Thursday, January 29, 2004

just because i'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me

last night i took doc40 to the skirball cultural center to see the press preview of an exhibit, "arnold mesches: fbi files." my main selfish motivation was that i wanted him to write about it, and, as he doesn't drive, i had to play chauffeur. (but i refuse to wear the hat, or let him sit in the back.) anyway, i am glad i went. the exhibition included works that mesches, a painter and professor, created using the pages of his fbi files, which he obtained, uh, not too long ago, under the freedom of information act. he was under surveillance from the late '40s through 1972, as he was a communist and pro-civil rights and anti-A-bomb, and against the vietnam war, etc. etc. you know, all the things that make an american unpatriotic and a potential enemy of the state.

he received more than 800 pages of documents, often with most of the info blacked out, but it compelled him to create painting/collages around various individual pages, using them as a focal point to reflect different flashpoints of those times, and the cultural contexts. the artist was there, and he spoke, and of the many things i found impressive about him, a really big one was, when someone asked him if he was angry with the people who had informed on him (who included students, models, friends, lovers...), he said it was a long time ago, and it didn't matter anymore. what was important to him was to remind people that this had happened, and it could happen again, and probably is happening right now. and also, aesthetically, he seemed to really like the way the pages of documents looked with all the heavy black lines and patches of black blocking out the words. and so he wanted to create art that reflected that or played off the beauty of the blacked-out pages. which i found somewhat puzzling, b/c the pages didn't look beautiful to me, but the art did.

i was really kind of touched by the old guy. i found his casual attitude of forgiveness to be somewhat awe-inspiring. there are people who have committed much lesser sins against me who i can't imagine forgiving. it is a little difficult to fathom having revelations, 30-50 years down the line, that certain friends or coworkers were narcing on me the whole time. i started thinking that maybe there was something personal in his motivation for making something out of those pages: exorcising the demons of betrayal. not just by putting them in the context of those times, with all the little paintings and detailed bits of things that he conjured up as being relevant to whatever his vision was for any given piece (they are all just titled "fbi files" and then have a number after them), but also, perhaps .... hmmm, how do i say? because the names of the informers are blacked out, no one looking at the documents could know who they were. except, doubtlessly, arnold mesches, and, of course, the people who informed. so, maybe, in an elliptical way, making art out of those pages was a subtle kind of j'accuse: i know who you-the-informer are, and, if you are looking at this painting, so do you.

a show of hands

later that same night i jetted off to the troubadour with agent 00soul to see a band called coheed and cambria. someone had described it to me as "emo-prog," which sounded like meaningless moniker-slinging until this quartet from upstate new york started playing. then it was like, "yeah. emo-prog!"

the place was teeming with young people, most not even old enough to drink. when we walked up to the door to give our tickets to the doorman (who is cool and always gives us passes to the loft, which we accept but never use), i heard some snot-nosed fucker who i am sure thought he was being huh-larious yelp, "look, it's keith richards of the rolling stones!" obviously referring to 00soul, whom people often say looks like this iconic guy or other -- something he hates a lot. (the list of comparisons includes: mick jagger, harrison ford, keith, paul westerberg, david johansen and/or buster poindexter, and more.) "or," continued the little fucker, "maybe rod stewart!" (which i think is a new one.) much snickering ensued, but funniest of all, i found out later, was that the agent didn't even hear what was said. heh.

anyway. coheed and cambria. it sounded like rush meets metallica, fugazi, and system of a down. which isn't as horrible as it sounds, although it was by no means wonderful. but it was actually fairly hilarious and fun, in a weird way. partly i just couldn't get over how all these youngsters were geek-rocking out to music that was a big thing when i was in high school. the show was sold out, and not in a major-label-papers-the-house kind of way -- these kids had all actually purchased tickets. (the band is on an indie label, anyway.) the mob up front was bouncing up and down and waving their arms with index fingers pointing skyward -- not sure what that's about, but i've seen it a lot lately. then in back, equally enamored, was hoodie nation, all the introverts standing with arms crossed, enraptured. a good pretty equal mix of boys and girls -- the first crowd-surfer was a chick, and she made it all the way to the stage before being promptly escorted back into the audience. everybody was singing along to all the songs, and that might have been the weirdest thing of all.

especially after i got home and read up on them, and realized that both of their long-players are concept albums that lay out the doomy sci-fi saga of two fictional characters (named, naturally, coheed and cambria), who are a married couple in some sorta fantastical situation. they apparently die in the first record, but then their son contines their quest, or adventure, or whatev. it's all played out on a churning musical landscape of 21st-century prog-rock/pop. and the kids ate it up. well, i suppose the venting of angst needs no justification, regardless of how high-concept that angst might be -- and this stuff was plenty angsty. unfortunately, the singer had a high voice like the singer of rush, and a declamatory delivery that flattened out the drama, although his vocals were emotive.

the hour-plus set was tight but expansive, full of complex minor-key riffs, pounding drumbeats, and those echoey vocals. playing to the old-time fans in the audience, they did a lot of stuff from their debut album, 2002's "the second stage turbine blade," and then the singer said, "now we're gonna play some stuff from the new album ["in keeping the secrets of silent earth: 3"] -- sorry!" which i thought was hilarious.

that lead singer had the biggest, most mushroom-headed afro i have ever seen. he was obviously really proud of it, as it was well taken care of. it reminded me of a lion's mane, all regal and fluffy. heh. and he had a pierced lipful of rings, i think maybe two on each side? anyway, despite some lighter pop moments that 00soul said were cure-esque, it all became a bit tedious by the end. but at least it didn't last three hours, like the rush show i saw a bunch of years ago.

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