Friday, April 28, 2017

Tree as Icon

We had our oldest tree taken down this week.



For some reason the girls called her "Yoko" when they were little, and the name stuck.

I shed some tears the night before she came down -- spurred by happy memories of the girls playing in the leaves, as well the natural drama that envelopes grand old trees becoming older and slowly losing grandeur.

That fading grandeur was an increasing concern. She was not the first of our trees to come down. This is what we woke up to one morning in the early summer of '01.
As with Yoko, this largest of trees was a Norway Maple, a substantially softer variety of hardwood. They grow quickly, but have a tendency to rot from the inside out. I saw it happening to Yoko. Unlike this old tree, she was fated to split not safely within our yard, but across the two streets that corner it -- a very costly and potentially tragic scenario.

Back in '01, after the old tree was removed, I asked a neighbor about bolstering Yoko's chances. He drove a bolt through the base, then climbed up into the branches, thinned out her limbs considerably, then tied a series of guy wires linking the key supporting limbs. "Hopefully that'll give her another ten, twelve years," he said. We pushed it to sixteen.

His trimming was quite the revelation. I couldn't believe how much he took off. But once the branches were gone I saw immediately what he was after. The wind could now blow freely through the foliage -- there was less drag, as well as less opportunity for moisture to settle in and take hold. Not only that, she now looked lovelier. The prevailing mindset tends to think, "You can't improve on nature," but with my friend's handiwork I saw just how patently false that assertion is. Now, whenever I look at old trees skirting a road or even in the woods I see their potential.

After saying my goodbyes to the still-standing Yoko (and, yes, I hugged her) I slouched off to bed. En route I took note of all the wood sustaining us, making us comfortable. Plenty of it in this house, of course -- hardwood floors, furniture, instruments, etc. I doubt any tears were shed taking down the trees that built the house. Currently there is a piece of wood retaining a great deal more emotional value as my guitar than it ever accrued as a tree growing in an Indonesian forest.

"Icon" is a word that hasn't just lost its original meaning here in the West -- it's taken on an impoverished definition. It is a cute scrawl on your phone screen that opens an application when tapped, or the Thing Itself -- "Hollywood icon, Clint Eastwood..." Originally, however, an icon was an object that, when considered or meditated upon, could potentially open a window to the Divine. Yoko surprised and informed me in so many unexpected ways -- she is a personal icon.

Friday, April 21, 2017

About that left-turn at Albuquerqie...

Madame Marie's Temple of Knowledge, Asbury Park Boardwalk
Bruce Springsteen used to busk outside her booth in '66, when he was a skinny, knock-kneed punk of 17. Seven years later he tipped his hat to her in "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)."

Part of what has me questioning the proffered generosity of our Digital Content Overlords (aside from the increasing pressure of their collective knuckle to my ribs) is the thought of Mm. Marie patiently putting up with this hippy kid who's strumming and yowling outside her booth.

He's a young pup, and he is not, goddammit, going to end up like his Old Man -- mean, embittered, cruel, utterly miserable about everything in his life. This guitar, the one thing that makes this kid feel unequivocally alive, is going to be his highway out.

Seven years later, he's got a band and they're completely on-board with what he's after. He gets signed, and they enter the studio. It's time to consider the brand. The tendency in album art is to place the performer at some remove from the listener, emphasizing the exotic and esoteric nature of the content -- you're not here, but you could be. Springsteen's move? A postcard from the armpit of America -- a place that smells like cigarettes, stale popcorn and beef tallow gone rancid.
He places a similar emphasis on the art for the next few albums, and although The Wild... and Born To Run flirt with glamour/respectability their interior art most emphatically eschews it. And just a glance at Darkness on the Edge of Town is enough to get the smell of the young man's armpits permanently entrenched in the viewer's nasal corridors.
The project continues apace, with the album art matching the content intent for the next nine years.
But by 1987 finding that sweet-spot match-up is proving elusive.
"I've traded up from patchouli oil, for one thing."
At this point he is not just a wealthy man -- he is beyond stinkin' rich. He could go the route of some of his contemporaries and quit the struggle for original material, heading out on the road every few years with the same group and trotting out the same hits everyone wants to hear all the freakin' time. He could staff his road-show with hundreds of codgers just like his Old Man and throw 'em a few extra peanuts just for kicks. But he keeps reaching for the pulse that drove him here.

