Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bread from the abyss

An important point of confluence for St. Louis is Washington University. It brings all of these fabulous (and not so fabulous) people here. Many of them stay, whether or not the place is objectively good for them. St. Louis can be an easy place to live, if you pick the right neighborhood. For an artist, the effective absence of a local arts industry can be a blessing. It makes for less crass careerism, less maneuvering, because there isn't really anywhere to maneuver to.

If I am not mistaken, it was the printmaking program at Washington University that brought Robert Goetz to us from San Antonio. He quickly went local in tavern kitchens as a line cook, and then on tavern stages as an indie rocker. He probably has stayed beyond what was objectively good for him, as an artist - he is very talented and multifaceted artist - though St. Louis has benefitted from his inner tension through the work he has done while he has been here. And at least he has a decent day job in the arts.

When I found Robert, he was constructing Temporary Autonomous Zones and inhabiting them, in various contexts, mostly as part of his performance art duo with Brett Williams, Nosey Parker. It took me awhile to get a take on that gig. In the meantime, I coaxed him into playing in a band with me, which was a really good ride, for a pretty long time. He played bass on my songs, I played bass (badly) on his. I'd like to think we would have kept it going up until now, except for the extremely unfortunate fact that the drummer we shared killed himself three years ago.

I don't think any of us are over that. I also don't think I'm being reductive of a difficult subject and a complex artist when I guess that Hunter's violent act of self-extinction has something to do with why Robert is writing songs about hate these days.

He is doing more than writing songs about hate. He is writing elaborate song cycles about hate, recording them and printing them to CD, buying ruined cars with CD decks, driving those cars out intp the middle of nowehere, and then blowing them up while his hate song cycle is spinning away inside their doomed frames.

At Robert's invitation, I contributed some material to his hate song cycle - some poems of mine, one by E.E. Cummings, and some ancient Egyptian hymns. They had hate down pat a long, long time ago. Check this one out:

Pyramid Text #211

I hate hunger & I will never eat it.
I hate thirst & I will never drink it.
It is I who will give bread to those who exist,
for my foster-mother is the milk goddess
& it is she who nourishes me.
I was conceived in the night,
I was born in the night,
I belong to those who are in the house of the night,
before the Morning Star,
I was conceived in the abyss,
I was born in the abyss;
I have come & I have brought you
the bread which I found there.

(Trans. R.O. Faulkner)

I don't know that Robert has scored this ancient fragment of hate as of yet, but after he showed up Sunday afternoon for The New Monastic Workshop we did break out my acoustic guitar and trade songs, and every song he sang was a hate song. I remember a line about "prehistoric hate" (that dates back beyond the Pyramid Texts!) and another about "small fish, small hearts all around," which sounds like a bad, sad, drunk take on St. Louis.

The astonishing thing, however, was the bounce and joy - swagger, even - of the songs. It was a tricky way to communicate hate. It almost even managed to sell hate, if not as something that was good for you, at least as something that would be pleasant to hum. I imagined the buoyant bounce of Robert's guitar chordings and the confident, melodic ease of his vocal, singing about the self-hatred of swimming in a circle, surrounded by small fish and small hearts, as the source of the sound detonated, along with the car stereo and the car itself, in a terrible, violent flash.

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