MIXTAPES

Sadly Chris Cornell (1964–2017), musician, singer, and songwriter, and member of Soundgarden and Audioslave died on 17 May. It was by his own hand: suicide by hanging.  The Grammy-winning rocker had performed that Wednesday night at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. Perhaps indicative of his state of mind, he ended his performance with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s In My Time of Dying. His family “believes that if Chris took his life, he did not know what he was doing, and that drugs or other substances may have affected his actions”.

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The manner of his passing reminded me of just how unbearable being can be.  Cornell literally walked off stage and out of an auditorium full of adoring fans, went to his hotel room, spoke to his wife on the phone, and then killed himself.  Five days later some cowardly religious fundamentalist extremist idiot walked into the Manchester Arena at the end of a Ariana Grande concert and blew himself up, killing 22 and injuring 59. Amongst the dead were many children, including eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos, who was at the concert with her mother and sister. It takes a really special kind of crazy…or evil, to target a tweens and teens concert like that!

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I guess we are all trying to do our best suppress or destroy something within us, be it with drugs and alcohol, religion, or by living shallow, superficial lives of self-involved consumerism. Or perhaps desperately trying to make sense of our existence or to give it all some meaning.

Here’s a kicker, Mr Bill Gates believes the world is a better place than it used to be, and apparently he is not alone! WTF?!!! I quote from a speech he gave at a graduation:

If I could give each of you a graduation present, it would be a copy of The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker. After several years of studying, you may not exactly be itching to read a 700-page book. But please put this one on your reading list to get to someday. It is the most inspiring book I have ever read.

Pinker makes a persuasive argument that the world is getting better—that we are living in the most peaceful time in human history. This can be a hard case to make, especially now. When you tell people the world is improving, they often look at you like you’re either naïve or crazy.

But it’s true. And once you understand it, you start to see the world differently. If you think things are getting better, then you want to know what’s working, so you can accelerate the progress and spread it to more people and places.

It doesn’t mean you ignore the serious problems we face. It just means you believe they can be solved, and you’re moved to act on that belief.

This is the core of my worldview. It sustains me in tough times and is the reason I still love my philanthropic work after more than 17 years. I think it can do the same for you.

The key words he uses here for me are human history.  Perhaps for humans the world is a better place (I don’t agree about that either) than it used to be, but it is certainly not for the planet and its animals…and certainly not for Saffie Rose Roussos.

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Stephen Hawking reckons humanity has about 1000 years left on this planet before extinction. I am a little less optimistic, I reckon we will all be gone long before then. Unfortunately we will probably be taking everything along with us.

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Anyway,  so mix tapes (or mixtapes): well, they kind of help life be a little less crappier, if only by removing you from it for a little while. I got to make one recently for a fellow lecturer at a recent university art programme workshop I facilitated.  It got me thinking about mixtapes and the ones I have made throughout my life…the girls I made them for, and the road trips I made them for, and the parties I made them for!

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These days I generally only make them for my IPOD to run or exercise too. I have to admit though, that those same running mixtapes have saved me when sitting for hours in airports or on planes or during the ubiquitous powercuts we suffer where I live. The technology might have changed drastically but the ethos of the mixtape remains unaltered. It’s something you only really get or understand while listening to it alone in your bedroom (or car), the thought that someone took the time to make a mixtape just for you, and, importantly, it rocked! Or vice versa, when you have carefully compiled music that you love and the person you made it for loves it too! The mixtape then becomes a soundtrack to your whole relationship.

OK, and here is the scenic route bit that is characteristic of my storytelling: on one of my mixtapes is Chris Cornell singing Audioslave’s Be Yourself:

 

Someone falls to pieces

Sleeping all alone

Someone kills the pain

Spinning in the silence

To finally drift away

Someone gets excited

In a chapel yard

And catches a bouquet

Another lays a dozen

White roses on a grave

 

Yeahhh…

 

And to be yourself is all that you can do

Heyyyy…

To be yourself is all that you can do

 

Someone finds salvation in everyone

Another only pain

Someone tries to hide himself

Down inside himself he prays

Someone swears his true love

Until the end of time

Another runs away

Separate or united

Healthy or insane

 

And to be yourself is all that you can do (all that you can do)

Yeahhh…

To be yourself is all that you can do (all that you can do)

To be yourself is all that you can do (all that you can do)

Heyyyy…

Be yourself is all that you can do

 

Even when you’ve paid enough

Been pulled apart or been held up

Every single memory of the good or bad

Faces of luck

Don’t lose any sleep tonight

I’m sure everything will end up alright

You may win or lose..

