December 31, 2007

Finally Saw Grizzly Man

(here). Woke at 4 a.m.: people parts in bears; what a way to go. I wonder if Timmy had time to grow up during those last, agonizing seconds.

One of the joys and hazards of being human is that we can entertain our own dam' selves. We can have sex with ourselves; we can party by ourselves; we can project whole populations for ourselves to "interact" with; etc.

Leading Surveillance Societies

Bigger image and more info here.

Boone Needs to Meet . . .



You know, Boone.

(Thanks, Craig!)

December 30, 2007

True Love

This guy customized this AR-15 assault rifle for his wife.

(Thanks Ben, but you're shopping for me in the wrong places.)

December 29, 2007

UPDATE Re- Bringing the Internet to Heel

As my three readers know, I'm very concerned that, at least partly through the instigation of right-wing authoritarians but also partly through the more or less semi-witless facilitation by the rest of us, the internet is rapidly being transformed into a potential top-down surveillance and mind-control system easily manipulated by gummints and corps (for more details, see my previous posts on the subject, most recently here).

I never thought I'd see Microsoft as on my side, but in its current battles with Google, that's how it's shaping up. Google is actively promoting its "cloud" model of the internet, in which not only software but most of your data live on the 'net -- i.e., in hardware owned and controlled by others -- while Microsoft continues to favor a distributed model in which most of your software and data live in your PC.

Details at Google Watch and The New York Times, among other places.

Personally, I'm hanging on to my hardware and (better late than never) minimizing the personal info I put on the 'net.

(See my prior post for background.)

December 28, 2007

Headphones Art by André Avelãs

A one-night installation comprising 960 earbuds used as speakers plus another 40 buds used as microphones to fuel a feedback loop. "Another unpredicted but welcomed sound source was some white noise from a fucked-up amplification circuit I built," said Avelãs. More at Avelãs' Flickr gallery and his website, where a sound sample is to be posted soon. (Via Gizmodo.)



December 27, 2007

Sign Now in Support of Impeachment Hearings

Congressman Robert Wexler has called for impeachment hearings to investigate Dick Cheney. As his website puts it, "There is credible evidence that the Vice President abused the power of his office, and not only brought us into an unneccesary war but violated the civil liberties and privacy of American citizens. It is the constitutional duty of Congress to hold impeachment hearings."

You can't have a functioning democracy if apparent "high crimes" by some of the highest officers in the land aren't even investigated. You can't have "truth and reconciliation" without truth.

It's high time we knew as much about what our employees in the gummint are up to as they know about us.

In the first five days after Wexler's call for hearings, over 100,000 people signed his petition in support. Please add your signature here.

December 23, 2007

Big Brother Has Biometric Data on You (or Soon Will)

I'd prefer to focus my posts more on art and trash, but these days, that's not easy.

According to The Washington Post, the FBI, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are cooperating to create recognition equipment coupled with a vast database of biometrics that would enable them to capture or identify images of people's irises at distances of up to 15 feet and faces from as far away as 200 yards. The database will also retain fingerprints and palm patterns, scars, and perhaps characteristic ways of walking and talking.

The FBI will also retain, upon request by employers, the fingerprints of employees who have undergone criminal background checks, "so the employers can be notified if employees 'have brushes with the law'" -- i.e., any contact with the law whatsoever, whether you’ve actually done anything wrong or not.

Director Lawrence A. Hornak of the West Virginia University Center for Identification Technology Research, which has been awarded a contract to further develop the system’s recognition capabilities, says, "The long-term goal" is "ubiquitous use" of biometrics. As WaPo put it, “[a] traveler may walk down an airport corridor and allow his face and iris images to be captured without ever stepping up to a kiosk and looking into a camera . . . .”

See also engadget and the U.S. Department of Justice, indicating that in 2006, the same or a similar system was projected to cost U.S. taxpayers $1 billion.

Another good reason to get yourself a gas mask, preferably with mirrored lenses -- and if you plan to protest, don't leave home without it.

(Thanks, Craig and Ben!)

December 22, 2007

Plan Now to Vote in the PRIMARIES

The perfidy of our current elected officials in Congress, both Republican and Democratic (see, e.g., Salon), has made only too plain the importance of participating in party primaries to try to ensure we’ll have the chance to vote for candidates who might actually prioritize the will and the Constitutional rights of the people over the interests of big business.

So please find out how to vote in the primary in your state and DO it.

In my own state, the primaries are scheduled for March 4, 2008, and if you’re registered to vote, you can vote in a primary merely by showing up at the appropriate polling place on the date of the primary, so long as you haven’t already voted in the primary for the other party (which would have been marked on your voter registration card). [UPDATE for Texas Dem voters HERE.] Primary dates and the requirements for voting in them vary from state to state, however. Primaries in some states take place as early as January 3, 2008; so check it out NOW.

You can find the date of your primaries at Wikipedia or The New York Times.

We vastly outnumber the bad guys; their power persists only through our inaction. At this point, I plan to vote for Edwards.

UPDATES Re- What Would the CIA Torture Tapes Have Revealed?

(Original post here.)

UPDATE Dec. 19, 2007: The New York Times reports that White House lawyers Alberto R. Gonzales, David S. Addington (now V.P. Cheney's chief of staff), John B. Bellinger III (until 2005, the senior lawyer at the National Security Council), and Harriet E. Miers (who succeeded Mr. Gonzales as White House counsel) all took part in discussions with the CIA about whether to destroy the tapes and that some officials contend there was “vigorous sentiment” at the White House to destroy the tapes, or at best that no White House lawyer advised against it.

UPDATE Dec. 22, 2007: According to The New York Times, both chairmen of the official U.S. 9/11 Commission, Lee H. Hamilton (D) and Thomas H. Kean (R), have stated that a memorandum based on a recent review of classified documents "had convinced them that the [CIA] had made a conscious decision to impede the Sept. 11 commission’s inquiry."

December 18, 2007

The Lovely Sayana

from the original Star Trek series, apparently adorned with batter-fried onion "blossoms."

See more of the galactic gals Kirk closely encountered here.

(Thanks, Ben!)

December 17, 2007

What Would the CIA Torture Tapes Have Revealed?

Many people accept the explanation that the tapes were destroyed because they show U.S. agents committing torture.

But, bad as that is, we already knew about it. Moreover, the Bush Administration survived the release of the Abu Ghraib photos at no greater cost than a few underlings’ careers and has managed to keep out of public view most of the other video known to be most damning (e.g., the video described by Pullitzer-winning Seymour Hersch as depicting U.S. soldiers sodomizing Iraqi boys).

As O. Ricardo Pimentel of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put it in his Dec. 12, 2007 blog post, "[t]hey've got stuff in the intelligence world to read license plates from satellites, yet they can't fuzz up faces on video? The agency says it did nothing illegal and says waterboarding was approved at the highest levels. OK, so what was the point in destroying the videos? One word: obstruction." I'm not sure what Pimental thinks was being obstructed, but some people believe the tapes had to be destroyed because they would have revealed the Bush Administration’s hand in something worse than mere torture.

