Sunday, November 27, 2005

I be Burnin'

midnight oil, old newspapers and rubber.

Last few weeks of work and then Im off and flyin.

Gotta love this beat, dammit.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Eternal Return?

Nietzsche in his attempt to excavate the meaning of life once used the myth of eternal return to describe what he saw as the most important reason for men-- and the odd woman, or two-- to move from being into becoming. Eternal return, in short, is the hypothetical box in which the hour-glass of life as you know it is eternally flipped over and over, so that the same joys and sorrows, the same series of experiences repeat themselves ad infinitum.

Nietzsche in his 'gay science' followed his hypothesis with a question, asking whether the reader would curse life forever on being informed of this eternal return, or thank whatever Greater Force there is for the comfort of knowing that nothing new would ever happen again.

Nietzsche meant this again, as the measure of separation between those who chose to remain and those who chose to move. The sheep and the goats. Being and Becoming.

[We will assume that this 'choosing' is a well-oiled tool, a worn coat, a known ciusin. Leave Beckett and Pascal's existential theories on choice aside. Humor me. As you have so often.]

Kundera picked up on this and figured it would be a great way to start a book. He of course, wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being before this present day when Nietzsche is considered passé, where every second high school sudoku aspirant blubs and blogs on the man and his horsey madness.

Except Kundera chooses to assume that this 'being' and 'becoming' is not a choice, that sheep and goats together, we are condemned to be what we essentially are: either 'be'ers or those given to becoming.

I return to India on December 16th.

A thing I assumed I wouldn't be doing till 2007, and even then only in order to renew some visa, any visa before I was off junketing again.

And of course, it is a hypothesis, this eternal return bit.

However, I get this sneaking feeling that the cosmos-- that dear old bitch-- has this way constantly spinning in our hamster's wheel when she knows there's a thing we long to get away from: instead of letting us run and find our man friday and our island, she keeps us on this ferris wheel till conciously or sub-conciously we face whatever we chose to leave behind. A certain about of active reaction is required of us, the price we pay to get off the blessed hell ride.

One of course could just get used to the unchanging scenery.

I have an ADD issue that makes this impossible to do.

And so I return. No air of finality, there still remains a year and a half of a yank degree to complete.

But I return, out of choice. Because I want to be with my parents for christmas. Because I want to be with a numbered few for new year's eve. Because what I came to yankville for no longer has any use for me. Because snow isn't romantic when you're walking through it in order to reach the only meal you will get today.

And also because I want to see how much I remember, and how much I could forget.

And so, to chennai. In less than a month.

O city of grime and gregarious rice
O mixing bowl of the 100 spiced fart
You welcome me with a sun-n-fly frenzy
You whose cows in traffic are kamikaze
I fan-fare thee in my amused distaste.

Chennai! Goddess unknown and thrice disowned
They changed your name ‘coz our Commons
Still mistrusted their Lords;
The Planets had moved—thank ye gods, every 3 million of him n’ her--
(We no longer drank ‘tay’, and avoided the obsequious ‘Sir’)

What metaphors do I make for thee?
Every moment with you is a never-ending concert by the motley crue
Stories and myth are spun in every house—kept refrigerated-- under every tree
Your mangoes 36B'd, your people laughing
In sun rain and at night undrunk, still dancing

You of unfinished cement hills and defiant pot holes
You where every funeral is a flower n’ drum parade
You where post 40, women— and some men—don’t get laid.
You, where difference is distrusted, down to its very soles
How do I find poetry for you in this language you grumble at?

You hide your soul under an ancient pile of dirty linen
Your real face was washed away by a slightly high tide
Your real laughter lives on beaches, and in kaapi cups
Of 3000 year old Tamilian verse
Your ideas walk the streets shuffling, looking for the young to bless or curse.

They call you old and dry and culturally rich
I have seen you buy BMWs, and turn your river to a ditch.
The muse ups and leaves, laughing
Any pain I write will never encompass what has been said and done
I will ask the silent ones to speak, and go wander under another sun.

N.B: I am not going 'home'-- I return to see my parents. There is a difference.

Like the old bony man riding Rocinante, bearing my rusty-trusty spear, I go clip-clopping into windmills.

"It seems to me utterly clear either that you do not really know me, or I do not really know you." Cervantes, Don Quixote: Volume 1, Chapter 33; pg 218.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Mer de Noms

Someone I once knew very well said that it never pays to reinvent the wheel. Thus I don't intend to gush about A perfect Circle or Keenan here, though I could and want to.

Found a great review of their first album, Mer de Noms, just now. From the heart. And finally, someone other than me has written about Orestes, one of the songs on this album that--- Geez. How else does one explain it except by saying it was on repeat for 2 weeks, and is still played every day? Its beautiful, as is Keenan.