Twenty years later, his latest thing is a protest song.

And it's not really his, he's helping out a buddy -- a hard-working guy who's roughly the same age, doing what The Boss does, except he's putting his shoulder to the wheel every damn day of his adult life even though the grind is only getting tougher.

And people are kvetching that you can't stream it from the usual Digital Content Overlords (not yet, at least) -- which I kinda get, also. Here in the Panopticon we get what we get when we want it, or we forget about it.

But man, oh man: Bruce isn't the only one who's travelled a long way from Asbury Park and the benevolent indulgence offered from the likes of a hard-scrabble fortune teller -- we all have.

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Apple and I are not on speaking terms, at the moment.

The only Apple product I own is an Infernal Device -- 12G of storage, in a conveniently sized brick -- which, I'm not gonna lie, I have been very happy with for a surprising stretch of years. But when it finally goes to that Great Landfill In the Sky (*cough*) I will shed no tears as I replace it with something similarly large, but more user-friendly. My biggest kvetch with Apple, following their callous dismissal of their most reliable product to date, is that stinking, soggy sack of bloatware iTunes.

This discontent ramped up to Mexico/US levels of incredulous fury with the latest "update" -- which now locks my computer screen for seven painful minutes with this "I"-less GUI . . .
. . . before surrendering the meanest of user-interfaces that syncs up with my Infernal Device but will not permit me access to the hallowed halls of Apple's glorious digital content. Personally, this is a concern of convenience over content -- most of what I download from iTunes is podcast-based, which can be obtained from other locations. Still, a single location is better than multiple, so I consulted the forums to see if I'd possibly committed to a bad install.

Nope, not really. Apparently, because I have persistently said "No, thank you" to the invitation to "install" (their word) iCloud for Win-doze, Apple is now left with no other option than to bar its storefront doors to me. To which I say, I never liked your freaky fart-stain of a store to begin with.
No place to park, for one thing.
Apple is keen to corral my digital content toward their own storage vault. Everybody is -- I get that. I have even cautiously accepted some invitations to that end -- I've uploaded my most-played music to Google's cloud, along with the extremely-hard-to-get stuff that is still not readily available. But you know I have hard-copies of all of that.

"Hard-copies" -- the day is surely coming when such will be moot. At that point will I go full-Luddite, and content myself with wax platters atop the Victrola and such entertainments as I can pluck from my own base instruments?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Palm Sunday, Explained(?)

I've never been a fan of Palm Sunday, even as a kid.
Break this down for me, WP.
Palm Sunday -- celebrating Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem -- is usually treated as one of those significant biblical episodes a Sunday School teacher should have no trouble imprinting on a kid's consciousness. And on one level it certainly qualifies -- it has undeniable visual high drama. Because it is easy enough to mimic, the beleaguered teacher marshals the tots to the front of the church to give it a go.
Attention to detail, historical accuracy are integral to proper reenactment.
The trouble is the story doesn't make a lick of sense -- not to me as a kid, nor did it to me for many years as an adult. Those palm-waving crowds -- what was their motivation?
Explicable: crowd response to Jesus' trial. Triumphal entry? Not so much.
The plainest reading of any of the gospels does not paint a promising picture of Jesus as Messiah. The miracles are sweet, but hardly the sort of activity that overthrows an Empire. The rest of it is basically Jesus bickering with his own kind -- other Jews, specifically the keepers of the Torah.

Discontent with the priesthood is as old as the priesthood itself -- so why give this working-class upstart from the backwaters of Nazareth a hero's welcome?

A possible answer to this niggling question didn't occur to me until this last Palm Sunday, as I watched the kids give each other shrugs and proceed with the usual tepid adult-sanctioned pandemonium in the sanctuary. It hinges on that singular gift the Jews have bestowed upon the world at large . . .
"Oy vey, Prajer..."
. . . irony!

If I were a Jew -- caught between an oppressive and contemptuous Empire, an appeasing and self-indulgent political figurehead from my own Tribe, and a religious elite focused on their continued well-being with little concern for my own -- and I was trying to pull my family together for a Passover visit to Jerusalem, and I saw this smelly, malnourished Nazarene mashuganah whose rumoured exploits I regarded with some skepticism if not outright cynicism seated on an ass and being led down the Mount of Olives toward the temple by his sheepish-looking followers, would I join in the growing furor and lay down my cloak on the road and urge the kids to go rip off a few fronds, the better to "hail" him as our people's great salvation?
Fuck, yeah!
It's not a scriptural insight that would have occurred to me were it not for the times we live in. I should be grateful, I suppose . . .

