10.22.2010

A Radiohead Oracle - In Rainbows, OK Computer, and the Tarot

Radiohead (Small)


When Radiohead released In Rainbows almost exactly 3 years ago, Puddlegum posted an article picking apart the album's hidden meanings. A series of binary number clues seemed to hint that it was inexplicably linked to their third album, OK Computer, and Puddlegum asserted that if you shuffled the two albums together, the result was a 22-song playlist that was nearly seamless, both musically and thematically.

Naturally whenever I notice anything with 22 parts, I instantly begin looking for associations with the Tarot's 22 trump cards. (Occultists have been playing this game since before the days of even Aleister Crowley and Eliphas Levi.) So, playlist assembled, I simply laid the cards numerically alongside the songs, hoping a few of them might comment interestingly on each other.

What I saw in there really sort of blew my mind.

In many cases, the title alone comments interestingly on the card's meanings. In nearly all cases, the lyrics are uncannily apt. For example, the 22nd card, The Fool (which is usually numbered zero, and so in this case was saved for the very end), features a man stepping toward a precipice with a tiny dog nipping at his heels. The corresponding song, "The Tourist" (ha!) opens with the following lyrics:

It barks at no-one else but me,
Like it's seen a ghost.
I guess it's seen the sparks a-flowin,
No-one else would know.
Hey man, slow down, slow down,
Idiot, slow down, slow down.

And so forth! There are a few which are harder to connect than the others, but as I looked at each song I grew more and more excited, seeing an incredible opportunity to use the Tarot as a symbolic key to unlock hidden doors into these wonderful albums (and vice versa, as the lyrics offer a unique, distinctly dystopian commentary to the the deck's already rather apocalyptic narrative). What you will find linked below is the playlist, exactly as presented by Puddlegum in 2007, with a sample lyric and links to individual posts for each song. The posts contain the full songs, plus any additional insight I might have. Construct your own playlist, listen along, and let me know what you hear.

1. Airbag (OK Computer) - The Magician

"In an interstellar burst
I am back to save the universe..."


2. 15 Step (In Rainbows) - The High Priestess

"Did the cat get your tongue?
Did your string come undone?
One by one
One by one
It comes to us all
It's as soft as your pillow..."


3. Paranoid Android (OK Computer) - The Empress

"Please could you stop the noise, I'm trying to get some rest
From all the unborn chicken voices in my head..."


4. Bodysnatchers (In Rainbows) - The Emperor

"I have no idea what you are talking about
Your mouth moves only with someone's hand up your ass..."


5. Subterranean Homesick Alien (OK Computer) - The Hierophant

"I'd show them the stars
And the meaning of life
They'd shut me away
But I'd be all right
All right
I'm just uptight..."


6. Nude (In Rainbows) - The Lovers

"You'll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking...

She stands stark naked and she beckons you to bed
Don't go, you'll only want to come back again..."


7. Exit Music [For A Film] (OK Computer) - The Chariot

"Wake from your sleep
The drying of your tears
Today we escape
We escape..."


8. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi (In Rainbows) - Strength

"I'd be crazy not to follow
Follow where you lead..."


9. Let Down (OK Computer) - The Hermit

"Transport, motorways and tramlines
Starting and then stopping
Taking off and landing
The emptiest of feelings
Disappointed people, clinging on to bottles
And when it comes it's so, so, disappointing..."


10. All I Need (In Rainbows) - The Wheel of Fortune

"I am the next act waiting in the wings
I am an animal trapped in your hot car
I am all the days that you choose to ignore..."


11. Karma Police (OK Computer) - Justice

"This is what you get
This is what you get
This is what you get when you mess with us..."


12. Fitter Happier (OK Computer) - The Hanged Man

"Like a cat
tied to a stick,
that's driven into
frozen winter shit..."


13. Faust Arp (In Rainbows) - Death

"Wakey wakey rise and shine
It's on again off again on again
Watch me fall like dominoes
In pretty patterns..."


14. Electioneering (OK Computer) - Temperance

"When I go forwards you go backwards
and somewhere we will meet."


15. Reckoner (In Rainbows) - The Devil
"You are not to blame for
Bittersweet distractor
Dare not speak it's name
Dedicated to all human beings..."


