SWEET SOUL BROTHER

Over the last couple of days I have found that my heart has been aching. It’s as if I were grieving. And the truth is I have been, and today I have been particularly miserable. There is no mystery to the source of my pain however. Six years ago to the day, on the prophesized day of the Mayan apocalypse (the so-called end of the world) my best friend passed on. So although the world did not actually end on 12/12/2012, for me it was particularly catastrophic. The fact is, 2012 was a horror show for me, and losing my beloved friend felt like a painful emotional climax to my torturous life at that time. I’m not going to go into the events culminating in the death again, but if you’re interested go back through my posts of 2012 which deal with my nightmarish relationship with an American woman and that hellish year.

This is about my beloved friend, Champers. I have to tell you that I continue to miss him terribly. I hope to be reunited with him one day when it is my turn to say adios to this earthly plane and I move on to wherever we go to. You see, I don’t need some church/mosque/temple religious leader to tell me whether animals have souls or not. Yes, Champers was an animal, my furry buddy; a beautiful champagne-coloured Persian. To most people he was insignificant but to me he was not only my best friend, he was family. He made my world a better place for being in it, and as I said, even 6 years on I miss him.

Now as deep as my feelings are for him I believe so were his for me, and like animals do, he loved unconditionally and asked for very little in return, only my company. Charles Darwin, in his book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) concluded: that the variations between humans and other species in their capacity to feel and express emotion are almost non-existent. It varies between individual creatures much like it varies between individual humans. Similarly animals have personalities, and they have lives. The sheer arrogance of humans to decide which should live and which should be slaughtered and served up as meals angers me beyond words. There is NO difference between eating a dog or cow…or another fellow human. The only difference between the animals you love and the animals you eat is your perception of them and your attitude towards them. To quote that most excellent band the Smiths: meat is murderMeat is all murder!

Getting all biblical on you, consider this, damned meat-eaters:

“For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. Who knows that the breath [spirit] of man ascends upward and the breath [spirit] of the beast descends downward to the earth?” Ecclesiastes 3:19-21.

So this post and my little rant are in memory of my beloved Champers. Rest in peace, buddy, you are remembered and loved. 12/12/2012.

The Meaty Subject Of Flesh

smiths_-_meat_is_murder1

Right, so I know have mentioned that I am a vegetarian and that I have been one for basically my entire adult life. I have to admit it was never a huge sacrifice for me. The truth is that I never was fond of meat. Even as a child I really felt ill at ease about eating it. The thought of animals being slaughtered for my meals weighed heavily on my conscience, and as someone once told me, I have a conscience the size of a planet.lisa-simpson-vegetarian

I remember the day I stopped eating flesh very clearly. I was a studying towards a teaching degree and was taking a South African history module as part of my BA requirement. The history department had organized a trip to King Shaka’s kraal. Shaka was a Zulu king and conqueror of southern Africa back in the 18th Century. While we were at his historical compound (kraal) the local people began slaughtering cattle for some upcoming feast being prepared for a visiting chief. The terror of the poor animals awaiting their death horrified me and that was the final push I needed. This decision of mine was sealed by how the song Meat is Murder by the Smiths made me feel.Morrissey_Meat_Is_Murder

Now let me tell you a little about the song:

Meat Is Murder was the second studio album by the English rock band, the Smiths. They along with the Cure, in my opinion, remain the undisputed originators and architects of what kids these days call emo. They wrote beautifully dark fairytales, storiesof ill-fated love and angst-ridden poems of the sheer enormity of being! Anyway, the album was released on 11 February 1985 by Rough Trade Records and became the band’s sole number one album in the UK charts during the band’s lifetime, staying on the chart for thirteen weeks. The album reached number 40 in Canada and number 110 in the US. In 2003, Meat Is Murder was ranked number 296 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. On the album is the best song ever written about animal rights.  Apparently even famous vegetarian Paul McCartney, who has never written a song about vegetarianism, greatly admires the Smiths’ effort. Meat Is Murder’s sinister opening, full of unsettling noises that conjure up an abattoir, moves into the terrible, beautiful lullabye-like melody that is so characteristic of their music:

“The carcass you carve with a smile, it is murder … And the turkey you festively slice, it is murder.”

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Look, animals are thinking, feeling beings, and we shouldn’t eat them. Anyone who thinks of themselves as an animal lover could and should not eat meat. Explaining it away or assuaging your conscience by saying that in the wild, animals kill other animals for food and It’s a part of nature is just nonsense! First of all, we are not in the wild, and secondly, we can easily live without eating meat.  The question of “if we weren’t supposed to eat meat than why do we?” is easily answered. It is because we are conditioned to eat meat by our society as well as the accompanying huge meat industry. It has f-all to do with health reasons and the most common excuse of all, “I can’t get my protein any other way”.

vegetarian

 

 

vegetarian1If nothing else think about this: meat putrefies within 4 hours after consumption and the remnants cling to the walls of the intestines for 14-21 days. The fact is, it has already started to decay when you eat it. Seen a nasty movie called Ravenous? It is about cannibalism. Enjoy your next steak!

