Thursday, May 03, 2001

She's Your Little Voodoo Dolly.

The Inuit museum of Outsider Art in Chicago is currently running an exhibit of Vodun (voodoo) altars and tapestries. Outsider Art (or Art Brut) are the drawings and sculptures done by people on the fringes of society. The religious, the psychics, seers, and the insane are all practitioners. Outsider Art can be primitive and naïve--drawings that a five year old might make--or it can be as complex as any formally trained artists' work. It often resembles automatic writing. Random squiggles and doodles, messages from the spirit world, that sort of thing. It is almost always otherworldly and creepy. The late Chicago Harry Darger was one such artist. After work, he'd return to his room and add more to his unfinished epic novel, THE VIVIAN GIRLS. This novel, told in prose, and illustrations, was the story of the 7 Vivian Girls fighting against child slavery on an another planet. Images of the US Civil War, drawings from '20s and '30s children's primers are pasted against Darger's colorful alien landscapes. Bits and pieces of his madness creep in, as well. Many of the girls have male genitalia. Some of them have butterfly wings. It's a snapshot of a fevered imagination.

For the current exhibit, Inuit expands the current notion of Outsider Art to include contemporary functional art. Images sacred to Vodun are displayed, both artistic representations and actual 'altars.' These objects of worship are made from makeshift odds and ends. This is wholly appropriate, considering the nature of the religion. Vodun, like Santeria, is a hybrid religion, which melds the African pantheon to Western Christianity. Dolls are the most frequently used materials. The commercial, plastic toys are recontextualized and grafted onto the religions' framework. For instance, there was a display of babydoll heads stuffed in clear glass bottles. A Cabbage Patch head is wrapped up in the coils of a felt snake. Barbie's face is painted black and her hair replaced by feathers, her pupils are demonic red dots. Another sculpture features a dolls head spattered with blood. The tapestries and quilts are vibrant bursts of color. Mostly made of beads, they show representations of the Vodun pantheon, from the sea goddess Erzulie to the god of life and death, Ghede. Like their sculptural brothers and sister, they are an amalgam of the whimsical and the horrific. Ghede stands at a crossroads in one tapestry, dressed in a dapper dark suits with cool shades over his eyes. His monstrous penis hangs from his open fly, a lewd and prehensile thing. Others show Erzulie as the Black Madonna, with a scar. Others show her as a benign mermaid. It's a disturbing, inventive and inspiring exhibit.

Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Cool Kids of Death

There must be some Jungian archetype for Kid Death. He who walks the razor's edge. The cavalier right foot inside reality, the left foot dipped in darkness. In both Samuel Delany's THE EINSTIEN INTERSECTION and Elizabeth Hand's WINTERLONG, Kid Death is an alluring youth, with bright green eyes, full of taunts and swagger. He flirts with disaster, and invites you to follow him.
I was friends with one of Death's devotees, quite recently. His chosen weapon of (self)-destruction was (is) the various forms of Speed: crystal meth, cocaine and Special K. He'd also take other club drugs as well, most notably Ecstasy. The throbbing hypnotic lights and shimmering bodies of the club scene beckoned him. Trance and the various permutations of house was the soundtrack to his life. As speed threaded through his brain with the reckless abandon of Evil Knievil casting himself above a tank of gators, he kept his eyes toward the boys he wanted.

What was so alluring about him? He's a beauty, with milk-pale skin, light brown hair and intense blue eyes. A strange and falling angel. (I know, they should be green). He has a charismatic sense of humor, one that's quick and associational. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of underground music culture--he'd done it all. He has that magnetism that all Beautiful Freaks have, and if ever there was a type for me, it's there. Crispin Glover, Rimbaud, (young) Lou Reed, Seth Green--these Dark Horse guys really do it for me. His jittery movements and complete disregard for social norms are charming. There's a dash of Warhol about him, the instigator combined with the dying swan aesthetic of Nico. For a while, he was a kind of guide to the Underworld, of drug-addicts, offbeat artists, punks and gutter-whores. I wouldn't say that I was attracted him sexually, but there was an element of Romance, of Doomed and Fatal Beauty.

