Saturday, December 30, 2006

Teardrop on the Fire

Teardrop on the Fire. The night before I met Yves, we talked on the phone. He told me that he was listening to a lot of 80's music—that that was his mood. He would tell me later that he had been so nervous about meeting me that he had just wanted to get lost in old, familiar music. I remember that in the background, I could hear something playing, but I don't remember what it was. I just remember hearing the underlying excitement in his voice. That excitement has always manifested itself for me as anxiety—near panic—and there have been times that being so energized about meeting someone has sent me into a panic attack. So I understood his mood. I wasn't put off by it, or scared. I just knew that he and I shared one more thing.

Later, after the events had transpired, I would find the playlist of what he had listened to that night. He was the Web master for the housing cooperative he was a part of, and he maintained a site that contained news about the co-op, and playlists of music that the group's members could stream. Those playlists would remain on the page until he posted whatever new songs had appealed to him. He always entitled his playlists "Playing while we hack." If you happened to check the page while he wasn't there, you'd find the old list, but where a new list should be, it would simply say, "Nothing… Our desktop's speakers are silent." Since the day of November 11, 2006, those words have become permanent on the site. They feel etched onto the monitor of my computer. The list of songs he was listening to the night before he met me are there—they are a permament record of that night, but I cannot seem to glean much of any meaning from that list.

I've always found in music some form of release, some form of profundity that I haven't been able to find elsewhere. Perhaps it's because my primary ways of taking in the world are both auditory and tactile. I'm not much of a visual thinker. I'm not sure I could rank the five senses perfectly, but my guess is that vision battles it out for third position with taste and smell. I'm a toucher. Always have been. But my ears are the secondary gateway to my world. My ears give me words. Even when I'm writing, I'm not seeing images. I'm hearing a string of words turning themselves into meaning.

So, finding the song list was a gift. And, when that song list was given to me, on a cd, by one of Yves' friends, it was a treasure. Unfortunately, I can't get the cd to play, and there has been something about deliberately seeking out the songs to download from iTunes or buy has been some kind of digging for pain that I have avoided. And yet. If I am to write, I must immerse myself in the grief. And the joy. The scales by which we measure a life. The ratio of grief to joy, with our hope that written in an equation, that joy is the denominator, and not the numerator.

But I'm working on it, on plumbing the depths so I can get to the ecstacy. Yesterday, I downloaded the song by Massive Attack: "Teardrop." It's on the list. An erstwhile lover once gave me a mix cd that comprised Massive Attack, Portishead, and Tricky. "Teardrop" was not one of the tracks. So, "Teardrop" can remain Yves' song for me. It's not an 80's tune, and, in fact, it gets a lot of play these days as the theme song for "House." But no matter. When you're trying to squeeze a lifetime's worth of meaning into the events of a single week, songs take on a significance not ordinarily accorded to them.

cross-posted at Culture Kitchen

Thursday, December 21, 2006

New Shins Video!

Only about a month until the new The Shins cd comes out: Wincing the Night Away.

Here is the most excellent first video from the cd brought to you by the fine folks at Sub Pop.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Wednesday, December 13, 2006



I am not an expert on China. Far from it. But I know hatred of the body when I see it. And it is just as ugly in China, or Afghanistan, or Iran, as it is in the United States.

This photo will give me nightmares. Because sometimes, I think that we, as a nation, are about 15 minutes away from this type of bullshit ourselves.

SHANGHAI, Dec. 12 - For people who saw the event on television earlier this month, the scene was like a chilling blast from a past that is 30 years distant: social outcasts and supposed criminals - in this case 100 or so prostitutes and a few pimps - paraded in front of a jeering crowd, their names revealed, and then driven away to jail without trial.

The police kept watch over the public shaming. Suspects were allowed to partly hide their faces with masks.

The act of public shaming was intended as the first step in a two-month campaign by the authorities in the southern city of Shenzhen to crack down on prostitution.

Imagine. Rounded-up prostitutes--but not their johns--paraded before a crowd in order to be humiliated and shamed. So what? So they'll never be forced to resort to prostitution to put food on their table again?

And where the fuck are the men who solicited them? Are some of them perhaps the government officials who decided that this type of punishment was appropriate?

