Monday, 28 July 2008

Eric Bogosian's Notes from Underground: my first experience with the blog

Around the time I started working at drama school back in January 1996 I was keen to read and to explore a wide variety of playscripts. Though because I’ve been surrounded by the things for so long I tend to take them for granted these days, but in ’96 I was eager for some new reading material. Eric Bogosian was one such playwright I took to wholeheartedly. He writes in a quasi-existential style and is hip to life in modern-day America and mentally I jibed with his stuff and took great pleasure in reading it. Half of his plays tend to be series of long monologues, such as ‘Sex Drugs & Rock’n’Roll’.

‘Notes from Underground’ is possibly my favourite work of Bogosian’s. Originally I wasn’t quite sure if it was a playscript or not because it’s written in diary format – I’ve recently discovered the play gets performed as a one-man show with Bogosian himself acting out the first performance of the play back in 1993.

Years before the word ‘blog’ was invented (or perhaps it’s been around for centuries who knows??) this play portends to be the perfect, hypothetic blog. The play centres around one man’s diary from 21 March – 21 June so that really it’s merely a fictional 3-month diary, or blog. Admittedly I got a lot more from this piece when I was 26 than I do now. Like many people in their twenties, I was a lot rawer in those days and some of this stuff resonated fairly palpably with me. I’ve since grown out of any such proclivities and nowadays I find this piece to be something of an oddity, utterly unrelated to my current experience, though nonetheless a splendid piece of writing that continues to bemuse and wryly intrigue me.

The protagonist is a loner with a series of odd character-traits. Sometimes he tries to be good and sometimes he gets himself into rather bizarre and frankly disturbing situations. Like the narrator of Camus’ The Outsider he doesn’t seem to react to his own strangeness or oddness. Yet sometimes he can be very normal albeit in a quirky-alone kind of way. The reader (or viewer) is left wondering if this guy is in any way a decent fellow, or a genuine oddball.

He is a man at odds with the world – how’s this for an opening line:

Today I ate a meal at a fancy restaurant. I like to do that sometimes. It makes me feel like I’m part of the world. Makes me realise nothing is impossible.

Sometimes the man’s torpor and disinterest in people around him is counterbalanced by earnest intentions:

…I will make a resolution today to be improve my life. I will learn people’s names. I will be more disciplined. I will care about other people. I won’t think negative thoughts. I won’t have bad fantasies. I won’t want things. I will be good.

but for the most part he has built a carapace around him, he lives within his own self-made shell and maintains a bleak outlook on his immediate surroundings and the world at large:

I was feeling better today so I went for a walk. I saw these college students walking arm in arm. They think they are so unusual. They are so arrogant. Arm in arm watching the flowers blooming and they think they’re the only people who ever lived. They know they are young and they will make love and think thoughts and be very concerned about the world. Maybe they will protest something. But in the end it doesn’t matter. But in the end it doesn’t make any difference. They will marry or not marry, they will have children or not have children. Certainly they will eat and they will shit. And one day, they will die.
In a hundred years or so they will be nothing. They will not be remembered by anyone, not even their grandchildren. Maybe their grandchildren. Probably they will be remembered by their grandchildren.
But they did spend some time on earth helping to destroy it with their pissing and shitting and car driving and house building…

The man spends a lot of time in his Manhattan apartment. He eats too many cheese crackers, stares at girlie magazines, smokes too much, likes Dan Rather and attempts to live up to Shirley Maclaine’s example via her new-age books. His moods swing from resolute hopefulness & optimism to deep depression.

Here’s a full day’s entry:

