Saturday, July 09, 2005

The blog is a beard

Talking Heads - Fear of Music

Just recently finished Jonathan Lethem's The Disappointment Artist, which is a series of personal essays, the last of which, "The Beards" struck a chord. In it, he describes all the ways he occupied himself to avoid dealing with the death of his mother. Talking Heads' Fear of Music was his high school to early college 'beard', playing it "to the point of destroying the vinyl," then replacing it with a new copy. At the peak of his obsession (1980 or 1981) he says:
...my identification was so complete that I might have wished to wear the album in place of my head so as to be more clearly seen by those around me.
I knew a lot of people my freshman year in college like that, with The Joshua Tree, The Replacements Let it Be and REM's Document. I liked those albums as well, but they were other peoples' identity, so in an unoriginal turn, I pretended (and eventually believed,) that I identified with albums one release away... so The Unforgettable Fire, Life's Rich Pageant and Please to Meet Me became my holy beards. I certainly don't think as much of them now as I did then, which is another point of Lethem's. His artist obsessions included Brian Eno, David Bowie, Stanley Kubrick, Don Delillo, Phillip K. Dick and more, and he'd totally consume them until they disappointed him (he became a disappointment artist) with a release, poisoning the rest of their catalogue for him in the process.

Some background on the term 'beard': In Broadway Danny Rose, Woody Allen plays an agent who's star performer, though married, is carrying on an affair. In order to protect his client, Allen excorts the mistress around town, allowing them to be mistaken for a couple in order to provide his client with deniability. When the mafia threatens him with death (the mistress is a Mafioso's ex), Allen denies the connection saying, "I'm only the beard... you don't shoot the beard."

This blog is a beard of sorts, and I imagine it's that way for many. Writers write about a lot of things that seemingly have nothing to do with loss and yet have everything to do with it. As Lethem ends his essay:
A critic once said that every serious poem's true subject, whether obvious or not, is death. Yet to write more then one poem you'd better find a way to forget you heard that. If life itself is, after all, ony a beard for death, couldn't the reverse be true as well?
I originally started this blog with knowledge of the impending death of my sister, and it was started the day after the election (another loss.) Along with that the meeting of my birth parents and the expectation of my first born. I've yet to write much at all about any of these events, and yet everything I've written has had these things in mind.

Man, I need a shave.

More:
The Amazing Adventures of Lethem and Chabon

Previously:
James Frey's My Friend Leonard
Novel Soundtracks: Klosterman's Killing Yourself to Live
Novel Soundtracks: Hudgen's Drive Like Hell
Novel Soundtracks: Lethem's Fortress of Solitude

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4 comments:

drake leLane said...

Talking Heads - Fear of Music

* "I Zimbra" - Talking Heads
* "Mind" - Talking Heads
* "Paper" - Talking Heads
* "Cities" - Talking Heads
* "Life During Wartime" - Talking Heads
* "Memories Can't Wait" - Talking Heads
* "Air" - Talking Heads
* "Heaven" - Talking Heads
* "Animals" - Talking Heads
* "Electric Guitar" - Talking Heads
* "Drugs" - Talking Heads

uao said...

That's a fascinating piece, Drake.

I had two phases of holy beards;

I was a freshman in 1983; Murmer The Bangles [first EP] and Explosions In The Glass Palace (Rain Parade) were my contemporary "new artist" beards at that time, among a few others.

In 1989, I moved from NYC to LA almost on a whim, in an effort to reinvent my life, which wasn't really leading anywhere. Big for me then was Rattle and Hum and others.

In all cases, they seemed to go beyond being a listen and somehow seemed to become something that defined my life, or how I saw myself fitting into life, and helped inform my concept of who I was.

Old released did this for me too; Dylan, Stones, Airplane, VU, Talking Heads. But old stuff and new stuff affected me differently; the new stuff was something I was conscious of happening at the moment, and I was all about trying to land myself in the moment, especially since I had been in my head a lot as a teen.

I still do that; in 2002 an amalgamation of two songs "Sparks Are Gonna Fly" by Catherine Wheel and "Scorpio Rising" by Death In Vegas/Liam Gallagher got in my head beyond where songs go and came to represent not only where I was, but where I was going.

Now they don't, nor do the earlier ones, although they'll forever remain cherished for what they once meant to me.

As an adult, I almost feel silly letting music do that to me. But it still does, sometimes when I least expect it. I no longer try to define by essence through them, but they still seem to inform thought pattersns.

I wonder what will be the next beard.

Great post; I've been reading too many things by babbly blondes (in-joke, nothing against blondes) today, and needed a little nourishment.

drake leLane said...

Thanks... I'm sticking with 'underrated' things for awhile now ;)

Andrew said...

Great post. "Fear of Music" is a great album, and was a beard for one of my roommates, I think. Mine during college were probably the Clash's "London Calling" (which still serves that role on occasion) and, speaking of underrated, Devo's "Duty Now for the Future."

AC