The good news is that for many people in China, what happened was unacceptable:

But the event has prompted an angry nationwide backlash, with many people making common cause with the prostitutes over the violation of their human rights and expressing outrage in one online forum after another.

And in the type of comment that actually gives me hope that a "right to privacy" really is an inalienable human right--even in a culture such as China's, where not so many years ago, spying on one's neighbors was part of the Cultural Revolution--could it be that same right might be recognized in our own country?

"With the development of human civilization and law, this kind of barbaric punishment with its strong element of vengeance has been abandoned," Yao Jianguo, a Shanghai lawyer, wrote in a public letter addressed to the National People's Congress, China's legislature.

Paraphrasing a famous letter by William Pitt during a debate over the excise tax in Britain in 1763, he wrote: "Wind may come in, rain may come in, but the King may not, which is to say that even a poor person living in a slum has his own inviolable rights."

I contrast the reaction in China against the government's hypocrisy and harsh, barbaric punishment with our own culture war.

Yesterday, for example, Paul Barnes, pastor of one of the mega-churches in Colorado who had condemned gays resigned his position because, well, why else? Because it turns out, he's gay. Such is his shame, his self-hatred, that he now finds himself the victim of his own hate-filled rhetoric. And there appears little chance, as with Ted Haggard, that his church will welcome him  back into the fold with open arms. Jesus, after all, preached that we should hate and revile gays. All that stuff about Jesus telling you to love one another? That's just liberal twaddle, inserted into Bibles at some later date. The real Jesus was a real man. Most definitely not a homosexual.

Then there's Mary Cheney. Regardless of how one feels about Ms. Cheney's decision to continue to support her father's murderous policies in Iraq, the truth remains, she's entitled to privacy. As far as I know, she has not called for the thought police to enter everyone's bedrooms and determine what constitutes Biblical sexual behaviour. (Which, last time I checked, included adultery, bestiality, masturbation, early withdrawal as birth control, oh, and that "virgin birth" hokum.) And yet, it hasn't prevented certain women from getting their granny panty-knickers in a twist. My favourite group of clucking clueless cunctators, the CWFA had this to say:

Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America described the pregnancy as "unconscionable."

"It's very disappointing that a celebrity couple like this would deliberately bring into the world a child that will never have a father," said Crouse, a senior fellow at the group's think tank. "They are encouraging people who don't have the advantages they have."

I'm sure that Doctor Crouse would be only to happy to have Mary and her partner do the shaven-head perp walk while angry crowds jeer and throw shit at Mary's pregnant abdomen. Again, I'm sure their Jesus would be right there, aiming that rotten tomato at the fundus.

What I want to know is this. Why do those people who are always trying to use shame as a weapon seem to feel none of it themselves? Do they ever have trouble sleeping at night wondering if their insistence on monitoring the motes in their neighbors' eyes might be harmful in some way to those people? When they see the images of tortured, humiliated prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, do they not think that perhaps, that kind of shame constitutes a form of torture? What goes through their heads? Fuck their heads? What about their hearts? Does what constitutes their shriveled souls not hiccup in recognition that what is done to the least of us is also done "unto me?"

Saturday, December 09, 2006


It's been four weeks since Yves died. As I write this, at about this time on that Saturday morning, his respirator was turned off and he slipped into death, surrounded by his family and friends. I was not there, as I had said my own goodbye to him earlier that morning.

In a way, what happened feels as if it was a lifetime ago. It's difficult for me to believe that it's been less than a month. The past four weeks have worked me over like a "work of art." Some days have had moments so painful, I have fantasized about ending my own pain in a permanent way. Other days have brought moments of such exquisite beauty and understanding of life that I have thanked Yves, again, for the gift of his presence in my life, brief as it was.

I have not been able to contemplate, with too much acumen, questions about the afterlife. This experience has not suddenly made me a Christian or a Buddhist or anything in particular. The only thing I can tell you with some certainty is that is has made me a more calm person. There is a whole realm of fear that has been lifted from me. I am no longer afraid of death. I have seen it. And while I am not ready to embrace my own death at this particular moment--there are still things I want to do, and I have two daughters to raise and watch grow up--when death comes, I hope that I will slip into it as peacefully and surrounded by as much love as Yves was. I think that's the best we can hope for. A peaceful, loving death.