Seeing Clearly

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Ocean, 1975 Vija Celmins / drypoint on paper

What we call seeing a thing clearly, is only seeing enough of it to make out what it is; this point of intelligibility varying in distance for different magnitudes and kinds of things, while the appointed quality of mystery remains nearly the same for all. Thus: throwing an open book and an embroidered handkerchief on a lawn, at a distance of a half a mile, we cannot tell which is which: that is the point of mystery for the whole of those things. They are merely white spots of indistinct shape. We approach them, and perceive that one is a book, the other a handkerchief but cannot read the one or trace the embroidery of the other. The mystery has ceased to be in the whole things, and has gone into their details. We go nearer; and can now read the text and trace the embroidery, but cannot see the fibers of the paper or the tread. The mystery has gone into a fourth place, where it must stay until we take a microscope, which will send it into a fifty, sixth, hundredth or thousandth place. —John Ruskin on the picturesque sublime

Juxtaposition by Dave Hickey25 Women: ESSAYS ON THEIR ART, 2016 / Univ. of Chicago Press

Love Hulten

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When I look at these absolutely breathtaking handmade made-to-order objects by Swedish fabircator Love Hulten, I covet.

In fact I covet three ways. At first I covet crassly, wishing I could afford these hand turned masterpieces. Then a little more thoughtfully, I covet the skills & craft to build these kinds of things myself. Then, finally, I covet philosophically, wishing that this was a genuine commercial aesthetic — that as we chase the geewhiz we’d take the texture and soul of what worked before and roll it in as we roll foward. We’ve left so many beautiful things behind.

Specimen

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A fine specimen of Trashius Romanticus Novelus, circa 1977, excavated at the Goodwill on Rt. 73 in Maple Shade, New Jersey.

Regency

Shepelavy_ballston_1Regency / Digital /
Coxsackie Antique Center, Rt, 9, Coxsackie, New York

Blackstar

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So, Bowies’ Blackstar arrived, finally — ordered while Bowie was earthbound, listened to when he wasn’t. Let me see if I can get this exactly right — it’s the first & last classic Bowie record since Let’s Dance.

Bowie played rock like Duchamp-ian chess. Each classic Bowie album occupied & held a square on the board. The records are “about” the move, so they work as self contained experiences — they point inward, ultimately.

This is why the whole “best album since Scary Monsters” critical framing misunderstands Bowie. Although he released some great salvos since Let’s Dance, they didn’t represent moves to a new square. Sometimes, like Earthling, he deftly rode a cultural or aesthetic wave, othertimes like Heathen or even The Next Day they were grand & vital reprises of old glories.

Blackstar is, before it is anything, a bracingly new statement. The avante-jazz hybrid he’s synthesized here is — once again, like all classic Bowie — an occupying move. The album refers, thrillingly, only to itself. There’s a new sound & vision here — skronky, sinewy, dubby… What a triumph!

Honestly, I was wary of listening, & crabby that I hadn’t the opportunity to hear it at at least once as the work of a living artist. I shouldn’t have fretted. Rather than a melancholy encomium, a stately funeral parade, it was the best & most unexpected gift of all — The last classic Bowie album: Space Oddity, Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, Station to Station, Low, Heroes, Scary Monsters, Let’s Dance, Blackstar.

Turn and face the strange

English singer, musician and actor David Bowie, 1974. (Photo by Terry O'Neill/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

There’s a reason when the news hits that so many of us instinctively reach out and gather our memories of first hearing ChangesOneBowie / Because that wasn’t a record, it was a door. A magic door. Here’s how it was magic. Because if you knocked on it, it opened easily, and you could go in and just boogie. But. But. If you pushed on it just right, if you were bent, just so, you tumbled through — and you never stopped falling. And as you fell, year after year, your freak flag just kept unfurling. And as you fell & flew you wondered — when do I get to the bottom? And there is no bottom. It’s just Bowie all the way down. Today every freak flag flies at half mast. Goodbye David Bowie.

Outwit Grand Moff Tarkin — Again!

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My last flareup of Star Wars fever — These illustrations were featured on the playing cards included with Escape from Death Star board game. Playing it again out of sheer nostalgia confirmed my vague memory of the game itself as pretty janky. I was struck, however, by these quick, scratchy, pen & ink sketches of iconic scenes from the movie. More than anything they reminded me of Jim Holdaway’s classic Modesty Blaise newspaper strip that ran throughout the 1960s. In any case, just hanging this small bit of ephemera here on the Internet in case anybody needs it.