Gerald Posner at HuffPo thinks the Administration may have feared the revelation of facts relating to 9/11 that were disclosed by the men being tortured; see also Robert Baer's piece at Time Magazine.

Others speculate further that the tapes would have revealed that the torture was actually intended to induce brain damage or insanity in the victims, in order to destroy their ability to give credible evidence; see, e.g., leveymg's blog entries dated Dec. 10, 2007 and later at Daily Kos.

Both Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri are believed to have played instrumental roles in the 9/11 attacks (see the official U.S. 9-11 Commission Report and BBC News). Both men (among thousands of others) have been in actual or constructive U.S. custody since 2002 (Wikipedia here and here), i.e., ca. five years.

The FBI quickly extracted from Zubaydah -- without the use of waterboarding -- the names of four foreign leaders who knew about the 9/11 attacks before the event, all of them nationals of our supposed "allies," Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Within months, all four men named met sudden and untimely deaths (see Posner at HuffPo).

Waterboarding and other harsh methods were approved by the White House (ABC News and The Washington Post), although such methods are in violation of the Geneva Convention and probably U.S. law (see The Pittsburgh School of Law's Jurist and Wikipedia).

Waterboarding can reduce or cut off the supply of oxygen to the brain and result in permanent brain damage or death (Wikipedia). “[W]ithout adequate oxygen, . . . the cells of the brain can die within several minutes. This type of injury is often seen in near-drowning victims . . . . ” (Wikipedia). Both Zubaydah and al-Nashiri have been tortured by CIA agents using waterboarding as well as other methods.

"On September 15, 2004, Judge Hellerstein ordered the CIA and other government departments to ‘produce or identify’ all [records concerning the treatment of detainees apprehended after September 11, 2001 and held in U.S. custody abroad] by October 15, 2004. . . . a court order of this nature requires that the party preserve all information possessed that is responsive to the request", even if the party appeals the order (John W. Dean at FindLaw; see also the Associated Press). The CIA was also admonished by the 9-11 Committee and various advisors not to destroy the videotapes.

The CIA nonetheless destroyed the videotapes -- at the urging of someone "directly representing" President Bush (Newsweek).

Zubaydah is now said to be insane; sources are in dispute as to whether he was already insane when captured (see the June 23, 2006 post at Inside the Ring). Terror suspect Joseph Padilla is known to have been driven insane by torture (The Guardian).

The Cooperative Research History Commons is working on an excellent timeline here with much more detailed information on this subject.

December 15, 2007

Cody Smart's Hitchhike Across North America,

here; worth the download (even the "unabridged" version is not long).

December 11, 2007

December 1, 2007

kittywigs.com

"Kitty Wigs™ is a product of the feverish imagination of [my friend] Julie Jackson and her siamese partner in crime, Boone. Sometimes the pressure of Julie's day job [Subversive Crossstitch] combined with Boone's constant state of leisure results in loud music, wigs and dancing. This has brought such great stress relief . . . that we [Julie & Boone] decided to share our passion for wigs with the world. . . ."

"Each Kitty Wig™ comes in an attractive round metal wig case with our fresh new logo on it. Your wig will arrive on a wig form and covered in a hair net to help keep its shape and luster. . . ."

[Regarding the model at right,] "Pink is the color of fantasy. Our model, Chicken, looks like her mind is elsewhere when she wears this wig -- somewhere in a land of cotton candy and pinwheels . . . . Pink makes your kitty feel elegant, modern and quintessentially feline." [Text & pic from the Kitty Wigs site; some links supplied.]

If you have any creature in the house with a head bigger than a walnut (including boyfriends), you need a Kitty Wig™.

UPDATE: Kitty Wigs has been a smash success, inspiring both features by Anderson Cooper on CNN News and The Graham Norton Show (here and here -- both are funny) and hate mail (here, here, and here). Julie put my "walnuts" quip on her site and at one point, if you googled it, you got over 10,000 hits (so much for my more substantive accomplishments).

If you haven't gotten your Kitty Wig yet, better get your order in now for the next production run.

November 30, 2007

Site that Helps You Identify Tunes by Humming

Still in beta. I tried it on something obscure; it kinda worked but obviously needs more users to help build up its database. It was fun hearing all the goofy hummings from other users around the world, though.

Warning: this is definitely another one of those sites I warned you about here; plus, you have to give it access to your computer microphone, plus since my mic is part of my camera, I had to give it access to my camera. However, at least for now, you don't have to register in order to search by humming.

Cool Czech Book Covers from the 1920's and 30's

. . . here.

Product Placement in Art Museums







The recent New York Times article about galleries paying museums to help finance exhibitions of artists represented by said galleries reminded me of a comment by David Lynch:


Also, the common view of politicians' solicitation of donations as "shakedowns."

Fine if you're an open, paid advocate for a certain party or point of view; not so fine if you purport to represent the general public or an independent point of view. The apparent conflict of interest undermines public confidence in the integrity of public institutions.

That said, I love the look of Takashi Murakami's platinum and aluminum Golden Buddha in the first pic above.

(Thanks to snarky for the tip on the Lynch clip!)

November 27, 2007

The Freeway Blogger's T.G. Blogapalooza

This guy made my day. Here's another link to his blog post about it, where you can comment and cheer him on.

Happy holidays, b.t.w.!

Internet Bill of Rights?

According to eGov monitor, Italy and Brazil have "endorsed a joint declaration committing themselves to reach as soon as possible a shared and planned resolution of network rights," to be "prioritized" at the 2008 Internet Governance Forum in New Delhi.

Issues to be addressed would include privacy, data protection, freedom of expression, free access to information and knowledge, universal accessibility, network neutrality, interoperability, open standards, the right to innovate, a fair and competitive market and consumers' safeguards.

Great idea. Who gets to write it? And how can we get it in the U.S.?

November 22, 2007

A New Game for Middle Eastern Markets & the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy

I came across a new computer game, Arabian Lords, "inspired by the rise of Islam during the 7th – 13th centuries" and "targeted at Middle Eastern markets," which at first struck me as unintentionally hilarious (e.g., that demented gleam in the Arabian Lord's eye! {click on the image to enlarge}). As I dug for amusing details, things got curiouser and curiouser – the maker of the game seems to have done most of its work for the U.S. gummint or RW constituencies.

From the Arabian Lords site:

Rule a Powerful Empire in the Ancient Middle East!

Travel back in time and become an enterprising merchant lord during the Rise of Islam. Start with one palace and expand to rule an entire city! But beware the perils of power – as you gain prestige you must outmaneuver and defeat other rival factions. . . .

Craft your beautiful Middle Eastern city!
Send Beggars, Thieves and Vandals to sabotage your opponent!
Hire Musicians, Poets and Bards to keep your markets thriving!

Here’s the first round of hints and tips from the AL development team!

Residential Districts are very important to control. Taking control of Residential Districts is the quickest way to increase your population capacity (in addition to expanding and upgrading stalls within a Residential District). And if you suddenly lose control of a District, it’s the quickest way to throw your entire mercantile empire into chaos. . . .

