It doesn't hurt that I happen to agree with him about the Nina Simone song, about Reagan, about regulating love, about ... well, no need for me to embellish it. Just read it. It stands on its own.
Some thrills I can't define
For my money, the three greatest love songs ever recorded are Nina Simone's Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair, Louis Armstrong's Kiss To Build A Dream On, and Billie Holiday's All Of Me. Of the three, I couldn't find the Nina Simone cd, Louis Armstrong is on vinyl, so it was Billie that I took along with me for the bus ride to cast a stone alongside my fellow Armageddon advocates today.
Anyone can sing All Of Me and make your throat catch, the song is simply that good. It comes from a time when there were songwriters that cared about craft, that knew how to end a line on a syllable that allowed the singer to breathe properly, so singers could hold the note, stretch and play with it, luxuriate in the moment without having to worry about losing their breath. The Beatles ruined that, it wasn't their fault, they studied their craft and applied their lessons, it was the suits than ran record companies that decided to cash in on a hip fad, plus the chance to release themselves from having to pay songwriters.
Except when Billie Holiday sings All Of Me, it doesn't just make your throat catch, the song can make you weep in public. Which makes it a beautiful song, but probably not the smartest choice to listen to while riding public transportation. Besides, the weather called out for Billie, it's another gray, cold and rainy day in Seattle.
If you've ever visited this town, you've probably been told by a local, “No, it doesn't rain all the time. We just tell people that so they won't move here.” There's only two problems with this statement. One, it does rain all the time. One winter we went eighty-seven days straight with rain every day. Second problem, if that statement is supposed to keep people from moving here, it failed a long time ago. Seattle has grown too big, too fast, and our local government has been consistently too incompetent to properly deal with the problem. Our traffic is a mess, property values are through the roof, and even though we pay taxes out the ass, you can't really see the results anywhere you look. It's certainly not going for upkeep of the roads.
You better not ask whether there's corruption in the local government though. One thing that sets Seattle apart from every other city I've ever lived in is how hostile the general populace is to the idea that someone might be skimming money from the local government. Any other city in the world, and you'll get that shrug of the shoulders, “Probably.” Atlanta, London, NYC, Portland, Rome, any city you go to, they're pretty comfortable with the idea that their local government is probably corrupt. In Seattle though, you'll be met with indignant anger. Nope, I'm not kidding about that. People get really upset if you even broach the topic. Even though our roads are a mess, even though our public works are being cut left and right, schools are going through hell times, and we have the only shipping port in the entire United States that manages to lose money, you better not ask where the money is going to.
So this is what I'm thinking about, riding the city's slowest bus, the 7 route, down to see if there's a black dot on my piece of paper, trying not to lose my shit when Billie hits the line, "you took the best, why not take the rest?". The rain, the bus, and Billie all seem perfect, because after my Raymond Chandler lovefest this weekend, I've been on fire to start working on a noir, because I haven't read a great modern noir in a long, long time. All crime fiction seems to revolve around either LA or Tahoe, and feature either the grizzled detective or worse, the news reporter, or even worse, the local college professor who teaches English, bangs hot blonds and defeats Mafiosos in between grading term papers. All of this you will note, rises higher than legal thrillers, who are devoured by the cubicle dwellers of this world because all legal thrillers revolve around a hidden file or spreadsheet that just happens to resemble the files and spreadsheets that actually sit in the cubicle-dwelling reader's very own cubicle. “Wow, that might not be a boring expense account, that actually might be the missing case report that could bring the evil corporate goons down! Swoon!”
Nope, I want a noir that goes, “What would happen to you if you came home to a dead body and your fingerprints were on the gun?” Because I hate to tell you, I'd be fucked. I have no friends on the police force to trace license plates for me. No lawyers who can hack Lexis/Nexis to find out about the latest hostile corporate takeover that is actually the real motivation behind the murder. I can't even afford first/last/deposit to move into a new rental, much less the cash to flee the state. Flee the country? Sure, I'll get right on that after monkeys fly out of my ass and I fuck Cindy Crawford. Nope, I'd have to roll over and wait for them to shove ten thousand volts up my ass. I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm not alone.
What's interesting about classical noir are the subjects it deals with. The criminal justice system is incompetent, white collar life is oppressive, the police force is corrupt, and the federal government is overwhelming and evil. All of this coming out just at the end of WWII, when for years Hollywood had been trying to build up the idea that the US was the greatest power on earth and all men were fighting for the common good.
