Junebug versus Hurricane


World Without Tears: A Devotional, Part 2
May 22, 2010, 6:44 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

And, at long last:

Entering Lucinda’s World Without Tears

Taylor Black

(Listen to) Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings

Photographic dialogues

Beneath your skin

Pornographic episodes

Screaming sin

In my very slow, languid process of thinking and feeling my way through this record—and indeed in my outline for this very paper—my intention was to go through it song by song and in direct chronological order—until last night.  Driving around the empty, rain-soaked streets of Chinatown at three in the morning following an unproductive stint in New York University’s Bobst Library, I indulged this rare moment of desolate isolation that I’d normally have to embark on a long road trip out of the busy and cluttered atmosphere of the Northeast by putting World Without Tears on and turning up the sound.  With my car’s poor little CD-player accidentally set to random, the album began in an unusually loud and ragged way; instead of the sweet sad vibrato of her song “Fruits of My Labor” that normally eases you into Lucinda’s magnificent, horrible old world, I found myself being shouted at by the ragged, screeching sound of the guitar that makes up the introduction to her very staggering anthem “Real Live Bleeding Fingers and Broken Guitar Strings.”

Shattered nerves

Itchy Skin

Dirty words

And heroin blurs

Not one to be outdone by her band, however, the shocks and the reverberations that ensue past the musical interlude are all Lucinda.  Like the ordinary introduction to the album, this song is all about vibrato—a kind of dance or clash between the lead guitar that drips and shakes its notes out of itself and Lucinda’s voice that quivers and howls its way out of her worn old throat.  Unlike “Fruits of My Labor,” however “Real Live Bleeding Fingers” frightens and calls its listeners to attention rather than easing them into with something that sounds deceptively beautiful and tender.

You’ve got a sense of humor

You’re a mystery

I heard a rumor

You’re making history

To get back to my story, though: as I drove the streets of New York, wary of my aloneness yet comforted by it too, I almost turned the song to something a little softer; considering the remoteness of the atmosphere and the weariness of my disposition, I figured I really ought to play one of her long ballads and let it swallow both me and the humid, empty night up with its drippy lap steel interludes and plodding turns of phrases.  However, as to not upset fate or disrespect my dear Lucinda, I dutifully remained inside the space of “Real Live Bleeding Fingers,” a song—as I’ve heard her say—both about seeing lover after lover and relationship and relationship fall victim to “heroin blurs,” but also, oddly enough, about the solo work of Paul Westerberg.  As the song began to finish its march over my nerves as well as the sonic space of an unsuspecting Canal Street, the last verse shouted at me and told me exactly what I should say and think about my love not only of the music but also of the misery, of the disaster.

The Coda listed at the beginning of this piece constitutes the emotional and spiritual arch of my affection for Lucinda’s music.  But, to understand my true appreciation for her music it is necessary to think through my identification—nay, my devotion—for her.  You see, to really listen to music you have to not only engage with and open yourself up to the performer/composer, but you have to have faith in them.  This faith certainly takes time and is not something you can donate to every song you put you and your senses through, but this kind of pure listening experience is not only about enjoyment and pop pleasure, but also a kind of labor.  In order to love Lucinda, you have to cultivate your belief in her.  As she has proclaimed on high, this process of belief and adoration means you’ve gotta climb all the way inside her tragedy, and then get yourself right behind her majesty.

Glory, Glory //We’ve Killed the Beast!

(Listen to) Atonement

Come on, Come on, Come on

Kill the rats in the gutter

I do realize that it’s very gay for me to refer to the object of my affection and musical appreciation a queen, and you should know, if you haven’t already or always assumed, that I do in fact suffer from a debilitating case of homosexuality—however, I’d like to work through and around this very staid, over-determined notion of the tragic gay man and his love for his tragic diva queens, if only so that I may return to the term without all of its heavy metaphorical baggage.