While the overuse of personal security forces can drive down your popularity with the people, it’s important to use Bodyguards to patrol and protect your Districts. The City Guard is reliable, but not good enough. Maintaining your own defense force can be a big help, especially in Residential Districts.


(Would the desaturated guys be the Bodyguards?)

Arabian Lords is a creation of BreakAway Games. Wikipedia says , BreakAway is one of the largest developers of serious games, having developed several high-profile serious games for the U.S. military and the U.S. Department of Justice . . . . The company has strategic relationships with AAI, Boeing, Booz Allen Hamilton, GMA Industries, and General Dynamics, among others. The company's ability to form such relationships is the direct result of many years of experience developing military models and operational PC-based warfare simulations for the military. The United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, the Office of the Secretary of Defense Net Assessment (OSD), the Army War College, the Navy War College, the National Defense University, the Joint Forces Command Joint Experimentation Directorate and many other governmental and military organizations have also used BreakAway-developed software.

BreakAway's site says, Our 100+ employees have collectively shipped hundreds of titles in strategy, action/stealth, and sports games—and developed a core competency in creating tools for modeling, simulation, and visualization. This technology has become the mōsbē™ desktop development studio, a strategy-based platform designed to enable military, homeland security, medical, and corporate customers solve real-world problems with the situational realism and experiential engagement of game-based simulation.

Our Clients Include:

• Microsoft
• The Walt Disney Companies
• DARPA
• Joint Forces Command
• Office of the Secretary of Defense – Net Assessment
• NETC
• United States Air Force
• Institute for Defense Analysis
• Department of Justice / National Institute of Justice
• Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
• SAIC
• Rockwell Collins
• Northrop Grumman
• Boeing
• General Dynamics
• Lockheed Martin
• Booz Allen & Hamilton
• International Center for Non-Violent Conflict
• Believe in Tomorrow Children’s Foundation
[among others.]
Clusty-ing the International Center for Non-Violent Conflict:

In a report about Bush's Freedom House speech, the Financial Times (March 30, 2006) reported that [Freedom House] had received U.S. government funding to undertake clandestine activities in Iran. Reported the newspaper: "Few in the Washington audience on Wednesday realized that Freedom House . . . is one of several organizations selected by the State Department to receive funding for clandestine activities inside Iran. Peter Ackerman, chairman of the board of trustees, who introduced Mr. Bush, is also the founder of a separate organization that promotes non-violent, civic disobedience as a form of resistance to repressive regimes. His International Center for Non-Violent Conflict has organized discreet 'workshops' in the Gulf emirate of Dubai to teach Iranians the lessons learned from east European movements. . . . Mr. Ackerman, who is very wealthy from an earlier career as a financier, says he does not accept government money. Questioned by the FT, Freedom House confirmed it had received funding from the State Department for activities in Iran. It declined to give details but said it was not involved in Mr. Ackerman's work in Dubai.

Hmmm.

November 8, 2007

AT&T Whistleblower: Telecoms Do Not Deserve Immunity



Former AT&T technician Mark Klein says that, at the U.S. government's request, AT&T has installed numerous, massive facilities that have been indiscriminately copying all internet traffic, even that of users who are not AT&T customers but whose communications were routed through AT&T's system. As he states in this video, “These installations only make sense if they’re doing a huge, massive domestic dragnet on all internet traffic in the United States.” He also says the telcos are intimately familiar with the constitutional issues from having dealt with warrants for wiretapping, etc., and knew full well that the government's program was in gross violation of the rights of millions of U.S. citizens. (My summary includes some details from an interview with Klein aired yesterday on NPR.)

Panning for Gold in Low Places

Reported on yahoo (with photo from Reuters):

"NEW YORK (Reuters) - . . . a local restaurateur unveiled a $25,000 chocolate sundae on Wednesday, setting a Guinness world record for the most expensive dessert.

[ * * * ]

"The dessert . . . is infused with 5 grams (0.2 ounces) of edible 23-karat gold and served in a goblet lined with edible gold. At the base of the goblet is an 18-karat gold bracelet with 1 carat of white diamonds.

"The sundae is topped with whipped cream covered with more gold and a side of La Madeline au Truffle from Knipschildt Chocolatier, which sells for $2,600 a pound." (More at the link above.)

Let the poor pan?

I'm going to have to add a new quote by Norman O. Brown to my "[t]houghts for the year or whatever" in the side bar at left.

Adam and the Ants

Thank goddess for friends like snarky (via Merlin Mann) who help give me a clue re- what I missed at the time.

November 2, 2007

Maira Kalman's Principles of Uncertainty

I had no idea so many of my favorite things -- the illustrated version of The Elements of Style, (un)FASHION, so many New Yorker covers -- all came from one person (here's her TED talk):

And check out her painted blog ("plog"?) on the New Yorker site.

October 17, 2007

3.37 Minutes of Bacon Jokes

As Bullwinkle said, "now for something really important":

October 16, 2007

Ongoing, Warrantless Telephone & Internet Surveillance of Us All

Even Starbucks is now required to help them spy on us.

Check out the summaries here and here. Note the post in the first thread indicating that telcos may now be routinely routing ALL communications through jurisdictions outside the U.S., so all can be captured.

All info is good info – until it's used against you for bad purposes. The gummint surveilled John Lennon (Wikipedia) and Martin Luther King (Wikipedia) in its efforts to end their activism, probably succeeding in the case of Lennon, who faced deportation for marijuana use.

A balance of power requires a balance of knowledge: we need to know at least as much about what our gummint is doing as it knows about us. We don't.

October 15, 2007

Pirates Take Over Anti-Piracy Website

"Software pirates have launched an astonishing smash 'n' grab raid on the music biz, stealing the domain name of one of its foremost anti-piracy bodies.

"The Pirate Bay has now taken up residence at IFPI.com, a domain once owned by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). . . ."

* * *

"When asked to confirm how they got the domain name, Pirate Bay administrator Brokeup told TorrentFreak: 'It's not a hack. Someone just gave us the domain name. We have no idea how they got it, but it's ours and we're keeping it.'"

More at Tech.co.uk.

October 3, 2007

UPDATE: With Our Help, the Internet is Being Brought to Heel

Free speech in general and the internet in particular seem to worry control freaks.

As of 2000, just five megacorporations – Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch's News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom (formerly CBS) – controlled over 90% of the media industry in the U.S., with General Electric's NBC a close sixth (see here, here, here, and here).

In 2003, despite the largest public outcry in FCC history, the FCC adopted rules loosening restrictions on media ownership (stories here, here, and here). Although courts ultimately threw out the rules, the FCC is now trying again (stories here and here).

Certain people have spent a lot of money to gain all that control, and notwithstanding claims of hard times in the media biz, the investment has proved profitable; but one of the main benefits that might have been hoped for – control over the agenda and messages reaching audiences of any significant size – is threatened by the 'net.