"There's no such thing as courage. There's only fear, the fear of getting hurt and the fear of dying. That's why human beings live so long."
Can you imagine what it must have been like for an audience to see that statement made in 1947? Noir attacked every convention that regular cinema held up as good and true. Marriage is a trap, the femme fatales are the hottest thing out there but refuse to fall for the hero (ever notice that most noir films revolve around the murder of an older, monied husband at the hands of the femme fatale?), and the 'proper' woman that wants to marry the hero is seen as an overbearing harbinger of boredom to be avoided at all costs. Noir reveled in disillusionment, moral corruption, desperation, and alienation.
What had me puzzling this over on the bus wasn't the conventions of noir, but the fact that it was so hugely popular for such a long period of time, and specifically, what is considered the 'Golden Era' of the United States of America. Most people who extol the glories of our country tend to hold fast to some idealized state from this time period, Glen Miller playing on the radio, the family gathered around the dinner table, cruising in '50s cars to pick up women in poodle skirts. Yet here we have an entire genre that smashed every convention that was held as good and true. People reveled in noir, and what this says to me is that we're being sold a bill of goods.
The right wing in this country would like us to believe that our moral decline is a relatively recent phenomenon, probably starting about the late sixties when those dirty, hedonistic, hippy college students rose up and started fucking in public. There was a golden age before then, but that golden age has been lost because of those dirtbag hippies, and the seventies with its disco music, high gas prices, and further turning away from God has destroyed us to an even greater extent.
Frederic Jameson had a very good observation when he stated, “Repression is reflexive, that is, it aims not only at removing a particular object from consciousness, but also and above all, at doing away with the trace of that removal as well, at repressing the very memory of the intent to repress.” Reagan, above all others, was the most virulent opponent to the memory of the late sixties, and it comes as no surprise. All one needs to do is read the history of the Black Panthers to find out where that hatred comes from, the sixgun slinging self-image he'd carefully created for himself was confronted with the physical reality of shotgun toting black militants occupying his seat of power. Reagan's heroic, all powerful self-image shattered like the brittle mirror-glass it was constructed from.
Now if you're asked to conjure up images of the sixties, is it the democratic convention in Chicago, the Berkley Free Speech Movement, Civil Rights marches, The Diggers in SF, Patty Hearst with an AK-47, or Kent State that occupies your mind, or is the image of a bunch of drugged-out, burnt-out petulant college students date-raping every available female while proclaiming, “Just chill out man”? David Copperfield making the Statue Of Liberty disappear can't hold a candle to what Ronald Reagan managed to do to the cultural memory of the United States.
This is why I'm convinced we're in a war of imaginations. People keep on trying to sell us on a version of America that has never existed. When people yell “America, love it or leave it,” I want them to define that statement before I comply with it. Which America are you commanding me to love? Is it the America created by The Waltons, Lawrence Welk, and Norman Rockwell, the America that sentenced Sacco and Vanzetti to death, and then repeated the same fallacy with the Rosenbergs?
Also, what exactly are you talking about when you say love? Do you mean the love that's contained in cheap greeting cards alongside pictures of cute puppy dogs and little children in Victorian outfits, or are you talking about the type of love that keeps you up all night playing records that only come out when you're alone, those same albums that are played in the first night when you know, beyond any question of a doubt, that you're madly in love with the person you're playing those albums for? There's a bittersweet feeling in that unveiling, because deep down, we all know that we're going to end up shattering those albums when they leave us. That's the way it goes with love. I'm pretty sure that that first type of love, greeting card love, is just as much a figment of the imagination as the plastic America that's being offered.
I hate to break it to these people, but love is the most revolutionary thing that has ever existed in the entire world. Plato knew it, why do you think he kicked poets out of his perfect society? Love will keep the most bourgeoise, most job-bound individual up all night long, will make the person with the perfect attendance record call in sick. Nothing else matters when you fall in love, love destroys social boundaries, economic boundaries, you name a boundary, and love will make it seem as silly and inconsequential as it truly is.
The very fact that in America they feel they can regulate the love that two women or two men feel for each other is all the proof I need to know that they've never experienced real love, and have never understood what America truly stands for.
I guess I'm trying to explain why I vote, but to tell you the truth, I'm really trying to explain why today, Billie Holiday's All Of Me had me in tears not over someone I've known, but today, she had me in tears over a country I feel like I've lost, no matter who wins, and that song hurts even worse than it ever has before.