Friday, May 26, 2006

beta negras

Afternoons in Madrid linger with me some five years on. My belly full of odd meat gelatins (or some pork curio from the Musee de Jambon with its walls of waxed pig legs) and that treacly pull-tab wine made effervescent and poppy with fizzy water, I would move my buzz over to the Prado and plunk myself down in front of the paintings of Francisco de Goya. (Not that it's the only thing there; aside from Hieronymus Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights" the Prado has a titillating amount of holy pictures depicting virgin teet milk squirting across otherwise normal biblical scenes). In the main collection are his most acceptable works (like "The Naked Maja" and "Third of May 1808"), rendered during his time as a favorite of the Spanish court, with sketches of bull fights and quotidian life in Spain, or else works gleaned on linoleum or lithograph. There is not yet a medium that Goya worked in that I did not find infused with humanity in every form, the flashes of beauty and brutality tucked masterfully into the actions of the everyday.

And yet nothing holds the gravity as the gallery that contains the entirety of his "penturas negras." Works rendered on the plaster walls of his 'Quinta del sordo' (Goya was deaf due to an illness) as the man neared the end of his mortal coil, I would sit in front of these untitled monstrosities for upwards of thirty minutes per panel, plunging into the void beneath the veneer of oil paint, suspended in equal parts awe, disgust, and terror at Goya's visions. Now an octogenarian, fed up and repulsed by the thin veil of society, he reveals the death that the social conspiracy always seeks to hide: faces cannot mask their skulls, landscapes are in fact purgatories and prisons, destruction of the other is the main impetus of man's life. Earlier on, Goya tempered such latent facts with buffoonery, but there's no time left for buffeting. The body is but another carcass to devour for dinner, man can only be a cannibal in the end. Chronos is hungry; it's either eat or be eaten, munchacho.

In these black paintings, Goya most readily ascends to his place as the father of modern art. Such unflinching depictions still resonate in the present. Embroiled in a fight with my best friend at the time, the paintings of fighting cats and the one of two men hacking each other apart with cudgels are disturbing and ever-relevant, an existential precursor to a Monty Python skit. These ghastly paintings are almost always tempered, edited outside of the walls though: the long wide painting of a witches' coven in almost every art book is cropped so as to leave out the immense black goat-headed idol that the huddled women orbit in devout worship, reproductions of a dog helpless in quicksand never quite captures the astounding texture of the amber backdrop.

I was wrong to think these the final looks at the beyond though, as a recent exhibit at the Fricke reveals what happened next with Goya. As Republicans took over the government, a bloody clearing out of liberals soon followed. Artists, thinkers, dissenters and opponents not butchered outright fled to France so as to avoid the bloodshed. Forced to leave 'quinta del sordo,' Goya settled in Bordeaux country, where he continued to document the darkness that swirls around the living.

The sketches here are rendered in layers of black crayon quickly and with a master's ability to shorten time with a few quick strokes. Hazy sooty clouds obliterate subjects, seeking to return to oblivion, and the white figures captured on the paper only temporarily contrast and escape their grip. These figures in an indeterminate field have hideous, demonic faces swarm around them. The crayon rubs are gone over by a finer tip, elucidating faces and features that would otherwise be hidden and occult. Even the classical painted portraits once predominant in his oeuvre are rendered with only a few dark colors. Amid such obsolescence, these faces glow, fight back, flicker brightly against the oppressive, endless night. There are sketches of sanitarium inhabitants truly beset by devils and lunacy, but even quarreling domestic couples are surrounded on all sides by demons, witches; madness can come at any moment.