Internet freedom, neutrality, etc. have accordingly been attacked on a variety of fronts.

In an earlier post, I discussed conservatives' plans to replace the internet as we know it with something called the "Worldbeam," a.k.a. the "Cloud," a system in which, instead of storing all your personal docs, files, and software on your own computer at home, everything would be stored on larger computers elsewhere, and you would just have a box that would be little more than a gateway to the Cloud.

Instead of buying your own copies of applications, the most basic might (or might not) be provided on the Cloud for free, and you'd pay license fees for anything fancy, so vendors could force you to upgrade whenever they liked. Although access to your own data would theoretically be protected by a password or other security, the gummint or others who controlled the Cloud could access, modify, or simply delete any or all of your or others' data much more easily than now.

The internet would have been transformed into a massive, top-down surveillance system while conferring virtually unlimited power on those who controlled it to re-write "reality."

I was worried, but thought it would be some years before the "Beam" replaced the 'net as we know it.

Duh. It's finally dawned on me, there's no need for those desiring Beam-like control to engineer any single, vast switch-over to a new system. They're simply colonizing the 'net bit (so to speak) by bit – and many of us are unwittingly helping them.

Think MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, MeetUp, LinkedIn, del.icio.us, Ancestry.com, and yes, Blogspot – you upload or create tons of data about yourself and your activities, opinions, social and other relationships, and personal preferences into online facilities that are maintained and controlled by other people. You may or may not even keep copies on your own computer of everything you put on the 'net. Think online banking and investment, every airplane ticket you've ever bought and hotel you've booked, every comment you've ever posted, and every purchase you've ever made esp. from vendors like amazon that keep track so as to make recommendations. Think on-line spam filter services (I realize AT&T is probably already giving the gummint copies of every e-mail that passes through AT&T's "pipes," in direct violation of our constitutional rights -- see here -- but hey, we managed to shut that down, didn't we? Oops, guess not.) HuffPo even tells the world how much money I've given to which political candidates.

The fact is, many of us have for some time been eagerly shifting vast portions of our lives into Beam- or Cloud-like facilities that are based somewhere out there and are only nominally under our own control.

At least now, of course, we CAN keep copies of our stuff on our own computers. My computer can of course be infected or hacked; but I can fight that in various ways that at least make it more difficult for my privacy etc. to be massively violated by the gummint, etc. Theoretically, I could even put stuff on a computer that has no wireless port and isn't otherwise connected to the 'net, so someone would have to have actual physical access to it in order to alter or delete it.

So far, a lot of us haven't been terribly concerned about what info we put or allow to be retained about us on the 'net – at the time, it seemed it would probably be convenient, although those of use who've tried have found it's not so easy to delete information from the 'net once we've put it there, if it turned out not to be so much to our benefit as we originally thought.

Maybe we should be more concerned.

To be super-blunt, the internet is a great place to find and share general info or info about public issues or figures. For a lot of reasons, it's a terrible place to entrust valuable info, esp. personal info about yourself or people you care about.

October 2, 2007

Artist Gets Probation for Building Secret Mall Apartment

"PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- The leader of an artists' cooperative has been sentenced to probation for illegally setting up a secret apartment inside the Providence Place Mall that was equipped with furniture and a video game system.

"Michael Townsend, 36, said he and seven other artists built the apartment in a 750-square-foot loft in the parking garage four years ago and lived there for up to three weeks at a time while documenting mall life.

"The apartment included a sectional sofa and love seat, coffee and breakfast tables, chairs, lamps, rugs, paintings, a hutch filled with china, a waffle iron, TV and Sony Playstation 2 -- although a burglar broke in and stole the Playstation last spring, Townsend said."

As the artists explained on their website, "General Growth Properties, LLC, the owner of the Providence Place Mall . . . . strives to simulate the feeling that 'you,' the shopper, are in control of your environment." (Attributed to "Sorkin 2005").

More details here. Credit presumably due to trummerkind & co.

September 21, 2007

An Analysis of the Smith/Cohen Music Video of "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

The purpose of this post is to explore work by three artists, Patti Smith, Jem Cohen, and Kurt Cobain and to show how, through close attention to it, we can get more out of it.

My focus originally was on the Patti Smith/Jem Cohen cover video, but it pretty quickly stopped making sense to try to analyze it without discussing Cobain's lyrics and the original Nirvana video. I began without any idea where my analysis would lead; the new video just seemed to me so carefully wrought that close attention would likely be fruitful.

My analysis led me to conclude that the Smith/Cohen version responds in profound and powerful ways both to the original Nirvana version and to our times two decades later. In short , I believe the new version mourns both Cobain and our present lot – Cobain's lyrics have proved only too prescient – while on the other hand, also pointing toward a better future; but one we can hope to reach only if we persevere in trying to understand, to create, and to pass on the results of our and our forebears' efforts.

If you haven't already done so, please go ahead and watch the Smith/Cohen video; I like people to have their own experience of a work before someone else tells them what it's "supposed" to mean (apologies for any ads in front):



Here's the original Nirvana video:



Also, you can find the complete lyrics here.

The following analysis is based on the lyrics, music, and videos, together with whatever general knowledge I possess of matters I think the song may be concerned with. I have no background knowledge about Nirvana, Patti Smith, or Jem Cohen, other than what I picked up recently through brief research on the 'net. (Also, I do not by any means suppose I've managed to exhaust the meanings of these works. So, if you think I've missed or misunderstood anything of interest, please let me know!)

According to Wikipedia, the song was released in 1991. It was quickly "dubbed an 'anthem for apathetic kids' of Generation X." Since then . . .

"In 2000, MTV and Rolling Stone ranked the song third on their joint list of the 100 best [ever] pop songs, trailing only The Beatles' 'Yesterday' and The Rolling Stones' '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction.' The Recording Industry Association of America's 2001 'Songs of the Century' project placed 'Teen Spirit' at number 80, above Miles Davis' 'Kind of Blue' and The Beatles' 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' albums. In 2002, NME awarded the song the number two spot on its list of '100 Greatest Singles of All Time,' while in 2003 VH1 placed 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' number one on its list of '100 Greatest Songs of the Past 25 Years.' . . . Rolling Stone ranked 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' ninth in its 2004 list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time . . . . In the 2006 VH1 UK poll, 'The Nation's Favourite Lyric,' the line 'I feel stupid and contagious/here we are now, entertain us' was ranked as the third-favorite song lyric among over 13,000 voters. In contrast, Time magazine proposed in its entry for Nevermind on 'The All-TIME 100 Albums' from 2006 that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" [. . .] may be the album's worst song.'"

I find the title of a work is usually important. "Teen spirit" seems related to "school spirit" or "team spirit" – an attitude encouraged by school administrators, parents, and other authorities of enthusiasm and a sort of patriotism toward one's school and its student teams; this take is of course consistent with the visuals in the Nirvana video.