I really feel great today. I feel like I'm breaking through something. I took a bus out to the suburbs. Somewhere in New Jersey. And then I walked through these lovely neighboUrhoods with sidewalks and bicycles in the front yards and shiny Mercedeses. People cutting their grass. Lots of mowed grass.
I found this split-level house. White. It had a picnic table and a swing set in the backyard.
So I went into the backyard and sat at the picnic table. It was quite lovely. I had my portable radio with me and I listened to the news.
The people came home and you should have seen the look on their faces when they saw me sitting at their picnic table.
They kept looking out the window at me.
Then the man came home. The Dad.
He opened the back door and he said in this really gruff voice: ''Can I help you with something?''
I said: ''No, I'm fine.''
He said: ''Well, if you don't mind, you're in my backyard.''
I said: ''I don't mind.''
He said: ''If I can't do anything for you, you better get going.''
I said: ''Can I use your bathroom?''
He thought about that one for a few minutes. I could see him asking his wife.
Of course I was wearing my suit and tie. So the man had to give me the benefit of the doubt.
Then he said: ''You can use the bathroom. But make it quick and then you have to get going.''
I walked into his house and I looked him in the eye and I could see that he was scared.
I went into the bathroom.
He didn't say what I could do in his bathroom. So I thought, this would be a good time to take a bath.
The man came pounding on the door after 15 minutes went by. He unlocked the door and I was in the bathtub. He saw me naked and ran out again, I guess to call the police. He said he was going to.
I sang my song in the bathtub. I got out, dried myself off. Then I took an aspirin and brushed my teeth with the man's toothbrush. The biggest one, of course. I cleaned my hair out of the drain.
The police didn't come. The police are only people. They don't have any real power to change anything. What can they do?
I splashed some of the man's cologne on me. I got dressed and left.
When I came out of the bathroom, the whole family ran into another room and I could hear the door lock. That was funny.
I found some car keys on the kitchen table and borrowed their Volvo station wagon. I drove around, then I found a shopping mall. I left the car in the parking lot with the keys in the ignition. Let some car thief get it.
I went shopping. I bought a very sharp carbon steel kitchen knife. They are sharp, those things. And expensive. Fifteen seventy-five.
I went to a movie in the mall. I think Julia Roberts was in it. I'm not sure because I fell asleep and woke up and the movie was over and I was all covered with popcorn bits.
I called a cab and went back to the bus station.
A great day. Exciting, invigorating. It's nice to do something constructive for a change.

More stuff happens, of course. By the end of the piece he’s looking after children at the playground and longs for the child's innocence, wishing he could be a baby again. He buys a street bum a sandwich. He briefly visits a psychiatrist for treatment brought on by self-inflicted wounds. The question remains, is the protagonist merely some sick twit or a man trying his best to do good in the world? One thing remains certain, Bogosian has invented a character who sticks pin-pricks into the emotional and personal expectancies of the people he encounters, average American citizens with their expectations, their needs, their desires and their sheepish acquiescence to the common city-herd. Bogosian’s skill as a writer is to fill his piece with creepy, wry, absurdist black humour and to filter this successfully into a very readable and flatly straight-ahead script in the form of a day-to-day journal.

Perhaps he’s a reflection of the modern condition, I don’t know...


Sometimes I will wake up in the morning and I will remember a dream I had where I went to a place I remember from long ago. A field with small hills and some large old trees. And after I wake up, I really miss the place. I feel sad that I haven't gone there for a long time. I think, "When I used to go there, things were easier for me." But when I try to remember exactly when I went to the place, I can't. I'm not sure I ever went there, but I miss it so much...

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

my eye

Here is a photo taken today of my retina:

I visited my optometrist John E for my yearly retinopathy checkup. As I've had elevated blood sugar levels in the past (very elevated blood sugar levels) its mandatory I take a yearly check up. Well, to cut a long story short, I reversed my condition by throwing my tablets down the toilet and reaching out instead for natural remedies and supplements combined with a consistent walking & exercise plan. I have not looked back.

I've never felt better or healthier, and I haven't yet succumbed to cold or flu this winter unlike most of the people around me. It's been 5 years since I've last taken antibiotics.
The optometrist dilated my pupils with rather stinging fluid and during the interim we chatted a while. He was very impressed with my motivation and dedication to stay healthy, and his belief is that it's all about loving yourself. He says this, because he sees too many patients with the, umm, sugar problem, just give up on themselves. As I'll explain, it's all in the eyeball.

The photos of each eye stung, for minutes all I could see in front of me was a perfectly round white flash, as if the moon herself was staring me right in the eyeballs.

John E was very proud and impressed with my photo, it is the picture of a perfectly healthy eye. He explained to me a bit about the nerves but what I noticed was that the veins look healthy and alive and to me, the colour seemed good. The photo looked soft, cushioned, and loving. It looks like a circular representation of sun and moon.

I don't know all the terminologies etc but the darker spot ("moon") I think is the macular and I forgot what the light "sun" is. With retinopathy problems the tiny nerves begin haemorrhaging and form tiny spots of blood. It's not until this gets very bad that vision begins to be affected.

