Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bob Dylan at the Palladium

The Palladium is right. Concentric circles of light, just askew enough to push us all towards the front, the apex? Even the wood on the dance floor is bowed. We’re spiraling around a possible aberration, we’re in orbit.
I love my boots and faux-leather jacket but this place makes me ache for those chandeliers to turn on, for a swing band to play, for a satin dress to wear and nice gent to give me a turn around the floor. 85% of this crowd is in jeans and they make me feel like some future anthropologist will wonder if they were a religious requirement for us.
Bob Dylan starts with Leopard-skin Pillbox Hat. This is the blues. The blues of loss, but also the blues of aggression. And that juxtaposition is delicate, because it can teeter into self-pity, or the other way into rage.
Beyond here lies nothin’, he says, nothin’ but the moon and stars. You can’t keep on with your terrestrial life—you’ve got to look UP. The point isn’t to make art in spite of pain, it’s about making art that transforms, uses, alchemizes pain. To allow pain to bring new ideas. The most difficult thing is to not be told what to do by your pain, to figure out when your pain is unnecessary ego attachment and when your pain is the beautiful wrenching grief that comes from witnessing or experiencing true human suffering. Pain that makes us want to stop dead in our tracks and curl into self-protective solitude is dangerous. Pain that makes us angry at systems, that helps us accept truth, or that cuts into the dead flesh of habit is a gift.
As if to reward us for starting to understand, the lights in the room become twinkling dots—we’ve made it into the moon and stars!
But immediately Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum remind us that if you don’t learn to think, you’ll be brought to your knees. And even if you do think, you might still. Then we feel Dylan’s toughlove on Sugar Baby.

I cried hard during When The Deal Goes Down, and then immediately afterward Dylan sang Be Honest With Me. He reminded me that the desire for return on offerings of vulnerability is a grand mistake of ego. You give up your truth freely. Then you ask for truth freely. You got to get stark naked, and then not care. I sent a few text messages, to Anth, Linz, and Louis, in a surge of affection and humilty, proclaiming my steadfastness and apologizing for times I've been afraid.

The other brilliant pairing was Highway 61 just before Workingman’s Blues #2. From the esoteric poetry to the pain of poverty, an old song to a new, this is how Dylan gets people to remember what was happening in the 60s. What was important about the vision of the 60s, what needs to keep happening, even though we must do it differently now. You are never allowed to sink into a love song without the context of history, and you are never allowed to forget that every piece of poetry is interacting with politics. People are still sleeping with their heads in the kitchen and their feet out in the hall. We got to raise ourselves an army, some tough sons of bitches!

One of my favorite love-lines of all time: I got the pork chops, you got the pie, you ain’t no angel and neither am I.

When Dylan plays the Ballad of the Thin Man, and the lights turn nearly off except for bright yellow on his face and looming silhouettes behind, people who don’t like to be hurt by the mystery of the world leave for more beer. They return when he plays Like a Rolling Stone, which comes on at 10:14pm on 10/14/09, my mother and Melissa’s birthday, the moment at which this LA crowd is finally lit up, when Dylan asks us how it feels to be a complete unknown, and the jubilant recognition of an old favorite masks, for some, the sobriety of that question. For others, the perfect complexity, the Dylan specialty, is reached. Acknowledgement of what is wrong and hard in this world, without anxiety. In fact, he’s even able to enjoy himself in the conversation. And with the help of Charlie Sexton, and a band that plays the dirty dark sexy beautiful blues like they drank a glass of molasses and milk every day of their lives, I can enjoy it all too.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Circus and the Temple


Mystery. Reverence. Fear. The jungle, the savannah, the circus, the temple.

Ganesha on one end, Salt and Sauce on the other. An elephant is a god, a killer, a child’s toy, a sideshow freak.

I spent my 30th birthday at the Elephant Odyssey in San Diego. What profound joy. What masters of meditative curiosity they are. Pulling, touching, probing, checking everything with their tender trunks.

Ganesha, the Elephant-headed god, Lord of Obstacles, is in charge of both removing obstacles and placing them in the way of those who need to be slowed. He is also the God of Letters, who loves the intellect. I would have expected his chakra to be the head. I was wrong: he resides in the base, #1 chakra, which is at the root of the spine. The place where I, and most women I know, hold our tension. Also our wisdom?

How can something so large be so cute? It’s one of the great complexities of the elephant.

One can read colloquial history of circus and zoo elephants who kill their keepers. They have been known to go into rages when in captivity. On their own, even when the males fight for mating rights, they rarely hurt each other. It’s more like a game of wits they play.

In the wild, as adults, they have no true predators or prey. This gives them time to become idiosyncratic and individual. Even the elephants at San Diego Zoo all have little habits and preferences that set them apart. They are preoccupied by food and family, like Italians. They make friends, and grieve when their friends die by crying, standing very, very still, refusing to eat.

Elephant pregnancy is its own oddity. They go through a 22-month gestation period, the longest of any mammal. Still, when babies are born, they don’t have a lot of instincts. They

need to be taught. All the elephants in the herd gather around the baby and touch it, caressing with their trunks. The very first thing it experiences is the touch of its family’s vulnerable and informative body.

An elephant’s trunk is precise enough to pick up something tiny but strong enough to throw you. They look like all they can do is lumber around on those huge chunk-feet, but they’re great swimmers.

They hear in their feet. They pick up vibrations. Their communication is largely underground. Trumpeting is just one way to talk. When they seem like they aren’t “doing anything,” they are often sending messages underneath the noise of daily life.

Elephants aren’t a universal symbol for any one concept, although they are a reliable cultural fascination and can be expected to symbolize something, to nearly everyone.. In India, they have been revered since before they were rare. In America, they have been exoticized nearly

to monstrosity. It’s this kind of layered cultural-historical meaning that fascinates me. An elephant is a text.

It’s an erotic delight to uncover meaning. Stripping clothes is stripping pretense, stripping away the over-simplified, obvious, calculated. When we do this uncovering with a text, an object, a space, the same fascination comes. The erotic is always about the process of peeling layers to find the next. And this is why India can eroticize an elephant, eroticize death, eroticize sitting very still: it isn’t the predictable form of sexiness (curve of hip, slant of eye) that brings us to love or ecstasy, it is the infinitesimal moments of discovery, revealing, uncovering. Milan Kundera writes, in The Curtain, that the job of a novelist (or any artist) is to rip through our “pre-interpreted” world to show what is hiding. It’s a sort of violence, to do this, as it destroys inevitably what was once accepted as

reality. Many people never do acid (replace with: seek intimacy with another person, write in a journal, travel, get more education, pay attention to their government, and on and on) precisely because they are afraid of what might be revealed to them. But again, I claim this process, in its violence, to be also the real process of creativity and therefore the real life of the erotic mind-body. It is also the process by which social change is made.

There are always layers to uncover in our affinities. When an elephant loses its last set of teeth, it is time to die. Dreams about losing teeth are one of the top ten most common, and most disturbing for us. A poetic coincidence can lead to meaning, if we are brave enough. And that is why it is never acceptable to have a conversation in which you assert that you “just like” or “just don’t like” something. Complacency of that sort keeps current power institutions

in power, keeps paradigms firmly in place, keeps the elephants safely understandable based on what we “know.”

But did you know that they purr?

Get your mind blown on a broadband connection at Ashes and Snow.

Meet my friends at the Elephant Odyssey.