|Jan/Feb 2003 • Miscellaneous|
ROCK AND ROLL
Attractive SWM, VT resident seeks
female for long-term relationship.
Rugged professional outdoorsman, 36,
6'!", 170 lbs., blue eyes. Self-employed,
Smart, sharp, honest. Love high energy
rock music, gardening, retired
greyhounds, strong herbs. Lots of free
time in the winter, want to meet youthful
streetwise rock and roller who wants to
get out of town once in a while. Extended
mutual visits. Write.
13 Nov 1992
Dear Mr. Vermont,
Saw your ad in The Big Apple Report. I'm not available to be your rock and roller, but am writing nevertheless. I'm an artist who is basing a series of drawings on contacts I make through personal columns. Your forthright ad captured my attention. I am hopeful you'll want to participate in this project.
Here's the deal: All my work is done through the mail. Think of this as a commission and describe how you'd like to be drawn. It can be anything: a memory, a fantasy, a dream, whatever you please. Once I'm clear about what you want and why you want it, I'll do a drawing for you.
I'll provide you with an actual-sized, color reproduction free as a gift for your participation. You'll close our correspondence with your letter of commentary; and-that's it!-our involvement ends—no strings! No gimmicks! I look forward to hearing from you.
24 Nov 1992
Your project sounds intriguing, but I don't approve of images of myself being displayed. However, I have two beautiful retired greyhounds. They are magnificent animals with a history going back as far as the first peoples. They are considerably more telepathic-i. e., ("smarter") than other dogs. The way they get treated at racetracks and greyhound farms around the U. S. is disgusting and sickening. If any living creature deserves to be portrayed and displayed or any other way given a break, it's them.
If you choose to write, I'd appreciate if you included some information about the underground music club scene (didn't find my "rock and roller").
3 Dec 1992
I was delighted to receive your interesting letter. Greyhounds? Yes, there's a tradition of animal portraits in Mughal painting. The greyhounds will give me a chance to try working in this idiom.
I know little or nothing about these dogs-their history and their telepathic powers. I do, however, have an image of a drawing based on your letter. Any information you can provide about greyhounds in general and your dogs in particular, would be helpful.
As far as the "underground music club scene," I'm a total boob. The Big Apple Report has tons of ads for places like CBGBs-I guess I could tear out some Big Apple pages and send them, but I doubt that's what you want. Any suggestions?
9 Dec 1992
I was delighted to receive your letter today.
I've never been to New York, you know. If I go down there by myself wandering around looking for my kind of music, I will probably only find trouble. I'm looking for someone compatible to hang out with and to show around up here. There's a lot to do in Vt. if you like the outdoors.
(I'm surprised you didn't ask about "strong herbs.)
As far as greyhounds, the breed is recorded in drawings inside all the Egyptian pyramids. Pharaohs kept them as pets for the sport of coursing gazelle. When Egypt was conquered by the Roman Empire, the emperors and Roman royalty took possession of the dogs. They kept them as pets for sport hunting and greyhounds were highly valued and protected. They wandered the streets at will, and possession of a greyhound by a "commoner" was a capital offense.
All the greyhounds in the U. S. today are supposedly descended from one outstanding dog in Britain in the 1850s. (I don't believe it.) Too many States allow greyhound racing which is a sleazy business. The dogs are overbred in an attempt to find one outstanding racer. They're confined in crates with muzzles. For a kennel with 60-some dogs, there is typically one trainer. Most greyhounds don't make it through more than 2 years of racing, at which time they are killed. Maybe .1% of them gets adopted as pets or kept for breeding. They're not that easy to adopt. They're totally uncivilized and wacky from living in a box and it takes a little patience to live with them until they calm down.
My involvement with greyhounds began in 1984 when a friend who worked at the track dropped a dog on my doorstep. That was Kenneth. He worked out, so I got Ms. Piggy. Those two have since passed away due to natural causes, and now I have Ardie (male) and Acorn (spayed female).
I have an idea for a drawing. Done in the style of the pyramid drawings, it would have the evil pharaoh from hell, with a couple of bitches tied down, producing a never-ending stream of greyhounds which march to a track, go around once and are clubbed and thrown into a huge pile of dead greyhounds by soldiers.
Disgusting, huh? But it would make a statement.