There's no better medium for him by this late stage than that of blackened ivory plates, a clutch of these tiny tiles the highlight of the exhibit. A layer of sooty ink coating them, Goya employs a small brush that doubles as a razor, cutting away blackness and bullfights so as to set about re-revealing the whiteness that also resides underneath the black. Almost every face is Lon Chaney-esque. The resulting portraits epitomize his endgame, the temporal face of every man but a white skull lasting till the end of time, the captured flesh just a blackened memory.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

beta built for cuban links

Since neither the landlords nor Time-Warner give a fuck who my new editors are:

Danielson and Current 93
Kiila (all the way at the bottom)
Oakley Hall
Ricardo Villalobos

oh, and I also have news pieces (on the Buddha Machine and the new Yellow Arrow project on DC punk/hardcore history) in SPIN, which the new editor finds comparable to a rilly hot (read: anorexic) chick.

Friday, May 19, 2006

harold beta

Yorick's skull to be (or not to be).

"Hey look, a signed picture of Del Close!" gets said as facetious aside in the basement of the Upright Citizen's Brigade, awaiting another brewski on a Sunday night, when the Assss Cat ensemble headed up by Amy Poehler takes its 'coke' break. Blurry-eyed already, drunk on some sort of mixed concoction called a "Mad Russian," squinting reacquaints me with one of the most hallowed man in improvised comedy, the man behind the men that laid the foundations of Second City and SNL.

Close was a student of Mike Nichols and Elaine May's comedy school and in NYC a cronie with fellow comics like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. Substances helped the spiral spin further downward and by '65 he was out West, guzzling Owsley's juicy juice with the Merry Pranksters, doing lights for the Grateful Dead, stringing speakers up in the trees. During that time, as the Dead were doing their long-form improvisations of country, folk, r&b, and feedback, Close began to experiment with long-form comedic improvisation himself, working with The Committee, the North Beach equivalent of Second City.

As the sixties died out, Close was back in Chicago, teaching comedic improv and honing a new form. It involved spontaneous creation of themes (generally from an audience suggestion to keep its players from getting any pre-conceived notions or riffs) and characters would be created, with resulting scenes playing off each other in comedic counterpoint. Phrases, images, riffs would recur, doubling with meaning with each reappearance as they unfolded over time, interconnections between disparate ideas being made as the improvisation continued, mutated, open-ended. Like any improviser, there's a quest for seeking and maintaining "truth."

Del Close dubbed such an improvisational technique 'The Harold.' "Probably my most significant contribution and it's got that stupid name."It was an affirmative style of improv, saying "Yes" to new ideas, topics, all-inclusive, neither exclusive nor reductive, always building so as to have invisible connectors revealed and made tactile out of the air between audience and performer. Drunk and buzzed from laughing the rest of the night as riffs on marinara and Russian immigration somehow twine together, I can't help but think of the open-ended improv scene that came out of Chicago in the early nineties, taking in Krautrock, musique concrete, rock, jazz, bossa nova, dub, grabbing at it all and building upwards from it. Aside from his work in comedy with the likes of Belushi and John Candy, could Close also be a secret force behind post-rock's assimilation of disparate ideas, too?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

peta cemetery/ beta bonanza

In Gates of Heaven, the pill is blamed for the rising cult of pet-dom, a pacifier for unfruitful mammas. Randomly coming upon the televised feeding of a komono dragon late one night, I watch the giant lizard lash about in giddy response to the trainer's whistle, anticipating that meal of live rats forthcoming. Pavlov woulda been proud. The love between the two is tactile, the exchange queerly mutual, one less of pet-owner (or even zoo denizen-zoo employee) and between two sentient beings that perhaps don't quite understand one another but at least respect the relationship they have somehow forged in this world.

Not that we need look beyond the gates of our animal kingdom to find compatibility problems. Another late night in front of the tube brings a by turns hilarious and illuminating study of human sexes, courtesy of the BBC. A girlfriend and I snicker when they bring male and female brains out of a bucket, and laugh out loud whenever the curt voiceover mentions "female brain sex," which instantly makes appear in my mind some hot lez lobe action.

