Saturday, September 13, 2014

Tell Tales

So on a beautiful full moon night, one of those nights when the stars hide away and the moon swollen and full makes the world glow silver; I drove into town to see Tell Tails, a new performance piece by Bridget Nicklason-King.

The sort of night that is the power of women.

Tell Tails was a show inspired by Bridget’s granny. One can imagine the performer as a child listening intently as her grandmother told wild stories of adventure, danger and love. All completely true…and then some.

Old, old, ancient the stage is, older than writing. And the sparse, black stage is a new universe, a unique self contained world. This evening we were expected to believe that we were on the beach, on the edge of a wild salt sea. A churning sea made of broken glass. Tossed and smashed by fierce waves the empty wine bottles shatter and shatter again, until they are ground into dust, into sand of the beach. And the sand can be melted, reformed into glass, endlessly rocking.

And like the poet who uses the flowing, alternating vowel to create emotions, or as the cunning raven who picks up objects to alert and inform the others, so too the performer uses flowing alternating gesture, motion, to grasp ideas, to create meaning.

Not quite mime, rather something more like to dance, to an art of motion. Not quite a narrative. Rather Tell Tales was like a strange utopian burlesque. Music and dance. Comedy, clowning, cabaret, chaos. Wine, sand, and popcorn.

House lights off, a spot light, and Bridget Nicklason-King starts off the show hiding under a red sheet. Strange, protean, shapes under the sheet. A cluttering noise and we see her, bound, trying to come out of, trying to free herself from, this tattered worn and well used gladstone bag. Like a child being born? Does she wobble around like a baby foal unsure on its feet? Or is this a ecstatic, drunken, dance? One review, not seeing the bag as a uterus, saw it as Pandora's box “releasing its torrent of horrors before collapsing into the last rays of hope.”

Both views I am sure are right in their own way, and at the same time wrong. Wrong in the sense of not being concrete, not being complete.

But here is the point where the work may cause a divide. If you want your art, if you want the theater experience, to be all wrapped up and tidy, if you want all the various strands to come together in a neat bowpackage -- this work is not for you. If, however, you do not mind having to add structure, to fill in the spaces, if you understand that art, like life, is not neat and tidy, but rather fraught with errors that extend and liberate us; if you think that the genius and the fulfillment of art is to play, than this is a work for you.

The supporting staff around Bridget did a very good job, the set design, lighting, and sound blended together to support the performance, and were always discrete.

The only negative I can find is more a problem with the space. Bridget ended the show swimming in the broken glass sea. However due to the line of sight, I was unable to see this very well. I could, however, hear -- which in many ways is not a negative at all, but further to the idea of having to add elements to the show.

To find out more about this performance piece and Bridget Nicklason-King you should click on this link.

Speaking of magical islands.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

hands up don't shoot

This being my response to Ferguson, and the over the top police response. the video at the end was filmed by Peter Charles Macpherson

My lumps my lumps my lovely baton lumps

After Los Angeles riots
After Rodney King
A commission investigating
The beating found that
Police were perceived
An occupying army.
Not community members.

I had no alternative
But to elevate the level
Of our response.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Recent high school graduate
Starting technical college,
Visiting his grandmother,
Shot at least six times,
Including twice in the head.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Walking home, unarmed, no record
Three minutes later
A hail of pistols shots

Few details have been released
It has been confirmed --
A police officer
Shot and killed
A male subject.

Lifeless on the street
Hours after the shooting -- uncovered.
A photographer captured
The street scene -- a dead boy
On his stomach, his right cheek
Hard against the asphalt.
A long trail of blood
Flowing his head.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

The situation was tense.
A large group gathered and
Confronted police
Obscenities and chants
Crips and Bloods arm in arm
United righteous anger.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

On the grizzled brick walls
On the concrete flyover pillars
Spray painted dissent
The only good cop
Is a dead cop.
No justice, No Peace!
Hey hey, Ho ho
Killer cops have to go!
And in reply Officer Boar
Grunts out “Bring it,
You fucking animals! Bring it!”
Several times-gunshots could be heard.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Unarmed no criminal record
How many times this same song?
It was at least six shots
As many as eleven
It was more than just a couple
More than just a couple
I don't think it was many more.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Yet there were two in his head.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Schools were closed down
As the tear gas cannisters
Banned as chemical weapons
In war time banned flew.
Activists from Gaza tweeted
Tactics against the gas.
Notorious hackers Anonymous
Shut down the city's website
For much of Monday.
A random shot in the air.
And the airport was closed
To provide a safe haven
For law enforcement activities.
Armoured trucks patrolled.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Fat white men middle aged
Born and bred in fear.
Gun shop owners gleefully
Reported a surge in sales --
And they are buying
Home defense shotguns
Personal defense handguns
For conceal carry

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Recent high school graduate
About to start college
Why y’all got my son out in the street?
His mother cried. Frightened
Cops, poorly trained,
Pawns in the game,
Out of their depth,
Restrained her. Officer Brute
Said -- You can’t see your son.
You need to calm yourself down.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Bottles and rocks.
Sound cannons
And clouds of tear gas,
To disperse the crowd.
No medical support on call.
Frightened poorly trained
Old time cop riot
Inflames -- Again & Again
Flames as the shop burns.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Reporters chased away,
Mocked, abused, roughed up,
Arrested. Get the fuck out of here
And get that light off,
Or you're getting shot with this.
Amnesty gassed,
Forced to kneel.
Your press pass
Officer Porker grunts
Don't mean shit.