15 Dec 1992
The image you present for your drawing is complex, interesting, and do-able. I don't think it's "disgusting"-more "frightening," I'd say. Yes, it certainly does make a statement.
Couple of questions: How did you learn about the history of greyhounds? I am quite impressed! I am also impressed by how well you write.
I assume that your concern about and advocacy for greyhounds rests in some identification with them. If this is correct, it would help to deepen my feeling for the concept we're developing if you could provide some connections between greyhounds (symbol) and yourself.
Okay-you called my attention to it-what about "strong herbs"?
I'm getting the picture that your take on the world is that it's a forbidding place-not only for greyhounds. Do pipe dreams afford refuge from a troublesome reality? Are our lives a kind of mindless race with occasional ganja relief?
Dec 19, 1992
You certainly are an insightful and intelligent person. I like the way you analyze things.
Do I view the world as a forbidding place? You betcha! And I have the scars to prove it. The markers in my life are sudden unprovoked violence. I have come to believe strongly in one's responsibility for their actions, maintaining my own personal integrity and turning disadvantage around. "The storm that brings harm also make fertile." (Patti Smith, Arista Records, 1978.) That's why I like screaming rock and roll. It's a relief to let out my rage non-violently. Strong herbs? My long-time companion, Mrs. Jones, and myself have reached a friendly, mutually beneficial arrangement in which we both behave.
25 Dec 1992
With your most recent letter, you certainly became more of a mystery-what episodes of sudden unprovoked violence have left their markers? Who is Mrs. Jones? What is the nature of your "friendly, mutually beneficial arrangement"? I ask because, in order to draw you successfully, I really need to see the world through your eyes.
Hey, Max! I'm a dog lover, too. In addition to the nightmarish drawing we're developing, I can imagine a very straightforward portrayal of an idealized greyhound in profile in a verdant field-the Green Mountains in the distance. Sort of a Mughal-style heaven for poor doggies who have been relentlessly exploited.
2 Jan 1993
What is "Mughal" art? Artistically, I'm close to illiterate. I can recognize fine workmanship and admire Classical sculpture but anything else, I don't really understand.
I'm not sure you really want to see the world through my eyes. But since you asked...start with the drawing on the other side of this page. (See Figure 1). Okay, now this isn't something anybody was ever truthful with me about. I didn't know who my real mom was until a year after dad died. If he was still alive, I would shoot him 30 or 200 times. I was brought up in an atmosphere of lies, denial, abuse and fear. OD'd on smack when I was 14. Got thrown out of the house when I was 16. As much as I hate to admit it, it was the US Marine Corps where I finally learned something about personal responsibility and self-discipline. In the meantime, I got a lot bigger. Now I'm big and tough and scary. Nobody messes with me. Started working for myself and it's not a hand-to-mouth life any more. However, I don't have a full deck. The only people I can really get along with and understand are people who are just as freaked as me, and we're not the most stable folks around. I have used the classifieds several times locally to try to meet someone, without success. I do better in person, which isn't saying much. I was married from 83-85 and then involved with someone else until 1990. I broke up with her because she had too many other boyfriends. The whole thing got very ugly. I got stabbed.
Mrs. Jones is the addict in each of us. Since I value remaining in control, the only drugs I use are marijuana and tobacco, but I use plenty of these (I hope you're not a Republican US attorney). No booze, no blow, no smack or anything else. Mrs. Jones doesn't ravage my body (cause I won't let her). In return, I use every opportunity possible to show the government line is crap. I don't believe people are better off with drugs but I do believe that any person has an absolute right to do anything they want to themselves and only become liable if their actions injure another person or property. Not to carry on, but a certain percentage of people will use drugs whether they're legal or not and criminalizing the way someone thinks is the stuff horror novels are made of.
Drawings. That's what this is supposed to be about. Let me clarify my theme. A mural, very detailed and busy, of a perverse pharaoh watching the dogs race. Out back are the dead ones. Meanwhile, soldiers are brutalizing the Israelites, forcing farmers to pay homage with their grain and maybe using catapults to launch rock attacks on smaller, weaker nations.
This letter probably sounds depressing. Actually, me and Ardie and Acorn are pretty contented. We all have it better now than it's ever been and it just keep getting better. I found some screaming rock and roll in Northvale, NH and decided against visiting NY. I'd miss the dogs, they'd miss me, and I would find trouble.
