Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Caroline Laughs and It's Raining All Day

There wasn’t very much I enjoyed about living between 2008 and 2011 in Beacon, New York, 50 miles north of New York City in the Hudson Valley. There was an awful lot of poverty on display — the hat factories for which the area had been known had closed decades before, and the huge Nabisco printing plant down by the river had become a museum of largely ludicrous modern art. It seemed that for around 48 weeks of the year it was either bitingly cold or suffocatingly hot and humid. I had a 2000-square foot house with a nice view of the river all to myself after Dame Zelda found that she couldn’t bear being physically estranged from the verdant land of her birth and girlhood, and actually made some friends, but one of them turned out to be a conceptual artist whose schtick was to stick straight-sided ovals in the exact centre of photographs. When I suggested that he wasn’t making art, but jokes about art, he became incensed. How could anyone be so unhip? 

A model!
I got tired of finding myself in line with Pete Seeger at the post office. He seemed the kindest man in the world, but just once could I not post something without his standing behind me beaming? I got no less tired of seeing the lead singer of the Psychedelic Furs, who’d apparently relocated from London, on Second Saturday, when all the local art galleries would stay open late. He actually attempted bona fide art (painting, you see), but wasn’t very good at it, and was dishearteningly standoffish. (Or maybe shy. Will I never learn to cut the others the same amount of slack that I demand?)

(Hizzoner the Mayor’s sense of humour was hardly better than that of my present neighbours in SW London. When i suggested that our little neck of the woods rebrand itself as Beacon — Gateway to Poughkeepsie, he didn’t so much as reply, in much the same spirit that nextdoor.com routinely removes my posts about, for instance, widening the Thames (a tidal river, you see) to preclude my shoes getting soggy when I walk along the tow path of a bleak winter afternoon.)

I did very much enjoy Valentines Day in Beacon, though. Main Street (it actually called itself that), would ban vehicular traffic. Seitan that had been moulded into the shape of a suckling pig would be spit-roasted in front of the town’s favourite vegan restaurant, and the children of Republican parents who regarded veganism as socialism’s advance guard would be encouraged to jab it with sharp sticks. I would bet there are as many Make America Great Again ball caps in evidence in Beacon these days as art galleries. 

My favourite of which displayed real art — often really shitty real art, but not straight-sided ovals pasted on old portraits bought at thrift shops. It was owned by a couple who lived across the river just north of West Point. The guy, who’d apparently made a fortune as a Wall Street sleazebag and decided to devote the rest of his life to…ahem…his art, had very avant garde facial hair and was never seen without one of those little stingy-brim fedoras that Justin Timberlake had made so fashionable. On one Second Saturday, his very gregarious wife, an endearingly dreadful painter in her own right, wore a form-fitting black latex mermaid dress, stiletto-heeled boots, and gothy makeup, and I’d have bought one of her dreadful paintings just as a matter of principle if it been very much less pricey.

Her dreadful painting had…well, energy and the courage of its convictions in the way that Richard Butler’s did not, but that isn’t to suggest that I don’t recognise "Pretty in Pink" as one of the greatest songs of my lifetime. “[Her] lovers walk through her in coats”? Exquisitely surreal, and exquisitely enigmatic! “She lives in the place in the side of our lives where nothing is ever put straight”? Bliss! I generally regard incomprehensible lyrics as a function of the songwriter’s laziness or deficient skill, but these — about awful cruelty and transvestism, as best I can ascertain —are endlessly intriguing. And I adore the way Butler sings them. In my novel Who Is Keri Fetherwaite? software enables one to make himself sound like other famous singers in exactly the proportions he or she specifies (for instance, 12.5 percent Patsy Cline, 45 percent Karen Carpenter, and 42.5 percent Aretha). In “Pretty”, I think Richard Butler, who I know for a fact at the time smoked around 1000 cigarettes a day, sounds — gloriously! — like 50 percent Johnny Rotten and 50 percent Lee Marvin. 

Anyone able to explain to me why hipsters would have looked to Justin fucking Timberlake for inspiration wins a free lifetime subscrption to Mendel Illness. No, wait. I know the answer. Post-irony, right?


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