But beneath the façade, sinister machinery was at work. His charm was built out of necessity as much as anything else. After all, when he crashed--as happens frequently--he could always to his acquaintances for help. In a way, he was a prostitute, and I was buying his cast-off glamour. The sad thing is, if he were offering it, I'd still be tempted. But he left me, when the more practical side of me took charge.

1. Queen of the Paperclips or Paperclip Queen: a person (usually female) who works at a low-level administrative job who feels the need to exert inordinate control and power over the most inconsequential thing, such as paper clips or white-out. Overlaps with anal-retentive. [Example:
"Make sure you bring it back. That stuff's like gold," said Adele as I walked away with her bottle of white-out. Geez, I thought to myself. She's a real paperclip queen; it's not like we don't have a ton of it in the supply closet.]

2. Religious Immunity: the belief that one can say or do anything-no matter how outrageous--as long as there is a reference to that person's religious affiliation or conviction. [Example: Dr. Laura can propagate the idea that gay men are pedophiles despite that absence of any peer-reviewed literature to support her claim, because of her religious immunity.]

3. -freaked: An compound adjective. When used in combination with the first word, the -freaked part serves to amplify it, often indicating an overpowering quality. [Those mashed potatoes sure were garlic-freaked. Alison Shaw, the lead singer of the Cranes, has a child-freaked voice.]

Sunday, March 11, 2001

The Pink Opaque

Sometimes, you have to test boundaries in order to properly define them. Case in point: for the past 3 years I have been taking the drug Paxil. I was placed on the drug after my first suicide attempt; and it helped me through a dark period in my life. (My father had a stroke; then my aunt drank herself to death, and a week later, my father passed away). I was on the smallest dosage, 20mgs. The drug is tiny and colored pastel pink. It looks like candy, but it has considerable power. Within the first week of being on the drug, I had tremors, decreased libido and loss of equilibrium. When my body got used to the drug, I experienced rare bursts of happiness; social anxiety, always a problem, disappeared and I found myself not so frightened of going up to strangers. Whatever vestiges of self-consciousness I had vanished. I found that I would sing for no reason at all and was full of energy. But, after 3 years, those feelings went away, and the drug’s affect was considerably less. Whatever social anxiety I had returned.

Also, the drug has a horrible half-life. If you miss one dose, you’re fucked. A kind of fuzzy lightheadedness takes over, and you can’t focus on anything. On top of that, you can’t really drink, a definite disadvantage if you want to participate in gay bar culture. You take the drug at night, because it has a soporific effect. At the end of 3 years, I was sick of being chained to this pink pill; the enchantment was waning.

I tried a couple of times weaning myself off the drug, according to the doctor’s orders, which is basically a slow tapering off. Both times, it failed. In addition to the lightheadedness and dull headaches that throbbed violently pink, there were also extreme mood swings, all of them dark. I’d cry magenta tears at the slightest things, get angry, yell at no-one in particular (pink phantoms?) I was a full-fledged lunatic. I’d get back on the drug, grudgingly. Finally, the doctor suggested that I try weaning myself off Paxil and simultaneously get on Prozac, which has almost no half-life.

Bad idea.

Prozac’s side effects were severe acid-reflux, combined with nausea. Taking the drug with food didn’t help matters in the least. I was on it for about 2 months. Prozac was a green substance contained in a clear capsule. For the next two months, my stomach produced noxious substances, acids and gases. I farted and burped a muddy green. It often felt like there was a poisonous nebula living in my stomach. At times it would compress, like a neutron star. And with no warning, entire green galaxies would be born, hissing and bubbling worlds and stars. I stopped taking Prozac, and in about a week, the heartburn and nausea cleared up.

