More Thoughts On Blogging

Someone recently, and it has happened way more than once, pointed out a spelling mistake.  Hell, there will probably be one in this article that gets through the gates unnoticed.  I’d like to claim some kind of intelligent reason for this, that I was purposely weaving in mistakes like Native American art, but no; I just fucked up and didn’t notice.

I was recently talking to a friend about how I really enjoyed writing, but every time I hit publish I want to puke.  I often think things like, “Why would anyone care what I have to say?”  “Isn’t the world already drowning in opinions and bullshit?”

I’ve mentioned this before, but part of the reason I am able to even publish anything is that I hit publish when I have that small window of courage to post something, when I still feel fresh off inspiration.  I’ve described blogging as an outward looking journal.  It’s a place to document the feelings of the moment.  It’s a way to lead people towards more permanent forms of expression, not a substitute for them.  It’s a way to make people think.  It’s a starting point, not an final destination.

That doesn’t mean that it is alright to get things wrong.  There is no excuse for purposely misleading people.  I’m quite happy when someone points out a mistake.  I want to get things right.  I want people to get something out of what I write, but I also want to learn from those that read things here.  I think blogging, at its best, is a two way conversation.  It’s a way to communicate with people that don’t live down the street from you.

I also think that half of life is just getting the courage to walk through a door.  There are not only many people that can write better than I can, but also many more that could, but don’t.  One can only get better at something by doing.  For years I didn’t write because I thought, “Why me?”  Another question could be, “Why not you?”

On the internet, as in life, opinions are like assholes.  Everybody has one.  But how many people try to express themselves in a thorough way, where they are actually accountable for what they say?  Blogging often gets shitted on, and there can be good reason for it.  So many times they are of no value.  But then so much of our culture is meaningless bullshit.  How many businesses are trying to sell you things you don’t need for prices you can’t pay?  On the other hand anything can have worth if the doing is taken seriously.  One can judge something on the effort put into it and the results.  The medium doesn’t really matter all that much.    This is one of the mediums of the moment for expression.

All you can do is try your best, hold yourself accountable, and hope that others do as well.  Walk though that door and hope you don’t get your ass handed to you, but don’t be surprised when you do.  But if you don’t do something, someone else will.  If you think you can bring your best to something, it might as well be you.  I guarantee for every mistake someone catches, I can find more.  I am chasing perfection, well aware that it can never be reached.

I don’t like inspiring claptrap and feel good nonsense.  Writing, like life, is complex and messy.  One can find themselves heading out for new lands with the best intentions and still end up being blown back, crushed upon the shore.  But expressing ourselves is the only thing that separates us from animals.  That and building fast food restaurants where there used to be a beautiful tree.  I know which I’d rather attempt to do.  We are here, this is now, and this is how it feels.  Sooner or later that will no longer be the case.  Try and fail, try and fail, but try…

George Orwell: Why I Write

George Orwell: Why I Write

A friend is reading a collection of George Orwell essays I recommended called Facing Unpleasant Facts.  Because I wanted to be able to talk about the book intelligently, but it had been some time since reading it, I decided on the van ride home today to reread a couple of his best essays, including Why I Write.  You can read the same essay at the above link.

Orwell was probably better than any writer, in the English language, at getting across big ideas in clear direct language.  In this essay Orwell not only provides a window into his motivation for writing, but the motivation for writers as a whole. He also makes the case for writing as truth telling.

Another reason I love Orwell is that he was very realistic about how to achieve political goals.  He is often misunderstood, due to readers’ selectiveness, as his writing is crystal clear.  Orwell considered himself a democratic socialist, but he often criticized the left for their approach to achieving their goals, especially in the language that they used.  I can’t help but feel that Orwell is greatly missed in these tumultuous times.  Luckily his writings are still here, still powerful, pointing the way.

 

A Look at ‘List of the Lost’

List of the Lost

Now, peace is regained as his television flickers from commercial to commercial to commercial to commercial, advertising nothing at all that he would ever want or need, yet reminding him that he is nothing and that he will die in debt, reminding him that whatever insurance he might have could never possibly be enough, reminding him that all medications will kill him mid-laughter, shouting at him as if they were the vigilant society – a blatantly sensational phony inflation with that essential TV ingredient of nightmare and pixy-minded publicity with nothing at all to touch the artistic emotions, yet preying unmercifully on the viewer’s insecurity and lack of ready cash.  Whatever you can do will never be enough.  You are fragile and possibly already dead.

