Monthly Archives: May 2016

Who Are You?

The Who Perform at Oracle Arena. in Oakland, CA on  May 19, 2016.

The Who Perform at Oracle Arena. in Oakland, CA on May 19, 2016.

 

To my surprise, “Who Are You” was the first song of The Who’s set at the Oakland Arena last Thursday night. I was taken aback. Having attended several of their concerts over the years, and observed numerous set-lists from different eras of their remarkable fifty-year history, I had expected the familiar choppy chords of “I Can’t Explain”, or maybe “Substitute”—two mid-sixties gems to warm up the crowd. “Who Are You”, with its thoughtful narrative, reflecting the bands mature, late seventies outlook, seemed misplaced as the opening number; a reminder of a once concert-climaxing provocation. According to legend, the lyric recounts the story of a lost night on the town by its writer, Pete Townshend. He wakes up in a Soho doorway, a policeman knows his name. He says “you” (Townshend) can go home (in lieu of being incarcerated), if he can get up and walk away. The Who of this late seventies period were addled, about to lose Keith Moon, and struggling to keep up appearances as dignified, veteran rockers competing with up-and-comers, the emerging punk rock tsunami. The song reflects upon aging, being jaded with fame; feeling broken and undeserving of love. Its refrain poses a question—Who Are You?—that seems a cousin of “Listening To You” from Tommy, written several years earlier, only this time the creator/performer is not so much celebrating the feedback of listeners as much as he is staring back, at once bewildered and knowing, appealing for answers amid spiritual crisis.

Last Thursday, the fierce, youthful eyes of The Who’s original line-up—Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon—gazed out at the arena audience from a giant screen montage of the band’s storied career. Their eyes could see for miles, as their first American hit proclaimed in 1967. Their four distinctive, rock-prototype personalities seemed to look out over time, holding in their minds the dreams and expectations of their audience. With druidic presence, they performed a brutal yet playful music that set them apart from others of their era. Yet despite their bravado and bonhomie, they were ever more frail than we, the audience, knew or could tolerate. Waywardness, collapse, and mortality were always close at hand with The Who. As early as forty years ago, just a decade into a career they once thought wouldn’t last a year, there was already a casualty list, and a mooted retirement just around the corner. At that tired, apparently mid-career stage they seemed to check their purpose, looking to the crowd, to people like me, asking, what the fuck do you want? In 2016, time is truly running out, finally. “Who Are You”, a now relatively callow musing of a thirty something, might as well be an opening number, however relevant it may still be. Half the original band is gone. The remaining Who or Two are in their seventies. There are no new albums, rock operas or not, on the horizon. No more hits. Now it’s about playing for a legacy, and manifesting old rhetoric about caring, having a social conscience: hence a robust, charitable infrastructure, especially for its teen cancer trust; The Who’s heartfelt commitment to serving the age-group they once observed so astutely.

I arrived at the arena last Thursday in a bad mood. I’d had a tough week. I was tired, also feeling jaded, and my once fanciful belief that rock and roll can save the day was waning. The Who came onstage sometime after 8:30 in the evening and played for two hours. Another surprise was the lack of encore, but in terms of song selection, the performance, there will have been few complaints. As The Who’s ensemble band (Daltrey and Townshend, plus about a half a dozen others) left the stage and the lights came on, fans started trudging towards the exits, still feeling the concert high. I moved against the stream of traffic, towards the stage, where a cabal of security guards presided. I’d decided upon this action just as Townshend launched into “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, The Who’s traditional set-closer, and despite the surprises, my cue that the show was nearly over. You see, the concert wasn’t even the highlight of the evening. That was still to come, or so I thought. Three months earlier, six months since I’d sent a final draft of my Tommy paper to The Who’s management office in London, I received an e-mail from Pete Townshend’s personal assistant, saying he wanted to meet me. I’ve been alternately giddy and dissociative ever since, and that’s when I let myself think about it.

At eleven o’clock the moment arrived. Stoic security men directed me to the back of the arena, where the private room indicated on my pass was. This was the green room, or NIC room, whatever that stands for. Anyway, taking my wife’s hand, we moved with the crowd, exited the main floor, only to find ourselves in front of more security people, now herding most out the back passage while a few fans stood off to the side. This was the privileged group of visitors: special guest, VIPs. There was about two dozen of us shepherded down a second hallway to a pair of rooms, one inhabited by the band as a whole, the other—this ‘NIC’ room, off to the side—designated for Pete Townshend’s guests. Inside, the pleasant personal assistant named Nicola, with whom I’d exchanged e-mails earlier, welcomed my wife and I, gestured to a table of wine glasses, a fridge containing sodas, and invited us plus the ten or so other guests to relax, wait a few minutes, and Pete would soon be with us.

