The thing about a Plague Spring is that Life goes on and problems/ jokes/ boons/ non-sequiturial minutiae and various challenges keep coming that have nothing to do with the so-called Plague. You may stub a toe, find a diamond ring on a finger in the bushes (don’t forget to boil it first, kids!), sight a UFO on a cloudy Sunday night or lick your mate’s armpit and taste licorice, even, and all in defiance of the (supposed) Plague’s efforts to dominate your thoughts and experiences.
This Plague Spring Journal is not, therefore, plague-centric. For example… (puffs contemplatively on antiquarian pipe while staring into middle-distance)…
… as noted in previous posts, I “deleted” my FeceBook account in 2015 and accidentally logged-in, again, after 5 years, thinking I was logging into my Wife’s account (I handle her social media). When I realized that the auto-filled log-in menu was actually for my old account I thought, “Why not?” I soon discovered the answer to that question.
It took about two weeks before I “unfriended” a college chum over his steady barrage of moronic, propaganda-recycling posts; I could feel the brain-damage travelling from his hunting and pecking fingers, up through the screen into my exasperated eyes, every time I logged on. Unemployed and otherwise undistracted by any other apparent interests or responsibilities, this tragic feller was posting entry-level idiotic soc med bilge all the live-long day.
In particular: he posted many well-shared, low-quality graphic memes about “Russians Meddling with the Elections” (as if Der Trump needed outside help appealing to the plentiful IQ 88s among Duh Masses!). To one of which I responded by pointing out the obvious irony that there isn’t a nation on Earth whose Gov “we” haven’t manipulated or deposed with efforts ranging the entire spectrum, up to and including invasion and/or assassination. To which Useful Idiot College Chum countered (with a straight face, whatever that looks like on the heavily-narcotized) with an Orwellian, double-think classic:
E____ F_____ @STAugustine I would argue that removing a ruler and installing our own is not the same thing as meddling in elections.
Reading the Dan Wakefield-edited book of Kurt Vonnegut’s letters I was surprised to learn that Kurt’s second wife mutated into an all out Harpy for something like the last twenty years of his Life. Kurt had most probably been driven out of his first otherwise-fine marriage for various reasons (partially, at least, because his first Wife was institutionalizably nuts from time to time), some of them being his own miscalculations. Kurt’s son Mark Vonnegut writes (in “Just Like Someone Without a Mental Illness (only More So)”):
My mother, who was radiant, young, and beautiful even as she lay dying, heard voices and saw visions, but she always managed to make friends with them and was much too charming to hospitalize even at her craziest.
And there was the stress that came with raising three of Kurt’s nephews, as their own, after both of the kids’ parents died within one cursed arc of a couple of days, landing cash-poor Kurt and Jane Vonnegut with seven kids, suddenly*. When this stress-inducing miracle happened, it was still quite some time before Kurt scored national fame and no-joke wealth from Slaughterhouse Five, on which he was still working when he wrote to old friend Knox Burger the following:
Dear Knox: February 26, 1966
So how goes it? I’ve been careful not to tell people you’re not living with Otis any more. At least four other people have told me about it, though, a couple who don’t know you at all. You’re famous, and people notice what you do. […]
Speaking of wives—good old Jane will be out here in a week or two with Nanny, will stay till summer. Something telepathic has busted between us, and I don’t know how to fix it. I’d like to fix it. Sometimes when I talk to her I feel like the Ambassador from New Zealand presenting his credentials to the Foreign Minister of Uruguay. It’s formal and strange, and not at all sexy. I can’t get it up for her any more. Anybody else, simply anybody else, I can get it up for—but not for her, and she’s a darling, loyal girl. I’m punishing her for mothering all those kids, I suppose. I dunno. We’ll fix it up some way.
At Christmas I had the damnedest revulsion to Cape Cod, loved my family but hated the house—don’t want to live there any more. I’ve been invited to teach here for two more years, which will take care of this tired gypsy for 1966, 1967, and 1968 anyway. I’ve accepted. Mark is leaving Swarthmore in June, honorably, and is going to enroll out here. He wants to go someplace big, with a film department and a drama department and an art school and a music department and all that. We’ve got it. He got on a great crack about Swarthmore:
“Swarthmore is a hot little incubator that spits out dead babies.”
That’s my boy.
