Friday, February 24, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: Let Us Compare Mythologies

Then let us compare mythologies
I have learned my elaborate lie . . . 
Leonard Cohen

I think I'm like most people -- give me a good story peppered with flashy spectacle, and I will be your willing captive.

So here we've got an androgynous figure flying in to sing some songs and do a little dance . . . turns out she's a pretty gal! . . . she does her thing whilst two towers burn and a bunch of fallen angels do the jig around her -- well brother, I am there! In fact, give me more fallen angels (please)!

Angels: check. 1000 pts-o-light: check. Football helmet ... football helmet??

Does the possibility that this might just be a celebration of Lucifer's triumphant rebellion over Jehovah's benevolent, orderly reign bother you? I'm not gonna lie -- it bothers me, just a bit.

But you've got to admit: that is one great story.

And if you're the sort that's called out Gaga, Bey and Katy on this business, and it makes you seethe to see them carry on so, cogitate on this: the fact that you've revealed the narrative bones to the rest of us rubes doesn't alter its intrinsic appeal in the slightest. You can urge us to turn away, you can tell your kid she won't be listening to any more Gaga or Bey in this house! but you have done nothing to check the influence of this story -- quite the opposite.

If you want to defeat this story, there's only one way to do it: come up with a better one.

But you can't.


Because the Reformation.

"'Better story'? Um, 'kay ... Satan loses?"

Five hundred years of Protestant "Reformation" and what've we got? Pilgrim's Progress and Narnia. Maybe Blake, but that's different (he's closer to Gaga, for one thing).

"Angels, lights ... where's my football helmet?"

Yep: Bunyan and Lewis. One millimeter to the left or right of these titans and you've settled squarely into kitsch -- which we've got a shit-tonne of, lemme tell you. When it comes to cultural content Anabaptists and the rest of our Reformational ilk are still chimps puzzling over the bone-pile.

Sola scriptura, baby -- that's where prideful thinking lands you.

Five hundred years of majoring in the minors.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: What Is The What?

These days it is a rare Super Bowl halftime performance that doesn't get called out as an evident Satanic ritual -- Ms. Lady Gaga is just the latest.

Um ... Snopes?
I think the tendency is to read these exposés with an ironic smirk -- aren't we above all this by now?

I'm as guilty of this snobbery as anyone. Still, I advocate these efforts be taken seriously -- and more, that they even be emulated.

Why? Three reasons:
  1. Whatever you may glean from Gaga's lyrics, her visual cues in concert and in video "borrow" heavily from Kenneth Anger -- ergo: Crowley, Lucifer Rising, etc (Wiki).
  2. Madonna, Katy Perry, Beyoncé are all borrowers as well. In fact, just about anyone who's a big deal in the music industry seems to have the same visual inclinations when it's time to put together a video or a massive stage production for a televised awards show. Not only that, but . . . 
  3. . . . it's getting increasingly difficult to tell the difference between a snippet from these extravaganzas and, say, an ad for a can full of sugared water.
Is it too much to suggest America's most popular performers are secretly gathering with soft-drink execs at anonymous-looking pizza parlours to perform even more elaborate and insidious Satanic rituals?

Eschewing snark for frank disclosure: I think it's possible that Gaga -- a super-sharp observer, adopter and adapter -- might be unaware of the degree to which her shtick relies on visual grammar established by Anger. It's taken nearly 50 years, but the media is utterly saturated with and indeed dictated to by this particular grammar.

Which leads to my larger concern: spotting and awkwardly taking a stab at "calling out" the ephemera becomes, more often than not, a critical distraction (we do recall "Satanic Panic," yes?) to the more crucial concern -- namely, what are we being conditioned to accept without reservation?

Douglas Rushkoff argues we are being massaged into reflexive, deeply self-destructive modes of thinking and living. Whether digital or cartoon, when given consideration his esoteric perambulations reveal that any reader's particular magisterium is surprisingly vulnerable to unanticipated influence.

"Honey? Where'd you put my Rushkoff?"

Rushkoff may be the latest, and most voluble (understatement) prophetic voice of the digital era, but he's hardly the first to frantically ring the steeple bell -- Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, even Marshall McLuhan expressed profound dis-ease with the forming shape of the West's collective consciousness at the close of the 20th century.

