Friday, July 18, 2008

Retro-Journal: At Last, 2007

The circle is now complete. With today’s Retro-Journal entry, the fortieth in a series of forty, I have fulfilled my forty-week mission to recount the past twenty years of my life (just over half my life so far), six months in each weekly entry.

Today, in 2008, theatre-goers flock to see a brooding pop culture icon watching over a dark, divided city of crime and danger: I mean Lou Reed, of course, seen performing his Berlin album, in a concert film out today. And Lou Reed — like the then-divided Berlin about which he sings — is also a good glimpse of both the future and past of this blog, for next month, as the major-party political conventions approach, I turn my attention more fully (albeit in shorter posts) to the theme that gives this site its current slogan, “conservatism for punks,” and to working on the long-delayed book proposal about the same topic.

Both conservatism and alternative rock sometimes seem to those steeped in their details like quasi-ancient phenomena but trace their modern formulations to approximately 1964, not so long ago in the grand scheme of things, I realize as I age, with that year bringing Barry Goldwater’s failed but inspirational presidential campaign and Lou Reed’s collaboration with John Cale, the partnership that would lead a year later to the creation of the band Velvet Underground. The resulting subcultures could learn some useful things from each other.


In March 2007, though, forty-three years later, there came the public announcement from Ron Paul of his plan to run a libertarian-conservative campaign for the presidential nomination of the Republican Party — and that same month, coincidentally, saw the official launch of this blog, which has since covered topics ranging from Paul’s encounter with the Sex Pistols on TV to the overly-complicated timeline of the Terminator movies.

About one month after the blog’s launch, as it happens, I attended one of the CitizenJoe political speech/socializing events — the series written about this week, in the same TimeOut New York article as the Debates at Lolita Bar that Michel Evanchik and I run. And at that fateful CitizenJoe gathering, I met a lawyer (and Democrat) named Koli who introduced herself to me, amusingly enough, by expressing doubt about whether any actual Republicans attended the events. Like that night’s speaker (a Cato expert on the Iran situation), I’m a libertarian, but I’m also technically a registered (and increasingly disillusioned, if such a thing is still possible) Republican, on the grounds that when I registered, lo these sixteen years ago, shortly after moving to New York City, the Republicans were ostensibly the more free-market of the two major parties.

Whether the distinction matters anymore is so debatable that I’ll have to write a book partly on that question. Koli and I may not have settled all the world’s political disputes, but we dated for about seven months — even traveling to Jamaica together for my friends Allan Cohen and Maria Gray’s wedding one year ago this month — and there’s something to be said for that.

I will probably be a bit less social, more hermitlike, in the months ahead (except in so far as you all know where to find me twice a month, per the front page’s right margin), working on the aforementioned book proposal. And speaking of devoting my energies elsewhere, some have asked why I don’t post copies of some of the college-era material I’ve mentioned, using it as a potentially-interesting form of filler. Well, besides the fact that I haven’t gotten around to buying a scanner with which to create Brown Film Bulletin PDFs — and ignoring ambiguous copyright questions surrounding those collectively-written pieces — I’ve found that many of the old Bulletins, and my old Brown Daily Herald columns as well, are so riddled with references to whatever the hubbub on campus that week was that even I now can’t understand them sometimes, two decades later.

You can’t go home again. Well, actually, that I can do — Norwich, CT and my parents still make perfect sense to me. Maybe I should have blogged about the first two decades of my life instead of the third and fourth, but it was all pretty much science, comic books, New Wave music, and the communist menace back in the first couple decades, too, except with a lawn, pets, and easy access to the woods. I have just over one year left in which to cement this fourth decade’s status as the most significant one, so wish me luck. After that, it’s all downhill, of course.


•But in January 2007, when I still retained some of the vigor and hope of youth, I saw David Lynch speak at a Barnes & Noble, hoping for some explanation of the poor quality of his three-hour-long, aggressively repetitive and pointless film Inland Empire. The explanation, I think, is that Lynch was always more a naive “outsider artist” than a complex surrealist. He says Blue Velvet started with him thinking, boy, it’d be neat to have a shot of an ear lying in a field and then ask how that darn ear got there, and that, I’m afraid, is the disillusioning truth about the level of thought that goes into his films. Sometimes they just look cool. Now he’s into transcendental meditation, while the Twin Peaks co-writer who in retrospect was probably crucial in keeping the series coherent, Mark Frost, went on to co-write things like the Fantastic Four movies.

Interestingly, I heard years ago that Lynch is also something of a Reagan-loving social conservative, motivated to make his films in part by the concern that the world is, as I think he once put it, full of strange people doing terrible things. And I suppose that’s sometimes the case. But it’s funny, too, as he’s also aware.