When Kurt writes, in a letter to José Donoso, in April of 1968 (shortly before Fame finally hit), “Jane is at loose-ends these days—but sweet and cheerful, as always,” I try to picture what Jane was up to. Manic behavior in the kitchen? Depressive behavior on the back porch? Shit-faced sousedness long before lunch every day? Was Jane spouting a raw, plentiful nonsense that grated and sparked on the obdurate rock of Kurt’s Logic? It doesn’t sound, from Kurt’s frank letters, as though Jane was gloomy, mopey or snidely sour. Maybe Jane was frigid. Kurt confessed to being provisionally impotent. Jane may well have been drinking far too much (as was Kurt). Of the period shortly after Slaughterhouse Five gave Kurt his first great whooping shoulder-ride above the scattered clouds and intermittent showers of the merely ordinary, son Mark writes:
My mother, my cousins, and my sisters weren’t doing so great. We had eating disorders, codependency, outstanding warrants, drug and alcohol problems, dating and employment problems, and other “issues.”
And from one of editor Dan Wakefield’s connective passages, in this, his book, of Kurt’s letters:
“It was a time of change, of good-bye and good-bye and good-bye,” Vonnegut wrote in an introduction to the book publication of his play Happy Birthday, Wanda June, speaking of the time he left the Cape and moved to New York. It was a time “when my six children were no more [living at home in the family house on Cape Cod].… I was drinking more and arguing a lot and I had to get out of that house.…” In writing Wanda June (based on his play Penelope, which was performed fifteen years before on Cape Cod), “I was writing myself a new family and a new early manhood.” He regarded the actors as his “new family,” though after the last performance in 1971, “My new family dissolved into the late afternoon.”
During his work on the play, the photographer Jill Krementz came to “chronicle” him photographically, and he began a relationship with her that led to their living together in a townhouse he bought on East 48th Street in Manhattan in 1973. Together they bought a house in Sagaponack on Long Island in 1977 and were married in 1979. Many famous writers were Long Island neighbors in summer, such as James Jones, Irwin Shaw, Nelson Algren, and Truman Capote.
(I do like Wakefield’s subliminal editorial, in the form of scare-quotes around “chronicle,” don’t you?).
Kurt was suddenly rich, famous, unhappy in his first marriage, sexually desperate and totally ready to fall for the first readily available mistake.
Which makes me think of the much-less hypothetically-companionable Kingsley Amis, who left first Wife Hilly for the sexier, more worldly, and ultimately not-super-nice (or subservient) Jane Howard, a move Kingsley would regret for the rest of his life. Only it’s harder to pick a side in the Jane H. vs Kingsley debacle because it’s much trickier to calculate, from the outside, whose foibles were least forgivable. Whereas my heart is unquestionably Kurt’s and has been since I read “Breakfast of Champions” in ’73 as a new teen (having already ingested Slaughterhouse 5, The Sirens of Titan, Cat’s Cradle, et al, as a child).
I do think Kurt would have been safer and happier to either A) try much harder to hold things together with Jane or B) very carefully look for a possible replacement in a far, far off country so isolated, yet well-off enough, that no possible mate would want Kurt for his fame or the green card; that any desirable mate would also find the bare fact of the naked body of Kurt Vonnegut desirable in itself. What was Kurt thinking when he ran off, whooping it up in the reckless ’70s, with sophisticated Jill? He wasn’t. Who does when painted into such slippery corners on the curving surface of the heart’s bouncy-hot chess board?
Poor Kurt. Poor Jane, too.
Life is a rehearsal for a command performance that cannot, for structural reasons, ever be. We learn many hard lessons when it’s too late to do anything with the precious knowledge acquired at such expense. These are two of the biggest long-running bugs (requiring an immediate fix) of Existence.
I feel lucky that I left my psychotic first wife for a not-psychotic (and tender) second Wife, jumping out of the frying pan and onto the sofa, and no rough patch ahead could conceivably be rough enough (short of death itself) to inspire me to make a third last leap for the greener grass of a fresher Hell I will be far too exhausted to transcend.
Older friends: take note.
New Word Order (or is that New World Odor?) Propaganda Hubs are pumping vile toxins into the body politic at peak capacity these days.
There is still, of course, the Pseudo-Science-y, Geopolitical Hoax meant to make us shit our collective short pants at the very thought of C02 (aka absolutely vital Plant Air), the fading PR of the Refugee Boogieman Threat, the Red Scare (on hold until they manage to connect Putin to the Plague somehow) and there is, speaking of which, yes, this brand new Plague Hysteria to cope with, of course, in this our strange Plague Spring (and how long this new hysteria lasts will be a function of how long it is successful and how long we fall for it, knee-knockingly conceding to all the crypto-Martial retractions of Human Rights/Freedoms the Turriss Terror-Hoaxes were insufficient in terrifying us into accepting)…
But the Propaganda Flavor I find most revolting, for its sheer and cynical transparency, still, is the Anti-Heterosexuality they’re bombarding the kids with. Wouldn’t be much of a problem if the majority of humanoid primates weren’t wired for it, but just as the Judeo-Christian Control Apparatus rode roughshod over haplessly horny humanoid primates, for a thousand years, in a neurosis-and-murder-spawning attempt to scare our Sex Drives out of us, the new Anti-Heterosexuality is going to mess up lots of teens.
