Saturday, January 16, 2010
Old Men, My Friends
I'm listening to Leonard Cohen's Ten New Songs--he was in his late sixties when the album came out in 2001. I just finished reading Wounded, a novel by Percival Everett. The protagonist is a horse rancher who describes himself as old as dirt. Today I saw Crazy Heart, the new film in which Jeff Bridges plays a 57-year-old country singer alcoholic named Bad Blake. I listened to John Lee Hooker for nearly 3 hours straight while writing recently, and at the Getty the other day, I couldn't stop staring at photos of men working dangerous jobs--building the Empire State Building, trying to stop oil fires, laying bricks. The title of the exhibit was The Worker. I felt more affection for those images of men covered in coal dust then for the photos of secretaries and burlesque girls--even though I've been both of those.
These men are the people, the characters, and the voices that resonate most with me in the past months. I'm a 30-year-old blonde writer dancer woman with a Berkeley-feminist childhood and a pretty face, and the only people who seem to make any real sense to me right now are not just men, but men anywhere from 10-30 years older than me.
A psychologist would want to know more about my father. Blah blah blah. A feminist literary theorist would blame a phallogocentric culture with no true female logos. A historian might point out that women really weren't allowed to MAKE art unless they were crazed geniuses for most of Western history, and that when they did it anyway, they were suppressed or underappreciated. I understand this context, and I'm, of course, fascinated and humbled by it.
But tonight, I'm more interested in figuring out how to write in the world of Henry Miller without being called a "female version" of Henry Miller. And what to do about having a soul that seems strangely more like Tom Waits' or Henry Miller's than Erica Jong's.
I trust, love, and admire a goodly collection of women writers and artists. I think SARK has flouted the gendered demands of our culture with a wisdom and courage that is stunning. I read and wish I could have been roommates with Anais Nin. Sophie B. Hawkins is a hero of truth-telling and self-aware, mature sexiness. But has there been anyone since the 60s who was truly celebrated, in public, as a bad girl with frizzy hair and an un-Hollywood body who played guitar and drank whiskey? I feel sad tonight about the condition of gender. I feel that these old fart male artists are more my friends than the women I know, because they are less afraid of the world than most of the women I know. Everyone is dishonest. But in Crazy Heart, Bad Blake has at least one moment of wasting no time on image-maintenance in situations when it could have "helped" him to be more strategic--he tells his longtime agent "fuck you," does an interview without buttoning his shirt, and once he decides to get sober, does no grandstanding. John Hunt, Everett's protagonist in Wounded, always knows when he's lying, which means that he's got a constant self-awareness, if not a mandate to offer all his information to everyone. I used to feel some pity for men that they had to wear their sex organs on the outside, but now I am jealous. It's not quite penis envy, it's more like forced-honesty-envy.
Two nights ago I climbed into a limo with nine people who were dressed impeccably for a night out in Hollywood--men in nice shirts, women in sexy skirts, heels, makeup, perfect breasts. Lindsey and I were drunk on cheap Smirnoff, and we'd been in my Dollhouse talking and writing in our pajamas when we got a phone call from her friend and the whole night turned around. We didn't change our clothes, and on the ride into the hills, Lindsey said, "Ness, can you sum this up, the whole thing, everything up until now?" I was sprawled on the floor of the limo with my Target-bought Ugg knock-off boots balanced on the doorhandle and my ski-jacket halfway unzipped.
"Ok, I'll sum this up.
(A) Big Bang
(D) The Avant-Garde."
Riz Story, to my right, said, "I like that." Mark Batson, to my left, said, "Girl, wow."
Lindsey high-fived me, said, "Yes," and the women said nothing. Why? I don't know. They didn't listen because they were dressed up and I was in pajamas? They didn't know what I was "trying" to do? I really don't know.
I want a new way to be Woman, and I think Linz and I are stumbling towards it. As much as I admired Crazy Heart, I'm sick of characters like the writer Maggie G. plays, who falls for the bad boy Bad Blake and then has to self-protect when he does some inevitable destruction. Bah. I didn't buy it for a second--a woman like that would only be lightly curious, not truly turned on, by the darkness her lover saw on the edge of town, no matter how turned on she might be in the bedroom. It seemed there was a message about women there, and especially about mothers: all that darkness just can't enter the home where a child is being raised, and it is the Mama who will make sure of it.
So maybe that is the source of my identification with the alcoholics, the tortured bald poets, the deviant exiles and the truth-telling old men: my babies are stories, which actually need that darkness to live, and not real live children, whom it might destroy?
at 10:59 PM