– Morrissey in his novel List of the Lost

No book has been so mauled in the press this year as this one.  I’m not finished with it yet, so I can not write a proper review.  But I cannot fathom the level of hate directed its way.  The book has an almost Victorian sense of language at times.  It is poetic, and is the reverse of Oscar Wilde’s poems in prose.  If you are looking for a page turner in the truest sense, this is not that.  It’s not a beach book.  But so far it is a book filled with truth, with sentences and ideas that you will remember.  The above passage is about as well of a description of late night television as one will see anywhere.  One could criticize the book, as one could all works of art, even great ones.  The dialog is more the work of a writer’s imagination than the way people actually speak in places, but that seems intentional and is not dissimilar to many other works of the pen.  But these things are all debatable.  I have found a great deal of it infused with meaning, generating much contemplation as I read.  Many critics have criticized the sex scenes.  But the sex in the book seems like it was written to be absurd and grotesque, as sex often is at times.  Yes sometimes the book seems more of a story that is being used to communicate the author’s view of the world, but then so many great books are that as well.

I am a huge Morrissey fan.  I might not have bought the book if I wasn’t, if I was only buying something based on reviews.  I was worried that my estimation of it might be clouded by my love of the man’s musical works.  But I can honestly say that I am getting a lot out of this book, that it creates a world that I look forward to going back to, that I am enjoying it.  Even if one were not a fan of his music, I believe there is an intelligence here that is worth investigating.  The book exposes the absurdity of this often horrible modern world.  It doesn’t pull any punches.  Yet there is a beauty in its love of language.  The writing style often seems as if it was from another era, the book itself is set in 1975, but the book is certainly examining not only the now of things, but the human condition as a whole.

A large part of the book so far comments on the decay of the human body as one grows older, the inevitable fate of everyone, and the things that we as creatures do to not deal with these facts head on.  There are many people that mistake Morrissey as being miserable because of the dark themes that he often deals with in his day job, and this book will not change the opinions of those that don’t understand.  But they are missing a laser sharp wit.  Morrissey has talked about how if he was hopeless he wouldn’t say anything at all.  The mere act of expression is often one aiming for a better world.  The critics, as often, seem to know very little of such things.

Where I’ve Been

Recent days have found me with my first week off (well almost a week) in many moons.  This particular post will probably only be of interest to those that have been reading along consistently.  By I felt i owed an explanation for those of you that come here often as to the slow positing rate as of late.  I’ve been catching up on things I have needed to do, on things I have ignored for too long due to travel.  I have also been writing and working on things music related.  But a good bit of the time I have been replenishing the well, diving into books, records, and films that I have been meaning to finish or check out.  This is definitely stuff I want to be doing, it’s what I enjoy.  However, as I am trying to make this a fully functional site, I also need to consume enough information that I can make this site interesting on a regular basis.

I’ve been reading S.C. Gwynne’s Rebel Yell: The Violence, the Passion, and the Redemption of Stonewall Jackson.  I think the Civil War is a period worth understanding if you want to understand many of the national issues of our day.  So many of them have their roots there.  I am trying to finish Patti Smith’s great memoir Just Kids, and because of her I finally got around to reading Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell.  I am also trying to finish Alain de Botton’s The Architecture of Happiness, Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm, and Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.  I finished Pete Townshend’s autobiography, Who I Am, a week ago and can definitely recommend it to anyone that is even slightly interested in him.  He has had a tremendous impact on our culture, even if he has never directly meant anything to you.

Musically I have been diving into the career of Big Star, as well as Chris Bell’s and Alex Chilton’s respective solo careers.  Although I had some kind of bootleg Big Star compilation growing up, and I knew many of my favorite musical artists were influenced by them, this is the first time I have truly understood their brilliance and the arc of their careers.  This is largely due to the excellent documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, which is streaming on Netflix for free right now.

I am a bit obsessive compulsive about music.  As soon as I become interested in a band or artist, I tend to want to understand everything that I can about them.  With literature I try to always keep one fiction and one non-fiction book going.  I feel like reading fiction is better for songwriting and that non-fiction helps the kind of writing I do here.  I usually do not read this many books and have definitely bitten off more than I can chew!

