Thursday, August 25, 2016


There's an old city in Germany
called 'Halberstadt.' In the closing
days of World War II, this city, 
located in the Harz Mountains  -
(we know it as 'Hartz' Mountain
Co., from where it got its name,
the makers of bird seed)  -  was
leaflet-dropped to surrender, 
by the Allies, instructing the
town to put up a white flag 
on the city hall to indicate
that it had surrendered. The
town's Nazi ruler refused. The
Allies sent over a plane to check
and, when there was no flag, 
destroyed the entire town from
the air in a few minutes. The
shattered parts left were then 
handed over to the Soviets and
became part of their 'East'
Germany. Like a few other
towns that had something of 
the same fate  -  Halle, Kothen, 
Brandenburg  -  it simply never
recovered. One curious local
initiative has been to hold an
organ concert in one of the 
churches to play a piece by
John Cage, an American 
composer -  a very singular,
cutting-edge, avant-garde 
1960's composer anyway. 
The piece is called 'As Slow
As Possible'  -  and it's a
performance  which will 
end on September 5, 2640
(don't wait up). "Tickets need
to be booked years in advance
to be present for when the next
key change is due. It should
be pointed out that the notes
are sustained mechanically
rather than by employing
several centuries' worth of
under-achieving organists
linked up to tubes and buckets.
While Cage's piece is obviously
a marvelous idea in itself, it does
seem to act as a rather cruel
theme-tune for modern 
See what I mean about time 
being a  thread that runs. 
Yesterday I wrote aboutit. It's 
an unavoidable stanchion, set
out right in the middle of 
the stream, which then just 
runs around it anyway. I 
always tried to be concerned 
with what was in front of me;
this piece has its sights set 
on 2640. Wow. One of the
things that now always brings 
me up short is how, in 1967 
say, the things that I saw as 
old and from another world, 
were things that were from 
the 1920's, 1924, 1928. 
Those seemed unfathomable
old times to me, with concepts 
and objects that were unbelievable. 
now, by contrast, something 40 
years old really just lands it in 
the mid 1970's, and when I talk 
of 1967, how can I expect 
anyone who's now in their 20's
to even grasp or get a feel for
what I'm relating. It's all THAT
strange. A 1924 car then, in '67,
which seemed so ancient and old
an automobile, now would be a 
1980's car. What do we change?
Our concepts and ideas? I
think they change around us, 
and we just keep getting by.
The language is the same, all
pretty much anyway, but we
saunter on no matter. I know
when I walk, today, those
same streets I once lived on, 
and, INSIDE of me I know 
they are the same places and
they ring the same bells, but
actually they're all very different,
and the people who inhabit are
totally different. Sub-species,
Standard A, Sidebar 29,
so to speak. 
In the previous chapter I wrote
about Westbeth, the artist-housing
conversion in lower Manhattan, 
with a 20-year waiting list. I
used it to exemplify an idea of
time, but it's nothing compared
to this ongoing, slow John Cage
piece scheduled to end in a few 
hundred years. Jeez, that's
outlandish! It seems somehow
that 'urban' life does all this
sort of thing  - expands every 
little detail, elongates an error,
of the smallest kind, stretched 
everything out to monumental 
proportions and then effectively
emotionalizes it. In my own days
there, I was blissfully unaware
of all that  -  really  -  because
that sort of consciousness truly
didn't exist yet, hadn't come
a'borning. So, as I see it, you
can't beat me up then for, back
in that time, throwing a candy or
cigarette wrapper on the ground.
Why? Because that time-step, for
me, didn't yet exist. I had no clue.
I admit to being the idiot boy in
the bubble that it's so cool to
ridicule now. Everything's great
in retrospect, and you're so great
for throwing out your trash.
The problem I DID see, and 
still do, is how completely 
ruined and decimated that 
island of Manhattan had been: 
it was, and is, a complete
ecological nightmare, a 
geological rape, a geographic
disaster area; but the ones 
braying the loudest about 
that, now  and recently, are 
Manhattanites the ones 
with the shoulder-chips
and the best friend called
'Righteousness.' Funny thing,
just yesterday, walking along, 
I passed a planter, at the front
sidewalk of someone's Chelsea
streetfront, and in that planter 
had been carefully placed a small,
typed-on-computer, and nicely
designed, sign which read : 
"I am a plant. I have feelings 
and am alive, and wish to 
continue growing. Please do
not put your trash on me, or
pick at or harm me." Yes,
right, I understand.

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