5 Jan 1993
Let's begin by answering your question. Mughal art is a style of painting that was perfected by an imperial dynasty on the Indian subcontinent circa 1300-1700. The paintings are characterized by their flattened perspectives, miniature scale and use of pattern-often in the form of architectural ornamentation. The paintings-which typically celebrate imperial power-always have a strong narrative element, a quality that I find especially valuable for my work. You might find it interesting to get hold of a few books on Indian art at a good bookstore or library.
What you wrote about yourself in your most recent letter helped me to begin to place you in a context-to get more of a sense of who you are. In particular, I'm beginning to understand what the image of the pharaoh and his greyhounds means to you. I'm puzzled, though, by the family tree. If I decode it correctly, it seems to contain a truth that was too terrible for you to put into words: that your father committed incest with four of his children-one of whom was your mother. As I puzzled over the family tree, I got very confused-I couldn't quite believe what your drawing seemed to be telling me. Your anger, your sense of vulnerability and your need for self-protection all seem to stem from such a secret.
Up until now, I've thought of you as concealed. But, now, that perception is giving way to the insight that being brought up "in an atmosphere of lies, denial, abuse and fear" must have made the task of achieving a sense of identity enormously difficult. To me, it is tantalizing, fascinating and hopeful that you've finally allowed a glimpse of the "real" you. Slowly, mystery man comes into the light!
Drawings—you said that's what this is supposed to be about. Strictly speaking, though, what we're doing is portraiture-which means that my job is to represent you. This does not have to be a literal representation. You could be a greyhound in the same way that your father could be a wicked pharaoh.
While I'm perfectly willing to draw anything you want, my sense of this process is that we're not there yet. I suspect that there are going to be more revisions as we think this through together. It's okay! There's no rush and I find our correspondence absorbing.
20 Jan 1993
Yeah, you got the drawing right. Dear old dad committed incest with 4 daughters, the first of which was my mother.
Bizarre, huh? This is hardly enough to make me blink. I could go on with tales of the old fart's arrogance and viciousness and fits of drunken rage and self-righteousness and denial. But it would sound like whining. I just wonder what it was like for him to see me every day. (Probably very confusing-he was my natural father, told himself he wasn't, then intimidated everyone into a scheme to produce a fake birth certificate with his and his wife's name on it. No wonder he hated me so much.)
Enough of that. So, Dartmouth College is a sort of stuffy, rich Republican Ivy League college, but they have a great bookstore. Which had not one single word containing "Mughal" in their computer or art dictionaries???
That's OK. You can draw me as a greyhound. I'm proof people look like their dogs. Same long nose, big muscles, no fat. If there was reincarnation, I would come back as a dog just like Ardie. Since I don't believe in reincarnation, and I'm sure no angel, what was that dog that guarded the gates of hell and made sure nobody got out? That's the job I want. I'd be a natural for it. This might be an easier way to incorporate outrage over greyhounds.
25 Jan 1993
Your letter...it made me feel like an ocean voyager-an explorer who, after a perilous journey, sights land. I felt an enormous need to provide you comfort. No one can take your past away-not even you; but I will contrive the most beautiful drawing for you. I want it to have the beckoning quality of a lighthouse beam that will guide you safely home.
The dog from hell is named Cerberus. There's no listing for him in Bullfinch's Mythology, but I'll do further research. I'm sure it will lead to some startling imagery. As for the Mughals, it's amazing that the Dartmouth College bookstore had nothing. But, given their stuffy, rich Republicanism (Is there any other kind?), we shouldn't be too surprised! As you can see, I've enclosed some Xeroxes from Stuart Cary Welch's, Imperial Mughal Painting.
P.S. Last night-actually, this morning-I awoke at 4:30. For the next hour and a half (what else is a sane person to do?), I began to consider just how I perceive myself in our letters-how I strive to be a consciousness, to offer myself as a mirror in which you can see yourself. Not just any mirror, though. A mirror that clarifies what it reflects. I've re-read your letters and there's been a rapid and unmistakable movement-like an arrow speeding towards a bull's eye. So "pharaoh from hell" becomes your detestable father. Your anger which you offer as part of your character begins to sound more like a perfectly understandable response to a life that was confusing, unpredictable and violent. But—getting back to my function-me as mirror-what is absorbing you is not ME-it is YOU! I am reflecting you back to yourself through my perception. And the art that we will create is emblematic of this process.