He appeared without fanfare, his back to me at first, his balding egg-shaped head unmistakable. Looking around at the assembly, gauging the energy, the quiet mood, I knew immediately that this meeting would not match my fantasy: it would last a minute, if that; it would feature a few words, platitudes about a great show (and it was), the years of pleasure and obsession stretching behind me—and a hand shake. The first people Pete spoke to seemed like music biz folk: those who worked on the road crew during the 1989 tour, or something like that. I felt out of place, being about as close to the music biz as an out of tune yodeler. He approached, looking weary, of course, and softly took my hand, saying ‘hi’ in a whisper. His personal assistant introduced us, as he didn’t know who I was. Who are you? I thought he might ask, and then ask it again, with attitude. In some ways it made sense, his torpor. He’d just finished a two-hour show, had given his all, as ever—the whole swinging arms, power chord all. He was, as my dad would say, knackered, and ten times more than myself, was not in the mood. Or, he wasn’t in the mood to talk about my paper, or Tommy, as he has done actually, repeatedly, for almost fifty years. But he asked to meet me, I can’t help thinking, also repeatedly. After a nice photo opportunity, a signature on my paper, a warm ‘good luck with that’, he turned and walked, ready to greet the next lucky fan. Have you ever met a celebrity, an idol—dreamed of such a moment, anticipated the moment as reality approached—and then experienced the aftermath: the point when you realize the moment is over?

I’m not sour. I’m not jaded. I have moods. I’m mildly disappointed, but I know what I’ve achieved and what I haven’t. I know who I am. I’m still hopeful. I still hope Pete reads my paper, because I don’t think he has. If you read this blog, I hope it moves you to buy my paper, give it a read. You might learn something about psychology, music, culture, rock and roll and what it, The Who, yourself, mean to people.

*Photo by William Snyder

 

Graeme Daniels, MFT

 

 

 

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Poking ideology, ladies first

 

 

Whenever I consider a critique of a social group, an organization, or an ideology, I try to pause and think about where I am vulnerable; about who or what my sacred cows are, and whether I can take needling comments from the lesser knowing on the sidelines. I’m not a religious or especially political person (I think), so I don’t get my feathers ruffled when viewing debates. I am only thinly amused by scoffing comic journalists, and I sigh at the familiar rhetoric, bemoan all I don’t know or can’t know. As for miscellaneous activism, well, the AB1775 thing was about the only cause I researched well enough and thus felt qualified to comment on.

In most matters I prefer the observer’s role, plus the ethos of the neutral, hence my affinity for psychoanalytic thought, my periodic disdain for reductionist thinking in psychotherapy, as expressed elsewhere in this blog. Activism is an adjunct of psychotherapy for some. With a particular cause in mind, many enter grad schools wanting to “work with ___” because their lives have been touched by whatever their bone of contention is. That wasn’t me and it still isn’t. Mine is an ideology influenced more and more by the unknown, so the stance of the neutral radiates through Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole, my mischief novel about a jaded psychologist/neutral (or neutered) male, Daniel Pierce, who is stalked by a former prostitute and thereafter challenged to assume the activist role. Lira is a law student who likely saved money from her night job to earn an education and a better life for herself. She is an empowered woman looking back, looking to help the less fortunate, the not-yet-survived sisters on the streets, plus the odd John or two who needs redemption, whether they want it or not. Her ideology, which is a broader, not goal-specific construct, is likely feminist, though she doesn’t indicate this in such specific terms.

It’s difficult tackling an ideology because ideologies are multi-faceted and evolving. They defy simplification, require and deserve considerable thought and reading, so I’m skeptical of labels from those who identify with an ideology without putting in study time; from those who oppose an ideology based upon a similarly stereotyping process. If you haven’t combed through The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, or “Beyond The Pleasure Principle” by Freud, or read anything by either Cordelia Fine or Melanie Klein, then stop with the broad-brush dismissals. So when Kirkus remarks in their review that Daniel Pierce is anti-feminist, I have to take issue because I don’t satirize feminism in my novel, but rather some of its derivative rhetoric that is co-opted by common opportunists, and which informs a modern narrative. Besides, I have to wonder what ruffled the feathers of my reviewer because he or she didn’t get specific. It’s certainly true that my narrator issues a few sideways jibes aimed at popular trends: at women’s seeming double standards in the dating arena; at the goading of men that happens in advertising: the suggestion that men should take drugs to enhance sexual performance, whether to serve ego, the pleasure of a wanting partner, or both; the way media increasingly presents women as sexual aggressors, men as on the run, clutching fearfully at their pants, acting like fools; the way musical/lyrical clichés are deemed misogynist if depicting women in supplicant roles—romantic or millennially winning if men are.

