Sunday, January 15, 2017


299. GLUM
On the other hand,
glum was the word
for Elmira. The only
thing worthwhile
there, really, for me,
was the art department
at Elmira College.
Along with Gandy
Brodie  -  who at
that time had a year
or two residency.
It was somehow
reassuring to have
someone to talk with
had, at the very least,
some idea of the
shared experience we
both understood. He
represented New York
City, for a moment
anyway. I never knew
how often he went
back or forth, or how
-  we weren't close
enough that information
like that was shared.
No big deal. Distances
remained, but he was
cool. I kind of wished
it was more of a
'guy-talk' thing,
between two
people exchanging
tales, but it always
stayed more on
an art-of-that-moment
basis. He had the
little Elmira College
art studio franchise
thing down good  -
if we did talk it
was about Art.
The subject, what
we were doing,
how come, by
what means. I
guess, in retrospect,
I can just fault him
for not being more
forthcoming too
or for not recognizing
the 'me' before him,
but whatever. That's
how it went : he
really was from
a different day
than I was, and
the shared
didn't overlap.
Those old
beatnik-era guys
were never cut out
to be teachers or
anyway, and I knew
that. Occasionally
he had another
fairly famous New
York City poet
guy, named
Kenneth Koch,
Same era, they
shared a bunch of
stuff. He gave a
reading one time
too at the college.
A Saturday night
thing, maybe 40
people tops. I went;
hadn't ever heard
the guy before.
He made sure
we all knew he
pronounced his
name as Coke,
not Koch, like
you'd figure  -
same as a NY
Mayor later on.
I found out I
wasn't a fan
of his work,
read or recited.
Sort of like
Billy Collins,
later on, his
stuff was
just too glib
and trying to
be humorous
or light and
all. I sensed
nothing and
knew I needed
the missing
gravitas for it
to have any
value. I hate
lightness. And
then he died  -
Gandy Brodie,
I mean, not
Kenneth Koch.
I knew at that
point the doors
of that 'other'
era were
I can't even
remember if
he was still
there when
he died, or
if it was later.
One of the items
which suffuse
friendships are
the moments
of informal talk.
When two people
talk about the
road, or what
they've seen
coming or going
(it was a 5-hour
journey, back and
forth to NYC,
with plenty to
see), but one
of the problems
with academic
crap is that it
stays at just that.
There's always
an 'understood'
relationship, or
whatever it is,
that has an
that always
undercuts any
friendship. You
never get
someone like
him, at my
level, to talk
about sewers,
or drainage,
or a car, or
even a woman.
The sort of
current doesn't
allow for that.
Yet, they say,
that's how
you're supposed
to learn. Go
figure. I'd much
rather be able
to talk to
someone about
mud and grime
and nails and
hammers, say,
than about the
'incidentals of
the subterranean
which undermines
the symbolic
language of a
painting in
light of
See what
I mean.
At that same 
time too, I 
was studying, 
a bit, the work 
and writings 
of Martin Buber. 
He had this 
thing about 
the various 
sorts of 
that humans 
and with each 
other, and with 
God, etc. He 
called them 
things like 
'I and Thou' 
or 'I and I' 
stuff like that. 
of engaging 
the world, how 
we DO engage 
the world and 
then how, 
because of it, 
we get underway 
with our own 
selves and the 
between our 
and others, and
God  -  all that. 
It's a bit heavy, 
or maybe just 
random, but it 
can be enough 
to  really pull 
a person down, 
like some old
stuff. Tough sledding. 
There was one thing 
I had learned from 
my piano-lesson 
work, and it 
always stuck 
with me. Buber 
too. It was 
that it always 
easier  -  way 
easier and way 
more natural  -  
playing your 
own stuff. Music, 
I'm talking. That 
seemed quite 
apparent immediately  
-  it's easier to 
'memorize', easier 
to play, isn't picked
 and labored, and 
you have a far 
greater total 
command and 
recall of the 
entire thing  -  
because it's 
yours. It came 
through you. 
So it's always 
an easier thing
 to do the 
authentic and 
not labor over 
or worry over 
the derivative 
stuff. That's 
why Art is so
authentic and 
rich, and has 
so many avenues 
and styles and 
ways of being  
-  I tried getting
 this 'theory' of 
mine across to 
Gandy Brodie 
more than once, 
but it always 
ran up against 
the wall of, like, 
an 'I-Thou' thing. 
He had the superior 
role and I, as 
underling, couldn't 
really possibly 
have a theory 
worth him or his
time, No matter, I 
just forged onward 
 -  BECAUSE in 
Art it's ALWAYS 
your own; it's 
fresh and authentic. 
NO one  -  unless 
you're some, old, 
formula painter 
copying and 
mimicking  -  in 
Art is copying 
or duplicating 
another. Whereas 
in music,  every 
recital is another
Bach or Beethoven. 
Scriabin, or Liszt, or 
whatever. There's 
nothing 'wrong' 
with that  -  it takes 
plenty of talent and 
skill and a real 
reservoir of 
knowledge and
practice. But it's 
still someone else's 
work. Yes, of 
course, you can 
'make it our own' 
by adding your 
own fillips and 
style and 
But it's not the 
same. It's still 
another's box 
that you have 
to fit into.  So
much for that.
Gandy Brodie 
was gone, and 
we'd never really
connected any
dots. Too bad.
Well, anyway,
if you want a
surprise I guess
what you need
to do is return
to places of
your youth to
see them again.
Things simply
deteriorate; it's
somehow a law
of the natural
world  -  and
cheap, under-funded
urban places prove
that point well.
Elmira got smashed
-  as I've written
in other places  -
by the flood in
June of '72. Hurricane
Agnes. Believe me,
it was nothing to
write home about
before that, but
the flood and all
the undermining
of its waters
really kicked
this place in
the ass. Knocked
it down abut 5
rungs  -  meaning,
man, it was
man, it was beat,
gone, destroyed,
over. There wasn't
any coming back,
and of course the
only reasonable
way of continuation
was by having the
Government do
it for you. The
Army Core of
Engineers (a
really hated bunch)
came through and
re-designed and
re-routed lots of
things; waterways
and drainage, idle
land put aside for
overflows and parks,
walkways along the
water. They even
put a freaking Samuel
Clemens Memorial
Highway right
through the center
of town. It was all
meant to work, but
it never really did.
Maybe it was
good for outsiders
and people just
seeing it fresh,
but the big and
usual thing
they all did
was let the
state come in
and make like
Art Center stuff,
concert halls
(named, of
course, after
Samuel Clemens
-  Mr. Mark Twain,
whom Elmira
claimed and
treasured, by
burial site if
nothing else).
When that crap
starts happening,
you know it's over  -
the outsiders come
in with their measuring
sticks and big ideas,
and the next thing
you know you've
got parking lots
and white lines for
1600 cars, in
addition to the
junk they built.
Which, they
figure, works
out to one
parking spot
for every 17
people in town,
which amortizes
out to 4,248
people per year
at an average
concert schedule
of one per month
at 40 bucks a head
on Fridays of the
full moon, blah,
blah, clipboard.
Yeah, it's like
that, and they
leave you,
a new, revitalized
town. Run for
the hills, I say...
and I did.

No comments: