Monday, June 02, 2008

Brenda Ueland and Eef Barzelay and me 

Tengo una semana de haber vuelto a San Francisco, después de tres en España. No tengo claro si fue un evento en particular o la combinación de lo que ha ocurrido desde una semana o dos antes de marcharme, pero sin duda, siento que ha habido un cambio profundo en mi persona. Repentinamente me encuentro más optimista, con más energía, más positivo, más sintonizado... más alegre. Nada parece molestarme. Me siento afortunado. Más que afortunado, casi bendecido. Siento que todo está conectado. Trato de determinar si han sido las personas que he conocido, los viejos amigos con los que he reconectado, los libros que he leído, los eventos a los que he asistido, el cambio de dieta, las borracheras con absenta... o si es simplemente, citando a la canción que está al final de esta nota, que no me siento entumecido. Que me siento vivo.
I've been back in San Francisco for about one week now, after three in Spain. I'm not sure if it was one event in particular or the combination of everything that's happened since a week or two before I left, but without a doubt, I feel there's been a profound change in my person. Suddenly I find myself more optimistic, with more energy, more positive, more "in synch"... happier. Nothing seems to upset me. I feel lucky. More than lucky, almost blessed. I feel everything's connected. I'm trying to determine if it's the people I've met, the old friends I've reconnected with, the books I've read, the events I've attended, the change in diet, the few nights of plentiful absinthe consumption... or if it is simply, quoting the song at the end of this post, that I'm not feeling numb. That I feel alive.
Cuando estaba en Brooklyn en marzo visitamos una tienda de libros, y hubo uno que insistía en colocarse delante mío en diferentes partes de la tienda. "Si quieres escribir", se titulaba. Al principio pensaba, sí, quiero, gracias, pero luego hablamos. Luego de su insistencia en conseguir mi atención, lo tomé, lo hojée, lo compré... y lo olvidé. El día que partía a España buscaba libros para el viaje y lo encontré. Algunas de las cosas descritas en la contraportada resonaban con una larga conversación que tuve el día anterior con una nueva amiga, así que me lo llevé. Antes de aterrizar en España ya lo había leído, y sentía que ya había cambiado mi vida. Principalmente notas y consejos recopilados por una mujer llamada Brenda Ueland en los años 30s para sus estudiantes de escritura, son en realidad consejos de vida, aplicables a cualquier disciplina o tarea que abordamos con fervor. Muchos pasajes parecían extensiones de tópicos que habíamos conversado el día anterior, como tener la paciencia necesaria para saber estar en un estado de inactividad productiva que dé lugar a momentos de creatividad espontánea, o reconcer que si nos permitimos satisfacer antes los deseos provenientes de "mero entusiasmo", nuestra vida se enriquece y encontramos la energía y el tiempo para hacer las tareas necesarias para la vida diaria. El libro responde de una manera más clara y más útil la pregunta "¿Qué es arte?" que los miles de libros y ensayos a través de la historia que se fijan explícitamente ese propósito en el título. Y sus orígenes y consecuencias. Me ayudó también a entender como nunca antes a Blake y a van Gogh y a Beethoven y a los grandes autores rusos. (Quizás fue coincidencia, pero cuando leí que un verdadero artista realmente puede ver las estrellas de diferentes colores, miré por la ventanilla del avión y por primera vez pude ver el chorro de aire que dejaba en el cielo el avión en el que viajaba.) Me voy a atrever a resumir una de las grandes enseñanzas que he recibido de la maestra Ueland, que quizás corrija después, cuando vuelva a leer el libro: el arte es un genuino sentimiento de amor o entusiasmo por algo, y el deseo immediato y honesto de compartir esa sensación. De ese modo--y supongo que la mayor parte de las personas que lean esto se reírán, y estoy bien con eso--muchas de las notas que subo a este blog son "arte". Porque la mayoría las subo sin pensarlo mucho, cuando me invade la necesidad de compartir algo que me enstusiasma. Y quizás por eso tengo docenas, si no es que centenas ya, de notas tomadas que nunca publico. Porque pierden esa "inmediatez". Pero sean "arte" o no, sé que al menos yo me sentiré mejor con cada nota que termine y comparta, porque al final, lo importante es eso: estar contento con uno mismo.