I’ve been off Prozac for about 2 weeks. And my madness has come back. I have to face facts: I suffer from clinical depression. As in debilitating, don’t wanna get up, wanna kill myself over the littliest things kind. There’s no getting over it. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I need more Paxil, not less. Luckily, I have some left over. I took one today, and life no longer seemed insurmountable. Maybe that’s just the placebo effect, but who the fuck cares? On Monday, I’m informing my doctors about the situation.

So, I’ve tested my wings, and been scorched. I’m connected to Paxil, probably for the rest of my life, by a chain of dependency. But at least the chain is pretty: it’s the palest, opaque pink.

Wednesday, March 07, 2001

The Word Sorceress and the Dreampop Seer.

Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to meet the author Patricia A.. McKillip, who's written the novels _The Forgotten Beasts of Eld_, _The Book of Atrix Wolfe_, _Winter Rose_, and the Riddlemaster series, among others. She was doing a reading in conjunction with a children's retold fairytale anthology that my friend Ellen Datlow edited with Terri Winding called _A Wolf at the Door_. Tanith Lee has the titular story. McKillip's contribution was a retelling of "12 Dancing Princesses." The event was held at Books of Wonder store in Manhattan.

Other authors in attendance were Kelly Link, Michael Cadnum-, Katherine Vaz and Delia Sherman-. Jane Yolen gave the reading of the story "Cinder-Elephant," a tale that reimagines the heroine of Cinderella as a plump beauty, rather than the anorexic Ally McBeal-like blonde usually associated with the tale. I got my books signed (Forgotten Beast by McKillip and the anthology by the other authors) and hung out for a bit. I chatted with Link's Scottish boyfriend for a while-mostly about my trip to Scotland last summer-- and then with Katherine Vaz, who I'd heard of before-she has an out-of-print novel about a woman who suffers from synesthesia (tasting colors and shapes) that I've seen in used bookstores that intrigues me.

Afterwards, Ellen was kind enough to invite me out to lunch with Yolen, McKillip and her husband David Lunde. I didn't really get a chance to tell McKillip how her dreamy prose style inspired me to write my one and only fan letter to an author, and how she inspired me to pursue writing-it would have seemed to Fan Boyesque. Yolen, it turns out, taught at Smith and lives in Northampton, MA; I lived in Northampton one winter when I attended nearby Hampshire College. It was a perfect afternoon, worth the price of the train ticket and racing against an imminent snowstorm.

After I went to the reading, I visited my friend Troy and met his little demimonde. Troy is a channeller and a psychic. I have a fascination with 'seers' that appears almost everywhere in my own writing. I'd met him in the flesh during my previous trip to NYC in January, after a lengthy email correspondence about Cocteau Twins, and other dream and ethereal pop. Needless to say, we hit it off immediately-similar tastes in movies and books seem to follow as well. He copied a bunch of my CDs, and I met his arty and quirky friends. The group of us traipsed out to a Vietnamese restaurant, and returned to his 70s-themed parlor apartment and played a boardgame based on predicting your opponents' reactions to various situations.

He and his friends also introduced me to joys of listening to Golden Throats-styled musical monstrosities of the radio show Incorrect Music and the guilty pleasure of listening to shock jock Phil Hendrie freak listeners out with outrageous personas

Monday, March 05, 2001

Tuesday, February 13, 2001

1001 Ghetto-Fabulous Nights

After seeing the wildly popular success of Black Authors like Terry McMillian, E. Lynn Harris, Omar Tyree, T. Ansa and Benilda Little, I have decided that my ticket to publication is an entry into the Sister-Friend Genre of fiction.

I present to you my novel proposal:

a novel by C. "Larry" Gidney.

Sassy Den'ica Jones wants to ticket out of the Anacostia way of life. She's been gifted with a wonderful voice, both rapping and singing. Delmar, an unscruplous businessman with connections in the Music Industry, finds in Den'ica a perfect vehicle to her success.

Two years later, Den'ica is no more. She's become the street-smart Juicy Bootay. She's the hottest rap act in Da Biz. She has the nastiest mouth this side of L'il Kim and Millie Jackson.