Also while we’re the closing subject I’ll leave you with the smartest pop cultural assessment I’ve read of the new flick, the essence of the original, the folly of the prequels (of which I’m finally mostly persuaded, although I’m still with Kevin Smith on Sith) — Our Star Wars Holiday Special by Aaron Bady in The New Iquiry:

[The prequels] were marred by horrific writing and joyless characters, of course, but those superficial failings pale in comparison (or resulted from) the more fundamental underlying problem: they tried so hard to explain that they killed the joy of the thing itself… How did Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader? How did the republic fall? Where did the emperor come from? How did Luke and Leia end up separated, who is Obi Wan Kenobi, and where are all the mothers in this universe? These are not plot holes; these are the dark matter that holds the galaxy together… Instead of placing their faith in the force—the way an open-mouthed child lets the storyteller carry them off—the prequels tried to explain what the force really was and worked so hard at it that they made the entire thing tedious and boring. They turned their targeting computer back on.

It also has perceptive & compact assessments of Star Trek vs Star Wars and why JJ Abrams’ approach arguably disfigured the former while revitalizing the latter (again persuasive personally, but my imaginative stake in Trek is much looser so I think the reboots are mostly a gas) With this, then — nerd. Out.

For Your Pleasure 2015

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Live, before every song John Lydon gargles a mouthful of Bushmills then flamboyantly spits it into a large black trashcan. Male Gaze skronks out of the gate like Flipper doing disco. “Disco Flipper” is a pick-to-click shortcut for a win ’round here. Well played, gents. 45rpm LP, 28 minutes total. Brian Eno said his earliest musical inspration came from hearing the Supremes & Ronettes records broadcasting from US Navy bases. I like to think those scratchy transmissions sounded like U.S. Girls. Welcome Back to Milk by Du Blonde began as a nervous breakdown, explodes like an estrogen fuled roman candle every time it’s played and is the best record of the year. So, then this Sparks/Franz Ferdinand record drops out of the sky like some glamtastic piñata. Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks. Dream Lover, I know — Oh shit, here comes the sun. A tame impala is medium-sized African antelope. They are diurnal, most active shortly after dawn & before dusk. They use various kinds of unique visual, olfactory and auditory communication, most notably laying scent-trails and giving loud roars. Did you miss the announcement that Helen Marnie of Ladytron self-released a solo album 2 years ago. Me too. She did. It’s aces. Sugar & spice & everything. The emergence – at last – of a new Chills record should be cause for celebration throughout the galaxy. Girls Names win this year’s Martin Hannett Pennant for Reconstituted Post Punk. It’s like french onion soup with me, this stuff — I have barely any critical distance & each spoonful is fucking delicious. Aparrtly the 16 yer old goth girl is still using my noggin as a hostel given my besotted affection for this years darkwave discovery Xmal Deutschland. Recommended to those who think Siouxie sounds better in the original German. I haven’t sown a rock patch onto a jean jacket in over 30 years. 20 small impalements later — Christian Mistress. Hella! Zombi? Zombi.

14 songs, total time 53 minutes. As ever, download the mix here

George & the Dragon

George & the Dragon
John Burnside

This killing will never stop.
      It’s not enough
to slay the beast, he has to make it clear
how calm his loathing is, how utterly devoid
of fellow feeling;

and though she is present,
the woman is incidental;
whatever he hoped in the past, he’s not here, now,
for the wet of her mouth on his skin, or his curdled hands

tangling in the spilt folds
of her gown.
It isn’t love he lacks. It’s narrative.
The gown is red, which symbolises

otherworldly grace, or else
protection from the witchery of blood
– it’s hard to say
what ritual this is. All we can know

for sure is that too much is being
sacrificed, the dragon with its throat
transpierced, a sign
left over from the damp, pre-Christian world,

led from the cave on its chain (the woman holds it
lightly in her hand) to be destroyed
for no good reason, given that it’s tame
and captive now.

