Gonna try that readin' thing again.

I think I just got bogged down. Yes. I need to try and (re)read Jameson and Adorno and Derrida and Foucault and more Harvey 'cause I know I haven't gotten everything there is to get out of them. But it's all making me sick and depressed. Do you know that, outside of hardboiled fiction, social/political theory is about all I have tried to read seriously in years? No wonder I only finish a few handfuls of books year. Also, shitty jobs. That hurt too. And then there's this Internet thing. Which I need to get away from.

Three threads:

History of fine art and photography plus criticism, with a focus, unsurprisingly, on Modernism and also Contemporary Art, at least whatever out there is good
History of America
American prose fiction of the twentieth century

This will be easier I think. I can always come back to reading those tearing apart every facet of human existence with a pair of tweezers borrowed from Marx. God knows, the rest of the world ain't catching up with that shit anytime soon.

I want suggestions, but here is the general sketch so far:


Well, I'll re-read Gombrich's history first, and then dig out my severely under-utilized copy of Art in Theory 1900-1990 (since updated to include the years 1991-2000, but I won't worry about getting another copy yet!). After that, an earlier edition of Fineberg's textbook. That should get me back to where I was when I left college. A month of hard work to replace a two semesters worth of drudgery and alienation. Imagine I used to have to pay to be miserable. Now they're payin' me!

I also have Jed Perl's book on mid-century New York, for what it's worth.

For photography, I may get this relatively new history.

All will be supplemented by these big books from Skira I have been picking up on the cheap here in Providence. The essays in this one are fairly cryptic (and see above for who I don't feel like reading to get a sense of how cryptic) so far, and I haven't started on this one yet. I think will keep going with these series, though, as the illustrations are very good and I have already been introduced to a few names I hadn't heard of yet. At least for early twentieth century painting within the Western tradition, that is a welcome surprise.

After that, what's next? Individual artist monographs? Some publisher's series on art history (if so, which?) Some really good criticism? Yes to all of the above, but where to start?

I guess I'll get some ideas once I get going.

My best guesses: a good collection of Greenberg. And probably Rosenbaum. And also some big-ass books by/about some favorites:
Boccioni (seems to be the only large-scale survey?)
Rodchenko - recommendations?
Arte Povera - fuck this one got expensive! I wish I had had less than half of that money a decade ago in DC.
Jurgenssen - new to me - thanks MOMA
Robert Frank - obvious, canonical choice but I still love
Salgado - likewise
Also looking forward to this one. Thanks again, MOMA. Never thought I'd ever want pictures of male prostitutes but DiCorcia has a really spectacular eye and a way of finding humanity redolent of the best Italian filmmakers.

American History:

It's not like I don't know it. In fact, in my youth I was an insane Civil War buff, and have been to almost every major battlefield. But a lot of details are missing in my head, especially when it comes to legislation. I have a general survey for the "official" word, and will probably finally get around to reading Zinn's book, which, to be honest, I have been prejudiced against not because of him, but because of who I hear discussing it. You know the type. The formerly ultra-sheltered product of a white, striving, middle-class, barely-political family who finally figured out that, like, America kills people and stuff. Whoa, man! Yer blowin' my head! Does capitalism, like, exploit people too? Fuck, man! Fuck!

I digress.

For more detailed general history, I have cobbled together a reading list, mostly from Penguin and Oxford, to take me through Reconstruction. Again, this is more mainstream fare. I don't know that I really need some ultra-Leftist revisionist take. Rather, as many facts as possible that I can then interpret on my own. That being said, suggestions are, again, welcome, especially if you can come up with something that would provide a legal history of the United States, written for the intelligent general reader, that especially discusses significant Supreme Court cases...

American Colonies, Taylor
The Glorious Cause, Middlekauff
The Idea of America, Wood
Empire of Liberty, Wood
What Hath God Wrought, Howe
Battle Cry of Freedom, McPherson (have read already, happily much less Manichean than I feared)
Reconstruction, Foner
What's next? Good pre-WWI histories, WWI->WWII, then post-War, then Vietnam, then fucking Reagan-era?

I should probably find another volume of the Federalist papers, founding documents, etc. Beyond the above, I dunno? Should I go deeper? Adams' histories? All of those Library of America tomes of everything from Hamilton and Jefferson and etc? I have to get to Democracy In America eventually, I know it, but I dread it, too. Should I?

