625 6th Ave, New York, NY 10011

I heard you knocking from a great distance, in my resin coated barrier pushed against the world, beached in a darkness of my own making. The sadness formed an armor of mucus which allowed me to stay inside, to keep shrinking, hollowing myself out, scooping myself out the way I scoop out jelloid face masks for others to sample. The cash register rings and another customer walks in, and still nothing registers, all the tears crystallized in an orb hung delicately between my breasts, spun from shattered shards. Still, you kept knocking and the me that lives in me, guardian of the orb saw a bright green light. I can’t look away, magnetized by the fierceness and puzzlement in this light, caught in a web of its subtle changes. A simpler way of putting this would be that when I met you for the first time, you were looking into the distance, and I realized I wanted to be there, where you were looking.

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Being good

I think I’m getting to a kind of understanding with the you I have in my mind. There are lilacs on a wall and I can’t tell if they are real or netted fabric or if anything is real or just netted fabric and I stroke them a few times and try to feel the grids that fasten the earth together. I am my most me when I am curious in this way and alone, and I wonder if what you needed was just the ability to see something like lilacs on a wall and to be interested in it enough for the roar of the rest of the world to quiet down. But you are too permeable, the world and its desires passing through you, you aren’t a consumer, just consumed and it ravaged you to not have a center. Your changing shapes directed themselves at me but I can only see the netted grids of lilacs and that can help me, but it won’t help you the way you wanted, and anyway, you’re just an entitled male who is incapable of seeing how your obsession with being a good person is keeping you the worst, so self-interested in your goal to lack self-interest. We are all pawns for your performance of empathy in which you confuse being good for being better than being yourself.

Gabriel Kahane: 1890 Book of Travelers, thoughts

Two nights ago, I saw one of the most beautiful and thoughtful performances I have seen in a long time and I wanted to write about the experience and how it spoke to me as a musician and human existing in this time of political and societal unrest.

The story goes (from the BAM website): The morning after the 2016 presidential election, singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane packed a suitcase and set out for a two-week train trip across the US with no phone or internet, embracing 8,980 miles of a reclusive Amtrak existence.”

 (Kahane also wrote a beautiful article for the nytimes about the experience of writing this album which I recommend- certainly more than reading the rest of my post! You can find it- https://nyti.ms/2ieFCOL)
This album is perhaps one of my favorites in the recent trend of reinterpreting what albums can be. It is to music what Sarah Silverman’s I Love You America is to comedy in its attempt to start a personal dialogue with those we consider other. It is an ode to slowness and the experience of time as necessity for deeper enjoyment and understanding of music, landscapes, and people. There is almost nothing more like any music album and its many tangents than the equally fluid wandering of transitioning landscapes on a train. As a culture, we have begun to lose a sensitivity to the unfamiliar, both in thought and in place. With this album, Kahane continues his work in breaking apart the compartmentalizations of “genre”… the ones that hold classical music and other kinds of music apart from each other. It is only fitting that he uses his unique melding if genres to also break apart ideas, expectations, and limitations (his and ours.) And while different traditions and kinds of music speak to each other in his compositions and songwriting, so do different cultures and people in this particular project.

I think if I could have done something similarly after the election, I would have. But I know my desire would have been for escape- Kahane and I would have the same actions, but towards very different ends. He had dozens of conversations with people of vastly differing backgrounds and beliefs from his own. He became homeless for a couple weeks to find the greater shared American home. This was a project about rejuvenating our ability as a society to communicate; a project about connection, the kind deeper than our media allow us to have. I still haven’t recovered from this election in many ways- I check my Facebook at a maximum of one time a day, usually just logging on to post a haiku, afraid of what I’ll see, what I’ll believe. Afraid of the further polarization of our world, and the subsequent diminishing of understanding between disagreeing parties. There are many inspiring, wonderful, and hilarious things on the internet to be sure, but since the election, there has also been the constant unearthing of apathy and negligence for truth, lack of desire to understand, quick and often misdirected anger, and a troubling virtuous stench from both sides. Instead, I spend most of my time with things I don’t understand- be it reading books I deem too difficult for my understanding, or listening to music which has no prescribed way of listening. Classical music, with it’s (often) lack of words and thus, openness to interpretation is at least one certain antidote to the binary thinking Kahane tries to eschew with his project of meeting and listening to people from other cultures and societies. What better than the slowness of a train and the slowness of really getting to know someone to express the slowness of music which has been described as time unfolding? Because certain things depend on you to an extent- you can read faster or walk faster, but to enter an experience of music, and any kind of public transportation, is to surrender your control of, arguably the most important thing we have in this life… time.  

