Saturday, September 09, 2006

Without a shovel a man is stuck in his ditch. Ray LaMontagne’s new record Till the Sun Turns Black is a ditch I don’t want to get out of. A dark opening to a dark record LaMontagne laments to his listener’s heart in Be Here Now preaching; “Don’t Let Your Heart Get Heavy” and he admits “I Always Feel This Way So Empty So Estranged” in the second track; Empty.

Its an evident struggle, a journey without shoes on a dirty path through LaMontagne’s mind, to barely understanding a man of utter depth. I asked him about Burn at a Double Door show in Chicago’s Bucktown/Wicker Park area, he responded with a simple; “oh, I can’t man, I just can’t.”

With an evident lack of utter brilliance in our cultural pool of songwriting, LaMontagne is a fresh sip and if you give it enough time, the whole package will satisfy, enjoy.

Monday, February 06, 2006

I hate it.

The block.

The block.

The block.

The mind thinks but cant talk.

The fingers sit locked.

I’m sitting here on the set of prison break, an extra in white uniform, an ‘orderly,’ with writers block.

Surrounded by lights, the camera, but nothing to say.

Immobile, unable to finish a sentence, writing in aphorisms, barely.

A sorry excuse for a writer. A waiter.

Take out the ‘r,’ replace it with an ‘a,’ and you get someone who lives scared. The money makes it worthwhile, the interactions with people are enough, you don’t need the page, the page will ride itself of its whiteness, the letters will find their ways into their homes, and those homes will find sentences to call villages, and the villages will find their own way to cities called articles, and the articles will make cities, the cities become countries, books, libraries.

Don’t worry though. Keep waiting tables, keep stiffing yourself.

Create situations so you have to ‘make ends meet,’ don’t blame yourself, blame the situation. It takes the blame now.

Keep writing aphorisms, keep piecing together disjointed logic like an out of work magician, running, hoping.

But hope seems to stick out there, it seems to find a place on its own, possessing a special resonation.

“you’re gonna make it” they say, the fire keeps burning, “you can do it” you rant, the page is losing its white. Believing becomes fuel for the mind. Gatorade seems to act more as a motivator than a true replenisher, a policeman of thought, releasing the cuffs.




Socks are white.

The thoughts are gone, they have no life anymore, the fingers are typing, but where is meaning? How far has it gone?

Today I sit in a cell, listening for the bell every otgher few moments; “Rolling” they yell, “cut!” is echoed through the set. Prison Break.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

art culture.

art culture.

art is imitating culture imitating art.

paint this. sculpt this. write this. think this. fear this?

Good morning friends, I write to you from my apartment in West Belmont Avenue on the north side of the biggest Midwestern city and third largest city in America, Chicago. I tell you about my apartment because I think its cool. I grew up in Chicago, I was born downtown and raised in a suburb just 15 miles north called Winnetka. It’s a suburb I find myself thankful to be a part of yet regretful of the veil it’s lifted from my once pre-toddling eyes. I say regretful lightly, I say it because I see responsibility, I say it because I sometimes wish I didn’t know what I knew about wealth, empowerment, responsibility, drive, entitlement, education, morality, and others that come with living in any society but specifically how these related to living in the society I grew up in.

We grew up learning in school that we had more than enough and could get more if we wanted it, “snap your fingers and it’s yours,” a teacher would preach from a sterile classroom. “Your dreams are yours, take them.” Lessons about being a good sport were just taught for curricula sake, we were competitors. Being the best was best, and still is as I struggle today with whether or not I should dismantle this mentality. It’s in me, and it wasn’t in a lot of the friends I went to school with in Kentucky, theres something about growing up in a highly competitive setting that brews in it’s residents not only a ‘we vs. them’ mindset but also a questionably healthy “I can” way of thinking. Why deny this gift I ask myself? Why question a potentially powerful upbringing.

America raises power.

Despite whether you were from the south or the north, the west or the east, we all grew up learning that we can get more. Some areas emphasize this ‘I can’ mentality more than others, I notice people having to overcome their upbringing in any setting, but more clearly when they haven’t grown up in a ‘big’ city. We are faced with this kind of pseudo-detrimental notion that if we are not around a big city, namely New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, we need to be in order to be ‘successful.’ Even if a father repeats to his child growing up, ‘we’re fine here’ hes still implying some sort of justification for not being in ‘the city.’ Why?

What is success? Success is getting up in the morning, success is finishing the undone. And how has art influenced this notion?

suc·cess n
1. The achievement of something planned or attempted.
2. Impressive achievement, especially the attainment of fame, wealth, or power,
3. Something that turns out as planned or intended.
4. Somebody who has a record of achievement, especially in gaining wealth, fame, or power.

To America, success is not sipping espresso and discussing human nature, or social, political or critical theory, to America, success is the dollar billions of them.