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Joey Landreth, Whiskey

I'd be grossly remiss if I didn't give Joey Landreth's first solo album, Whiskey, a massive shout-out.
If you've partaken of The Bros. Landreth garden of delights, then you already know what you're in for with this venture (you'll see a few familiar names in the album credits).

Are Landreth and his bros new to you? Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, John Hiatt -- if any of these names bring a glimmer of warmth to your heart you owe it to yourself to give this a listen. And if you have any sort of guitar love, there is a great deal to swoon over in Joey's slide technique -- surely the slickest tone-emoter since Sonny Landreth (a spiritual, if not necessarily(?) genetic brother) garnished The Goners.

But enough of my yacking -- here's Joey.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Podcasting About

Somewhere lies a forgotten shoe-box holding a 1980 photo of Yours Truly, at 15 years of age. He is decked out in his edgiest New Wave finery, standing before his father's well-ordered workshop, and wielding a cheap bass guitar. All set to be a rock star.
Just like my hero, Jerry Casale -- only Mennonite! And right-handed.
I couldn't see my way through to buying an amp for it, however, and the thrill of quietly buzzing along to "Turn Me Loose" in my tiny bedroom only carried me so far in this new enthusiasm. Four months after its purchase, I sold the bass to some other young up-and-comer. His hair was longer — his odds of making something of the instrument just that much better.

"There but for the grace of God..." I was too pious a teen to contemplate playing in an actual rock band. Had I truly caught the fire I would have taken a stab at being in a Christian rock band, a fate that would surely have concluded in catastrophe — there is no disillusionment so bitter as befalls those toiling within the Christian Rock scene.

As with the book beneath the bed, I enjoy dipping into stories from that scene at that particular time for vicarious thrills. This week The Christian Humanists introduced me to LSU's The Grape Prophet, released in 1992. Band leader Mike Knott evidently launched his career in an already profound state of disillusionment, after watching a bunch of Holy Roller carnies known as "The Kansas City Prophets" woo members of his Bible study into their ebullient fold. Knott dropped in on the Prophets to see what the fuss was about, and was so viscerally repulsed by what he witnessed he quickly left and laid down the material that became The Grape Prophet.

By now it goes without saying the Prophets and their bunch got derailed by the usual sexual shenanigans, a pratfall Knott seems to have intuited early on.
Holy Roller S&M: making the explicit implicit.
The Grape Prophet is a trippy little concept album that is catchy, and (not surprisingly) squirm-inducing — but also (surprisingly) funny and fun. Stylistically it owes a little too much to Jane's Addiction for me to be an outright fan, but I enjoyed the discussion of its merits among Los humanistas cristianos and will likely give The Grape Prophet another few spins before moving it to deeper digital archives.
Right next to the Ark of the Covenant.
Not that the archives on my Infernal Device aren't deep and dusty enough — 41 days worth of music, and probably a half-year worth of podcasts. So far as the music is concerned, I've listened to all of it at least once. The podcasts, on the other hand . . .
If only podcasts kept me as warm as paper.
I finally got around to this 2014 interview with Karl Ove Knausgård, by Eleanor Wachtel.

2014 seemed to be the year when all the people who talk about such things were talking about Knausgård. That basically meant a singular shift away from Houllebecq — whom Knausgård was tasked to review.

"What prevents me from reading Houellebecq," confesses Knausgård, "is a kind of envy — not that I begrudge [him] success, but by reading the books I would be reminded of how excellent a work of art can be, and of how far beneath that level my own work is. Such a reminder, which can be crushing . . . (etc, etc)"

Perhaps you're getting some idea of what "prevented" me from reading Knausgård? Throw in a wordy swoon from the Toronto Globe & Mail's Ian Brown (whose own impulse toward self-conscious bloviation scarcely needs a nudge) and I had, I thought, good reason for keeping my distance. A one-hour interview, on the other hand, might be a different matter. So I kept the file handy.