16. Climbing Up The Walls (OK Computer) - The Tower

"And either way you turn
I'll be there
Open up your skull
I'll be there
Climbing up the walls..."


17. House Of Cards (In Rainbows) - The Star

"No matter how it ends
No matter how it starts

Forget about your house of cards
And I'll do mine..."


18. No Surprises (OK Computer) - The Moon

"No alarms and no surprises,
Silence, silence..."


19. Jigsaw Falling Into Place (In Rainbows) - The Sun

"Wish away the nightmare
You got the light you can feel it on your back
You got the light you can feel it on your back
Your jigsaw falling into place..."


20. Lucky (OK Computer) - The Last Judgment

"Pull me out of the aircrash,
pull me out of the wake,
'cause I'm your superhero.
We are standing on the edge."


21. Videotape (In Rainbows) - The World

"This is my way of saying goodbye
Because I can't do it face to face
I'm talking to you after it's too late
From my videotape..."


22. The Tourist (OK Computer) - The Fool

"It barks at no-one else but me,
Like it's seen a ghost.
I guess it's seen the sparks a-flowin,
No-one else would know.
Hey man, slow down, slow down,
Idiot, slow down, slow down."


Photobucket

10.21.2010

The Fool - "The Tourist" by Radiohead

It barks at no-one else but me,
Like it's seen a ghost.
I guess it's seen the sparks a-flowin,
No-one else would know.
Hey man, slow down, slow down,
Idiot, slow down, slow down.

Sometimes I get overcharged,
That's when you see sparks.
They ask me where the hell I'm going?
At a 1000 feet per second,

Hey man, slow down, slow down,
Idiot, slow down, slow down.

Hey man, slow down, slow down,
Idiot, slow down, slow down.

The World - "Videotape" by Radiohead

[Mainly speaks for itself. The videotape is a physical record of an earthly life -- much as Blake imagined the books of Urizen in his 1974 creation myth.]

When I'm at the pearly gates
This will be on my videotape, my videotape
Mephistopheles is just beneath
and he's reaching up to grab me

This is one for the good days
and i have it all here
In red, blue, green
Red, blue, green

You are my center
When i spin away
Out of control on videotape
On videotape
On videotape
On videotape

This is my way of saying goodbye
Because I can't do it face to face
I'm talking to you after it's too late
From my videotape

No matter what happens now
I won't be afraid
Because I know today has been the most perfect day I've ever seen.

The Sun - "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" by Radiohead

[The perils of inner- and outer-space voyaging have ended. The traveler has gained the power to "wish away the nightmare."]

Just as you take my hand
Just as you write my number down
Just as the drinks arrive
Just as they play your favourite song
As your bad day disappears
No longer wound up like a spring
Before you've had too much
Come back in focus again

The walls are bending shape
You got a cheshire cat grin
All blurring into one
This place is on a mission
Before the night owl
Before the animal noises
Closed circuit cameras
Before you comatose

Before you run away from me
Before you're lost between the notes
The beat goes round and round
The beat goes round and round
I never really got there
I just pretended that I had
Words are blunt instruments
Words are sawn off shotguns

Come on and let it out
Come on and let it out
Come on and let it out
Come on and let it out

Before you run away from me
Before you're lost between the notes
Just as you take the mic
Just as you dance, dance, dance

A jigsaw falling into place
So there is nothing to explain
You eye each other as you pass
She looks back and you look back
Not just once
And not just twice
Wish away your nightmare
Wish away the nightmare
You got the light you can feel it on your back
You got the light you can feel it on your back
Your jigsaw falling into place.

The Last Judgment - "Lucky" by Radiohead

[A wave of relief optimism arrives as life ends and the weary traveler approaches his destination.]

I'm on a roll,
I'm on a roll this time.
I feel my luck could change.

Kill me sarah,
kill me again with love.
It's gonna be a glorious day.

Pull me out of the aircrash,
pull me out of the lake,
'cause I'm your superhero.
We are standing on the edge.

The head of state
has called for me by name
but I don't have time for him.
It's gonna be a glorious day!
I feel my luck could change.

Pull me out of the aircrash,
pull me out of the Wake,
'cause I'm your superhero.
We are standing on the edge.

We are standing on the edge.