But I get distracted from writing.

The phone hasn’t rung, its 11am and I’m still sitting here on this couch. Success is far. But its near, its whispering from the bottom of the page.

I started this with the statement:

art is imitating culture imitating art.

Despite the fact that we are looking at a very business driven, profit oriented and seemingly very un-artistic, quantified culture, its highly artistic, our ‘art’ is our lives. We are living in the painting of post-modernity. A business man goes to work because it is how he makes money, but a business man is no longer a man in a suit with a briefcase, she’s your local artist begging at the front door of a gallery or coffee shop to hang her piece, he’s the web-designer settling for any job to make a few bucks. This isn’t new people, this isn’t post-modern, dating back to before Michelangelo who painted the Sistine Chapel for a couple extra bucks; to Toulouse-Lautrec’s lithographs supporting his Absinthe addiction and fascination with self-indulgence at the Moulin Rouge.

But I have been pondering about this idea lately, I watched the news about Katrina and although legitimately catastrophic, we have newscasters performing a puppet show; like movie-stars from a box-office smash, or are the movie-stars performing like and imitating newscasters? Human emotion is a performance and somewhere in between art and culture reality lies.

A friend of mine Blake (Blake's Second Thoughts) recently discussed the James Frey controversy concerning his book; A Million Little Pieces. I urge you to go read these thoughts. He writes about the death of objectivity and the birth of a hyper-subjective culture who’s point of view is has lost a single author, relying on what everyone else thinks, good story is what matters not true story.

I wrestle with this though, I want to embrace true story yet I am amazed and won over from good story, I want to love but would rather ponder, when faced with a relationship we often seize up scared of the desolate road leading out of romance-town and into beautiful, boring fields of work, labor and sustenance. Like the lonely business man slaving away over graphs and reports, sterile, he finds himself making ways to avoid fruitful yet maintenance-entailing family life, golf on Saturdays with clients must take precedence over his sons baseball game. Because in art, in movies, he has seen this model, in life he has seen this model, his father was never around therefore he wont be.

Make your excuses now. Stuff your pockets full of cards ready to play.

Art is your excuse.

I laugh at how dramatic my writing tends to be, in my eyes at least, and also how this statement could be ‘ruining the moment.’ But its what I like to write, its what I’ve drawn from other writing, its my own interpretation of my world and the art I’ve experienced.

But, like a good post-modernist I sit, writing, but asking; what do you think? And I pretend not to care. So do you believe that you have more than enough? Because if you grew up here, you do, if you’re reading this, you do. A statement is made, a truth told.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

follow up; 'from behind the espresso machine'

in a comment concerning my last blog; Pete Gall the writer of “GALL” (available at responded:
“If my mind has my heart on a bungee cord, what would it look like if my heart and my mind were working as they should be.”

Well Pete, and fellow readers, peers,

What does it look like for the mind and heart to be cohesive? For them to be one, working together as a well-oiled steam engine? Or better, a healthy complex God constructed mystery, a cycle, with no seemingly apparent origin.

The heart beats. It BEATS, by itself, sure once the first beat happened, the cycle of blood and its flow seem to help the beating along, however, I dont know much about this system, I just know that when I shut the fuck up, when I quiet my racing mind and body down, I listen for a moment before I get distracted again, I can hear this soft pounding muscle inside of me, begging for attention. Humbly, without our undivided attention, without the need for honor, or a ribbon, or a myspace comment, the heart continues its job. It loves to do this, it loves to beat, it runs our bodies. The intricate workings of our body's blood work and vein grid, are all taken care of physically, by our 'self'-beating heart. It beats though, it continues, the system seems to contribute to the continuum, but we have to be FLUMMOXED by the fact that the continuum, continues. Like time.

I would say ‘like energy,’ or an engine, but these, unfortunately, in the end, have no comparison, for these are man-made. A light is working because the local generator is powered by a regional generator, which is powered by fuel, which is powered by oil which continues. And it goes back to some natural source, but, like ‘nature versus nurture,’ ‘the chicken and the egg,’ we'll just disregard with a silly phrase, a wave of the hand and a 99¢ cheeseburger at McDonalds.

After doing a small amount of research; I found that the heart beats 100,000 times in one day, 35 million times a year, and in one life time the heart will beat just about 2.5 billion times. If you give a tennis ball a hard squeeze, this is about as much force that your heart uses each time it beats! So, iPod listener (myself), when you stop what you are doing, and place your hand on the center of your chest (not the left side), you’ll find this mysterious muscle not just puttering along, but beating really well and hard, AND efficiently.

