A portrait of the Beowulf monster Grendel as he is written in the 1971 novel “Grendel.” Title of the piece is lifted from a line in the book. Composition is directly depicted from cover portrait on paperback version of the novel by Emil Antonucci.
On rough-hewn heart pine wall stud salvaged in New Orleans.
'Betty and the black dog' by Varg Vargas on salvaged Indian wooden cabinet door, spray paint and found objects.
A few times a year, for no emotional reason, out of nowhere, I get depressed. My “medicine man” theory is that it is tied into my gut and there is certainly some science to back that up. My genetic bad stomach is often acting up around the same time the depression shows up and the chemical difference along with the symptoms of the tummy trouble generates the glum. Again, just my theory.
Winston Churchill called his bouts with depression, his “black dog” and though it wasn’t he who originated it (Wikipedia credits his childhood nanny), his use of it helped spread the metaphor. It seems to me the use of the black dog probably sprang from British folk lore in which black dogs were used to symbolize more than anything else, apparitions and death. Both metaphors are apt. The ghost symbol fits because the condition seems to be controlled by something else, something unseen and beyond control. The death symbol fits because life seems not worth living. More on the latter a few paragraphs down.
During my unfortunate descents into chemical depression, I am allowed by the Universe to walk around in the skin of a person who can’t just “snap out of” their mood by going on a roller coaster ride or for a long walk on the levee or buying a pair of boots.
It’s pretty terrifying.
The most disheartening aspect of the black dog is the immediate awareness of it upon waking. In the first few moments of the morning (or early afternoon), I know it’s there. It’s not a physical feeling like a headache or a sore throat. It’s not within my five senses. I feel it, but not on my skin. It’s a presence, like something pressing down on me. This is a pretty accurate image.
I call the first few minutes of any day my “coming to terms.” Overnight, I have departed this Universe and ventured out into the ethereal and, upon waking, returned again. In that first 15 minutes, the Universe is recreated again and I sort through what has been unsorted. Is it all the same? What’s different? Where will I go. What will I do? What has happened? For the depressed person, this space is occupied by the black dog convincing them that getting out of bed would be the worst thing they could possibly do. There is defeat from the onset.
So they eventually rise and the black dog follows. They walk around with what I call “the filter.” A mask over everything that makes it all shit. A very dangerous, utterly uncondensed philosophy that consumes everything. All colors are desaturated. All enthusiasm is unwarranted. It’s all a cliche. Everything is finite and meaningless. Songs ring flat. Supper can’t be indulged. Company is a hardship, awkward. Relationships strained. Most bitterly for me, I see the Earth is as it will inevitably will be, a lifeless ashen rock. Then, just behind the bright faces of my friends and family are the images of their fetid, rotting corpses. Children are not the hopeful energetic inspirations but rather wheelchair bound and broken.
And this is everywhere. The black dog is a loyal dog. It follows.
Gratefully, I am only visited by it perhaps twice a year, sometimes less and never for very long. Whatever brings it, takes it away and I have not been able to conjure up why it enters or leaves. Some suggest probiotics will balance out the production of serotonin in my lower GI tract. Imagine that. I swallow little sprites that I go into my gut and fix my soul. Our Universe is so folk. We think sometime sit isn’t but it is.
There are so many others for whom the black dog is a regular visitor.
Its wiser, more knowing companions know it well. And they endure it with a bedrock truth that its effect on them is just a spell. A “spell” that is something they are under the influence of but also a “spell” that is something that will go away with time. They will eventually “come around” but certainly can’t “snap out of it.” But after many years and many visitations, they never do really overcome it as much as they simply just endure. They often bravely forgo medication because it makes them robots, incapable of feeling anything at all.
But younger people, whose human spiritual development has been arrested because of this black dog, who perhaps don’t have the spiritual armor against it, who perhaps don’t have supporting figures in their lives, who are misunderstood, who are self medicated, seeking solace, who have been victimized, whose failure to thrive proceeds for decades, for these sons and daughters the black dog’s visitation is most delicate and critical. They forgo medicine for ego, convinced nothing is wrong.
I have so much empathy for them all. To help me cope with this, I made “betty and the black dog.” Beware the black dog brothers and sisters.
