Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Good Feeling

Nico - I'll Keep It With Mine MP3

Photograph by Martin Parr, from "The Last Resort."

Today I had a good feeling. Having planned to meet my friends from Hamburg, Sonja and Niki, for a rare combination of sustenance and culture, I walked out my front door, turned right, and traced the almost straight line to the Samaritestrasse U-Bahn station. Before I could reach my final destination, Oranienburger strasse, I was required to make two changes, one at Alexanderplatz, and another at Friedrichstrasse.

Normally, such a circuitous route would spark in me some form of anxiety (I tend to be unnecessarily short tempered when traversing the urban landscape) but today I didn't mind. In fact, the whole process transcended me as though by some divine intervention, and while I was making the first change at Alexanderplatz I experienced the wonderful (see how it has been upgraded from good to wonderful) feeling of which I earlier spoke. The feeling was this: for the first time since moving to Berlin, I was not conscious of where I was or where I was going; my thoughts were elsewhere-perhaps I was mentally reviewing a new piece of music, or possibly just reviewing the vacuous space that was beginning to fill my stomach region-but either way, I certainly was not forcing myself to be continuously critical of my every move.

There's a certain self-consciousness, a kind of continual embarrassment, that goes along with being a new person in any place. You have sense that, at any given moment, every capable citizen is watching you, secretly laughing at your every misstep. But today I was just a piece of the machine, an ordinary gear in the ever-expansive clock of human interaction. Sometimes it's nice to be part of a machine, it just has to be the right one.

I arrived early, and spent about thirty minutes in the park, watching the sun's angle decline, appreciating the fact that I was using this civic gift just as it was intended to be used: reading, watching, depositing my cigarette ash in the ashtray provided for me by the government, understanding how parks act as little puddles of serenity, placed evenly around a city to balance out the madness. Parks are almost living proof that everyone, even those in charge, is aware that life is more stressful than it needs to be.

After lunch, we filed into the Martin Parr exhibition. I don't know how much you know about Martin Parr, but before today I knew absolutely nothing. The briefing I had received (from my friend Moritz) was that his work focuses mainly on the grotesque contrasts/contradictions of modern Western society, both at home and in areas of reduced financial prosperity. It is often the work of juxtaposition: statues of the Virgin Mary underneath a McDonald's awning, British tourists stuffing their faces at a Belgian holiday resort surrounded by garbage, sun-bleached couples seemingly miserable on a crowded ocean front.

Interestingly enough, there were quite a few photographs of Glasgow, which is obviously of great interest to me. Some, I did think, were particularly harrowing, specifically the photo of the men's barber shop, the walls of which were entirely covered with images of naked women. However, there were certain photographs that did not fill me with any sense of disgust. I remember, very specifically, a photograph which portrays a Glasgow street, one where most of the buildings have been demolished and thus there remains only one or two tenements, one or more of their sides exposed. In the foreground of the image one can see a Tennents beer sign, indicating the door to a pub. Obviously, the idea is that, amongst such urban desolation, the most popular escape is liquid mental abandon in an aesthetically-impoverished setting, but when I saw this, the first thought that flashed into my mind was, Sometimes life just looks like that.

I lived in Glasgow for three and a half years, and although I was a) a foreigner, and thus, in some ways, a tourist, and b) living in a very nice part of Glasgow, I still lived there, and I still frequented quite a few places that didn't look entirely unlike this one. Glasgow has a kind of grit and I don't think it's something to be ashamed of. During my time there, I picked up on an almost beautiful force, a simultaneous wisdom and madness that allows the people there to be drawn so close to each other, a sort of universal refuge under all that grey brick and grey sky. It is my belief that, an image such as the one I have described, is totally ignorant of that positive energy.

Two other images really captivated me. The first was of an elderly woman wearing a white cap and orthopedic shoes, eating alone in a McDonalds, hunched over the table. Even as I'm describing it now, it's nearly bringing tears to my eyes. I have knowingly done any number of things to destroy my body (drinking, smoking, whatever...), but this woman, why is she doing this? It's one thing to see a younger person eating a processed hamburger but it's entirely different when you see an elderly woman carrying out the same act. All I can think is that, either she doesn't know any better, or it's the only option she can afford, which brings me to my next thought: Why the fuck do fast food companies make this shit available to people?!

