Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dissatisfaction, and, "The Man Who Collected Machen"

Today is New Year's Eve. NYE tends to be either very wintery, or reminiscent of Spring. It's more like the latter today, just like the first day of Winter was this year. After being in Spring-like Los Angeles for a few days, I have come home to a cat who is clearly dying, so that mixture of ending/beginning is still the theme. (The cat, by the way, is not Shiva--it is Whiskers, who seems to have some kind of eye tumor).

Regardless of this year's circumstances, I always find myself in an evaluative mode on New Year's Eve, even though the point in time is arbitrary in the larger scheme of things. This year, I find myself lamenting how much wasn't done and is unfinished, or done incorrectly, rather than looking at what I did complete this year. Part of the problem is that so much that I worked on mid-year is still pending, and there are no apparent solutions to some looming problems after many months. But I have also come to realize that I am not a patient person, and do not like it when I cannot control outcomes. Which, rationally speaking, is silly--no one really can control outcomes, not in a big way. But unconsciously, I get angry at myself for not being able to do so. I think they call that being a "perfectionist". I'm sure it's why I devote so much blog space to talking about letting go; I need to take my own advice.

I visited my sister in California, and at one point we had a conversation about dissatisfaction. There is a Tarot card, the 4 of Cups, that illustrates the issue. On the well-known Rider-Waite deck, the card features a young man sitting under a tree with his arms crossed, looking at 3 goblets out of his reach, and not seeing the invisible hand offering him his own full goblet right next to him. The card deals with boredom and dissatisfaction, and the message is that we often focus on what we don't have rather than what we have. Boredom is another variation of that; we cannot stand to be alone with ourselves, so we want distractions. Writing is my usual distraction, but lately I've either not had time or not been very inspired. So, I am besieged by the demons of What If, and the unknowns surrounding What Is. I forget that it's all a giant board game, and to be taken just as seriously.

My nephew gave me a wonderful book for Christmas--"The Man Who Collected Machen, which is a collection of short stories by Mark Samuels. I finished it this morning.


You can see the influences of writers like Poe and Lovecraft (and Machen) in Samuels's writing, but it's not about comparing him to those writers. He is very good at writing about the monsters of unconsciousness, horrors of knowledge and language, and a very Lovecraftian sense of the "horror of God". "A Contaminated Text" is one of my favorite stories, and reminds me of one of the last chapters of Carlos Castaneda's book "The Art of Dreaming", where he talks about insect-like beings that feed on us and drain us of our capacity for independent thought. This is metaphorical, of course, and Samuels is well aware of the reality of the metaphor, and identifies it. "The Age of Decayed Futurity" is so disturbingly like our modern society, you get a sense that there is a grain of truth to the conspiracy theory. He also describes that state he calls "that unique mental fever from which only writers suffer", which is well-known to those of us who write fiction. "Nor Unto Death Utterly by Edmund Bertrand" does a great job of smashing metaphorical concepts of God. God is, in this analysis, that wretched face of Death that we fear, and that we spend our whole lives trying to avoid.

The book is a timely acquisition, as it allows me to think more freely about my own work, and things I want to revise, but have gotten stuck. I highly recommend this book if you are a fan of horror or speculative fiction. It is not really horror of the more gruesome variety--it has more of a feel of the classic writers mentioned above, without being a caricature of those writers. I am always on the lookout for writers inspired by the classics, as a lot of contemporary horror leaves me cold.

So, with that, I will wish everyone a happy new year, and hope that 2012 does actually turn out to be a better year than expected. I am hoping that as a nation, we've reached our nadir, and that there's nowhere to go but up. Things go in cycles, so what is empty will fill up, and what has been full will empty. And so on.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Solstice

I leave for work in the dark, but at this time of year, this is not unusual. The stars are still out as I get into my car on Solstice morning, and notice a single leaf on my windshield that is green. The Solstice officially "occurred" just after midnight; I heard thunder, as though Lugh was attacking the Cailleach with his thunderbolts instead of Balor. Indeed, the morning is so warm and wet, one would not think it was the first day of winter. However, all is fair in seasonal war--sometimes it snows on the Spring Equinox. Birth and death seem all mixed up.

The skyline over the valley looks like an impressionistic painting, with mottled clouds, charcoal, peach, and a watered-down blue. The silhouettes of the fields remind me of Lovecraft's "blasted heath" though perhaps not as sinister. As I make my way towards the town of Chester, I notice that police cars sit with their lights off, waiting for speeding motorists, which makes my own slow drive feel vindicated. For no good reason, I begin to associate the police with social religion, those who uphold the laws that keep people inside the fence and away from the Collective.

The clouds look stormy all day--rich sunlight and blue sky with large chunks of area covered by angry-looking blobs of gray and black. I took a walk at lunchtime on the solstice, and noticed some kind of waxy green vine growing all along the outer wall of Florham. I don't recall seeing this vine before, and it's puzzling. There's lots and lots of it, and it almost looks ominous against the barren trees.

Arthur Machen once wrote about evil, suggesting that it was a defiance of natural law. If a rose bush started to sing of its own accord, that would smack of evil. I don't know that some of these intrusions of Spring are so "evil", but for me at least they reflect an underlying disturbance. As though things are not quite what you think or what you expect. Perhaps they are more of the "trickster" than something evil. Interestingly--the image of Satan, which we associate with evil, was actually thought to be more of a trickster figure, before theology made him a symbol of everything anti-Christian. Tricksters are very necessary, because they remind us that our stories are just that--stories. They can be changed, and sometimes should be changed.

I am not sure how I feel about 2012. I do not believe in this idea of Mayan apocalypse--I don't even think the Mayans believe(d) in that. However, it is not looking good economically or politically. On the surface there appears to be little hope--in fact, it seems things will get monumentally worse. My only hope that this is a Trickster at work, that this is part of a natural upheaval, and we will settle down to something better that is not currently apparent. Sometimes the Unknown gives us good surprises.

I am reluctant to make any predictions for 2012. The last time I made predictions, it was for a good year, settling down and being more harmonious, and in fact everything fell apart and went to sh*t. I'm not anticipating a good year, and I'm hoping I'll be equally wrong about that, and that it turns out to be the best year ever.

Usually winter break is a time to pause, for me to sit back, watch the sunrises on my week off, do some writing, catch up on pleasure reading. Not so this time--it is Christmas Eve, I need to put in student grades, and preparing for a trip to visit my sister as of Monday morning. Naturally I have another sick cat, Whiskers, with a bloodied eye and an ear infection, so both my parents and my basement cats can be traumatized when I relocate them temporarily to my parents' basement. (Shiva cat gets to stay at home, as my neighbor can care for him). I am looking forward to the trip, but we will be busy, so it will not be a time for sitting around. And I will have much work to do when I get back...and for the entire year. No rest for the weary.

I don't know if it's because I've been crankier than usual this holiday season, but I dreamt last night that John Foxx adopted a ginger cat and named it Editorial. I posted this dream to Twitter and Facebook, and received some helpful analyses from many friends--the idea of Fox (masculine/Animus) adopting the Cat (feminine/Anima), both "red images" (foxes are red, ginger cats are red), and editorial, which my friend Rob pointed out would deal with opinions. Never mind that cats have a tendency to be independent anyway. Another friend mentioned Foxx as Animus figure, which makes sense in its own way--I see a lot of my own ideals about the best in men (wisdom of being older, respect, politeness, snarky sense of humor, creatively interesting, still being sexy though older) in Mr. Foxx. I mention "crankiness" because the symbolism is very fiery and "opinionated". Which, of course, I'm not, in the same way Pope Benedict is not a Catholic.

I hope to blog at least once more before the year is out. Happy holidays, and pleasant dreams.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Kala

As much as I complain about my cat waking me up at ungodly hours, I have to give him credit, because I would not have memorable (or lucid) dreams if he didn't do that. In those moments when I put him off the bed and roll over, many dreams occur. I woke up this morning with the phrase in my head, "Kala means time, and Kali devours it."

I did not invent this phrase. I recall that it was on the back of a card I once kept hanging from the rearview mirror of my car. The non-text side contained a photo of a Kali statue that I had never seen before--it was not a Dakineshwar or Kaligat Kali, nor was it the one in Amritapuri. Kali was a light blue color, not the usual black. The text on the reverse explained who Kali was, and that was the opening sentence.

The word "kala" has been kicking around my consciousness for several days. The other day, for no good reason, I was thinking about the name given to me by Mata Amritanandamayi, "Nischala", and how people always confuse it with "Niskala". "Nis" is the Sanskrit root for "Not". "Chala" means "motion"; "Kala" means "time". "Nischala" means "without motion", or more to the point, "stillness", and is one of Kali's one-thousand names. "Niskala" means "without time". Not merely "timeless" but "beyond time". This is a name of Lalita Devi as well as Kali, and Lalita Devi is the creator of the universe--the universe that Kali devours. (And of course, they are actually the same deity in some regard, as all Hindu deities are one). "Lalita", incidentally, is a version of the Sanskrit word for "play". So, Lalita Devi is the "Goddess who Plays". The creator of the universe is playing a game, and you're in it. If you give that some serious thought, it's quite profound.