Say, those last three were all Catholic, weren't they? Hm . . .

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: Aleister & Adolf

I've been dragging my heels on this post, even though its subject -- a comic bookAleister & Adolf, story by Douglas Rushkoff, art by Michael Avon Oeming -- is essentially what launched me on this series of riffs and reckonings.

Rushkoff's story is a skein of noirish intrigue, exploring the ties that bound Adolf Hitler to Aleister Crowley, who, in Rushkoff's words, "was the quintessential English adventurer and mage -- an occultist deeply involved in ceremonial magic, mysticism, tarot, astrology, secret societies, and sigils. He wrote poetry, took drugs, engaged in sex rituals, and travelled through alternate realities. He was the very center of the occult scene of the twentieth century."

Scary stuff, then -- though a superficial reading of the work probably won't raise the hair on the back of most readers' necks.

Rushkoff introduces a fictional narrator sent by the military to entice Crowley to help with the Allied cause. Mission accomplished, although who has enticed whom is a matter of constantly shifting perspective as the narrative winds on.

The story is buttressed with some nifty/freaky factoids, including Crowley's assigning -- through Ian Fleming(!) -- Churchill's "V for Victory" sign as a counter-sigil to Hitler's swastika.

Oeming illustrates it all with a cartoon brio reminiscent of Mike Mignola: the entire caper plays, on a superficial level, much the way Mignola's more successful Hellboy narratives do. Magic (or "Magick") is afoot in this world, entrapping the unwary.

Unlike Mignola, however, Rushkoff's world is our world. Whatever one makes of Crowleyean claims (and Rushkoff portrays him as a canny suggester non pareil who lets others make claims on his behalf which he then dodges with dramatic, and cryptic, counter-assertions) it is indeed unnerving to see just how embedded his invested symbolism has become in the commercial environment that strives to captivate and "inform" our every waking moment.

If taken seriously -- and on some level, this story should be taken seriously; but more on that in a bit -- Rushkoff and Oeming are likely to nudge the reader toward paranoia.

A potentially dangerous book, in other words -- reader, beware.

Rushkoff and Dark Horse play up the peril in the promo-copy, giving it a sensationalist patina that fits the precis. But if one listens to Rushkoff's interviews he is evidently sincere in his warnings.

So why read it at all?

Well . . .

Friday, February 17, 2017

Waldensian Digression

While pondering my naaktlooper ancestors, I caught up a bit with the Waldensians. Thanks to the troubled existence of this early Christian sect, the Holy Roman Church spent some 300 years honing methods of persuasion they then leveled against Anabaptists and other troublemakers practicing the theologick arts.

One of the HRC's gentler techniques.
The surviving Waldensian expression of faith appears to be largely subsumed into a Calvinist variety of Methodism. The degree to which it resembles the expression of its originator, Peter Waldo, is debatable -- once Waldo thumbed his nose at the Third Lateren Council, the HRC effort to quash the movement was immediate, brutal and unrelenting. Waldensians were constantly on the run, a state that does not usually lead to a stabilized orthodoxy. After 800 mostly-tumultuous years, that any Waldensian expression survives at all is, you might say, a miracle.

HRC propaganda branded the Waldensians as the original Satanists -- a notion that successfully captured the public imagination. Waldensian women were among the first to be felled in the initial sweep of witch hunts.

Waldensian men and children fared no better. Because they were commonly held to be in collusion with the Devil himself, it was perpetually open season on this hapless bunch. Reading this thumbnail account of the Piedmont Easter of 1655 I am reminded, somewhat, of events currently taking place in a geography just to the southeast of France.

Ever after, when prosecuting Anabaptists and other Reformational types, the HRC would hike a thumb at the fabled Waldensian Satanists and accuse the current lot on the dock of being similarly committed to Deviltry.

The Waldensian symbol ("Lux lucet in tenebris" -- "Light glows in the darkness") caught my eye, and will serve as segue into the "Sigils" portion of these riffs.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: Reading The Washington Offal

I've got further thoughts regarding my expressive-in-the-extreme ancestry which I hope to return to. In the meantime, here are some links that add a little texture to the art of offal-reading, in which we are all so desperately engaged.

