Archive for May, 2008

I’ve got a dream for a clue, a hall pass that’s feeling close to the due date, and a whole lot of personal drama driving me crazy. Ordinary life and its chores are hard enough without battle cruisers patrolling the streets for human heads.

Spontaneously, I get out some of my illustration materials and tools. I continue work on one of my personal enrichment projects. I have four blank certificates of accomplishment on ditto paper from the fourth grade that I’ve been copying and adapting onto poster board. So far I’ve only done the first one.

I like giving artistic creations to people, where time and energy allow. These modified certificates are something different and neat I can give people to pump them up. It’s nice to get a bonus round every now and then.

In no time at all, I’ve got my second certificate done, and I’m satisfied to have a new goodie at my disposal. I wonder where the motivation to do this came from, since I haven’t been at full power for a few months now. I imagine it must have come as a token of kindness, as after all that’s what it’s supposed to be used for. What might I have done that was noteworthy, I wonder?

I recall my dream, and how I saved Important Woman from the snipers. Maybe the motivation comes from her as a form of recognition. Perhaps that’s where a lot of artistic inspiration comes from. It’s granted us through our dreams, and the figures of our dreams are the messengers. Sometimes we remember the dream where that inspiration springs, and sometimes we don’t. I think this sort of thing must be going on all the time, asleep or not.

K makes me a nice, delicious, hot cup of tea from her special recipe. She can tell I need a boost. A rooibus peach/blueberry bliss combo with fresh crushed blackberries and a big spoonful of honey in the raw (that unprocessed stuff with the pollen on top). It must work, because not only do I recover health points, but I have a Mr. Spock moment.

If I assume this inner dialogue is always going on, then I have to admit I’m not always participating overtly and that it’s not always about me. Things could be going on that are moving this search forward that I’m not aware of, and perhaps all I need to do is wait for my turn to do something. That, to me, seems to be the crux of the matter – the need for patience and for the various other storylines to catch up – whatever they may be. My brain is a secondary organ after all!

Nobody wants to discover they are a supporting character. Such an admission wounds one’s pride. I’ve put out the message, and I’m just being egotistic in thinking there’s more to it than that.

Suddenly, a light bulb in the chandelier above burns out with a flash and a snap. I take that as an agreement.

My big hope to meet the UFO girl rests on a crummy sound file attached to the Internet probability antenna. All I get in the way of clues is a dream.

In the dream I’m in a museum/international center. There’s this important woman moving from one location to another. She’s got about a dozen bodyguards about her for protection, plus a personal assistant and two administrative assistants. There’s a small amount of pedestrians milling about. Nobody recognizes the woman and her entourage. They just give her searching glances as they go about their business. I’m there too, part of the crowd and probably there for the art, but for some reason I get the feeling everyone knows who I am.

A bunch of snipers appear on the second floor balconies and aim for the woman. I jump to her side and somehow by waving my arms and moving in front of her at strategically important moments the snipers are only able to hit the bodyguards, and a few of the passers-by. I pull out this weird plastic submachine gun and blow away a few of the snipers. The rest take cover and I try to get the woman and her shrinking entourage to a waiting car.

The woman takes a grazing shot to the head, and I have to stop shooting so I can carry her the rest of the way to the car. The bodyguards are totally useless, and I know somehow that I’m the only one who can do the job and keep her alive. I have to put her down, shoot at the snipers some more to make them dive for cover, and open the car door. The driver, the personal assistant, and the two administrative assistants just stand there gawking at me, ducking bullets and doing nothing helpful.

I get the woman into the car and we all leave the scene of carnage behind. I perform emergency first aid, and for a moment it’s close, but I stabilize the woman. I notice the driver making the telltale suspicious glance at us. I pick up on something fishy about the personal assistant’s behavior, and the way the two administrative assistants look guilty. I realize they’re all working for the snipers and the woman’s been totally betrayed.

The driver gets wise to my suspicions. He locks the doors and puts up the privacy window. I know he’s driving us into a trap, so I start smashing the privacy window between us with a battering ram glass breaker I happen to be carrying around. Before I can shoot the driver he books and leaves us behind. I take over the car and drive away, just in time to dodge a rocket attack lock-on.