Unlike some people who need to be forced to read anything, the opposite is true for me.  I could easily get lost down the rabbit hole of books, sometimes failing to take care of things in the real world.  But there are so many interesting things out there, and as always, so little time…

 

 

“Terence, this is stupid stuff”

`Terence, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There's nothing much amiss, 'tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
It gives a chap the belly-ache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
It sleeps well, the horned head:
We poor lads, 'tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
Pretty friendship 'tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time
Moping melancholy mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad.'
 
Why, if 'tis dancing you would be,
There's brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world's not.
And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past:
The mischief is that 'twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I've lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.
 
  Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure
Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure,
I'd face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
'Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour
The better for the embittered hour;
It will do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul's stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.
 
  There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that sprang to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white's their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
-- I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.

Last night I was reading poems by A. E. Housman.and thought I’d pass it along. (The link is to a short biography of him.)   The above is the poem from his book A Shropshire Lad.  I found him through, as so many things in life, the world of music.  Morrissey mentioned him in his autobiography.  If try hard enough to open one door, others will open as well.

Criticism Vs. Blurbs and Rob Sheffield Jacking Off

In the Age of the Short Attention Span, most pop culture reviews have ceased to classify as criticism.  They are much closer to what I would call, “positive or negative blurbs.”  Many reviews are now no longer than a paragraph or two.  There’s not a lot of great deal of information that can be passed along in such time.  Read many of the music reviews at Rolling Stone, who are by no means even close to being the only perpetrators of this.  They include a few sentences that seem like they were taken from a press release.  (Read multiple reviews of the same record, movie, or TV show, and look for similar information that is worded too similarly to be coincidence.)  Then a writer will try to include a few sentences to show off their wit.  Wit is great if it illuminates something, but not if its only purpose is to showcase a writer’s smug self assessment of their own intelligence.  Then there is usually a quick summation that, whether positive or negative, is usually vague enough that the writer can backtrack if they have to.

Even a lot of the longer pieces of criticism out there about pop culture is simply terrible.  Too many times criticism is more about the writer than what they are reviewing.  (Rob Sheffield is notorious for constructing unfunny odes to his own ego, while conveying very little real information or knowledge about the piece of work at hand.)  A writer should only include themselves in a review if it helps to illuminate some kind of idea that will help the reader understand the work better.

I do think critics operating in the blog form have a little more leeway in regards to including personal information.  This is not simply to let myself off of the hook.  (There are several reviews I have written that make me want to puke on myself.)  This has to do with my views on how blogs differ as a kind of writing.  I have written about that and will continue to do so.  I think blogging is a more of an emotional reactionary and personal format that is meant to drive readers to other forms of more permanent writing and criticism.

I don’t say this all as someone that hates critics.  I actually read a great deal of criticism.  I still find a great many of the things I love through reading.  And although there is no doubt that some writers are self involved, I also know that in these modern times the formats that they must work in also put them at a disadvantage.  I’m going to again use Rolling Stone as an example, when really there are so many, but read the reviews that were written in the earlier part of the magazine’s history.  Often the writers might get something completely wrong, but there was more space devoted to letting the critic explain themselves.  Even when a critic is wrong, if they can write a long enough piece, there still might be ideas or information conveyed that one can gain something from it.

One of the things that I find so troubling in these times is when an album, movie, book, or show is destroyed by a critic without any real explanation.  Sure, there are things created as merely cash grabs.  There are also pieces of work that pander to an audience without any real artistic intentions.  If someone is going to discount a piece of hackery with a few barbed sentences, that’s fine.  But usually even flawed pieces of art have something to offer, some idea to communicate.  Even if something fails completely, if there was at least some kind of real intention behind it, it may be able to teach us something about the medium or our culture.  Unless Rob Sheffield wrote it, and then it is just about someone jacking themselves off…

 

Ta-Nehisi Coates On the Prison Industrial Complex

Why the Prison System is Working as Intended

 

Need to get on the road today.  Heading from Portland to Eugene.   In the mean time, here is a brief overview of the new Ta-Nehisi Coates article on race.  I have taken small issue with certain things Coates has said in the past, but I think he is generally right and always worth reading.