After five years of working alongside, being associated with and thankfully developing friendships with visual artists, and since I avoided art school where perhaps a lot of this comes from, I find myself a bit vexed by a certain impulse I’ve noticed in them from time to time: Many deeply want to commodify their work, desperately want to commodify their imagery. And I don’t mean make a lot of money creating work after work of art and developing a great body of work in collections everywhere. I mean the opposite. I mean transforming their imagery into aprons, coffee cups, calendars, greeting cards, puzzles…schlock basically.
This isn’t the growing development of an artist through years and years. It’s getting good enough to create a singular image that everyone wants and then just creating that image over and over again for as much money as possible.
I can certainly see why. It’s more money for less work, an enterprise I have jokingly said I have desired for many years. You create one image that gives people their emotional need (“This New Orleans scene makes me soooo happy! It reminds me of when I was there!”) with their practical need (“How am I going to keep this food from getting all over my clothes? I know! An apron!”) and that is where art gets very lucrative. But it certainly isn’t the only way to do so. Look at Rodrigue, who has done well for himself while doing his best to control his imagery and, time-after-time, rejecting the commodification of his Blue Dog image. But then, the richest painter of all time did indeed do this and made a ton of money in the process. Though, he wasn’t spiritually rich.
I always wondered why Rodrigue never made a Blue Dog plush. Now I know. He “kept it real.”
What has happened time after time though, in conversation after conversation with artists, has been this alpha priority, over being compelled by the Muse, to commodify the art from the get-go. There is no bliss following. I have even spoken with a fellow salvaged-wood artist who was looking into making resin renderings of his wooden wall hanging sculptures. That’s fake, plastic salvaged wood made in China. Some artists want to find that image that sells and mass produce it either by making those awful “series” of prints or by putting it on as many Chinese-produced products as possible. Ties, mousepads, iPhone covers, if you can put R2-D2 on it, they would put their art on it. At that point, is it really art anymore? Or is it a product? And is the artist a producer?
For something to be mass-produced and to be successful, it needs to be a pretty tame image. It can’t really challenge you in any way. And it must be consistently appealing. So no one is really evoked. The person buying it is safe. The artist / producer is safe. Whoever the third party is, is safe.
And let’s not forget this third party. Or the fourth party. Or however many parties there are going to be between the artist and the buyer. By the time the art lands in the buyer’s hands there will be such a separation between the artist and buyer they will relate to each other about as much as they relate to the Chinese factory worker making the shit.
And I suppose that is ultimately what is bothersome to me about mass produced art and it’s commodification. It’s also why Jackson Square or any outdoor market is such a great place to buy and sell art. There is a direct connection between the artist and the Universe he or she is tasked with capturing . You meet the people and if you did your job right, you exchange an idea or two with them. It’s suspicious to me why this richness would want to be exchanged for some other kind.
If this is the case against the film, I’m not sure it’s going to get past the grand jury.
That reviewer admits the cinematography, score, locations and imagery in the film are top notch. Now, those things are huge. I know narrative is most important and I’ll get to that but, let’s not toss out the ethereal aspects of the film simply because the reviewer has an issue with the story. Because they were pretty amazing. They weren’t just good. They excelled. They greatly enhanced the narrative, enriching the story so much that viewers were immediately captivated. This is something that many, many films fail at from the start. Reviewer asks us to “see past the craft.” Fucking why? So we can understand your point better without this huge aspect of the film’s greatness getting in the way?
So, the Narrative. Some things that should be addressed…
- Hushpuppy wants people in the future to remember her but the viewer knows they won’t. She thinks her writing on a cardboard box will be enough. But we, the audience, are supposed to know better. Most of us did and recognized the helplessness of the character. Probably because no one is going to remember us either. This is a universal plight. Mass of men leading lives of quiet desperation and so forth.
- The Titanic stuff, it’s an age old narrative that probably started before the Buddha but was most historically done by him wherein the privileged child casts aside the networks of their society to a simpler, stripped down existence. Buddha did it. Yuppies do it. Gutter Punks do it. People do it. We have fucking reptile brains deep in there. Smooth, unbundled, savage reptile corpus callosums and we like to sometimes get in touch with it.