The mind thinks. It moves, it sends signals, it synapses, it supplies, it needs, it needs the heart. Another un-man-made mystery we just kind of mull over with a gameboy, an ipod and a pack of fritos. Using it for all we can like a tourist a street vendor, getting a hot-dog hes been slaving over since 6 in the morning and leaving to go check out Ground-Zero. This system has better memory than any Rol-A-Dex or Palm, or Blackberry, better running speed than the fastest computer on the market, it’s the most complex system, we can think of.

Weighing just about 1400 grams and containing over 100 BILLION neurons, the brain will slip into unconsciousness after just about 8-10 seconds without blood-flow. That does not mean it has lost all of its blood, this means that without the heart pumping blood up there, we’re going unconscious.

Is this noteworthy? Is this something to really consider? Does this change things? With a small amount of factual evidence, the heart seems to have some say. We rely on our mind like a scientist masturbating over an experiment. Its everything, if the numbers don’t add up, if the rent is not paid, we’re doomed. I mention rent, because we seem to be so factual, we need facts, I even said at the beginning of this paragraph that because of a few facts, the heart seems to have a convincing case, and it didn’t even try to convince me, it just kept beating!

So to get to Pete’s response, what does it look like for the mind and heart to be working actively together in our lives? I’ve been saying things about the mind having the [my] heart on a bungee cord, bouncing it up and down, trusting and not-trusting, wondering why I feel a certain way about something but so quickly rationalize away feelings.

Feelings about what? Im sure you can relate: feelings about a girl, feelings about moving, feelings about my job, feelings about education, feelings about music, feelings about art, feelings about this culture, feelings about Africa or other cultures, feelings about therapy, feelings about natural versus medicinal healing or treatment, feelings about eating meat, feelings about how long this list is going, how much I feel that I need to cover a bunch of different categories, you get the point.

For example; you want to move, your heart says go to London, or Jamaica, or New York, or LA, or Chicago, but your mind says (and this can cover the job feelings); “I cant move to the place I dream about because my job (which I don’t like) is keeping me here, I make rent every month and I have a few dollars extra to have fun here, how can I move elsewhere and make it. The mind kicks in like Santa Clause tilting his head from that lofty chair and says, “sorry Sally” or “sorry Jimmy, you weren’t good enough this year, you don’t have enough to make in those places, so just stay here unhappy, you’re making enough money to live here, moving just isn’t practical.”

“Well, I am a lawyer, or I am making good money as a waiter at this restaurant” you might say to yourself, so this justifies your decision to stick those ‘heart-dreams’ away under the bed or in the closet for some other day, a more reasonable day.

So what do you do? Not “what do we do?” like the cheesey ending to Garden State where two aimless twenty-somethings try to collaborate their indeciveness to form some sort of coherent idea. But what do you do, how do you balance what your heart wants and what you know to be true?

I think it looks like taking some risks, not doing what you know to be the safe thing to do, but stepping out on a true ledge of uncertainty and seeing what happens when you jump off. Its amazing how I’ve seen God reward risk-taking in my life.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

a note about the bean.

This is what I have to say to people like you. You come and go, you come and go, you don’t stay here, this place is your minds paradise, an escape, a home. You’re real home is not with your kids and co-workers but right here ordering your latte and mixing in a small amount of Jack Daniels. It does what you want it to. Numbing isn’t it? Your life? Scared, dangerous, this is safe, here, here is where the bean is, and empty minds you have limited interaction with. Here there is just the bean and milk. Your veins scream for espresso, a desire you fostered when you found it. Pay no attention to the kids at home or your husbands or wives, your peers, the bean matters now. The desire is making you, it has you, locked in its grip. Here you discuss politics and culture, and God, you argue their affect on you. Their lack of affect on you, avoid your home and the kids, they don’t affect you at work, they are a refuge from the storm, helping them is last. Making capital wins the war in your heart, it must, it has to be first, it has to support the family you ‘love.’ You’re what truly affects you, and what you truly affect. The baby sitter has them, shes got the rising and setting sun [kids] under control, you’ve got to generate, you got to provide.

The bean provides, the bean makes this happen, it amps your soul, it readys the soil for profit making, more. Income.

The schools will do the teaching, the teachers will influence.

Generate, that’s your job.

The television has its job. You’ve designated it to raise the little minds. It will mold them into who they ‘need’ to be.

Parenthood is lost, you're a victim, blame someone. Accuse them of why you have to generate, you see its positive effects. The bean, the boat, the bmw.

Lost in innocence, you’re a victim to your childhood. Drink more, buy another latte, forget your home, forget your kids, work needs you, the bean, needs you.

You walk out of here confident in the deal you made or are about to make, you’ll see who you need to tend to in the office, the office needs you.

Inside, your heart is scared, scared of health, scared if you don’t make another deal, another sell, another buy, another trade, it could be over, the silence scar[e]s you.

Keep asking the answerless questions. Keep jogging, keep working on your abs, keep looking good naked, keep trying. Your superhero is not far off, your celebrity, your father, your mother, avoid you. Blame them, try to be them.