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Anyway, so going back to the Smiths and reasons why you should listen to them. Morrisey’s words and Johnny Marr’s music interlace perfectly, like chocolate and red wine. Dark and melancholy, the lyrics are delivered by Morrisey himself. Like some vintage lounge singer he croons about murderous desires and doomed love while Marr’s “drugged-up country boy” guitar envelops him. In the 80s when the band was at the height of its popularity, there were rumours of Morrisey and Marr being involved in a sexual relationship. If this was true it was never confirmed by either the openly gay Morrisey or the reticent Marr. What is far more interesting to acknowledge is how Morrisey’s lyrics broke the stereotypes of the time. There is nothing effeminate or limp-wristed about them, in fact, they are extremely masculine.  They were not gay, they were not hetro, they were just the Smiths. The band is no longer, unfortunately, “the seething rot that had shot the Smiths down remained undisclosed by Johnny,” Morrisey wrote. Marr, feeling stifled, left in 1987 to play with the Talking heads, and that was that. Sad. Even if you are not a fan you will still probably know the song “How Soon Is Now?” from the TV series Charmed and the movie, The Craft, both about witches funnily enough. One of my favourites however, is Big Mouth Strikes Again. Read the lyrics and then take a listen to the actual song. The murderous muscularity of the love song juxtaposed with Morrisey’s crooning, lullabye vocals and Marr’s guitar rifts is something quite extraordinary. Needless to say it makes Swany’s List of Awesomeness.

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Bigmouth Strikes Again

Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking

When I said I’d like to

Smash every tooth in your head

 

Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking

When I said by rights you should be

Bludgeoned in your bed

 

And now I know how Joan of Arc felt

Now I know how Joan of Arc felt

As the flames rose to her Roman nose

And her Walkman started to melt

 

Bigmouth, bigmouth

Bigmouth strikes again

And I’ve got no right to take my place

With the human race

 

And now I know how Joan of Arc felt

Now I know of Joan of Arc felt

As the flames rose to her Roman nose

And her hearing aid started to melt

 

Bigmouth, bigmouth

Bigmouth strikes again

And I’ve got no right to take my place

With the human race.

Meat Is Murder

OK, so fasting while writing exams is a really dumb-ass idea! Try waking at 3am so you can squeeze in 30 minutes of studying before rushing off to work. Then working until midday and rushing off to Durban to write the exam at 14.30. This all surviving on only a mug of tomato soup, a couple of Pro-vita biscuits and two naartjies! To say the exam went badly is to say the very least! Irritable, light-headed and woozy are not very conducive to focus and clarity of thought, and quite frankly suck when you are trying to write an art history theory paper on popular culture, in particular Pop Art! But I survived my self-induced dumb-assery and the exam is done, and bar some major nastiness I am almost certain I have passed! Third year art theory done and dusted!

Let me return to the fasting though, because I am pretty certain it is this that you will be wondering about. OK, so why am I fasting? Well, in a few days time I will be presenting my performance art piece called Gaze, in a public gallery before an audience, for my third year practical exam mark. “Nervous?” you may ask. OH YES! “Stressed?” HELL, YEAH! But I am mostly excited… “terrifiedly” excited! This is a huge, quite probably, life-changing event for me, and though it has been extremely challenging, things are all coming together now, falling into place. OK, so sorry, so the fasting: well, firstly, I was inspired by The Artist is Present, the docu-film about Marina Abramovic and her recent show at the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art). If you have not seen it I most certainly recommend you get hold of this documentary. The woman is awe-inspiring, her story fascinating, her presence overwhelming. Watching her processes regarding performance I realized that for her it begins long before she even presents anything to the audience/viewer. It is largely about mental preparation, about getting your mind in the right place.

Most performance art, and most definitely the performances of the second-wave feminist artists I have focused on, consists of rituals which are used to challenge and provoke. Viewers are asked to question their own definitions of art, society and its norms, and not always in a comfortable or pleasant manner. After watching and studying Abramovic’s processes I resolved to get myself into that place where it needs to be. Abramovic said of the audience:

 

 

“The audience is like a dog. They can feel immediately that you are afraid, that you are insecure, that you’re not in the right state of mind – and they just leave…”

Marina Abramovic

 

On the evening of 20th November 2012 I will enclose myself within a small space with an audience, and expose myself to their gaze. It will be an extremely intimate experience for both the audience and me, and it is imperative that I am able to get myself into the right state of mind so that by sheer force of will I am able to make myself totally oblivious of that same audience, as well as the photographer and the videographer. Any hint of fear, embarrassment or nervousness and the performance will fail. I cannot acknowledge their presence. One technique performance artists utilize to become insular, oblivious, is that of creating a ritual. So the performance piece becomes that of performing a ritual. A ritual is: the body of ceremonies or rites used in a place of worship, or the body of ceremonies used by a fraternal organization. Generally there is a book of rites or ceremonial forms that are adhered to and followed.  The performance of such acts however need not be religious or enforced by a group such as a club or organization. All it requires is a detailed method of procedure faithfully or regularly followed: therefore household chores can become a morning ritual. This state or condition is characterized by the presence of this established procedure or routine; actions associated with or performed according to a rite or ritual, and/or being part of an established routine:  for example, a ritual glass of milk before bed.