I recently subscribed to Umberto Eco's Twitter feed. I don't know if Eco writes it, or if someone posts for him, as the posts are in English. Eco can speak English, but only writes in Italian, so I tend to think it's the latter. Eco of course specializes in semiotics, which is the study of signs and sign processes. Semantics is a branch of semiotics that deals with the meaning of signs, and deals mostly with language. One of his recent tweets said, "Semiotics has become a sort of moral critical duty when it was clear that mass media were the new sacred texts." Deconstructing language and its meanings is important. There is a tendency in our culture to accept what we hear at face value, and not to think about what it really means. A great example of this was brought up in another Twitter feed I follow, @Numinousviews. Yesterday, he posted "The question shouldn't simply be does one believe in God or not. One should first ask what does one understand the word God to mean?" I've been reading a lot of 100 level papers about the debate between religion and science. Many students are using the available material well, but they continue to debate about the same old tired, "Can science prove there is a God or not? Can science prove the Bible stories are true or not?" and using that as a benchmark of "truth". I'm not blaming them for that, as this is the first time they've been asked to look at the question, and for many, this is not a major subject of interest. But the real question is "What do you mean by the word God?" All language is symbolic; it stands for our interpretation of the world. "God" is a metaphor for what we don't understand. Religion is a tool for negotiating what we don't understand. Science is also such a tool, but it deals with the observed outer world. Religion deals with the "numinous", as does psychology, at least in the Jungian sense. It deals with the "psyche", or world of the mind.

Returning to the original "Kala", when I think of both Kali and Lalita, I think of the Srichakra (or Sriyantra), which is a symbol of Sri Lalita. It contains 9 interlocking triangles, 4 pointing up (representing Shiva--the god, not my cat), and 5 pointing down (representing Shakti--Kali is the most "extreme" form of Shakti, which is a metaphor for the energy of consciousness). So, it is the Union of everything in the Universe. There is a prayer that is used by adherents of Sri Vidya called the "Sri Devi Khadgamala Stotra". It looks at the 9 triangles of the Srichakra as 9 "circles" or "chakra swamini", and represent deeper and deeper levels of awareness in the universe. Each level contains the names of deities, with the outer circles referring to desires (karshini) and worldly powers (siddhe), and the inner circles representing the dissolution of any kind of form. The innermost triangle, associated with Mahatripurasundari,(i.e., Lalita, great goddess of the 3 worlds--ours, the heavens, and the hells) is in a circle characterized as "para para rahasya yogini", which in a clumsy literal sense means "prior, prior to form (or that capable of being affected by disease)". Because, when one gets to the core of consciousness, there is no form, no motion, and no time. No-thing.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fear of the Poor

I am currently working on a paper for a conference I’m attending next March. It’s based on an idea I had reading Jake Stratton-Kent’s “Geosophia”, and looks at the afterlife and the role of the goete in society. Kent mentions that at some point in ancient Greek religion, there was a rearrangement of the underworld, with some of its denizens suddenly rising to Olympus (like Dionysus), and others that were venerated became demonized. In general, the underworld became demonized, when initially it was a somewhat neutral place. Scholars have argued that the idea of reward/punishment in the afterlife comes from the need to manage death anxiety. After all, if death just means being a ghost in a dreary underworld, regardless of what you did in life, that would tend to make you fear it all the more.

Of more specific interest is the goete, that outsider class of “clergy” that served a ritual function at funerals. The howls and laments of the goete (the word means “lamenting”) were the sounds that guided the dead to the underworld. They were often feared in Greek society, as they were associated with the thing most feared, death. Anyone having any kind of power over the dead was kept at a distance, just a shamans (which have many similarities to goetes) were on the outside of society, because they had “a foot in both worlds”. To touch that other world made you taboo.

The goete was often wild, unkempt, and on the outskirts of society. They were also poor. As I was thinking about this, it occurred to me that there are many unconscious associations with poverty. To be poor—without a home, without basic needs, without comfort—makes us terribly afraid. It is being swallowed up by chaos, not knowing how one will live from day to day, not knowing where the next meal will come from, or how they will stay warm. Scriptures teach adherents to care for the poor, and provide for their needs. Curiously, in more modern eras, this is an injunction largely ignored by the loudest of the “faithful”, in favor of those scriptural passages that condemn those who are different from themselves.

Modern American mythology suggests that poor people are “lazy”, or that they are really comfortably well-off people in disguise trying to swindle you. It is the justification for taking away things like welfare benefits and public health care, because these people are “useless parasites on the system”. This is not a new mythology; certainly Queen Elizabeth I attempted to deal with poverty during her reign by outlawing it. Recently, the country of Hungary did the same thing. It is “criminal” to be poor, a sign that there is something wrong with you, that you are defective. Given that religion teaches compassion towards the poor, it is clear that this attitude comes out of fear. We do not like to see our worst insecurities manifest in a human being; that human being may as well be the “Devil” himself.

It is another fascinating example of the illogical ways of humans. Logically, if everyone shared even some of what they had, no one would have to go without. Certainly there are those who would try to take advantage, but the most successful social programs have ways of keeping that tendency in check. In a recent conversation on a similar topic with a friend, he noted that from a macroeconomic standpoint, things like welfare and unemployment benefits are subsidies to small business. Even if someone is taking advantage of the system, it doesn’t matter from the macroeconomic point of view. What matters is that the economy is moving and healthy, and that money is circulating, goods are being bought and sold. The morality of that system is irrelevant. In short, economic trouble is not a reason to not help the poor.

It is interesting how fear brings restriction. The government compromises civil liberties in the name of “national security”. We are always armed and loaded (psychologically, not literally) against our fears. And we’re ready to demonize and blame those who challenge us.

You might think that I’m beating this subject to death lately, but I think it’s important that we think about our assumptions about life, especially in light of recent national crises. This is not about “other people”, it’s about me as well, and questioning my own assumptions about the world and my reaction to it. We don’t question our assumptions often enough. And if we aren’t aware of them, we can never hope to change them, only to be ruled by them.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Strong?

This past week, Republican presidential “hopeful” Rick Perry put out an ad that managed to be hugely offensive to a large majority of Americans, and even elicited negative comments from many Europeans. If you have not seen the ad, here it is:



Perry ran this ad against the judgment of people on his own campaign. I also find the ad to be offensive, but I’m also delighted that Perry has provided me an opportunity to compare and contrast a widespread “mythical” conception of America and its history with the actual facts. I talk about this ad nauseam in this blog and in conversation, and I find that people still are puzzled when I talk about humans as “irrational” beings informed by their own narratives rather than facts. This tidbit provides me with a concrete example.

First, Perry brings up the idea of gays in the military as somehow being offensive. I’m not going to go off on that tangent, as I’m not interested in discussing the theological issues surrounding homosexuality. To me, it’s another reason you don’t take the Bible as your literal rule book. But the Bible aside, this is a secular country, and what the Bible says is irrelevant—there is no rational reason to disenfranchise gays from any segment of society at all.

Ah, but the rest of the ad talks about “Obama’s war on religion”. Perry states that America was “intended” to be a Christian nation. I am not sure what “Obama’s war on religion” is; perhaps it’s the fact that he didn’t mention God in his Thanksgiving address. As to calling this the “holiday” season rather than the “Christmas” season—well, you can call it whatever you want, but officially you ought to include everyone, especially if you’re a government figure addressing a diverse population. I think that is sensible.

What is offensive in Perry’s ad besides the obvious homophobia is the complete and total ignorance he displays about the reality of life in this country, and American history. But you have to consider that Perry wouldn’t be where he is now if many other people didn’t also have the same level of ignorance. It is not news that people passionately believe in an America that never existed.

While some of the Founding Fathers might have been Christians, many were Deists. You can read a good summary of Deism and its influence on the American founders here. Deism does talk about belief in God, but outside the context of Christianity and Christian churches. It extolled nature and natural law over Christian belief, and was a byproduct of the Rationalist era. We don’t hear about Deism today, but a lot of its ideas have been subsumed by the Unitarian Universalists. While they don’t reject Christianity or the Bible (or any religion), they don’t give it any exceptional status, either. Hence the “universalist” part—it includes everyone, regardless of belief.

As to the rest of the “war on Christmas”, gleefully picked up by Fox News, Jon Stewart has done his usual admirable job of demythologizing that claim:

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There is an obvious disconnect between facts and the story being told by Perry and by Fox News, which should surprise no one. But it is clear that in spite of facts, those who believe in Perry’s version of America are not interested in facts—they are interested in their version of the American story, which is a reflection of their own upbringing and their own personal issues. Ideas that tend to exclude or demonize others can be classified as “xenophobic”—they represent a fear of difference, and hence a fear of change (and ultimately of death and the unknown). The attitude towards difference is negative, and Fox has been so successful as a “news” channel because it taps directly into that negative current and validates it. Hand-in-hand with the xenophobia is a sense of victimhood--that the "real" America is "under attack", and that specifically real "Christians" are under attack.
And so it goes, back to Rick Perry.

With the economy near collapse, attempts to cut needed services so that the wealthy are not inconvenienced, recent crackdowns on free speech, and attempts to pass new laws to detain “suspicious” Americans “indefinitely” without trial, it’s not surprising that even those who are more rationally minded would be fearful of what’s next. But America is not collapsing because it's not "Christian" enough, it's collapsing because of bad economic practice. But--understanding the human tendency towards narrative--is it possible to get away from a culture of fear, and take a courageous step towards a new national mythology? Can we look at the New Colossus with new eyes?

Probably not in my lifetime; the collective psyche is a challenging monster.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Concerts

Maxwell’s is a music venue and restaurant in Hoboken that has the distinction of being one of the few non-yuppified places in that community. It’s become one of the only places in New Jersey to see classic punk or post-punk bands, and a lot of random weirdness. My friend Liz told me about a concert she attended there, where the opening act was a Japanese band. The singer spoke no English, screamed a lot into the microphone, and proceeded to strip down to butt-nakedness throughout the set.

