The Atomic Child

It seems every summer, Hollywood rolls out an Armageddon scenario–an over-dressed apocalypse-driven popcorn vehicle for the masses. And every summer, I watch the fucker. That the Aurora massacre has not hurt the box office of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ tells us much about ourselves. If we are optimistic, it tells us we are resilient; that we’ll not let a mad man keep us from living out lives and seeking our entertainment where we want to. The more cynical will blame the movie and the culture of these kinds of movies themselves. I actually love these kinds of movies.

I loved ‘The Dark Knight’ and have probably watched it 30 times. Part of the appeal for me is just how great Chicago looks in it. I never can help liking to watch our city on film. The other part is Heath Ledger as the Joker which is one of the greatest performances by anyone I’ve ever watched. Another element is all of the action bits, and shit blowing up.

Yeah, sadly, I’m that guy. I love when the Joker walks away from the hospital in a nurses uniform and then blows the building to kingdom come. I laughed my ass off. These are one of the kinds of movies I like. It may have something to do with when I was born, roughly a decade or so after the dropping of the first atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yes, that’s how long these awful weapons have been with us. As a kid, I remember the Vietnam war on the T.V. news every night at dinner time; the horror somehow muted by the small black and white television and the idea that this was happening on the other side of the world. Before I was 12 years old, there had been the brazen and public assassinations of JFK, his brother Robert and the Rev. Martin Luther King.

In my lifetime, the world has never ceased to be a violent, scary place, full of unexpected and varied mayhems. It is not a mystery to me where the entertainments we choose come from. Does movie violence beget more violence? Years ago, I’d have told you, “no,” that movies get their ideas from people and not the reverse. Now? I’m not so sure. I’m aware that there are numbskulls out there who are way impressionable. A few months ago, the cops would have us believe that three knuckleheads here to protest the NATO conference were planning to toss a molotov cocktail at Mayor Emanuel’s, and then, President Obama’s residences. They were really going to make a day of it. The three, including the requisite ‘white-guy-with-dreadlocks’ revolutionaries, had beer bottles full of gasoline and Kung-Fu stars with which to penetrate the police presence, which was roughly that of a Cecil B. DeMille epic.

Really.

You can’t make this shit up. But it does make one wonder which video game logic informed the bong triplets that such an idea was feasible. It seems to me that THESE might be the guys who get their ideas from movies or video games. I wish the rest of it were this comical. The other nuts seem to come by their idiotic ideas via whatever tin-foil hat political tract they happen to believe.

Last year when Congresswoman Giffords was shot in a massacre in Arizona, the Tea Party moved with the speed of a bullet to disavow Jared Loughner, even though their particular brand of hate was among his texts. In fairness, this whackjob read many extreme tracts, not just theirs. If I had to guess, I’d say the culture of poisonous political discourse creates more of these drool cases than anything else. The angry white guys spewing venomous crap on cable news and radio: Hannity, O’Relly, Limbaugh, Savage and for some reason, Ted Nugent, finds himself parsing the unappetizing Tea Party line with ugly hints of assassination. . .for whom? What possible good can come from this kind of speech? I’ll defend to the death his right to it, but I’ve come to resent defending vile speech for the sole reason that we must defend even those whose ideas we find most repugnant.

Fuck, I’m getting old. I can’t quite defend the principles that protect assholes the way I used to. Politicians are always quick to blame movies or popular entertainment for acts of madness and violence rather than their own over-heated rhetoric and that of their acolytes in the cable news world. The pro and anti-gun people will bray long and loud about guns. The truth is, were there not guns, this guy would have used hammers or a can of gas. One cannot orchestrate or understand the behavior of psychopaths.

Must there be tougher gun-laws? Absolutely.

Should we outlaw Automatic weapons? Absolutely.

But this guy merely wanted a body count and his tool of choice is not the real problem here. I was looking forward to ‘The Dark Knight Rises’–the gadgets, the explosions, the cool bad-guys–all of the stuff I go to the movies for. Spectacle. Then I turned on the news and the story of one fucked-up American, with unfettered access to automatic weapons and ammunition, annihilating 12 people and injuring nearly 60 others became an unrelenting news loop; reminding us that, perhaps, we have the world we deserve.

Published in: on July 28, 2012 at 6:11 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Absent Angel

This bird, the mamo, was killed for its plume; one of the astonishing number of Hawaiian birds that have become extinct.  The “settling” of other countries were not only disastrous for the human inhabitants, but for the animal life as well..  “Settling” means you kill everyone and steal their shit.  Then you declare the place, “civilized.”

Published in: on July 25, 2012 at 6:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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Every Radio In America

Every Radio in America

Thinking about summer; when one sometimes walks down the street at night and every radio in the world is tuned to the same song. . .magic like that and the Chicago sky and all of its sparkling jewelry. . .