What I observed in the Abramovic documentary is that she begins to clear her mind long before the event of her performance as well as physically preparing her body. She begins establishing the ritual before the performance so that the instant she is inserts herself into the “art space” the world falls away and she becomes the artist. An observation many of her friends and associates make in the documentary is that Marina is always performing, she does not stop, in other words one cannot tell where her life begins and her performance ends. To me that is not odd, true artists’ lives are part of their art and vice versa, they are indistinguishable, one and the same. It is the same for me.

In truth my ritual began 4 months ago, back in Los Angeles, in the aftermath of my ruin and destruction by one I loved the most (see past posts). When your live has spun disastrously out of control instinctively you search for things in it you can control and you focus on those things. For me it was a regime of tough exercise, and yes, it was a ritual. It is a ritual which I have maintained and further entrenched, and in fact, expanded on within my life back in South Africa. Three weeks prior to my opening night I added fasting to my ritual of exercise, this in an effort to purify my body and clear my mind. By fasting I do not mean starving, people often associate the two, and this is not the purpose of fasting.

Although fasting can and does consist of abstaining from food, drink, sleep or sex to focus on a period of spiritual growth, specifically, one denies something of the flesh to glorify God, enhance our spirit, and go deeper in our spiritual life. Certain civilizations fasted before they made important decisions or if they sought enlightenment (Native Americans for one). Fasting and prayer are often linked together as is evident in all the major religions. However, too often, the focus of fasting is on the lack of food. In fact, the purpose of fasting is to take our eyes off the things of this world and instead focus on God or our inner beings or the Creative force “out there”, Nature, if you will. What I resolved to do was cut out things toxic: alcohol, fried foods, sweets, salty snacks, bread etc. Truthfully this was not much of a change in my normal diet, just a little more severe. As I have mentioned I am a vegetarian and have been since I was 21, and that in effect is a form of fasting.

As a young boy I was always dealing with moral conflict within myself regarding consuming meat. Being a fanatical animal lover this went totally against what I believed was right. But I grew up in a society where it was considered manly and healthy to consume huge amounts of flesh, daily, at every meal! Top of the food chain mentality and all that! As I grew older I took more and more control of my diet, steering away from the consumption of meat. Two events occurred, however, which finally strengthened my resolve: one, I saw cattle being slaughtered, and two, a band called The Smiths released a song called, Meat is Murder. OK, first, the cattle slaughtering- thing: It was during my first year Varsity at Edgewood College and we went on a history excursion up to Zululand to visit all the battle sites of the British, Boer and Zulu wars. We stopped off at the historical site of King Shaka’s kraal (compound) where it just so happened they were expecting the visit of the incumbent king and were slaughtering cattle. Horrible, horrible, horrible, those poor, poor creatures. I couldn’t eat meat after that. This event and the resultant resolve was reinforced by hearing the song by The Smiths. It opens with the buzzing of slaughterhouse saws and the pitiful lowing of cattle and is followed by the most powerful of lyrics, in my opinion it is a powerful, meaningful, classic song; a rarity in these modern times. You cannot listen to it without it touching you, affecting you.

Meat is Murder

 

 

 

 

 

Meat Is Murder

Heifer whines could be human cries
closer comes the screaming knife
this beautiful creature must die
this beautiful creature must die
a death for no reason
and death for no reason is MURDER
and the flesh you so fancifully fry
is not succulent, tasty or nice
it is death for no reason
and death for no reason is MURDER
and the calf that you carve with a smile
is MURDER
and the turkey you festively slice
is MURDER
do you know how animals die?
kitchen aromas aren’t very homely
it’s not “comforting”, “cheery” or “kind”
it’s sizzling blood and the unholy stench
of MURDER
it’s not “natural”, “normal” or kind
the flesh you so fancifully fry
the meat in your mouth
as you savour the flavour
of MURDER
NO, NO, NO, IT’S MURDER
NO, NO, NO, IT’S MURDER
who hears when animals cry?

vinyl record

 

 

Twenty-plus years on, and I am still not a flesh eater, and that takes some doing in our society, I am proud to say! I recommend it as a life choice; it will change you in the most profound ways. The world is a bad place filled with bad people and it is easy to become despondent and feel helpless. This is one way you can make a difference. It is far easier then you think, it just takes discipline, the change of your mindset and substitution of one ritual with another: the sacrifice is now yours not some poor animals.