Nearly four years later, Knausgård has won me over. What can I say? A pinch of bleak and frank self-loathing (so European!) flexes considerable charm on the dyspeptic mid-life reader. I might even pick up volume 1 in my next visit to BMV.

And who knows? Mebbe these six volumes will be fodder for Phil Christman and some other engaging and informed so-and-so to bat around — we can only hope. If you want to hear what today's young hep-cats think of William Gass and Claire-Louise Bennett you will do no better than to tune in to Mr. Christman's new podcast.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Searching for words in all the wrong podcasts

It's almost two weeks since my last post, and I've got nothing to say. I must be reading the wrong books. Or listening to the wrong podcasts.

All's I know is I'm doing something wrong.
A shout-out, then, to Joel -- for providing me with better listening than I have been able to locate on my own.

I recently gave a second listen to Dan Carlin's summary of the Münster Rebellion. This time around his delivery did not chafe quite so badly (though I'm still not crazy about it). Carlin was originally drawn to this episode when he heard that rebellion ringleader Jan Van Leiden and his cronies were sentenced to the most torturous method of execution of the day (hot tongs -- you probably don't want to know more, but if you do seek out details, don't say I didn't warn you). That these ideological-turned-bawdy reprobates would be singled out for such treatment is saying something. I was struck anew by the utter contempt with which human life was held by people just coming out of The Dark Ages. Weirdly enough, hearing this prolonged account of human cruelty and suffering and senseless carnage -- garnished with acts of lunacy and stupidity, some of which yielded astonishingly lucky breaks -- put me in a decidedly Lenten frame of mind. This is a rarity for me, so I am doubly grateful.

Joel also pointed me to this exchange between Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson.

Harris probably needs no introduction -- encounters with him quickly slot most listeners as either fans or discontents. Count me in the latter camp -- I believe a nudge toward nuance would greatly benefit Mr. Harris' way of thinking, if only to spare the rest of us the unpleasant imagery conjured by the chosen name of his podcast: Waking up with Sam Harris. Was Peterson the nudge?

I'm not spoiling anything by saying, "No." But the exchange manages to be candid and revelatory, at least where Peterson is concerned (Harris, as ever, is an open book -- to a point), and was well worth the two hours I devoted to it while taking care of janitorial duties.

Oh -- introductions. For those not in-the-know, Peterson is something of a gadfly in Canadian academia -- tarred by the press and his opponents as declaring a one-man war against political correctness. When I initially read this piece I thought Peterson guilty of overstatement for effect. Alas, recent events convince me of nearly every claim he makes. If this is the direction the academic Left is committed to, its house is already a shambles -- and deservedly so.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Remembering Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry, straddling the line between . . .
On a sunny Sunday afternoon in the spring of '93, I sat myself down in the household wicker chair, opened my copy of Spy magazine, and read a piece detailing the sexual proclivities of one Chuck Berry. When I was done, I put the magazine down, got up from my chair, went outside and took a very long walk.

With every step I took I wished there was some way to un-read what I'd just read.

It seems like every memorial to the late Chuck Berry begins with a caveat of regret -- he was, evidently, a real piece of work -- and reading that profile (and suspecting the truth of it) is mine.

But of course there is also this: some ten years before I read that piece, I saw black-and-white footage of Chuck doing his thing for a television audience, back in the day.


Let's go ahead and say I saw this in1983. By then I had attended a few rock shows, and had been in the presence of some powerful guitar performances. But here on this little glass screen, I now saw what those younger, whiter yahoos were trying to measure up to.

I still get the shivers, watching this. And how crazy is that? Video was killing the radio star in '83 by importing powerful moving images (including -- especially -- girls, girls, girls) to impart some sense of what the music was like when you saw it live. But here all you've got is a guy and his guitar. Four older fellas trying to keep up, a French audience doing the seated dance. And there is absolutely no mistaking the power and athleticism and raw sexuality of the man's . . . guitar? The innocent observer is tempted to add "Seriously?" But the truth is after you see this you don't see the guitar in any other way. He owned it.

Watching Chuck, millions of scrawny boys who couldn't throw a ball never mind a punch suddenly realised they could forget all about that macho shit and learn how to play guitar. And we did -- some of us quite late in life.