Keeping an eye on the remaining traitors, who do nothing because anyone with a battering ram in their pocket is clearly out of their mind, I drive to an underground parking lot. Waiting for me is a limousine being driven by Lurch from the Addams Family. In the back seat is a sexy nurse with mad doctor skills. I park the car and make the three assistants back off and turn around. I warn them that if they try to see where we go, or look at our license plate, I’ll blow them away.

I carry the woman to the back seat and the nurse takes over. I know she’ll be okay now. I cover the three traitors from the window of the limo with my plastic gun. Lurch shakes his head and makes his distinctive “I don’t believe this” groan before he gets in the car and drives us away. We drive off through downtown to a secret hideaway.

The cats wake me up with demands for food, and I return to the real world with a clue that makes no sense to me. I don’t know how much time I’ve got left on my haunted house pass, but I’m getting the growing feeling that my library books are coming due soon, and the ghosts there collect late fees in something other than cash, check or charge.

As I’ve mentioned before here, I don’t much care for the movies that are released in theaters. I believe the entertainment industry is incapable of making good movies except by accident. It’s the medieval printing press formula of spitballing. That is, mass production of a large number of products in the hope that something will stick and make enough money to make up for the tremendous losses of everything else that bombed.

You see it books, television shows, video games, and popular music. A whole lot of garbage, and a few lucky shots. Yet the industry, with its medieval guild system of cutting off free markets via the control of distribution, refuses to diversify for its own financial survival. All I see is consolidation into large, inefficient corporations that struggle to make the margins. It seems like in the news the only game to play is buyouts.

Without the propaganda machine known as the entertainment public relations industry whipping up public interest, the struggling entertainment industry (again, that term, which suggests craft, but conjures up images of sweatshop smokestacks) might be in worse shape. The mantra is always that it takes “the big boys” to make quality, and since they take all the risks, they deserve all the profits.

Well, hey, if that’s true, how come I’m not entertained? Where’s the “quality” I keep hearing about? All one has to do is read the first sentence of The Da Vinci Code, listen to ten seconds of Britney Spears’ “Gimmie More”, or watch a minute of any show on the SciFi Channel to know this doesn’t pass the laugh test.

The decline comes not just from a longstanding contempt for the public and what it wants, or the exploitation of artists and craftsmen desperate to make a buck, but also from an emerging sense by a new generation of people trained in the computer. These young people are growing up with tools not available even ten years ago that are cooperative, creatively open, and allow you to do work that used to take entire studios of people to produce.

It’s entirely possible now, for example, for a group of people to put together an original, entertaining show, if not better than a mainstream one, using a computer. Sound, video, special effects, and the portability, along with a massive distributor called the Internet, you can do it. You can even set up a website and charge for it if you want, or just post it on YouTube for people to enjoy simply for the love of sharing. It’s all about creating, passing it along, and getting involved.

The iron hand of oligarchy may yet crush this sentiment of the unwashed masses as they evolve towards freedom from coercion. It wouldn’t be the first time. If you look back through the centuries at the history of newspapers, pamphlets, and hootenannies, you’ll see how the owners seized control of popular culture. But as always, one can never tell how things will turn out, it’s anyone’s guess.

But I digress.

I saw a movie called “300”, which is a story about a battle between a small group of Spartans (the good guys) and a gargantuan army of Persians (the bad guys). The battle decides whether the last stand of the good guys inspires their allies to band together and have a chance at remaining free, or they fail and the leader of the Persian army conquers everyone (this is bad). That’s the movie in a nutshell, and it’s been lauded as a macho man story of serious butt kicking and decried as a historically inaccurate appeal to patriotism.

I think both sides are completely wrong. It’s just a really, really bad movie that people are throwing their own projections upon, either because they feel powerless and want to watch some pump up, or they expect disappointment in today’s movies and this one grants them the opportunity to complain.

To the people expecting “quality”, “historical accuracy”, or even things like “realism” or “authenticity”, you are deluding yourselves. This is a fantasy, adapted from a trade paperback taking liberties with history to start with. All you have to do is look at the cinematography, with it’s green-screen generated landscapes and phony-baloney colors stolen from every music video filter of the nineties, to know this is an internal story, not an external one.