Shake the clammy hand

Repeat the 23rd psalm

Make you understand

Where it was you went wrong

After all, there are, I will deign to argue, different types of these bruised, yet majestic icons of queer femininity and different sets of gay male subjects that inhabit their mighty kingdoms.  The most obvious and significant example of the gay icon is, of course, Judy Garland—not so much because of her performance in The Wizard of Oz, which actually constituted the more populist American image of her—but the tragedies and the public performances of addiction and some sort of psychosis that attract her many homo queens under her withering wings.

Blinded by glittery diamonds

Resting on crooked fingers

Shaded eyes they are the ones

Who’ll lead you to your deliverance

Believe it or not, I do not belong to the club of tragedy queens who bask in the undertow of Miss Garland and do not find much pleasure in witnessing the breakdowns, pill and gin ravages and on-stage failures that mark her late—and arguably, as a result, her entire—career.  Unfortunately for these queens, they get failure all wrong.  Like Wayne Koestenbaum’s very astute depiction of another kind of queen—the opera queen’s troublesome, failed tastes and the public reception of their pathological, utter pleasurelessness, all summed up in their questionable appreciation of the opera.

However these cultural metaphors also work to insult me, which is, of course of even greater importance and concern.  You see, terms—like failure, queen, tragedy—are sources of creative and indeed affective inspiration and fidelity for both me and my academic work, but because they so commonly understood as jokes on and about gay men and their tastes, I can’t seem to employ them explicitly with a straight face. You see, originary and constitutive as they are, as queer metaphors, they have been subtracted of any amount of emotional capacity or even discursive flexibility.  They are  so gay, so sad and, in the end, so  thoroughly understood and explained by the world that they work to constantly explain and insult us until we, like poor Miss Garland, find ourselves face down in our party dresses in piles of (what we hope is) our own filth.

Dry your tears.  The Tragedy Queen’s pitiful reign is over, but only if we really want it. The joke’s only on us if we let it.  The camp, glib relationship Garland’s tragedy queens approach her with is, on the one hand, tricky because it is sympathetic.  In other words, they love to witness Judy’s tumbles and stumbles from afar, and the highest form of emotional labor that’s required beyond this sort of ironic spectatorship is sympathy: who would want that?  Even more terrible is the sad fact that these sad old homos don’t even know that to real people, it is precisely this taste for tragic tragedy that tells them everything they need to know about the emotional state of all homosexual men in the world: sad.

Let me give you something good to eat

Bite down hard ‘til it sticks between your teeth

I do hope you I haven’t confused you, dear reader.  I realize that just before this castigation of tragedy queens I spent pages and pages flirting with disaster and ruin and hinting that I might lay out a roadmap for turning failure and tragedy into forms of amusement and pleasure.  So, you may be asking yourself, what’s the difference between Judy Garland’s tragedy queens and me, a homosexual who has already—and repeatedly—confessed his unquestioned and potentially problematic identification with and love for Lucinda?  After all, I am drawn to her, in large part, because of a strong desire on my part to bear witness to the many losses as well as partake and indulge myself in the great sadness with which she hones and performs her songs.  It is necessary to empathize with Lucinda in order to appreciate her, to, as I have explained, cultivate your faith in her and all of the beautiful tragedies that come along.

It’s time to come on (…come on, come on…) under Lucinda’s wing.  As you see in the lyrics I have chopped up and laid down for you throughout this section and also—if you follow orders correctly—hear, “Atonement” is a song that is composed of and composes religious decrees. More than just a topical, satirical take on evangelical forms of invocation and manipulation, this is, like “Real Live Bleeding Fingers,” another one of those songs that will break you down and turn you out, if you’re willing.  Indeed, as it marches on and on and over its audience, this very bossy, aggressive, jarring song constitutes Lucinda’s great march to victory.  More than that, though, it’s also a kind of blessing, or, rather, an invitation to any of us who would like to follow here into her kingdom.  Indeed, just like Lucinda, the song is hard to take, too much—but, if you resist the urge to turn the song down or tune her out, you might get the wonderful experience of having her swallow you up.   Remain in this lovely, debilitating sonic state, under the dizzying influence of the unrepentant sound of Lucinda’s frightening hoots and hollers that keep moving and moving and you will have received your blessing, and will then find yourself falling, like withering flowers at her feet.