 

But to be yourself is all that you can do

Yeahhh…

To be yourself is all that you can do

 

Ohhhh…

To be yourself is all that you can do (all that you can do)

ohhhh…

To be yourself is all that you can do (all that you can do)

To be yourself is all that you can–

Be yourself is all that you can–

Be yourself is all that you can do

Get this song, its beautiful. It always finds its way onto my mixtapes as an anthem for individuality.

So, in the end, a mixtape is about sharing powerful words, poetry put to music, with someone special. It’s you whispering in someone else’s ears about the things you love…or hate. You sharing you with another person and if anything is going to change the world ever it will be doing things just like that.

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One of Six

In my previous post I spoke about one of my favourite movies of all time, Beetlejuice (1988). Another that I love is The Crow (1993).

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I mention this because I managed to get a copy of the movie on blu-ray recently and then watched it last weekend. This weekend I took the time to watch the extras on the disc, one of which was an interview with the lead actor, Brandon Lee. Lee died whilst making the movie which is kind of tragic and ironic and creepy all rolled up into one because the movie is about returning from the dead to set things right. This is also made all that more poignant because of the fact that Brandon was the late great Bruce Lee’s son. Bruce Lee was one of the few male role models I had as a teen and I would often spend hours in my bedroom training, trying to perfect Jeet Kune Do. Jeet Kune Do was Bruce Lee’s personal style of kung fu. In the Warner Brothers film, Enter the Dragon (1973), when Lee is asked, “What’s your style?”, he simply replies, “My style? .You can call it the art of fighting without fighting.”

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He often referred to it as “the art of expressing the human body”. Lee believed that martial art styles had become too rigid and unrealistic. He called martial art competitions of the day “dry land swimming”. He believed real combat was spontaneous, and a martial artist could not predict it, but only react to it. A good martial artist should “be like water”—move fluidly without hesitation. Bruce Lee died at the age of 32 from a brain aneurism. Lee had just completed making ,

Enter the Dragon, the most successful martial arts movie of all time.

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On March 31, 1993, 20 years later, Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee’s son, died of a gunshot wound during the filming of The Crow in an accident involving a prop gun. The Crow, like Enter the Dragon, was tremendously successful and became a cult movie. Like father like son.

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In the interview that I mentioned (Brandon) Lee is tremendously engaging, and really speaks so eloquently and passionately. He quotes a passage from Paul Bowles’ book, The Sheltering Sky, which I really love and that I want to share with you:

Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless…

It was a quote that was to appear on his wedding invitations and instead now appears on his tombstone. Take what you will from this, as you must from whatever life throws at you. And with that I return to my life and what is going on.

So my first week of six weeks of fasting is done and dusted! This in preparation for my performance piece, 40RTY. I have to admit it was a bit of a slog. I have cut out all processed foods and animal products. So no dairy (man, I miss CHEESE!), no meat (I don’t do meat anyway), no eggs, no soya even, as soya products are processed. That leaves me with raw vegetables and fruits and their juices. In the first three days I felt as if I had the flu which is quite normal as your body detox’s: headachey, tired, cranky. In addition I developed cold sores on the sides of my mouth. But by Friday I was feeling a little better if somewhat lightheaded. Lots of cravings also and cursing myself for putting me through all of this. I went for a run on the Saturday after work and really struggled, just no gas/energy. I am here to tell you that fasting sweat really reminds you that you are just an animated meat-shape. Then on Saturday night, like a switch clicking on,suddenly I was no longer tired, I was the opposite. This means that I have barely got any sleep since then because I am all of a sudden seriously hyper! That’s bad because I am normally like that anyway, so I am literally hyper-hyper! So now it is Monday and I have 34 days until my performance! In reality though the performance has already begun and it started the moment that I began fasting. The idea is that by doing this, when I walk into the gallery space and present my performance, my mind will already be so focused (40 days of fasting will achieve this) that I will seamlessly progress from one to the other (fasting to performance) with the exclusion of all else. I will be, quite literally, a work of art. In addition I have been working on my installation which is really coming along nicely. I am excited to see it in the gallery space. I imagine it will be quite something!

