Monday, June 09, 2008

Transmission Error

I'd really like words more if the actual use of language didn't always defeat me. Every lexicon is full of surprises. Consider the fortuitous pair, chance and change. Just a bit of data drip (loose tongue; lazy arm; lost bytes) and one word turns into the other. Cage's Music of Changes, adopted a method of determining answers to compositional questions through the application of chance operations associated with the I Ching, The Book of Changes.* Paul Auster's fine novel The Music of Chance is rather more about change -- in the face of torturous routine -- than chance, while his (even better) Moon Palace is an eloquent introduction to the lattice of coincidence. ** Change, for many, carries an element of risk, a departure from the known; conservatives, by nature opponents of change, will warn of the dangers of the unknown, of taking a chance. Chance is considered unserious, too playful, just a game. Reconciling to chance, to change: Alan Price, in his soundtrack to O Lucky Man*** (the only pop song soundtrack in my canon), brilliantly changes the old hymn "What a friend we have in Jesus" to "Everybody's going through changes. No one knows what's going on. Everybody changes places, but the world still carries on."

Yarrow sticks or slapsticks: A reconciliation to chance, to change, is inherently a comic jesture, accepting that one moves forward by stumbling (rather than force, will, or a fore-known and tragic fate) something that Cage recognized with his slammed piano lid in The Music of Changes, and Auster, again'n'again with his figures extracted from lost silent movies (at his best in The Book of Illusions, methinks), and Anderson, whose salesman, Travis (Malcolm MacDowell), travels to a generic territory known only as North****, dressed himself like a silent movie figure, a straight man in a territory gone crooked. But the comic is not mindless and the tragic is certainly not always mindful. Indeed, developing an ability to entertain a complex of outcomes, an essential survival skill in a world askew, whether comically or tragically, is an intelligent strategy, and composing or writing or filming or dancing your way forward by being prepared to accept a variety of outcomes rather than rely on convention or taste or an inexhorable and tragic fate, is anything but foolish.

*I'm told that a literal translation of I Ching would be something like The Classic Text on the Simplicity, Variability, and Persistence of All the Stuff in the Universe.
**Miller (Tracey Walter), in Repo Man (Alex Cox, 1984): A lot o' people don't realize what's really going on. They view life as a bunch o' unconnected incidents 'n things. They don't realize that there's this, like, lattice o' coincidence that lays on top o' everything. Give you an example; show you what I mean: suppose you're thinkin' about a plate o' shrimp. Suddenly someone'll say, like, plate, or shrimp, or plate o' shrimp out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness.
Lindsay Anderson, 1973.
**** North, in O Lucky Man!, is a generic place, like the generic cans of Food and Drink in Repo Man.


Civic Center said...

I'm so happy you adore "O Lucky Man!" not to mention the Alan Price soundtrack. I can't recommend Gavin Lambert's biography of his friend Lindsay Anderson highly enough, by the way. Worth checking out, as is the 12-volume series, "Dance to the Music of Time," which is ALL about chance/change.

Holly A Hughes said...

Yes, kudos to you for recognizing this great soundtrack. However, I do have to quibble with one point: "The North" is not an invented territory but is a fairly well-accepted term in the UK for the counties closest to Scotland. You'll even see road signs along the motorway that point simply to The North. I've no doubt that Anderson (and/or his screenwriter David sherwin) enjoyed the mythic power of that term -- but it's not something they made up.

Nice observations about Auster as well.

Anonymous said...


The cans in Repo Man weren't exactly made up either; at that time in LA you get a can of BEER at any Ralph's Supermarket. The point of generica is not that it's made-up, but that it isn't made up, and is as real as that which is more specific, whether bearing a name brand or a precise location.