The characters move and speak like figures from a daydream or an idle fancy. The outrageous wolves with glowing eyes or rhinos decked out in battle armor are exaggerated monsters of the unconscious with no relation to real world animals. The crazy maneuvers during the fight scenes have nothing to do with physics and everything to do with how adolescents play with action figures.

I’m not knocking this approach. I’m just saying you can’t expect such an overt disregard for reality to hold up under anything more than a loose, subjective viewing. You can say such a shallow presentation neither nourishes the soul hungry for art nor makes for fascinating intellectual analysis, and I’d agree. See that industry treadmill spewing out offal? Yes, it’s gross, and it’s useful to consider the ways in which it falls short (ahh, that sulphurous, rotten egg smell of a group of men pushing an armored elephant right off a cliff). After all that, it’s time to start talking about alternatives.

To the people who think there’s a lot of kicking of butts, I think you need a reality check from Patton: “Now I want you to remember that no *#&!#%$ ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb *#&!#%$ die for his country.”

Sure, there’s a lot of awesome battle moves going on, the Spartans inflict huge losses against an outlandish array of revved up opponents, and they all die fighting. That’s not kicking butt, that’s losing with a flourish.

Yes, their heroic sacrifice inspires the wimp allies to stand up to the invaders, but we never see if that final battle leads to victory. Without final victory, you lose. Yes, you can say we know what happened in history, but remember this is a fantasy. If it isn’t on screen, we can’t imply anything. It’s a complete let down.

You want butt kicking? After a long movie of fighting down to the bitter end, the superhero leader of the good guys gets a chance to spear the bad guy leader — and clips the bad guys ear. He missed (if the guy’s not dead, you failed). Since the movie is a shallow fantasy, the symbolic effect of such an act in real history means nothing (but having a Man Who Would Be King scene would negate the movie’s premise and ending).

This pathetic miss occurs in an interesting context. There’s an earlier scene in which a lesser character performs an amazing feat of throwing ability.  His spear lands dead on against a huge, armored rhino at least a hundred feet away, exactly enough to kill the creature so that it slides to a stop inches from the guy.

And it’s strongly implied that this lesser character’s weakness of “needing his father’s approval” is what leads to his horrible death. The movie’s implied moral statement is “anything that makes you weak makes you worthless”. Things like feelings other than murderous rage, not being a Spartan, and having a disability.

The leader of the Spartans, who embodies the butt kicking principle to the utmost, should at least be able to duplicate the dead loser’s killing shot from what, twenty feet? Right? This is for the win, leader dies, army falls apart.

Failure = 100%

I don’t watch “butt kicking” movies to watch the heroes lose. I watch to see the good guys inflict major hate and discontent. That’s what my subconscious primitive is paying to see.

I’m riding high on a tide of musical euphoria. My new, favorite band is suddenly the hottest, coolest thing around. I see them in TIME magazine while I’m waiting for a haircut at my family barbershop. Their videos are playing on MTV a lot. Friends at college are blasting tunes from the Joshua Tree at night while we all hang out and just nod our heads to the riffs of the Edge playing his stuff. My girlfriend at the time gets a copy and we play it in her car while we’re driving around. There are states of mind that even to this day, songs like “Running to Stand Still” and “Mothers of the Disappeared” can conjure in me, taking me back to feelings and memories that resonate deep in my pond.

Along comes “Rattle and Hum”. This is an album that garnered some critical backlash, and rightly so to a certain extent. U2 was seen as trying to ingratiate themselves with other great musical performers, and perhaps acting too big for their britches. Bono’s soap boxing comments on the album during certain songs come to mind. This is where I started to hear complaints about Bono’s sanctimonious attitude, which at the time I felt was correct, but a lot of times I felt the people expressing those opinions were also motivated by jealousy. I saw the album as simply another U2 live album, about which I had a theory I believed at the time.

