new tech-centered Bowie tribute album on Rapster/k7 Records, which I am happy to report features alot of Berlin-era material.
clicking on the link will lead you to a microsite where you can hear a stream of our friends Au Revoir Simone covering "Oh You Pretty Things." (I was going to post the mp3 but technical difficulties inhibit me at the moment, and I didn't feel like waiting to go get a new burner to post.)
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“The crack is in me,” I said heroically.
“Listen! The world only exists in your eyes –your conception of it. You can make it as big or as small as you want to. And you’re trying to be a little puny individual. By God, if I ever cracked, I’d try to make the world crack with me. Listen! The world only exists through your apprehension of it, and so it’s much better to say that it’s not you that’s cracked –it’s the Grand Canyon.”
- "The Crack-Up" by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In a simple twist of fate, my college girlfriend of three years broke up with me on Sept. 3rd, 2001. This puts the matter in a highly schematic fashion which is as loose with the facts as it is appropriate for my concerns at the moment. It's enough to say that I was in Prague, I had skipped out on the homeland in a post-college euphoria/malaise, and she was in New York, hooking up with a good friend of ours.
The panic, the imminent sense of disaster, the loss of thousands of lives and the deep collective trauma which unfolded a week later were for the most part phenomena that remained on the other side of the ocean, alongside the life that I had been putting on hold or had left behind, it wasn't clear.
Not to say I wasn't stunned as well, or that I didn't hole up in a friend's apartment for a lost weekend of substance abuse and steady consumption of burcak, that not-yet-wine orange juicey substance which comes of age early every fall and whose advent the Czechs are wont to regularly celebrate, selling the stuff in two-liter bottles. It's a pleasant frothy delight, but it can gave you the shits.
But while my memories of the subsequent events that befell my home country in that time are largely televised, and while I still as a result cannot trace the psychic scar of that day in such detail as some can, those memories of my own personal life, which was running a seriously parallel trajectory, are fairly brutal. If the attacks have often labeled, rightly or wrongly, the rude reintroduction of America to the vissicitudes of history, the concurrent young-person break-up that I underwent, and not the transatlantic adventure itself that I was on, which nicely ejected me from the fantasy-world of undergrad life.
It was a staging of such great personal coincidence that, had there been a God at the time, it would have been a perfect opportunity to congratulate him on the infinitely strange contours of his humor.
This is my own perhaps embarrassingly personal example of a nice aesthetic strategy: the transfiguration of individual personal problems into scenes of historical rupture, and vice versa.
This has to me always been the lynchpin of Bowie's 'Oh You Pretty Things', in which the chorus goes Oh you pretty things, don't you know you're driving your mommas and poppas insane, let me make it plain, gotta make way for the Homo Superior. And throughout the song the lyrics mix discussing the quotidian dirty laundry of a relationship gone south alongside images of the arrival of "the coming race." Within the lyrics, this isn't just fantasizing or hypothesizing, this arrival has the force of an event: "all the strangers came today, and it looks as though they're here to stay."
"What are we coming to? No room for me no fun for you" And while we're at it, what's the whole human race coming to?
In the end it's a great fantasy, isn't it? That when you had a break-up, the whole human race would have to break with you. In essence, that's very much like what Nietzsche said, when he envisioned enacting a "grand politics" that would "break the world in two."
Years later, I recorded a wee demo called "Dresden City Hall," my own cover not of "Pretty Things" but maybe of its psychological-historical short circuit, after seeing this photograph:
It was taken from atop the aforementioned city hall, just after the city was firebombed. An angel casts its eyes over the destruction. BTW if you know of a better real-world example of Benjamins' famous Angelus Novus than this one, let me know...My own chorus to this song that I am not posting on purpose was: Never thinking about you and I, just that day in Dresden City Hall 1945