  When I was in Brooklyn in March we visited a bookstore, and there was one book that repeatedly appeared in front of me all over the store. "If You Want To Write" is its title. At first I thought, well, yes, I do, thanks, but let's talk some other time. After its insistence in drawing my attention, I grabbed it, flipped through it, bought it... and forgot about it. The day I was leaving for Spain I was going through books to take with me on the trip and it made itself present again. Some of the things written about it on the back cover resonated with a long conversation I had with a new friend the day before, so I took it with me. Before I landed in Spain I'd finished reading it, and I already felt like it had changed my life. Basically notes and advice compiled by a woman named Brenda Ueland in the 30s for the students of her writing class, they are really tips on life, applicable to any discipline or endeavor we approach with vigor. A lot of the passages seemed extensions of the topics we'd covered the day before my trip, like having the patience necessary to be in a state of productive idleness that promotes the arrival of creative impulses, or recognizing that if we allow ourselves to satisfy the desires that come forth from "mere enthusiasm", out life becomes richer and we find the energy and time to do the duties demanded by everyday life. The book answers the question "What is art?" in a clearer and more useful manner than the thousands of books and essays published over the course of history that explicitly state that purpose in their titles. And its origins and consequences. It also helped me understand, as I never had before, Blake and van Gogh and Beethoven and the great Russian authors. (Maybe it was a coincidence, but when I read that a true artist can actually see that the stars are different colors, I looked out the plane's window and for the first time could see the jetstream we were leaving in the sky.) I'm going to make a daring attempt to summarize one of the great things I learned from Ms. Ueland, and I might modify this in the future, after I've read the book again: art is the genuine feeling of love or enthusiasm over something, and the immediate and honest desire to share that feeling. In such a manner--and I assume most people who read this will laugh, and I'm OK with that--many of the notes I post to this blog are "art". Because I post most of them without thinking about them that much, when I feel overwhelmed with the need to share something I'm enthused with. And maybe that's why I have dozens, if not hundreds by now, of notes taken that never got published. Because they lose that sense of "immediacy". But whether it's art or not, I know I'll feel better with each note I finish and post, because in the end, what's important is this: to be happy with yourself.
Hablando específicamente acerca del proceso de escritura, hay un pequeño pasaje en el que habla acerca de los nobles del Renacimiento y su afición a escribir sonetos, no porque les pagaran por ello (porque no recibían compensación) ni porque les fueran a publicar (porque no se publicaban) ni para presumir que podían hacerlo, sino simplemente porque deseaban expresar su amor a una doncella, y con ello habían algunas ventajas intrínsecas: luego de escribir, el noble sabía más acerca de lo que es el amor, conocía sus propios sentimientos mejor, reconocía cuáles eran genuinos y cuáles ficticios ("literarios"), y admiraba la belleza de su idioma. En otras palabras, escribían sólo por el placer de hacerlo.
  Speaking specifically of the writing process, there's a brief passage where she talks about the noblemen of the Renaissance and their fondness of writing sonnets, not because they'd get paid to write them (they didn't) nor because they were hoping to get them published (they wouldn't), nor to show off they could write them, but simply because they wanted to express their love to a lady, and with that came some intrinsic rewards: after writing, the nobleman understood more about what love was, knew his own feelings better, recognized which ones were real and which were bogus ("literary"), and admired the beauty of his language. In other words, they wrote for the sole pleasure of doing it.
Ya no sé cuántas conversaciones tuve en España que me remitían a pasajes de este librito de 160 páginas. Si aunamos a la lectura de este libro el haber conocido a una persona excepcional que parecía no conocer límites en sus expresiones de amor y afición a compartir pese a sus recursos limitados, comencé a ver arte y amor por todas partes. Supongo que lo que sigue para mí es ver cómo dirigir esta nueva actitud y apreciación a algo productivo; reconozco que esta nueva perspectiva teñida de color de rosa no ha sido puesta a una prueba, y no quiero invocar dicho reto, pero por lo pronto debo aprovechar mi condición de afortunado para influír en mi entorno inmediato.
  I lost track of how many conversations I had in Spain that threw me back to passages of this little 160-page book. If to reading this book we add having met an exceptional person who seemed to know no limits to her expressions of love and her impulse to share despite her limited resources, I started to see love and art everywhere. I guess that what's next for me is to find how to direct this new attitude and appreciation towards something productive; I recognize this new rose-tinted persepctive has not been put to a test, nor do I want to tempt one, but for the moment I should probably make the most of my fortunate state to influence my immediate environment.
Cambiando de tema (y no, porque tiene que ver con algunas de las cosas que he escrito arriba, como la urgencia de compartir--en este caso, tanto el artista conmigo, como yo con el que lea esto), llevo casi un par de semanas sin poder dejar de escuchar a Eef Barzelay. Nunca he sido muy aficionado al género de "cantautor", pero este flaco ha logrado algo que hacía mucho no me ocurría con la música, y es ponerme la piel de gallina. Pretendo subir reseñas de sus dos discos en solitario muy pronto, pero antes de hacerlo--y reconociendo que quizás me tarde más de lo que pretendo--relataré cómo di con su música.