The Moon - "No Surprises" by Radiohead

[The entire song is a beautiful, hopeful illusion barely masking a cold, unfriendly reality. And yet in the darkness, hope is incredibly valuable for its own sake, however delusional it may seem.]

A heart that's full up like a landfill,
a job that slowly kills you,
bruises that won't heal.
You look so tired-unhappy,
bring down the government,
they don't, they don't speak for us.
I'll take a quiet life,
a handshake of carbon monoxide,

with no alarms and no surprises,
no alarms and no surprises,
no alarms and no surprises,
Silence, silence.

This is my final fit,
my final bellyache

with no alarms and no surprises,
no alarms and no surprises,
no alarms and no surprises please.

Such a pretty house
and such a pretty garden.

No alarms and no surprises (get me outta here),
no alarms and no surprises (get me outta here),
no alarms and no surprises, please.

The Star - "House of Cards" by Radiohead

[Beyond the the ruins of Tower, the escapee discovers the illimitable pleasure of autonomy.]

I don't want to be your friend
I just want to be your lover
No matter how it ends
No matter how it starts

Forget about your house of cards
And I'll do mine
Forget about your house of cards
And I'll do mine

Fall off the table,
Get swept under
Denial, denial

The infrastructure will collapse
Voltage spikes
Throw your keys in the bowl
Kiss your husband goodnight

Forget about your house of cards
And I'll do mine
Forget about your house of cards
And I'll do mine

Fall off the table,
And get swept under

Denial, denial
Denial, denial
Your ears should be burning
Denial, denial
Your ears should be burning
Denial, denial

The Tower - "Climbing Up the Walls" by Radiohead

I am the key to the lock in your house
That keeps your toys in the basement
And if you get too far inside
You'll only see my reflection

It's always best when the covers up
I am the pick in the ice
Do not cry out or hit the alarm
You know we're friends till we die

And either way you turn
I'll be there
Open up your skull
I'll be there
Climbing up the walls

It's always best when the light is off
It's always better on the outside
Fifteen blows to the back of your head
Fifteen blows to your mind

So lock the kids up safe tonight
Shut the eyes in the cupboard
I've got the smell of a local man
Who's got the loneliest fear

That either way you turn
I'll be there
Open up your skull
I'll be there

Climbing up the walls
Climbing up the walls
Climbing up the walls

The Devil - "Reckoner" by Radiohead

Reckoner
You can't take it with yer
Dancing for your pleasure

You are not to blame for
Bittersweet distractor
Dare not speak it's name
Dedicated to all human beings

Because we separate like ripples on a blank shore
In rainbows
Because we separate like ripples on a blank shoree

Reckoner
Take me with yer
Dedicated to all human beings

Temperance - "Electioneering" by Radiohead

[A twisted view of the equanimity and compromise traditionally depicted in the card. The angel is a cold, almost political agent merely doing its job.]

I will stop, I will stop at nothing.
Say the right things when electioneering
I trust I can rely on your vote.

When I go forwards you go backwards
and somewhere we will meet.
When I go forwards you go backwards
and somewhere we will meet.
Ha ha ha

Riot shields, voodoo economics,
it's just business, cattle prods and the I.M.F.
I trust I can rely on your vote.

When I go forwards you go backwards
and somewhere we will meet.
When I go forwards you go backwards
and somewhere we will meet.

Death - "Faust Arp" by Radiohead

Wakey wakey rise and shine
It's on again off again on again
Watch me fall like dominoes
In pretty patterns
Fingers in the blackbird pie
I'm tingling tingling tingling
It's what you feel not what you ought to
What you ought to,
Reasonable and sensible
Dead from the neck up
I guess I'm stuffed, stuffed, stuffed
We thought you had it in you
But no, no, no
For no real reason

Squeeze the tubes and empty bottles
I'll take a bow, take a bow, take a bow
It's what you feel not what you ought to
What you ought to,
The elephant that's in the room
Is tumbling, tumbling, tumbling
And duplicate and triplicate and
Plastic bags and
Duplicate and triplicate
Dead from the neck up
I guess I'm stuffed, stuffed, stuffed
We thought you had it in you
But no, no, no
Exactly where do you get off?
Is enough
Is enough
I love you but enough is enough,
Enough of that stuff
There's no real reason
You've got a handful of feathers
You're gonna melt into butter