Juicy has anything she could possibly want -- money, men, cars, gold records, and a budding movie career (in BAPS 2: Da Sequel). She also has share of brushes with the dark side of Da Biz: drugs, triflin' hangers on, and grueling schedules. A near-fatal mishap lands Juicy in the hospital, where she meets the God-fearing, Do-Right Brotha D.Wayne, causing a change of heart...and a change of direction...

TWO WRONGS DON'T MAKE A RIGHT is the bold new novel by C. "Larry" Gidney, author of NO, YOU DIDN'T! and YOU AIN'T ALL DAT. It's the exploration of a woman's heart, an expose of the music business, and the role of God in life.

Who will win? Den'ica or Juicy? Will she become a hoochie mamma or a holy roller?

Life is not all about the Benjamins.

Thursday, February 01, 2001

Chitlin’ Circuit

Mix two parts foamy soap opera, one dash crude sitcom, one huge helping of Morality Play, hold it together with pop culture references, R&B love songs, and gospel holy-rollers, and you have the strange hybrid theater experience known as the Chitlin Circuit. The play I saw last Saturday was called DIARY OF A MAD BLACK WOMAN. It was the story of an upper class trophy wife, who was left by her attorney husband for her best friend, a ghetto-fabulous tramp. The first act is about her descent into despondency, and the second act is about her revenge and redemption.
It was a very schizophrenic experience. Light-hearted banter and stand-up routine humor competed with melodrama. Characters would break into song at the drop of a hat. The playwright had two roles, a lewd grandfather and an equally lewd great aunt with a penchant for firearms. Both characters served as a kind of secular Greek chorus, to play off the often Biblical underpinnings. The play had its cake and ate it, too. Since at least some of the characters would quote scripture, about standing by your man and so forth, it was able to present the opposite view—a Loreena Bobbit bloodbath with comic panache.
The audience was pure Ricki Lake. Hands waving in the hair, the steady stream of backtalk—it was only a matter of time before someone stood up and made a comment. They were dressed to the nines, hair gelled and lyed into place. They mostly had a wonderful time as each explosive scene unfolded. Many of the jokes were specific to black culture and politics. There was the requisite dig at Jesse Jackson’s current foilibles, an allusion to WHAT’S LOVE GOTTA DO WITH IT, along with numerous others I’m sure I missed.
I was in two frames of mind: anthropological observer, and secret participant. Talk about your guilty pleasures! I felt concerned for my brother’s girlfriend T., the only white girl in the audience. There was some quip made about Brothas leaving Sistahs for white women. But she took it in stride, and seemed to enjoy herself.
As did I: all along, I thought that I hated chitlin’s!


