"Black Swan" / I'm Losing My Edge
Love that James Murphy:
My fears of edge-loss have progressed over the years. Matured, you might say. There was a time — circa 2001 - '03 — when I was all swagger, taking personal pride in being an authentic edge-pusher among the edge-pushers. I sneered at hipsters for lack of creativity in the burbling North Brooklyn scene. I scoffed at freaks for their lack of participation out at Burning Man. I hassled any and all established and/or successful people ("success" based on whatever metric you like) for their transparent hypocrisies and lack of forward momentum, things that I now realize come part and parcel with making something of yourself.
Gradually, perhaps predictably, those positions have become transposed. Now it is I who am transparently hypocritical, conservative, cautious, mindful of all I've got and not just what all could be. Yes, it's in part because I've made something of myself, but it still gives me pause. Moreso lately since I feel like I'm close to a tipping point.
See, to the extent that I've feared "losing my edge" over last four or five years, it's mainly to do with a sensation Mr. Murphy speaks to so quite: "the kids, are coming up from behind." Though I have mixed feelings overall about "the kids," I do enjoy the sensation of approaching footsteps, that whatever I'm on about is being relentlessly improved and optimized by upcoming generations. It might mean I'm soon to be outclassed and out on my butt, but at least I was onto something real (like a Yazz record) in the meantime.
What I find more troubling is the feeling I get of occasion lately — to quote Forest Mars, another ardent and admirable weirdo — that I've "lost the script." It's less that i feel that I've lost my edge (emphasis on possession), and more that I've lost the sense of where the edge even is to begin with.
Now sure, some of this is just anxiety over mainstreaming. Though I've landed in a wonderful and eccentric nerd-palace household in San Francisco, abandoning my life in the hills meant embracing a significantly more normal day-to-day than I used to have. I'll be honest, I enjoyed having real-life outlaws as neighbors and friends. Screwups though many of them may be, they're lovable too, and I feel a deep connection with people who stand outside "the system" so strongly.
When you pay your mortgage with black-market money, you've made a serious and solid commitment to living your own life. I get that, and I liked having those people around. I liked being around people who were deeply skeptical of the world as it stands and intimately/actively interested in alternatives, be that the global Red Dawn or a personal piece of property.
Where The Natalie Portman Film Figures Into This
The other night I watched Black Swan, another film in which Darren Aronofsky shows his mastery with a light touch, and it hit me just how much my estrangement from the Arts might be a factor here.
Ballet is an excessively refined form, and not one with which I can identify outside some thin experience with the basic positions as an early part of my physical training. However, my old axe being theater — famously called "chamber music for the 20th Century" by Schechner — I can't really hold up my nose.
And honestly, the nuts and bolts of putting on a fracking show are remarkably common across disciplines. That's one of the reasons I'm skeptical of (but also secretly hopeful for) Charlie Sheen's live tour: getting up in front of a big group of living human beings who expect to be entertained and delivering on that is hard work, let alone bringing the real goods like transcendence, meaning, catharsis, Verfremdungseffekt, or any of that stuff.
But yeah, the ballet movie got the old performer in me hook line and sinker. The dramatic tension between control and abandon, in pushing one's self to another level surrounded by suspicion and intrigue. Working late. Permeating the arbitrary line between artistic and personal. Digging in the dirt, feeling the flow, questioning everyone and everything; yeah, it got me.
Specifically and personally it made me realize how the identity of "the artist" freed me up to experiment, to dabble in the unpredictable, to dance with the edge about which I speak. I believe that being an artist (and taking that seriously) is the post-modern/secular equivalent to being a religious devotee. That's not to knock contemporary monks, priests, nuns, imams, dervishes, bodhisattvas or prophets of any stripe; it's just to say that most Religious profesionals these days primarily appear to be bureaucrats, and when it comes to the heart+soul motivations that drive real devotion to metaphysical glory there's nearly a 1-for-1 match between serious adherents to organized spiritual glory and creators of the arts. I've always felt my own creativity and performance in those terms.
Lately I perform once a year, at the Westhaven Christmas party and talent show. It's a friendly crowd and people tend to enjoy my personal brand of self-scripted monologue with music. I typically pull it together a week or two in advance. This is the minimum my training prepared me to do, but people like it and certainly I like being able to flex that muscle. But in terms of what I was trained for it's not even keeping in shape. More like preventing atrophy.
The really distressing thing isn't that I perform once a year, it's that I don't really know where when or why I might do so more often. I don't have any delusions of fame: I get all the personal glory my ego needs from talking at conferences (a related, but separate endeavor), and I know from observing friends and fellow travelers that the limelight really doesn't have that much to offer me. So while I vaguely wish I were on stage more frequently, I don't specifically know why. I don't know what it would add up to.
And yet there's something essentially zesty and alluring about the art. To me, art thinks big. Art is the revolution, or at least the new movement. Anything else starts feeling a bit like this bit that I just read in Ian McEwan's (not Ewan McGregor's) Saturday:
Theo came up with an aphorism: the bigger you think the crappier it looks. Asked to explain, he said "When you go on about the big things, the political situation, global warming, world poverty, it looks really terrible, with nothing getting better, nothing to look forward to. But when I think small, closer in — you know, a girl I've just met, or this song we're going to do with Chas, or snowboarding next month, it looks great. So this is going to be my motto — think small."
That's true you know, thinking about my girlfriend and my gig is generally soothing — things are going well, really well — but I don't follow the conclusion that this is all I aught to take into my focus. I don't want to think small. I don't.
I have a big-picture story about my current endeavor, but it's a bit vague to be honest. Plus, getting pulled constantly into the minutia of making something specific happen inherently begins to feel like "thinking small." Especially compared to, say, a Jurrasic 5 lyric like, "I often wonder if these MC's know what it feels like / to dedicate your whole life to this mic of steel." Think about that. Hence the angst.
Bringing It All Back Home
Having rambled through all this I naturally know the answer. Guess what? It isn't dropping out of society to start a paratheatrical street performance group in Central Europe. Though that's always an option.
It's entirely within my power — indeed, smack dab in my vital interest — to frame my current nerdly business ambitions in the same terms as I do The Art. I'm just not quite there yet. My potential greatness in this endeavor lies latent in that margin, methinks, and the gap here is my primary personal problem of the moment. The extra effort that is brought to bear on a day-to-day, my ability to grab the occasional transcendent revelation, plus my high-value skills in the messianic persuasion category, these all depend on aligning my effort with my sense of The Edge.
So indeed, the concept of "loosing my edge" is pretty existentially frightening. Not only might I end up fat and uncool, but much worse ineffectual and ineffective. Nobody wants that. So for what it's worth I'm glad Black Swan gave me a reality check on this front. Art serves art serves science serves art: the human endeavor works!
Updates and backlinks:
- Paul makes an obvious connection I didn't even think of: this weekend was LCD's last show. As James Murphy said, "My entire youth is gone and dedicated to this, so I care enormously." Feel it.
- Elly gave me a link to her own post-Black Swan post, which was really nice. I especially liked this line:
"it's important to remember to take time to be inspired, to look at beautiful things and interact with art. i forget, i get lost in my own saturnian drudgery, thinking that the only thing that will bring me satisfaction is to complete all tasks required of me."
- Still thinking this over last night after posting, I had a stroke of genius courtesy my old friend Frank and watched All That Jazz, which really hit the spot. Not sure Joe Gideon (thinly veiled autobiographical doppleganger for Bob Fosse) is a good role model, but it seemed to move me in many of the right ways. It's showtime!