Everything Bad is Good For You…

I write as if I’m running.  Trying to get away from the last thing I wrote as fast as possible.  It was true at the time, but the more I reflect upon it, the more holes I see in the argument.  The language becomes clumsier with each passing moment.  “What is this inspirational bullshit you are peddling?”, I think.

“Do you even believe that?  Who the fuck do you think you are to speak up?  Why are you adding to the amount of shoddily assembled ideas that are floating around out there?”

“If they really knew what you were thinking they would close down your whole deal, like one of those rabid dogs at a shelter.”

“Write something else, keep writing, and write again.  Once you have written one thing, create a mountain that no one will be able to make heads or tails out of.  Don’t let them pin you down.  Are you getting closer to the truth or are you just kidding yourself, believing something because it fits in cozily with your world view?”

……..

Doubt, doubt, doubt.  Up above is a slightly fictionalized version of what I go through every time I write.  However, I see doubt as a friend rather than an enemy.  Doubt is not only what keeps the pen moving, but also the thing that keeps the ego from constantly writing self-satisfying screeds.  It is the thing that sharpens the blade.  If you don’t doubt yourself from time to time you end up like Sarah Palin, creating sound without meaning.  If you are lucky, like she was originally, you might end up with fifteen minutes of fame, but eventually you’ll be irrelevant.  Doubt only becomes the enemy if it shuts down your whole operation.  I think you want enough doubt that you never feel content, that you never stop questioning.  I like to invite doubt in.  I just don’t want it to stay too long, preventing me from getting on with other things.  It’s a balance I guess.  Doubt, failure, obsession, limitation, and so on.  Everything bad is good for you if you can keep the doses manageable…

It’s funny how a fool can see the light
When the sun goes down 

– Conway Twitty In My Dreams

 

Morrissey to Release Novel and Great Books by Musicians

List of the Lost

List of the Lost Press Release

I’m looking forward to reading Morrissey’s first novel.  It comes out September 24th.  The details are above.

I really enjoyed his Autobiography.  Here are five other books by musicians, in no order, that are worth checking out:

  1.  Bob Dylan – Chronicle
  2. Henry Rollins – Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag
  3. Larry Kirwan – Green Suede Shoes: An Irish-American Odyseey
  4. John Lydon – Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs
  5. Lou Reed – Between Thought and Expression: Selected Lyrics of Lou Reed

All of the books, except the Lou Reed book, which is a collection of lyrics with commentary by Reed, would qualify as autobiographies.  However, each one of them is better than the standard autobiography or biography.  Dylan’s is written with the kind of wordplay and imagery that one would expect from Dylan.  Rollin’s is as much about self-realization under duress as it is about music, though of course there is a great deal of music commentary included.  It’s jet black and deeply funny.  Kirwan is not only a musician, but also a playwright.  His book is not only expertly written, but features a great deal of really interesting information on the history and culture of Ireland.  And Lydon’s book is not only an unsentimental look at his past, but includes commentary by other people that were around him at that same time.  Even if they flat out contradict him, he seems not to give a fuck.  He is interested in getting to the truth, and the truth depends on one’s perspective.

Andrew Sullivan On Blogging

Andrew Sullivan 2

Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish was, in my humble opinion, the most consistently interesting blog while it operated.  (Sullivan has now retired from blogging.)  I still have yet to see something that rivals it.  I think one reason for this is that Sullivan understood the possibilities of blogging in a way that many did not before him.  I found the following passage tonight, from Sullivan, that hints at what a blog can be and what differentiates it from other forms of writing:

Everything is true, so long as it is not taken to be anything more than it is. And I just want to ask that future readers understand this – so they do not mistake one form of writing for another, so they do not engage in an ignoratio  elenchi.  What I have written here should not be regarded as interchangeable with more considered columns or essays or reviews. Blogging is a different animal. It requires letting go; it demands writing something that you may soon revise or regret or be proud of. It’s more like a performance in a broadcast than a writer in a book or newspaper or magazine (which is why, of course, it can also be so exhausting). I have therefore made mistakes along the way that I may not have made in other, more considered forms of writing; I have hurt the feelings of some people I deeply care about; I have said some things I should never have said, as well as things that gain extra force because they were true in the very moment that they happened. All this is part of life – and blogging comes as close to simply living, with all its errors and joys, misunderstandings and emotions, as writing ever will.