Not to say this album is all wonderful connective tissue for the broken belief sys-limbs of Americans solely in a warm and fuzzy way. There is also much sadness and frustration about what it means to be an American now and in the context of history. One song in particular, “William Eggleston’s Sky” which used electronic loops and voice distortion started quirky, became beautiful, hilarious, and subsequently terrifying. Lights were slowly turning on throughout the song and by the end, the audience was suffused in a mass of different colored lights, lit up together. It was simple, but effective staging… I was, by the end overwhelmed by the music and the slowness of the attention of the lights. I found myself crying and felt so connected to my fellow citizens in the audience- all of us in this shared numinous experience. MASSMoCA wrote that this album is “A meditation on the beautiful terror of getting lost in an unfamiliar landscape” I would disagree and say it’s almost the opposite- a meditation on the beautiful terror of finding yourself and the others who are with you and creating a community in an unfamiliar and fractured societal and political landscape. In this way, it was almost a spiritual experience. The album has reinterpreted hymns with simple, devastating, and often very unexpected harmonies, infusing the experience with a deep spiritual and secular love for our shared humanity.

Kahane created a shrine to one of the most quintessentially American things, the train being a spine that historically shaped our country as much as it helped us navigate it. Nostalgia has been under fire for being one of the reasons we are in our current predicament, with phrases such as “Make America Great Again” at the center of that accusation. Kahane radically redeems nostalgia by using arguably the most nostalgic elements of American to show us the real greatness of America- this album is a survey and map of the American people as they exist now, in all their beautiful contradictions, complexity, and inability to be reduced.

I’m always looking for how art and public discourse can intersect better. Seeing this performance convinced me more than ever that Arts’ place is with the people. It is the job of the artist to meet people where they are and to talk about the things that are happening in the world, affecting everyone a massive scale. And as I cried and laughed and traveled everything in between, I realized that what I most value in Art is the balance between irreverence and sincerity. My favorite artists tend to be the ones who are their own biggest skeptics, be it Franzen finding his way in China as a way out of his prejudice, or Kahane finding his way in nostalgia as a way out of desperation. What I really learned is-

real musicians listen,
Ling Ling

#brooklynacademyofmusic #gabrielkahane #bookoftravelers #MASSMoCA

concentric paths

I make my way in the lacquered night, under a sky of raw denim bejeweled by some teenage girl-god with too many braces and too few friends. The tree trunks do back bends, stretching their long boughs toward the earth, tired of their daily efforts to reach upward. My shoelaces slap happily, untied, on the shining pavement, wet with the tears of some giant happiness. The street lamps abruptly turn way from me with their yellow fever light and the mosquitoes continue their frenzied dives against the glass, music in the rhythm of their repeated hollow clinks. Children howl from their wombs, growing only fingernails to scratch a way out and your eyes are clouded over because you’ve been crying. I can’t understand your expression, can only understand the steadiness and necessity in my two feet moving forward. I have made my way to the narrows now, and I don’t know if they will open up. The air has begun to get shallow and the walls are damp, moldering with earth. The upturned cuffs of my jeans fill with silt and soil lines my auricula. My coat becomes heavy as the mud seeps into the pockets, nesting, belching. I listen to my breath as it gets labored, calmly register my heart’s panic. I crouch to keep going, my knuckles grazing the ground in it’s earthiness, stickiness, and sweetness. What I mean to say is; there is a path I have been walking for quite some time now, whistling, yelping, singing low and off-key. Full of rotted peach fruit and aborted stones, lavish with fungi and the eaten lace of decaying leaves. I reach the end and I keep walking, the fine skin on my forehead grating on the limestone, slowly rubbing my limbs raw on that giant rock, my body a fine paste, pestle to the earth’s mortar.