The Gods know I would find it convenient as Hell if Daughter’s hormone-explosion years turn out to be strictly sapphic. But when the Ministry of Popaganda decides to throw its great weight toward shaming any and all vulnerably trendy young people in the grip of het urges… I balk. Balking is what inveterate Mansplainers (who tend to Manspread, Manbreathe, Manwalk, Manbathe and Mansnack as well, I confess) do best, I guess.
Read this from a zippy little youth-targeting Zine:
If you’ve been anywhere on the internet recently, you’ll likely have seen reference to Love Is Blind, the WTF Netflix reality show with an ableist title asking a bunch of cis-hets (and one maligned bisexual) whether they can fall in love with someone without ever seeing them first. Using quasi-scientific terminology throughout – something which has the uncanny effect of making the whole thing sound like it’s about a cult – the ‘experiment’ begins with a brief courtship period in specially designed ‘pods’, and culminates with weddings 28 days later. Cue: hasty proposals, a dog being force-fed wine, mummy issues and – spoiler alert – multiple people being rejected at the altar.
It’s a lot, to say the least, and it makes us seriously pause and consider what all that cultural messaging about ‘soul mates’, ‘happily ever afters’, and 2.5 kids does to your brain. Queer people might grow up without a lot of role models or relationship guidance, but at least that means we don’t think our problems will magically resolve themselves once we find someone to walk down the aisle with. Confronted with the kind of foolishness epitomised by Love Is Blind, we can’t help but ask, with a genuine note of concern: are the hets OK?!
Ah, so this is how we’re taking the emotional temperature of Het Health (and not the larger culture itself): a cheezy game show!
It wasn’t so long ago that TFIC (who shift and twist and loop like sheepdogging snakes to meet the various challenges of herding us) were demonizing the Queer, while sacralizing the Nucular (sic) Family, instead: just ask Al, who didn’t recover, professionally, from his role in the film excerpted below, for many, many years:
Can you imagine? Just a few short decades ago, Fistfucking™ a stranger in a harness in a public space was actually considered… disgusting!
Now it’s time for the occasional brave feature I call LETTERS WITH ET, in which I access my old virtual chum’s (ET’s) wide-ranging experiences, knowledge and day-glow sanity as a way of countering the stress and gloom of the outside, local, non-ET world. ET, who is a visual artist and touring performer, has seen things that even Rutger Hauer, playing Roy Batty, hasn’t… as we’ll learn below…
From: Steven Augustine
Sent: 15 March 2020 21:32
Subject: Re: THIS JUST IN
Here, enjoy this Slightly Alien Entertainment: A German bandleader has created a nearly-impeccable pastiche of Big Band Swing, using his own part-African children as singers/ dancers in the project, kids who look marvelous (in a precisely ’40s way) and don’t sound too bad and… dance like stiff, self-consciously modern Germans… throwing off any traces of any ghost of possible “swing” in the process! Oh well! I bet the audience can’t tell!
(Did the Holocaust fuck up German rhythm? Because I’m quite sure German dancers of the ’30s and ’40s could Boogie Woogie… but not a one born after 1945 seems to be able to relax enough to feel a rhythm…)
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On Monday, March 16, 2020, 9:31:36 AM GMT+1, ET wrote:
The dancing is like a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy. My dance-floor moves aren’t up to much either but I’d never allow myself to be put centre-stage.
As Adolf, Heinrich and Josef deemed jazz a degenerate art I guess the penalties for being into the music were enough to put you off.
Alternatively I have a record of a US Jewish brass band who can manage jazz, Arabic, Indian and Latin American rhythms but who become horribly unstuck trying to play zweifacher music.
Zweifacher has no swing to it at all but it does have lots of intricate time changes and is incredibly difficult to play. Of course it also comes from an area of Germany where the population were most likely Nazis before the Nazi party were formed so why a Jewish band would want to play that music is only something they can answer.
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From: Steven Augustine
Sent: 17 March 2020 09:48
Subject: Re: THIS JUST IN
Copying and pasting comments (below) from a Zweifacher video: we get almost all the info we need on the genre and the culture spawning it (surely there’s a dissertation to be had in examining the hyper-intellectualization of a primordial folk-practise (dancing) that is, for the overwhelming majority of cultures on Earth, an essentially sensual activity? I for one immediately recognize, in this, the German tendency toward complication as an end sufficient unto itself)…
Neal B 3 years ago
Yes – part two has three pivots in a row, as documented elsewhere, and as written up on the MIT Folk Dance Club t-shirt that I wore yesterday. That also writes it in a more mathematical notation, slighly varying how part 1 is written, but with the same pattern: ((P^2 W)^2 W)^2) (P^2 W P^3 W^2)^2
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On Tuesday, March 17, 2020, 11:25:05 AM GMT+1, ET wrote:
My experience is in trying to play Balkan music with its 5/4, 7/8, 9/8 and 11/8 rhythms. If you’ve grown up on 2/4, 4/4 and 6/8 then it’s difficult to get used to and then play without counting in your head.
