Notebook (imitation of life)

November 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

Afterthought on Lou: in his tribute for the LRB blog, Alex Abramovich quotes a paragraph from Jenny Offill. “I got in my car and drove around and around my stupid town, listening to it. By the time I got home, I knew that one day I would move to New York and everything would be OK. And that is more or less what happened.”

Except, of course, that it didn’t. Certainly not for me: after a career as the school weirdo, finding consolation & distantly redemptive difference in the Velvets (among other things), being battered & psychologically abused, following a winding trip through the validating halls of ‘culture’, I (one day) did the equivalent of moving to New York, & things aren’t OK. Never say never, of course, but they probably won’t ever be. Many stories from the Factory follow a particular arc: arrival from the difficulties of provincial life, among other weirdos who share similarities with you, into a fly-by-night intimacy into wh/ tenderness can never enter, except through the ironising mimetic form of the masked performance (“I’ll be your mirror/reflect what you are”); the momentary softnesses of horse or pills, the social aids of speed & coke, then burn-out. Glamour, the currency of an alternative society that had to be ruthless enough to survive in the face of conformity, was incompatible with the interior comforts of ordinary association. Even the older generation of Village types whom the Factory crowd rolled with & preyed on – Mekas & Jack Smith & Fred Neil – had their dangers, as the shattered livers & the heroin-wan face of Midge in Mad Men suggests. In some cases, the basic dregs of ordinariness can’t be sublimated or shrugged off – this is precisely the freight of the Superstar concept, in which failure, the flecks of the ordinary that dot the soul, is always implicit; you may be a star, but you still live in a filthy squat or cold-water walk-up, just like you did back in whatever midwestern town you escaped. (This, in a sense, was what distinguished Edie Sedgwick, Nico during her Factory period, & Warhol himself, from the transgender & transvestite individuals in the Superstar stable: in Candy Darling’s film performances there’s always a sense of stubborn, undissolvable corporeality.)

For Reed in the Velvets, New York is where the real trouble begins, not where it ends: where the unresolvable wager of sensation, negation, suffering, acceptance, love, redemption starts (“& I just don’t know”). In my own case, I too just don’t know. The promise of alternative life has of course become a dead letter; glamour itself, & the other sociality it promised, is professionalised, & tributes to ‘Edie’ appear annually in the mainstream style rags, alongside ensembles inaccessible to anything getting less than 30k. The only thing left is the trance of the recordings.


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