Daylight savings kicked in today. Every year, on falling back, I think of one particular night in my life. It’s one I actually think about often, but am absolutely guaranteed to think about when the time changes.
It’s 1994 or 95, and I’m studying film at CU Boulder. Part of studying film at CU at the time was taking Stan Brakhage’s survey classes — I don’t remember anymore what they were actually called — which amounted to just watching films for two hours. This was always an evening class. It started at 7pm.
One December evening I arrived at class a full half-hour early, which may have been the only time I was early to any class over the course of my college career. It was an absolutely frigid night, and I didn’t have anywhere else to go, so I just stood in the hallway outside of the classroom. Stan’s office was directly above the classroom, in an odd sort of loft space that was accessible by a stairway that went only to that one room. And he was up there, talking on the phone. I think we might have been the only two people in the building.
I could hear him, of course, as if he were standing next to me. If you ever had the pleasure-slash-terror of hearing Stan speak, you know how his voice carried, even when he was speaking gently. Which he was not at this particular moment. In fact, he was arguing with his wife. And what they were arguing about, as far as I could tell after guiltily and desperately eavesdropping for a few minutes, was his reluctance to continue seeing his therapist. He was adamant, and after going around and around about it for a while, I suppose his wife must have said something like “But WHY NOT, Stan?” and he answered with a sentence that, coming out of Stan Brakhage’s mouth, struck me as probably the single most unassailable thing I had ever heard or ever would. Which was:
“Abraxas. Adocentyn. Apollyon. Ariel. Ars Notaria. Azael. In the Angelic Conversations of Doctor DEE (q.v.) Azael is the interpreter of God. What did “q.v.” mean? The first thing to do after staring again long into the vast ruins pictured on the endpapers front and back—broken antique torsos, huge headstones covered in clearly cut but unintelligible words, toppled pillars sunken in grass, arches, urns, capitals, obelisks—was to turn to the page whereon he had found the name of his secret lodge or club … it wasn’t far from the front, in an entry on Alchemy … the book almost fell open there, so stared at was the page.”—John Crowley, Ægypt
In a more practical way, this was how Doctor Dee often encoded: he kept a huge number of stock phrases in various languages, which would be substituted for the key words of the secret message. The word “bad” could be enciphered by “Pallas is blessed of charm” or “You are admired of women, Astarte,” or “A god of grace enthroned.” If the same phrase were in Greek, it meant a different thing: “crown” perhaps, or “stealthily.” Whole fictions could be constructed out of these phrases, they were designed to fit together with standard couplings to yield long tedious and half-intelligible allegorical fantasies that actually meant something brief and fatal: The Duke dies at midnight. In fact the great trouble of the method was that the encoding was always so much longer than the message.
Late at night, unraveling such a one, Doctor Dee would sometimes think: All creation is a huge, ornate, imaginary, and unintended fiction; if it could be deciphered it would yield a single shocking word.
This: a person who is really, really annoyed by the lack of projection and staying power exhibited by L’eau de Tarocco, particularly in this stupid roll-on, which seems like such a good idea but just doesn’t work well at all due to the air bubble that forms right by the ball every time you turn it over. And this shit was expensive. And I’m complaining about this while wearing a CRASS t-shirt.
“Once again, it seemed, I was discovering the truth of the rule, a rule I’d never explicitly formulated to myself, but whose veracity I’d quite often sensed in a vague sort of way, which was that the chances of seeing an idea through to completion are inversely proportional to the time you’ve spent talking about it beforehand. For the simple reason, it seemed to me, that if you’ve already extracted all the pleasure from the potential joys of a project before you’ve begun it, there remain, by the time you get down to it, only the miseries of the act of creation, its burdens, its labors.”—Jean-Phillipe Toussaint, Television
I mean, it seems to me that there is no surer symptom of the onset of Middle-Aged Rock Nerdery than giving a shit about drummers. Guitarists: sure; singers: obviously; bassists: welllllll, ok, if it’s a chick — or if it’s a dude and you’re a chick. But why even know the drummer’s name, unless it’s Echo or Roland? What is happening to me?
I was really worried that Caralee’s departure from Xiu Xiu would send Jamie down a dark, clangy, darkly clanging street lined with many “Walnut House”s. But hey, look, nothing to fear: Dear God, I Hate Myself is (by Xiu Xiu standards) pure pop. Not a single beatless sound-collage in sight — just chip-y, chipper, occasionally exuberant, even fistpumping synthpop. Sure, the songs are still about deviance, self-loathing, and suicide. But they sound so good! 1:03–1:05 here make me want to bleat out DO YOU LOVE ME JAMIE STEWART.
In retrospect, ‘fistpumping’ is probably not a good image to use in re Xiu Xiu. I regret the error.