I've appreciated Fenster, over at Uncouth Reflections. He's given the so-called "Alt-Right" a hard look, and taken a stab at dispassionate analysis regarding where they leave the rest of us. He's followed that up with similarly cool-headed thoughts on what Steve Bannon reads.

No reaction from me, just yet -- except gratitude toward anyone who keeps the spirit of Walt Kelly tapping at the walls of these digital hallways.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: You Can Dance, If You Want To

But only if you're naked.
My father emails to remind me that on this day in 1535 a number of our religious, and quite possibly genetic, forebears removed and burned their clothing then ran through the streets of Amsterdam, until they were arrested.

Google turns up varying accounts of this event -- the most reliable is likely here, on page 27. It's a distillation of Albert F. Mellinck's account in Documenta Anabaptistica Neerdlandica 5: Amsterdam 1531-1536.
"A small group of eleven Anabaptists, including four women, were inspired by their leader-prophet Heynrick Heynricxz to remove and burn their clothes in an upper room and then run out onto the streets of the city, crying 'woe, woe over the world and the godless,' proclaiming the 'naked truth.' Heynricxz claimed that he had seen and spoken to God and to have visited heaven and hell, assertions identical to those claimed of earlier shamanistic Waldensian masters."
Regular readers keeping track of dates will note this is a prelude to the infamous (to put it mildly) Münster Rebellion. Thus begins my tribe's colourful and thorny relationship with convictions of the heart, political protest, and slippery notions of revealed truth.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: Join The Gang!

I have a (Roman) Catholic friend who, when he seeks to wound me, will stretch and yawn and drawl, "Well, yeah -- Mennonites. I mean, I understand the impulse toward 'perfect community,' I truly do. But honestly, your 'orthodoxy,' such as it is, combined with the almost complete absence of tradition . . . etc, etc"

I have another who says his exposure to Protestant worship leaves him with the impression we're just making things up as we go along. He's mostly amused, a posture that nettles me more than his contempt does. In the latter attitude, his is particularly acute for the Presbyterians and Anglicans, etc., who, because they've carried over liturgies and the like, fall not into the improvisational category but into that of pale imitation.

A Jewish friend (Orthodox) keen to keep up ecumenical dialogue is under the unshakable impression that all Christianity is improvisational -- some of which she appreciates (gay marriage, surprisingly), and a great deal more which merely elicits the dreaded Jewish Shrug.

Man, I won't go to the mat over anyone's orthodoxy -- though I might, depending, occasionally recommend Chesterton's, despite never having finished the slender book.

This business of community, however -- pondering that for any length of time raises a host of troubling questions.

An example: Leaving Westboro -- I'd heard this story before, via a CBC interview with Megan Phelps-Roper and her sister Grace. The CBC angle, as with NPR and The New Yorker's Adrian Chen, is to explore the triumph of dramatic conversion as a result of extraordinarily patient and dogged dialogue (another less overt but certainly present element of persuasion: deep sexual attraction). One leaves these conversations tempted to think that had we but world enough and time, the entire nation could turn from and possibly counter the brute appeal of 45's monologue-via-Twitter.

I was left with other thoughts, however, and the big stumbling point for my buy-in to this rosy "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" scenario was this: post-Westboro life will have, by necessity, stretches of unimaginable loneliness.

What's the big deal? We're all lonely, right?

No argument from me -- that is indeed the day-to-day reality for most of us. But if you've ever experienced not-lonely -- if you've ever experienced the assurance of deep community -- the later experience of genuine lonely is truly Hell.

Again, no sweeping "This is what MUST be done!" conclusion from Yours Truly -- only an admission that one significant reason why I still throw-in with my fellow "Dwarfs" is to fend off genuine lonely, a reason only the materially swaddled could find contemptible.

Also, a link re-posted for further pondering:
"I'd forgotten that social life could be so easy. I'd forgotten that things most Americans do alone, ordinary things like watching television or listening to music or sweeping a floor, could also be done in numbers, pleasantly."   Ex-Mormon Walter Kirn confesses.
"Looking back on  the track for a little green bag..."