Learning to work as a team may be helpful, but patriotisms of various kinds have often been used by authorities to shut down debate and induce the rest of us to sacrifice our own pursuits in order to carry out unpleasant or dangerous tasks chosen – perhaps wisely and perhaps not – by the authorities. As Samuel Johnson said, "[p]atriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

"Teen spirit" implicates whatever "teen" includes, which is a lot; but here I think of creatures with more than sufficient size, strength, and sexual drive to challenge and defeat their elders, but who also suffer from raging hormones, inexperience, and insecurity.

Adults may hope through school spirit to direct teen energy away from questioning their authority, and perhaps in particular male teen energy away from inseminating teen or other females, and to channel such energy instead toward pseudo-warfare against teens at other schools – characterized as a wholesome outlet. The fantasy seems to be of teens transformed from an ungovernable and potentially dangerous rabble, threatening adults in ways as diverse and unpredictable as individual teens are themselves, into a uniform corps obedient to every authority other than their own desires and hopes.

To me, "smells" indicates skepticism toward this kind of spirit or patriotism. The word conjures l'air du locker-room, possibly evoking a salacious underside of the "spirit" fantasy, an underside one suspects adults enjoy as much as the fantasy itself, at least so long as it remains under their control.

But it also states unequivocally that there's something about "teen spirit" that stinks. I suspect at least two kinds of odor. Given the rest of the song, "smells" must surely refer to the stench of being a teen. I don't accept that attitude and doubt Cobain did; but many teens suffer a degree of insecurity that blurs into self-loathing. Without getting too psychoanalytic, among the many changes teens must come to terms with is the fact that their own bodies are literally emitting new substances and smells, at least some of which Madison Avenue and the corporate interests they represent would have teens believe repellant – we should load up not only on guns but on mouthwash, deodorants, and douches (see, e.g., this recent WSJ article: "Next week, MTV plans to air 'The Gamekillers,' a new TV series about young men's quests to win over women. . . . the series is also about Unilever PLC's quest to sell more Axe antiperspirant.") Size is another challenge: teens' bodies are suddenly expanding in various directions; meanwhile, Madison Avenue continually and simultaneously urges them to eat while warning they'll be unattractive unless reed-thin. For these and other reasons, it's easy for teens and all of us to fear that we may in fact be defective and repellant.

The other kind of stink refers, I believe, to the more "real" meaning: the stench of authoritarian subjugation through propaganda and manipulation.

Of course it's not just school administrators and parents who encourage "spirit," but governments, corporations, industries, religious leaders – virtually every kind of authority you can point to seeks to foster its own version of a "healthy" attitude that basically consists of my-team's-better-than-yours, my leader is the most important person on my team, and I'm ready to sacrifice myself for my team and my leader. Real benefits to the corps may or may not actually materialize from this attitude, but it's invariably advantageous for the leader.

So, while on the surface, the title sounds like a slur on teens, and I'm afraid it accurately expresses many teens' self-perceptions, I think we'll find its more important purpose is to caption an indictment of the society in which teens and the rest of us find ourselves.

The original Nirvana music video was directed by Samuel Bayer, who's said he believes "he was hired because his test reel was so poor the band anticipated his production would be 'punk' and 'not corporate.'" According to Wikipedia, Cobain exerted a strong influence over the result. It was his idea, at the end of a long afternoon of shooting, to allow the extras to mosh, which resulted in the demolition of the set. In addition, Cobain "disliked Bayer's final edit and personally oversaw a re-edit of the video that resulted in the version finally aired."

About the Patti Smith/Jem Cohen version, Cohen says, "[t]he film is a domestic portrait of Patti and her son, Jackson. William Blake was invited in the form of a plaster cast of his death mask. Kurt Cobain (conflicted, fierce, gentle, and another mother's son) was invited as an admirer of Leadbelly. Cats were invited as household saints. The film invokes New York and rural America. It is about picking up guitars and doing dirty dishes." (See Video Data Bank)

Smith was a fan of Cobain's and after his death, recorded a tribute to him, "About a Boy," although she was reportedly angered as well as saddened by his suicide. (Wikipedia)

As the original Nirvana video opens, the first thing we see is the school janitor. His head is cut off by the picture frame, perhaps suggesting anonymity. By the time Cobain's voice kicks in, the camera is cutting back to the janitor for the third time. Note that of all the adults in a school, the janitor may be the one with the least authority – the most invisible, a servant even to the kids – the adult closest to being on their level, equally outcast, perhaps even more thoroughly subjugated than the teens. He's holding a mop handle, and oddly, he has a rag or something in his hand, which he dips into the bucket and then uses to wipe the pole, which makes little sense unless read as standing in for jacking off. The reference to masturbation is also apt in that, to the extent authorities succeed in controlling teen sexuality, that's what teens are left with.

(Please understand, I do NOT believe it's a good idea for high-school kids to engage in full-blown sexual relations; but I do think the Nirvana video implicates the issue, and more importantly, the means by which adults seek to control teen sexuality – and, perhaps most importantly, that these matters serve as metaphors with respect to the possibility that the same or similar means are used by other authorities to maintain control over other populations with respect to other behaviors.)

The Smith/Cohen video opens with a "5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1." To me this connotes a reversal of time, or at least some kind of blast-off, insemination, conception, or birth – something only creativity can accomplish. The next thing we see is a death's head of William Blake, largely in shadow, perched on an arm before a brighter wall – which might seem paradoxical, until we realize that this momento is not just of mori (death) but also of immortality: Smith, making brilliant work in 2007, still finds Blake's work inspiring enough to keep this object from a mold of his head made 180 years ago (and Slate confirms, Smith's songs "have been known to involve digressions about William Blake.")

I think we'll see that heads or the lack thereof may be significant in these videos. (My friend Danette thought of Goya's painting of Saturn devouring his son – an association I find apt.)

Cohen gives the picture a couple of jumps at or after the "2 – 1," as if there's some kind of slight stutter involved in getting our time machines, memories, or cognitive faculties focussed in on this scene that incorporates so much, good or ill, of how we got to where we are at this moment. (By the way, I find the visual surface of the entire film utterly gorgeous, black and white, gritty, smudged, glinting like charcoal.)

Throughout the song as played by Nirvana, the music seems to sound from the depths of anger and depression, yet the opening is snarky and energetic.

Smith's opening notes are an order of magnitude lower and slower than Cobain's. Her music and Cohen's images convey depression or perhaps mourning, lethargy, neglect, perhaps waste. We see a close-up of a cat, gazing, engrossed (a predator, among other things). Cut to a descending dove (emblem of peace, and cats' prey, among other things). Another glimpse of Blake's head, now on an end table littered with CD's and miscellany, at one end of a couch, the seat of which is covered with a plain blanket. Then we see Smith's hands, washing dishes next to a cluttered counter. The banjo has cut in; and at some points, Smith's vocalization is unmistakably, one can only presume intentionally, "country."

Load up on guns, bring your friends – The lyrics seem to reference the militia movement-types, perhaps the NRA, and a lot of nations, certainly including the U.S., which now manufactures little other than weapons and divertainment. (Note: the Columbine shootings occurred in 1999, eight years after the Nirvana recording.) As we first hear Smith's voice, we see her descend a staircase, which we might read as a visual for a trend toward decline and depression. This echoes the previous descent of the dove, a likely visual for the decline of peace.