The rest of the review is the critic making some statements about what he didn’t like about the film but he doesn’t really say why it’s bad. Unless he is suggesting that because he didn’t like it, we shouldn’t. With more critics in the Universe than ever, a simple snarky ripping of a flick isn’t good enough anymore. There are 6.5 billion opinions out there. I need to know why yours is valid. You need to show me why yours is valid. Simply stating “Phony. Phony. Phony” doesn’t quite do it.
But hey the accusation was that noodling was depicted as too easy right? What don’t you know in that scene? Had Wink already seen the Catfish before his dialouge? Was it a spot he knew they lurked? It’s not a 65-pounder they pull up. They are out there to catch fish. The man has supposedly done it his whole life. The film is being critiqued because it looked too easy? It was a small aspect of the flick anyway. And why is it supposed to look hard? How would that advance the narrative?
Then we really get to the real heart of why this critic dislikes Beasts and yes, it involves … standing. It’s his premise and ultimately the basis of his critique that:
Also, call me cynical, but watching po’ black characters deliberately misuse words and grammar in folksy phrases written by white people (“cavemens,” for example) feels hokey at best and offensive at worst. Keep in mind, I knew nothing about the filmmakers before I watched this film. It just reeked of theater kid fantasy, and I’ve seen enough Hurricane Katrina narratives written by liberal arts students in New York to recognize this as one. Art students be lovin’ Katrina narratives like fictional Cajuns love crawdads, you all.
So, there is no way these white art school kids could possibly have anything meaningful or non-stereotypical to say about these poor people who live in the Bathtub? Even if they could tell this story adeptly (which they do) they really can’t because of who they are. The art isn’t allowed to stand alone because it’s this critic’s prejudice against the artist that gets in the way. The story can be told, but not by them so that gives it its cheesy quality. I guess it is safe to assume real poor folks wouldn’t have glamorized their plight but I live in and among them and I see it glamorized all the time. The notion is they can do it, these art school kids can’t, and that’s a case of standing.
And if the film was such a manipulation of poor hurricane-struck folk in Louisiana, wouldn’t Dwight Henry’s starring role have at least added some credibility to that? A life-long New Orleans resident and 7th Ward baker?
And let’s not forget that the Bathtub is indeed a fucking FANTASY WORLD. Yes, the flick is a fantasy movie. So that’s how you approach it. That is dictated to us by the filmmakers pretty early. And that is the mindset in which the film is to be approached from then on. There is magical realism at work here and this critic never even addresses it. It’s based in reality but, once we are shown that huge boars are floating toward Hushpuppy in melting blocks of ice why quibble about noodling? Maybe in the fantasy world of the bathtub, noodling is easy.
And also not mentioned despite it being a huge testament to the film’s greatness is the fact that these were not even actors in these roles. Both Dwight Henry and Quvenzhané Wallis acted exceptionally and brilliantly. Astounding because THEY HAD NEVER ACTED BEFORE IN THEIR ENTIRE LIVES.
So the film excelled in score, setting, cinematography, imagery and acting. I don’t mind monomyth. I prefer monomyth over the overtold stories in flicks today. The original Star Wars was a monomyth. The latest Star Wars films were so overly-complex no one knew what was going on. I don’t mind a complex story but the framework needs to be simple and the complexities within it.
I don’t mind art students writing about Katrina. The more the better. So long as they get it right and these folks did.
Everyone has their voice. It’s always there. It’s processed through five senses into your mind and then assembled into ideas and then deposited out through those same five senses. Think of conveyor belts bringing goods into the factory of your mind through your hands, eyes ears, nose and mouth and a different set of belts bringing repackaged goods out wrapped up as ideas. Sometimes improvements have been made on the ideas. Sometimes they have been completely reassembled into something new. Sometime simply a sticker has been put on them that says “approved for redistribution.” Sometimes they are tossed into the furnace.
It is not only the so-called “brilliant” minds that run these factories, it is us all. And when the factory really starts going, it begins producing enough products that it needs to find methods of distributing them. And lucky for us all, in this day and age, there are plenty of those. So everyone’s idea factory is exporting at high levels and their products are global commerce.