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: Preface

"But the Dwarfs jeered back at Eustace. 'That was a surprise for you, little boy, eh? Thought we were on your side, did you? No fear. We don't want any Talking Horses. We don't want you to win any more than the other gang. You can't take us in. The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs.'" 
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
It's only two weeks into 45's Administration, and if you haven't "picked a side" you are an extremist in your own right. So this passage comes to mind, from The Last Battle -- surely Lewis's most vexatious work in a very large oeuvre that manages to vex every reader, sooner or later. Neo-Platonist, Anti-Feminist, Orientalist, Christo-centric Universalist -- there are plenty of other "trigger warnings" that apply to this work, I'm just too lazy to dredge them up. But it's his apocalyptic book, and Lewis sorts out multiple antagonists and shibboleths as he is wont to do. Echoing the spirit of these times I say if Lewis, with a single book, can piss off that many readers -- pretty much all of them, by my reckoning -- he must be doing something right.

Whether or not we are enduring The Apocalypse -- and whether or not that term has any eschatological significance in your personal lexicon -- we are certainly enduring an apocalypse, or "uncovering." So Lewis comes to mind, because for all his readiness to push every hot-button within reach, his take on what an "uncovering" finally entails is surprisingly gentle.

I might get back to Lewis, I might not -- I honestly have no idea where any of this is going. But mebbe I'm just a Dwarf -- for the Dwarfs, and all others can go hang.

Dwarf party - less fun than it looks.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Promissory Notice

Wow, Friday already.
With my wife abroad (pun intended? Sure, why not. Take what flashes of humour you can find, I say) the day-to-day duties are larger in both number and concern. And of course I am no different from anyone else -- distracted and susceptible to the temptation to take a crack at reading the Washington offal being flung in our collective faces. I doubt I'm any more adept at the art than the registered Haruspex of your choice, but I've got one or two stray thoughts I'll try to cobble together in the next few days.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Hypocrisy Exposed!

Credit where it's due, if Number 45 has achieved anything it is the appropriation and obliteration of any orthodoxy you'd care to name. And if you think your own favorite orthodoxy remains intact, it's probably best you think again.

"So, WP, why not lead by example then?" Indeed, what could be more revolutionary in this day and age than an earnest examination of one's own most blatant hypocrisies? Here we go:

Trade -- knee-jerk political stance: protectionist.

Back in '88 I voted against Brian Mulroney's Free Trade agreement with the United States. I even campaigned against it, ringing a few doorbells on behalf of my local NDP candidate, until despair and bitter resignation got the better of me. (My candidate lost, big-time. In fact, all my candidates have lost big time. If you're any sort of idealist at all you should come to expect it.)

Thirty years later, NAFTA looks set to be massively retooled back to something I might recognize from my youth, but reflexively recoil against in late adulthood. I've learned to live with and even enjoy the benefits brought to us -- heck, to me -- by the wide-ranging trade agreements Mulroney kicked into gear.

Am I a hypocrite? Sure. But there's one attitude in which I remain predictable -- faced with the prospect of enormous change, I tend to advocate moving forward with extreme caution. Speaking of which . . .

China -- when Stephen Harper initially approached trade with China as a human rights first proposition, I cheered -- probably the first and only time during his tenure as Prime Minister. Harper's stance changed, however, ensuring my criticism for the length of his political career.

Nothing 45 has said suggests he gives the slightest consideration to anyone's human rights, but his belligerence toward China is something I probably would have approved of in my former Prime Minister. I desperately wish 45 would tone it down, though.

Oh, the hypocrisy! But am I really to blame if I naturally worry (understatement) about a 70-year-old whose reflexive posture towards everyone is belligerence?

Russia -- born and raised a God-fearing pacifist (ask me about it sometime!) I was horrified by the Reagan administration's tack with the USSR. Always the stick, never the carrot -- was this any way to approach one's adversary, when the very existence of the species hung in the balance?

Now it's, "Nice guy. (Shrugs.) I like him." And I'm all like, "Whoah, whoah, whoah, whoah, whoah..." Hypocrisie, tu t'appelles 'Whisky!'