Related: Chuck Berry invented the idea of rock 'n' roll, says Bill (not the Rolling Stone) Wyman. "Berry went gangsta on the world," says Mark Reynolds. Reynolds' piece is especially good for its inclusion and break-down of some footage from a 1972 performance on a German TV soundstage -- highly recommended.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: "Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders..."

New to this thread? It begins here.
"And you may ask yourself: well, how did I get here?"
Naked runners, uppity old dames, indigent meditative-types -- so much low-hanging fruit to ponder on the family tree. Distraction? Or a possible entry point to forgotten corridors of the Magisterium?

"Whatevs," as the kids were once prone to saying. A few more stray observations, then, on the current state of Anabaptist Protestantism and where I might fall in with it. Perhaps a bold conclusion to this series will suggest itself. Or maybe I'll just declare a natural "time out" in hopes of moving on to other interests.

****

My mother informs me that a friend of hers -- a recent widow -- heads down to the Mennonite colonies in Paraguay every winter to deliver public seminars on sexual health.

I know this woman -- she's the mother of a high school friend. It's probably been 30 years since I saw her (or my friend, for that matter), but what I recall of her fits this profile quite well. She is friendly and solicitous, and disarmingly candid in an unassuming way that gently invites disclosure in turn. Also, she is perfectly fluent in German and at least one of its plaut- varieties.

Mom passed along a few amusing/delightful anecdotes from a recent trip, then took an unexpected detour to darker territory. "She [my mother's friend] says there's a group that hived off from the colony some years back, and occasionally one or two women will show up at a seminar. But they don't ask questions and they don't speak. People from this group only come to town for the meanest of necessities. They don't make eye contact with anyone, but glance around constantly. She says they behave as if they are all haunted, the men and the women."

"I don't know what that is," said my mother. She was silent for a while, then said, "That's pagan idolatry."

****

I tend to think my temperament is of the "Go along to get along" variety, but it's probably more accurate to say that's what I aspire to. Regardless, I've often wondered what prompted my ancestors to literally break faith with the state. So far as I'm concerned, give me three squares daily and a relatively stable social order and I'm generally happy to quietly live a life of the mind while plugging at the menial tasks that need doing.

Of course, revolution appeals to any untested young fella straddling the cusp of manhood, and in my day I spent some time hanging out with and trailing the footsteps of a few bold would-be radicals. Inevitably I became impatient with their impatience and bailed the scene before significant investment was asked of me.

And yet, here I stand -- comfortably Canadian -- after my ancestors fled one sweet gig after the next because they had a POV that brought the Catholics and the Lutherans into agreement.
"Let's wipe those Mennonites off the face of the earth!"
I'm made up of the genes of people who put everything at risk after they read the Bible for themselves.

Go figure.

****

"Reading the Bible for themselves" -- man, am I ever not an advocate of that! My tribe's spent the last 500 years building from that foundation and we're only now at the point where we admit to beneficial dialogue with Roman Catholic and Orthodox types.

Makes me think the Holy Roman Church dropped the ball pretty badly, way back when.

****

Fun fact: the Mennonites took in Baruch Spinoza and published his work. What did he have in common with us?

Exile. Successful trade. Lofty musings that ran counter to prevailing thought.
Perhaps the capacity for a lusty limerick.
Apparently that was enough -- for us both.

****

"Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point" -- Blaise Pascal: "The heart has reasons which reason knows nothing of."

Ain't that the truth? I'm looking at Korea right now and the blowhards circling it, and hoping there is some heart-based raison bringing conviction to collective consciousness where dispassionate logic -- "Let's stop now, or this'll be the end of us all" -- has failed.

Say a prayer for the ways of men, won't you?

****

We are all haunted by something -- it is foolish to pretend otherwise.
"Abraham F. Reimer did not share the financial acumen of his brother Klaas, and was more interested in astronomy and other intellectual pursuits. His diaries and journals are filled with all manner of observations, calculations, facts and figures. Fortunately for the family, his wife Helena was a resolute pioneer woman of great determination, who earned much of the family income as a seamstress. The family also received considerable financial assistance from the Gemeinde."
And with that I declare myself the uncontested winner of the Fuela Reimer Literary Award. Thank you for reading! And may God have mercy on my family.
It's Fuela's cosmos -- we're just squatters in it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Talking Heads vs. Television: And The Winner Is...?