Thank god for Maynard. He gives me a reason to stop looking for reasons.

here's that write up, full text below:

Thoughts on A Perfect Circle's
"Mer de Noms"
I know now that not all the sirens were women.

Something tells me that whoever thought up such a notion has never heard Maynard James Keenan sing. Yes, there are plenty of gorgeous voices in modern music and many of them have been compared to these mythical beings whose voices made men crazy. When Maynard James Keenan's life is over, he will be remembered as one of the best voices in hard rock music -- better than Robert Plant, better than James Hetfield (even now that he really can sing). At this point in his life, Keenan is not the kind of man that rock journalists wax lyrical about; too many of them are still intimidated by his ability to sing with such fervent honesty, to write songs that cut close to the bone -- or through the bone. His is a voice that rages and growls, but can also croon with surprising delicacy, something that has allowed songs like Tool's "Sober," "Jimmy" and so many others their heartwrenching, gutwrenching and unflinching beauty. This is no ordinary voice.

I was talking to a friend recenly while listening to the songs from A Perfect Circle's "Mer de Noms" and I said, "I swear, Maynard's voice could melt steel."

"It has," my friend replied.

To think that songwriter/guitarist Billy Howerdel originally intended to make "Mer de Noms" with a female vocalist. As beautiful as the music is, it is Keenan's voice that makes this album come alive. His is the siren's song that pulls us through the Mer de Noms -- the Sea of Names -- the songs on this album -- with such grace and sadness and purity -- with such anguish and fury and intensity. Every time I listen I am pulled ever deeper into the undertow of his voice, lost among the lyrics and tones and harmonies, maddened by how gorgeous and ecstatic it feels to be pulled in this way. I go willingly.

"Orestes" goes straight for the heart; it is the song from which the band takes its name, and its own name comes from the figure in Greek myth who is exiled after his mother, Clytemnestra, slays Agamemnon, his father. Orestes later returns, and with help from his sister Elektra, kills his mother and her lover. It is perhaps the most beautiful song Keenan (who penned the lyrics to all 12 tracks on "Mer de Noms") has ever written. It is the voice of the fetus aborted in the womb, or the grown man cutting all ties to his mother even though he recognizes they are forever entwined by the cycles of the universe, inner and outer: "Pull me into your perfect circle/One womb/One shame/One result," he sings in perfectly measured tones as his clear voice belies the horror of the situation. "I can almost hear you scream," he continues. "Give me one more medicated peaceful moment/I don't want to feel this overwhelming hostility." It speaks to Oedipus, to Freud, to Tori Amos' simultaneous acceptance and condemnation of violence in her "Waitress" and James Hetfield's struggle to let go of the memory of his mother in Metallica's "Mama Said." "Liberate this will to release us all/Gotta cut away/Clear away/Slip away and sever this/Umbilical residue/Keeping me from killing you." Its chorus is the smooth slip of the water breaking, the birthblood spilling, the body's quick descent out of the warm womb and into the cold, hardened world. Keenan's voice is just as smooth and slick, saline tongued, but its melancholy is ever-present and unfathomable. Love and hatred bundled into one tiny, pounding heart, into one perfect circle of death and rebirth, mother and son, blood and bone. I have heard this song many times now, and yet I have not lost the urge to weep uncontrollably when I listen to it.

"Magdalena" and "Judith" walk hand in hand, the two halves of religious meditation, the holy whore and the unholy martyr. "Magdalena" undulates with layers of passion and disgust, remembering the sacred prostitute and what she has become, what she makes men feel when they go to her. She dances on the pedestal, her legs wrapped around the towers of sanctity and sacrilege as men worship at her feet. "Overcome by your moving temple/Overcome by this holiest altars," Keenan sings. The guitars blare, a siren of panic in the air. "I'd sell my soul/My self esteem/One dollar at a time... for one taste of you my black Madonna." His voice becomes more distorted, unleashing a primal fury and fervor that can only exist in this place.

But "Judith" comes quickly; the other face, the other side of the coin. Here is the holy woman, the righteous woman, the self-righteous one who is ever suffering, ever denying herself the world -- and denying the truth in what she believes. "Your lord, your christ/Took all you had and left you this way/Still you prayed, never straying/Never taste of the fruit/You never thought to question why... He did it all for you." "Judith" is like falling, the descending slide of the guitar and Maynard's smooth, cut-glass crescendoes providing no place to grab hold. This is the love of the Christ figure in oneself, the love of a figurehead, the love of a man who has betrayed; all this is here. "Judith" embodies denial, self-hatred, the dichotomy of Christianity, the sacred turned inside out, the sacred become the scared, the hidden, the alone, the terrified.