There’s a song on the new Lisa Gerrard/ Pieter Bourke album Duality whose title reflects a period in my life. It’s called “The Circulation of Shadows.” It makes me think of one pushing aside one dark veil, only to reveal another one. It’s a beautiful piece of music, with Gerrard’s serpentine voice soaring through the spare, clean architecture of the synthesized strings. It’s like the pure white stucco boxes of Mediterranean villas against the clear, startling blue of the sky and sea. Her vocals entwine and bind things like a zephyr.
I was looking forward to this working vacation, to San Francisco, with the idea that I would find some solace in the steepness of hills and the balmy-chilly weather. I got on the plane, fingering the pewter rune necklace a friend had given me. In the small dusky-silver circle, the Nordic symbol for Artistic Creativity was engraved, thin less-than sign. This small gift meant a lot to me, on a variety of levels. First, that even in the howling, endless winter, a people used to war and treachery could recognized the spiritual power of art. And secondly, as a gift, it could not have come at a better time. November 1997 had bought on a terrible cloud of unknowing, where I had a crisis of faith, when I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do with my life. I recovered from that time, only to emerge into another crisis: my father suffered a stroke that left him unable to talk, breathe, or swallow. Just the circulation of shadows. So you see, I was sorely in need of some healing.
San Francisco also meant that I would get to see my good friend Mike, whom I hadn’t seen in over 3 years. He’s a very important person in my life, a kind of spiritual brother. I met him 5 years ago, when he was a refugee from California. I answered a weird personal ad he’d put in the paper. We hit it off immediately, with a telepathic bond forming from the get-go. He stands about 6’2, towering over my piddly 5’1. He had that “avant” graduate student look that I find so irresistible. Close-cropped brown hair, the glasses of a 1968 Parisian radical, and outfits carefully created from thrift-stores, that reference a variety of counter-cultures. For instance, his earrings might be ruby-eyed skulls of a Goth-come-lately; a Celtic bracelet of a Wyrm Ouroborous is reminiscent of the urban primitive movement; his hair had the faintest tint of a long-forgotten hair dye in it; a T-shirt would have the logo of an underground band, or maybe a Japanimation character, like Racer X from the “Speedracer” show. He went to the California Institute of the Arts, studied music and the Post-Marxist theories of Foucault, Deleuze, Guttari and Baudrillard. Right now he’s in two bands: his own band Jack’s Loss, which is queer synth-pop with overtones of the Cure overlaid with his dark, quizzical observations, and he plays keyboards and writes music for the ambient-neoclassical band Amber Asylum. He speaks in fragments, struggling with abstractions, fighting to mold them into easier to understand concepts. Back in DC we had many long-dark-night-of-the-soul conversations. I was anxious to see him, to relive that time together. I’d compared our relationship to the one described in Hesse’s novel Demian, with Mike being the eponymous lead, and me being the narrator, Emil Sinclair. The post-modern world was our landscape.
I stayed at Bruce and John’s house in the Castro; they were friends of my brothers’. Their house is fabulous, truly. It sits near the top of one of the hills in a neighborhood of the flashy, ornate Victorian houses known as Painted Ladies. The backyard was a vegetable paradise, a riot of layered, vibrant flora and, at far boundary, a twisted, gnarled witch of a tree. The fauna is provided in the shape of a Balinese cat (imagine a long-haired Siamese, with the same cream-colored fur and chocolate markings).
I met up with Mike on Thursday morning at his apartment, a single-room affair, dominated by CDs, books, and a massage table (his vocation). He explained to me—as gingerly as possible—that his work sometimes crossing the line of legitimacy. I was unclear as to what he meant. He then described the ad that he put in the Bay Area Reporter: Cute White Male provides Swedish, Therapeutic, and Erotic Massage. No more needed to be said.
Then we headed for the circus that was the Haight. Young kids—amalgams of hippie, punk, and goth—pretended to be homeless, as we wove our way through the carnival. The weather was clear and beautifully cool, the first week of really good weather that San Francisco had experienced, since it was under El Ninõ’s dark spell. We ate gourmet crepes, as we discussed capitalism, music and sex. After that I wandered the Haight alone, armed with my portable CD player.
