Thursday, July 7, 2016

#323 Ghost in the Machine - The Police

Starbucks saved my life on the morning of July 7, 2005 when I was eighteen, studying abroad in London.  If it wasn't for a shitty mocha or whatever it was I drank exactly eleven years ago today, I might have made it to South Kensington station that Thursday in time to be bombed in the Underground.  But no, I had to have my American materialist ritual- and thanks to the line, the whipped cream, the indecisive girl in the FCUK shirt with a nose ring who scratched her ass, bummed a fag from her boyfriend, twisted the filter back and forth between anxious fingers like a nipple while her boyfriend searched his pocket for the extra quid she needed- I didn't get to "play the part of a statistic on a government chart."

When we finally got to the South Kensington Station, armed Police were running out shoulder to shoulder and began to scream at people that there was an electrical problem and we had to keep walking.  And so we walked to the Victoria and Albert Museum.  We were having a class about the height of the British Empire, the great exhibition, the tea, the dresses, the artifacts raped from India, the revolts.

The construction was so loud that day - we never heard any of the bombs.  After taking notes in our journals and looking at tiny corsets for Victorian dresses we all went to the lobby for lunch.  A few people left but the rest of us stayed in the museum.  An employee with a megaphone got up on the desk in the lobby and begged everyone's attention.

He yelled, "BOMBS ARE GOING OFF ALL OVER LONDON.  NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO ENTER OR EXIT THE BUILDING."  I remember everything about that moment.  He was a black guy.  My stomach dropped.  My first thought was we are being held hostage.  One of the girls stole a water from the museum cafe.  She was the only one with an international cell phone plan.  She called her mom.  We all couldn't call our parents because the cell towers were overworked and we couldn't call out of the UK very well.  Busy Signal.  Busy Signal.  Busy Signal.  It was 4:00 am in New Jersey or something insane.  By the time her mom called my parents for me it was 5 or 6 am in Texas.  What if there is a bomb in the bathroom.  I have to pee.  Should I pee right now in my pants.  Am I going to die in the V&A.  I am going to die a week before Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is released.  I am going to die without having read Proust or Faulkner.

But mostly we just sat in a circle.  And we talked about our all time favorite Christmas.  And if we were going to die in a group this wouldn't be that bad of a group to die with.  People of all different languages sat in circles in the lobby.  They all prayed in their own way.  Nobody charged for food at the cafe.  And we sat.  Rachel let me borrow her phone.  She snuck it to me and I went to the bathroom.  I checked behind the toilet to make sure there wasn't a bomb and I called my Dad on his office phone.  I don't remember what I said sitting on a toilet of the Victoria and Albert Museum, but I know I told him that if I die today I loved him.

Hours later we were let us out of the museum.  A policeman gave us a map on the roads we could walk on to get home.  We walked in a haze.  There was nobody on the streets.

One of the professors said, "If you have to get bombed at least you are in London.  They have a lot of experience being bombed."  We didn't think it was funny.  Not even in a Kurt Vonnegut kind of way.  Because we had to ask her to repeat what she said over all the sirens.

The sirens played all night.

I've wanted to write about this day for a long time and just never really did.  Someone else from our trip was asked to write it in some TCU magazine thing that I think you can still google; so I just never bothered.  One of the professors did too.

What I found so fascinating about the experience is everyone else who wasn't actually there while the city was being bombed seemed to know more about what was going on than I did.  All the news stations say their happy little morsels, interview grieving families, ramble off names and statistics.  Point fingers at brown people.  But as far as I am concerned, it was a ghost in the machine that did it. I never saw people with bombs.  I never heard bombs.  I never saw smoke or fire.  I didn't bleed.  If nobody told me about the bombs, I may not have known they even existed.

When I began to listen to this album, I wondered what The Police meant by the Ghost in the Machine.  Was he referring to Descartes' mind/body dualism?  Was he discussing the rise of technology in the 80s?  Referring to the soul extracted from the use of different electronic instruments needed to compose this album?  Or is the ghost in the machine something less tangible than all of that?  Was the ghost in the machine on the morning of July 7, 2005 the one who whispered, you are a white American girl, and you drink Starbucks because you have been programed that way.  It's ok, you need to be late for your lecture because you won't be allowed on the tube this morning.  You just have to buy a mocha.  Make your friends wait for you.  You do you, Katy Garrison.  Go individualize your coffee.

