Wednesday, February 15, 2012

You Don't Need Their Permission Anymore, Part 1

The final collapse of American popular culture-
Nicki Minaj at the Grammy Awards

I hadn't time to fully process Whitney Houston's death when I first posted on it. I knew it marked a major turning point in my own life and in that of the nation, but I wasn't quite sure why. I'm still working on it, but the event seems to grow in my mind.

First, the obvious: Whitney's death came on the eve of the Grammy Awards, which is in no way a mere coincidence. I've my own feelings on this conjunction, other people their own as well. But following on the heels of Madonna's Pax Romana imperialist ritual at the Super Bowl and Nicki Minaj's equally grotesque tribute to The Exorcist (a film and novel that I've come to see as the apologia of a psychotic priest after the rape, torture and murder of an adolescent child of indeterminate gender) on Sunday, how can we escape the departure of a performer who didn't need the vulgar distractions of pseudo-occult ritual to hypnotize the entire world?

Equally despicable and depressing were the flurry of tweets from the media-brainwashed ditz-brigades of America, gleefully declaring they'd "let Chris Brown beat me any time." The fact that Brown is not only still a star but a bigger star than ever tells you pretty much all you need to know about where we stand in the 21st Century, with all of our technology and social media bullshit.

But the message is clear-- spectacle and manufactured outrage are what will be sold now. True talent is too hard to package, too hard to control. With the battery of electronic effects these singers are drenched in now, they don't really need to know how to sing at all anymore. Just ask Madonna.

And so the death of Whitney Houston-- the greatest singer of her generation-- acts as the milestone for this dark, cold new age.

Whitney in happier times, Robyn Crawford on right

The exact truth behind Whitney's relationship with Robyn Crawford still seems to be radioactive, with the press only covering claims made by British gay militant Peter Tatchell (reduced to recycling made-up quotes attributed to Jaz Coleman back in the 80s before Whitney died) that Whitney's sham marriage to Bobby Brown was the beginning of her long, ugly downfall. For her part, Crawford wrote a heart-rending open letter that detailed her history with Whitney without addressing the exact nature of their relationship.

But the public record is crystal clear- Whitney started going off the rails when she married Brown and went off the deep end when Crawford departed her life in 2000. How ironic that professions of bisexuality --real or (mostly) imagined-- are essentially a prerequisite for today's new pop stars like Nicki Minaj.

Happy now? Persephone in the Underworld
But that's only part of the story. Whitney's other problem was that she wasn't "real." She was too perfect, too beautiful, too talented, too flawless. In the militant late 80s, she was known as "Whitey Houston." She was seen as music for export, the "Prom Queen of Soul," not street, not credible. Many saw her marriage to Brown not only as a way to establish her straight credentials, but to establish her black credentials. I don't think anyone ever realized how far it would go.

I tuned it all out. My interest in Whitney Houston had less to do with her music or career and more to do with a specific moment in time. But I always recognized her incredible gifts and believed- and I still believe-- in redemption. I still believe in the power of the work to overcome the kind of struggles Whitney Houston faced, that brought her so low.

I believed until the very end that one day she would walk away from other people's expectations and retake control of her life and rediscover the gifts that stunned the world in the 80s.

I believed in Act Three.

Demeter Rising: the elemental Tina Turner

I saw Tina Turner- who I cite as an avatar of Demeter in The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll-- as an example for Whitney, who I saw as Persephone (with Brown as a particularly malevolent Hades and cocaine as the pomegranate seeds). Tina Turner became too "white" for the militants in the late 60s, as hard as that is to believe. So rather than submit to the passing fads of the day, she stuck to what she knew and what she felt.

After leaving the abusive Ike, Tina relocated to Europe (where she remains a superstar of the first order) and later reconquered America with one of the most amazing storybook comebacks in pop history. But there would be no escape for Whitney-- what the world saw and fell in love with was some kind of woundedness, a vulnerability, despite the hardass bitch image she projected on reality TV.

Persephone, in other words.

