BELOW THE WATER LINE
It was along about 1966 - a fairly
momentous year for me - that I
became fixated on studying the
work of Marcel Duchamp - about as
foreign and distant from Avenel as
one could get. It little mattered though;
I knew there was no connection, and
just didn't care. The same time was the
period of the real beginnings of the
cultural change that was overtaking
America and which, by the next year,
1967, would make a complete travesty
of that final year of high school. The
place setting, and the seat to sit in for
'eating,' that had not changed at all - it
was still Woodbridge High School, and
I was still in Avenel, New Jersey - but
the 'food' we ate was entirely different.
Not so many people knew it, but it was
gurgling all around us. I know that
the people I once thought important,
the cultural icon types that were
everywhere, they just all started getting
stupid. Ironic stuff, all that 'look how
cool and distant we are' attitude. It then
all just began pretty much going down
the drain, and whatever initial wise and
good impulses had maybe been afoot
disappeared just as quickly. It all became
money and opportunity, drugs and display.
They each felt they had to just go on, over
and over, to be keeping on making stuff,
even if it had become junk, and drivel.
Everyone had lost their bearings. I still
had hope in my heart, but it was fading.
The usual idiot culprits - sure, it's easy
to mention - Beatles, Stones, Dylan,
and plenty of others, at their level began
showing their own true colors : losers.
Working-class stiffs really, working
out a tantrum and being lionized and
well-paid for it. The rest of the
goose-steppers began following. There
was no intelligence, no learning, behind
any of it. It was from-the-bottom-up stuff,
which, yes, usually turns out for the worse.
There's just no good there. You really do
need to be led and ruled by an elite, an
intelligentsia, sad as it seems to say.
Otherwise, it's all directionless, and it's
proven how stupid that becomes.
Anything that had ever been presented to
me tried first to show its validity by its
being 'earned' by money. The entire
money thing was a fraud. First off, in
Avenel, none of us knew much about
it anyway; it just wasn't that prevalent,
and remained as some sort of chimera
with a mystic aura attached. All those
street-level bums and creeps, like the
music guys I mentioned before, they
got their one golden chance out of that
hole, and took it. I guess that brought
them out of the working class gutter
where their basic lack of knowledge
would have otherwise left them : all
those little stories in the fan books,
of rags to riches stuff. It was all a
culture-fraud foisted on the young so
as to make them consumers and to
make others rich by getting them
addicted to junk. None of it was
even music - it was a rhyming ditties
set to repetitive, winding beats. Monkeys
and morons stuff. But, anyway, that
same blind wind of ignorance blew
through Avenel as well as anywhere,
and everyone was taken in. It got to the
point where even the Vietnam War was
run to a soundtrack of junk music : they
actually allowed you to die and get maimed
while listening to 'c'mon baby light my fire.'
By the Napalms, perhaps?
And then they began doing it too to Art.
All that 'Pop' Art and Peter Max stuff, real
drivel, but it overtook everything. By '66, I
was already aghast. Duchamp filled a need.
I dove in. His work was completely aloof,
cerebral and non-monetary. It had real
connections to Art, the art world, the
traditions and movements of European art.
He made that all clear to me, that it was
alright to survive dedicated to something
else, to remain silent, to stay away from
the dreck of commerce, and to submerse
yourself in the lines and traditions of art
while breaking all its boundaries. I wanted
to be submerged - and anyway no one
around me would have one flying finger
of understanding or concern about whatever
it was I'd be talking about. If I did. But I
didn't. I'd taken a personal vow of silence;
really did. Like my extremely limited ways
with food and eating. Same thing. I didn't
want nobody. I use to laugh when I'd read
about personal hygiene stuff - all those
putrid weird words they'd use, about bowels
and stuff. Just like me : I'd 'evacuated' all
that bad gunk from my life, or was trying
to; I'd 'eliminated' the waste from out my
being. Or intended to. It all made me laugh.
Marcel Duchamp set me down, rightly. I
was intent upon 'stepping out of tradition.'
"I suppose that must be the attitude of
anybody who wants to find something
of his own. To do something of your
own, you've got to forget what you've
learned. And once you begin forgetting,
you're bound to find something else. Of
course, you can try and never succeed.
You think you're doing something entirely
your own, and a year later, you look at it
and you see actually the roots of where
your art comes from without your
knowing it at all. You've got to find
yourself, if you have a self to find." He
was also against the real 'production'
of art, things being turned out quickly,
one after the other. I understood his
aversion to any factor of 'business' in art,
making all that loaded money, for others.
In a few years, I'd have met and known
a few gallery-type creeps in NYC and I
quickly saw how they were. Vulture-like
suckers who - even if they did offer a
refuge and safe-place of sorts by the
'support' and succor (funny words for this,
like 'sucker'), only wanted continued and
numeric product, the more the better, to sell.
'The stream', it was called. Keep it coming.
They were basically kleptomaniacs, living
off the artist's hide - all their wine-social
and punk-ass whores and high-time glamor
girls. (By the way, have you ever seen the
sorts of girls who man the front desks at
galleries? Snooty, nose-in-the-air lookers
who engage only the 'stars' who are selling
at the moment. Any real artist walking in
there, unknown, they poop their sweet, little
Victoria's Secret underthings. You know what
Victoria's secret really was? She didn't wear
any. It's all for show).
Duchamp knew the racket already, thirty years
and more before me. He lived on 10th Street,
and before that he lived also on Washington
Square West - that's all been taken over now
by NYU, but back then it was still Henry James
style dwellings; real class. All he did all day was
muse and play chess, sit about, smoke cigars,
write a few things, pick only here and there at
new art - he was averse to the production and
the marketing of 'Art'. He knew what end was
up. It was great stuff. A entire other way of
being. No one at the Studio School ever spoke
with or of him - he represented like the opposite
pole of the artworld that 'education' was supposed
to be bringing forth - gallery reps, lectures 'about'
Art, Art History. He was it, and that was all there
was to it, but no one ever mentioned him. Closeted,
as it were, right down the street.
For a while there, all he was doing, with his
wry way, to beat out the 'Art' crowd, was
reproducing his own work. Now that's a
funny concept, even almost an Avenel,
in your face 'fuck-off' type thing, and I
glommed onto it right away. Loving it. Like
'I'll make art, sure, but to teach you rat-ass
bastards a thing or two, I'll not do anything
new. The more I do, the more they want,
and keep on wanting more. I'll just continue
to reproduce my own, old work.' In the
way he put it, it went : "I made the art.
I'm the artist. Who has absolutely no
inkling of what it was he has been doing.
I didn't want to do anything new. I'd
had enough. The minute you systematize
anything they become quick, easily chosen,
and then regretted a year later. I would
be compromised. Anything systematized
becomes sterile very soon. There is
nothing that has eternal value."
I loved all that stuff, ate it up; and I kept
planning my getaway, my own break, my
great escape. It was coming, and I had my
ideas and plans. 'Bye, bye, Avenel;
Hello! New World!' But, in 1966, it was
'not quite yet, okay?' Duchamp, again:
"I, with my Cartesian mind, refused to
accept anything, doubted everything. So,
doubting everything, if I wanted to produce
anything I had to find something that
gave me no doubt because it didn't
exist before. Having invented them,
there was no doubt about them, ever."