Archive | October, 2012

Don’t Work, See the World

31 Oct

I have seen a lot of people die.  It’s partially why I have an insatiable, Ovidian curse that prompts me to give up my job every so often for a life of leisure; if by leisure we mean  contracting ringworm in an Eastern European hostel or accidentally becoming involved in a post soccer riot in the streets of Madrid with hooligans armed with jamón legs.  But, these things illuminate my mind, and so by taking the old Mexican adage extremely seriously, “Work to live, not live to work,” I feel like I am doing those who have gone before me, before their time, some sort of service.  I am using my life like it’s a dirty whore, but I have no choice.  I. Can’t. Stop.

At least I couldn’t.  I was one month from moving back to Tennessee from NYC sitting in Ted Danson’s New York apartment staring intently above his mantle at a small photo that said, “Don’t work, see the world” with an anarchy sign below it.

I sat wondering why he had anarchist graffiti as the most prominent piece of art in his living room, but also pondered how much my life was about to change.

At the time I had been living in New York for some years and every intention of moving back to Tennessee temporarily but moving overseas as soon as feasibly possible but I got lost somewhere. I got comfortable, and I stopped living for a year.

I got a serious(ly selfish) boyfriend, thought about buying a home, kept a job I hated even though I was constantly creeped out by my boss, and other things that are completely unlike me.

It was summer, my 30th birthday, when I knew it all had to stop.  I was reading a travel magazine and it showed the current ceiling progress for the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  I found the photo when I was last there and felt a growing rage at myself for how long I’ve been sitting around Nashville; stagnant, not watching anything but the grass grow.


The journey can finally resume now.

Punk as Fuck

31 Oct

Last night I went to see former Tennesseean Wayne White’s new documentary, Beauty is Embarrassing at Nashville’s Belcourt Theater.   He is best known to low brow weirdos like myself for his work with puppetry and voices in Pee Wee’s Playhouse:


And with the Art Basel set for his ‘offensive” and humorous word paintings set atop junk-store landscape paintings:


But for me, his influence started before either of those.

When I was young my parents moved us from Houston, TX to a farm going up the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee.   My father had been sent away to a military academy no longer in place in the nearby town of Lebanon and I think they thought it would be better for my brother and I to grow up in the country to grow our own food and live simply.  We were only allowed to watch three television shows in our time out there; Marty Stauffer’s Wild America, Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and Mrs. Cabobble’s Caboose.

Mrs. Cabobble’s Caboose was a local Nashville program that was supposed to teach children music because they were pulling music programs away from most of the county schools.  She lived in this fantasy land that was by far more mysterious and almost dangerous than boring old Mr. Rogers, and I worshiped her at four years old.  I was unaware at the time that this was my first experience with Wayne White’s puppetry and set design, and seeing his film I realized he is, without question, the first and the greatest artistic influence in my life.

After the film Wayne White hosted a Question and Answer portion where he patiently waded through the “I’m a pretentious art student questions” to more serious professional artist curiosities of process and time management, but the driving force behind each answer was almost always the same; do what you were born to do.   He encouraged everyone to make time for what they love doing, and cautioned to do what you love because it will haunt you if you don’t.

He is not only an artist that I absolutely adore, but he was also the most inspiring speaker due to the simplicity of his answers and it made me think about the other times I’ve been taken off-guard by the honest beauty of an artist or performer and I can point to only one woman.

I saw Patti Smith two summers ago on Bastille Day at Castle Clinton in Battery City Park, which is now under water from Hurricane Sandy.  My best friend was working for the company that sponsored it and was able to get us VIP tickets.  I wasn’t expecting much other than her legendary presence but from the moment she got on stage she had me.  I wanted her to only look at me.  There was something wild about her nonchalance.  She is Mother to the world/Rocker/Woman all in one tiny body.  She covered Perfect Day, Gloria, and sang Rock ‘n Roll Nigger but dealt a crushing blow when she started the Jim Carroll Band’s “People who Died.”  She called out their names one by one, “These are the people who died, died,” and shouted ROBERT, JOEY, JIM, and so on.  After each chorus, another name until I burst into tears.

I had no idea how infectious her spirit could be.  She closed the show with the following advice, “Life is hard and will give you a lot of shit, but it’s all you’ve got.”  No one talked leaving the concert and I imagined that must be what people that like church get out of religion.

Upon leaving Wayne White’s documentary/Q&A I didn’t feel the heaviness that Patti Smith gave me, but just as impressive warmth.  She stuns with words, he stuns with the visual manifestations of his mind.  It’s not just art, it’s seeing inside a mad genius’ brain.  I arrived home with something he said playing over and over in my head, “ I’ve always depended on the negative reinforcement of others,” and thought, “Both of them are punk as fuck.”

Rachel Louise Martin, Ph.D.

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