Peter Gabriel (YGtCTO Music #66)

Biko


Song written and performed by Peter Gabriel

Worlds collide. That’s the way it feels growing up on our planet with the remarkable amount of information flowing at us from all corners. We progress from insulated youth to an onslaught of news about people and situations so removed from our daily lives. We seek connections to these individuals as we search their faces on our screens. Then we move to an almost inoculated resistance to all responsibility after being informed of connections that feel attenuated.

The fine line between carrying the weight of the world and denying all responsibility is constantly re-calibrated as we move through life and develop new responsibilities closer to home. But it is that first shock of recognition that can determine a lifetime with eyes open or closed. The truth is that in our art-saturated world, many of our first impressions of situations far from home are interpreted through the viewpoints of artists of all stripes.

Apartheid was the cause of the day that brought everyone together when I was just raising my head and peering out from home. Other causes mattered, but abolishing this heinous system was a clear goal that broached no argument. Read a little history if you want the details on how that played out.

Here, I want to talk about the framing of the discussion by one artist in particular. I’m pretty sure that the first time that I heard about the situation in South Africa, my reaction was, “What? Are you shitting me?” Living in a country with a long and difficult history with race relations, it raised too many specters to even know where to begin.

Peter Gabriel

Make no mistake,
this was one situation where the intellectual discussion was often simple. (No one I knew came anywhere near any responsibility for the actual change. We were living in southern Ohio. We just knew it was wrong and had to change. That was a message we could state clearly.)

But emotionally, this was a complex problem that also needed expression at a more fundamental level. For me, Peter Gabriel captured the anger and shock in a story that personalized the tragedy. This was a song about a writer and activist whom the regime had killed. Gabriel created a monument to life and the value of the fight against that which would crush us all.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a discussion to be had about the place of art in allowing us to forgive ourselves our turning away, especially by adding additional layers of distance between us and the people that suffer around the world.

Yet, there is a need to process our experience of that pain (also a luxury granted to those not having the experience firsthand) which is a result of our modern world. Our world has become so large and so fraught that sometimes we do need great art to help us stand strong and keep our eyes open, our brains working and our hearts feeling.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 104 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.

Taryn Simon (YGtCTO #195)

Birds of the West Indies


Exhibition and book by Taryn Simon

When I hit the teen years, I started going off to camps, followed by attending a boarding high school. I also started filling stenography pads with words. I would sit in our living room- that place without the television- and write and write. The journeys away from home are relevant because I recall the first few years as: take a trip and then come home and write about all the feelings that had been stirred. Perhaps I should have brought a steno pad with me when I traveled?

Having got involved in the theater a few years later, I spent a few nights contemplating my pile of writings (which I had started transporting). Poetry predominated, but other forms filled many pages. I started tearing out pages and sorting them into piles. For a couple months, I shuffled pages and edited. Eventually, I turned it all into a play which became part of a new playwright festival.

For any artist, their work becomes a conversation with the world around them. That aspect is easy to see in my initial writing when I would see in that big brown easy chair and try to make sense of whatever had happened while I was outside my comfort zone. In many regards, those poems and miscellany are what we think of as art. Certainly, they needed editing and expunging, but that’s the process leading to an audience.

Instead, I horded the words and left them sitting near at hand. One of those weird aspects to being an artist is the fact that we move away from our own creations. (This is not like watching your children grow up, despite the repeated claims.) Simply put, you wake up one day and realize that you have become a consumer of your own work.

Happily,
I still held all the rights to my notebooks and began a second stage of my relationship with them. Essentially, I brought order to the chaos of a part of my past and transformed those words into new work.

Taryn Simon

Taryn Simon helps bring order to chaos on a much wider scale as her palette takes the familiar, identifies confusion, and provides a mechanism for a new relationship moving forward. Whether it is James Bond, criminal justice, or nuclear power plants, her work feels to me as though it also goes through that two step process that I outline above (though hers is on a much more advanced level). First, you have your initial artistic reaction to the world. Once that reaction begins to abstract for you as an artist, then you take your new viewpoint and turn that into a second artwork, which becomes the piece for public consumption.

Two further thoughts–
This all feels very modern. That may also explain why modern art becomes difficult for many audiences. After all, the intrusion of the artist on the work becomes more apparent. Also, the line between heart and brain appears to favor the brain.
Isn’t this basically how all music works?

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 105 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.

Philip K. Dick (YGtCTO Words #65)

The Short Happy Life of the Brown Oxford and Other Classic Stories (The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Vol. 1)


Stories written by Philip K. Dick

At this moment, Philip K. Dick feels like another piece of the cultural pie forced into the common parlance because he was adored by lovers of science fiction and comic books. In both cases, it took one hugely successful film to leave us saturated with super-heroes and science fiction based on questioning the nature of reality. For comic books, it was the first X-Men movie and for Dick, it was Blade Runner. There has been no escape from either ever since.

If you zipped back in time and told me as a youth that I would see so many such films, then I would have happily awaited the day, certain that it would mean a better world for everyone where we understood the positive mythology of superheroes and the cautionary tales of PKD. Of course, superheroes have become props for blockbuster films aimed to generate massive amounts of cash as quickly as possible while remaining as forgettable as possible so that we look forward to the next fix without too much trepidation.

Come to think of it, that sounds like something Philip K. Dick would dream up.

Or maybe not. Check it out yourself. His short stories have been lovingly collected in highly readable volumes. They are a nice dip into some wonderful science fiction of Fifties and Sixties written by someone who was fast enough to crank them out and brilliant enough to make you forget how many he wrote so quickly.

Philip K. Dick

As much as anything,
PKD provided high entertainment value. One of the ways he did this was to rely on some standard themes, which he masterfully altered and evolved. The short stories often feel more concrete than his novels.

Let’s face it, one of the appeals of adapting PKD to the screen is that he gives you a plot that can be defined in conventional terms surrounded by various twists of the lunacy dial. Blade Runner feels like an exception in that the film feels almost more unconventional than the book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Or maybe that’s the secret to the desire to bring PKD to the screen? Directors can demonstrate their own creativity by expanding on the initial weirdness provided by the story.

Ultimately, some artist had to capture the general zeitgeist of dystopian angst built up around our growing technological and pharmaceutical dependencies. Maybe we’re still too close to him in time to truly appreciate his importance. Maybe it is simply the curse of science fiction that once the predictions feel dated, then we move on to the next artist with a reconstituted vision built on more current knowledge.

What’s it all about?

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 106 more to go.

New additions to You’ve Got to Check This Out release regularly. Also, free humor, short works, and poetry post irregularly. Receive notifications on Facebook by friending or following Craig.

Images may be subject to copyright.