Have you heard

the one about the man who climbed a thousand fathoms down the rabbit hole,  who trapped and released outside the house a hundred dragons just to get to the girl who lay there in an elaborate coffin pretending wakefulness? He pulled at her heartstrings and she giggled and appreciated all the same art and liked all the same coffee places, but her heart kept spilling out cotton in great wads, stuffed with old receipts and other miscellany- nothing of substance. He traversed all the Ntrails within her, leaping from one slippery blood cell to another looking for some surface or substance to hang his haberdashery on. Peeking through her femur, rummaging through the large intestine, circumnavigating her big toe. As he crept through the thickets of her body hair, stopping to rest in the webbed hammock space between her thumb and pointer finger, he shivered and realized everything was freezing, already frozen over. Underneath her on-trend oversized sweater, a thousand sweaters deep, was an ice block he would have to chip and chip. The princess is in another castle, of her own making, a web woven over and hardened into resin, a safe cocoon coffin cocoon. There is only room for one, and anyway, we only destroy what isn’t ours to love.

LA2

City of angels and collapsible steeples with ghosts folded in the laundromat on every corner, drunks stirring in the streets with a look of vague contrition, their faces so used to the arrangement of some sweet apology they’re too numb or sleepy to remember.
Strangers become friends become lovers without ever having stopped being strangers.
Billboards are as high as steeples and it is difficult to know which to worship. Don’t mistake loneliness as emptiness, the void is not outside, waiting to be filled like a new plot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame- it is inside waiting to be punctured.
The overdrawn eyebrows, fake moles, and real tans gleaming in all directions like false gods make your heart wobble and dive, skip a beat, 1-2-2-check, and you do a little dance to the snare of his cutting up coke on the board, watching his eyes roll into the back of his head as his shopping cart rolls backward down the street, creaking.
City of angels, of ghosts, learn not to be afraid of the unfamiliar. The familiar is what is scary, the familiar is compulsion, is the need to overdraw brows and lips everyday, the need to conceal the same purple hues patterns on the body, the need to keep shoveling small amounts of diamond dust into the nostrils.
I walk the streets and see perpetual thirst, the plants and people grow quietly deranged with thirst, consumed by deficiency. I walk the streets and see a city of Angels, stripping their wings, peeling off goose flesh and plucking feather by feather, the feelings of unworthiness caused by this star-searching city resulting in an epidemic of inflated breasts, augmented dreams, and deflated souls
And I just remembered overhearing that girl in the restaurant who folded her napkin over her folded legs, pushing back her straight black hair, her chopsticks poised over a piece of teriyaki salmon with the precision of Krasznahorkai’s crane-

She said, “all these years I thought I loved sushi but I love soy sauce”

LA VS NY

I guess it depends
if you want to be lonely
alone or
with many others
squeezed so tight in this
fist of a city
spread out so far in this barren
womb of a city
in this place where children come
to be adults,
adults, children
restless from pure
mushroom pumped into veins
the color of a smog-dusted areola
the palm trees here
made of steel, blooming
into rooftop gardens
the buildings here hollow
memorials to other lives
lived onscreen
how are bodies shaped
by their cities
what cramped haggard
structures erected where
there is no room
what augmentations, swells
from too much room
either is a growth with disfigurement
and both are so rich
in poverty, in sexiness
in loneliness
which presses in on all sides
in the form of people
or lack of people
rubbing up against you
on the 1
or so far away your voice
dissipates in the distance
it takes to carry yourself to them