NATO, the EU -- NATO is a hold-over from the "Us Against Them" politics of yore (see above). The EU is the first attempt at "We're all in this together" politics of the '90s. Both have become fiscally problematic, to say the least. Currently only five NATO nations meet the investment commitments required for membership. As for the EU, where do you even start?

I'm a peace-love-and-understanding Lefty, so it's natural I support the EU and, by extension, NATO. And I suppose I kind of do, but . . . maybe I'm also a little bit of a hypocrite?

So what now?

I hardly know. It'd be nice to think our neighbor's current admin is working swiftly to secure national interests in a new, protectionist manner that more assuredly navigates the new "You're on your own" global reality. But concern for one's fellow citizens seems anathema to 45. Indeed, he exhibits all the traits of someone trapped in the advanced stages of an all-consuming addiction -- an acute state of self-preservation with eyes fixed solely on attaining the next fix. And now he's kicking out at the jury-rigged platforms that assure everyone else's stability. It's almost too dark a thought to entertain, but I have to wonder if there isn't someone waiting in the wings to stage an intervention.

Right, then. "Acknowledgement of powerlessness" . . . "Fearless self-inventory" . . . any other suggestions?

Friday, January 20, 2017

"Great: MORE Liberal Guilt!" The Rock 'n' Roll Edition

Having been lovingly raised among the pious and sincere, I was well-versed with the reasons a kid should be cautious -- if not downright frightened and ashamed -- of enjoying Rock 'n' Roll music. There was the unabashed endorsement of completely unfettered bacchanalian indulgence. We all knew where that impulse came from (it wasn't Jesus), but lest there be any ambiguity remaining we also had performers who traded in occult references and devilish artwork. Shameful stuff, all the way around.

There's no arguing with "cool," however.
Today, as we approach the rock show in our twilight years with creaking joints and ringing ears, we have yet another cause for shame -- cultural appropriation.

Alex Shephard notes that, with the recent death of Prince, the pantheon of rock survivors is uniformly pasty in colour. Jack Hamilton wrote a book devoted to the matter -- Just Around Midnight: Rock & Roll & The Racial Imagination (Harvard Press), excerpt here. Colin Vandenberg reviews it, and wonders, "Who are we, who have stolen and suppressed so much, to warn artists of colour against claiming any art as inalienably theirs?"

Really, Colin? Why be so circumspect? I say be strident, dammit! Tell those coloured folk -- tell your own porcelain-skinned progeny, while you're at it -- exactly what varieties of music they may rightfully claim as their own, to the exclusion of all others. In my experience, the end result is pure gold.

And it looks something like this -- clean, innocent fun!
If I scroll through the music on my Infernal Device (13,900 songs -- or 41 days of music, and building) the group of performers is a multi-hued bunch. But, sure, the majority are "white." Perhaps it behooves me to rend my garments over this fact, but, to borrow from the preeminent moral philosopher of my time, "The ears want what they want."

If one can somehow overlook the unpardonable sin of cultural appropriation, the cross-pollination of musical modalities becomes a truly curious business to contemplate. There are blues performers of Asian descent who have a Stevie-Ray mastery of the form -- yet the thought of any of them "making it big" is laughable. Similarly, one could argue American R&B seems primed to discover and exploit the shiny delights of K-Pop -- but just how likely is that?

Some outliers I'm personally fond of: American Hardcore, a variety of punk music that could not be whiter, was pretty much kicked off by a black group -- Bad Brains -- who were universally acknowledged in the scene as the standard that everyone fell short of. Not much love for them from their own community, mind you. Prior to them was a band called Death -- same story, pretty much.

My adolescence ran from the end of the '70s to the late '80s. When I finally slouched into adulthood I identified the two brightest stars in the Rock 'n' Roll firmament -- the two performers who most obviously elevated the genre into "Art" (pronounced, "Awhhh-at") -- as Frank Zappa and George Clinton. Currently I'd say Clinton's influence has the longer tail, and not just because he's still alive. Make of that what you will.