Daniel Pierce is traditionalist in some ways, but is neither an anti-feminist nor a misogynist. He’s monogamist, partly because of love, otherwise by constitution. Sexually, he’s played it safe in life while keeping at arm’s length the influence of promiscuous men, so he’s wary of Rick, the would-be porn star who buddies up to Daniel, liking his quiet non-conformism. Rick is aware that Daniel is not a player, but scarcely registers the psychologist’s critique of reckless sex. Daniel could give or take guys like Rick, knowing them to be endangered, but he’s more concerned for his own psychological kind: the sexually diffident or undersexed; the workaholic, drab men who sacrifice decades to the man and then die of heart attacks. If pushed he’d point out that if women want the same pay or workplace opportunities as these men, they may need to do more of the work his masculine forebears did: the blue collar or dangerous jobs that still comprise well over ninety percent of workplace injuries. Let us not forget that the harbinger of feminism, the suffragette movement, more or less suspended itself to support men in their most dangerous traditional role, that of soldier. Subsequently, World War I slaughtered nearly half of the European male population of that era, which is not women’s fault, but what did they do? Time moved on: women organized and confronted the alcohol industry with temperance movements, industrialists about child labor; they rightly won voting rights, the right to own property, etcetera, while never having to register for the draft, and few women over the years complained about that.

When pushed by Lira to co-sign her assessment of Derek Metcalf as a child molester, Daniel pushes back, supposing that the child in question (Derek’s five year old son) may be a pawn in a protracted custody dispute, latterly mired in manufactured charges, coached and inconsistent reports from the son about alleged behaviors, the adjudication of which is meant to leverage a favorable custody outcome for the mother. While Daniel’s familial background is thinly sketched in Venus, I suggest towards the end that his father was not a Prairie Vole (a monogamist), and that Daniel’s mother, a figure on whom he once doted, left his father at some point in Daniel’s childhood. On the one hand, I accept Clarion’s critique that my title, Venus Looks Down On A Prairie, may be too obscure, or confused, for the average reader. I’d intended to give clues in the text, but otherwise leave room for you to wonder. Well, I guess I’ll supply an answer, whether you wonder or not. Daniel is looked down upon by women (or would be so), not because he’s a philanderer and therefore commonly misogynist (he’s not), and certainly not because he was a devoted husband, but rather because he isn’t a hero. He simply refuses to split in that traditional way. His refrain, I don’t do anything, is partly a complaint, partly a muted boast, and he defies a traditionalist male role that lingers in our society, whether feminists want this or not.

 

 

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Latest review

 

 

https://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/venus-looks-down-on-a-prairie-vole/

 

2 stars…hmm. Maybe I’ll try a children’s story

 

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Talkin’ about it

 

 

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The ins and outs of porn

 

Nothing like a little innuendo to start a blog that is both serious and comic in nature, but if you’re waiting to read about best porn sites on the internet, you’ll be greatly disappointed, for this entry is about as anti-porn as it gets, ironically. This entry is all about the written word and the long narrative—things porn dispensed with almost from the get-go of its existence.

Reviews are available of my porn-on-the-periphery novel, Venus Looks Down On A Prairie Vole: mostly lukewarm responses from the likes of Kirkus and Clarion, who seem to regard my writing as competent, if unremarkable, but take issue with my central character, thinking him unlikeable, a drag upon a worthy cause. The only thing that’s surprising is their reticence. You’d think reviewers would spend a bit less time/print giving synopsis; a bit more time reviewing prose, plot or character development. Daniel Pierce, my protagonist, is indeed an unhappy guy, as the Clarion reviewer points out. He is perhaps arrogant as Kirkus observes. But I’d expected to read more about why reviewers think this, and beyond that, to wonder. It’s strange to me that while people in my profession are used to seeing beyond defenses into what’s inside another (in other words, observing that which is not expressed explicitly), readers expect conscious endeavor, and reject characters who won’t say what readers want them to. In writing Venus, I knew I’d annoy progressives with my teasing of feminist cliches, what I think are tired attacks upon porn. I’d expect disapproval from 12-step adherents, who may not care for my lampooning of drug treatment, or the casual misuse of recovery principles. Both these factions, plus old school paternalists—everyone—might resent my implied sympathy towards sex offenders. As Daniel observes towards the beginning, you the reader might not like what he’s about to share.