American 20th Century Prose:

A lot of re-reading here. Love Hemmingway and Fitzgerald and Faulker and Anderson, haven't gone much further than that. Need to get to Dreiser and Dos Passos. Who else from around that time? Off the top of my head, without consulting the Internet? Wharton? Wright? Cather? McCullers? Bowles? Steinbeck, duh and the Stein without the Beck. Ellison (later). And a fun month of rereading Cain and Hammett and Chandler (who is next to depict alleys at night?).

Also O'Neill and Williams and Miller and ODETS! I know plays are not novels and stories. Thanks!

OK I could try some poetry, too, though I've never connected with it. Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, anthologies abound, and then,
there are others, too,
even without the Ws.


Will probably start with Sherwood Anderson. Winesburg, Ohio still haunts me, but, other than two or three short stories from other collections, I haven't dug further. So his novels maybe, though probably not the first two, and none are really in print, are they(?), and his other short stories, certainly. Then Fitzgerald and Hemingway again. Faulkner. Should be quick if I put the time in. Except for that last guy. Not to be insulting.

Later: Roth. Didion! Pynchon. Nabokov. Salinger. DeLillo. Auster? Miller? Agee?
See you in 2023.

Why so much America? I'm from here. It's as good a place to start (over) as any. And less daunting too. Russian, French, English literature? A lifetime each. Or so it seems to me.

Though that's mastery. I don't think I'll quite get that far. Just back and then forward to the level of what a general education would be in a better world than this.

So I'm wearing blue jeans and a black t-shirt and black shoes. Send me syllabi. Yeah.


I'm in love again

Fantastic weekend in New York.

Went to a great party, saw many, many people I haven't seen in a while. Bought some superb records.

Even the fact that MOMA makes me sad isn't making me sad. Next time I go it'll be in Winter and there will be less people and Rodchenko and I will have the time alone we so richly deserve.

Anyone want to give me $2,000 a week for nothing? Rent. Rent. Rent.


I want to be wrong

AKA Notes in a conversational style (can I get back to formal writing? stay tuned and find out!)

I mean, ok, so I will never be 100% satisfied in Providence. Just because I like big cities. It's just who I am.


This is supposed to be a place with a great art and music scene. I know I won't fine much cutting-edge techno or house here, if there even is such a thing, but, now that I feel that I must be closer to the end than the beginning, I'm also thinking about how much I haven't done, how there must be something I am missing.

It's not like all people here are racist or anything like that. Far from it. It's just... more that... many of the times I go out, I end up being disappointed. And not in the same way I was in New York (it's the difference between a restaurant that tries to come up with innovative flavor combinations and mostly fails versus, say, a Thai restaurant that serves decent peanut sauce with their satay - not bad but - one starts to think about other Thai restaurants). But I have to consider that I am going to the wrong places, that there is some parallel life here that I could be living.

For all of my social awkwardness, I have always been able to find some sort of place for myself in the past and now I seem to be failing. I am trying to take responsibility for my actions, to try and understand my interactions with others towards improving them, towards expressing myself better, towards finding my place. But there's a limit, isn't there?

It's like with painting. Cezanne was Cezanne and I guess I am a Modernist at heart in the sense of, well, Cezanne had his time and then people built on his innovations and now there's no reason to paint like Cezanne anymore. But of course, people do.

And it's like that with music, too. There are good bands here, but the ones I know are working in established traditions. And not the ones I care much about. Yet I buy new house records that don't sound like they were made in 2013. And yet, it feels different, still, then seeing another guitar band.

Most of it has always been crap, really. Cultural production, I mean. Cezanne is just one painter. How many other people were painting at the same time? How many of them had ideas, influenced others? Very, very few.

I'm always holding out for the big ideas. And there are never really that many to go around.

I guess it's the critic side of my personality. I've never really been a fan. There's always a time when a band stops doing the thing I think makes them interesting, and I move on. People who accuse critics of merely trend-hopping may be right at times, but they are also missing this other point, the search for ideas, the search for cultural impact, for narrative. The desire to make sense of the world on a grand scale.

People with that desire tend to leave places like this, don't they?

