Doves – An Anniversary Memory

Nine years ago today my wife and I were married in an octagonal church in Joliet, IL That event – as awesome as it was – is not the main subject of this writing today, though it was key to how I experienced that subject. I’m writing about the amazing album titled Lost Souls, released in 2000 by the British band Doves. I heard it for the first time just a few hours before my wedding in 2003.

It is interesting to me how certain details from that celebration day stick with me while others fade. The faded aspects require photographs or the recollections of those who were present for me to remember them. On the other hand, the elements that have remained potent in my memory are transformed by the very act of my remembering; each time I call them to mind they accrue additional resonances, additional implications. So it is with the music on Lost Souls. It came to me just hours before my wedding and it could have easily been just a minor bit of media flotsam that was lost in time as so many other tidbits of those seconds and minutes and hours were.

But it was not lost. It began the journey with me. I’ve carried it with me constantly, had my most intimate thoughts with it, road-tripped with it, prayed along with it, and dreamed along with it. And, of course, it was part of the soundscape surrounding the love I have had for my wife all of these years.

Here It Comes

This is the day

This is the time

To stare at the skies in wonder

It was a perfect bridge, this collection of songs. The sounds that comprised those songs – their notes and pacing and cohesion – held a kind of iconographic power in my heart and mind. I don’t mean to over-romanticize this, but it’s true. The man I was when I began the adventure with my life-partner had a deep yearning to experience a feeling of rightness in the world. This music touched on that earnestness, striking me as if I was a bell (as all good artworks do), and I rang.

How can I explain this? I wanted so much. I wanted to be an artist and to remove all separation between my ability to know and my sense of what was real and true. Naive, I know, but that was the driver in my soul. That motivation to have unimpeded contact with what was Before, Beyond, and yet Within me is what grew the best parts of me. It connected me with ancient threads of meaning that our elders have handed down to us in so many ways, with so many different methods, and toward so many different ends.

There is so much more I could say about the person I was and how he thought. How he imagined a kind of distinction between himself and others, how he held glorious hopes and profane conceits simultaneously. He was a dreamer, a “fourth dimension kid”, and a yearner. In all that internal dialogue, argumentation, and analysis lay a sweet joy in simply being. That astonishment at being alive and aware – and also being conscious of that majestic maneuver in its multitude colors and forms – was, for me, so often connected to words and music and pictures and film. Art and the contemplation of the art were keys that unlocked deeper and deeper vaults within me.

Sea Song

Drive with me

Do the things you won’t believe

Drive with me

Past the city and down to sea

And then, there I was, in the midst of this other, very profound unlocking – marriage. My wife has been the catalyst for the creation of the best I could be within me. Covenanting with her on that day nine years ago opened deeps I didn’t realize I had. In some sense I was shallower than I realized, my depths still holding to shorelines of known continents. With her I found great swaths of unknowing spreading out Before me, Beyond me, and Within me. She was with me on the adventure.

What does this have to do with some specific album by an English indie rock band? Well, as I said, the record was a kind of bridge. It was the soundtrack to a very strange movement that I was about to undergo in my soul. The mood and sense of sadness in the songs perfectly matched my inner yearning. Yearning. I use that word again, in spite of its attendant tinge of sentimentality. We are all, each of us, sentimental and nostalgic beings. We all love the kitsch of our own inner menageries in spite of ourselves. It lulls us, comforts us, and it calls to us. It seemed to me that Lost Souls perfectly narrated the feelings I’d always had, always felt motivated by. And then, because those unnamed (unheard) inner emotions were made overt to me, I was able to see them and carry them differently. The music was a continual drawing out, and what it seemed to pull from me was a sense of what I meant by my being in the world. And now I was stepping into a new, unknown way of being – a marriage.

It’s a kind of connection I couldn’t have planned for. If someone asked me to – beforehand – pick a group of songs that would inspire, nurture, and propel both my inner life as an artist and my outward expression of love and commitment to my wife as a husband I wouldn’t have been able to do it. So how did Lost Souls come to be that?

It was just by coincidence, if you believe in that sort of thing. My soon-to-be brother-in-law Daniel took me to O’Hare Airport to pick up our rental car before the wedding. On the way there in his beat up ’92 Chevy Cavalier he played Lost Souls. He gave me an enduring, transcendent gift that day. From the opening seconds of the first track, Firesuite, I was mesmerized. I looked over the scuffed CD jewel case for the album. On it the noir-ish image of a boxer blended with the inky blackness and was only made visible by flares of light glinting off legs and floor. I was distracted by the music. It took me out of the stuffy car, out of the glare of bright sunlight, out of the blast of city traffic. Nights of seeking (of prayer, of looking toward a future, of trying new things, of failure, of desire, of wanting) leapt from the speakers. There was sadness in the words and sounds, but not the morose, limp sadness of the self turning in upon itself. This was rather the sadness of acknowledged brokenness, of the recognition of perspective. It’s a “majestic sadness” that “moves and invigorates.” This was the sadness of eyes looking upward at starlight.