Yeah, consumers have a choice, but all people, especially those in the business of distributing food products, must be perfectly aware that not all are consumers are equally educated, and thus they knowingly provide the crutch for susceptible eaters. Drugs like heroin and cocaine are also really bad for you, and often a crutch, but they're fucking illegal, aren't they? I don't know why the powers that be, or people in general (who I suppose are the powers that be) are not bothered by this image of lonely old woman hunched over a styrofoam plate. I just keep imagining that it's my grandmother, who lived as a widow for the last forty years of her life, sat by herself in a soulless plastic box of a restaurant, thinking to herself, Life is so unfair. It fucking breaks my heart.

The second image which caught my eye is one which depicts a slew of tourists at a Brighton beach resort, waiting to get to the front of a fast food queue. It is somewhat of an action/motion shot, causing the majority of depicted individuals to appear blurred. However, in complete focus, at the far right of the shot, stands a boy of somewhere between eleven and thirteen years, his right arm akimbo as he stares thoughtfully out of the frame and into the present. The remarkable thing about this boy is that he has the face and complete composure of a grown man. Not the facial hair and wrinkles, or course, but rather the sense of understanding and inherent wisdom. During my time as a pre-school teacher, I noticed this trait in some of my students. The viewing of this phenomenon always fills me with a mixed sense of wonder, admiration and sadness, for in some ways, to understand too much too young is a hindrance.

Does this boy remember the day the photograph was taken? What was he thinking about? The photograph is from 1985. He must be in his mid thirties by now. As he walks the streets of whichever British town or city in which he resides, does he still have that same glaze of guaranteed assurance? Does he think to himself, I've got the answer-I've always had the answer? And on the day the photograph was taken did he surmise that it was grotesque, that he was grotesque, that the whole situation of Western capitalism was, for all intents and purposes, grotesque? Fat. Ugly. Unhealthy. Probably not, he probably just accepted that day as it happened, for that's how we live, isn't it? An image is capable of highlighting, later on, an essence that was present all the time, but went unnoticed. Its power resides in its retrospective quality.

And I suppose that's why Carr's work, or any artist's work is important, even if it sometimes neglects the fullness of the human experience: Be part of the machine, enjoy and accept the things around you, but don't forget, once and a while, to stop and criticize.


Blogger Katharina said...

Great blog, I really like it! :)
It made me think about a lot of things.

3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is probs going to be long, sorry. I mean it's not like you're reading this anyway. In other news, you give me a good feeling! I would be lying if I said I didn't hang off of and onto every word you write on this blog and otherwise (as in your songs). Even though I don't know you, every entry of yours seems to bring me closer to your music and I can literally pinpoint where the inspiration for some of your lyrics came from, which is ridiculously awesome and thank you for that. I don't know how many of my conections are accurate but, quite frankly, I don't much care because the curiousity afforded by your music is something I can always rely on and this blog is just another clue. Wow, I'm quite the cheesball. I have fallen hopelessly and completely in love with you and your four other band mates and inevitably, your music and everything it represents, to me.

I was hesitant to write this because a) it's super creepy, with me not actually knowing you and b) I couldn't possibly write anything as beautiful or eloquent as you! But, in the end, I decided to write because this is truly the only outlet I have for this outpouring of emotions.

While you guys were performing and I was waiting impatiently for the Arctic Monkeys to take the (summer)stage, I had no idea that this opening band, the band I wanted to leave the stage so badly so that I could hear Alex Turner singing instead, would become one of my absolute favorites. Even as I watched you singing and bouncing and playing, I didn't know. Even as I bought my Arctic Monkeys shirt and blatantly passed the Voxtrot merchandise, without a glance, I hadn't a clue. But now it's a few months later and I can't listen to your music without being overcome with feelings of joy and sadness and love and wonder. It's only a few months later and I'm sitting here, writing this feeling so dorky and stupid but reassuring myself that if there was any aspect of life where it was okay to be a little foolish it would be in one's fanatical devotion to musicians.

I don't know if this comment makes a difference but I'd like to think that one day, when I watch you guys perform again, I'll somehow have a better insight into why you write and what you write about which will somehow also make me closer to those songs and that music. So I suppose my purpose is entirely selfish.

"They don't even know what it is to be a fan. Y'know? To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts."

Okay, okay, bye.

