With all these amazing tools we have, it’s not a little surprising how much we take the traditional forms of media as the way things are and should be done. The iPad exposes the mediocrity of our expectations, with its Reader button in the address field stripping the comments and jingle jangle out and letting us focus on the simple post as form. Get in, state the premise, survive the middle, get out.
I remember the days of Hunter S. Thompson, the free range lunatic who stepped up where Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Wolfe had not feared to tread. It was always a mystery he uncorked, starting with the possibility that he wouldn’t even file a story at all. The rhythm was in the gasps between paragraphs, those stolen breaths taken that functioned as cymbals compressed in high hat swirls.
How grateful we were for the next issue of Rolling Stone, with the crazy drawings, the ridiculous dashes on the open road, the fearless unmasking of the hypocrisy of the time. Exhilarating doesn’t even come close to the feeling he commandeered in a string of features that defined the turbulence of the times as something funnier, darker, elastic, and even perhaps ultimately pointless. Even that last was part of the rush.
I don’t pretend to understand how he got there or how brave and foolish he was to try. The shimmer of that arc has never been something you could package or survive, it seems. But what is sure is that we live surrounded and enveloped in the existence of those gasps of fresh air, and that it is a choice we make to ignore them.
Thinking ahead to what I look forward to, I remind myself that even in the language of the times, the poetry of the words always meant more than the ideals. Freedom was a rallying cry, but the actual cry took freedom for granted and went further. Freedom to do what? It wasn’t about the right to do something, it was about what the something was to do. Escaping gravity to do what?
There’s a moment in East-West, the seminal Paul Butterfield Blues Band record, where an early crescendo releases into a stunning guitar exploration by Mike Bloomfield. It’s like you’re suddenly propelled floating into space, on a journey you thought you might be in for but had no way of being sure of. And as it again builds into a frenzy and pulls that same trigger yet again, you realize how this place exists right there in front of you, waiting for that moment to reappear ever so slightly different.
The next song, can you believe there even is a next song? “I got a mind to give up living/ Yes and go shopping instead.” The blues with a steely glint of comedy, you say? What kind of alchemy is possible that springs from the celebration of loss, destruction, death — and that’s just before the opening credits. And remember: it’s sitting right there next to you with that insane grin on its face.
Something about the juxtaposition of things reminds me of the politics of disruption, the emotional spring of the social generation. By themselves, interesting, intellectual perhaps, but not of the parallel land of hope and acceptance. I read an interview with Noel Gallagher, the supposedly sane one of the Oasis brothers. Something about Oasis being in the Top 10 of bands. He ducked the statement briefly, attributing it to alcohol and passing it off as Top 20 straight.
But then he owned it anyway and listed the groups: “(T)he Beatles, the Sex Pistols, the Rolling Stones, the Who. I can never remember 5. Maybe the Kinks. I can’t remember 6, then Oasis.” Well, allright. It’s a stretch for me, but I can’t remember 5 or 6 either. The strange part is, I can see where the guy is coming from. And it doesn’t matter whether he’s right or not, just that he sees something just over there.
I don’t care how noisy the stream is. The more the better, actually. Until it gets so useless someone comes along and hops alongside it and surfs it, like a wave building as it nears the shore. It’s not that there’s necessarily some huge revelation just around the next tweet. It’s that there are wonderful souls and achingly precious children and silly love songs and the best breakfast place around and a roar of ideas and jockeying for position and routine power grabs and whatnot.