SF is cool, and the area I was in exemplifies this. One store was the giant Amoeba records, which is basically a converted ice-rink. It’s the size of a supermarket, and you can find every CD that you’ve ever dreamed about! I ended up blowing $ 50. The next store I visited was an Anarcho-Syndicalist bookstore. It was zine-heaven. Vegan, Queer, Punk, Leftist, Surrealist, Black, Straight-Edge; you name it, they had it. There was something very ‘70s about the store as well. The clerks were in ratty jeans and South American parkas, with their long hair webbed with grey and receding hairlines. The decor of the store was red carpet, the kind you see in the psychedelic movies of the ‘60s, and walls painted black that was more grey from years of chalk and dust. I expected any moment, for some chick with a mile-high Afro to come walking in, talking about “kill Whitey!” The next store I went to was a Gothic store. It sold velvet dresses, scented candles, and verdigrised gargoyles. The store clerk was dressed in black (of course) and was listening to the soft strains of the Seattle band Faith & Disease. A woman with the elongated face of an El Greco portrait, shuffled a Rider-Waite deck of tarot cards. I ended up at Buena Vista park, overlooking the city. The sky was clear. The healing began.
Over the next few days, I had many adventures with Mike. One night, we went to see a Drag Queen, named Musty Chiffon, perform. “She” sang, in a husky baritone, various songs from the 60s. It was hilarious, seeing her attired in nightmares of Day-Glo polyester, her hair a reddish-purple flip. The show, Paisley for Brains, was liberally spiked with pokes at Yoko Ono and the hippy-dippy love scene. Another night, we went on a tour of bars of the SoMa (South of Market [Street]) region. One of the bars, Hole in the Wall, was a gay bar the likes of which I have not seen on the East Coast. The decor was a cross between a biker bar and an alternative Rock club. The music was good; not the usual faggy dance fluff. I think I heard everything from Patti Smith to Lou Reed to Jim Morrison grinding out of the speakers. The crowd was very diverse, suits mingling with mowhawks. Scattered amongst those were gentlemen who wore walking around au naturiel. Cockrings glitter in light the color of a bad Bloody Mary. Furthermore, guys were having sex, quite openly.
This was really not my scene, per se, but I was having a good time being an, uh, anthropological observer. I mean, San Francisco is notorious for stuff like this; it’d be great to write about, if nothing else! But the last thing I expected was to become an actually player.
Mike had abandoned me, having run into a musician friend of his. Standing alone among the cruising satyrs, I spotted a severe-looking bald man, his pale skin ghostly against the slaughtered animal hide he was wearing. He was not unattractive. He spotted me, and slithered on over.
“How’re doing?” he started, “You’re standin’ there all alone, lookin’ cute.”
I smiled and blushed a thank you. Then, to keep the conversation going, I said, “Oh, you have an Ankh, the Egyptian symbol of fertility and life. It looks nice.” It was dull silver against his bare chest, sleeping with power.
“Yeah,” he said, “too bad I can’t use it to cut your neck and suck your blood. What’s this?” He reached down and grabbed hold of my own necklace, on which dangled a silver sun with human features. I was still reeling from that weird statement he’d given about sucking my blood. I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. On one hand, it was a kinda neat reference to the vampire movie The Hunger, one of the most stylish horror films ever. On the other hand, it smacked of a contrived danger, the theatrical hint of violence.
We exchanged a few pleasantries, jobs and all that. Then he began to get sexual.
“So, what are you into?” he asked me, pinching my nipple through my shirt, an unpleasant feeling.
“I’m…versatile,” I stuttered. I felt stupid immediately afterwards. I was sort of turned on, but I was much more disgusted. Besides, I had no intention of sleeping with him. It was my last night in the city, for one thing.
“I bet you liked getting fucked,” he said. At this point, I don’t think what I said mattered at all to him. He turned me into his little fetish.
I forget what I said in response to that. I must’ve stuttered.
Then he said the thing that turned me off: “I bet you have a nice, hairy black butt.”
Now, whether or not my posterior is hirsute aside, of course it’s ‘black!’ I wonder if you, as a Native Canadian, have had this problem of racial fetishization, where one’s race seems to take precedence in people’s minds. A bevy of sexual stereotypes was brewing in his mind. I was taken aback.
My dream-warrior self, however, rose to the task at hand.
“Not at all. I have the ass of an 80-year old white woman.”
That seemed to do the trick. He left me alone.
There is one other scene of significance that I wish to relay to you. I spent a long Sunday in Golden Gate Park, wandering among the Arboretum and gardens. The sunlight scintillated against objects, the sky was a washed-out blue. I saw redwood trees rising out of the black loam of a nascent swamp. I was listening to Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 on my portable CD player. I spent most of that day walking and listening, drowning in the antiseptic beauty. I walked to where I could see the Pacific. A fog rolled in, obscuring the sun in tones of pearl and mother-of-pearl. There, among the curls of the waves, I saw a surfer, in a black wet-suit, pitting himself against the waves and the fog. I thought of my father, adrift on an ocean pain and confusion. I thought of myself, and why I’d come on this trip. Then a veil of fog descended, and poof! The surfer vanished from sight.