Smith's hair hangs in twisted strings; she's wearing a men's plaid flannel shirt over a flimsy flowered nightgown or skirt, with combat boots (Danette, a Gen X'er, says the shirt probably references Cobain). She carries her guitar at times almost the way a small child would a security blanket, dragging it unconsciously behind or bearing it in front of her like a shield; at other times she wields it like a guerilla with an AK-47. (Art can, of course, destroy as well as create.)

It's fun to lose and to pretend
She's over-bored and self-assured –
A possible, initial interpretation of Cobain's lyric is that he's been rejected by some girl and assuages the pain by pretending she's flawed. More particularly, "[i]t's fun to lose" – there may be satisfaction in being rejected, among other reasons because you don't have to interact more closely with the Other, of whom you might actually be rather frightened, and also in pretending you didn't really want the Other anyway because she was too oblivious to have engaged in genuine interaction anyway. Also, could Cobain possibly also have had in mind "overboard" – as in over the top or maybe "man overboard"?

But of course, I don't think this stanza is just about spinning romantic rejection, but also invokes similar processes on other levels. Public figures of all kinds seem to have grown increasingly confident that they can spin every setback as a triumph (e.g., V.P. Cheney's "last throes"); some neocons even seem to believe they can actually replace reality with "truthiness" (see also Bush's aide's infamous disdain for the "reality-based community"). Spin has been carried to extremes during the last several years, but the trend was well underway when Cobain wrote his song.

It's also fun to lose in the sense that it excuses one from further effort and affords relief from any pressure for further success. Note that the next stanza speaks of being "worse at what I do best/ and for this gift I feel blessed." That could mean a lot of things, and we'll get to some of them below, but it may pick up on this thought.

At this point in the Smith/Cohen video, Smith herself looks perhaps overbored and self-assured, though we're not sure how genuine that is. She seems to sing, she's overbored, "myself assured" – possibly a suggestion that oneself (Smith) is now alive and safe, in contrast to the fact that the Other (Cobain?) has fallen overboard? This may be a stretch but seems consistent with the rest of the piece.

(I don't necessarily believe artists consciously plan all of these meanings in advance, but I prefer at least to give their unconsciouses credit for choices that happen to enhance the meaningfulness of their works. And if you find even that implausible, I'd argue that even if this meaningfulness was completely inadvertent on the part of the artist, it may help account for why the work has resonated so strongly with so many other people.)

Oh no, I know a dirty word – This sounds like a little kid who feels titillated but unsure of whether he should be speaking about it or even what it's all about. The suggestion seems to be that teens (or we) have to some extent been kept in an infantilized or regressed state, perhaps as a result of having been deprived of the maturation that might have come through greater experience of reality in the course of attempting to act on our own authentic desires.

What's the word? I can't be certain what the artists had in mind; one possibility might be "whored" for its rhyme with bored and the way it would suit the other kinds of referents mentioned above – politicians, Madison Avenue, etc. And I think we have to speculate that the "oh no" isn't just about names that could be applied to the Other, but also about names for the speaker/singer – the teens or consumers whom others want to use as whores; certain rock musicians . . . .

Of course, putting things into words is the beginning of knowledge, without which there is no real power – "[i]n the beginning was the Word . . . " – and it is by speaking words (or expressing our experience through other media) that we can begin to reclaim our own power. But words are always "dirty" in the sense that they inevitably degrade or distort "reality" to some degree – though to what degree certainly matters.

Hello, hello, hello, how low? (3X)/ Hello, hello, hello! – The Nirvana instruments suggest a wooziness; we are so drugged – by what? – that we can barely stand. Hell to Earth, can you hear me? Is anyone paying attention?

With the lights out it's less dangerous –
Smith's intonation makes it sound like, we're wounded, but in the dark we can hide; Kurt's intonation makes it sound more like, it's dark, cool, we're less likely to get caught – only maybe he really feels more like Smith sounds, and the rest is anger or bravado.

Here we are now, entertain us – This lyric proclaims a key motif. Of course, Cobain probably had rock concerts in mind – the lights are lowered, the crowd demands to be entertained, those of us not inebriated feel stupid, the mob atmosphere is as contagious as it gets.

But I also I envision small groups of teens or others in dark rooms, absorbed in the most passive form of entertainment ever invented, TV. (Note that MTV was launched in 1981; for the 1991 premier of Michael Jackson's "Black or White" music video, the MTV audience was estimated at 500 million (Wikipedia).)

We all live in an ever more fully-saturated mass-media environment that continually urges us to consume and invites us to flee consciousness above all. Studies have shown how much TV has in common with both addiction and brainwashing – see here, here, and here. TV is unusual in that on the one hand, the brains of people watching it appear much more inert than usual, with their critical faculties turned almost completely off, while on the other hand, they are nonetheless uncritically absorbing the commercial and other messages being transmitted.

It's commercially-encouraged isolation, passivity, and inertia vs. the universal human need not just to consume meanings and products fabricated by others but also to connect with ourselves and other living beings, to experience for ourselves our own authentic desires in interaction with the real world, to find and express our own meanings, to create our own works, to procreate.

In the Smith/Cohen video, the cat, after pawing Smith's guitar case, now finally leads us to Smith, who is sprawled on the couch, one arm extended toward us, her hand hanging limply down. Although in both videos, the lead singer looks pretty much destroyed, Cobain at least had youth going for him; here, Smith comes across as someone thoroughly ground down by the years and who's now barely subsisting (of course, I don't for a moment think that's Smith's real situation, just that that's the impression given at this point in the video). Note that Cohen's lens and camera movement exaggerate the foreshortening, so that Smith's hand looms twice as large as her face. Cohen will continue to emphasize her and her son's hands, which, of course, they use to play their instruments.

I feel stupid and contagious – Certainly, ignorant. The corporate media as well as other authorities have acted to withhold or divert us from a great deal of information of critical importance in order for us to exert meaningful influence over our nation's conduct and our own welfare. It's become increasingly difficult just to find out what's really going on, while simultaneously more irresistible to give up and sink back into that chair in front of ever-larger, more perfectly engrossing TV screens.

And yet there always remains uncertainty about the degree to which any attempted manipulation has actually succeeded – a potentially excruciating torment to both sides of the teeter-totter, those who are manipulated and also those who seek to manipulate them. For our part, we teens or other consumers feel stupid, afraid, and angry because we're not even sure what we don't know, how we've been affected, or what we should be doing, thinking, or feeling differently; we didn't exactly choose subsistence as our fate.

Perhaps by this point in the Smith/Cohen production, we've noticed the beginnings of a gradual but steady increase in both the level of intensity and in the tempo of the music.