The Hanged Man - "Fitter, Happier" by Radiohead

Fitter, happier, more productive,
comfortable,
not drinking too much,
regular exercise at the gym
(3 days a week),
getting on better with your associate employee contemporaries ,
at ease,
eating well
(no more microwave dinners and saturated fats),
a patient better driver,
a safer car
(baby smiling in back seat),
sleeping well
(no bad dreams),
no paranoia,
careful to all animals
(never washing spiders down the plughole),
keep in contact with old friends
(enjoy a drink now and then),
will frequently check credit at
(moral) bank (hole in the wall),
favors for favors,
fond but not in love,
charity standing orders,
on Sundays ring road supermarket
(no killing moths or putting boiling water on the ants),
car wash
(also on Sundays),
no longer afraid of the dark or midday shadows
nothing so ridiculously teenage and desperate,
nothing so childish - at a better pace,
slower and more calculated,
no chance of escape,
now self-employed,
concerned (but powerless),
an empowered and informed member of society
(pragmatism not idealism),
will not cry in public,
less chance of illness,
tires that grip in the wet
(shot of baby strapped in back seat),
a good memory,
still cries at a good film,
still kisses with saliva,
no longer empty and frantic
like a cat
tied to a stick,
that's driven into
frozen winter shit
(the ability to laugh at weakness),
calm,
fitter,
healthier and more productive
a pig
in a cage
on antibiotics.

Justice - "Karma Police" by Radiohead

Karma police, arrest this man
He talks in maths
He buzzes like a fridge
He's like a detuned radio

Karma police, arrest this girl
Her Hitler hairdo is making me feel ill
And we have crashed her party

This is what you get
This is what you get
This is what you get when you mess with us

Karma Police
I've given all I can
It's not enough
I've given all I can
But we're still on the payroll

This is what you get
This is what you get
This is what you get when you mess with us

For a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself
Phew, for a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself

For a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself
Phew, for a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself

Wheel of Fortune - "All I Need" by Radiohead

[A view from the hub of the wheel, the "middle of the picture." Everything is simultaneously all wrong and alright.]

I am the next act waiting in the wings
I am an animal trapped in your hot car
I am all the days that you choose to ignore

You are all I need
You are all I need
I am in the middle of your picture
Lying in the reeds

I am a moth who just wants to share your light
I'm just an insect trying to get out of the night
I only stick with you because there are no others

You are all I need
You are all I need
I am in the middle of your picture
Lying in the reeds

S'all wrong
S'alright, S'alright
S'all wrong
S'alright, S'alright, S'alright

The Hermit - "Let Down" by Radiohead

[All I will say is that aside from the mood of this song being exactly right, it's not the first time I've seen the Hermit depicted as insectile.]

Transport, motorways and tramlines
Starting and then stopping
Taking off and landing
The emptiest of feelings
Disappointed people, clinging on to bottles
And when it comes it's so, so, disappointing

Let down and hanging around
Crushed like a bug in the ground
Let down and hanging around

Shell smashed, juices flowing
Wings twitch, legs are going
Don't get sentimental
It always ends up drivel
One day, I am gonna grow wings
A chemical reaction
Hysterical and useless
Hysterical and

Let down and hanging around
Crushed like a bug in the ground
Let down and hanging around

Let down again
Let down again
Let down

You know, you know where you are with
You know where you are with
Floor collapsing, falling, bouncing back
And one day, I am gonna grow wings
A chemical reaction (you know where you are)
Hysterical and useless (you know where you are)
Hysterical and (you know where you are)

Let down and hanging around
Crushed like a bug in the ground
Let down and hanging around

The Chariot - "Exit Music (For a Film)" by Radiohead

[The charioteer is usually thought to be the child of the two Lovers, rejecting their world and setting off on his own dangerous course through life. I can't imagine a more wrenching departure than this...]