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Burning chemical smoke
Rises and billows Golden
Arches glowing. Casting weird
Shadows the rain slick streets
Glowing and smearing the lights
Crowds roll and surge
High tech cold red dot
Power demon eye points
Sniper rifle on his chest

Hands up -- Don't shoot
Hands up -- Don't shoot

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys

So being that sort of person, I first read about the new memoir by Viv Albertine, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys, in a Guardian review, shortly after it was published by Faber & Faber in May of this year. After reading a few reviews I decided to see if my local library had a copy. I was pleased and annoyed that I would have to wait several weeks for my turn to read the book.

But why would I want to read such a memoir? When I was a young thing making the scene I loved The Slits, I found them to be a very interesting and brave band. So there was some nostalgia in my desire to read this. Also it is interesting to watch the turn of history. Much has changed since 1976, I thought it would be interesting to see this turn of history from the eyes of another.

The memoir is broken up, like an old fashioned record, into side 1 and side 2. Side 1 being her childhood, and youth including her time with The Slits. In this part she brings to life the grim recession of the late 70's to life. I did not live in England at the time, but rather in New England, which was going through similar economic and political crises. Albertine captures the excitement of punk, the turbulent feeling that we can make a difference, that we can change the world. More importantly she does not shy away from discussing the many contradictions, and cul-de-sacs of punk.

The book contains many amusing and interesting sketches of people I have seen, have heard, have heard of, but have never met. In these sketches we are able to see the true Romantic character of the punk ethos. Punk was the sting of the Romantic tail, struggling to bring to life the idea that enthusiasm can be more powerful than technical prowess. The final scattering of punk taught us a most important lesson, that in the end both talent and enthusiasm can be defeated by money.

Side 2 narrates Viv Albertine's life after The Slits broke up. This is a longer and more powerful section. With the breakup of the band, the author was plunged into poverty and despair. An example of how the music industry uses young people and then throws them onto the scrap heap. From here she tries to rebuild herself. As if to mock her youthful success, life generated a series of challenges. The sort of challenges we all face at one time or another. The second section of this book becomes a tale of miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, IVF, cancer, broken marriages. A series of waiting rooms and examinations, where dignity and control are stripped away.

There is a terrible beauty in a much of this. For example, the description of the death of her father was moving and made me well up thinking of the pathetic hopelessness of life. The terrible waste.

Viv Albertine maintained the punk DIY attitude over the decades, rejecting the idea of a ghost writer. This creates a fascinating, almost voyeuristic, look into another persons broken mirror. Many of the reviews I have read describe this memoir as honest, “utter honesty” from the SMH, while the Guardian prefers “searing honesty.” Raising questions of honesty opens up a myriad of philosophical questions as to the nature of truth, questions I do not feel I am capable of answering. I will say that her account feels very sincere and honest, but as I was not there I have no way of verifying her account.

Unlike some of the subject matter, her writing style is not very taxing. The book is written in a very smooth, simple style. Laurence Sterne, author of that strange work of genius, described writing as, “but a different name for conversation.” In this autobiography Viv Albertine seems to take this idea to heart. This book feels almost like chatting with an old friend over a bottle of red.

What did I learn from this book? Behind every great woman is a man trying to hold her back. This modern proverb was amply exposed in this book. Sexual violence, barely hidden contempt, emotional blackmail, domestic violence. Here we can see her honesty, this book did not shy away from showing the truth of women's lives. This constant struggle that women face has changed, but not lessoned since (let us say) 1976; more subtle, maybe, but still all-encompassing.

In the end this book seems to me to be about losing one's self, standing naked before the mirror, and then finding one's self again. Definitely worth a read. This dot point history of contemporary life, this tale of a journey through life is deceptively easy to read; yet on this simple stage Albertine allows a variety of thoughts and arguments to bubble up to the the surface.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


A friend of mine showed me a poem she wrote. She used the image of the oars in the water, churning the water to foam. Which reminded me of the end of book nine of the Odyssey. Our hero is fleeing after having blinded Polyphemus. The phrase Homer uses is πολιὴν ἅλα polien hala. Literally the grizzled salt, but obviously Homer is talking about the churning sea water. Odyssey 9.556ff

So then all the day, until the sun sank
We feasted, sharing ample flesh, sweet wine.
When the sun set and the shadows came,
Lulled by the breakers, we slept on the beach.