"Hollow" is the dance in the ring of fire, the passion of lust outside of time; knowing what it is to be pure aflame and unashamed. But it is also the want so strong it becomes need, endless need; it could be for the love of another, the sex of another, or something more chemical. Bodily addiction. We are slaves to the flesh, inner and outer solidified in a single cry like the baby screaming for the breast. "Screaming feed me here/Fill me up again/Temporarily pacify me." The vampire in us never sleeps, and always hungers for something we think only another can give; but while we take and take again, it is temporary at best, and at worst, creates in us an ever increasing starvation of the soul. There is no give and take, only take, and take, and more take. Give me, give me.

Furthering the cause, "Thinking of You" is pure sex, the rhythm, Keenan's breath close in your ear as you listen, quick and penetrating in a way his voice has never been before. Then the breakthrough, the cascading tones of the chorus: "Sweet revelation," he sings, "sweet surrender." This is not a Sarah McLachlan tender surrender, but a complete giving of the self, and letting go, never knowing if you will see yourself again. He is the predator; you are the prey, helpless, shuddering with every drum-beat and gasp; yet you are willing, open, nevermind the consequences. There is no tomorrow; only now. With a voice like that, who wouldn't go willingly?

"Three Libras" takes us away on sheer gossamer wings of strings and subtle guitar, shimmering in the dawnlight of a new day, a magical place inside a Maxfield Parish wonderland. Keenan's voice is smooth as blood over milk; watching, wanting, waiting, wishing, wistful, bashful, resigned, hopeful and hopeless. A caress, speaking to an angel and yet to someone so ugly, so blind and hurtful as this. "I threw you the obvious to/See what occurs behind the/Eyes of a fallen angel/Eyes of a tragedy/Oh well/Apparently nothing at all." Then the guitars come, the pain, the cutting blades of reality in washes of glass, clear but slicing so deeply: "You don't see me. You don't see me at all."

"Breña" is born of the same air, winging away to a faraway land -- inside? Or elsewhere? In our own mind, or in the mind of this being called Breña? There is a solace here, however temporary; "Heal me, heal me, my dear Breña," Keenan begs. The flipside is "Sleeping Beauty," where it is in vain to heal the wounds that cut so deep, she is asleep for eternity; no prince can come to fix her with a kiss. Everything is broken, nothing is real. "Such a fool to think that I/Could wake you from your slumber /That I could actually heal you." Like in so many of these songs, the desire for the quick fix is more potent than the fulfillment of true joy; the passion that burns from within controls everything. Nothing can fix you. Nothing can make you see what you do not want to see. It is useless to resist.

There are so many pure moments on "Mer de Noms," so many inexplicable ones. The lost sounds of "Over" and the tremulous thumb piano bouncing against Keenan's lyric; the eerie, almost wordless tones of "Renholder" and its chiming, time-ticking guitars, ever descending into the depths; the self-rousing fury in "Rose" -- a deceptive name if ever there was one on this sea of names -- and the forgiveness and piety of "Thomas," offering another way to fill the hollows of the soul -- but for real this time? At least now the guidance comes from within.

"Pull me in to your perfect circle." They have, and moreso. Some will criticise this work for not being Tool, not being of that musical quality (as if that standard was anything close to fair); others will criticise it for being too much like Tool. Keenan's voice is the buoy, the lighthouse. The siren. Calling us forth, but to what end? In the sea of names, I am drowned.

~ Beth Winegarner.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

S.K on ciggarettes

It was night. The ceiling was calm. My face, pillowed in my hands were chill, as were my toes under the blanket. Unable to sleep, I did the only thing possible-- I closed my eyes.

The first thing I saw was the coffee cup in front of him.

“So”, he asked, folding his newspaper—“What d'you smoke?”

Gotta be kidding me. I raised an eyebrow at him.
Not both of them. Just one. You didn’t sass off before knowing what cards he held.

"Don’t be a schmuck, kid. How much older am I? Plus your lips used to be pinker than a pigeon's foot. Now look at them"

He reached forward sudden, his fingers in my face before I could react, grabbing my lower lip between his thumb and forefinger. His hardened fingertip grazed the fresh crack in my skin. I winced.

"Going back to your parents with those lips? Might as well drop to your knees and blow a choir boy as communion goes by". He sat back, his raspy laughter smelling of bitter coffee. I ran my tongue over my lip, tasting the salty fresh welt he had just run his finger over. Opening my bag to scrummage for the lip balm, I glanced at him, smiling at me across the iron-wrought table in the sun, riding the sounds that came out of the cafe with the grace of an acrobat. He'd always sit like this, I thought. On a commode or at the dentist’s: back straight, ankles folded under the chair, tortoise-palmed hands holding his knees.

"That fantasy the reason you started goin to church again?"

He grinned, and sitting forward, extended his arm across the little table, palm open. There are things about S.K that make me wonder if he's Peter Pan in disguise, just like this-- He wont say 'touché', or laugh: he will extend his hand for a five.

"Nope, just the sight of Mrs. Donizetti’s ass walking up the aisle to swallow the Host”.

