Monday, April 16, 2012

Belief By The Yard

 Miklos Onucsan, Self-Portrait By The Yard (detail), laser-cut wood beam, 2010

      Last Monday as my wife lay dying (we didn’t know it at the time; she has since recovered, thank heaven), I was ensconced (voluntarily) in an aerie/office pod high in Philadelphia’s  skyline, viewing obliquely (through two glass walls) an ugly “art by the yard” corporate collection painting showing the late Andy Warhol with his hands bound, his mouth covered by a gag.  


     In the midst of two long job interviews for part-time underemployment,  which I was ultimately denied after a series of weird conversations replete with  fulsome serial compliments and repeated requests for assurances of immediately-if-not-sooner availability, I didn’t mention “Andy Gagged” at the time.  

         Instead, I stuck to my plain pilgrim’s tale, which hasn’t changed for interview purposes since my last company was sold several years ago, and I fell amongst what they call these days the “eat what you kill” crowd.” 


    Since that sale, however,  I can honestly and accurately attest that my professional skills have remained highly honed and my judgement has grown more acute, based on: (a) additional and broader life and work  experience; and (b) Not Yet Being Senile (although I have previously encountered some possibly senile lawyers and businessmen who were still devilishly effective in their work).

      This job, which paid less than I usually charge and am used to making,  interested me because I would like again to work on a regular schedule among colleagues I might enjoy knowing for a business that will pay me without haggling, dunning, forcing the issue.

  I finally realized, though (at the exact time I learned that my wife was being rushed into emergency surgery) that  despite what the lovely agency woman who  sends me on these fool's errands had been telling  me, my so-called interviews were merely pretexts for some entity in Human Resources, Human Capital or Talent Acquisition (several of the current noms de guerre given to the ruthless corporate function formerly known simply as Personnel) to be able to Tick A Box evidencing that meaningful consideration had been given to hiring an “Old Person” for the job.   Oh well – you can’t time your Epiphanies.

Tim Hardin (1941-1980)

    During Monday’s (and the rest of the week’s) driving time fugue states, which arrived between school transport and hospital visits, Tim Hardin’s remarkable song “Reason To Believe”  regularly came to visit  my mind, each time sketching its aching ambiguities there.  Hardin died old while still quite young a long time ago now, though I remember hearing the news of his passing clearly and being sad about it.   The love of life that must have led him to write such an original, heartbroken work, and the pained regret of the song’s realizations, never leave you after you’ve heard the song once.  

   My wife told me about seeing Hardin perform when she was in high school (sadly, she said, he was in a sorry state of insobriety and disarray -- his mordant humor – if that’s what it was – notwithstanding) at the late, great Main Point in Bryn Mawr The club site on Lancaster Avenue, a place of glorious memories, is now a recession-destroyed former photography studio.   Every morning I pass it driving my daughter to school and I always remember my first visit there in August 1969 when my friend Anne Schwab from Wynnewood took me to see Magic Sam, the inspired Chicago blues guitarist, perform there. (I've been told by deep blues aficionados actually seeing a Magic Sam performance was akin to sighting  a rare celestial object.  He really was terrific.)

Magic Sam (1937 - 1969)

   In the quiet submerged rage that formed over the week's days and nights, I thought also about  Sonny Bono’s song “Laugh At Me” (both Sonny’s and Mott The Hoople’s versions), wondering how we’ve arrived at a corporate America that is so dysfunctional that people are actually paid professional salaries to waste hours of their own and other people’s time asking fake, pointless questions under false pretenses in pantomime conversations when short and precious life should be about asking real questions and thinking hard about what the answers might possibly be.  

  Departing the interview premises after three and a half  parched, empty hours, I asked my final interlocutor whether  I might take a look at the Andy Gagged” painting.  I wanted to make sure that the image was what it appeared to be and also learn the identity of the painter whose gifts snagged the interest and purchasing power of the corporate art acquisition expert.  

   Inspecting the label and painting more closely, I was unfamiliar with the artist’s name.  Later, searching through Google Images, I found no  reproduction of the work, although I did see a lot of  crude and unpleasant bondage pictures  that oddly projected more art, purpose and power  than inept, pathetic and false “Andy Gagged.”   