Some aren’t very good. But somewhere in there, more ideas HAS to eventually mean better ones.
The conveyor belts coming into the factory are filling it up very fast. The furnace fires are burning bright. The smoke is billowing out of the smokestacks. And it’s not just the useless, repetitive ideas they are burning up in there anymore. Now it’s the stuff they just can’t even get to. The warehouses are filling up and there just isn’t time to get to it and more stuff is coming in and what’s the CEO to do? He has to just run at maximum capacity and throw the other stuff in the furnace.
And you don’t want that stuff piling up in there. Some of the packages are hazardous materials. Some contain rare bugs that need to be dealt with and, if ignored, the bugs will get out and eat up the walls of the factory. Some have containers of poisonous gasses that can break and harm the factory workers.
So the factory has to be run well just to keep all this stuff in order. The conveyor belts that export the repackaged and hopefully improved upon goods have to be flowing and the smokestacks need to be billowing. That way the factory can pass all it’s safety inspections and keep producing.
For a long time The Chicory was a great method of distribution for my factory. After the Flood, it helped me sort out and package and record and redistribute the packages that were coming in. Most of the best products from The Chicory came from the “Commentary” category where the more carefully prepared posts were placed. “On The Second Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina” was perhaps the clearest example of this time. The ideas were coming in through many other local bloggers (and the steadily churning factories of their minds) and were used to build other ideas in my own. Like global commerce, these other factories were essential building materials needed to make my own product.
Business at the factory was booming. It was a time when many factories were working overtime. Three shifts. A 24-hour operation. The voices were strong and The Chicory was an excellent method of distribution for all the packages I was shipping and the ones I was redistributing. All our voices were strong. Research and Development could barely keep up with what we were putting out.
But then there began to be other methods of distribution. The smaller, less complex packages began being distributed through Twitter. And the less profane, more middle of the road stuff through Facebook.
And then slowly the old Chicory “super highway” of distribution began to slowly trickle down. And not without good reason. The Chicory is a time consumer. Blogging is a time consumer. I am already over the estimated amount of time I mentally budgeted on THIS post. So resources to process the ideas are being used up. Linking, fact-checking, spell-checking, making-sure-nothing-you-said-is-stupid, it all takes time.
And also, the recovery of New Orleans after the Federal Flood (which fueled the factory) is set in motion. It isn’t complete but, there is certainly a notion that it doesn’t need to BECOME something now that it IS something. For better or worse it’s under way in its current form. And there is nothing The Chicory is going to do now that it didn’t do in the past in hopefully some small way.
So while the ideas are certainly not in any sort of era of austerity, the usefulness of The Chicory isn’t the same as it used to be. This conveyor belt is being refitted.
I used to have a strict “all New Orleans,” rule here. I didn’t think anyone cared about the personal mind farts of my life and I didn’t blog about that. If I did, I made sure I showed that it tied into some bigger picture somehow. At least I tried to. The Chicory was essentially a “recovery blog.” One of many and they were all fucking beautiful. Amazing factories churning out and distributing exquisite ideas about exactly what New Orleans needed to be after the storm. And I am glad the answer was, “as close to what it was before as possible.”
I think it’s safe to expand now. What R&D has come up with is to process products from the factory that deal with humanity. Humanity right now. How a factory can process its ideas. What those are. How being “spiritual” should really mean being “human.” Not the idealized human but the real human. How we fit in here.
I am going to try and make some art that fits the theme of blog posts as sort of a visual component as well.
And if anyone has ever heard me speak, it’s will unfortunately be profane. I fit into the Universe by being the son of a sailor and a social worker. Both of who in other lives were a mechanic and a waitress. So I’m never going to be able to shake that necessity to take things right down to their filthy base. Where sometimes they belong. We do come from the dirt you know. The flowers in the Spring come from the dead.
As a lover of the absurd nature of The Universe I promise not to take myself to seriously. Though, I certainly will at times.
So The Chicory is going to be about being human. And more importantly, human in New Orleans.
Please allow me to applaud you on your recent efforts to address the growing health and safety issues on Jackson Square. Our city’s “old square” is a rich symbol of its cultural identity and deserves the critical attention being given to it by city officials. It is as relevant now as it was when it was literally the center of the city.