The music in the Nirvana video is despairing but by comparison to Smith's version, violently angry, unmistakably expressing youthful energy and testosterone. But despite the violent anger expressed in the Nirvana version, Cobain's lyrics are repressed, depressed, satirical, and intellectually allusive. When Cobain's voice kicks in, the music amps down and the energy at first seems dissipated or at least contained, only to crank back up again into violence. The intensity or force of the sound rises and falls cyclically throughout the course of the song, while the tempo of the music never changes but remains steady. Similarly, the video cuts in and out of slo-mo.

In contrast to Nirvana's cyclic intensity underlaid by a consistent tempo, in Smith's version, both the intensity and velocity start out low and slow but gradually and steadily increase. The video remains in slo-mo throughout, but the effect of increasing intensity and velocity is nonetheless reinforced by Cohen's selections of footage and editing. The instrumentation grows increasingly dense – the picking and strumming goes from a couple of wasps to hordes, the tempo gradually accelerates, and the urgency in Smith's voice will steadily build in force to equal, in its way, Cobain's.

It seems to me that there is also a generally, gradually increasing sense of light in Cohen's visuals.

On "contagious," Smith, looking like hell, turns her head to look, unarguably, directly at us – as if "looks could kill," reminding us there's the potential for contagion in even the briefest connection. She then turns to do something to her guitar; and one's music or art is, of course, one means of inspiring, inseminating others, or as some authorities might say, infecting them.

I can never do full justice to these works, but I have to stop and say, Cohen's filming and editing, among other things, are simply genius. Every shot seems both suitable and meaningful in connection with the lyrics and music at that point. Another aspect I love is how we'll be going along, seeing Smith apparently depleted or perhaps just deeply jaded – and then, in a perfectly edited flash, we glimpse some seemingly immortal fire in her eyes – or seem to see it die.

Here we are now, entertain us We next see Smith from behind, standing, still grasping her guitar, silhouetted in her open front door and facing the world outside, a street filled with cars and people walking or just hanging out – the only time we see her in the same frame with the outside world; her door step is above street level, so she's elevated as if on a stage, but the public seems to ignore her.

A mulatto – an albino –
A mosquito – my libido
Yay –
To me, all of these labels seem apt though ambivalent names for any of us, perhaps especially for any artist. Racial or cultural mongrels; freaks from whom all protective color has been blanched; insects sucking others' blood and injecting our viruses into them; an all but unstoppable drive to procreate.

Smith, still standing in the doorway, lifts her guitar with its stem upward, phallic.

We next see a board, leaning upright against a wall, shaped at the top like a very simple, round head with shoulders, with lines of Arabic writing crossing its width and spaced rather like the struts on the guitar stem that stands before it. I've made a few unsuccessful inquiries and would be interested in any information about what this object or its purpose are.

I'm worse at what I do best
And for this gift I feel blessed –
Perhaps the more obvious meaning here is that Cobain sees his or other young people's best creations as being those that authorities pan – i.e., he expects his works to be deemed "worse" because, like the paintings in the pre-Impressionist Salon des Refusés, they violate norms recognized by authorities as to what's "good."

Another possibility is that Cobain is referring to the creative process, its struggles and rewards. A useful analogy might be the story of the sea-god Proteus, who held the secrets Menelaus needed to learn in order for the Greeks to end their long wanderings after the Trojan War. Proteus had the power to assume the appearance of anyone or anything, including any of the monsters or sirens encountered by Odysseus. In order for Menelaus to gain the needed knowledge, he had to grip Proteus and not let go, no matter what horrific or seductive shape Proteus might assume.

Similarly, I believe artists struggle toward realities visible only from the edges of what's acceptable to the mainstream; they wrestle with appearances that both comprise and conceal the truth, that can and sometimes do assume any shape necessary in order to thwart the creation of truly inspired work: band-mates who fight with you; parents or others who teach you while filling you with prejudices, anxiety, and self-doubt; lovers who distract or dump you; commercial interests that seek to lure you toward ever-increasing consumption or bully you into working harder, longer; governments that betray you; your own mental or emotional stench; etc. Artists may feel overwhelmed by the challenge, that their best is much worse than it should be.

Yet Cobain characterizes this as a blessing: maybe it's only because of this struggle that at least some of our creations can be "best."

Our little group has always been – blessed, and worse at what they do best? The group could of course be Nirvana, and of course we might think of our own circles of friends. The group could be the one rotting together before a TV; the group could be our team, our gang, our political party, our nation, etc., with loyalty to the group seen as among the highest virtues.

Cf. the quotation from Margaret Mead, "[n]ever doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." This is just what the neocons have done. It's something others can do, too.

And always will until the end. – Pick which end you think Cobain had in mind. Cohen's camera swirls above a Persian rug, with an effect at least slightly hallucinogenic.

Hello, hello, hello, how low? (4X) – Smith's hand grasps the neck of a guitar, passes it off to the hands of a younger man, her son, Jackson, who I gather to be close in age to that of Cobain when the Nirvana video was made. Cohen's visual here reads the "hello" as spoken by one generation to the next.

Note that in both videos, the hands on instrument necks rhyme visually and metaphorically with the janitor's hands on his mop pole. In the Nirvana video, this perhaps suggests a concern that the young musicians' efforts might be merely masturbatory rather than creative, that their efforts might not actually engender anything vital. Also, Teen Spirit was Nirvana's break-out song; prior to its release, the band was not nearly so widely known.

In contrast, we know Smith's already had a successful career and produced a son. Whatever the implications about the way she handles her instrument in Cohen's video, here we see her pass it to the son she helped create.

With the lights out it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us –
In Cohen's video, we see the paired shadows of Jackson's shoulders and profiled head and the thin head of his banjo, gliding across a flat roof; the image is almost tender, as if what we watched were the silhouettes of two lovers. Then we see Jackson, facing us, playing, his whole shadow pointing toward us; but the young man's head is neatly cut off by the picture frame, perhaps suggesting that this could be any young man, or that the head of the banjo somehow stands in for the man's. I have to also ask whether Cohen might have intended a reference to the jacking-off janitor, also initially headless, who opened the Nirvana video; either way, the Smith/Cohen video seems to be developing a more procreative meaning or emphasis for the sexual motif.

A mulatto – an albino
A mosquito – my libido –
Cohen shows us a hand presenting in an oval frame the bleeding corazon: a bas-relief heart bound with encircling thorns, from the top of which spout flames and a cross. Like the video itself, it's an artwork framing dense reminders of prophets, crucifixions, and resurrections. This is just shy of the midpoint or heart of the video and might indicate a turning point.

Yay – In the Smith/Cohen version, we see now for the first time the whole young man at full-length from across the roof, strolling as he plays.

And I forget just why I taste
Oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile
I found it hard, it was hard to find –
We and especially a frustrated teen may feel, what's the point of taste or appetite, if our desires are always manipulated and we're only allowed to express those that are prescribed for us? That these appetites include the sexual seems supported by "it makes me smile" and "I found it hard"; but of course other kinds of frustration or thwartings are also evoked.