John E showed me what this looks like; I found this to be very disturbing. He showed me the photo of a diabetic eye of a taxi driver who apparently, doesn't take good care of himself. The photo was taken a year ago. There were little red spots scattered in the photo, the colour was 'dirtier' and the veins looked lighter. Not the most pleasant image. I was then shown a photo of 6 months later. This had me shocked. ...fucking awful...I kept gasping. There was a pool of red over the lower third of the eye, apparently, that's major heamorrhaging. John turned his gaze over to me to say ...this man did not love himself enough. Perhaps this is why he lacked the fortitude and motivation to do little to help heal himself?...we don't know.

I felt humbled and thankful as I left the clinic. I couldn't see properly for a couple of hours with or without my glasses due to the forced dilation of my pupils. As I walked the streets of Randwick junction, drinking a celebratory coffee and doing a bit'o'shopping, I felt loved, and grateful to G. This is what love looks like, the perfect retina, all pink and supple with beautiful red veins.

The big test of course, is the blood test, in 3 months time. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

vale tommy

the white fluffy cat i've been minding
passed away this morning
he'd become more withdrawn as the weeks wafted on
slowly yet perceptively
until last week
he began hiding in the bushes 24 7
i wondered if the cold snap had anything to do with it
he ate the food i brought him
though i often had to dish it up to his mouth
and i carried him into the house for some sunday freetime tlc
and he purred and enjoyed that
feline appreciation
but on the monday food didn't interest him
i took him to the vet on tuesday morning
this morning
wednesday 16 July 2008
he passed on
tommy was 15 1/2 years old
and his diet over the past three years had coexisted with medication
to prevent urea build-up in his blood

tuesday 15 july 8:50am
sunny and cool
i come out to tommy
he sticks his sweet beautiful white head out of the shrub
tommy - i purr myself
i lift him into the cat box
carry the box to my car
and drive him the short distance to the vet

the drive was seemingly quick
yet distressingly long
tommy wailed his distress signals
motion and bumps he did not enjoy
and his wails and cries jarred on me
my stomach tensed up
my mouth pulled back, narrowing and downing
my face ashened
and my eyes felt watery & crusty
i heard something deeper in tommy's cry
tommy was crying for all sentient beings
'what have you done to bring us to this
why did you not leave us in peace
to enjoy this beautiful earth'
...i was relieved when we reached our destination

2 minutes to 9am
the clinic is shut
ok, the vet's just gonna get here right on time methinks
meanwhile this is Anzac Parade Kingsford
cars and buses whir and jet past
tommy and i are on the kerb waiting for this friggin' vet
who is now Late!
i kneel down to tommy and apologise for his distress
and here comes someone else
with a huge dog in tow
a lovely gentle dog who's tail has been damaged by the children playing with it
the owner tells me...
i keep reassuring tommy he'll be ok

5 past 9am
the vet scurries towards the clinic
hurriedly fumbling his keys in one hand
and briefy case in the other
sorry i'm late, he sez
in the clinic we let tommy out of the cage
and for a second while the vet is distracted
tommy attempts to hide under a cabinet
his head is under while his body's attempting submergence
an endearing moment at a sad time
with graceful elegance the vet swings one arm to pick him up to the table
the cat's not well
and so be it
after a shave and sedation
he awakes on wednesday morning
but dies soon after