With the early rosy fingered light of dawn,
I roused my drowsy comrades, ordered them
To board the ship, to let slip the anchor.

And they at once boarded and on their benches sat
Crouching rows, the grizzled salt sea they struck with oars.

So we sailed away, grieving in our hearts,
Glad to have escaped death, our dear friends dead.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Dying Socrates.

The Socrates of Xenophon was more bourgeois than Plato's gadfly, more practical than the pale, barefoot, long-haired comic foil of Aristophanes. In many ways the Socrates of Xenophon is the most human. The Socrates of Xenophon does not see the taking of hemlock as a glorious attack on a corrupt, and fickle democracy, rather the taking of hemlock is the fitting end to a well lived life. This would also go a long way to explaining the willful mockery of the court that Socrates produced in place of a defense.

This is from The Memorabilia of Socrates 4.8.8. Maybe his death should be seen, similar to the trial and death of Jesus, as a sort of state sponsored euthanasia. For in the end can one be free if one is not able to say, as Roberto Durán said, no mas?

It is hard to make Xenophon sing, as he was a better soldier than he was an author, but he does have a simple, clear style which makes it easier for an intermediate amateur like myself to follow.

I have tried to capture the feel, and some of the imagery of Xenophon. I had fun, and hopefully you will too. If it does disappoint at least it is a short song.

And if I was to live on?
Another season or two...
Would not my life be like prison?
Unable to pay the debt of old age.
My sight and hearing lessened.
My thoughts reduced.
It would become,
Harder to learn
Easier to forget.
From the best
To the worst
I would fall.

And truly, even if I did not grasp
These changes, my life would be
Insufferable. But if I did notice,
Would not my life be constrained?
Would life itself not become
Distasteful, like poison?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Moon

So a pal o' mine posted on facebook a quiz from The Guardian The moon in literature. One question in the quiz was a Sappho poem. Or rather a translation by Edwin Arnold, "Greek Poets in English Verse." Ed. William Hyde Appleton. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1893.

The stars about the lovely moon
fade back and vanish very soon,
When, round and full, her silver face
Swims into sight, and lights all space

So I searched out the "original"

Ἄστερες μὲν ἀμφὶ κάλαν σελάνναν
ἂψ ἀπυκρύπτοισι φάεννον εἶδος,
ὄπποτα πλήθοισα μάλιστα λάμπῃ
γᾶν [ἐπὶ πᾶσαν]
... ἀργυρία ...

and made my own translation.

Stars around the beautiful moon
At once hide their shining forms
When her full light swells,
Making all glow silver.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


We are, The Philosopher said, animals whose nature it is to be artificial.

Sitting and and at the same time hurtling 100 kilometers per hour down the highway, through showers of heavy rain, listening to Radio National, I made my way to the Schoolhouse Gallery, Rosny Farm to see the exhibit Man-Made. An exhibit of recent paintings by two local artists Peter Tankey & Aaron Wasil. Even the the Schoolhouse Gallery itself comments on the dichotomy of the natural and the artificial. The building was built as a bicentennial project and is modeled on a schoolhouse that was built at Osterly about 1890.

The works exhibited were described by Aaron as “a silent but evident struggle between natural and manufactured”; or to use a more classical structuralist metaphor, “the raw and the cooked”.

I enjoyed both painters works. The artists had very different styles, but both seemed to be pointing in similar directions. Aaron Wasil used a slick, cool style. With a simple color palette his style emphasized angles and varied points of view. The works of Peter Tankey, on the other hand, created a kaleidescopic rush of color and form. The detritus of everyday life gathered in staged, and at the same time almost random locations.

The exhibit brought together two different styles. One, almost photo-realist in style, the other more mannered. This difference reflects and reinforces the overall theme of the exhibit and allows us to see different responses to similar material conditions. differences that arise out of twenty years of friendship and shared artistic journey. Differences that arise from late night, wine fueled discussions of artistic practice. Differences that are more about style than they are about philosophy.

This worth seeing exhibition continues until the 10th August. Tues – Fri 11am – 4pm Sat – Sun 12pm - 4pm. More information can be found at the exhibit's facebook page

We live in a world that is full of change. We live in a world which does not know how to change, a world that is unsure and seemingly afraid to change. A world afraid to reflect, a world that seems to me to be similar to Europe before the First World War. So I will leave the final word to Rainer Maria Rilke. In the first of his Duino Elegies Rilke wrote:

...and the nosing beasts soon scent
how insecurely we're housed in this signposted World.
And yet a tree might grow for us
upon some hill for us to see and see again each day.