5:40 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

What you said about the boy in the second photo reminded me of a discussion I had with a friend of mine a month or so ago.
I work in a kindergarten classroom, and I was telling her about something I witnessed when helping two girls in the library one day. Basically what it was was that one-on-one, they became adults. They were more articulate with each other than I am most of the time, and while they were discussing Harry Potter and Robert Munsch, they were doing it so eloquently...I was floored.
The conclusion my friend and I eventually came to, after much discussion, is that essentially, little kids just intuitively know a lot about the world, and that they probably have a lot of really profound thoughts that they just can't articulate. Like, there are all of these huge, abstract ideas floating around in their heads and they have no idea how to express them because they're so young. And by the time they can articulate these thoughts, they no longer have them. They've pushed them out of the way because it's so frustrating to not even really know what it is that you're thinking, much less articulate it, and also in order to make room for more urgent things like "what's that toy and where can I get it?"
I know the boy in the photograph wasn't five, but what you said made me think that perhaps there are kids who never push those thoughts out of the way. Maybe there are kids who are bogged down by an over-understanding from birth. And it's not surprising that I can't help but wonder what these kids grow up to be. Are they happy? Are they enlightened? Or are they just miserable from being so aware of the bad in the world from such a young age?
I have no idea if any of this really applies to anything you've written about here, but I couldn't help but give in to the urge to get this thought out. It's something I think about a lot, since every time I see my kids, at least one of them will give me a look that says, "I know so much more than you realize."

9:58 PM  
Blogger helen said...

i don't know how to put this without sounding like a complete jerk/creep or mad groupie, but, well, here goes.
i can totally relate to that feeling you've described, being a new person in a new environment. because, funnily enough, i'm being that person just one ubahn-station away from you, just having moved to a flat near frankfurter allee, and i always feel like people are watching me when i'm not completely sure where i'm going.
actually, what i was going to ask is this: is there any way to contact you without the entire internets being able to watch? because i'd like to do that, and i hope i'm not sounding too threatening...

7:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're an amazing person. I hope one day I can meet you and we can have a conversation. You just seem so bright based on your lyrics and what you write here.

5:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OH MY GOODNESS. I just realized that your display picture (with the bunnies coming out of your mouth [?]) is like Paul McCartney's picture of the flowers coming out of his mouth! WAS THIS INTENTIONAL? Am I the only person awesome enough to have seen this connection? Too bad you'll never know who this brilliant brain belongs to! Does anyone read this? Okay, bye.

11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're in Berlin now? Berlin is where people go when they're too exhausted and want to drop out for a while - David Bowie taking care of Iggy Pop and coming down from god knows what. Of course, Berlin is just plain old awesome.

I haven't talked to you since Boston and even then it was kind of short - I was a little intimidated by the large crowd there and got more drunk than I wanted to. Let me know how you are.

9:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading any random post in this blog is enough to reinforce the notion that meeting you, even if it was during a show, was one of the most spectacular things that has ever happened to me, and you're probably the most intriguing person I've ever come across. When I read that you were staying in Berlin, my heart dropped. I don't know when I'll see Voxtrot again, but it will probably be the second-best night of my life. October 6th, 2007 at the Black Cat being the first.

9:20 AM  
Blogger April said...

Oh come ON...

I can't believe that any of you can be serious.

11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. some kids are astonishingly perceptive to the world around them, magically so in that innocent childish way of theirs. i have a 10-year-old piano student who constantly makes my jaw drop with his comments about music and sound and things he shouldn't know but somehow does.

2. if it's not terribly odd, though i realize it probably is, i'll be in berlin in a week and would love to buy a round and chat a bit.

3. effortless eloquence is such a rare gift. you use it well.

9:59 AM  
Blogger rich said...

Dear Ramesh,

I'm not sure if you know this but your writing can have a big effect on people. I've played Yesu Ka Mkwebase after plenty of big moments in my life since I first heard it on your blog.

Your example - moving away and being an outsider again, and documenting so clearly how good that feels - really brought home all those great feelings that come with being in a new place.

Anyway I have a favour to ask you. This autumn I'll be starting my last year of college which has freaked me out a bit. I want to get away for a while and be somewhere completely new, so I decided to spend a month in Berlin over the summer.

I remembered reading in your blog that you'd moved out there, and from the looks of things you've really got the most out of your time in the city. If you know of any interesting, easy-going places that might be looking for a swell guy to hire for a month or so, or if you have any advise for someone stepping off a train in Berlin, could you let me know?

Cheers mate,

earley "at"

7:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, kid, hey. Update this shit (please). Thanks.

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1 0 万 もらえたからいいものの、大事な息子はまだジンジンしてまふww(・w・)

8:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

where can we send you fanmail?
we love you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

10:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

youre a real interesting character. come play in california sometime my buddies and i would dig that.

1:35 PM  
Anonymous JEFF BONDAR said...

Helen Keller:

Many people have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.Nice Comment!

3:15 AM  

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