I went to Maxwell’s on Sunday with Liz and her brother Joe. We were spared any naked Japanese singers, as we were going to see Chameleons Vox, which consists of Mark Burgess and John Lever from the original Chameleons, and three other non-original members (Ray Bowles, Neil Dwerryhouse, and Chris Oliver). I’d heard music by the Chameleons in the past, and I’d always liked them, though I probably wouldn’t have known about this show if it wasn’t for Chris Oliver. If you may recall from my England trip postings, Chris Oliver is on John Foxx’s tech crew. He gave me the tour dates while he was setting up for Foxx’s gig in York. So, I wanted to hear them live, and I wanted to say hello to Chris again. Black Swan Lane opened for them, and we agreed that we liked their sound—clearly very Chameleons-influenced, which is not surprising, as Mark Burgess was involved in at least some of the songwriting.

I’ll just cut right to it—the gig was spectacular. I’m used to British performers who are much like John Foxx—they get onstage, they say hello, they do their set, maybe introduce the band, then say good night. There’s not much, if any, banter with the audience—it’s all “business”. Mark Burgess is the exact opposite. He seemed to be acting out every song, was very chatty with the audience, and during “Second Skin”, he made his way around the audience before returning to stage. While the band had a setlist, they made at least one on-the-fly change by special request, and made some on the spot decisions when they came back for an encore, as they didn’t have any encore numbers prepared.

You can see the first few numbers of the gig in this video, taken by an audience member:




I was just stunned by the end of the gig. They were just really, really mindblowing-ly good. My friend Anna said that Mark Burgess always seems so happy when he’s onstage, and that may be a part of it—his demeanor and energy was infectious. Anyone who could have walked away from that gig and not liked it would have to be the sort of person who kicks puppies and pushes old people down the stairs.

Two days later, on a rainy and windy Tuesday night, I found myself in Brooklyn. It’s probably been ten years since I’ve been there. There was a certain incongruity between the warmth of the evening and the fact that someone bought a live Christmas tree and brought it onto the L train. On the plus side, it made the subway car smell nice, not something you often hear anyone say about subway cars.

I searched for a place to have dinner, and found a restaurant that met all of my criteria (dark and atmospheric, preferably lots of wood d├ęcor, must not be fussy or vegetarian, and must have beer). I was serenaded through dinner with Rush’s greatest hits. (No, not Rush Limbaugh. The Canadian metal band Rush). I found this to be a huge improvement over the usual garbage I have to listen to while I’m digesting my food. I particularly hate listening to “soft rock” while I’m eating. I don’t know why people find it “soothing” to listen to some melodramatic male singer who sounds like someone’s taken a cheese grater to his member. Or a female singer who sounds like she’s trying to hit every possible note in the human vocal range. Or the Eagles. Tara Busch posted a tweet last week about a trip to Whole Foods, where she was subjected to the sound of Rod Stewart covering an Eagles song. (And they had no coffee). There should be federal punishment for that.

After dinner I went to the Trash Bar, where my friend Mark’s band, Some Awful Bridge, was playing. They were playing 1980s era Iron Maiden at the bar outside the venue room, a la “Number of the Beast”. I read a critique of the Trash Bar where people complained that the music they played was “too old” and they didn’t know the songs. I knew every song. Which probably means I’m old. The Iron Maiden songs formed another strange contrast with the first artist who played that night, Myles Manley, whose music is more on the folk side.

I knew Mark had a band, but I’d never heard them before last night. Their Facebook page describes their music as a “Pretentious new wave-y, gothy, shoegaze-y atrocity”. That’s probably the best description (not really pretentious, though), as you couldn’t pin their music to a specific genre. You can get a sense of what they sound like here (though be warned that the MySpace player is not the greatest when it comes to streaming audio).These guys are very good, and do a good live show. (I’m not sure I get the pig and accordion bit, but hey, I don’t have to understand everything). It would have been nice if they had a bigger crowd, though Tuesday night in Brooklyn is a rough time slot. So, if they’re playing near you, be sure to go see them and buy their stuff.

This week has been fun, but of course that never lasts. My cat developed a "problem" last night that made him climb the walls, try to pee on my bed, and caused him to frantically dig at the front door. Since this is decidedly odd cat behavior, I took him to the emergency vet at midnight, and it turns out he had a blockage (if you don't know about cats, that's potentially fatal if not treated). So, Shiva is in the hospital as I write this, looking a bit like the stereotypical spinster:



This has left me in a decidedly distracted state of mind, and has disrupted my week at a time when I could least stand to be disrupted. Life is like that, I suppose...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mythology and Demythology

Yesterday, someone asked me on Twitter about “myth” and John Foxx’s music; specifically, what I saw in it that was “mythical”. John Foxx himself would tell you that there’s nothing “mythical” about his music. The short answer to that is that all art is mythical. But I’m not sure that people understand what I mean when I say that, and it’s a definitional problem.

When John creates art and songs that center around “The Quiet Man”, he is creating a myth. It may, to a certain extent, be an extension of his own private mythology (and we all have them). Current albums by John seem to have a “lamenting love that was lost or never happened” theme, and that also is part of a mythology, whether it be autobiographical or not.

So, what do I mean by “mythology”? Most people think of the stories about deities of different cultures—Greek Mythology, Roman Mythology, Celtic Mythology, etc., etc. But that is a very narrow definition of mythology. Mythology represents all of our interpretations about life.

I saw a quote from Joseph Campbell on Facebook yesterday that perfectly defines it:
“Mythologies are in fact the public dreams that move and shape societies, and conversely one’s own dreams are the little myths of the private gods, antigods, and guardian powers that are moving and shaping oneself: revelations of the actual fears, desires, aims and values by which one’s life is subliminally ordered." (The Hero’s Journey, p. 61).

As indicated, there are “collective mythologies”—myths adopted by a society (so-called “conventional wisdom” is part of this), and there are “individual mythologies”—the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and the way things are based on our own experiences, dreams, and fears. The term “myth” implies something fictional, but it really tests the definition of “reality”. We tend to associate what is “real” with “facts”. (This is another myth). Philosophy spends a great deal of time trying to get at the truth behind subjective interpretation, and that is incredibly difficult, if not potentially impossible, to get to. The brain does not function without meaning; there is always an interpretation, and it is never totally “objective”.

Different phases of life embody different mythologies. The imaginative figures that we learn about and literally believe in as children become demythologized as we get older. “Demythology” is a sad but necessary process, the need to get away from literal beliefs and rediscover the myth symbol or narrative in a broader sense. A good example is the belief in Santa Claus or Father Christmas. Children literally believe in Santa Claus when they are young, then at some point they realize that there is no such person coming to their house. However, the mythical image of Santa Claus and what it represents can still be enjoyed by adults without literally believing in it.

Demythologization is painful. We would rather find reasons to cling to our myths than let them go. It’s not just about letting go of figures like Santa Claus. Adolescents are often surly and moody because they are going through that very process. There is an innocence that is stripped away as we become older, and the more experiences we have, the more disillusioned we can become. This frequently happens with religion—especially with religions that insist on clinging to outmoded mythical ideas. The experiences of those who grew up believing that “this is the way it is” from their religion’s standpoint often clash with the realities they face. This often leads to a period of rebellious atheism—“clearly there is no God”. There becomes a rejection of everything the society values, because we believed those stories were “truths”, and when we discover they are not, we assume they must be “lies”.

However, because something is a “myth” doesn’t mean it’s a “lie”. Facticity doesn’t equal truth. It may not be literally true, but it often contains a deeper truth that isn’t easily expressed—the myth acts as a metaphor. Psychoanalysts are doing mythical work—they attempt to bring the patient to an awareness of their myths. One has to be aware of what one believes about the world before they can think of changing it. And more often than not, we are deeply unaware of what we believe—we take it for granted and don’t think about it.

Understanding your own myths and that of your society is critically important. I had a professor in my undergraduate years, who was discussing Matthew Arnold’s essay on Hellenism vs. Hebraism. To paraphrase his interpretation—Arnold said that you must choose and live by your own myth, because if you don’t, someone else will “shove theirs down your throat.”

I did an exercise with my Religion students, where I asked them to look at the current 2012 Republican debates and the Republican objection to Obama, and regardless of where they stood on the issue, to identify the mythology there. They were perplexed at first, but once we started deconstructing the various talking points—and showing how they’ve repeated themselves throughout history—they were amazed at how little awareness they had of our “national mythology”. There is a tendency to take the news at face value, because we believe that journalists report “facts”. (This is another myth). “If it’s on TV, it must be true.” Like Lon Milo DuQuette said in his wonderful song, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

And that’s the value of demythologization—it forces us to deconstruct our worldview, and to be open to something less limiting. After demythologization, there is often a reintegration of the mythical content—we now see it in a different light, in all of its colorful context. Of course, this doesn’t always happen—sometimes people get stuck, either by suspiciously rejecting everything as “false” and the world as “bad”, or by clinging more tightly to literal beliefs, no matter how irrational. The irrational is always with us and should not be rejected, but it needs to be balanced with rational assessment. Rational assessment isn’t always “scientific method”—sometimes it’s just using your common sense.

There is a great deal in John Foxx's work that suggests the invisible, the hidden, the ghostly—which, in spite of all his pleading, does give his work an “esoteric” bent. His Ballardian themes are mythical. His story of a man who lurks in the shadows—who may be a shadow—who moves through cities that represent layer upon layer of the past, seen in the present—and who is something of an explorer of those forgotten regions—is patently mythical. There is an attempt to view a larger back story, in the context of his own (or his character’s) interpretation, no matter how minimalistic. In my own opinion, I see a tug-of-war between being publicly noticed and appreciated and retreating into privacy and an inner life. But there’s also a tug of war between doing things “logically” and “rationally”, and trying to come to terms with “irrational” experiences. His best work, in my opinion, integrates a cold minimalism and an eerie sense of the layers of history. Together, you have that sense of the numinous, which suggests a deeper awareness if you pay attention to it. Whether this is his intention or not is irrelevant. We all function within mythologies, unless we are consciously attempting to break from them (what Jung calls “individuation”)—and that is an incredibly difficult path tread by very few.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Small Picture

Zen Buddhism makes much of living in the present. If you make a conscious effort to put all of your awareness in the present moment, you will find that it is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Time slows down, or disappears entirely, and the mundane takes on a startlingly profound significance.