And yet I can't help but feel that there is a certain arrogance to waving one's hand and saying "got it" and leaving (though it is natural - every tree is unique and yet they are all trees).

Another conjunction.

I will always be crazy.
This world will always make me crazy.

,which is it,


A little past mid-year

So this is an update to this one...

How am I coming along? Here it is in a mess of words:

1. Reading and writing more -
- well - for all of March, April, May and June, and even the first week or two of July, I was working 50-60 hours a week. I got a lot done before then and will hopefully do more again soon. Barely reading at all now. Sucks. And therefore little is inspiring me to write. I have to admit, also, I'm a bit bored with politics. Not ignoring them, just have no new responses. But I always say that and then write something a week later, anyways.

2. Working on music - 
- yes! - still a long way to go. I am. My standards are high. Fuck, I could make a shitty trendy deep house record right now. But I am not "cool" and I don't know any "cool" people to hawk my shitty record to, so quality and an attempt at, well, who knows, maybe, originality, well, that's my only recourse I guess. And only desire, too, really. Not as easy to fulfill.

3. Improving social interactions - 
- trying, mostly failing. I don't want to blame Providence again, but it's like, um. Ok. So I did try and do some stuff over the last few months. There was a series of Film Noirs being shown at the Library for free and I went to most of them. Enjoyed the movies, although, like: in DC free classic movie is at the East Wing of the National Gallery with hundreds of people at least and a beautifully-restored 35-mm print on a massive screen. Providence: maybe ten people, all of whom are significantly older than I or younger 'cause they are the kids of the older people. DVD or BluRay from ok projector on to small screen. I never befriended anyone watching a film at the National Gallery, but I enjoyed the films. Neither film pleasure nor friend options at the Providence Library.

Also, I went to a show last Friday. It was for a band with roots in radical punk. Lead singer is a god to some people. While waiting in line, overheard: "so glad this show is ending early so I can go and get wasted and put my dick in a skank". No irony there. Afterwards, sitting at the bar, "I guess being from DC is where the singer gets all that politics stuff from". Said to me. How to respond - "well, it definitely is part of the culture". That didn't really go anywhere. Outside, after running into someone I know and going out for a smoke, and meeting someone new: "I like your restaurant" but "I didn't have a good time there last time" because "there was this family with a lot of kids running around and making noise". Ok. No problems there. I hate that too. Except, he had to mention something to the effect of: black kids are noisier and more-badly-behaved. Jesus. Fuck off. Just stared at him until he realized he was an asshole. He did. And the show was ok. Just another nothing's-at-stake-here performance of average music. That's a big Friday night out for me here. I tried! Not the first time: boring bullshit attitudes towards women, political apathy, casual racism. Nor does the fact that it all happened around an "art space" filled with "punks" who namecheck all sorts of bands who, you know, aren't like that, even are against it, well, that doesn't even surprise me anymore. I'm starting to feel really stifled. Either I can be negative as fuck about the things that concern other people, ignored when I talk about things that concern me, or silent. Gonna make so many friends this way!!!

4. Rebuild love life -
- see above. I mean, all the words I hear that make me want to vomit when I leave the house are coming from men. That's at least a decent sign. I think it's just, ok, it's all partially my fault, I am not "putting myself out there" as much as I need to. It's true. But I get tired. You know how when you talk to people and then you mention seeing some movie or liking some band or having some thought about some event and then the other person picks up on it and then you actually start heading somewhere talking-wise? Maybe someone asks a question? That's, like, not happening. At all. And now I am catching myself doing it. But partially, because I don't care. I can't help it. Oh, you saw a band I either dislike or am indifferent to? I'm glad you had a great time, now I feel like I know who you are and am even less interested, don't know what else to say. Weather in New England is weird, huh?

5. Back to a big city - 
the thing about making music again is that I realized I probably dissuaded myself from spending serious time on it previously because the pleasure I feel doing it starts to make the rest of my life feel more untenable. I know, rationally, that my job is the thing that pays the bills so I can do what's pleasurable the rest of the time, but I'm not cut out for that separation. It's not me. The less I bartend, the more I work on music, the more impossible bartending becomes. The great thing about the restaurant industry is that you don't have to take your work home with you. The crappy thing: repetition. If Rush can't pretend "a stranger is a long-awaited friend", well, I can't pretend to be excited about answering the same fucking questions ten hours a day. "The restroom is. The specials are. Any interest in desert? That joke is really funny, sir. Haven't heard it before." I am starting to get physically ill from my regulars. Oh, you're here again? We see each other almost every night. But we have nothing to talk about. And I know you don't care. Also. You don't build anything in the industry. You do your preparatory work. You serve stuff. You clean up. And everything is back to where it was when you started. And again.

