prevent you from owning but a "share" of money, land, or hair. He wondered if the same quality could be found in Romance languages, as in Spanish where a thing falls and breaks without anyone responsible, where the subjunctive graciously postpones action, and where the 'tú' vs. 'usted' allow dramatically intimacy to replace formality.

Maybe fatalism rests, this Samhain night when the boundaries between living and dead open to the powers of dark pasts, in my DNA. I got a bit down; the day had wearied me. I had before my linguistic discourse walked along with Niall and our host's boy as they knocked on the 1920s-era doors, beneath turrets and towers in that delightful Disney-meets-studio melange of what passed for gentility 80 years ago in a town filling these quiet streets with silent-movie stars and seekers. The Range Rovers and Botoxed moms in tights and dads with PDAs chattered officiously to Jared and Stone and Harper and Cameron (the latter two were girls). Larger families spoke Spanish. In sweats and hoodies they also navigated the sidewalks, tilted up by eight decades of roots.

Why was I low? I lack patience with the unending pace of this city, its noise, ever-growing traffic. The hum of Los Feliz Boulevard dominates the quiet of Ambrose Street. The bustle, at least in waking hours, lurks always there, faint, waiting, hissing. But so, I noticed at one point in my gloom, hovers also at night the restored copper dome of the Griffith Observatory. Bequeathed by a millionaire who shot his wife, in a rancho where an earlier land-grant don killed his paramour, or her lover. Why the place is named "The [plural] Happy" eludes me. But, Colonel Griffith sought to reclaim goodness by donating the ranch to the city.
It's free of the McMansions and the silent-era castles alike. It stands, despite recent fires, in calico (greener than the cat's coat) patches of what Layne, during boot camp exercise there explained, as eco-friendly verdancy to reseed the blackened chaparral. It gives the night sky a lesser-lit promontory, a respite from the endless stretch of mercury lights and porch bulbs and freeway signs that comprise the same city a century later.

Griffith Park surrounds our city's increasingly stuccoed slopes. Beneath them, our hosts can afford to live on Ambrose. Others may visit, as guests invited, or as revellers perhaps one night a year. Together, at least for one balmy evening under the theremin plaints and plastic cauldrons, we jostle in two languages (at least) as families pass, kids scream, and doors open at least on this night of modulated fright and manufactured fun to all.

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