Wake from your sleep
The drying of your tears
Today we escape
We escape

Pack and get dressed
Before your father hears us
Before all hell breaks loose

Breathe, keep breathing
Don't lose your nerve
Breathe, keep breathing
I can't do this alone

Sing us a song
A song to keep us warm
There's such a chill, such a chill

You can laugh
A spineless laugh
We hope your rules and wisdom choke you
Now we are one
In everlasting peace

We hope that you choke, that you choke
We hope that you choke, that you choke
We hope that you choke, that you choke

Strength - "Weird Fishes/Arpeggios" by Radiohead

[This is the only song in the entire playlist that seemed like a complete stretch to me, in that none of the visual elements of the card seem to match up. However, the song does seem to be about submission and surrender, which is interesting. Someone recently told me that she considered the "strength" in question to actually be beauty -- both the lion and the woman are beautiful, and recognizing each other's beauty, they discover a commonality that creates perfect peace between them.]

In the deepest ocean
The bottom of the sea
Your eyes
They turn me
Why should i stay here?
Why should i stay?
I'd be crazy not to follow
Follow where you lead

Your eyes
They turn me
Turn me on to phantoms
I follow to the edge of the earth
And fall off
Yeah, everybody leaves
If they get the chance
And this is my chance
I get eaten by the worms
And weird fishes
Picked over by the worms
And weird fishes
Weird fishes
Weird fishes

I hit the bottom
Hit the bottom and escape
I hit the bottom
Hit the bottom to escape
Escape

The Hierophant - "Subterranean Homesick Alien" by Radiohead

[Funny, I've always already imagined the title of this song to be a metaphor for Christ, and the lyrics to be evoke a distinctly post-Christian longing...]

The breath of the morning
I keep forgetting
The smell of the warm summer air

I live in a town
Where you can't smell a thing
You watch your feet
For cracks in the pavement

Up above
Aliens hover
Making home movies
For the folks back home

Of all these weird creatures
Who lock up their spirits
Drill holes in themselves
And live for their secrets

They're all uptight
Uptight...
Uptight..

I wish that they'd swoop down in a country lane
Late at night when I'm driving
Take me on board their beautiful ship
Show me the world as I'd love to see it

I'd tell all my friends
But they'd never believe
They'd think that I'd finally lost it completely

I'd show them the stars
And the meaning of life
They'd shut me away
But I'd be all right
All right..

I'm just uptight
Uptight..
Uptight..
Uptight..

The Lovers - "Nude" by Radiohead

Don't get any big ideas
they're not gonna happen
You paint yourself white
and feel up with noise
but there'll be something missing

Now that you've found it, it's gone
Now that you feel it, you don't
You've gone off the rails

So don't get any big ideas
they're not going to happen
You'll go to hell for what your dirty mind is thinking

[Sometimes Thom Yorke adds this verse when performing:]

She stands stark naked and she beckons you to bed
don't go, you'll only want to come back again


The Emperor - "Bodysnatchers" by Radiohead

[A dispatch from the jabbering puppet on the throne.]

I do not
Understand
What it is
I've done wrong
Full of holes
Check for pulse
Blink your eyes
One for yes
Two for no

I have no idea what I am talking about
I am trapped in this body and can't get out

You killed the sound
Removed backbone
A pale imitation
With the edges sawn off

I have no idea what you are talking about
Your mouth moves only with someone's hand up your ass

Has the light gone out for you?
Because the light's gone for me
It is the 21st century
It is the 21st century
It can follow you like a dog
It brought me to my knees
They got a skin and they put me in
They got a skin and they put me in
On the lines wrapped round my face
On the lines wrapped round my face
Are for anyone else to see
Are for anyone else to see

I'm a lie

I've seen it coming

The Empress - "Paranoid Android" by Radiohead

[This seems to be a very vengeful, angsty Empress, one who wishes to wrestle power back from the overreaching Emperor. Of all characters, the sensitive and earthy Empress would probably be the one most driven mad by the waste and novelty of the modern world.]

Please could you stop the noise, I'm trying to get some rest
From all the unborn chicken voices in my head
What's there? (I may be paranoid, but not an android)
What's there? (I may be paranoid, but not an android)

When I am king, you will be first against the wall
with your opinion which is of no consequence at all
What's there? (I may be paranoid, but no android)
What's there? (I may be paranoid, but no android)

Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
Kicking, squealing, gucci little piggy
You don't remember
You don't remember
Why don't you remember my name?
Off with his head, man
Off with his head, man
Why don't you remember my name? I guess he does...

Rain down, rain down
Come on rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height... height...
Rain down, rain down
Come on rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height... height...
Rain down, rain down
Come on rain down on me

That's it sir
You're leaving
The crackle of pigskin
The dust and the screaming
The yuppies networking
The panic, the vomit
The panic, the vomit
God loves his children, God loves his children, yeah!