Anyway, let's bring it back to Jack Hamilton: he notes the Stones have "done a solid" with their most recent album by acknowledging and re-introducing their (black, American) forebears to a predominantly white audience. Here I have to agree -- the first thing I did after my initial spin of Blue & Lonesome was head to our Cultural Gatekeepers and spend a few nickels on the original recordings. Currently the number of plays between the originals and the white band who covered them are neck-and-neck. Hard to say who will eventually gain the upper hand, but it could well be the paler group.

What can I say? I like the fuzz and clatter.

Endnote: RIP, William Onyeabor - musical genius,
recluse, West African industrialist, servant of Christ.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Jack Davis

My familiarity with the work of Jack Davis is predominantly MAD-related. Here is a typical example -- a Davis/Alfred E. "suit" for the MAD Card Game:
More here.
He produced a wide array of readily recognisable album covers and movie posters as well, almost always employing the inimitable "Jack Davis" caricature mode.
"It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" and...
... but of course.
Prior to MAD Davis was already tight with publisher Bill Gaines thanks to an extended tenure with E.C. Comics. He did the art for a number of Tales From The Crypt, as well as various E.C. "War" titles. It's the latter that have my attention.
More examples to be had over here. They're worth a closer look. To my eye, for all the fineness of the rendering -- including an unusually forceful use of extreme black-and-white contrast -- they have troubles with a certain inertness, as well as proportionality. Good work, in other words -- but Davis' real genius was caricature, where proportionality was deliberately elastic and he could shine like no other (save his co-partner-in-crime Mort Drucker, another gargantuan talent in Gaines' usual gang of idiots).

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Car

The aspirational vehicles of my youth were largely fantasy constructs, George Barris' "Batmobile" being the prime example.
Or "Bat Car," if you'd rather.
As a Trudeau kid in the (Nixon-Carter) '70s, I devoured library books devoted to "future cars," in which Barris' Batmobile usually earned a mention (and photo), primarily for its atomic batteries and rocket propulsion. Factually speaking, there was nothing even remotely futuristic about the car itself. Barris built it in '65, using a gas-guzzling concept model (the Lincoln Futura) from ten years earlier.
A little polyfilla, a little paint...
Perusing these heavy-on-photos, light-on-text books, I did not realise just how much Barris' aesthetic modality provided the stock template for the publisher's speculations. And Barris in turn was just riffing off a modality set out by Detroit in the 1950s -- the Cadillac Cyclone! the GM Firebird! the Ford X2000! --  hastily abandoned in the wake of Ralph Nader and the OPEC crisis. The future I beheld was already nothing but "a shining artefact of the past," to borrow from Leonard Cohen.

Great lines, though.
Cadillac Cyclone, 1959 (hate to get rear-ended by that!)
GM Firebird II, 1956. Again, note the lack of bumpers.
Ford X2000, 1958. Potential impact points again at the fore.
Among these aspirational models, my favourite of the bunch, Gene Winfield's "Spy Car," was introduced to TV viewers via The Man From U.N.C.L.E. the same year as Barris' Batmobile.
A star is born!
Rather than retrofitting a model from the past, however, Winfield created the star car from whole cloth -- or rather plastic.
Winfield, far right, introducing Robert Vaughn to the new star of the show
(note pained expression/sadistic smile).
The AMT Piranha was a nearly all-plastic vehicle -- even the frame was made of fibreglass (the motor, drive-train and chassis were another matter). This gave the show designers unparalleled flexibility to develop a car for their purposes. Mock features included flame-throwers, machine guns, rocket launchers (note the "barrel" in the open gull-wing door), laser beams, a radar screen, a parachute and "various hidden interior devices."
Or, if all else fails, open door and fire revolver.
Precious few of these features made it to the show's "bible," however, so writers never capitalised on the new "character."

To make matters worse, the car came to the show with a personality all its own, which the actors disliked right from the git-go. To begin with, one could lower oneself into the car with relative dignity, but there was no graceful way to climb out of it (a difficulty particularly critical for female cast members).
"I'll give you six reasons why I'm not getting in!"
Head-room was enough of a problem that the designers eventually "bubbled" the plexi-glass door-windows to accommodate the (frankly diminutive) statures of the show's stars, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. Worst of all, it proved to be a temperamental lemon -- McCallum says anyone looking for the car was told to simply follow the trail of oil.