2 Feb 1993
Save your comfort for humanity in general. My life has been mild in comparison to billions of others. And I have the strength to control my feelings, recognize them and direct them in a useful way that also happens to subvert the system that perpetuates abusive behavior.
Wasn't Cerberus (in Greek mythology) a 9 headed dog? To me, heaven and hell are the same place-one's soul. If you're good, it's heaven. But if you're bad, then the full implications of your behavior become glaringly apparent and inescapable and that's hell. I was brought up a good Catholic. By their dogma, I am an abomination and eternally damned. By receiving sacraments (and I've had them all), I'm double-damned. Somewhere in that mess ought to be qualifications to be Cerberus.
I don't pretend to understand spiritual matters but have a theory based on similarities between different religions. I call it the Church of God the Indifferent. It has a spiritual force responsible for creation that then let things be. This spiritual force is present everywhere, all the time. Souls are aware of the force even if the body isn't. Whether one chooses to embrace this force or reject it determines whether they become part of it upon release from their worldly limitations. This is simply my personal hypothesis developed to tie together the believable fragments of an unbelievable world. Ancient and "primitive" peoples are immeasurably more spiritual than 20th Century Americans. I'd be a lot more likely to believe that Hercules took Cerberus out for a walk than that Pat Robertson has a direct line to God. I'm getting that Mughal book. (The Dartmouth bookstore managed to order a copy.) I like the two-dimensionality of it. It's sort of like the lack of depth encourages the viewer to interact with the drawing and fill in the missing dimensions in his own perception. (If that makes sense.) No two people would see the same drawing the same way, and it becomes personal.
Next day-I'm not usually so concerned with spiritual matters. I have more earthly problems, but these theories/beliefs form the basis for a lot of my behavior. When one rejects this spiritual force, one becomes alienated and alone in their own perverse existence ("Hell"). They become aware of the behavior by which they rejected the force. I want my dad to want everything just the way he had it on earth, only, now, with an awareness of his badness. Cerberus is "real." Wanting to escape from the existence he's created, my father's stopped by one of his own creations-something so abominable and terrifying that he would rather spend eternity in Hell than face it.
New subject-I really like this correspondence a lot. It's very safe. That's why I've told you more than I ever told anyone. And learned (am learning) a lot about myself in the process. You have a pleasant way of drawing stuff out. You should tell me more about yourself. I think this Cerberus might be a very successful drawing. I also think a nice, peaceful, pastoral Mughal drawing of greyhounds frolicking in tall grass would help offset the terror of the other one.
20 Feb 1993
I guess the place I'd like to start is with your gentle inquiry for more information about me. Among the many odd features of this correspondence is the fact that so much of it is about you and so little (in one sense) is about me. I'm here, of course, in much the same way perfume scents a room after the woman leaves.
The simplest way of describing myself is to say that I'm an artist who believes that creativity has not only to do with art, but with how we live our lives. In one of its aspects, this personal column project is a manifestation of this belief. In the ten years I've been working on "Hidden America," the project has undergone many transformations. For now, I'm quite satisfied with the form it's taking and with what it's designed to achieve-not merely a drawing, but an understanding of what that drawing represents. These letters and my aura of invisibility are designed to create a kind of theater in which you can play out aspects of yourself in order to achieve a greater understanding of who you are. I'm beginning to think we need to simplify the concept for your drawing and go with either the nightmare vision or the greyhounds happily romping. Having both of these depictions in one drawing would weaken the overall impact, don't you think?
2 Mar 1993
Imperial Mughal Painting arrived the other day. I like! Nice realistic paintings with lots of detail. I've only had a chance to thumb through it but Plate 15 has a greyhound in a classic greyhound stance. Resting but ready to spring up and go.
I know now that my father was weak and a coward, but that appeared to me, the child, as overpowering strength. It was overpowering physical strength that beat me and the rest of the family. I submitted and did whatever it took to get by until sometime about my 13th birthday when I just said, fuck it, I'm gone, I'll do anything I want and you can't stop me. So, he had me thrown in reform school. All that did was make me decide never to get thrown in jail again. But beating him up made that time worth it.