A House

It was a day like this and my house burnt down

And the walls were thin and they crashed to the ground

It was a day like this and my life unwound

You could’ve struck me with lightning and that’s okay now

We could always put it together again

You could’ve told me a lie, and a lie so thin, so thin

Now everything’s clear

Day after day and the life goes on

And I try to see the good in everyone

If I ever find myself here again

I’ll give everything

Why does this music coordinate with my marriage? Why does this “majestic sadness” connect with the intimate glory possible in marriage? I honestly can’t entirely explain it. I think it has to do with the fact that we are not enough. That is why we yearn. That is why we make things. That is why we try. We’re trying to work through our lack, through our brokenness, through our inability. Great artworks always play on this fact. The late Ray Bradbury stated that it is “lack that gives us inspiration.”

So in my artwork I’m playing with and against my own incompetence. All of my attempts to do great things are based in my own recognition of that lack. Likewise, in my marriage I am constantly aware of my limitations and stupidities. Yet there is seemingly endless grace in my wife. In the Christian tradition, we hold to a notion that grace is unearned favor. Any lack – my brokenness, my foolishness, my inability – would only earn me loss. But lack when seasoned with great grace gives me favor and light and life and astonishment at being. And that’s what I am – astonished. Astonished that I found Alison. Astonished that I have my daughter Miranda. I’m astonished that we’re adopting another child soon. I’m astonished at my students, at my opportunity to teach. That I couldn’t ever really earn these things fills me with a gigantic yearning to do the best I can with them, but it also makes me immensely grateful that they have happened at all.

That counterintuitive gratefulness in the midst of sadness/yearning/trying/hoping is what Lost Souls is for me. That’s the button that it pushes. That’s the acknowledgement that it demands. It is a great work of art. Go buy it.

Alison: (remember when your nickname was “dove”?) Thank you for these nine years, for the grace, for the adventure. Let’s keep going.

Prometheus

I’m rating Prometheus a 6.5 out of 10. It was enjoyable but misses in a few main ways:

1) Asking the “big questions” is good. Reducing them to patricide and “hulk-smash!” moments is vapid.
2) Ensemble casts are good. Cluttering up a pretty straightforward plot with idiotic asides and incidental scenes is lame. The ballet David goes on to lace Charlie’s drink with Alien-spawn is great. Charlie’s mood swing is instantaneous and weak. Just way too many off-the-point, less-than-meaningful scenes. The entire dialogue between Vickers and the Captain leading to their tryst “in ten minutes” was groan-inducing. Sometimes too many people is too many people; they could have halved the cast and cut out weak scenes.
3) If you’re going to have an old guy, have an old guy, don’t use horrible face make up. Would have been a PERFECT chance to get super-meta with Peter O’Toole playing the old guy while David watches Lawrence of Arabia to get grooming/speaking tips and be “the good son” to his ailing, deathly maker.
4) Let’s stop hiring Lost writers, ok? We don’t need more “wow, there’s some cool tech” shots and attempts at hip jocularity (wink-wink, nudge-nudge, cue the laugh track, etc, etc); we need potent, meaningful images that resonate with us.
5) When you talk about Ridley Scott making a movie, you have a right to expect at least a 9 out of 10. So while I did enjoy this movie just as a fun sci-fi thing, it’s really hard to be happy with this when we’ve got the man behind Blade Runner and Alien making it. It really should have been so much more.
6) If you want a movie to stand on its own, make it stand on its own. This film requires our knowledge of the Alien franchise… and that makes it thin by itself.
7) It’s awesome how some psycho-sexual fetish paintings from the 1970′s basically made this entire series of movies possible. Go 2D!

All of that said, I enjoyed my time with the movie. The visuals and ships were great, and there were nice moments (almost all of them having to do with David). I did like the attempt to connect with deep yearnings that have motivated humankind for our entire history. It’s not a mistake that we seek to grapple with these issues culturally and personally. We want our art forms to deal with them, too. Those questions and concerns deserve our strongest, best efforts as artists.

And here’s a great review of the film… and another.

Venus Transit 2012

Click on the image to see it large.

Yesterday I had the great opportunity – another with a few thousand other people from Mid-Missouri – to view the Transit of Venus at Mizzou’s Laws Observatory. We had great weather and clear skies for the event. The University handled the situation well – there were perhaps 15 viewing stations beside the larger domed telescope that sits high atop the Physics Building on the eastern edge of campus. See here for more information about the mission and outreach of Laws Observatory.

Surrounded by the Hours

I’m moving into a new studio. One of the best things about this new space is that I can see so much of my work at once. Today, as I unloaded my work and began the process of organizing things, I was struck by all of the hours that surrounded me. Hours painting, thinking, trying, failing, moving down one path, trying another, etc, etc… So many works have left me, but I’ve got this amazing representative sample around me right now. I’m thankful to have spent that time. It’s been worth it.