What I Have Been Reading

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The first duty of the novelist is to entertain. It is a moral duty. People who read your books are sick, sad, traveling, in the hospital waiting room while someone is dying. Books are written by the alone for the alone.

—           Donna Tartt

I open my latest post with this quote from the author of that wonderful book, The Secret History. I really love this quote, particularly this bit: books are written by the alone for the alone. Now most people would view the use of the word alone in a negative context, lonely, isolated, insular (suggestive of an island and separated from others). Not me, I discovered the relationship between loneliness and creative vitality a long time ago. Like that most gifted writer, Virginia Woolf, I have found that lonely silence is inseparable from creative impulse. Adrienne Rich agrees, claiming that “the impulse to create begins — often terribly and fearfully — in a tunnel of silence,”

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But I digress because my actual point was to wax lyrical about the joys of reading, not of being alone…although I kind of love both.

I believe that one of the most amazing gifts you can give anyone is to pass on the joy of reading, to teach them how to read purely for pleasure. I myself am a voracious reader and a huge bibliophile. Yes! I consume books, I luxuriate in them! And I am unashamedly old school about it. I want the physical, the tactile, the actual book, not some glowing kindle screen!

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In my apartment I have a library that I am really proud of. It contains mostly academic books now, focusing on art and art theory. This is due to the demands of my studies and lecturing duties.  But you can also find Tom Robbins Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas or Alice Sebold and her Lovely Bones amongst them. Carlos Ruiz Zafón and his Cemetery of Forgotten Books share shelves with Francesca Woodman’s ghostly portraits while Ana Mendieta and her Blood Works are pressed up against Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the DayI even still have my old copies of Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye and Goodbye Columbus from way back when I was a teenager. I love my books.  One of my greatest pleasures is to hang out in second bookstores on a rainy day. To be surrounded by shelves of old (and new) books is something I will never tire of. For me it is an almost-embryonic sensation, as if being embraced and enveloped by dear friends. I am at peace and yet simultaneously filled with anticipation and excitement at the thought of all the wonders that await to be discovered within the covers and on the pages.

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So what have I read recently and what am I reading now?

I generally have 3 or 4 books that I am reading at one time. As I am doing my Master’s at the moment and this requires a massive amount of research reading, so there will always be at least one book related to my research next to my bed. I have just completed The Rites of Men: Manhood, Politics, and the Culture of Sport by Varda Burstyn. In this fascinating book Burstyn analyzes how sport socializes boys into manhood by providing rituals of conquest and aggression. I played rugby from the age of 13 up until I was 36 so I really found it amazing to be able to relate my actual experiences to the theoretical thinking behind sports like rugby football. Kind of like how I felt when I began my journey as academic within the art world. Relating the thinking to the making is glorious.

 

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At the moment I am reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. I highly recommend reading this author’s work, especially The Remains of the Day. I have to sheepishly admit something though. I actually watched the movie based on the book first. To be honest the title left me cold and still does. It is a really lame title for such a beautiful piece of writing. Anyway, so I never read the book. But once I had watched the film-adaption I really just had to read it. It is a quite stunning movie and a very British . Ironically it is directed by an American though.

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Alex Garland, who wrote another one of my favourite books, The Beach, is friends with Ishiguro and wrote the screenplay for the movie. It stars Carey Mulligan (love her), Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley as friends Kathy, Tommy and Ruth who grow up together in a seemingly idyllic boarding school situated in the English countryside. The story, however, is set in an alternate history where cloning has become every day and is socially and morally accepted. I do not want to spoil the movie or the book for you so I will not reveal any more of the plot suffice to say that both are totally engrossing, thought-provoking and just beautiful. Both have a place on swany’s list of awesomeness!

 

 

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To end off I am going to reference my 2 previous posts which dealt with rape. A book that deals with the subject very honestly is Alice Sebold’s Lucky. It is an autobiographical account of her rape at the age of eighteen while at university. She describes what she was like before the rape and the aftermath of this harrowing, life-changing event. Her description of the actual rape is heartrending. It is a must-read.

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