Stephanie Powers, demonstrating a woman's preferred seating option.

Another lovely woman pointedly NOT inside the car.
Still, it's television, a medium with which we are so familiar, we no longer conflate projected artifice with the disappointing dross that truly sets it alight. In my mind, the U.N.C.L.E. car remains an objet de désir -- worthy of reverential contemplation, but something I should never get my hands on.


This guy bought one -- a dream come true! -- until he took it for a spin.

The AMT model is back on hobby store shelves. There is even an U.N.C.L.E. modkit. I considered buying -- but the vicarious thrill of this unboxing was enough to dissuade.

"Be photographed with Bat Car!" Fifty cents from 1966 would be roughly $3.75 today. A similar shill was parked to fleece the rubes at Toronto's FanExpo last summer -- $20 for the privilege. Another "dream" deferred, thank you.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

"Philip K. Dick is dead, alas..."

I've been returning to the work of PKD with increasing frequency of late -- a reflex that was put into play about five years ago. Most tributes to the man are of the "Wow, so prescient" variety -- not at all my take on the matter. I'd say that he, like William Gibson, grew better at recognizing just how deeply cultivated a group consciousness could be by (largely malign) influences most people could not be bothered to find names for. An adroit excavator of the ur-consciousness beneath his particular present, in other words.

The other, more common approach to Dick is to borrow his individual consciousness experiments for other, particular narrative purposes. With a little care this can net some very entertaining results (Blade Runner, The Adjustment Bureau, Total Recall do a respectable job of this exercise). More often than not, if someone heralds the arrival of "our next Philip K. Dick" this is what they're signalling.

What our "next Philip K. Dicks" are usually missing, to this reader's eyes, is his profound and dangerous capacity for empathy. I recently re-read The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, and I was struck anew by how deeply invested the author was in his characters and their choices and fates. The jaded eyes of youth, fresh from their tutorials in mimetic theory, will read differently and with their mouths (or thumbs) loudly assert otherwise. "This isn't NECESSARILY Dick we are reading/hearing here. After all, ya rube, the narrator for Transmigration is a woman."

Knock yerself out, kid. I'm here to tell you Philip K. Dick was a woman when he wrote that, and you can go fly yer pomo freak flag somewhere else.

Mind you, it's not a matter I'll duel to the death over, either. I am neither the most broadly nor deeply versed PKD reader on the web. I've read the Ubik trilogy that followed, however, as well as the bulk of his thesis. Looking back on Transmigration, and what followed, I'd say it is fairly safe for even a casual reader like myself to assert that Dick took his characters' fates personally. Whatever happened to them directly affected him -- perhaps directly affected all of humanity. He couldn't not care. He couldn't stop writing.

As I say, that is a dangerous level of empathy. Say what you will about the vertigo inducing quality of Dick's meddling with the grammar of cosmic narrative, the greater peril lay in his grokking the shared need behind our most common and desperate impulses. It is what sets him apart from his acolytes. It is what I look for when I read them, it is inevitably why they disappoint, and it is why I always return again to him.
"They're queuing up,just like he wrote!"

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Exit Music, 2016

Because what else were you going to do tonight?
 Some videos from albums/concerts that moved me this year, beginning with . . .

The Rolling Stones: Some advice? Don't watch any of the videos from the new album. This one especially manages to break all the good faith that was established in the studio. I couldn't make it past the first 60 seconds. Old men with way too much money tend to spend it in the most predictable way, don't they? The following video isn't too bad, but I still encourage streaming the album above watching some desperate attempt to re-animate the glory of 80s MTV:

The Devil Makes Three: Now this is a video that kicks ass! Made for a pittance, naturally. From the woefully unsung Redemption & Ruin, one of my favourite albums of '16.

Meshuggah: still giving me the shivers.

Devin Townsend Project: somehow coming up with the attendant yang to Meshuggah's yin. Not my favourite track from the new album (I'm partial to this one) but still very good.

Clutch: received the most play on my infernal device this year, due in no small part to their most recent album already being a year old -- but also because their comic book concerns and garage band racket hits the sweet spot buried in my id. Psychic warfare is real -- you better believe it, brother.

Happy 2017, dear reader.