The Blue Raccoon

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Day Late and A Dollar Short: Part VI
"A peep show for poets."

"In this new opus, Blake takes as his departure Eugène Delacroix's Romantic painting, Liberty Leading The People. Delacroix's heroic image depicts the allegorical figure of Liberty as a half-draped woman wearing the traditional Phrygian cap of liberty and holding a gun in one hand and the tricolor in the other. Sodium Fox depicts a stripper from the Los Angeles club, Crazy Girls; a young woman who Blake presents as a similarly allegorical figure of freedom and confident independence. The film's terrain is one of superchurches, Wal-Marts, and war, but one that also contains the vital presence of the Sodium Fox, who might be a principle, a woman, or both." Kinz,Tillou + Feigen, catalogue.

L.A.Aphrodite: Announcement for a presentation of Blake's "Sodium Fox" as appeared on The Wit of the Staircase, August 28, 2006. The "protagonist" is a lithe, sun-burnished, stripper with breasts that look as though they were riveted to her chest.

Below: The narrator David Berman, lead for the Silver Jews, is saying round about this visual passage, set in the First Amendment Massage Parlor, "She was cross-eyed from giving too much head. She sleeps in makeup beside a mountain of clothes. Tonight, God has asked her to love me as a favor to him." Image via Kinz,Tillou + Feigen.

For a 49-second moving version of this see here.

The God depicted is the version by the aged comedian George Burns in not one but three films
, "Oh, God!" (1977) and tepid sequels, "Oh,God! Book II" (1980) and "Oh, God! You Devil" (1984)

This image is taken from the poster for the second.

Like several characters in the Blake pieces, eyes glow in comic-horror-sci-fi fashion and shoot out beams of light. This is a convention he enjoyed with obvious amusement.

A couple of book jackets make an appearance in Sodium Fox. In this sequence, the woman is dozing next to Manners Can Be Fun, part of a series of instructional texts by Munro Leaf for adolescents, first published in the 1930s and reprinted in recent years. Image below via Kinz,Tillou + Feigen.

Another is The Dictionary of Mis-Information, by Tom Burnam, considered a classic of fact-straightening and myth-busting of the era. And I gotta wonder if there's a pun--sort of--referring to Burnam the lexicographer of misunderstood knowledge and the warm, Southern-but-not-hokey story-teller voice of Berman.
The Corcoran describes narrator David Berman thus:
"A native Virginian who now lives in Nashville, Berman is a fascinating and complex figure, and the one portrait subject in the group who may be considered part of Blake’s generation. Reluctant rock star, Gen-X wiseguy, willfully isolated literary light, reformed drug addict, Southerner, Jew, patriot, and ex-guard at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Berman’s talent and influence among his contemporaries are equally matched by a desire to remain outside the public fray and the mass media’s voracious spotlight. With its prosaic, bathroom-wall style poetry, fluid streams of saturated color, and mysterious stripper-heroine, Sodium Fox is, as Blake described it, a 'peep show for poets.'"

Here in a 14-minute loop I could see Blake at his most imaginative; and of the three pieces exhibited at the Corcoran, Sodium Fox is conceived with the most cogent thread, and, one might find something like a beginning-middle-end sequence.

There is a Beat-variety auto-biography quality about the narrative. The textured sound by Charles Burke is entertaining too, and the listener tries to ascertain what is what, and underlying the entire bed are faint crackles and pops that could be a dying fire.

Blake himself described the narration, "
The imagery and language in Sodium Fox emphasize the internal simultaneity in its protagonist of high artistic standards, and more mundane fears and desires. He reminisces in fragmentary bursts about his family, about having been a suburban juvenile delinquent, and recounts the details of an alienated adult life which hasn't yet crushed his ability to long for something more.

The harmful impact of negative authority is accounted for in references to "most of the minds that could eat us", and "the rapist from "All My Children"" and then set adrift. The option of being intimidated by such tin badge authority is repeatedly mocked, most notably when Berman skewers the nerd who panics whenever his boss enters the room. Alternately, precedents set by artistic heroes such as Ed Ruscha, Joan Didion, and Barry Hannah are celebrated as they appear as members of a fantasy gang of poetic ruffians called "The Rivergate 8".

Even where the language is at its most oblique, our protagonist's sincerity in looking for something or someone worthwhile remains clear. At one point he considers the central Gen X question: "Could I be saved by something as simple as caring or not caring?" The question doesn't need to be answered outright. Once addressed directly the effects of apathy, the preferred narcotic of a generation, begin to wear off."

A random, " My silence was like that of 10 men," and sunglasses such as Blake is often pictured wearing. Star Wars X-wing fighters swoop over big white houses clinging to hills, their picture windows over looking a boat harbor. Abraham Lincoln makes a cameo, and his eyes glow and he waggles an eye brow in a knowing reference to the audience.

A town "appealed to marijuana couples and violent nerds without jobs" where the First Amendment Massage Parlor is located, and the effervescent but dark words Sodium Fox appear. My hunch is that is what Blake considered the woman's name, and I wonder if it's a flipped around version the Salty Dog cocktail.

There's an "ESP Orgy," a wall of gold records, an art gallery, a glowing form that looks like the Enron logo and reflected in sunglasses like those Blake was often pictured wearing; a nude woman with a pony tail and a, well, wondrous callipygian asset. The image below is via Kinz,Tillou + Feigen.

A joke is like the skeleton who can't drink because the liguid pours out of him. He's wearing a t-shirt with David Berman's face. It, too, has glowing eyes that shoot beams. A ouija board shows up and the platen spins with ghost energy.

Via Kinz,Tillou + Feigen.

Toward what I'd consider the end, the Sodium Fox is shown drowsing upon a beach chair, wearing furry boots, The Dictionary of Mis-Information at her side. The view pans to show the sand, surf, a pirate skull-and-crossbones towel. Blake refers to this as a "makeshift flag" that doesn't symbolize death, but a struggle and victory.

The surf rolls, and a voice, more distant, remarks, "This is going to take four or five years to describe." He promises that after the war is over, "I'll come home to you," and he sees a rainbow. A blurry point of star-pointed light brightens the horizon. There is static, and quiet, and what sounds like a cell phone ringing unanswered. The Sodium Fox is asleep, and perhaps, dreaming this video that begins again, with a skull announcing its presence.

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