The High Priestess - "15 Steps" by Radiohead

[The ambition and certainty of the Magician is immediately undercut by the elliptical utterances of the Priestess, which offer both mercy and severity. I don't have a special Tarot understanding of the "15 steps" -- other than that the card that's 15 steps away from her is the Star.]

How come I end up where I started
How come I end up where I went wrong
Won't take my eyes off the ball again
You reel me out and you cut the string.

How come I end up where I started
How come I end up where I went wrong
Won't take my eyes off the ball again
First you reel me out and then you cut the string

You used to be all right
What happened?
Did the cat get your tongue?
Did your string come undone?
One by one
One by one
It comes to us all
It's as soft as your pillow

You used to be all right
What happened?
Et cetera et cetera
Facts for whatever!
15 steps
Then a sheer drop

How come I end up where I started?
How come I end up where I went wrong
Won't take my eyes off the ball again
You reel me out and you cut the string.

The Magician - "Airbag" by Radiohead

In the next world war
In a jackknifed juggernaut
I am born again

In the neon sign
Scrolling up and down
I am born again

In an interstellar burst
I am back to save the universe

In a deep deep sleep of the innocent
I am born again

In a fast german car
I'm amazed that I survived
An airbag saved my life

In an interstellar burst
I am back to save the universe

In an interstellar burst
I am back to save the universe

10.04.2010

"Straight-Acting"

Judgement by Greg Erskine

This is the fourteenth installment in a series of short essays inspired by the 22 Trump cards, featuring original artwork by Greg Erskine (Click and scroll down for large version).


I met Earl late one night in 2003 when I was cruising gay chat-rooms on the Internet. Within minutes we figured out that we lived just one block away from each other -- we were typing from less than a hundred feet apart. In the spirit of adventure, he jovially invited me over for a beer. Whatever sexual strings might be attached were not discussed, so I figured I had better be prepared for nearly anything. I wrote down his address on a scrap of paper and left it on my pillow where my roommate could find it if I never turned up again. Three minutes later I was with Earl in his apartment.

He was as handsome as his photograph, a dying art in the world of online hook-ups. He was my age and seemed, in the parlance of hook-up culture, “straight-acting.” Over beers he talked to me a lot about law school and the time he spent studying abroad. He was so warm and engaging that I wasn’t alarmed in the slightest when asked if I “wanted to take some pills” with him. He was just being a good host, I reassured myself. When I demurred he merely shrugged and set to work crushing up the mystery pills with a paperweight on his desk so he could snort them. Already considering the evening’s social experiment a success but not wanting to push my luck, I yawned and made a gracious exit.

Earl and I hung out several more times in short succession, usually over drinks at a local bar. His easygoing nature made it unclear whether he was even remotely attracted to me, and naturally I was reluctant to find out otherwise, so I didn’t push it. When one of my emails and then the follow-up message I sent a few weeks later both went ignored, I figured I had my answer, along with a reminder that chance friendships have their own hyper-accelerated natural life-spans.

Not long ago I met a gentleman at a bar who was from Savannah, Georgia. “I used to know someone from Savannah,” I told him. “Maybe you know Earl?” And that’s how I found out that my old friend had been dead this whole time, nearly six years.

Earl, I learned from my new friend at the bar, came from a prestigious Savannah family for whom a gay son would have been a crushing liability. Well aware that there were eyes and ears and mouths even in New York City that, in one way or another, had connections back home, he was compelled to keep an extremely small and tidy closet. He surrounded himself with beautiful women and straight male friends, publicly dating the former whenever necessary and hiding in plain sight among the latter. Earl avoided making homosexual friends, and had only officially “come out” to one or two people in the whole world. I’d just happened to end up small-talking with one of them.

One evening in 2004, not long after he and I had met for the last time, Earl fell off the roof of an apartment building on the Lower East Side. It was one of those huge parties where people go up to the roof to smoke, and since everyone smokes, everyone is on the roof, laughing and screaming at the skyline and having the time of their over-indulgent young lives. There is drunken horseplay. In rare cases, I have heard, it is possible for a young man, even a second-year student in a prominent law program, to misjudge the true distance between two rooftops, to decide that he could easily leap from one to the other, to inadvertently cast himself into the alleyway like one more crumpled, empty wrapper.