Aquarium Drunkard merits a shout-out for doing what it has done exceedingly well for the past dozen years, and counting -- culling infectious, trippy music from the fringes and the ages, and giving it centre stage. There aren't too many surviving examples of musical blogs exploiting the deep potential of dusty digital archives -- AD set the standard and maintains it to this day, for which I am grateful.

Their FB page recently re-posted this BBC video chestnut from 1984: Talking Heads vs. Television. I hadn't seen it yet, so I clicked over.
I wondered if "Television" didn't refer to the NYC art-rock crew that called it quits and left the CBGB stage a year or two before Talking Heads took it over. But, no, this was a declared war against the medium itself. Cue the eye-roll-inducing pretensions, then, and on with the show.
This is what we're up against.
I would have lapped it up in '84. The Heads' insistent "braininess" was a huge part of the appeal, back then -- I was a giddy fan, largely because this fer sher warn't no AC/DC show! This bunch had college smarts! Which I, too, was in the process of acquiring! Hey, I was even reading the Existentialists -- voluntarily! Surely this was the soundtrack to all the angst I was steeping myself in!
Irony alert!
I was a supercilious prat, in other words -- memories of which were painfully brought back to the fore as I watched the super-cuts of pro-TV mixed with Byrne's footage of the über-pedestrian. Funny how what's revealed in the exercise isn't necessarily what was intended.
Got the message yet?
There is a flip-side to the staging, however, which remains the coin of the realm. The concert experience, which Byrne cannot help but address in rapturous tones, is almost impossible to "capture" via television technology. Static cameras, tiny screens, bands and fans whose fashion sense pins them like butterflies to the cork of a doomed, bygone era -- attending the concert may have been a thrill, but a television broadcast will kill it as competently as any bell-jar.

Or?

Throw in the po-mo mix-and-match and the exercise does, indeed, become an experience more elevated than what one expects from the television of the time -- if not quite as thrill-inducing as seeing Stop Making Sense on the big screen a few months later. For those with the inclination and the hour, it's worth checking out.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Buffy Bafflement

Buffy The Vampire Slayer -- Joss Whedon's seminal television series, not to be confused with the Alicia Silverstone movie even he laments -- turned 20 this week. Or so I'm guessing -- my various feeds are larded with celebratory Buffy pieces with the number "20" in their tagline, and I've only followed up on one or two. I never caught the Buffy bug.

I'm not sure what I was watching 20 years ago -- Teletubbies, probably. Our first kid was born shortly after Buffy aired, and after that television became a catch-as-catch-can business.

The only episode I did catch (while surfing) and watch in its entirety was the all-musical "Once More, With Feeling."
Demonstrating proper choral technique (except for the two sad-sacks in the back)
I had no clue what the back-story was to any of the song-and-dance shenanigans, but I dug the audacity of what I was seeing. What's more, the premise sold itself as explicable -- which, considering I was a first-time viewer, was a startling accomplishment.

I tried tuning in again the next week, but what I saw didn't grab me so it was back to either Barney The Dinosaur or Hockey Night In Canada.
Those years are a blur for us all, I know.
Since then I've taken a couple of runs at the series, even purchasing the DVDs at a screaming bar-goon. The last attempt was with my daughters in their early teens. We got through the first season and a half, then bailed.

If pressed to explain my antipathy I'd probably resort to the superficial. The episodic reliance on the choreographed karate-with-wooden-stakes climax quickly became tedious. As for the High School drama, well . . . there was enough of that at the dinner table, and it made what we saw on the screen look a tad self-indulgent, if not privileged. Also, there's a certain Kabuki-like stiltedness that Whedon seems to nudge his actors toward -- it's inherent to television serials, generally, but seems particularly pronounced when paired with the self-aware-geek dialogue Whedon writes. I imagine the effect fades with prolonged cast experience/viewer exposure, but it remains an initial barrier regardless.

The people who are fond of Buffy are passionately fond of it -- and were probably in their late-teens-to-twenties when they first saw it. As ever, it leaves me pondering the nostalgia-divide, which begins and concludes at different ages for different people. We are living in the Golden Age of Television, apparently. If given another 20-plus years of TV exposure, will I be nostalgic about any of it to the point of willingly indulging in repeat viewing?