•That February saw strange people talking me into seeing the Ghost Rider movie, which was indeed a fairly terrible thing, but it did have a delightful trailer for Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, written by the aforementioned Mark Frost, at the beginning, which helped — though I never did go see the Surfer movie because it reportedly never showed the mighty, world-eating space-being named Galactus in all his armored glory, despite him being a major plot element — and despite his having waited some 14 billion years (or four decades, if you only count from his appearance in Fantastic Four comics) to appear on the big screen. What a cosmic rip-off.

•March brought one of the biggest Lynch fans I know — my old sophomore college roommate Marc Steiner — and his wife to New York City for the first time, and in one way it was indeed like old times, when we’d often complained about the obscurantists and avant-gardists at Brown, since twenty years later we found ourselves attending a postmodern Richard Foreman play, Wake Up, Mr. Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind Is Dead!, with theatre guy and amateur philosopher Richard Ryan and his girlfriend.

Marc’s no cultural conservative, but it was a joy to see how much more willing he was than I to simply tell Richard R. that the whole thing was bunk, a colossal waste of time, and a betrayal of all artistic purpose or meaning. I just sort of regarded the hour or so of pantomime, flashing lights, and cryptic repetitive slogans as Postmodernism 101 — a bit boring but harmless and occasionally hypnotic. Richard R. finds Foreman’s work profound, but then, Richard R. admits he’s drawn to mysticism, while also having studied physics and become a computer programmer, a potent combo.

After that night, I finally felt I could ignore the avant-garde without any residual guilty feeling that perhaps it was “threatening” to my uptight, bourgeois consciousness or something. The avant-garde is simply old hat, I think.

•Mid-March brought a junket to tour the Scottish nanotech industry, the end of March had seen the official start of regular blogging at, and April brought the aforementioned Koli meeting, quickly followed by our first real date, seeing musician Mike Kobrin — who had also been one of the other writers on that nanotech junket and who has just this month relocated to New Orleans, the perfect place for a trumpet player. One who combines a fascination with high tech and a love of traditional music is a cultural balancing act after my own heart, a natural for the Big Easy.

•The end of May saw me ordering a copy of Katherine Taylor’s cool novel Rules for Saying Goodbye, a book that still strikes me as providing a valuable lesson for all those writers out there who, around that time, got into trouble for writing fanciful or fabricated memoirs: Just write a book that resembles your life, name the main character after yourself, and call it a novel — then you can do whatever you want. Be an ex-junkie, get raised by wolves and chased by Nazis, embody left-wing Guatemalan womanhood, make cutting remarks to other members of the Clinton Cabinet while being Secretary of Labor, get probed by space aliens — whatever it is you want to fake, you just call it a novel and it’s OK. No subsequent recriminations on Oprah, no cries of fraud. Remember: being a novelist, as opposed to a memoirist, means never having to say you’re sorry. By contrast, the Retro-Journal is (as far as I know) completely accurate and, as such, a valuable first draft of history.

•June saw my ex-girlfriend Dawn Eden headed off to live and proselytize for Catholic chastity in DC, around the time conservatism was starting to look like a spent force in American politics, the Republicans having lost Congress months earlier, after twelve long years of not downsizing government. Since then, I suppose I’ve hunkered down a bit philosophically, figuring that unless I focus laser-like on BUDGET CUTS AND DEREGULATION, no religious-rightist, hawk, reform-minded liberal, moderate, green, or any other known political species is going to make the tiniest effort to encourage those important things — thus the perhaps growing tone of single-minded anarchism on this blog, which I hope will culminate in some sort of useful, more or less libertarian tome at a time when it’s sorely needed.

And the second half of 2007 would see the blog begin perhaps its most important feature (so far): this Retro-Journal, which has explained in some small way how I got where I am. It was inaugurated on Friday, October 19, 2007, twenty years to the day after the “Black Monday” stock market dip that happened a month after I got to college and that many regarded as heralding the end of the Reagan years, much as the Bush years are now ending in financial uncertainty and equally controversial foreign policy developments (ones that may or may not presage equally positive and world-changing subsequent developments).

Regardless of who wins the presidential election in November, this fall is likely to be greeted by many people as a sort of palate-cleanser, with both the Bush and Clinton dynasties probably receding into history. We don’t know for sure what next year will bring, but only a sadist would deny hoping it’ll be better than the past, and, if the general progress of the human race is any indication, it probably will be, despite all the disasters along the way. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll look back at it all in a retrospective twenty years from now and use this juncture as the starting point when I do so. Excelsior.


jenny said...

mail me the damn bulletins, already. i’ll scan ‘em. i’m sitting next to two damn scanners right now, in fact. and then you can decide what to do with the pdfs.

i *want* my retro film bulletin fix!

i *need* my retro film bulletin fix!


Jacob T. Levy said...

You own the copyrights to the Seavey Post-Intelligencer…

funnygirl said...

your blog is getting better )