But Tina Turner made her comeback in another America, another world. Not the America of the shattered attention span and cheap cynicism. Not the America where "transgression" is embarrassingly mainstream. Not the America in which an Internet connection is like a Harvard PhD; it instantly confers on its owner ultimate authority. An America in which everyone becomes an authority simply by claiming to be so and then petulantly demands that their authority be recognized. An America that demands the world be its mirror.

Tina Turner's America that wasn't that much different, mind you, but it was still an America in which certain things still mattered; talent, experience, paid dues, authenticity, knowledge. Not to everyone, mind you, but to the right people. Tina paid her dues and paid them hard, and people responded to that. That kind of thing used to matter. Not anymore.

The last weekend-- a symbolic rebirth on the Saco River, 1984

Whitney Houston appeared in my life as an anomaly. My response to her was visceral, probably hormonal, and was based in the fact that she had one of the most powerful voices I have ever heard and was astonishingly beautiful to boot. In a parade of instantly forgettable music video-- which was inescapable in the mid-80s, it was playing everywhere you went-- she stood out. But as I said before there was this signal. I realize now it wasn't necessarily coming from her, though I now realize she was certainly part of it.

But this was a time when I was kicking furiously at the doors of consciousness and discovering that Synchronicity wasn't just a disappointingly commercial album from The Police. It was a unsettlingly interactive force that seemed to correspond with all of the weirdness of my early life (which some people would call "paranormal" but I never did back then) and tied into all of the mind-expanding and mystical totems I was exploring at the time.

It's funny that Whitney Houston-- the mainstreamiest of the mainstream-- was the anomaly in all of this insanity. But she was mezzo like my mom and looked like an idealized version of my high school girlfriend (who I met at a Clash concert, of all places), so a mixture of the two was certain to be potent in my new life. This would all come back when Whitney died two days after I posted on Max Ernst, who kicked my ass and kicked it hard at the same exact point in time.

Two other things happened to me, in the midst of all that ferment; I discovered the occult (the Paranormal) and conspiracy (the Parapolitical). The first wandered into a den of iniquity my friends and I were renting at the foot of the New Jersey Skylands in the form of a Deadhead, who was an esoteric dilettante in the very best possible way. To him all of the various magical modalities were equally valid, equally interchangeable. It was all one big magickal candy store.

He'd introduce me to a host of new concepts and street-level magi, hiding in the margins of the Jersey hinterlands. He'd even attempt to initiate me as a warlock in the woods (I'm still stunned how he built a full-tilt stone altar literally overnight) in the next town over from where Whitney Houston lived for 20 years, though I must say my reaction was more bemusement and anticlimax than transcendence.

Conspiracy would come in the form of another friend who did way too much acid in high school but chose to listen to The Residents and Captain Beefheart than The Dead. He was also a Subgenii and almost terminally paranoid, but in an extremely cheerful way (he'd regale you with stories of how the government would one day just stop sending food and fuel to suburbs like Ledgewood and make it sound like a two priests and a rabbi joke). He was a hell of a storyteller and could decode the hidden agenda behind every news story. His methodology was contagious and stuck for life.

A lot of other people in our circle thought these two were just vaguely amusing weirdos, but I recognized that these were guys who spent all their time thinking. And their pharmaceutical adventures taught them new ways to think and maybe even turned on new synapses to think with.

I wouldn't quite realize it, but I subconsciously recognized that most other people didn't know how to think, and didn't want to. Even those people in the media or politics or the academy. They simply learned thought-replacement techniques, something you'll see everywhere if you know how to look for them.

But where I sit I see a situation in which everyone who's supposed to be responsible, who's supposed to minding the store, has not only failed us all and failed us all badly but is essentially out there masturbating in public, so to speak. Who are any of them to tell me how to think about the Paranormal or the Parapolitical?

If you look you'll find that those who do not truly know how to think are those who are the most eager to discourage others to truly think. If you stop and think about it, you'll see how these people have perfected this nearly-simian technique of having you beg for their permission to think a certain way. That they have perfected these apelike signals to discourage independent thought, thinking outside of their tiny little boxes.

It's by no means limited to those in quote-unquote authority. Just as often, it's these ridiculous assclowns who set themselves up as authority, without having any accomplishments or credentials. Without having done anything authoritative, in other words.

It's time to knock these motherfuckers off their pedestals and knock them off hard.