I vividly remember a dream I once had in which my great-grandmother showed up at a family wedding, but refused to come all the way into the chapel. She paced back in forth in the foyer wringing her hands and protesting tearfully that no one had remembered to invite her. It was true, no one had, because she’d been dead for nearly a year. Upon waking up I realized that it was exactly a year ago, to the day, since I'd attended her funeral.

From that morning on, I always sort of assumed that people have a way of unconsciously keeping tabs on one another, even across unpardonable distances. During this encounter with a stranger in a crowded bar, during which our forgotten beers warmed in their bottles, I felt the subtle strings of that web winding around me again. To this stranger I was an important find -- I was proof that Earl had at least been secretly exploring, reaching out over the squalid Internet in the wee hours of the night, making contact, perhaps even having sex. I was evidence that Earl had lived, in some small way, as himself.

For me, there was only a grief gone stale before it could even be felt. Walking home that night I wondered if I’d ever remember anything about Earl except those messages I’d sent over the years, shout-outs no eyes had ever seen. Or the occasional fruitless searches on sites like Facebook -- fruitless because the person I was looking for had long since ceased to exist. It had been so easy to let it go after a few cursory attempts; to release Earl to what I assumed was a busy, illustrious life. If I’d been just a little more curious, I’d have had no trouble finding the page set up by his family to memorialize his “tragic accident.”

It’s hard not to grow bitter, reading those two words repeated over and over in comments posted years ago by people who had never known, would never know the truth. Tragic accident. As if the only the fall itself had been tragic, independent of anything leading up to it. As if some accidents could not be predicted with terrible accuracy by those in possession of more facts.

I wish I’d known them myself when it could have still mattered. But I must admit it was nice of Earl to circle back around anyway, after all this time, to let me know in his way.



Judgement by Greg Erskine




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9.10.2010

Court Portrait - Queen of Cups

Queen of Cups

Think you know yourself? Try your hand at acting, and you may be surprised at what surfaces.

I've given it up myself, mostly. There was a time when I used to find myself onstage quite often, but one night during a painful argument with a close friend I realized I had lost my ability to subjectively grasp my own emotions. As my eyes welled up tears, I caught myself thinking: Should I let the tears fall, so he sees how hurt I am? Or should I stifle them so that I seem more independent? Which would be preferable?

I became bothered by the fact that I was having these thoughts instead of actually experiencing the moment as it occurred. If I was detached enough to play director, how hurt could I really be? So I ended the argument, and I took some time off from acting.

There are people I know who make me want to do a lot more of it. I knew Amy Lee had that quality before I'd even seen her onstage -- in our few chats she struck me as being more genuinely interested in others than most actors I'd known, and more self-aware. Naturally, I assume there's a sad story behind all this. But that is what drew me to AL, the access she granted to both her joy and her sadness, the former shining just above the surface, the latter suspended just below the crust like a rich vein of oil. I've seen Medea smile lovingly with those lips, seen Nurse Ratched weep real tears from those eyes, and somehow they were just as believable as the snarling. As real as the blood.

You can imagine my pleasure in seeing this portrait of the artist as a woman confronting her own reflection, hovering on either side of terminal point where the observation threatens to switch places with her observer. On one side of the glass bright lights emanate, on the other side you see the darkness creeping in from behind. The cup, suitably enough, is just another prop; the litter of empties hints at the long day behind, the long night ahead.

This particular figure, the Queen of Cups, is often imagined to be somewhat inaccessible, gazing raptly into inner space. If she ever hopes to share the observations that lie within, she must either attempt to drag them to the surface (a task better suited to the Princess/Page of Cups), or she must lure people down into the depths where they can apprehend her vision with their own eyes. In my opinion, that is the real challenge and magic of theatre: convincing a stranger in the audience to hold his breath, suspend his disbelief, and dive (not to mention pointing him back at just the right moment, before he can panic and drown).

I don't know if I have the elemental infrastructure to spend any great amount of time exploring those reefs -- my last stab at acting commanded more introspection offstage than on. But will always love watching others try, and I love following them down to the places which they know so well, the underwater fumaroles that give off such surprising heat.



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