In one bizarre study of many they trot out, they test how men and women hear differently. Since men only hear with one side of their brain, they cannot process words that come out of one side of their headphones. Of course, as a music critic, I sweat for a second that maybe I'm only hearing half of the words (which may be why I detest 80% of all lyrical music) and may soon lose my jobs to the J-Hoppas and J-Shephs of the world, but since most music is made by bros anyway, there's little to worry about at the end of the day.

An underlying theme is how a rush of testoterone into the fetus determines sexuality as well as future physical capabilities (one scientist predicts the outcome of a race by only measuring the length of the male runners' ring fingers), arguably creating two vastly different creatures that only seem to speak the same language. Which is to say, I give up explaining playoff basketball to her and she stops dissussing whatever it is she is telling me (I'm kinda just ogling her and not paying attention) and we go back to petting the doggy and kitty nearby.

Errol Morris gazes upon but rarely dissects scientifically the interaction between man and animal, in how different creatures somehow co-exist and exchange across irreconcilable borders. Come Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control, there is the complex interchange not just between man and beast, but also that other pet of man's, mechanical machinations (detailing also curious hybrids such as mammalian hiveminds and robots as insects). Come Fog of War, Morris stares into the visage of a number-crunching statistical machine for the Pentagon that thinks it's a human named Robert McNamara (the void stares back courtesy of the Interrotron).

Errol's interpretation of nature as interactive and personable is diametrically opposed to his friend and goader, Werner Herzog. Stuck in the Peruvian jungle in Burden of Dreams, he sneers his synonyms for nature: violent, base, miserable, a curse, all fornication and mess. Far from Germanic order, here god is just pissed, frustrated, at wit's end (hmmm, sounds vaguely like a certain auteur megalomaniac), the master's creation project abandoned in frustration. No pets to be made of the exotic birds, but rather close-ups of a dead macaw, ants devouring it as fast as their mandibles will work. In Herzog's rainforest, birds don't chirp jack, they scream bloody fuckin' murder. Who could be into recycling and earth first when the environment is but a "harmony of overwhelming and collective murder"?

What does Herzog gaze upon though that doesn't flood with red though? Even amid the whimsy of Les Blank's film, Werner Herzog Eats his Shoe (an extra on Burden of Dreams), Herzog opens the short by declaring a fatwa on western culture, a Holy War on the boob tube, railing against not just commercials, but also Bonanza! Maybe he just never ate at one with Hoss, but Herzog also considers cooking to be the only legitimate alternative to film-making. Not that you can trust a guy who eats his shoe boiled in duck fat. Give me a big juicy live rat any day.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


It's not the fact that I'm working on yet another chapbook that bases itself in the year of 2005 but in how birds played a part in my year (from looking for macaws in Costa Rica to the return of birds to New York to dealing with my own canary's death) and how pecked out birdseed and plucked feathers would quickly accumulate into scattered patterns on exposed papers in my room (the forthcoming collection will be called "Birdseed"), but lately I've just been reminded of pets in general. Every phone call home has carefully tucked into the home news a line or two about how my cat is getting older, slower. "She eats very little now, barely drinks water" my Mom informs me, something else tucked inside such plain-stated news.

A late night watching of Gates of Heaven drifts by barely recalled, save that I see no mention of beloved birds (not evena parrot!), but plenty cats and dogs. All my life I've had animals to care for: cats, dogs, ducks, rabbits, turtles, tree frogs, bobcats, fish, even a crab named Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is the longest period of time I've ever gone in my life without an animal to care for, but I can say that it barely registers for me now (and the house mouse doesn't quite count; he's more like a fourth roomie, the one you only see out rummaging in the kitchen well after midnight, his shit all over the place, never paying rent on time).