  My wife's health is improving daily, the most important thing, and my daughter's spray-painted black plastic sheet canvas, which will soon be decorated with major fluorescence,  is taped to the driveway waiting for Berwyn Banksy to create Art.  

  I sincerely apologize for all the parenthesis-framed clauses in this post.  It’s something I usually try to avoid, but somehow they seem to mimic the on-ramps/ off-ramps/ roadblocks/detours that have landmarked my life  this whole nutty week.  

  I recall many instances reading (usually, I think, in the Sunday New York Times or the Village Voice) the expression/cliché:   “the banality of evil.”   It always made me uncomfortable, seeming at once smug, useless, conspiratorial, collaborative and .   .   .  .  banal.    Evil exists – I have seen it -- and doesn’t seem the least bit banal to me.

Miklos Onucsan, Self-Portrait By The Yard, laser-cut wood beam, 2010


Magic Sam: She Belongs To Me (link) 


  1. All best to Carolyn, and you.

    (Tim is great. My favorite is It'll Never Happen Again.)

  2. Thanks so much. I'll pass the word to her. Things are much better now; they became difficult over Easter weekend, which seems a long time ago now. Poor Tim Hardin. Magic Sam's life was on such an upswing when he passed away too young of a heart attack. Don't know whether you ever attended a show at the Main Point, but it was a terrific place -- a coffee house -- and we were lucky to intersect with such places during such a good era for music. Caroline got to see them all up close there during their best years - early James Taylor (speaking, like Tim H., of people on the edge), Jackson Browne (before the whininess-mixed-with-success became too much to take), and in college we frequently saw Bonnie Raitt there when she really had something to offer and her bass player (Freebo on Fretless) was proudly known to be a Swarthmore graduate. I trust this week will go better, though honestly we came through last week fine, stronger and mending. Curtis

  3. I recognize that you may feel you have too much spare time at the moment, but no one could ever accuse you of idleness. I was away from the internet for the weekend, and behold what awaits on my return!

    I remember my joy in seeing the Persuasions at the Main Point, with a crowd of elegant, admiring ladies, who stood at the back of the room and called out Jayotis Washington's name between songs.

    Re a post below, "There is no solution because there is no problem" is probably the tidiest expression of what I know to be a very basic truth, though I somehow can't quite seem to absorb it.

    Best to Caroline (and to you).

  4. Thanks. The Duchamp quote, which really is essential, gets to the heart of things, which is the power, obviously of powerful thought and art. It's weird driving past the Main Point every day. If I could rent the space, I would. There's a spot down the block called Milkboy Coffee that features musicians, but it's not hardly the same. My oddest Main Point experience occurred during Caroline's career, actually. (The club went on for a long time in its original coffee house incarnation, like the Bitter End in NY), before succumbing by necessity to getting a liquor license, becoming The Point for a while and ultimately failing because of changing economics. Anyway, Caroline and I traveled to her mother's for the weekend because we wanted to see Jonathan Richman perform. He was superb. His opening act was a man who juggled extraordinary things, including whirring chainsaws. I was somewhere in the middle of the club, but it was such a small place that the experience was......overwhelming. I'm busy and not busy. Listening to the GSA hearings in Congress on C-Span radio a few minutes ago really made me think about the vagaries of the job market. So many people there, so well paid, so corrupt. Our movie is now shooting in NY and there are lots of things happening. Mostly Caroline's feelilng better every day, but this was, as you can imagine, sobering. Just home from purchasing her some mango ice cream at Royal India Grocery. She's eating lightly (essential for now), but nicely. As for me, I'd like a beer sometime within the next 60 minutes. Curtis

  5. One more thing. The experience I wrote about really was beyond the pale hideous, real (pardon the cliche) Through The Looking Glass stuff. Oh well -- first things first. Curtis

  6. I've been somewhat preoccupied lately, and haven't been keeping up with your posts. Although you had alluded to Caroline's illness, I was horrified to learn that she had been so seriously ill. Goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway - I'm greatly relieved that she is recovering.

  7. I know -- hideous week all around. She's doing well and we think that what was ailing her (something chronic that was never diagnosed properly) is probably now a thing of the past. I'm past exhausted and there's a distance to go, but that's ok. I'm feeling more cheerful than this post might indicate. Curtis