(Listen to) Fruits Of My Labor: the Beginning and the End

Baby, see how I been livin’

You know, even though, like any good homosexual, I loved The Wizard of Oz growing up, I always hated poor old, pie-faced Dorothy.  To this day, I cannot forgive her totally unrealistic and style-less decision to forgo a chance to reign over the whole, plush kingdom of Oz at the end of the film and return to her drab, colorless existence back home in Kansas (even typing those words feels to banal for my own good).  But what really sealed the deal for me as a young man was that she threw a bucket of water on The Wicked Witch of the West: the only truly wonderful and powerful character in that film, and indeed the object of my affection and impersonation as a young thing (until my practice of dressing in a hate and cape and flying around may family’s home on a broomstick was wisely—yet too belatedly—called off around age eight). My adolescent love for this character, who had immediately caused fear and confusion in me has influenced my tastes as well as provided the ontological structure of my affective fidelity today.  I like sadness, failure and tragedy only out of a love for wickedness—in other words, I like that these terms which unsettle and unnerve nearly everyone else on the planet might be a way of living fabulously, egregiously and fiercely.

Lavendar, lotus blossoms too

Water the dirt, flowers last for you

Baby

sweet

baby

My desire to become, like the Witch, someone who frightened others and lived in an isolated, yet vast universe that was all hers is one way in which I overcame my own alienation as a very homosexual, strangely gendered kid in a fiercely monotone, Southern Baptist culture.  With the Witch as my guide, I then saw a way of moving around the debilitating effects of this isolation and loneliness that would have otherwise caused in me various personality disorders, realizing there was a more magical way to be the outcast—that if considered and maintained correctly, inborn deficiencies and insistent social and personal handicaps could actually be the source of power.

Tangerines and persimmons

And sugarcane

Grapes and honeydew melons

Enough fit for a queen

Lemon trees don’t make a sound

‘Til branches bend and fruit falls to the ground

So what’s there to say about my lifelong penchant for the absurd, the wicked and the truly tragic that can animate the rest of this little devotional to Lucinda?  And, what’s really so much more astonishing and unique about her and her whole suitcase of sadness and failure that she carries along with her?  Well, it’s that she cultivates and mitigates her own tragedies and weaves them into her persona in ways that are more awe-some than that Dorothy could ever be or those actually tragic, detached tragedy queens might ever imagine.  Indeed, that very religious and powerful word awe-some has become so commonplace and misused that, like tragedy and failure, has lost its capacity to really mean or do anything at all; it has become a dead word.

I been tryin’ to enjoy all the fruits of my labor

I been cryin’ for you boy but truth is my savior

But, how can we imbibe these terms with even more power than they may have ever had?  How can you stimulate and recodify terms and descriptors that are supposed to handicap and explain you away?  Thankfully, the kind of sorcery that is required to respond to this dilemma is my—and Lucinda’s—specialty.  As I have explained, Lucinda’s power over her personal failures is maintained through the hold she is able to have over her audience, whose total faith and devotion is absolutely a requirement.  Before this is possible, however, she needed a system of recasting tragedy into song, image and style—and thankfully, Lucinda—witch that she is—has been able to do just this.  Through her flirtatiously, evil version of this process, she has made a career of recasting and rephrasing her haggardness and sorrow into something that makes music and creates devoted followers.

Baby, sweet baby if it’s all the same

Take the glory any day over the fame

Baby, sweet baby

For her, failure is not simply about failing, but also about creativity and possibility.  Likewise, tragedy is not something to lament, but to wallow around in—a process of becoming-fabulous as well as a form of presentation that allows you to take hold over other people.  She is truly awe-some in all the ways we have forgotten God ever was: beautiful, alarming, imposing, magnificent, horrible, overwhelming, beautiful and wonderful.  Through her, the word is alive once again.

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