However, I can not overstate how filthy the Square is most weekend mornings. Puke, feces, urine, fights, drunks, people passed out, assaults, trash, yelling, drug use – it goes on and on. Sunday mornings in particular. Artists trying to set up have been beaten several times. One was in the hospital for weeks with a brain injury. Another went to the emergency room earlier this year. The past few weeks have seen a rise in these incidents. Action on this has been sorely needed for some time.
So, thank you for addressing this. The proposal to close the Square between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. is a step in the right direction. Though I have concerns that it is heavy-handed. It’s a quick fix. Sure. But it may end up causing more issues than it solves.
One thing that almost immediately occurs to me is the experience a visitor to New Orleans may miss out on by being prohibited from the Square during those hours. For many years, profits and incomes ballooned as the city was portrayed as a raucous, say-anything, do-anything, drink-anything party destination. But as well all know, we are so much more than that. There is more to New Orleans than “Huge Ass Beers.”
Jackson Square in particular is an area where people can sit in an open space without being in a bar. With the Square (and the Moonwalk) being closed in the early morning, and with very few restaurants or cafes open at that time, the message seems to be, “Be in a bar drinking or go back to your hotel.” I understand that’s not what the message is but, with no open spaces, where else are people to go?
Other issues would be the enforcement of any law based on the interpretation of the term loitering. Would a Jackson Square Artist setting up for the day be considered loitering? Someone texting on smartphone? A tarot card reader telling fortunes? Hopefully these will be addressed before any vote.
I of course am very anxious to hear if this will affect the Jackson Square Artists, an integral part of the culture on the Square since the 1950s and a group with their own representative group, the Jackson Square Artist Association of which I am a member. We provide straight-from-the artist art pieces and contribute a bohemian atmosphere to the Square on weekends. People get to meet the artist they are purchasing a piece from and speak about the art and often even pose for pictures with the artist. At any given moment, hundreds of conversations about art are taking place. Thousands of visitors to New Orleans take home original art from this group each year and quite a few locals do as well.
We too have been affected by the depiction of New Orleans as a party destination and are on the front lines of the fallout every morning on the Square. Because competition for spots is great, artists will often be setting up for the day during the proposed hours of shut down. Where do we stand in this? We are primarily being victimized by the belligerence and the filth and are concerned that we will be victimized by the solution as well.
A proposal to consider would be one in November 2010 by the Jackson Square Task force convened by Councilmember Palmer. The wording in the proposal was:
“Security – there should be dedicated security to patrol the Square at all hours. Such a person(s) could ensure that cars are not illegally parked; that vagrants are not causing health problems; that tarot card readers are abiding by existing or proposed rules; that any music is not amplified; that garbage is being addressed; that mules are being properly managed; and that all other regulations are being enforced. Such a person would not only be an enforcement mechanism, but would also serve as a deterrent to other illegal or nuisance activities.”
I think a dedicated police presence in the Square would greatly improve the conditions there and wouldn’t force the City to throw the good people out with the bad or, put police officers in a position where they would have to selectively enforce a law and thus lead to potential litigation down the road.
Thank you both.
I am posting this letter and your response on my blog, TheChicory.com
My night could have gone either way before stepping into Marigny Brassierre on Oct. 31, 2012. After stepping out, there was no saving it. I couldn’t wash the feel of it from my being.
We are all aware of the increasing commodification of Frenchmen Street and the Marigny neighborhood. I loathe what it is becoming. I loathe the cheap plastic “sexy” costumes on Halloween night. I loathe the obnoxious rolling Red Bull boom box that parks in the street and blasts non-local dance music by Black Eyed Peas and Adele onto the sacred street of Frenchmen. I wish the techno robot didn’t have to compete with this crap. I wish kids could still get nitrous baloons for a few bucks a pop. I wish it was still more of a bar-to-bar night through Frenchmen and Lower Decatur but, as Robert Frost said, “Nothing gold can stay.”
