Audio / Video MnemoTechnics

Small Objects That Changed My Life: Shouting At The Ground by :Zoviet*France: radio essay by bart plantenga

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Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 11.58.12Listen now as you read

“A silent man, walking in solitude by a mountain stream… We begin to see what is real and what really deserves our allegiance.” • Gary Snyder

bart plantenga

The first disc I’d bring along to a deserted island is this one – along with The Gentle Side of John Coltrane and Ascenseur pour l’échafaud by Miles Davis. Never mind that I only have Shout on a poor-quality cassette. In 1999, I was asked to participate in an art exhibit entitled “Small Objects That Changed Your Life” in De Appel Arts Centre in Amsterdam. I placed this tape with the below self-made cover – a small detail clipped from a Bruegel painting in a magazine + a dried Paris leaf – into the exhibit with a short explanation. That I never hesitate to mention it when this question comes up is impressive since I have listened to literally thousands of songs and albums and whenever someone asks for a Top 10 of anything, I usually come up with a Top 25 + a mea culpa. There are so many deserving records, so many under-listened-to artists. And yet…

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The Long March by bart plantenga

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The Long March

by bart plantenga


The meditation of the trail: Walk along looking at the trail at your feet and don’t look about and just fall into a trance as the ground zips by. 

• Jack Kerouac

Don’t fall asleep on the Metro-North Train out of Grand Central late at night or you’ll end up somewhere you never in a million years thought you’d end up with the midnight hour approaching. If you’d been on that train, you could have heard me repeating the late-night mantra STAY AWAKE DON’T FALL ASLEEP … over and over and despite – or precisely BECAUSE of! – this mantra, and despite me imploring myself to stand up, go through your wallet, retie your shoe, make a list … I indeed conked out, clueless to the world and was only startled awake when a valise thudded against my seat, just as the signs flashed Ardsley-on-Hudson. I managed to gather whatever wits I had left and leapt out just as the doors began to squeeze shut in … uh… Tarrytown! Overshooting my destination, Dobbs Ferry, by about 5 or 6 miles to the south.

I’d gone to Manhattan to see the prog-grass band Girls on Grass, 2 Brooklyn women – and bassist friend Dave. Only something special can drag me out these days to the past-sell-by-date East Village to engage in that most consumerist of sidewalk dances: the shuffle-app-selfie-click-ice-cream-lick-dance. So only when: 1. my critical capacities tip below zero; or 2. when a friend is playing in a girl band at HiFi, which inhabits the ghostly space of the formerly renowned Brownie’s …

Girl on Grass in HiFi

And as I am about to tell you the rest of this tale, I again hear my partner’s voice of reason whispering sternly into my ear: Do not advertise your stupidity or drunkenness – not charming and not a career maker. Not her actual voice but the one my mind has filed on a mental mp3 under Disapproval/Admonish/Raised Eyebrows.

But I’m hardwired to tell stories like this because humility forges a crooked and poorly marked trail to nirvana, or some place like that. When I encounter an error of judgement nourished by alcohol [not too much, just the right measure I thought], it usually incites impetuous, flakey reactions on my part. Rather than wait for the next train down the track, I decided to walk home. By walking back I mean like walking 2 hours to atone. It’s like winding a tangle of yarn into a ball, a metaphor, you rightly notice, for my unraveled foibles. Yes, walk: It was 85∘with humidity at 120% – if that’s even possible. Whatever the numbers, it’s like walking the doggy paddle and the air is a swimming pool.

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Beer Mystic Chapter 33: Furman’s mom visits his East Village apartment by bart plantenga

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bartMnemoheaderHappy birthday/mother’s day, mom, 2015

The decline of my mother, now 90 on 14 May, has been a slow, long descent since I was a teen. In my youngest youth, she was beautiful and loving. But as I turned 13 or so, her inability to navigate her way through reality became more evident. Things, jokes, music began to bug her. Her loving was replaced by a kind of obsession with the formalities of mothering, the rituals, the cleaning, the forbidding – the mechanics. This has increased over time and even while me and my brother were growing up, neighborhood kids would mock and tease my mom and call her Crazy Tina.