  Changing subject (and not, because this does have to do something with what I've written above, like the urge to share--in this case, the artist with me as a listener, and me with whoever reads this), the last couple of weeks I haven't been able to stop listening to Eef Barzelay. I've never been a big fan of the "singer-songwriter" genre, but this skinny guy has achieved something with me that hadn't happened in a long time: give me goose bumps. I expect to upload reviews of his two solo records soon, but before I do--and realizing it may take longer than I intend to--I'll talk about how I became acquainted with his music.
Corría el mes de febrero de 2007, y después de más de un año de vivir ahí, apenas estaba descubriendo la prolífica escena musical valenciana. En dos o tres semanas había ido a casi tantos conciertos como en todo el año anterior. Un viernes a finales de mes se presentaba en solitario un tal Eef Barzelay, cantante de una banda llamada Clem Snide; yo no había escuchado nada de ninguno de los dos antes. Josh me dijo que le gustaba y quizás iría; al final ese día él no fue y yo, además de estar un poco saciado con tantos conciertos recientes, estaba trabajando tarde. Una semana o dos más tarde alguien que no conocía (que después conocería, y más tarde desconocería) me dijo que había sido un concierto inolvidable: "[Eef] set the place on fire with his extraordinary voice, savoir faire and mise en scene." No mucho tiempo después iba en un tren de Valencia a Madrid, escuchando en el iPod uno de los discos de Rockdelux con "lo mejor de 2006", y salió un tema que no recordaba haber escuchado antes. Primero me llamó la atención la letra y cómo contrastaba con el tipo de canción; un tema claramente 'folky' (un cantante con una guitarra), pero temáticamente hip-hopero: relataba, en primer persona, las vivencias de una grupi de raperos famosos. Siempre me ha encandilado que alguien pueda expresar mucho con pocas palabras, y en esta canción describía en cuatro estrofas no solamente una conmovedora historia personal, sino que daba en el clavo acerca de por qué el hip-hop difícilmente puede considerarse una genuina expresión de arte (porque busca impresionar, no compartir de una manera desinteresada) y resumía la triste realidad del modus operandi del mundo en el que vivimos. Pero unos instantes después la interpretación relegaba todo lo demás a segundo plano; ya no me importaba acerca de qué estaba cantando, sino cómo lo estaba haciendo. Querría decir que en ese momento me volví fan--y probablemente sea cierto--pero no me atrevo, porque, aunque volví a recurrir al tema muchas veces después, también es cierto que no busqué más material suyo. Sin embargo, esa canción era suficiente para dejar en claro que se trataba de un talento excepcional: tan sobresaliente como compositor como cantante.
  It was February 2007, and after more than a year living there, I was only then discovering the prolific music scene in Valencia. In two or three weeks I'd probably gone to more than concerts than in all the previous year. On a Friday before the month came to a close some guy named Eef Barzelay, singer of a band called Clem Snide, was going to play in a club; I'd never heard anything of either of them previously. Josh told me he liked him (or rather, them) and might go to the show; in the end he decided not to and I, on top of being somewhat satiated with so many recent concerts, was working late. A week or two later someone I did not know (who I would later meet, and even later have a falling out with) told me it had been an unforgettable performance: "[Eef] set the place on fire with his extraordinary voice, savoir faire and mise en scene." Not too long after that I was on a train from Valencia to Madrid, listening to one of the compilations put together by the Rockdelux magazine with "the best of 2006", and this song I didn't recall having heard before came on. The first thing that drew my attention were the lyrics and how they seemed so out of place with the type of song; a clearly 'folky' sound (a guy and a guitar), but singing about hip hop: he described, in first person, the experiences of a hip hop groupie. It's always thrilled me when someone can express something with few words, and in this song four verses were enough to not only describe a moving personal story, but nailed why hip hop can hardly be described as a genuine art form (because its main motive is to impress, not share unselfishly) and summed up the sad state of our world's current modus operandi. But a few instants later the interpretation moved everything to the background; I didn't care so much about what he was singing about, but rather, how he was doing it. I'd like to say that that was the moment I became a fan--and it may be true--but I don't dare, because, although I re-listened to the song many times afterwards, it's also true I never lookd up more of his stuff. Nevertheless, that song was enough to make it clear his was an exceptional talent: outstanding as a lyricist, composer and singer.