Water is killing you. The bean needs you, the distraction is health.

Keep your veins happy, your needs aren’t met yet.


Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year.

thanks for a good '05 lets make 2006 a big win.

may this be the year that you decide to move forward, to move on, to make your dreams realities. may it be a year in which you become a little more you, a lot more you, where the path you've been on starts winding a bit and shakes you up. maybe you find your way out of the woods, the mountains, the valleys, into some clarity.


change your mind, its got your heart on a bungee cord.



Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Tribute to Pryor.

Larry King asked Richard Pryor; “Are you more of a comedy actor?”
Pryor responded; “I’m just me.”

This seems to summarize the recent living legend that died of a heart attack after suffering for years with multiple sclerosis. Richard Pryor was original, he outweighed and challenged the standard for not only comedians at his time, but comedy, he impacted the timeless art for the better.

And I knew little about him.

For being a student right now at Chicago’s world famous institution The Second City, its unfortunate to have to admit that Richard Pryor although one of the most influential comedians of our time, seemed to have little influence on me. Or I may think. Without realizing it, Pryor is the kind of man who through changing the face of comedy imprinted a style and composition upon the way people deliver in performance. Like many legends, Pryor has influenced all of us more than we would think.

Born December 1, 1940, Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III to a prostitute Gertrude nee Thomas, and father LeRoy Pryor Jr. (a.k.a. Buck Carter) a boxer and a WWII vet, he was raised by his grandmother as one of four children in her Peoria Illinois home. He experienced rape at age six and molestation by a local priest during catechism (a series of questions asked used to test religious knowledge in advance of Christian baptism or confirmation), followed by watching his mother perform sexual acts with Peoria’s mayor. Pryor found little escape from these traumatic moments then to go to the local theater and gain influence from greats like John Ford (The Grapes of Wrath) and Howard Hawks (Rio Bravo, El Dorado). From the screen through the eyes of a small affected boy came an aspiration to become great.

Following in the footsteps of Bill Cosby, Pryor moved to New York in 1963 to pursue his dreams. Performing stand-up comedy in clubs he soon found a mentorship with none other than Woody Allen.

He played roles in many films on and off the screen that have influenced the genre of modern comedy; like his cohesive effort writing the 1974 western comedy Blazing Saddles with Mel Brooks. Having over forty years of experience in the spotlight, he appeared in over 35 films including: The Wiz (1978), The Muppet Movie (1979), The Toy (1982), and Superman 3 (1983).

There is not enough to say about a man who seemed to break all kinds of barriers from racial to political through a medium like comedy. He influenced generations of people, especially comedians and entertainers. Bernie Mac was quoted in a recent article announcing; “without Richard, there would be no me.”

Its easy to say “I love Eddie Murphy,” or talk about Jim Carrey as if he is the originator of all comedy, but if Murphy or Carrey were asked about their influences, Pryor’s would be in the first few names.

Through hardship comes learning, through learning comes growth and when looking at the life of someone like Richard Pryor, someone many would call the funniest comedian of all time, we see a hard life. Robin Williams spoke of his ability to relate hard situations to an audience through comedy; "Richard Pryor is an alchemist who can turn the darkest pain into the deepest comedy. [He] doesn't go for the jugular — he goes straight for the aorta.”

This is something I have been noticing in our culture, a love for honesty and authenticity but a lack of tolerance for it when it is seen or heard. We’re getting all the scraps left over from such wonderful comedians like Pryor, I see something hysterical and forget to look to the root of why that joke is funny or why that comedian is making thousands of youth laugh. This is not to say that someone who is influenced shouldn’t take what he or she have learned and apply it. No. If this were the case, teachers would be teaching dead lessons to dead pupils claiming no responsibility to take what they have learned on to the next person, or next step in their life or career. It is funny to see a new comedian using age-old methods because each person has their own style; some styles are just funnier than others.

Pryor’s was funny.

But like Williams said, he took “dark pain,” the darkest of experiences, from drug use to sex, and transformed them into “deep comedy.” This is where true comedy comes from, this must be what some comedians, actors, performers understand and others find themselves too busy trying to imitate others. Maybe we need influencers, teachers, and mentors like Pryor because from their teaching of the blueprints, we can then build our own house around the basics.

I am funny. My life is funny. You are funny. Your life is funny.

Jim Carrey said; "Some people are born wearing an iron shoe. They're the ones who kick doors down and enter the places that before them have been untouched even by light. Theirs is always a mission filled with loneliness and broken bones. Richard Pryor is one of the bravest of them."

Embarking on the entertainment-career road seems to be less about imitation and more about authenticity, coming to a place like Pryor, who came from situations like his prostitute mother and janitor work at strip clubs and made those experiences his comedy.