The Sharpest Stake

The Sharpest Stake

This movie “Only Lovers Left Alive” is pretty good, maybe even great. There’s certainly worse ways to spend a couple hours than gazing upon Orlando and Loki. But it’s sticking with me not because of its artistic merits, but because I might seriously consider taking the bargain of being “turned,” as the more conscientious vampires put it. 

Probably for the past ten years or so, and certainly for the last four or five, I’ve been in a mild panic that I’m missing out on a lot of really good stuff. Of course these days FOMO is a widespread phenomenon, primarily because social media has made us keenly aware of when others are at better parties, or better restaurants, or better concerts. But my case is not like that, exactly; my anxiety is that I won’t have enough time to make it through all of Henry James’s novels. 

Which is what Eve, the Tilda Swinton character in “Only Lovers,” does not seem to have a problem with. She has had many hundreds of years to read pretty much everything. And she seems to have kept every volume, in precarious stacks around her bed. (The best compliment I’ve received in a long time came from the person with whom I saw the movie. He said that the set design for the apartments – Adam, the male vampire, lives surrounded by guitars and vinyl records – reminded him of my place.) Seeing all those books, and knowing they would not go unread, I thought I just might sign up for those hundreds of years of undeadness. I could still see most of the bands I want to see after dark, and maybe go to museums during extended evening hours in the winter. The real problem, of course, would be no making photographs in the daylight. Would it be possible to do “night for day” instead of “day for night?” 

Obviously, it’s a bit more complicated than that. In his New Yorker review of the movie, Anthony Lane asked, “Why do vampires not die of boredom? Is time not the sharpest stake in the heart?” And that’s what I felt was lacking in “Only Lovers” – the existential ache. Eve seemed just fine with eternity, and Adam’s main beef was with unappreciative zombies (humans). I think “Groundhog Day” (is everyone pretty much now agreeing that it’s a masterpiece?) did a better job on that. 

But so back to the FOMO, or my version of it anyway. It’s sorta killing me. Like, a few months ago my friend Brad Zellar asks if I’ve ever read William Maxwell’s fiction. I knew the name only because of Maxwell’s reputation as an editor. And I immediately read So Long, See You Tomorrow and I’m not only floored by the book (which is seriously a stripped-down Swann’s Way for the Midwest) but wondering how in the hell I didn’t know of this guy’s work when he was born (and had set the novel) about 50 miles from my hometown in central Illinois. Maxwell even mentions the rail line that was the basis of my MFA thesis project, for chrissake. It’s embarrassing. And now I must read every bit of Maxwell. And The Ambassadors gets buried even further in the stack.

And it just goes on and on. It was only last year that I heard Eric Dolphy’s Out To Lunch, and a few months ago that I stumbled upon Sam Rivers’s Extensions and Dimensions. Unquestionable masterpieces. A recent New Yorker brought Sasha-Frere Jones’s piece on William Basinski and now The Disintegration Loops is all I can think about. So long, Dolphy and Rivers, see you tomorrow.

The consolation is that my FOMO isn’t really truly killing me. The flip side of kicking your own ass for not knowing of this stuff is the thrill of knowing that there are mountains of records, books, photographs, poems, paintings – all just sitting there waiting. Patiently. Like Whitman, “I am mad for it to be in contact with me,” and it’s on balance a good madness.

So the point of my contributions to this blog (which will probably comprise the bulk of the postings, but certainly not all; I’ll be bugging lots of friends and allies – perhaps you? – to chime in) will be to not keep all this madness to myself. I’ve been blessed that so many brilliant people have turned me on to brilliant things, and I’d like to keep passing that along. And, as I wade through all this, I’m trying to make some connections between things (generally involving making photographs in some way, and generally moreso than in this essay) that I’d like to share. So that anyone reading can help me kick the tires and figure out what’s what. Let’s start kicking.