To illustrate what I mean—I usually get up in the morning, feed the cat, make my bed, meditate, take a shower, and then go downstairs to make breakfast and wash any dishes left in the sink. Anyone reading this has their own version of the morning routine. But try this—when you get out of bed, don’t focus on anything except what you’re doing right now. Don’t worry about what you will do at work, or wherever else you are going that day, don’t rehearse conversations with people that you haven’t had yet, don’t think about what happened yesterday. Focus on each step you take when you get out of bed. Focus on the act of turning on the water in the shower, and washing yourself. Focus on the act of washing dishes. Apply that to whatever you do in the morning, or just one thing you do, and see what happens.

Besides the slow-down of time, you will find that this is a very difficult thing to maintain, because your mind jumps all over the place. It’s the reason you can’t meditate by sitting and thinking about nothing. Your mind can’t bear sitting still and shutting up. Rather than fight that, it is said that it is better to listen to the chatter of your mind like you’re listening to the radio or a TV in the background.

Even though it is unlikely you could maintain this state of mind, it is a very worthwhile exercise. For one thing, it shows you how you really DON’T live in the present. Another thing it demonstrates is how mundane tasks are acts of meditation in and of themselves. Finally—if you can manage to attempt this sort of thing, even for a little while on a daily basis, you will find that it completely changes how you view life.

Poetry is the language of the present. To describe a scene or an event, you have to be fully immersed in whatever it is you are writing about. It isn’t really an accident that sacred and/or mystical writing is usually in the form of poetry. There is an attempt to recount the wonder of the experience, no matter how mundane. I think rationalism has made us lose our sense of poetry, as we have a habit of trying to “factually” recount things in an “objective” way. It’s not just what events objectively happen; it’s how those events are experienced. For instance, Gary Snyder has a poem about waking up, rolling a cigarette, and listening to distant cars going by. Simply listing those activities leaves them devoid of meaning. But in a poem: “Sun breaks out over the eucalyptus / grove below the wet pasture / water’s about hot / I sit in the open window / & roll a smoke / ... / a soft continuous roar / comes out of the far valley / of the six-lane highway—thousands /and thousands of cars / driving men to work.” (from “Marin-an” in “The Back Country”).

Like most of us at some point, I have a tendency to try to figure out the “big picture”. Where will I be in five years, what is my plan for making big changes, what are my deadlines for my goals? We short-change ourselves with this kind of thinking, because our planning is based on our assumptions about the future, which are based on the past and the present. The big picture is really a background to the small picture, and the small picture includes those daily things we do that in time will take us where we want to go. Just like squirrels build up their winter store one acorn at a time, there is a need to break things into smaller components, and focus only on those things we are capable of dealing with in the present. What seems to happen is that we suddenly find ourselves with the right opportunities and circumstances to achieve our goals. The reason this happens is because we’ve cultivated awareness—and when you are aware, you pick up on things that others miss. It may be something read online or in a newspaper (does anyone read those anymore?), a casual comment from a friend or from someone sitting across from you on a train. I believe the term for it is “serendipity”.

Serendipity (and synchronicity) make us nervous, because it means relinquishing control and trusting that you will get to where you need to go without worrying or fretting about it. This doesn’t mean that no forethought should go into future plans, but we do tend to spend more time worrying about those things that are out of our control. You can’t “solve” what is uncertain and unknown, so you can only surrender to it.

With so much going on in the world, and so much information, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to learn to focus on one thing at a time. After all, you never really win the multi-tasking game; you just have more and more to do, and less time in which to do it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Read

For those of you who are “seasonally affected”, I made a discovery today. Maybe it’s not something all that new, but I hadn’t really thought about it before. This morning was overcast, but I was driving to work as the sun was coming up, and you could see that brilliant line of pink and orange at the horizon. It occurred to me that this can also be seen at sunset on cloudy days. So—go outside at sunset, or get up at sunrise if you hate cloudy weather.

I am not terribly affected by the weather, though my thoughts do move faster on sunny days. This can be good or bad—I could write an entire story, or waste an entire day yammering to myself, and not really focus on anything useful. At work, I talk to myself almost non-stop. I’d hate to be my co-workers on those days.
Speaking of words and distractions, I took an inventory of my reading material last night, and realized that I am about halfway through four different books (non-fiction), and would like to start a fifth book (fiction). I used to reliably plod my way through one book before starting another, but I seem to have literature commitment difficulties these days.

Part of the trouble is that I’m a writer, and one who has not written much except these blog postings for the last month. I reach points in my work where I have to read in order to write. My mind plays the same boring things over and over again, and I need to get fresh perspective.

When I was in Bristol, John Foxx and I talked about the next tour stop, Manchester. He advised me to visit St. Ann’s Square if I had time. “There are 2 bookstores there,” he said. I wondered how he knew that the bookstore was the first place I looked for in any city. He made a face, and said, “Well, if you’re civilised, then you read.”

One of the first things to come up in last week’s conversation with Umberto Eco at NYPL was the idea of being well-read. Eco, like Pierre Bayard, says that it is impossible to read everything, and much of the time people fake being well-read. There is a sense that in order to do a book justice, you need to cultivate an awareness of every word. In reality, you only do this when you really love a book, and want to re-read it. When I look at lists of books I “ought” to have read, I sometimes feel ashamed, like they are acquaintances I should have spent more time getting to know. But—like distant friends and family, it’s hard to sit down and “write that long letter to catch up”. In a world of Facebook and Twitter updates, it’s no wonder we’ve developed a fondness for 140 characters or less. There just isn’t time.

I realize that my own blog postings are often very long, so I should take my own advice with regard to time. Still, I can’t shake the idea that I’m cheating my readers with short posts. Readers and reading are like friends, and I don’t want to cheat my friends by not giving them enough attention. Then again, a lot of people tell me they’ll read my posts “when they have time”, which is code for “it’s too long to read in 2 minutes.” (Kind of like my e-mails to a certain unnamed person, who only tends to respond if I send a one-sentence e-mail.)

So, in the interest of not droning on, I will leave you with an Onion article about reading:

Area Eccentric Reads Entire Book

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Umberto Eco in New York City

On Tuesday night I ventured into New York City. I had some misgivings about this, because I've been sick since I returned from the UK. I am not one for going to the doctor; to paraphrase Dave Barry, if my arm was severed and dangling, I'd sooner wrap it up with duct tape and keep going than go to the hospital. This is nothing personal against my doctors; it's just another thing I have to add to my already-busy schedule, and illness is something I just don't have time for. However, there are a few things on my "see the doctor" checklist, and coughing up blood is one of them. I started doing that on Monday morning, so I made an appointment. Fortunately the blood was not coming from my lungs, and I just had a very bad sinus infection. I'm feeling much better with some antibiotics and nettle tea.

But all of that is background. I went into New York to go to NYPL Live's conversation between Paul Holdengraber and Umberto Eco. I'd bought my ticket before going to the UK, which was a good thing, as the event was sold out. I stopped by St. Andrew's first, for some dinner and Belhaven's. I was sitting next to the bar next to two very cute young Scottish men, who had just arrived here for an 8 day vacation. One of them informed me that they don't drink Belhaven's in Scotland, even though it's a Scottish beer. I was not surprised--I didn't recall seeing it on draft anywhere in Glasgow. Of course, they have other fine beer selections in Scotland, like the Dark Island ale, from an Orkney brewery. Anyway, we got chatting, and they flattered me by guessing my age was 26. We were discussing Kearny for some reason, and I realized later that I was thinking of Keansburg rather than Kearny. I have no idea in the world why; I'm going to blame it on antibiotics haze.

Tuesday was a gorgeous day, 68 degrees and sunny, so it was a nice evening to be queued outside the New York Public Library. I was chatting with a woman in front of me in the queue about Europe, and she told me that she was able to stay in Paris in the 1970s for about $8 a day. Clearly I've started traveling too late in life.

In between grading papers on the train over, and waiting for the event to start once we got seated, I was reading De La Torre and Hernandez's book, "The Quest for the Historical Satan". This turned out to be quite synchronous with the Eco event, as the theme of human evil came up more than once in the conversation. Paul Holdengraber is a very entertaining emcee, and his questions are very well-informed. He asks his guests to provide him with a biography in 7 words. Eco's 7 words were: "High is the moon on Prague, gosh."

Holdengraber started by asking Eco about his impetus for writing his new book,"The Prague Cemetery". Eco said it was an "irritation" about human lying and forgery. All of the characters in the book are based on people that really existed, except for one, and Holdengraber said that Eco managed to make this one fictional character utterly despicable. Eco said that was certainly the point--though he also felt his fictional character was also the most authentic, in human terms. Returning to the theme of forgery--he said it was a type of lying, and that forgeries, even when acknowledged as such, are still believed by people and become prejudices. He mentioned forgeries like the Protocols of Zion, and other anti-Semitic Jewish "conspiracy" works. When at least one of these was acknowledged as a forgery, the response was, "well, maybe the book was a forgery, but it reflects how the Jews really think." So, a false prejudice is created with a false work originally presumed to be true. If you think about human behavior in this context, it is well known from studies that when factual evidence is shown that disproves a belief, people will cling to the false belief even more tightly.