He also won’t relent till I slap back, like I did now, letting my hand stay in his, feeling the deep cut lines in his weathered skin-- the shiny patch on his thumb, the sign of an old burn.

When I had asked him about that, he had brandished his fork and said that some men take love's spear in the heart-- here he pushed the three prongs against his shirt front, leaving a three-pointed marinara stain-- while others get scalded, but get off free. I wanted to tell him no one gets off free, and that there are those who walk around forever with an X stenciled over their heart. But he knows this, so I don’t say it out loud.

“And don't avoid the question".

"What do I smoke?"


I took out my just cracked pack of Camel Filters, eased a white stem free and fished the battered black zippo out of my pocket.

He smiled a look of approval.

“That’s the thing I always loved about you-- Your fascination with old school. Wide gauge on purpose?”

I looked down at the smoke balanced between my thumb and forefinger.

“No. CVS didn’t have the regulars”.

It paid to be honest with S.K. He knew if you were winging it. He always knew. He nodded solemnly, shaking his shaggy head even as the wind whipped the white tufts up like waves every windy November day.

“Wide gauges are the best. Aside from the fact they give you the fullest puff. Wide gauges are like sheer thigh-high stockings and sipping good whiskey neat. Wide gauges belong to men and women who know how to undo bra hooks and belt buckles while conversing about the German elections, while dancing with the lights turned low”.

He was on a roll, again.

The next bit was in mime: a look of polite enquiry at me.
I nod. He pulls one free for himself. I hand him my zippo. He lights up. I nod, replace it in my coat pocket.

He then paused. S.K had mastered the art of monumental pauses, the timing of them—like the last roof on a house of cards. Delicate.
Inhaling deep, letting it stream out of his wide nostrils. He waited for a reaction. As always.


“Simple. Wide gauges are sensual. An aura, like cigars, but less showy. Notice how all men and women who smoke wide gauges have square large palms, strong and short fingers. They all prefer their partners’ thighs to any other part of them. They laugh while they talk; they smile and close their eyes while they smoke. And they all give good head. Something that no 100’s smoker can do”.

“Hey. I give good head”

“Am sure you do. But you also just bought a pack of wides”.

I laughed. Out loud, in spite of the phlegm, the tourists, and his suddenly intent look, watching me as he put his cigarette out against the table-edge. I lit up again. Feeling the paper pull gently at the fresh welt on my lower lip. Recognizing the extra girth of these smokes, the way they lit up so easily. His finger in my open palm, tracing lines. The well in my mouth moistening suddenly, sweet. Gooseflesh.

Cold is the month of November, here on a sidewalk by the bay.

He smiled.

“You’re growing up”.

“This is a waste of time”

“No. This is the stuff to call your own. Cigarettes you like. The drink you order. The scent you prefer on men. The way you like your ice cream, semi-melted”.

I nodded. As usual, S.K was right. But I had to know.

“Why here, though?”


“Why this table, why the white hair and the bay and the waitress?”

“Because you always liked side-walk cafes, and I haven’t been to one before”

Liar. But even before the last word was out of his mouth, the wrought-iron table, our chairs, the sea gulls all began whirling around, faster and faster, getting bigger and darker till

It was night. The ceiling was calm. My face, pillowed in my hands were chill, as were my toes under the blanket. Unable to sleep, I did the only thing possible-- I sat up and buried my face in my hands. My fingers smelt of smoke. On my tongue was the taste of bitter coffee.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

post-its before departuring

[Which btw are some of my favourite things, ever. Post-its, that is. Brilliant little invention. Almost as cool as the safety pin.]

post-it#1: I'm off to a model UN conference at UPENN tomorrow morning at 8:30am, in order to see what I can see. All ye cynical mumblers with the molotov cocktails: I hear ya, but wait till I get back and THEN we'll trash 'em. Only coz then I'll have the inside scoop on why anyone would want to model the UN. More on monday... and ah, yes-- I'm representing the social and economic issues of Bulgaria and Benin. Sex traffiking and other sundry matters, you know... all that frippery stuff. After all, what's sex traffiking when you have CIA moles left to blink in the flashlights, aye?

post-it#2: Autumn has set in. Leaves are turning to gold before they rot. But only in daylight. At night they are just plain yellow. Wear gloves if you're coming to visit next week.

post-it#3: Found a delightful little podcast from Dave Riley: listen to it here, believe me its worth it. He calls it "a memo re globalisation", and its funny and honest as only an Aussi can tell it.

post-it#3: Found a live recording of Dylan's 'last thoughts on woody guthrie'. For all of those who don't "do" american folk music, Guthrie was and always will be a light. It's a beautiful piece. It gives you a reason to look beyond the plastic wrapping and take a deep breath and plunge in and get busy being real.

A thing I'm trying here, so come and keep company, would ya?