Travels With Gloria

Finding beauty mile by mile.

Category: Mash Notes

So, I hear you’re moving on

Still from The Art of Pho. Illustration by Julian Hanshaw. Image courtesy of Submarine Channel, via flickr.

Illustrator Julian Hanshaw and animator Lois van Baarle have collaborated to create a love letter to Saigon in the form of what I can only describe as an interactive animated web comic. The Art of Pho follows the journey of a creature called Little Blue as he masters the titular soup and makes discoveries about his past, human nature, and life itself. It’s part movie, part video game, and all gorgeous.

I kind of wanted to cry a little at the end. But maybe I can blame that on the cold I’ve been battling all week.

In Which I attempt to connect all my crushes to Portland, Oregon

Robert Mapplethorpe has nothing to do with Portland. I just love this photograph more than everything in the world. Photo by Mapplethorpe, of course, via the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.

I’ve had a crush on Portland for a long time. Thanks to its use as the setting for the Ramona books, it wouldn’t be hyperbolizing to say I’ve always wanted to go to Portland. After reading this Cool Hunting feature on Ampersand Gallery, Portland is back at the top of my list not just because it’s the dream of the nineties, but also as a place to look at art.

Ampersand Gallery, Portland, OR. Image yanked from coolhunting.com.

Sorry, guys. I have to post this. It’s a credit to Carrie Brownstein that this song is not just funny and true, but actually good:

 

In other art and video news, I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries about art collectors lately. Who even knew there were multiple docs about art collectors?

The classic choice is Herb & Dorothy, the story of a postal worker and a librarian who became major collectors of minimalist art in the 60’s. In addition to the powerful narrative, there are interviews with art world megastars like Donald Judd and Chuck Close.

And then, suddenly, Netflix was recommending arts documentaries right and left. Due to my obsession with Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the downtown scenes of New York in the 1970’s, I had to watch Black White + Gray, a doc biography of Sam Wagstaff, who was an important photography collector and Mapplethorpe’s lover. In addition to scratching my Just Kids itch, I was fascinated by the way that people from different parts of Wagstaff’s life had such oppositional views of who he was. There were homophobic Society types, art historians who thought Mapplethorpe was a total gold digger, and Patti Smith being her usual awesome self. It’s rare that docs about relatively uncontroversial figures like Wagstaff convey conflict that way, so I thought that was an interesting approach.

Both of the above films — and many more arts documentaries! — are available streaming on Netflix.

P.S. In researching this post, I discovered the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, which has a website full of beautiful images.

A Mash Note To Ms. Smith

The cover of Horses. Photo by Robert Mapplethorpe.

When I was nineteen years old I quit college and came to New York City. Despite despite being the most citified girl in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, I was country through and through.

I had spent most of my teenage years reading, watching, and listening to everything about bohemian life in New York: SoHo, the Village, the Lower East Side; Alphabet City, CBGB, the Beats. Upon arrival in New York I would spend hours wandering in the East Village, awed just to be walking on the same streets where Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, and Lou Reed had walked. And so I discovered St. Mark’s Bookshop.

I couldn’t afford to buy anything there, and my slightly skewed moral compass wouldn’t let me steal because obviously these were good people fighting the good fight against the Barnes & Noble across Astor Place. What I got from St. Mark’s was cheap, but more powerful than anything I could shoplift up the block at the Starbucks-scented megamart.

On a column in the middle of the store, between Critical Theory and Theatre, there was a poster. A poster of the cover of Horses.

Despite my worship of all things Downtown, this was the first I was hearing about Patti Smith. They didn’t sell her albums at Walmart, and my dad’s record collection leaned more towards the British iteration of punk.

I went into St. Mark’s Bookshop on a brutal winter day, and saw this poster of the cover of this album I’d never heard, an image of this person I’d never seen. I didn’t know what to make of her, but I was sure that she knew secrets.

Then I came to the worst possible conclusion. I rationalized that, based on this mysterious image, I was not worthy of her music. This wasn’t for country girls in bellbottom jeans they’d lovingly hand-embroidered with dandelions, violets, and the names of bands nobody in the North ever heard of. I wasn’t cool enough for Patti Smith.

So I turned away from the poster, flipped halfheartedly through a Diane Arbus book on the front table, and left. I would never belong in New York.

I have never been so wrong.

When I finally heard her music, what I found was not what I expected. It’s true, Horses is challenging. “Birdland” still scares me a little. I don’t want the boy in “Land” to get shoved in that locker (or maybe raped? Seriously, “Land” is one of the most chilling songs this side of “Strange Fruit”). Every time I hear “Redondo Beach” I dread the narrator’s realization that her lover has commited suicide. But though Horses is difficult, even confrontational, it’s not cliquish in the way I expected it to be at nineteen. Or maybe no great music can be cliquish in the way I thought music could be then. Either way, Patti, I’m glad you let me in.

I like the challenging story-poems of Horses, and the petulant Rock Star posturing of songs like “25th Floor – High on Rebellion” and “Rock n Roll Babelogue”. I dislike “Rock n Roll N****r” for reasons that are mostly political and don’t realate to the time and place you wrote it. It was also difficult to hate when I saw it performed live, so I’ll give her that one. It’s kind of great she’s not pretending that didn’t happen.

What I like most, though, are the times Smith speaks to the lonely outsider who still lives in me. Case study: Wave. I had to stop the title track and sit with it a minute. It was as if she’d gone inside my brain, found the most awkward part of my soul, and wrote in her voice.

It’s a cliche, as a fan, to say that someone writes your soul. But this is not that glorious Ani di Franco way where it turns out that she knew exactly what it was like to be in love. This is a sad and socially inept deer-in-headlights kind of thing, where you knew exactly what it was like to make eye contact with greatness and find yourself lacking. It’s good to know I’m not alone in feeling that (someday I’ll tell you the story of how I once accidentally eye-fucked Steve Buscemi), but it was also a little like she might be mocking me.

I felt like I was back staring at that poster in St. Marks books. How dare I presume to feel that kind of connection with the cool kids’ table? How dare I presume that Queen Cool Kid would recogize anything if she deigned to look into my soul?

My suspicions were confirmed with “Frederick”. It’s an homage to that awkward moment where you like someone and all you can really say to them is “hey.” When you don’t know a lot about them, but you know their name sounds like heaven. Patti Smith sings “Frederick” like she’s reading the future in the name’s taste. Like she’s mentally signing “Mrs. Frederick Sonic Smith” with a bunch of hearts after it. Somehow, with the right person, “hey” is enough. Ani knows what it feels like to be in love, but Patti knows what it feels like to be really deep in bashful ridiculous Like. It sounds less noble but is much more complicated. She’s not afraid to be vulnerable, even silly. It turns out she can step off the cool kids’ table for a moment and live in the same speechless awkwardness I’ve called home most of my life.

Patti Smith did a reading at St. Marks books a couple weeks ago. She stood right in front of that column and read poems about her idols and inspirations and her baby sister. I’m still not sure if she’s Queen Cool Kid or striving and awkward and silent like me. But I was there, standing among my brown-haired New York literary clones — clones partially spawned by her — and in that moment I felt like I finally belonged. It was sort of terrible. A part of me wished for my old jeans with the embroidered New Orleans band names, just to stand out. But, still, for a moment I belonged.

So thank you, Patti, for inviting me here.

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