Published in: on July 18, 2012 at 8:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Chicago Sky #7

A decade ago I took an Artist in Residency in Missoula, Montana at the University of Montana. I was always leery of visiting artist gigs.  I’ve always found them a little annoying.  The kids are cool; I’ve learned a lot from them and have hired some of them. One of the great things about young artists is they are willing to try anything.  Their ideas about art haven’t hardened into inflexibility. Mid-career artists are a little overly fond of what they know and way too dismissive of those emerging talents that push the practice forward.

In most of the cases, I am twice the age of the other artists who work for me. I am grateful for what I’ve learned from them.  They came of age a great deal more at home with technology and were able to make me realize its importance and how to use it as a tool.  The more of their music, books and art I became exposed to, the wider my array of choices as an artist became.

The kids were great. What I disliked about the visiting artist gigs were the (ahem) faculty. Yup, the teachers and the not-so-veiled resentment that sometimes hangs in the air like a spiderweb.

I charge a lot to leave my studio.  It cost me a lot to NOT be at work. I don’t like the airport or flying. Colleges out in the country make me nervous.  All of this factors into what I charge for a visiting artist gig.

Some assholes will do this for a hundred dollars and a plane ticket.

“Maybe I’ll get to sit by the window!!!!

Knock yourself out.

I’ve never much liked these things. This one was different because it was in the Bitterroot Valley in Missoula and was purely lovely. The guy at the University of Montana was a great guy and artist named Jim Bailey who was and is a first-rate artist and teacher–a rare combo–and he really cared about his students.  To him, they were job one. He is one of those rare. unselfish guys who has spent his life giving of himself to the difficult and problematic personalities who’ve decided to become artists. Were I ever a teacher, Jim is the one I’d want to be.

Here and there these guys exist.  Tom Dreucker in Austin. Billy Shire in Los Angeles. Joe Amrhein and Susan Swenson in Brooklyn.  Art professionals who’ve sacrificed to help others succeed.  If only the rest of the art world were this generous of spirit, especially here in Chicago, where mid-career artists are standoffish and clannish. . .paranoid and embittered.  It’s a small town where the art world is run by merchants or the institutions which have, thankfully, gotten better.

For the most part though, what crumbs are thrown to mid-career artists here (and make no mistake, they are crumbs) are fought over in the ugliest manner possible.  The thought of holding out a hand to an up and coming artist? Pure anathema.  Everyone protects their small, worthless bit of turf. There are, of course, exceptions, but they are rare enough to be considered statistical aberrations. This is a mean town. The casual brutality of its visual art world is far more petty and vindictive than I’ve ever seen in any other city I’ve ever shown in.  The worst people I know work in the visual art world in Chicago.

And, luckily, so do some of the best people I’ve ever known.

When I visited the University out there in Missoula, part of me damn near didn’t want to come back.  The Bitterroot Valley is unspeakably beautiful–words don’t quite cover it.  The people were nice, helpful and had genuinely nice things to say to each other.  The town diner was in a union hall and I had the best meatloaf I’ve ever eaten there.

I had a couple of marvelous conversations with the late, great novelist, James Crumley and I got what people who love the West love about it.  A lot of it still hasn’t been domesticated.  It is a landscape with a sense of intention and malice.  Tragedy and history. Tit-for-tat blood feuds.  Crazy Horse may have died here, but so did Custer, goddamnit, and he went FIRST.  Montana is like that.

One of the last nights I was there, the receptionist at my hotel asked me if I wanted a wake-up call for the meteor shower at 4:10 a.m. I asked if people actually woke up for these. She told me with a smile that half of the guests in the hotel had flown in just to see this one.  So I said, “Sure.  Wake me at 4, so I can make some coffee.”

Jesus, it was something. I though I might catch a comet or two. It was crazy, like a celestial pinball machine.  Stars and comets racing across the sky in every direction and speed.  In Montana, without all of the buildings and ambient light, dark is pitch black, it was astonishing and left me speechless. The next day, I  asked the astronomer staying at the hotel if the same shower was happening over Chicago. He looked at me for a moment in an amused way and gently said,: “Unless you have a different sky, then yes.  This meteor shower definitely occurred over Chicago as well.”

That is the way it is with this place. Beauty rages all around us.  It is just sometimes harder to see.

Published in: on July 6, 2012 at 11:35 pm  Comments (5)  

The Sky, At Ohio

 This is a piece I’ve made about driving through Ohio at night; its Midwest, hilly landscape of the American industrial ambition, writ large. . .its primary working-class furies and the century’s slow leak of economies that has turned this lovely state into a  cauldron of political opportunism and a growing underclass.
One has much to do with the other. . .
Published in: on July 6, 2012 at 11:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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