A&M, 1981
Here, the previously punkish trio added synth strings and politics, and blew up even further. "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" is a pop smart bomb, and "Invisible Sun," about the violence in Northern Ireland, is genuinely moving.

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Friday, June 3, 2016

#313 Unplugged in New York - Nirvana

I woke up last September with a leash wrapped around my wrist standing in the middle of the street around midnight with this album on repeat shrieking through my veins.  I hate running; I hate it almost as much as airport security or when pimply teenagers try to hit on me at Jimmy Johns and I realize, with a jolt of left over high school insecurity, that I am old enough that they might just be making fun of me instead.

It was kind of like that, but there I was around midnight with a panting pomeranian and the two of us had just been running because I was drunk or something and creatively blocked and my grandfather had died and I was remembering earlier that summer when this calf died out in the field for my job. Rightfully, they don't allow firearms on location, and to put him out of his misery, the boss from our office was called to the sight to slit his throat open right there with a pocket knife.  Some idiot, probably texting, had hit the little thing with a work truck.  And they all stood around it and watched it suffer like cowards.  When the phone call came, he left the office went out there.  All the men just stood there, nobody admitting to driving a car.  Someone said, he is sick.  We found him like this, he's just sick, we didn't do nuthin.  When he came back, I could see it in his eyes.  That horrid act of God glistening like a drunken film after a night of beer.  A glassy spirit evaporating off the whites and into the sky.  

I thought about how the Victorians took pictures of Jack the Ripper's victims because they believed a photograph would show them a mirror reflection of who the killer was because photography was so new.  But they had it wrong.  It's in the other guy's eyes.

Weeks later someone brought a garden cantaloupe to the field office and he pulled out his pocket knife to cut it open.  It was so juicy it wept at the cut mark and someone told him he better wash that knife and he said, this knife has only been in good places.  Maybe that was true.

That sort of thing used to bring me to absolute furious tears not too long ago.  So maybe I was grieving for the cow, or grieving for the shaken man who came back upset to the right-of-way office with a linear/scatter plot spurt of blood up his shirt.  Or maybe I was grieving for the child who died in me several seasons ago, back when the zombies ate the first person on our squad and we couldn't get the image out of our heads.

But I'm not that person anymore.  I'm not a vegetarian anymore.  And cows fucking die, either at the hands of heroes or at the hands of idiots.  I sat on the curb with my dog and thought back to that incident, while "All Apologies" was playing.  I was astounded that I was free of the emotional torture I used to feel when animals died.  When I saw a picture of an animal dying, or a hunter's murdered beast, I could physically feel the animal's pain.  It would make me ill with overwhelming anger.  This fear and terror was based somewhere deeper than empathy.  It was based in my absolute fear of death and being alone.

Maybe the culmination of the amount of shock and symbolic death I have gone through in the last two years, the marriage I suicided, closing the door on the life I had created and built, the dreams that turned to nightmares before my eyes left me with empty pockets carrying no more fucks to give for a cow.

That's not entirely true.  But my relationship with the animal's death was a healthier one.  As Kurt screamed "Shiver- the whole night through."  My focus on death turned to his.  I began to walk home in the darkness, in lulu shorts, singing at the moon.  Perhaps souls are not the sum of their emotions, actions, or intentions.  Maybe they are simply the sum of their unbridled experiences set to return and know what it is like to be hunted if they were hunters.  To know what it is like to be in a freak accident.  To know what it is like to worry if you tell the truth about hitting a cow you will be sent back to Mexico.  

If Kurt went out with a bang, what did that mean?  Maybe the point, which seems like such an obvious one now after so many months - is that we all die; we have all died before; and we will all die again.  

So rather than be afraid of death - maybe the point of life is to make death afraid of you. As I walked gently, into that good night, with "About a Girl" beginning again, I thought: do not rage, rage, against the dying of the light.  Make that fucking light rage violently against you.

What Rolling Stone Mag had to say about this album:

Geffen, 1994
Nirvana shine brightly on this striking live set because the volume is turned down just low enough to let Kurt Cobain's tortured vulnerability glow. The powerful, reverent covers of Lead Belly, David Bowie and (three) Meat Puppets songs sum up Nirvana as a haunted, theatrical and, ultimately, truly raw band.

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