Monday, September 26, 2011

memory lane


Some unintentional humor from days long passed, found in an old notebook the other day while I was rummaging. As silly as it sounds to me now (the last paragraph, mainly), I'm fairly certain it was written in earnest.

"A man caught my ear as I was browsing the literature section in a bookstore today. I heard the words "Dickens" and "authentic poetry" in the same sentence and decided to hone in on the conversation. I walked over to the poetry section where the voices were coming from and saw a man sitting on the floor with a large stack of books and -- as the cliche would suggest -- a huge beard. He was speaking with a younger intellectual looking man about the younger man's poetry. As I drifted away to another shelf I heard the words "child prodigy" followed by the magic skeleton key to all things eye-enlarging: "Rimbaud." I couldn’t believe it!

The Beard then told the young man about a 19 year old musician who went to Mozart to ask for help. Mozart turned him down because he was too young. The young musician retorted: "But you composed symphonies when you were 5!" To which Mozart replied, "Yes, but I didn’t need any help!"

How perfect! The Beard used that story to prove his point and to get the young man to stop bothering him.

I moved in closer, reaching down for Baudelaire, hoping The Beard would notice and comment, confident that I could stand up to whatever he dealt me (I know a considerable bit about Baudelaire). He made no comment. I moved in again, my back turned in hopes that he would see the Artaud drawing and quote on the back of my shirt. He didn't. Like a true poet he paid no attention to me, his mind too busy with his books."

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DIY jacket I wore during my late high school years


I used to make ink drawings of the likes of Artaud and Rimbaud and place them next to various excerpts from their writing. I'd draw them on old white shirts and cut them out (in squares or rectangles) so that I could safety pin them to whatever shirt or jacket I wanted to wear. I still remember the Artaud quote referenced above:

"You are outside life, you are above life, you have miseries which the ordinary man does not know, you exceed the normal level, and it is for this that men refuse to forgive you, you poison their peace of mind, you undermine their stability. You have irrepressible pains whose essence is to be inadaptable to any known state, indescribable in words. You have repeated and shifting pains, incurable pains, pains beyond imagining, pains which are neither of the body nor of the soul, but which partake of both. And I share your suffering, and I ask you: who dares to ration our relief? We are not going to kill ourselves just yet. In the meantime, leave us the hell alone."

(For some reason it never seemed to occur to me to make the excerpts short enough for someone to actually be able to read!)

I remember another shirt I made with some Crass lyrics on the front and a stencil of the Crass symbol (see jacket above) spray painted in red on back. I wore it frequently on a road trip I took with a friend across the United States a week after we graduated high school.

While in San Francisco, a homeless man stopped me in the street, pulled the front of my shirt taut, and read the following (I stood there until he was finished):

Be exactly who you want to be, do what you want to do
I am he and she is she but you're the only you
No one else has got your eyes to see the things you see
It's up to you to change your life and my life's up to me
The problems that you suffer from are problems that you make
The shit we have to climb through is the shit we choose to take
If you don't like the life you live, change it now it's yours
Nothing has effect if you don't recognize the cause
If the program's not the one you want, get up, turn off the set
It's only you that can decide what life you're gonna get


Or maybe it was:

If you don't like the rules they make, refuse to play their game
If you don't want to be a number, don't give them your name
If you don't want to be called out, refuse to hear their question
Silence is a virtue, use it for your own protection
They'll try to make you play their game -- refuse to show your face
If you don't want to be beaten down, refuse to join their race
Be exactly who you want to be, do what you want to do
I am he and she is she but you're the only you


(I think it was the latter.) In either case, after reading it he looked up with a huge smile on his face, gave me a thumbs up, and walked away.




* * *

Years later I saw the following in the book Post Secret. I smiled and felt sad at the same time.


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3 comments:

Gentress Myrrh said...

Tyler, I have a feeling we would have been great friends during that time period if we had known one another! I did very similar things, quoted Baudelaire, Lautréamont and Artaud to anyone who would listen, and made posters and shirts of my "literary and musical heroes".
I laugh now at how very SERIOUS I was about it, but hey, think about what the other "kidz" were doing and (not) reading... haha...

the curator said...

In high school I made a few shirts dedicated to bands I liked, and some of them even drew comments from the people I was trying to attract, but nothing else ever came of it because I was never able to say anything besides "thanks" or "yeah they're good." I've never been much good at quoting. And anyway I had some trouble with it. Every time someone commented on my Velvet Underground shirt I was torn between thinking I'd met my soulmate and being angry that the Velvets weren't mine all mine.

Anonymous said...

I remember that homeless guy, and the exact intersection on Market Street where that occurred.