But when you see the dances it accompanies the irregular rhythm makes sense. The extra beat tendency also crops up in a lot of different cultures – Irish, Indian, Arabic, East European.
40 years after first learning how to play them it now seems entirely natural though I find the 5/4 the trickiest as it comes round so quickly.
I guess zweifacher is the folk art equivalent of jazz rock where the musicians try and make complicated cleverness a natural element. I get that although my playing technique isn’t up to scratch and I’m not interested in playing for rows of German dancers. The colliery brass bands here in the UK have the most intricate arrangements. Didn’t Haydn deliberately complicate his trumpet concerto because the trumpeter he wrote it for was screwing his wife so he wanted to make sure that the time spent screwing was replaced by practicing.
A friend of mine used to write horn arrangements and the most satisfying ones were where the riffs sounded good and the trombonists and trumpets didn’t have to perform digital and embouchure gymnastics to play them.
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From: Steven Augustine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: 17 March 2020 13:05
Subject: Re: THIS JUST IN
I’m just too enraptured by the savage, droning, hypnotic beat of the mystically-repetitive musical argument… just try sexually hypnotizing a dusky beauty in a loin cloth with a jazz-rock workout; she’d be snapping out of it every five and a half (then seven, then nine and three/fourths, then three, then seven) bars. I’m willing to wager that the sub-sub-sub cultures favoring those ancient Knitting Factory time signatures have fewer offspring than adherents of the Burundi Beat (and Adam Ant) do…
(dons pith helmet and grabs Nagra and heads south with lots of silk stockings and chewing gum)
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To: ‘Steven Augustine’
Tue, Mar 17 at 2:43 PM
Indeed there’s clearly a reason why rock and roll swept the world 64 years ago.
When we worked in Rio ( ker-lunk! ) 23 years ago we went to see a samba school rehearse in a barn on the edge of one of the favelas. We knew the MD who invited us up the front to watch him at work. You could feel the displacement of air from 160 drummers in full flow. The solo cavaquinho was miked up to be louder than a heavy metal guitarist.
In the UK there’s usually only one person who can play a cuica with any degree of competence but this school had at least 20. A local beauty asked me to hold her glass so she could dance. The minute she started gyrating she was surrounded by all the cuica players. The main action in playing a cuica is remarkably similar to wanking and the average age of the cuica players was about 60 so it was a pretty blatant sight – dirty old men wanking in front of a beautiful woman.
I can’t imagine a circle dance in Serbia to have the same effect although a lot of those folk dances do appear to be ritualised wife-swapping.
*(spookily, when Kurt and Jane were still courting, Jane, in whom “mental illness” was equipped, perhaps, with a spot of clairvoyance, wrote dreamy letters about one day raising seven kids with Kurt).
(the placing of this piece could well be a strategic trap but…)
“Coronavirus: ISS [Italian National Institute of Health]: in Italy there are only two deaths ascertained so far due to Covid-19”
“There may be only two people who died from coronavirus in Italy, who did not present other pathologies. This is what emerges from the medical records examined so far by the Higher Institute of Health, according to what was reported by the President of the Institute [Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS), Italian National Institute of Health], Silvio Brusaferro, during the press conference held today at the Civil Protection in Rome. ‘Positive deceased patients have an average of over 80 years – 80.3 to be exact…The majority of these people are carriers of chronic diseases. Only two people were not presently carriers of [other non-COV] diseases’, but even in these two cases, the examination of the files is not concluded and therefore, causes of death different from Covid-19 could emerge. The president of the ISS has specified that ‘little more than a hundred medical records’ have so far come from hospitals throughout Italy.”
“…At present, in fact, the authorities are unable to distinguish those who died from the virus, from those who, on the other hand, are communicated daily to the public, but who were mostly carriers of other serious diseases and who, therefore, would not have died from Covid-19. In response to a question from ‘Agenzia Nova’, in fact, Brusaferro was unable to indicate the exact number of coronavirus deaths. However, the professor clarified that, according to the data analyzed, the vast majority of the victims ‘had serious [non-COV] pathologies and in some cases the onset of an infection of the respiratory tract can lead more easily to death.’ To clarify this point, and provide real data, ‘as we acquire the folders we will go further. However, the populations most at risk are fragile, carriers of multiple diseases’.”