Mm -- Arthur, maybe.
"'Buffy binge'? We are THERE!"

Friday, March 10, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: Meet The New Boss

New to this thread? It begins here.

Why mince words? In 1517 Europe, Martin Luther was Christendom's Donald Trump.
 "...an unforgiving and vulgar temperament..."
"...an ambiguity and inconsistency of doctrine
that alarmed his friends and delighted his enemies..."
"...vulgar compulsions ... persistent fear of death..."
"...surely the canniest manipulator of the new medium..."
"...lament his violent language and its tragic consequences..."
"... his personal theology must be one of the most monumental
religious failures of all time."
Yeah, that's right. And Erasmus was its Bernie "reformation from within" Sanders, you betcha.

You think it's just a clumsy irony, the result of a tone-deaf ear, that the Alt-Right has dubbed the Mainstream Media "The Cathedral?" Heh-heeeegh! The esteem you accord the various "successes" of the Reformation is likely an indicator of your estimation of 45's peculiar talents and the chain-lightning that accompanies their expression.

A thoroughly repugnant and lamentable figure -- Luther, that is.

Next: let's wrap this up.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: Whither Protest?

New to this thread? It begins here.

The internet is frustratingly short on answers and predictably high on speculation when it comes to my naaktlooper ancestors -- so, hey: why not contribute a little speculation of my own?*

I've read a couple of accounts that describe the run as "an act of protest." If you'll pardon the pun, I tend to chafe at this interpretation.
Exactly.
I initially viewed the run as a fit of religious ecstasy (or hysteria). The group's leader, Heynrick Heynricx, was a self-proclaimed prophet prone to fits and visions. On this particular Wednesday night he tore off all his clothes and threw them into the fire, then urged his followers to do likewise -- the better to "proclaim the naked truth" to all of Amsterdam.

Eleven people followed suit, including four women, and out they went into the February night air, padding over Amsterdam's cobblestones and shouting "Woe! Woe over the world and the godless!"
"Also: free tuition!"
I figured a person had to be deeply in the throes to take on Amsterdam's winter air in the buff. And there's little doubt this bunch had whipped up quite the passion. But this was no regrettable act of sudden impulse -- apparently the participants eschewed clothing for their trials as well, which seem to have occurred within a week or two after arrest.

Barend Dierksz's The Naked Runners Of Amsterdam (above) portrays the participants in the lush manner of the Renaissance masters he was emulating, but given their modest social standing it's unlikely these 12 were anywhere near this well-nourished. In most etchings of executions the Anabaptist martyrs look like rag dolls. By the time this dozen was led into court, one nude winter sprint followed by a few nights in jail had rendered them all susceptible to respiratory infections. They "behaved bizarrely."

The judge was as merciful as the times allowed. He ruled out demon possession, thus sparing them the further indignities and discomforts that "witches" and the like were subject to prior to execution. And although execution was inevitable, they were all beheaded -- another relative mercy. There's no mention of the convicted professing any expression of gratitude on these matters.

So a protest it was indeed.

How angry and fed up with the status quo did these folk have to be to behave this way, in a sustained manner right to the end? For that matter, how about the thousands of others that followed -- some of whom behaved with pronounced civility and even compassion in the face of barbaric cruelty?

A recent biographer of Martin Luther went to some pains to suggest that, in fact, by the time he posted his 95 Theses the Holy Roman Church was keen if not desperate to initiate substantial reform -- but Luther was having none of it. "Reform" wasn't really Luther's intention -- revolution was. Good ol' Martin Luther (stubborn, arrogant prick that he was) just had to keep pushing the argument right to the limit, effectually condemning thousands of sincere innocents to horrific martyrdom.**

Eyeeeah -- maybe, maybe not. I have to think if thousands of people are willing to commit themselves (to say nothing of their loved ones) to the near-likelihood of a terrible death all for the sake of a fledgling alternative to the Magisterium as it currently exists, then that Magisterium has evidently morphed into an oppressive tyranny of the imagination.

And yet, and yet -- there's no denying it: Martin Luther truly was a stubborn, arrogant prick.
"You say that like it's a bad thing!"
A fact that definitely colours my perception of the revolution that followed. To be continued . . .

*Relying on what appears to me the most authoritative account on the web: Gary K. Waite's summary of Albert Mellink's historical documents.