I'm undecided but the concept of heaven and hell exists in many cultures. So there should be a guardian of the underworld to keep those assholes where they belong and I want the job. I find peace and relaxation and beauty very uncomfortable. With 3 heads, 3 sets of eyes and ears and teeth and a spiked tail and a greyhound body-no problem. Nobody would get by me. Hopefully they would try often, to keep me busy and my talent sharp. I would reign over the wastelands between the plains of heaven and the abyss of hell. Wastelands of mountains and canyons and howling winds and sub-zero temperatures and scorching heat and poison rocks and deadly plants and me running an endless patrol to catch and return escapees from the underworld. That would be heaven to me. For companionship and assistance, I want a large, extremely temperamental raven who could help spot and lead me to intruders. And I wouldn't mind having a resident flock of vultures to clean up after me. The only other terrestrial creatures would be the bugs, spiders and worms and scorpions and stuff. Can't forget the quicksand and the tar pits. I'd be right in my element and feel quite comfortable there, especially knowing that what I could have got down in the ditch (the abyss of Hell) would have been much worse. Also, the sky would be a murky brown from the smoke and soot pouring out of holes in the ground. In the brief clear periods, the sun and sky would be the color of dried blood and the night sky would be the Northern Lights only a million times brighter and lots of close range comets that flash by like floodlights.
So how does that fantasy sound? I must sort of believe in heaven and hell in order to have such a vivid fantasy. If I were given my choice of where and how to spend eternity, that would be it.
9 Mar 1993
Your letter moved me to tears. What you wrote about being the guard dog of hell-well, I can't define "Truth," but I can recognize it. It is excruciatingly beautiful, a tangible mystery; and when I beheld the beauty you described with such authority, it was as if I was racing over the dark plane of the Underworld alongside you.
Any drawing I do will be a disservice to the power of your vision, but what you want and why you want it is quite clear now; and I can begin my other work.
16 Mar 1993
What a roundabout way to come up with a theme. Sorry to sound so self-righteous.
Anyhow, I'm gonna be way too busy here shortly to be thinking about stuff like drawings. My busy season is coming up and I get like a greyhound chasing a lure when I'm working, focused on my goals to the point of tunnel vision.
12 Jun 1993
This is often the most difficult part-saying good-bye. With you, I find it especially difficult because you've led me to new insights about my work and, to put it quite simply, because I like you so much.
Your drawing is atypical in several respects: it is the largest in the "Hidden America" series; it took the longest; and it is, by far, the most technically accomplished. All of these things happened because I was impelled by the poetic intensity of your vision.
As far as what you dictated, I've managed to include just about all of it. I've condensed the raven and vultures into one bird and have eliminated the canyons, day and night sky and flashing comets. A drawing has to create its own reality; and, once I got going, those elements just didn't fit. Yet, overall, I think I've managed to capture the beauty and horror of your vision. I hope you like it and look forward to your comments.
One other thing-although I have no immediate plans to seek publication for this work, a book does seem to be a natural outcome of this drawing project. If I change all names in in order to camouflage your identity, would you consent to your letters being published?
Well, Max, we didn't rock and roll, but we made some beautiful music, haven't we?
I wish you all the best.
25 June 1993
If we were face to face, I'd be speechless. Fortunately I won't look dumb this way. You certainly are an extremely gifted artist. I am awe struck. The picture arrived Tue. eve, I looked at it for about 15 seconds and had to put it away. It was too overwhelmingly intense. It came back out this morning & I've been checking it out off and on all day. I like it a lot. It's the first picture of me I ever have liked. I believe you have transformed an abstract kind of vision into a genuine piece of art. You've captured the essence of my thoughts and displayed them in a form that can be seen and felt, with nothing lost in the translation. You're okay, Alice, you've shown me things I never would have seen and this work of art will be a great inspiration.
So, if you want it to be good-bye, well, good-bye. Somehow I get the feeling it might not be.
If any of my letters are worth publishing, I am a.k.a. A. M. deBlunt, main guy at the Smokin' Bamboo Cannabis Factory, and that is how Outta Sight publishes my occasional contributions.
PS: Here's a pic of the newest member of the Smoking' Bamboo Greyhound Club, Aquarius (after a song). Arrived here 11 days ago. 2 years old. Pretty smart.
You can view the resulting artwork (featured in the previous issue of Eclectica) by clicking here.