May 12 2023
Instruments that don't exist, the history of English, Frank Ocean, the internet, Elliott Smith, e-scooters, Cecil Taylor, Ian Penman, more.
I’m grateful for everyone who spends time here and doubly so for those who pay. Writing venues keep collapsing, so my options still include the prospect of a “normal” job. I love working as a CASAC but I’m older than most candidates and don’t have an MSW. During my last interview for a facility gig, I was asked what I would do if a client threw a punch. I said “Duck.” I didn’t get the job.
Today, I don’t need to move to Albany for a rehab facility gig (the last offer) and have decided to celebrate this good fortune with my first-ever link to a Facebook post. I don’t have a Facebook account and yet I can see the glory of these AI-generated instruments. These are, for some, the type of dad-level memes you skip in the chat but I cried. Others cried. The saxophone?
The good and great Elvia Wilk told me about the history of English podcast and I am in love. It has been going since June of 2012 and the host, Kevin Stroud, is not trying to upend the format. The music is mundane MIDI file medieval stuff and the production budget seems to be zero. Stroud just goes very slowly through the facts of English, over time, and after three episodes, I had a new relationship to the English language (and Germany and India). I pray I never become a well, actually guy about the phrase “Indo-European.” There is a non-zero chance that will happen. If you want to stump someone, ask them if Shakespeare is an example of Modern or Middle English.
This Jeff Weiss tick tock of Frank Ocean’s appearance at Coachella is a gift. With someone as unpredictable as Frank, the order of events tells us something about his mood and his intentions, insofar as we can read the former and guess the latter. The pressures of fame are monstrous and Ocean has given us so much more than we can reasonably expect from a musician. He can do whatever he wants! That said, he accepted a vast amount of money for this show and people spent money and time to see him. Some moments of the show seemed sublime, at least from what I could see in YouTube and Instagram streams that have since been removed. Jenn Pelly’s piece in the New York Times about those streams addresses their democratizing nature, as they enrich the position of fandom and the idea of a live album. But even if we still like our jobs, does Frank want his job? How does he want to make new music? He’s had one foot out the door since Blond and if that’s what he needs to stay sane, mazel tov.
Reluctant heroes are a category. I submit this surreal 1995 video of Elliott Smith appearing on Breakfast Time, performing (maybe?) my favorite song of his, “Clementine.” It’s as awkward and “what a time to be alive” and all that until it’s not, and Smith brings all the intensity and commitment Frank wasn’t able to bring, and the room is converted. Or you can have both at the same time, as seen in this mesmerizing film of Cecil Taylor from 1968, which I have posted before and watched eleventy billion times. After explaining improvisation to the very patient filmmaker who obviously loves him, Cecil says “Next question!” as if someone is giving him a hard time. With the cohort of people as talented as these three, it is impossible to know if they really feel put upon or if they just need the defense of acting as if the world wants too much to protect against the day it might.
“Radical gratitude” and “miserabilism” are two ideas that motivate me, and it seems not a terrible idea to bring them up in small ways. I see moving away from miserabilism and into radical gratitude when I look at The Deep Dive, an account run by a woman who trawls YouTube patiently and voraciously. (The best way to experience it is to sign up here for the weekly dispatch.) When we were in LA a few months ago, I wondered what was going on with the scooters, which are all over the sidewalk in the least appealing way. That sounds like petals or leaves, but no. Watch this report on the e-scooter apocalypse or this one on WaterTok (a Southern practice of making Stanley cups full of sweetened nonsense) and you will find, like I did, that reports on YouTube and TikTok profit and audience miss the point. People are always doing good work, but miserabilism sells, and that becomes our internet press. I am grateful for these citizen journalists and I am grateful that Beyoncé has put The Lead Guitarists out of work. I am also very grateful that even though Ian Penman’s event with Gary Indiana did not happen (there is an uptown Deutsches Haus, there is an downtown Deutsches Haus, there was confusion) we did get this photo. Semiotext(e) for life.