Marigny Brassierre in particular seemed to be the epicenter of the ecotone this night. With seiging tourism onslaught in full force, they were going all in. But it was taking its toll. The staff was a surly bunch. Seemingly fed up with the bullshit. Bar service could not have been any worse. Bartender was ill-tempered and virtually encouraging dust-ups with customers by being antagonistic. She was clearly over her head on a busy night and lacked perhaps the most critical ingedient any bartender needs, grace under pressure. She could not keep track of who was at the bar first and just went up to groups of people waiting for drinks and asked, “Who was here first?” This encourages people to jump in line and cause arguments / worse among patrons. She also did not wait for customers ordering several drinks at once (making her job easier by grouping transactions and shortening lines) and just walked away after one drink was ordered without acknowledging receipt of order. When taking an order you wait for the person to finish and in some way, either by repeating it back to them or saying “got it” or whatever, you acknowledge that you received it. It’s not an entitlement, it’s just the simplest way to transact.
I was keenly aware of this because I got all caught up in it. She asked me what I wanted and walked away after “Abita Amber” and never heard the two cocktails I also mentioned. Then, another bartender came up after, asked “who was here first,” took my order, listened to the entire order, indicated that she had received the entire order and began making the drinks. By then the first bartender returned with the Amber and seeing that I ordered from another bartender literally yelled, “I ALREADY MADE YOUR DRINK! DON’T ORDER MORE THAN ONCE!” When I told her that there was more to the order than what she bothered to listen to she yelled, “HERE’S YOUR ORDER!” and pointed at the one drink she had placed on the bar. Then she screamed, “DOUCHEBAG!” right at me in front of my wife and her friend and the entire bar full of patrons. I seethed and, sensing the developing hostilities, the other bartender stepped in to finish the transaction and called me “baby” as a sort of peace offering. I gathered that there may have been some dissention in the ranks but that’s only speculation.
And hey, there WERE a lot of douchebags out on this night. It’s creeping from Bourbon Street onto Frenchmen. We all know this and no one knows what to do. Most likely nothing can be done. I am sure this bartender perhaps encountered a few of them this night. I wasn’t one of them. She created the entire situation. She was fulfilling the generalization that the entire bar were douchebags and needed to be treated as such. It was one of those long middle-of-the-week Halloweens so there is a good chance she had been dealing with it for a while. I understand but it’s a hardship of the job and a short part of the narrative in a longer arc. Shit happens. It’s part of the job.
Having tended drinks to scores of obnoxious drunks myself over the years I understand each new face is something different than the last. More than anything else, each one has to be gauged and not painted with a broad brush. Some may be suffering same as you. I have yelled at my fair share as well. I never incited it. Being a bartender requires this sort of sense.
So, I may hazard to guess that much of the douchebaggery coming across the bar toward the bartenders may have been a result of a symbiosis with the entire staff of Marigny Brassiere. They may have been responsible for it themselves. I noticed that the service area of the bar was very crowded but the area around where people would mingle was very empty. So after they got their drinks, people were getting the hell out of there even though the streets were packed and a madhouse. They weren’t enjoying the “fun casual atmosphere” described on the Web site. I am sure people would have loved to have had a seat at a window in a spot with a bathroom close by but they were leaving because the energy was so bad I presume. In the short time I was there, twice I experienced the staff rudely yelling at patrons.
And about the bathrooms, I’m not sure of the legality of this but I do know it damages the reputation of your restaurant to transform it into a “pay-to-pee” spot. If a hundred people paid $5 to pee that night that’s $500 bucks and that helps with the rent right? And what’s a little negativity among the patrons for that kind of cash? I am sure that girl the manager screamed at for trying to sneak through copped a squat somewhere in the neighborhood because she looked about to burst as she was being loudly shamed for trying to get by. That’s for some Marigny renter or homeowner to deal with right?
Marigny Brassiere, if you are going to play ball with the encroachment of tourism on Frenchmen street, please verse your employees in how to be kind to the very beast that’s paying the rent. Or, just close the doors on busy nights like Halloween. I noticed a few spots that opted-out. Staying open in misery, allowing a grossly out-of-control, chip-shouldered bartender to damage your reputation, and transforming your brassiere into a beer garden and pay-to-piss business doesn’t seem like a recipe for long term success for your business and increases the burden your neighbors are experiencing as their blocks increasing become entertainment zones.