Of all these contentious themes, porn gets the spotlight today. It’s in your face, as Daniel comments. Here’s a sample from the text:

“You see, in sex, real sex, not porn sex, eyes are the thing; the personal center. I know because I don’t have great eyes or facial symmetry, which hasn’t helped my pursuit of sex—well, except when light flatters me, when no one is around to look. I wish it were different, not that I want more sex these days. I just wish I knew what makes a pair of eyes great. When I hear people say, “so and so has pretty eyes”, I always wonder what they’re referring to, because compliments tend to be unspecific. Is it the color, the shade, or size, or what my mom, my first gal, used to call “the shine” that dots the pupils? The women of porn stare into cameras seducing viewers with their eyes, big pupils and all, plus their dirtied personalities, looking undignified, yet ambiguously powerful; ambiguously not, I guess. They say—some say—that the women of porn are in it for the power, the sexual power, not the money. Are they? I don’t know, though if you ask me, no one’s coming out of porn looking or feeling their best. The real issue—the real offense to the egalitarian way—is the air of servitude, for what porn really does is arrest women into roles of pleasing. Don’t agree? Go watch some porn”

Actually, eyes are secondary. The penis is the star—the object, if you will—of porn, Daniel remarks, adding that they are in our faces, and “literally in women’s”. These are examples of his flippant, crude armchair views, and a portent of more earnest commentary later on in the story. Venus echoes an argument I first read in Martin Amis’ Money, written thirty five years ago when porn existed only in magazines or in seedy, downtown theaters—maybe videotapes. Money is a masterpiece of gritty, maverick literature. In it, a character (Amis himself, actually) says to John Self, the protagonist, that pornography objectifies women and men equally. Self, a debauched porn addict himself, jovially disagrees, saying that men don’t or wouldn’t mind being so objectified, especially for money (his stand-by argument about everything). Amis rebukes this assumption, claiming he and most men wouldn’t have sex for money, thus pointing out that all involved in porn are exploited. Lira, my women’s advocate/former prostitute in Venus, argues that whatever exploitation of men exists in porn is irrelevant, as men are the dominant consumers. Daniel retorts that if the consumer is the oppressor, then we are all oppressors in our consumer society, and that scapegoating sex for the problem of exploitation merely exposes western prurience.

This is not to say that he’s a fan of porn. In fact, he finds it cold, cynical and narcissistic, though he shamefacedly indulges on occasion when feeling disconnected. But like myself, he’s wary of the righteous; distrustful of zeitgeist opinion, well-marketed, sound-bitten ideas, and therefore has a soft spot for the demonized consumer. This leads him to work with sex addicts in his practice, and with some sex offenders, though he demurs on most cases mired in a legal process. Meanwhile, serendipity places him the company of Rick, ostensibly a chef whom Daniel meets when working shifts at a restaurant during his practice-shedding hiatus. Later, it turns out that Rick is a budding porn actor who goes by the name Kane Able, a typical double entendre slapped on for parody’s sake. So, too, are some scenarios that are common to porn’s semi-theater: the fireman or policeman skit-gimmicks, enacted with thin, tongue-in-cheek pretense, which play upon themes of heroism, damsels in distress and the pull for male sacrifice; abuse of authority, plus the chance to fashion dialogue replete with daft innuendo, silly plays upon words. As a result, Venus is filled with plays upon words, at times mimicking the artifices of porn; otherwise providing a kind of parallel script alongside the action.

Amidst all of this, Venus drops down into a serious contemplation of sex and gender politics. In its subtext it observes a shift in mores, from the castigation of female sexuality, to a back-handed latter-day quest for more freedom, but to what end? For men, the freedom train is heading in the opposite direction. Former license(s) is being revoked, yielding more punishments, weaker performance, and more anxiety, even as advertising media goads them to take the same old risks. Porn offers a kind of refuge to those who are not sure that sex, as in regular intimacy-enhancing, not-paid-for sex, is worth the effort or the risks. With respect to this problem, Daniel Pierce is an outsider: he’s too old to have known the ubiquity of porn prior to his marriage or to have experienced dating as the online shopping exercise it currently is. In a sense, he is safe from contaminated society, but still he is adrift, a closet romantic largely suppressing comment but now seizing a moment with an unlikely listener. Lira listens well enough, but like my reviewers, I think, doesn’t really connect with him. I realize that’s what Daniel Pierce’s story is about: a lament for what is missed.

 

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