I also started thinking about the line between fiction and reality. Often, we have a difficult time sorting the two, and that can have negative consequences. In a quote from Eco that was from an original version of his new book, he talks about people who believe that Dan Brown's stories are true. Certainly there was a lot of hoopla over the Da Vinci Code and its follow-up novel, which was quite unbelievable to watch. People simply could not accept that the book was fiction. The Church didn't help much by getting into the fray to tell people the book was fiction--that only convinced believers that there was a "cover-up." In general, though, one of the things that does worry me about modern society is the ability to discriminate between different kinds of information received. As I am reviewing research paper drafts, I realize that my students, even with guidance, can't tell a valid source from an invalid source. It's all one big screen or book full of words, all equally true or untrue relative to our own prejudices.

Eco contrasted hate with love by suggesting that love is a very selective thing, while hate is much more general. We love individuals, we hate groups. Holdengraber noted that Eco was quite animated by hate, and Eco replied, "I am animated by my hatred of hate." He then made the rather interesting point that the "enemy" in stories must follow a certain pattern. The archetypal image for the enemy in Western culture is the Antichrist.

Holdengraber asked him about his evil character in his new book and his relationships with women--why do women gravitate towards such horrible people, and conversely, why was the character so obsessed with women, who he claimed to hate? Eco replied that in order to really hate something, you have to be attracted by it. One might "hate" the guy who cuts him off in traffic, but that person will be quickly forgotten. Real hate requires an obsessive attraction to the object of contempt. Holdengraber quoted from one of Eco's books (might have been the new one) about a man who was an "erotic anti-Semite". The hate has so much devotion, it's almost a kind of love.

Holdengraber then tried to pin Eco down on the subject of psychoanalysis. He felt that this was a real theme of Eco's, as Eco is interested in the re-reading of things. Eco demurred from the idea that he had an interest in psychoanalysis, or that re-reading had anything to do with it, though he went on to say that his ego prevents him from having a committed relationship to psychoanalysis. Holdengraber said, "You're worried about what it might turn up for you?" "Yes, I would worry about that very much!"

On the subject of the places Eco chooses to locate his stories, the choice apparently has to do with where he wants to visit. If he wants to visit a place, he'll write about it as an excuse to go there. Sounds fair enough to me--I should do more of that with my own work.

I had to leave at this point, as my chest felt like there was a rock sitting inside of it, and I did not want to erupt into a massive coughing fit inside the auditorium. But the talk made me think about what it is that attracts me to Eco's work, and I think it's this deliberate attempt that he makes to "discombobulate" the reader. Leaving you in this uneasy state between truth and fiction is a means of cultivating awareness. You have to pay attention, and have some idea about context and background to be able to discriminate between the two. Eco continually challenges his readers to do that.

As a side note, someone on the John Foxx tour (either John, Sefa, or Benge) told me that the new Eco book did not receive good reviews. Nonetheless, I will have to read it myself, as the conversation has left me intrigued about the characters.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Sentimental

There are times when I could be called nostalgic or traditional, even conservative. However, you are not likely to hear me described as sentimental. "Sentimental" involves remembering stories the wrong way, or changing them in a ridiculous way. For instance--if I'm getting a card for my father for his birthday, I am not likely to buy a sentimental card. Sentimental cards always start with some crap like, "Dad I remember you and I going on long walks blah blah and I'll always be your precious little girl blah blah, etc., ad nauseam". I love my Dad, but it would be utterly ridiculous to give him that kind of a card. Growing up, he worked a lot of overtime, and I only saw him at meals and when he was swearing at the car. We didn't go on long father-daughter walks; he was trying to support 5 children. I could never imagine him referring to me as "precious", for which I am forever grateful. So, to give him a card like that is completely inauthentic and cheesy. In a word--sentimental.

Earlier this week, I was flipping through some old periodicals at work while waiting for someone, and the one I grabbed happened to be "Backstage", a publication for actors. Backstage has casting calls and auditions listed, and I happened to flip to a page where they were seeking auditions for "Carrie : the Musical". I am a big fan of things that do not belong together, so the idea of a Stephen King novel being combined with a musical caught my attention. Only hours later, when I was reading through RSS feeds, I discovered that Teller (of Penn and Teller) is going to produce a musical based on the Exorcist. My first thought was, "If these are done properly, they could make the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade SO much more interesting."

If you've never seen the Macy's Parade (I still watch it on Thanksgiving for some unknown reason; must be that I'm "traditional"), it not only consists of the regular parade floats, but also various troupes doing musical numbers. So, they reach Herald Square, and usually do a number from one of the season's popular Broadway musicals. As soon as these come on, I find myself lowering the volume and walking away from the TV. I am not a fan of musicals. Occasionally there will be something tolerably well-done, but for the most part, I want to avoid being nauseous before Thanksgiving dinner.

My prejudice against certain musicals is probably related to my prejudice against certain types of pop music; it's songs are often bubbly and empty-headed, and have a quality that makes me want to punch the performers in the face. The only time I like bubbly is when it's in champagne or carbonated beverages. I recall one of my professors during my undergraduate years saying how much he hated Disney because all of its movies and characters were "Pre-Raphaelite"--they glorify a way of being that never was, and never will be. Yet, they play into people's ideas of how things should be--and they're usually quite superficial. I don't know if I'd be as hard on Disney as he was, but it's that sense of feeding people a story about "the way things are" that is so inauthentic that resonates with me. There's a used-car salesman quality to the sincerity. Kind of like most love songs.

While I was in London with my friends Garry and Tapio, we had a conversation about famous bands from Finland. Garry mentioned the band Lordi. In Europe, there is a contest called "Eurovision", where music performers compete and get votes from the watching audience. In 2006, this competition was won by a Finnish band called Lordi. Most of the competing bands were the sort of vapid, overproduced pop rubbish that you come to expect from such contests. Lordi was a death metal band, and apparently came out in their full black-metal Kiss-like gear, and roared into the microphone. They won the Eurovision contest by a landslide. I love this story, because a. it adds fuel to my suspicion that Europeans are less clueless than Americans, and b. they absolutely got the joke. If this had happened in America, you'd see evangelists picketing outside the contest venue, because they haven't had a clue about anything, ever. Books would be written about how this is an example of how Satan has taken over popular music.

That may be the problem--Satan isn't present enough in popular music. It's as though we believe that life is like a Jehovah's Witness flier on "perfect life with God" (which also does not, and never will, exist, at least not in that way. Thankfully). We're human beings with a full range of emotions, and why everything has to focus on what's "safe", superficial, and basically a retelling of the same old stupid Disney-esque myths is beyond me. It's as though record companies assume I've had a lobotomy and never passed the maturity level of a 9-year-old. There should be some dark things around the edges; there usually is, and as far as I'm concerned, the best music is that which reflects the complexity of our emotional lives. We should not wonder that children who are raised on nothing but this vacuous, sanitized nonsense grow up to be serial killers, rapists, or otherwise have very serious social problems. (Yes, I'm overgeneralizing, but I hear about enough cases like this, and parents are so surprised, because little Johnny was never exposed to anything "bad"). All it does is perpetuate the artificial good/evil split in our psyches.

So, I hope that both Carrie and the Exorcist are not turned into banal morality tales, and actually have a sense of humor as musicals. I do wonder if the trend will continue (Friday the 13th the Musical, Halloween the Musical, Texas Chainsaw Massacre the Musical, etc.). It would certainly make Broadway a different place.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Leaving the UK, Entering Total Chaos

All good things come to an end, as they say, and my trip to the UK was no exception. I spent my last day in the UK switching hotels for one more evening, and then met up with Tapio for drinks, as he was also at a loose end before his flight the next day. I’m sure that was an odd sight, as Tapio has a well-quaffed and polished New Romantic look, whereas I look like a refugee from a 1970s coffee commercial. But it was nice to have one more visit before leaving.

I got the bad news that afternoon that John Foxx had fallen and hit his head on a desk, and had to go to the hospital. He was released the same day, but told he couldn’t travel. So, the last two dates of the Maths tour were canceled. I have not heard from him, but I presume he is back at home resting, and I hope he gets much better very soon.

The morning that I left the UK, it was a lovely day in London, the trains were on time, my flight left on time. Then we crossed the “big pond” and everything promptly turned to crap. It seems like it was an omen that I shouldn’t have bothered coming home.

First, in further evidence that Mother Nature hates New Jersey (and much of the Northeast), a huge Nor’easter came roaring through, dropping anywhere from 5 inches to 2 feet of snow. (I think the New England states were hit the worst with regard to snow—we had the minimum). It was a heavy wet snow, and the trees are still full of leaves, so this basically has amounted to a Tree Apocalypse. I can’t drive down any street without seeing tree corpses littered along sidewalks, often mixed with power lines that have been dragged down with them. My flight was diverted to Boston at first, but by some miracle they let us into Newark, and we arrived at 6:00 pm. There were no trains, I was not about to make my friend drive an hour to get me, so I had to resort to calling my parents to come get me. Fortunately they made it without incident, as there was very little traffic on the road. But it took about an hour and a half to get luggage, as the door was stuck on the plane’s freight compartment. By the time I got to my parents’ house, it was after 9:00 pm. I did not choose to drive home that night. (My parents, by the way, also had no power).

Curiously, while in the airport waiting for my luggage, I heard a conversation behind me between two friends, one who was describing an incident at her friend’s house involving a toilet that exploded while she was on vacation. “The tank just cracked. It was weird.” (You may recall that the exact same thing happened to my parents while they were on vacation last month). Then I looked across the baggage claim belt, and saw a woman who looked almost exactly like me, wearing a coat that looks much like one I own. After reading H.P. Lovecraft all afternoon on the plane, I was starting to wonder if I hadn’t entered some fourth dimension.

The next day I arrived at my own house. My neighbor was waiting for me outside, to tell me that we had no power, and how abysmally awful things had been in the neighborhood the last two weeks. I walked in to a freezing cold house, but also to an overjoyed cat, so I stayed in the house with him for awhile in spite of the fact that I wanted to leave immediately. My yard is littered with leaves—no surprise as I’ve been away for almost 3 weeks—and the tops of large trees. Fortunately no trees landed on my house. Once the snow melts, I will have another monumental task ahead of me in the yard.

