Thursday, October 20, 2011

Art Under the Nervous Dust

I just spent almost all day preparing to vacuum and then vacuuming my room. I don't know how long it's been since the last time I vacuumed, but I uncovered a Comic-Con badge from 2008. I really don't think it's been that long. There were also a bunch of cards and sample comics I picked up, including kind of a funny one for a webcomic called Dar that I see now published its final strip in 2009. It can't really have been that long since I vacuumed.

Actually, reading that strip now, Dar seems kind of dull. It seems to be by the sort of writer who thinks that all it takes for an important event in their life to be interesting to the public is that it's made available for the public to read. It reminds me of what I saw last night.

Every now and then, I try to take steps towards not being a reclusive misanthrope. I look for Things with People that I Might Participate In. My English teacher told the class about something called "The Lester Bangs Memorial Reading" which was happening after class last night. Lester Bangs was an important music critic in the 1970s--he was portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the Cameron Crowe movie Almost Famous. Otherwise, I didn't know much about him. It turns out he went to Grossmont Community college, the same school I'm currently going to, and the faculty seem to be proud of him. Or something.

I wasn't sure I really wanted to go, but the girl in the Sylvester McCoy hat I'd been talking to was going with her boyfriend, and she and I were still talking and walking after class and my car happened to be in the same direction. At some point during the walking, the Happen to Be Walking in the Same Direction turned into Why the Hell Not See the Reading, pretty much for the instinct to drift away from misanthropy I mentioned. I figured at worst I'd be exposed to the work of one of the more influential music critics of the past fifty years, which didn't seem so bad. After all, I think I kind of liked Philip Seymour Hoffman in Almost Famous, though I kept saying the picture of Bangs in the flyer looked more like Terry Jones.

Now I think about it, he kind of looks like a cross between Terry Jones and Graham Chapman.

So by now you can probably tell I was under the foolish impression that "The Lester Bangs Memorial Reading" would consist at least in part of readings from the works of Lester Bangs. Oh . . . no. It did not. We saw a brief clip of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Almost Famous before the real event began, which was a student reading. As in, two students read short stories they'd written. Okay, I'm an asshole. I'm so sorry. I am. I can't help it. But after four years as an editor on the college literary magazine, I'm well past the point where I recognised even the best of student short fiction is soul crushing to read or hear read. Not necessarily because it's bad, but because you can hear so many of the practices they've been encouraged to pursue by networks of teachers and fellow students. Hell, I could hear it in the laughter in the crowd when one of the students came to a part of his story where he described a night of drinking and partying during the South by Southwest Music Festival as "the real stimulus plan."

The only really decent part of the guy's story was a bit where he was driving with his indie record label producer friend and he talked about the frightening, uncertain future. There was some real feeling there, but it was buried under faux Hunter S. Thompson, mannered rhetoric. Most signifying was when he described a bit of partying as "beyond Hunter S. Thompson." Of course it is. Because why would it be worth talking about if it's not the greatest thing ever. The first story was even more narcissistic--it was about how the guy had discovered The Grateful Dead was not a metal band and then discovered that he liked early Santana albums. It amounted to, at best, an amusing anecdote. It's not something you write down and read in front of a room full of people, even if they are laughing and seem to be listening with rapt attention.

How do people eat up this tripe? I suppose it's all part of the mutually self-sustaining aspiration machine. You know who wouldn't have been eating it up? Lester Bangs.

I've been reading his work to-day. A lot of it's kind of great. Sure, a lot of it is the cheap cynicism of entertaining criticism. But he also knew how to write--I love this piece he wrote about a band called The Shaggs. He describes their guitar style as, "sorta like 14 pocket combs being run through a moose's dorsal, but very gently."

I don't know if I'd say they're better than The Beatles, but I can see why Bangs liked them. Somehow they survived the world that takes the outstretched hand of expression and twists it around to make people poke themselves in the eyes. They're sincere, they're not shadows of themselves.

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