all deaths diminish us
but yet where there is death there is also life
life cannot be separate from death
for we are all life
and we are all death too
because without exception
we ALL march toward where death's shadow's wait
and each tick of the clock sends us closer there
therefore death and life must be two sides of a universal coin
i sensed shadows around tommy since i've been with him these last 2 months
i'd been with tommy a few times prior over the years
this time, it was different
when cats are happy or contented they exude their contentedness
with a quirky please-themselves happiness
content to live out their own comical proclivities
sleeping on that bench that day
on that rooftoop on the other
under the flowerholder that day
jumping on someone's head another
and generally roaming all over the place
with their cartoon-like alertness
this time tommy seemed tired
as if a certain malaise had overcome him
he became scared to come into the postage stamp garden
instead prefering the shrubs of the outer-rim
i feared from the beginning of this mission
that it would be a tough one
that it would be a touch-and-go exercise
to keep this lovely creature alive and happy
until my final day at this abode
8 September
it was not to be
for tommy was making his personal descent
into the winter solstice of his life
the owner phoned me from Portugal
to thank me for all i'd done
and to not feel bad
i accepted that
i loved the cat
i spent time with him as best i could
i talked to him
brushed him
fed him
stroked and becalmed him
but, this is a grand arena where we live
and all earthdwellers come and go from it
we are ticketholders
with time of arrival stamped
mine says 1970
departure time tbc
by the universal saucepan
tommy's passing equivalates to a new litter of kitties born somewhere else
this is a crazy circus
and don't we love it!
let's love each other
and be good
for we aren't separate from that cat
there will come a day
when we will want to hide under a lovely green shrub
or tree
and lullaby ourselves to eternal sleep
goodbye for now
notice the photo of tommy above
look into his eyes
he is staring through the deep unknown
where his future lies

Friday, 11 July 2008

Thursday 10 July, Raglan Hotel Alexandria

Thursday night, 10 July, I forced myself out of a self-imposed stint of isolation to attend my first gig in about 5 weeks. This was a singer-songwriter night at the Raglan Hotel in Alexandria, a pub I've walked past on many occasions (and not thinking too much of the place) and stepped inside for my first time last Thursday night.

I liked the low-key, old-style ambience and aesthetically pleasing lack of renovation. A good place for a decent beer and to hear some great music.

Not only was it my first gig in so many weeks (I played bass on this particular gig) but I was also offered three gigs during the course of that particular day, two with my duo with Brig and another solo for next Sunday. I suppose that's life's way of telling me that my period of hibernation is over, and to get out there and back into the action!

The first performer was David Griggs. He convenes the songwriter nights at the Raglan on Thursdays and performs sets at the beginning and end of each night. He is a wonderful performer, he has a smooth though strong voice and is a masterful acoustic guitarist. His style is reminiscent to James Taylor with somewhat more intrigue and character to his musicality. He blends his playing and his singing well, he exudes passion and a kind of plaintive sensitivity. At the end of the night David had the Raglan audience yelling out for more!

On next were the Velvet Road in acoustic format featuring djembe player (usually drums) Pete Thompson (he's also a master Chiropractor!), myself on bass + backing voc & Gav Fitzgerald (songwriter) on acoustic guitar + lead vox. The crowd enjoyed this bumptious blend of acoustic blues rock. And I was dressed the part as per usual, having come straight from the library and leaving my scarf on...there was no heating in that pub and my hands were freezing!! We have a good time and this acoustic no-frills format is very easy, minimal luggage and maximum enjoyment! (thanks Dave G for the photos! ;)

Bel Woods next took the stage and performed a mighty set of brilliant acoustic rock. Her songwriting was excellent and she showed herself to be a great acoustic guitarist and singer and exuded great charisma and presence. The songs were often quite percussive and the crowd got behind and into the singing and playing. Bel was terrific!!

Here we go, a curious little ozzie tradition...'Christmas in July', decorations of lit snowflakes dangling from the walls etal etc...all very nice actually but a bit of heating in that pub wouldn't have gone astray!! (or should i have said 'ashtray' ...oops!)

The final showcase prior to David's closing set were a duo Ruby for Lucy featuring Julie Stenton & Kat Borghetti on acoustic guitars and vocals. Here we have a classic example of the sum being greater than the parts. Julie & Kat are both great singers and players but together they are stunning!! The songs & lyrics are memorable and hummable, yet underlyingly sophisticated and evocative. Very English almost, very sweet, and together Julie & Kat as Ruby for Lucy are really very good. Watch out for them!

David finished off with a terrific set in the end and added into the mix some obscure yet tantalising cover songs. We all had a great time and I was very glad to be back amongst it all. Y'know, some of the best musical experiences I've had, and best gigs, have been these sorts of gigs....not too many in the audience, about 20 patrons or so in the pub, but it was a warm occasion (...figuratively) and musically just wonderful. Much can be made from voice + acoustic guitar.
Long live singer/songwriter nights!!

Seeya nextime!! :)

Paul Hewson shooting star

i'm in the sunshine A mate of mine produces a monthly songwriter newsletter which goes out to a hundred or so mainly Sydney-based...