So, the time since my return has been spent at friends’ or family’s houses that have hot water so I can take showers, searching out launderettes that don’t have lines of people out the door (and preferably with a pub nearby), and fighting some kind of respiratory infection that I’ve acquired since returning (and that the extreme cold in my house is not helping). They’re not predicting that we will have power until Thursday or Friday. If I come home Friday to no power, I’m calling up the electric company and hacking a lung into the phone, hoping that the threat of possible death by cold will drive them over here. I’m trying to be patient, but it’s suspicious to me that everyone in the state who has the OTHER electric company as their utility carrier had their power restored by Monday. The same thing happened during Hurricane Irene. I’d change electric companies, but I think my only other choice probably leases their lines from my current company, so I’d be in the same boat.

So, wish me luck as I attempt to keep both of my lungs from exploding, and my life together while I have no resources at home. I promise a return to my normally obtuse blogging after this short intermission.

Friday, October 28, 2011

John Foxx and the Maths at XOYO (2nd London gig)

Thursday morning was like many others, with the notable exception that I did not have to drag my luggage to another city and another hotel. It's a bit of a relief to stay in one place for a few days. Garry, ever hospitable, offered to take me on a walking tour of the Roman ruins of London, which we did en route to meeting up with Martin, and going to the Griffin for the pre-gig meetup. To be honest, I was not sure I was up for a long walk, though it did prove to be worth it--I had no idea that there were these old walls, bastions, and temple remnants hidden among the marketplaces and tall corporate buildings in the Eastern part of the city. We also visited the Roman amphitheatre recently discovered underneath the Guildhall. The excavated bits were in a room with projections of these Tron-like figures that were likely supposed to represent gladiators and other performers, which was quite unexpected. The amphitheatre is believed to have been built around 70 C.E. and abandoned around the 4th century, and I was impressed that wooden beams still remained from the structure. I noticed a sign that said this was a "scheduled" site, which likely means "registered as an historic artifact", but it sounds peculiar to the American ear. As if the British government has penciled in this site on its calendar. Before going downstairs, Garry asked where the amphitheatre was, and we were told, "Right--go all the way down the stairs, door to your right." This struck Garry as funny, as this is matter-of-fact speech is so very English. ("Hanging Gardens of Babylon?" "Make a right, second door." "Valhalla?" "Take the lift to the 5th floor, turn left." Etc.) We also visited the remains of a Roman basilica that's hidden away in a hairdresser's shop. Quite surreal.

The meetup was rather small, which was a bit of a surprise, as there were many fans who said they would turn up. It is likely that this is because John is doing a tour, rather than just one gig in London. Rather than travel to London, people are probably just going to see John play locally. Martin and I cut out slightly early to head over to XOYO, and I ran into Chris C., Chris O., Steve, and Isobel, standing outside just before the doors opened. The last time I saw Isobel was at the Troxy, and we kept having our conversations cut short, so I was very glad to see her for this gig. Karborn also showed up for this gig, looking almost distinguished in a proper shirt and jacket, though his shoes killed the "distinguished" part. Karborn said he just wasn't ready to be that distinguished.

"The Neat" was the first opening band for the gig, and I was surprised to see that they were traditionally guitar-based rather than a synth band. I ran into someone early on who had been at soundcheck, and thought they sounded a bit like Oasis. I liked their gig overall, as I am not one of those Foxx fans dedicated to electronic music--my taste is very eclectic. However, I did wonder what the hardcore synth fans thought. Xeno and Oaklander came on next, and did a very good set. It's difficult for me to comment very specifically on either band, as it was the first time I'd heard both of them. Garry said he thought Xeno and Oaklander sounded a bit like early Berlin.

John and the band finally came on about 30 minutes late, and did what I thought was a fantastic set. I stood in the back with Isobel this time, rather than being right up front, and the sound was very clear, John's voice sounded very good. At this gig, they dropped "Just for a Moment" from the setlist. I'm not sure if this was because the gig was running late. In the back, I was standing behind some young men who looked like they'd escaped from a bad 1980s movie. This struck me as funny, because the group of them were clearly impressed with themselves. When they finally left, I had a very good view of the stage from the bar area. There were a lot more people at this show than the one on Tuesday.

After the gig, security was keen on getting people out, and Steve had to talk to several people to allow those he couldn't get wristbands for to stay. Eventually it was sorted out, and John finally came from backstage to chat with us. They were all moving on to Benge's studio, and then to their respective places for the night, before heading for Holmfirth in the morning. (At least one person reading this post will realize that I have not mentioned tissues once in this posting. Well, at least not until now.)

So, it is the day after, and I'm feeling a bit sad that the gigs are over. I will miss seeing the band, the crew, and all of my friends here. I very much appreciate the hospitality shown by Chris C., Steve, John, Benge, Serafina, and Hannah while I've been following them around for these gigs, and I hope the tour finishes up spectacularly. I'm also indebited to Paul, Pip, and Rob for letting me tag along on my Oxford visit, and to Garry for going out of his way for me on Wednesday and Thursday, as well as Tapio, Martin, and everyone else who bought me rounds and helped me out in other ways while I was here and pretty cash-strapped. Even though I'm tired and I have to go home, I really don't want to, I've had such a good time with everyone, and wish I had more of it.

Tomorrow morning I get on a plane for Newark bright and early. Today I have to switch hotels one last time, and will probably meet up with Tapio, who is also at a loose end before an early Saturday morning flight. It will not be a late night tonight for sure.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Day Off (UK Trip Day 14)

The morning after gigs is always an experience in not heeding the lessons of history. You wake up with a headache, your legs hurt, your eyes are blurry, and you swear that tonight will be different, you are going to take more care, get to bed earlier, eat better. By the time breakfast is over, all of that is forgotten, and the next day ends up being like the previous one. I don't know if it's more a case of not learning from the past or not giving a crap.

Wednesday was my "day off", as it was for the band and crew. I heard from Chris C., who was hanging out in his hotel farther North. I'd hoped to have a drink with him later in the day, but by the time he contacted me, all the trains running in that direction were seriously delayed, so I decided against it. I didn't dare consider taking a cab in either direction--given London rates, it probably would have cost me £200.

I did catch up with a couple of other friends, Garry and Tapio, both of whom were excellent gents, buying all the rounds (and just about everything else) for the entire day. When my lovely scrape from the previous night started acting up, Tapio was even prepared enough to have the right first-aid with him, saving me the need to walk to a chemist. I met Garry around noon, and we walked around Holborn and Covent Garden, up Charing Cross Road so I could satisfy my bookstore fixation. Garry knows this area very well, and was even able to tell me which bookshops were crap and which ones were good. I found an old 1930s hardcover edition of "Ghost Stories From an Antiquary" by M.R. James, an A.O. Spare grimoire (two, actually), and a copy of Crowley's "The Vision and the Voice", a timely purchase considering my recent readings on Enochian magic. The latter was actually published in Texas, which made me think of my friend Phil. The shop owner of Atlantis Bookshop and I had a conversation about Crowley, and she recounted something I did know previously--that the bookshop was the site of the old Mandrake Press. "Crowley has touched the same door handle you just touched when you walked in." I had been looking for Rodney Orpheus's new book, and also volume 2 of Jake Stratton-Kent's Geosophia (she had shelf full of Scarlet Imprint material), but she didn't have either in stock at the moment. When I said goodbye, I found myself thinking of the old Monty Python bookshop sketch, originally performed pre-Python by John Cleese and Marty Feldman ("Funny, you've got a lot of books here.")

We walked up through Hawksmoor, and I mentioned another bookshop I wanted to visit, Treadwell's. I think they used to be on Tavistock St. in Covent Garden, but apparently they had moved to Store Street. Garry reminded me that Store Street is mentioned by John Foxx in his "Electricity and Ghosts" essay. They had closed up for lunch, so we had a pint and then headed over. After that we went to Camden and met up with Tapio. We sat drinking in a Wetherspoon's, for good reason--it's cheap. By the time we left there and realized we were not going to get over to see Chris C., we headed to a small pub in Euston near where I was staying, which had been a Victorian train station waiting room. We were there until last call, which was not far off. (Highly recommend the Redemption Dark Ale, which is a porter).

Today is the last John Foxx gig, and I'm hoping to see a few more people tonight. Tomorrow is my last day in the UK. Going home will be a surreal experience after all of this.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

John Foxx and the Maths at XOYO (First London Gig)

So, back to London. I came in at King's Cross around 2:00, and decided to walk it to my hotel. I don't recommend walking a mile and a half with heavy luggage. Just saying.

Once I settled into my room, I got ready and headed out to what has been traditionally known as "Foxxgate"--a meetup of John Foxx fans prior to the show. This meetup was at the Griffin Pub a block over from the venue. There I met up with Garry, 2 Peters, Andreas, and Michaela. The first Peter was showing us some of his old Ultravox memorabilia, before heading off to soundcheck to take photos. After a few drinks, Garry took us to a chip shop, and then on a walking tour of John Foxx sites nearby (where John used to live, where the Garden studio was, et cetera). This is not a walk to make in high heeled boots, especially since there are cobblestones, and naturally I managed to trip and bang up my left knee, tearing my stockings in the process. Nothing serious, and I decided it looked very punk. After one more drink stop, we headed into the gig.