Perhaps it’s just too green
or too expressive, set against this knight
whose mind is elsewhere, blank as ordinance
and formal, like the host, or like

this seeming bride-to-be, whose only love
is senseless agape.
No guessing what lightens their days; no guessing
how quietly each soul upholds its grey

dominion, at the near edge of a marsh
that runs into the dark
forever, gulls
and egrets flickering across

its waterlands, a salt wind in the grass
so like a voice, the body longs
to follow;
      but they never leave this spot
where flesh is conquered, time and time again,

the lance fixed in the dragon’s
larynx, old blood
cooling in the sand, like candlewax,
the cave a myth, the storm, mere ornament

the new god in the throne room
of high heaven,
observing our trespasses, judging us,
keeping us pure.

.

Portraits by Don Bachardy

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A selection of exquisite portraits by Don Bachardy — the longtime partner of author Christopher Isherwood. He’s often featured in appraisals of of Isherwood as a somewhat benighted boy toy, more made of their age difference & his feathered California handsomeness than his formidable gifts & sensitivities as a portrait artist. I came to find this work in the context of an an article that made a passing mention of a Bachardy portrait of Terry Garr. As my fasination with Garr runs deep, down the well I dove, looking for the portrait. I found it among the rest of these delightfully rendered portraits. Enjoy. Great interview with Bachardy, now 80, here. A another, along with a review of the compendium of these portraits, Hollywood, here.

(above Natalie Wood, Marlene Dietrich, Michael York, Angela Lansbury, Jane Fonda, artists Vija Clemins, Ed Ruscha, Richard Diebenkorn, her awesomeness Terri Garr)

Lives of Others

MoranbongMembers of the State Merited Chorus and the Moranbong Band from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea arrive at a railway station in Beijing. More thoughts on the unsettling ratio of beauty & the dead weight of the state in an earlier post, here, regarding photographs of North Korea by documentary photographer Tomas Van Houtryve. Photo by Jin Liangkuai / CORBIS

Public Image Ltd. by Muriel Spark

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Public Image Ltd. & Muriel Spark?! Cue that silent head exploding poof gesture to express the moment your head explodes at an improbable convergences like Public Image Ltd. & Muriel Spark. Found rabbit-holing at Fodderstompf, the complete online PiL chronology,

New Musical Express, July 22nd 1978: John Lydon officially announces to the press that the new group will be called ‘Public Image’ (Limited will follow). He also announces that they will manage themselves, and that they have signed an eight album deal with Virgin Records; no doubt influenced by the support Lydon was receiving from Virgin in his legal battle. The name ‘Public Image’ was inspired from the title of a 1968 Muriel Spark novel.

John later commented in Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, “I got the name Public Image from a book by that Scottish woman, Muriel Spark, who wrote ‘Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’. When I was in Italy, somebody introduced her writings to me. I checked out some of her other books when I got home. One of them was called ‘The Public Image’. It was all about this actress who was unbearably egotistical. I though, Ha! The Public Image. Limited. Not as a company, but to be limited – not being as ‘out there’ as I was with the Sex Pistols.”

Dalek, I Love You Too

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Another lesser known Hipgnosis design that I happened upon when researching the Bad Company Desolation Angeles cover a few posts below. The search begins…

Hello. Hello.

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Shepelavy.com — Part IV, if I might be metal-grand & prog-rock-y about it. Untie the latch, part the canvas, pop your head out from the tent, let’s fire up the old transmitter. Is this thing on? Can you hear me now…

In 2009 I pitched camp on this modest little lagoon online. What began as a portfolio with occasional annotations tumbled into pretty steady blogging for a fat 3 years or so. More & more, however, severe advertising gales would knock out the transmitter for weeks on end. Sundry commitments were pressing. The blog contracted a virulent SQL database corruption. After a few stalled re-ignitions, things round here finally sputtered into silence around the winter of 2014.

Then Spring came, like it does, being Spring. I missed tapping these signals out into the ether, tending & fussing over my little plot of enthusiasms…So, I dusted off the redesign, gathered passels of uncollected old & new work. The code spooled out over the summer & fall.

& this so current salvo of transmissions begins… from this tiny lagoon on the clotted coastline of the interwebs, that I share with beached beatniks, old salts, venerable preps, society matrons, homespun cuties, movie stars & scientists… an endless three-hour cruise. Come aboard —

 Welcome back.

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