**Okay, I'm actually riffing off a review, and not the work proper. To wit: "Without Luther, many of us wouldn’t be standing here unable to do other than lament his violent language and its tragic consequences, and learn from it the utter necessity of civility and of embracing the humanistic alternatives represented by Erasmus and Thomas More" -- T.F. Rigelhof; also: "In effect, [Luther biographer Richard Marius] sees the Protestant Reformation as a counter-Renaissance, aborting the gentler tempering of Christiandom that the revival of classical learning and classical moral philosophy had begun in Italy" -- Jack Miles.

Next: Meet the new boss!

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: The Magisterium Vs. The Protestant Pantry

Have you stumbled into a confusing mess? Thread starts here.

Five-hundred years ago, the Protestant Reformation began as an argument and has conducted and regenerated itself on those terms ever since.
"You're not here because you're right; you're here because you're wrong!"
The reflexive impulse toward narrative won't be denied, of course, but among Protestants the structures it adopts are reliably utilitarian (allegory! morality tale! a story that settles the argument!) and readily identifiable as such.

Returning to Mennonites, specifically, my friend's taunts obviously strike a nerve -- he gets to the truth of the matter, I think, but accidentally.

"Community" is not the Mennonite's primary concern (though brute survival nearly pushed it there, initially and for quite some time thereafter). Getting Scripture right is our first concern -- winning the argument! -- and it is a responsibility that falls to the shoulders of every individual reader, no matter their age or inexperience, in each of our manifold congregations. Which is what leads to manifold congregations.

In this intellectual environment, the first argument a potential writer of fiction needs to decisively "win" is the questioned need for any fiction whatsoever. "The Bible says to be people of Truth," etc. Throw in issues of pride (one of the Seven Deadlies, although we don't go for that errant Katolikje business of numerical assignation), and the arguments very quickly become labyrinthine and emotionally fraught.

From the moment a child learns to talk all intellectual life is reduced to argument, all the time. So, yes, there is a Protestant Literature and it is the literature of apostasy -- the entirely natural endpoint of the Protestant either/or impulse. "I have had enough -- you are all full of shit."
"And here are 95 reasons why this is so."
The list of authors contributing to this genre is enormous, and includes Melville, early Joyce, DeVries, our own Toewstje, etc. Apostasy Made Explicable is quite possibly North America's most reliable Lit-Fic default setting -- and very much the go-to template for our burgeoning Mennonite Literati.

As a genre it provides more compelling and accomplished story-telling than does bald religious allegory -- how best to win an "either/or" argument, except by nuanced story that hints at "all/none of the above"? Countering these currents, however, requires a more primally direct, yet subtle capacity for layered narrative.

I certainly don't blame our current authors for their limits of imagination -- after all, they were handed a Magisterium cussedly built from scratch less than 500 years ago, one that eschewed all prior myth and folklore as Devilish heresy. When all you've got left is rancorous dualistic either/or debate, your Magisterium is quickly reduced to a nearly-empty pantry. We're good at sermons, though, as our fiction makes quite plain. Give us another century or two and maybe we can aspire to SF, Magical Realism, or even Fantasy.

For the sublime imaginative feats of consciousness-altering Comic Books, however, we may have to wait another 500 years.

Next: whither protest?

Vigils 'n' Sigils: Wither, The Protestant Imagination

Thread starts here, FYI.

Jane Austen was the daughter of an Anglican minister. "Closet Catholic," in the estimation of my wise-cracking RCC buddy. In which case, if we are to use his rubric, we Protestants don't even get to count C.S. Lewis as one of "our own."
"JB can bite me."
Bunyan is it, then. We've got what we deserve.

Next: The Magisterium vs. the Protestant Pantry.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: Let Us Compare Mythologies

Confused? I'm following-up on this post, which was generated by this one, which is probably where you should start.

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 lovely young Lady! . . . she does her thing whilst two towers burn and a bunch of fallen angels 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.

Why?

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.

Next: correction.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: What Is The What?

Wait! Don't start here -- start here!

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 . . .

Next: keeping score.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Vigils 'n' Sigils: Aleister & Adolf

Mm -- if you're new to this thread you might want to start at the beginning.

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

New visitor? There's more -- much more. Start here.

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 theologickal 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.

Next: Aleister & Adolf.