I saw Rob and went to the front row to say hello, as he was in the photo area. I ended up staying at that point for the entire show. This gig had two opening acts--Tara Busch and the Gazelle Twins. This was Tara's last set for the tour, and I'm sorry I didn't get to say goodbye to her, though I did have a brief chat with Maf when he was in the front. I'd never heard or seen the Gazelle Twins before, and I think I feel about them the way I did about Tara the very first time I saw her--interesting, but not sure what I think. Being tired, a lot of the dreamy, spacey sort of electronica was making me more sleepy than anything else. Not that this is anyone's fault but mine.

John came on with the Maths a bit after 10:00, and the set sounded excellent. I'm happy to say I haven't tired of the setlist, even after hearing it for the seventh time. Like the other shows, there were a few "misses" here and there, and there seemed to be some technical issues going on. Benge had a couple of misses, and I think it was because he was distracted by technical difficulties--either his own, or the ones Chris was trying to sort out on Serafina's side of the stage. I didn't get to really chat with the crew afterward, so I'm not sure what sort of challenges were brought on that night. Standing near me was our friend Tapio from Finland, and also Cian had come from Japan, and I was delighted to see both of them.

I found Steve after the show, and he went and got John to come out of the dressing room. (Benge had mentioned at the previous gig that the XOYO dressing room is really very small, and it was being shared by three acts, so it didn't really feel right to ask to go back there, though Steve initially said it might be all right). I think John was a bit overwhelmed by the people waiting to see him (judging from his facial expressions), but as usual, he takes everything in stride. One guy who came up to talk to him actually bent down and touched his feet, like John was a deity or something, which just made me laugh and shake my head. (The only time something like that doesn't look silly is when a younger Hindu touches the feet of one of their elders, which is customary). Other than a quick hello/goodbye I didn't get to have a very long chat with him. I don't know if they went out afterward, but I presume that everyone is quite tired and looking forward to a day off. I figured that the London gigs would be more chaotic, so I really didn't expect too much else. Hopefully I will get at least a little more time to chat on Thursday, which is my last gig of the tour.

As for me, today is my day off, and I'm looking to catch up with Garry and Tapio. Cab fare in London is ridiculously expensive (it cost me almost £12 last night to get back from the gig), and I'm sure I'll need to do that again Thursday, so I'm going to be very cheap the next few days, and will not turn down drink offers.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

John Foxx at York Duchess

I arrived in York on Monday afternoon. The city is very beautiful, definitely the sort of place I would like to walk around and explore. There's a tremendous amount of history here, and lots of buildings that date back to medieval times or earlier. As usual on this tour, I really didn't get to have a proper look around. I stopped for a pint in the Golden Fleece (which they claim is haunted, though that's not why I went there), and then headed off to find soundcheck.

The energy at this gig was different from the others. I did not have a great feeling when I walked into the Duchess, though I couldn't really have told you why. Chris Oliver repeatedly asked me if I was OK, and I really couldn't say anything other than, "yeah, fine, thanks." At one point I was suddenly very cold, to the point that I could feel my bones shaking, which I attribute to travel exhaustion as much as anything else. The soundcheck seemed to go well enough, though there was some problems with Sefa's equipment that they were having trouble sorting out.

From the audience point of view, the gig sounded good, though it was clear that something was going on. Chris O. kept having to run across stage, and then over to the sound board, as both Sefa and Hannah seemed to be having issues. John seemed to be having some difficulties during "Underpass". Later, I learned that from the band and crew's point of view, the show was "total mayhem" (to use John's phrase). The band couldn't hear anything they were doing onstage, and at I saw Chris O. wince and stick his fingers in his ears at one point when Hannah picked up her violin. The main trouble was the sound board itself. From what I gathered (and my knowledge of sound engineering is zero), the sound desk at the venue had all kinds of programmable menus that could be set up--probably a very good and efficient thing if you have time to program it, but coming in cold a couple of hours before the gig was not good, and having to make quick changes through songs when they have to go through several menus each time is a problem. John told me that they were all utterly exhausted from trying to deal with the situation on stage, and from what I understand they were up late the day before, which I'm sure didn't help. At one point I could see my hands shaking while I was talking to him, and I realized it was from lack of proper sleep and food. I mentioned it, and John said that everyone was in the same boat--the band was pretty much the same way after several days of not taking proper meals, and then drinking at night and/or not getting much sleep. I'm actually looking forward to a "day off" in London as much as the rest of them probably are.

There were bright spots to the evening. I finally met Alex S. (who runs the Quiet City blog), and John came out to sign autographs and talk to people who were waiting, including Alex, who hadn't had a chance to talk to him in a couple of years. I also met a very nice gent in the front row called Martin, whom I chatted with between sets. The audience energy was very good, though we did have one person who had to repeatedly yell the name of each song as it was starting up. (I'd seen him wandering around earlier, and it's clear to me that he has "issues"--I won't start making diagnoses, though). However, as Martin pointed out, "Well, at least he knows John's material."

It is now Tuesday (Tuesday? Yes, it is Tuesday) morning, and I'm heading to London for the next 4 days, before going home on Saturday. I will not be doing soundchecks in London, as I hope to meet up with the Foxx fans who are going to the London gigs, and I will know more people there than at any other gig I've been to this past week. London is at least very much familiar territory now, so there will be no guessing about where I am or how to get around.

Monday, October 24, 2011

John Foxx at Glasgow Arches

I arrived in Glasgow on Sunday afternoon. It's a rather busy city, but mostly with your standard business rather than anything of particular interest. To be fair, I didn't really have any time to look around the city, though others tell me pretty much the same thing. I went to the soundcheck at about 3:45, and ran into Tara Busch and her husband, who were just arriving, and helped them bring in their things. I finally purchased a copy of Tara's album--her style has grown on me, and I very much like what she's doing.

I met some very nice people who were there for the VIP meet and greet, particularly Jess and Fraser (hope I'm spelling his name correctly). I also met "Numan Chris" from the Metamatic forum after the gig was over, and I was glad he introduced himself. (Turns out that he knows Fraser). Tara's gig went very well, and sounded good. One thing I should mention about the Glasgow Arches is that it's literally just that--a cavernous type place with huge brick arches. This ought to do wonders for the sound, but it's tricky with electronics, I think. Everyone sitting at the sound desk thought the sound was incredible, as did the band--they said it was the best it had been on tour thus far, and they were able to hear themselves. Standing in the front row, there were several times when many of us were holding our ears, from the loud reverb. "Running Man" sounded very distorted to me, as did the initial sound effects in "Dislocation". But other parts of the gig were perfectly fine. There were some interesting misses in "Evergreen", but they weren't fatal.

I think I have done enough of these gigs now to know what is different when I hear it. The setlist has remained unchanged, which is not really surprising, as John's own material had to be learned by the Maths, and they're going to stick to what they're comfortable with. Benge told me this was the first time he's ever toured--he's done one gig here and there, but mostly he's in his studio. By contrast, Chris Curran, who is the tour manager, has said, "Eh, it's a short tour", so it's no big deal to him. I'm not with the band, but I can say that following them at this pace is quite disorienting at times. From the second I arrive in a particular city, I have to see what time I'm going to the next one. London will be a relief, as I can park my luggage for a few days. On the other hand--I'm going to miss the dynamic of the tour up North. I've been able to spend a lot of time after gigs with the band and/or just John, and while that may be the case in London as well, it will be different.

I asked John where he would be post-gig, and he told me where the dressing room was, which security let me do with no trouble. I had a couple of beers with John, Benge, and Sefa, and we mostly talked about York and it's history, Rennie Mackintosh, and a bit about Umberto Eco (who I'm going to see in a couple of weeks in New York). We didn't spend too much time, as there were fans who wanted autographs, so John came upstairs to sign things for them, and then they were packing up and leaving for their next destination.

Today I head off to York at about 10:00. I have heard so much about the city, I am looking forward to it, and also to seeing some other Foxx fans that I know there (either through social media or who I have met personally). So, til tomorrow. Again.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

John Foxx at Liverpool Guild of Students

My Liverpool trip had a rather rocky start. The train from Manchester was packed, and wifi was not working at my hotel. I was assigned to the top floor, and there was no lift in the hotel, so I had to take my 50 pound luggage up 3 flights of stairs. If I haven't lost 10 pounds by the end of this excursion, I will be surprised. My hotel was lovely, right on the lake in Sefton Park, but I didn't have much time to enjoy it.

I got to the soundcheck as they were just setting up, and was around for several hours. Rob and Rob turned up for this one, and I met some other people, some who were doing work for John, others who were there for the "VIP" meetup. Rob told me that John did a Beatles song during soundcheck; it must have been the moment I stepped out to make a call. Dammit.

There was some female pop singer playing in a venue next door, so there was about 8 million teenage and pre-teen girls outside. Some would occasionally walk into soundcheck, thinking they were somehow going to make their way backstage to the female singer's area. Security eventually threw all of them out. We all laughed and thought how funny it would be if they were there to see John.

Soundcheck ran late, leaving Tara Busch about 10 minutes to get set up and checked. The gig sounded good, though afterward I heard discussion that John's vocorder kept fading in and out, as well as the bass. The setlist was the same, and the projections were better at this gig than any other so far. The crowd was enthusiastic, and it seems that at every gig, I hear requests for John to play "Quiet Men". Must be a favorite.

After the gig, the two Robs and I ended up in the Maths dressing room, and had a beer with John, as the others had taken off for a local pub. John was in rare form. We chatted about Karborn (whom John expects to push him around in his push chair when he's old and wait on him), about how much roadies get paid ("They all have fancy estates outside of London. The band lives in council housing."), and yoga (We were talking about difficult yoga postures, and I mentioned that those are to prep the body for meditation. Then John came back with, "Yes, you do that before your medication." He pointed around the room and said, "Welcome to the fabulous rock and roll lifestyle. See how cheerfully the walls are painted, and how beautiful the furniture is, and how the woodwork has been carefully worn by bottle caps, as bands previous have tried to open their beer bottles on the edge of the counter, since they can provide beer bottles but not a bottle opener." (Apparently they found a place on the radiator that worked.)