Eef Barzelay - The Ballad of Bitter Honey
Eef Barzelay - The Ballad of Bitter Honey

The Ballad of Bitter Honey
by Eef Barzelay

That was my ass you saw bouncing next to Ludacris
It was only on screen for a second, but it was kinda hard to miss
And all those other hoochie skanks, they ain't got shit on me
And one of Nelly's bodyguards, he totally agrees

My mother cleaned the homes of wealthy people till the day
She died and so to California I did make my way
I tried to finish nursing school, I really wanted to you see
But all those broken bodies well they really got to me

They all think I'm stupid, I can see it in their eyes
But I know what's inside their hearts, I penetrate their lies
Sometimes it gets me crazy, but I keep my feelings hidden
Cause I know deep inside they're only frightened little kids

If I press my breasts together, and arch my back just so
I can ask for pretty things and they will not say no
No one should have to suffer, no one should go without
Don't hate me cause I know just what this world is all about
Don't hate me cause I know just what this world is all about

Mayo de 2008: Voy en el mismo tren de Valencia a Madrid. En Valencia pasé al iPod los discos de Rockdelux con "lo mejor de 2007" que me compró mi hermano en Barcelona entre enero y marzo. Comienza a ecucharse un tema y después de una estrofa algo pesimista la estrofa culmina diciendo "No me recomforta saber que las cosas podrían estar peores". Aún y cuando hay pocas frases que podrían estar más alejadas de mi presente actitud y sentir hacia la vida, hay algo en cómo lo dice que me entusiasma. Me acerco al iPod y veo su nombre: Eef Barzelay. Curiosamente, en mí parece tener el efecto contrario a lo que está expresando: luego de la sucesión de eventos del último mes he estado en un estado cercano a la euforia casi permanentemente, y escuchar a Eef parece exponenciarlo.
  May 2008: I'm on the same train from Valencia to Madrid. In Valencia I loaded my iPod with "the best of 2007" Rockdelux compilation CDs that my brother bought for me in Barcelona between January and March. A song starts playing and after a somewhat pessimistic first verse the singer wraps things up by stating in the chorus that "I can't find comfort in the fact that it could be worse". Even though there are few expressions that could be farther from my current attitude and general feeling towards life, there's something about the way he says it that thrills me. I squint at the iPod and see his name: Eef Barzelay. Oddly enough, in me he's having the opposite effect of what he's saying: after the succession of events in the last few weeks I'm in an almost permanent state of euphoria, and listening to Eef seems to magnify it.