I never tried to analyze it until about 10 years ago, when I realized that her life had probably been more adversely affected by World War II than we thought. She was a teen in Amsterdam and had her best years confiscated by circumstance and any hopes she had for using her artistic inclination toward something satisfying in life somehow became secondary to survival and recovery.

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Warning: The Suppression of Mirth and Scurrilous Laughter by bart plantenga

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WARNING: High Levels of Scurrilous Laughter

by bart plantenga


“L’humour est le plus court chemin d’un homme à un autre.” (Humor is the shortest road from one person to another.) • Georges Wolinski, satirical cartoonist at CH [RIP]

1a moquezThe nervous laugh, the golfer’s clap of hilarity, is applied in situations involving severely uncomfortable moments of consciousness, when one realizes that a humorist is suddenly talking about you or your type or talking about something you have no clue about, but you laugh anyway just in case – so as not to appear clueless or unhip.

These unsettling ah-ha moments occur in connection with the most scurrilous, upsetting of art forms – mockery, satire, burlesque, parody – which breed unease because here is where we undergo dramatic renovations of our comfort zone. But that’s the extent of our arsenal. They have our health benefits, we have heightened derision. They have the generals & the priests, we have the cartoonist & the stand-up comedian.

That the art of laughing at – & then getting others to laugh at – the absurd cruelty of the entitled, those who possess the power to make but mostly break is something we should not under estimate. The ultimate target of satire & comedy is hypocrisy, big hypocrisy as perpetrated upon us by those we entrust with our vote, our hard-earned wages, our lives, our rental agreements, our subscriptions, our souls.

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Fuck Art: A conversation with Sally Eckhoff by bart plantenga

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F*ck Art (Let’s Dance):

A conversation with Sally Eckhoff


by bart plantenga

party pic smaller

Eckhoff [middle] shows that art is a serious 24-7 business

“I became an artist of lots of different things besides painting: an artist of ordering takeout, dancing all beered up in downtown bars, banging around my own head in the night, walking home without getting mugged, of wanting –  sometimes begging and self-deceiving, too.”

• Sally Eckhoff

I must say I was worried when I began reading artist-writer-equestrian Sally Eckhoff’s exuberant ode-critique of New York from her decidedly engaged, joi de vivre, painter’s point of view as it portrays the NY “we” knew during its second-to-last gasps of affordable decadence, the mid-1980s. Since then – the exact date is unknown and debated – NYC has managed to descend into a state of tortured opulence, of clichéd bling, something like trannie makeup on a corpse – something like that. 

This decline is much bickered and written about on social media. But that’s OK because, even if the breakfast joint sucked back then it sucked with a certain panache that makes it superior to sucking today. Or so goes the argument. NYC is now a playground-backdrop for the elite’s commercials, their bonuses, their exploitations. Sally articulated this well: “I always under-estimate rich people’s ability to transform their routines for the sake of amusement.” And make no mistake, it is their amusement park now.

That the book was like one thick, page-turning, mnemonic device means that each page pretty much recalled or continued the already driving, pumping, heated, babel-like soundtrack as brought to you by jazz legends from the 50s, acid jazz, Fugs, Borbetomagus, Don Cherry, Lou Reed, bad FM radio like WNEW-FM & PIX-FM, the Ramones the Clash when they became obsessed with NYC, the Paladium concerts, the Limelight nights, the general din that seemed to keep our souls vacuum-sealed and hooked on the IV drip that was adrenalin + loud, clangorous and jangly sounds  – I think of the elegant, edgy beats at 99 Records – ESG, Liquid Liquid, Y Pants, Singers & Players – and that seemed to speak to us more than any visual or poetic works, that seemed to both criticize and lionize, both transcend and indulge in the tumultuous and frenetic out there where our the nerve endings of all of our extremities seemed to tingle day and night suspiciously until one day you just passed out. Each page in F*ck Art recalls a specific sound, each sound recalls a specific corner, each memory of that corner is a page in my/our diary.

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