Smith sings, and "I forget just what it takes." If it's true Smith was angry that Cobain "threw [his] life away," perhaps her alteration was deliberate. If so, that would seem to me at least slightly ironic, since I think Blake would have appreciated the original line – see Blake's illustration, I want! I want!, left. In my view, while we certainly should not act on every impulse, our genuine personal desires are important – I agree with my friend Carol Heideman's belief that it's part of the job of every creature on this planet somehow to express its true preferences.

Another example of Cohen's delicious editing is the apparent flickering-out he captures at ca. 3:11 – 3:13 min.

On "found it hard, hard to find," Cohen has us looking over stacks of CD's. To me, the idea here is that it takes effort generally to sort through to find the real thing, to find something genuinely worth wanting.

Oh well, whatever, nevermind – Nevermind of course being the title of the Nirvana album. Cobain's delivery suggests confusion or loss of focus; but such words can also evince a realization that the person spoken to isn't going to be able or willing to respond helpfully.

On "nevermind," Cohen's lens lands on Blake death's head again for the first time since early in the video, closer than ever before.

Hello, hello, hello, how low? – Smith's voice still sounds subdued, yet like a prelude to something more serious, more urgent and frightening, than what has come before. The hellos fade while the strumming becomes more urgent; we see a hand working hard on an instrument neck.

At around 3:40 min., Smith's left hand starts "flashing" in the air, five fingers extended outward, star-like. The music has continued picking up in tempo and complexity, but this first "flash" may be the point at which the accelerating pace and tension become obvious. Cohen then gives us a few frames of the sun flashing between the roof and a chimney, again timed perfectly so that the fingers of refracted light flash outward on the loudest beat, this time with ten fingers.

Cohen next cuts to rapidly passing scenery, while Smith's voice sings, softly but shaking, hello, hello, hello, as if almost out of control. While the video remains in slo-mo, the effect is as if things have sped up.

After the exceedingly urban location of the previous scenes, the switch to a more rural location registers distinctly. I don't think it's Appalachia, but there fly past us (seemingly shot from a car window) tangled trees and brush, a cheap, face-like two-story on an over-large lot, two small houses and a trailer, a granary; groves and forests, the sun again flashing through them as if in Morse code. The instruments are pounding, though still in a highly controlled way.

For some of us, these images and the "country" aspects of Smith's music might suggest a more primitive way of life; in this regard, they can perhaps be read as a reminder of how short the distance may be between where we thought we were and a much ruder existence, how fragile the accomplishments of civilization really are.

On the other hand, I think most of us recognize that the "primitive" can in fact be highly evolved and sophisticated. As my friend Larkin Tom pointed out, a shift to rural scenes can also be read as involving renewal or rejuvenation. I can't help thinking of how often Shakespeare's characters, having reached a crisis in their urban worlds, retreat to the woods or other settings remote from civilization where, sometimes with the assistance of magical forces, they manage to reinvent themselves and their relationships. The flashing of the light through the trees seems consistent with this interpretation.

With the lights out it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious –
Cohen's visuals cut to Smith's right hand, which is positively glowing, caressing a slender vine or branch. She drops the vine to gesture in the air; her hand mimics almost perfectly – I wanted to say, that of God granting life to Adam on Michelangelo's ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, but that's not it; it's Adam's hand. And indeed it's true that our creations give life to us, as much as we give it to them.

Here we are now, entertain us –
We see Smith and her son, facing the camera, Smith looking still somewhat ravaged, but haloed with an almost infrared glow.

A mulatto – an albino
A mosquito – my libido –
Jackson lifts guitar and banjo up almost as if saying to us, it's your turn. Smith's almost laughing. Cohen cuts back to the scene in which she handed the banjo off to Jackson. Smith smiles up at her son.

A denial (9X) – On whose part? By the pacified, emasculated youth? – which is uncertain how it's reached its miserable state but knows something's not right, but can only begin to define itself differently by denying everything it's been taught about itself and the world? We’re not sure what we want, we don’t know who to blame or whether to blame ourselves, we don't know how to get out of this place; but we can still say “NO!” to everything about the way things are now.

But this denial has only been made necessary by the denial of those who have sought to manipulate us – isn't it because those with power and authority have denied too much of what we and perhaps they are and could be, have denied too much about the realities around us, that we now see no way to try to retrieve ourselves except to reject everything we've been taught? Both kinds of denial – our NO! and the NO! of those who seek to control us, are applicable (and they are perhaps in some sense similar).

At the end of the Nirvana video, the energy, which has risen and fallen cyclically throughout the song, explodes into Cobain's screams and the destruction of the set by rioting youth. As we learn from the I Ching (see Hexagram No. 29), our natures are like water, and while you can block them temporarily, they don't necessarily stop flowing. Eventually we will fill every cranny and either burst forth or simply overflow.

In contrast, the energy in the Smith/Cohen production can't be discounted as merely testosterone-driven (not that Nirvana's should be, either); we sense emotion but also maturity and determination behind the words now sung by Smith more clearly than ever, and we therefore are, or should be, more concerned than ever about the state of the world they evince. Yet meanwhile, as the Smith/Cohen video has progressed, the visuals have become somewhat more optimistic – Smith's hair has fluffed up, the light has become more pervasive, and kinder.

Cohen cuts back to scenery moving past us, but now we seem to be on a train approaching a city. We see what I take to be the NYC skyline, screened by wind-blown fronds. Again, a bird, this time a gull overhead.

We see Jackson on the roof, intently concentrated on his banjo playing. Cohen cuts to a man cradling Blake's death's head. Smith is not only keeping her own head, she's also keeping Blake's and working to pass both on to the next generation.

Smith's right hand, glowing, palm now upward. Blake's death's head again, now sunlit, apparently on Smith's stoop; the cat passes closely by on its way to the outside world.

Cobain screamed "a denial" nine times; Smith never sings it – just la la la la, then reverts to mosquito libido, implicitly expressing a denial of Cobain's denial, perhaps mainly of his ultimate denial, his suicide. While destruction can be a prelude to creation, the energy in the Smith/Cohen video never explodes; rather, it is channelled directly into creation – as, in fact, Cobain's own energies were, while he lived.

The Smith/Cohen version seems to me to suggest that, if we try hard enough to connect, create, and to pass the results on to our progeny together with whatever we salvage from our predecessors (Cobain, Blake et al.), there may be hope. As William Butler Yeats put it in "Lapis Lazuli," "[a]ll things fall and are built again,/ And those that build them again are gay"; or as Joseph P. Kennedy put it, "[w]hen the going gets tough, the tough get going."

Or as Cohen wrote, "[i]t is about picking up guitars and doing dirty dishes." It's a message we perhaps need to hear now more than ever.

September 20, 2007

Happy Halloween

I'd turn it around for a girl. Sig. other as cocktail sauce – red leotard with flecks (the horseradish bits). Anchovies on Ritz, endless possibilities.

September 18, 2007

International Talk Like a Pirate Day

is September 19th; says so here. I guess that means you talk like Bush or Kerry? Quite a range -- unintelligible but in wildly different ways. Be there or be squarrgh.