Eef Barzelay - Could Be Worse
Eef Barzelay - Could Be Worse

Could Be Worse
by Eef Barzelay

Show me the bright side and I'll look 'til my eyes catch fire
And please forgive me if I leave you feeling uninspired
My only pleasure is to make that bubble burst
I can't find comfort in the fact that it could be worse

Don't tell me there's so many things for which I should be glad
And I'm truly sorry if I made your party guests feel bad
Could be I think too much or maybe I'm just cursed
I can't find comfort in the fact that it could be worse

Llego a Madrid y descubro que el segundo disco en solitario de Eef salió en Europa antes de finalizar el año pasado, pero en Estados Unidos saldrá hasta mediados de junio... en CD, porque, *casulamente* (¿?), justo esa semana se puso a la venta en iTunes como descarga digital. Lo compro (junto con el primero), y encuentro que la versión estadounidense contiene al menos un par de "bonus tracks" que no vienen en la edición europea. Uno de ellos es un tema que *creo* que grabó con sus compañeros de Clem Snide para una película llamada "Rocket Science", que Eef se encargó de musicalizar.
  I arrive to Madrid and find out Eef's second solo album was released in Europe before last year was over, but won't be available in the US until mid-June... on CD, because, *coincidentially* (?), it was made available as a digital download on iTunes that same week. I buy it (along with the first), and find that the US version has a couple of "bonus tracks" that are not included in the European edition. One is a song that I *think* he recorded with his buddies from Clem Snide for a movie called "Rocket Science", which Eef wrote the score for.

Eef Barzelay - I Love the Unknown
Eef Barzelay - I Love the Unknown

I Love the Unknown
by Eef Barzelay

She asked him, "Why can we not be together?
Why is it we have to part?
Why do you leave with a stranger,
When I am revealing my heart?"

"Because I love the unknown
I love the unknown"
He said he loves the unknown

They asked him, "Hey, where is this bus going?"
And he said, "Well, I'm really not sure."
"Well, then how will you know where to get off?"
And he said, "The place with the most allure!"

"Because I love the unknown
I love the unknown"
He said he loves the unknown

And then his father got him a job and it paid well
But every day it felt the same
Well, his father was really heartbroken
when he quit and changed his last name

"Because I love the unknown
I love the unknown"
He said he loves the unknown

The doctor asked him what he was afraid of;
Just what was he running from?
And he said, "It's not a fear of success, nor of closeness...
but of going through life feeling numb."

"That's why I love the unknown
Love the unknown"
He said he loves the unknown

Y en este momento encuentro que no sé qué más escribir. A pesar de que alguna parte de mi persona--el "hábito"--quiere dedicar unos minutos a buscar una idea que amarre todo lo expresado antes y así conlcuír contundentemente, otra voz me recomforta y me dice que no es necesario; que ya se he derramado suficiente por hoy.
  And at this moment I find I don't know what else to write. A part of me--let's call it "habit"--wants to dedicate a few minutes to find an idea that will tie up everything I've written above conclusively, but another voice comforts me and tells me it's not necessary; that enough spilling has been done for one day.

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Excellent rant, Jess. Even the "non-closing" closing had a feeling of being the rigth thing to write, not to impress, but just to address an immediate and honest desire to... stop writing. :)
Jesse, no pude más que sentir envidia al leerte. Busqué en internet y parece que la Casa del Libro tiene el de Brenda. Correré a comprarlo; ojalá así de fácil encuentre yo también esa honestidad y ganas de escribir, por el sólo hecho de sentir la necesidad. Mientras te leía escuchaba a Eef y me encantó. Buenas noches, buena suerte! Finny
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