I still miss my bird, miss his movement in the corner of my room, miss how the drawing of the curtains first thing in the morning took on even greater significance for him than for me, the letting in of sunlight a crucial life-affirming ritual. It's distant now, so it's not that dramatic, just that the tiniest of rituals still stick like little splinters in me. Even something as simple as grabbing bunches of mescalin salad mix (a friend calls such stuff "Yuppie Chow") has been altered without him waiting for me at home. I used to always grab an extra one of those white clumped stalks of frissee lettuce, as they were my bird's favorite greens to snip at with his little canary beak. Now I shake all of them free so as to never have them weigh down the bag.

Visiting a friend of mine earlier in the week, it's difficult to adjust to the dog in his house. The doggie acts less like a backyard pet (I was never allowed to have a dog in the house so having them indoors is a bti much for me to take) and more like a petulant child, constantly demanding attention. Together they recreate those weird old lady and precious pet conversations from Gates: doggie yaps meld into the goochy-goos of his owner, creating a most bizarre dialogue. Okay, it's not that weird, as I used to whistle back at Tupac in bird-brained conversation, it's just that now there's no one for me to talk at.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


If only he'd been shot before he could form Zwan.

Zombies on the brain. Watching another zombie movie, we try to pinpoint just what it is about zombies that continue to fascinate. As a metaphor, their brains (braaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiins!) are a blank slate for whatever there is to project upon them, be it director or audience. Depending on the flick --or in the case of George Romero (looking oh so Robert Wyatt as he appears in Dawn of the Dead) which scene-- zombies represent consumer consumption, capitalism, fascism, Red China, anarchy, humanity as a virus. The first word to come to my mind is the inevitablility of them, but with their stagger, they also embody fate, the rot and obsolescence that's built-into every mortal coil. It's a reminder that the body is mere motor, the ever-humming base of all urges and hunger. But maybe zombiedom is a pure state of being, a Nirvana where no thought, no brain (braaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiin!) disturbs the calm waters of death.

Zombies can cover for slovenly make-up, impoverished costume designers, sprained or broken ankles that may take place mid-scene, and of course, it hides bad acting. Really fat zombies never have shirts; they also never have enough undead body paint in the make-up trailer for their hairy backs and bellies either. In Dawn of the Dead, we get nun zombies, Hari Krishna zombies, zombies of all decaying skin colors. Zombies rock hipster beards, lumberjack plaids, polyester, and they're all walking around in the mall, at one with the mannequins. Revealing the zombie to be an everyman, the great proletariat, maybe what entices is the fact that zombies embody true brotherhood, that anyone can be a zombie. Will be a zombie.

Evoked by the unseen primal drums that pound and open up the earth itself, its tribal base is hinted at in Fulci's Zombi, yet the zombie lovers in Paul Morrisey's Flesh for Frankenstein are technological monstrosities on the cutting edge of science (and madness). In computer security, zombies walk right through firewalls. They got the numbers. The pinnacle of absolute horror in any zombie film is when a single one is upon you, those flesh-rending chompers coated with that zombie bacteria on their maggoty blue lips. Descending from above (or else arising from the earth and floorboards), the intimacy between living and dead is finally consummated with that kiss.

Friday, May 05, 2006

beta's book

Ten plus years in the making, I have finally finished writing, editing, printing, folding, awl-punching, hand-stitching the spines, and hand-painting the peculiar shape of Texas (flat-top haircut, panhandle, fat back, third coast, and boot toe) on the cover of each and everyone of these poem chapbooks I made documenting a decade's worth of writing. From high school notebooks to the weird lysergic commune scribbles of San Antonio, from writing poems while seated at my desk in the Social Security Administration office to the strip of La Rambla that runs down Barcelona, from the farms and chicken coops of Gillett to the skyways between there and New York City, it's all in here on the finest weave of paper and card you can run your fingers over. A one-time only run of thirty, twenty are already earmarked for family and old friends, but the remainder are up for grabs here. Ten will cover price plus shipping. Those who know know how to get at me, otherwise drop a line to: a n d y b e t a (AT) g m a i l.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

beta new

move it on over...