Go South, young man

I need to go South. The majority of my romantic problems, past and present, have come from states belonging formerly to the Confederacy. It seems like a good idea to trace your heartaches back to the source. Furthermore, the biggest events in music of my past couple months — a bonanza of Elvis obtained cheaply through BMG, the new Dixie Chicks album, and Personal File by Johnny Cash — are as Southern as they come. Greil Marcus, writing liner notes for Cash, calls on the Barthesian ideal of the “grain of the voice.” I wonder whether all the connotations that brings to mind in English are also present in French; with Cash I think of grain whiskey, and the caramel tones it leaves on a singer’s voice. I think of fields of grain; if that recalls “America the Beautiful,” well, that fits.

Personal File goes slowly and is full of stories. I love the stories. By the time he was forty, apparently, Cash put cadence into every word he said. The Dixie Chicks album reminds me of listening to Deana Carter when I was fifteen. “Strawberry Wine” was the occasion for the most botched slow dance of my life (there are runners-up). I was dancing with a girl with black hair, green eyes, and a face like a valentine. She’d asked me. I thought I didn’t like country music and mumbled something to that effect when she tried to make conversation. She was asking nervous dumb questions, which are the best kind of questions in the world if, in the moment, you realize what they mean. I was oblivious.

Unfortunately, Deana Carter’s albums are lame. Which is where all the Dixie Chick ballads come riding in to pick up the slack. Also lame, come to think of it, is most of American Recordings Volume 5, aside from a beautiful version of Moby’s “Run On.” Remind me, when it comes my time to die, not to record a song series about it. You can’t write, or even cover, what you don’t know, and that goes double for death.

I’m also inspired to go South by the contrast between me and my teaching assistant, who, like many good people, has a decidedly cynical edge. He wants to make movies, and my hope is that he’ll end up making street-smart films in NYC. New York feels, from where I sit, like a city full of hard-working, disillusioned people who have picked “Office Space” or “Kicking and Screaming” (dir. Baumbach) as their favorite movie. Of course, I’m describing a somewhat imaginary city. There are good-hearted young grumps elsewhere, and the city has its share of exceptions. I can picture the faces of several. Still: Klosterman is a big “Kicking and Screaming” fan. But I’d rather be around Alessandro Nivola than his wife; I’d rather be in “All The Real Girls” than in “Kicking and Screaming” or “Manhattan” or “Metropolitan.”

In a comment on my last post, a friend named Tomemos pointed out that I’d written “paper bag scene” to describe the amateur film-within-a-film in American Beauty. It’s a plastic bag. With apologies to George Orwell, I just went back and edited the post.

More importantly, it was apparently not clear what connection exists between American mediocrity and the “Dionysian” in Nietzsche. They exist in an uneasy partnership. It happens that a lot of good people find partying to be ridiculous, since it is a huge expenditure of energy, involves a recovery period afterwards, and tends to produce a lot of unsightly behavior. I respect this kind of maturity, but I value the excessive and destructive rituals in American life which release the pent-up energies of the work week. Otherwise I worry about losing myself to the work week. I believe the processes of compromise that afflict us in our twenties are practically invisible.

Anyhow, thanks to Tomemos for being a gadfly. The Beatles got their wings playing sped-up versions of “Long Tall Sally” to German audiences who couldn’t understand them, while wearing black leather jackets, calling themselves “teddy boys,” and taking amphetamines. I’ll pass on the ‘drines, but this is what I need. Jim Morrison wrote the lyrics to his only great album while fasting for days, trying out the Leary method of enlightenment, talking to no-one, reading Rimbaud. Joyce went starving in Paris. One has to have a vision, somehow. Somehow one has to invite a vision.

I had a successful observation today and received a dozen warm evaluations from students. A good day. I give my class their midterm tomorrow; my summer in Andover is more than half over.