Where was I? Split loyalties. New York - highs and lows are much more extreme compared to DC. Neither place is what I want it to be. I miss both desperately. DC is beautiful, livable, walkable, has great food, and that food is much more accessible than in New York, somehow. Too many places in New York can make one, especially one as I broke as I was when I was there, feel insecure. DC is a great place to consume culture, and there are plenty of likeminded people. New York, well, everything is a challenge. And most nights I went out sucked, really. And some of them were the best nights of my life, and, what's more, nights I could not have had anywhere else. There was a reward, also, of, sometimes, just the city itself. Just to look up once in a while and say "yes". I'm sure some of my longterm-readers are surprised I would even consider New York again but...

Now that I have moved to Providence, I can tell you, it's not just gentrification, it's my generation. Doesn't matter where you live. The conservatism, the "progressive" hedonism of tasteful consumption. The complacency, the superficiality. Oppositional culture is done. Folk culture is done. Makes sense, really. I've talked about it. Providence calls itself "the creative capital". Dive bars are an asset to power.

Providence is cheap. I am woodshedding. That's it. You may be reading this, paying too much for a shoebox, thinking, maybe this guy (me) has the right idea. I can tell you now. If you have skills you need to develop, maybe a problem you need to fix, yeah, come on up or go somewhere else, whatever, but once you are actually good, better-balanced, go back. Especially if you are miserable. Most people in small towns aren't. Most people don't seem to want to take on more. You want more, you'll feel alienated.

(Aside: I sometimes don't even eat my first meal until 5pm because I feel so dejected about my options. I walk around downtown cursing under my breath, slowly going insane, getting hungrier, just, fuck. I need to shop for groceries. Which means I need to wait for a bus that may not come to travel thirty minutes to shop and then wait again for a bus that may not come to do that traveling again. WMATA, MTA, I'm a spoiled brat. Spoil me.)

I'm going to do it. The how, the when, I have no clue. I cut shifts to work on music. I need to do it a bit longer. Maybe just get one fucking record out (not for validation, for discourse). And then I'm going to need $4,000. And fast.



Thanks to Simon for the tip.

I haven't looked out for an Annie record in years. The early 2000s really were a magical time. Not just because I was young. When it comes down to it, 2002 was the best year in pop/r&b since 1983. Believe it.

And also, 2006 was the year it all started to go wrong. At least that is the conclusion I have come to after talking to many people, some of whom are significantly older and younger than myself.

Though that has nothing to do with Annie, except, well, I think that period, encapsulated by Anniemal, Body Language, etc., when pop and the underground were in discourse, was really special. I mean, if you actually were waiting around for another Neutral Milk Hotel album then instead of tracing the suddenly-reactivated connections between Jamaica, London, New York and Virginia, sorry. I mean, there are few moments in my life when I can claim now that I was right, or even, RIGHT. Like, objectively. For REAL. And one of them, well, I bought a Yo La Tengo album and a Photek album on the same day at some point in the mid-1990s, one was the beginning and one was the end. You know? And the early 2000s certainly validated that feeling for me more than any other time.

So Annie.

Yes, it's another retro-pastiche. Check the following for sartorial accuracy:

But there is only one valid reason to return to the past, and that is to put oneself on a new road to the future. The 1990s weren't better. I'm sure people were still full of shit, just like now. But what people in the 1990s believed was possible is surely better than what exists now. And, more importantly, what we now believe is possible.

And what's more, this record actually understands all that, actually encapsulates it. In that sense, and in many others, it is vastly superior to "Get Lucky", seriously, one of the worst records I have ever heard in my lifetime, which posits sex, personal pleasure, as the endpoint of a night out. "Back Together" knows there is more, that one can't pretend that "the dance is just a dance", that another world is still possible, and that the dancefloor is the best space we have created towards realizing it.