Looking back, it was pure delusion, but at the time I honestly believed that U2 came out with a “live” album between all their normal, regular albums. They used the “live” albums as an in-between artistic arch-stone. After Boy, October and War you had the live album Under A Blood Red Sky. Then They did the awesomely spiritual Unforgettable Fire. After that came Wide Awake In America, another live album. Followed by the supremely stunning masterpiece of Joshua Tree. So Rattle and Hum was just the next, natural “rest stop” album. The next album would, of course, be even more amazing by all logical standards.

So I ignored a lot of the criticism of Rattle and Hum, because in a sense I thought it was an in between project. If they were acting high and mighty, I felt U2 had a certain right to. What rock star wouldn’t want to take their rightful place with all the other legends, now that they’d hit the big time? At least that is how I looked at it. And I thought a lot of the music on Rattle and Hum was pretty good. I’ve never liked covers, so I didn’t care for songs like “Helter Skelter” – I have yet to hear anyone equal the Beatle’s original. But with songs like “All I Want Is You” and “Silver and Gold” sending me to the happy place, it was all I needed to tide me over.

I went through a lot of changes in the years I waited for the next album. I was struggling with my life’s purpose, romantic and academic failures, and I was developing the foundations of the person I would become. A rough time for me, you could say. Into this came Achtung Baby, the dark U2 album. At first, it was so different from anything U2 had ever done I was stunned. There’s a point in some great albums where you keep listening and the magic shoots you into space. You realize you’ve redeemed some unknown part of your soul from ignorance. It’s tough, though, because that moment is the same as the heartbreaker albums that you listen to, hoping the pieces will click together. And instead you give up and never listen to that album again.

With Achtung Baby, I discovered sonic secret doors and multiple meanings in every listen (and still do, to this day, though not as often). Being in the depths of despair, this album got me through some troubled periods just because it was so exhilarating to hurt and listen to music that hurt with you, or twisted with you through the grinder. There would be other “dark albums” in my life, but none so mysterious and elusive, loud and cool, or right to the core as this one would end up being for me. It’s very likely the album played a part in helping me graduate from college.

I’ll concede that Joshua Tree is the better album, but I’ll choose Achtung Baby every time. It’s associated with personal moments and inner depths in a way that can never be repeated or experienced again. It’s unique to me and I never get tired of listening to it. People who have experienced this kind of bonding with an album are fortunate (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) to have lived life like this, even for a short time. You could tell me Achtung Baby stinks, is overrated, and lacking talent and I couldn’t agree or disagree with you. When it’s this personal, there’s no right or wrong answer.

This album sustained me for a long time. Before I knew it, the time had come for the next “in-between” album. Zooropa came into my life during a moment of transition that was particularly tough for me. I found the occurrence a meaningful one because I considered this an interim album, even though it wasn’t “live”. It worried me that it was an actual regular album, but as a lot of the material came out of the dense creativity of the previous one, I looked at it as the standard “in-between” fare. A good one, mind you, as I enjoyed just about every song, and considered my experience of the album a spiritual one. If the “rest stop” album was this good, the next regular album would be even better than the last. Could even such an album exist? What would it be like? For now, I reveled in Zooropa and it sustained me through the beginnings of a dark trial in my life.

The funny thing is, I still hadn’t seen U2 in concert. And I still hadn’t bought and listened to October. There were gaps in my fandom, for various reasons having to do with limited mobility and funds. My maturity level had not developed in certain areas, but that is a tale for another time. For now, I was riding a U2 high.

I had no clue how apocalyptic the next album would be, nor how far my projections would come down.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch I’m nursing my shocked and battered brainstem. I have to work on putting the latest UFO girl investigations a little more, as I had to go to some rough places to gather my evidence. The Klingon patrols seem more aggressive of late, and everywhere I look, the radioactive mutants are shooting sparks at any evidence of human consciousness.

So what I gots is a measely linkdump for this rainy, supercharged non-firey Beltaine kind of day. Rather than focus on May Day labor struggles and history-of-beatdown stuff, I felt I’d be better off meditating on the fun. Always good is an insanity-point inducing musical number from an old classic, a visual journey into humanization, mockery of the drones as stupid as it is possible for a person to be, and reminders that people do stuff for creativity and relax-enjoy free of coercion.