We helped them gather up everything left in the room as they were getting on the bus, and said goodbye. Rob was kind enough to give me a lift back to my hotel, and I came to the unpleasant realization that I had to be at the train by 9:30 in the morning. (I am actually writing this on the train, fighting off another headache).

John Foxx at Manchester Club Academy (I've lost track of days)

Arrived in Manchester on Friday afternoon. The cab driver who brought me from Manchester Picadilly to my hotel sang the praises of the town. He also told me that he had driven someone in his cab the previous week who was friends with Bob Dylan--and was coming to see him play. The cab driver had never heard of Bob Dylan before then.

After checking in to my hotel and getting myself sorted out, I headed over to where Manchester Academy is located. As it turns out, there are 4 "Academies"--the first is a large building that seats about 3,000, and the academies get progressively smaller until you get to "Club Academy", which holds about 300 to 400 people. This is where John played.

I walked into sound check with no difficulty, and listened to the band go through "Dislocation", "He's a Liquid", "Evergreen" and "Hiroshima Mon Amour". Before they really got going, I chatted with Tara Busch, who was unpacking her own gear with her husband Maf. It turns out she's from Hartford, Connecticut (about 3 hours from where I currently live), and spent time in North Carolina before moving overseas. Tara spoke about John as an influence--she said she learned a lot from being in the studio with him. She was especially impressed with his minimalist style, and his ability to choose what sounds he's going to use "efficiently". As I've mentioned, Tara's songs are a bit complicated, but they are very good. There's probably no need to for her to imitate John's style, though in general, learning different ways is never a bad thing.

Afterward Chris Curran showed me where they were coming out after the gig, and I joined the queue to see what fans were there at the show. There were a number of children at the show--probably ages 6 to 8--which is a first for me. One of the gents at the show was kind enough to show "Manchester hospitality" and buy me a drink. I actually was able to sit on a stool by the side of the stage for the entire gig, and was able to see the stage clearly. There were a lot of people at the gig, but it wasn't packed to the point of not being able to move around.

The gig itself was spot-on; the sound guy later said that it was the best sounding gig out of the three so far, and I think I would agree with him. Tara opened, and this time she had no equipment difficulties. John started the show with "Shatterproof" as usual, and this time said, "This is for all the bankers." The show then steamed ahead, with very intense vocals, and great sound. (There were a few errors, but I have sworn not to reveal them. OK, one of them had to do with the "moment" in "Just for a Moment". I won't name names.). John later said to me that "mistakes happen in live gigs, it's just one of those things." None of the errors were fatal, though at least one was funny. One of the audience hecklers kept asking for them to play "Quiet Men", and then shouted, "John, you are the quiet man!" which made Serafina laugh visibly. The setlist was the same as the previous shows.

After the gig, I went to the backstage door, and Benge and Serafina came out. Serafina went back in and got me a beer. We sat on the steps with Tara and Maf, talking about mistakes made in the gig, and offering suggestions regarding a fancier drum riser for Benge. They let me come back into the dressing room, where John was getting ready to get changed after the gig, and had a couple of visitors. I went with Serafina and Benge to a nearby pub for a drink, and John joined us later. I've noticed that when John likes someone or thinks they're a decent person, he refers to them as "civilised". We talked a bit about the gig circuit, and John mentioned seeing the Talking Heads with the Ramones in Belgium around 1977. I think he also said that Ultravox had opened for Blondie around 1978. ("Now I'm name dropping" he said.) I had a couple of drinks, and when Hannah Peel finally joined us, she ended up going with Benge and Serafina to get something to eat, and I went back to the venue with John, so he could collect his things and go to his hotel.

As we walked, he told me how much Manchester University had changed since he'd been there. "Only about half these buildings were here when I was in school," he told me. We also talked about the difficulties of touring in a different city every day. John said, "I come to Manchester, and think, look how much has changed; I'd love to take a look around. Don't have time. Get to Liverpool. Notice how much has changed. Would love to take a walk around. Don't have time. Looks like they've done some reorganisation in Glasgow; would love to look around, don't have time. And so on." While I haven't been to most of these cities (except Liverpool, and that was just 2 years ago), I think I feel the same way--I'm here in a new city, but I basically have time to check into my hotel, head into town, look around for about an hour tops, and then hit sound check. By the next morning, I'm writing my blog posts after breakfast, packing up, and then heading on to the train to get to the next city. There's no time to explore anything here. Perhaps one day.

John was heading back to his hotel, and offered a ride back to mine, so I took a short ride in the touring van with John and Chris 1 and 2 (Curran and Oliver) to my hotel. Chris Oliver mentioned that he was playing soon in New York with Chameleons Vox, so I need to look up that gig when I get back to the U.S. Now time is flying, it's sunny in Manchester (which I hear happens only about twice a year), and I have to check out and catch a train.

So, now I am off to Liverpool. Until tomorrow...

Friday, October 21, 2011

John Foxx and the Maths at Bristol Thekla (UK Trip Day 8)

I finally left Exeter about 12:30, and headed over to Bristol. The train was heading all the way up to Dundee, so it was packed with reservations. Between the guy having a loud argument via phone with his ex-girlfriend because she owed him money (and this is way more than I ever needed to know about him), and the disgruntled couple who were told there were "plenty of seats" on the train after they were given the wrong reservation date and now had to stand, I have to say I was glad to get off in Bristol Temple Meads.

I have been through Bristol countless times, but have never stopped here. The view from the train station is not very impressive (nor from the bus stop to Glastonbury), so I really didn't know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised--Bristol is a lovely city on the river, and my hotel was on something called the "Welsh Back" which runs right along the river front, and is near the Grove, where Thekla (the venue John was playing) is located. My hotel was also surprisingly lovely, as the photos of it on the Internet are hardly a testament to good marketing.

I arrived at Severshed, where there was supposed to be a meetup, and had a very expensive beer, waiting to see who would show up. About 10 minutes later, Rob popped in and asked me to come over to the soundcheck. He helped me finish my beer and we went right over. Soundcheck was mostly with the Maths, with John turning up at the end. Brian was there, as was Cerise, whose name I've heard but never previously met. It was almost 6:00 when we headed back to Severshed for dinner and/or drinks, and there we met up with Mark.

So--onto the gig itself. The setlist was about the same as Leamington Spa, and the dynamic of the place was entirely different. The Thekla venue is on a boat (easy to forget in a place that looks a bit like the Mercury Lounge in New York). Everyone was packed in, and I managed to be up front with Brian, Rob, and Cerise. Tara Busch opened again, and she had some difficulty with one piece of equipment. She couldn't get it resolved, so she decided to forego the first song and move on. Besides that, she did a very good set, and I think her music is starting to grow on me. There are elements of her music that remind me of the Spacedog gig I saw last year in London, and I like it very much.

John and crew came on promptly at 8:30, as there was a 10:00 curfew (for the show, not the club itself, which is apparently open until 4 in the morning). The acoustics were not as good as they were at Leamington Assembly, but the audience energy was high, and the band seemed more comfortable overall. I finally met Benge after the gig while they were loading up their gear, and he mentioned that they were all a bit nervous at the first gig, as they weren't yet comfortable with the setlist. (Apparently he does read this blog.) It may have explained at least some of the tension at the Leamington Spa gig. Interestingly, I was chatting with a fan after the show while waiting for John, and he said that he'd recently been to see Stiff Little Finger, and how different the shows were, mainly because of the lack of audience interaction. I don't think he was being critical of John's lack of interaction (John doesn't banter with the audience), but simply noted that it was a very different experience. Having seen Stiff Little Finger before (only 3 days before the Sept. 11 catastrophe in fact--in downtown Manhattan), I would totally agree with that observation. Right after the show, Mark said it was probably the best John Foxx gig he'd ever seen.

Compared to other sets where they've performed material from Interplay, I'd noticed something different about the sound, and I finally pinpointed that John is singing the songs in a higher range. This has the effect of "lightening" some of the darker sounds of the songs.

To get trivial for a moment--I was close enough to John to see his breathing, and watching how he took in air reminded me of a Reiki Master beginning the attunement process. Those of you reading this who are Reiki Masters (and there are a couple of you) will know exactly what I mean--it's a type of breathing that I've never properly mastered (no pun intended). I only remark on it because it looked unusual.

After the gig everyone wanted to go for a drink, and I did too, but I also wanted to talk to John. The Thekla becomes a nightclub for twenty-somethings as it gets later, and I watched with another fan as these girls walked into the club in skimpy little shorts and half-tops, while the temperature was probably around 39 degrees Fahrenheit. I vaguely remember those days in my own life, and I am just glad that the "can't wear a coat out because it isn't sexy" phase of my life is very much over.

John did come out at last, and apologized for keeping me waiting. In between fan requests for autographs and photos, John and I chatted for close to 45 minutes, with Benge joining us (and Serafina briefly) later on. We discussed Manchester, the next tour stop, and he suggested I check out St. Ann's Square, which he said was "civilised". He said a 15-minute walk anywhere beyond that was not particularly safe, and that there were parts of Manchester that had been fine when he was growing up in that area that are no longer safe. We also discussed my visit to Exeter and prospective Ph.D., which branched off into me trying to explain to John what "Western Esotericism" is. He turned to Benge at one point and said, "Brigid's going for a Ph.D. in things that are not understandable". With John I think it's always a question of us having different definitions of terms (just like he claims his work has no "mythological" component), and to be entirely fair, Western Esotericism is a rather new field. He did like the idea of "Theology of Electricity" (someone's actual research topic at Exeter).

I am now back in my hotel room looking forward to a hot bath and breakfast before heading off to Manchester. Until then...