Omni on the World Trade Center
1. I Led The Blind October 2001
2. Historic Heatwaves November 2001
3. Chicks with Bricks December 2001
4. Two Become None December 2001
I Led The Blind
are helping to define our age, much as they did in the Baroque era.
Then they were containers, now they are lids.
Then they rose in bounteous Russ Meyer-scaled cup sizes,
literal crowns of architectural and cultural achievement, now they
hover, pallid, limpid, saucer-flat and inert, and no matter what
their intended use -- Olympic, Millennial, or Bio-- they are
almost without exception regarded as stillborn white elephants,
or exhausted, juiced, gravity-defying rinds.
As a tonic it's worth it to contemplate the great leap into
space made by the many many domes of the Baroque era. Domes
exist in a state of technical hardness and self-support
but also an aesthetic softness and roundness. The sacred
and the profane could both exist in those soft-hard heights.
Baroque minds were ripe with the reasons and the means to
build domes and they gleefully did. Perhaps it's that those
reasons and that glee are so distant that I have difficulty
judging the Baroque. It can actually bounce off my eyes.
Why is that? I mean, in many ways we are still very much
children of the Baroque; In the thirst of our culture for
celebrity and for ingenuity and in general anything novel;
In our professed reverence for all men but our manifested infatuation with
the very rich; as well as in the creeped-out self-awareness
that allows appreciation of a 'meta' bag of tricks including revival,
pastiche, kitsch and irony.
So in my confessional Gothic Guilt I'll heed my
fear-factor challenge of understanding the
nuts and bolts of what scholar Wylie Sypher calls the
"spillover" of Baroque "puffiness" and the Baroque space's
"explosion into infinity" in his tome 'The Four Stages of
Renaissance Style' (1955, Doubleday, New York). Being a
hyper-catagorizer myself, I find much to like in said volume.
I admit the learning curve is notably curvaceous. If I end
up on my intellectual ass, well, you'll be there to
pick me up right?
Not to mention the rewards that wait for us all in heaven of course.
Civilization invented Baroque when we got tired of trying to reach God with our yearning Gothic antennas
and Renaissance study sessions. Baroque was humankind's heart-on-the-sleave effort to coax God
even for a moment down into an earthly boudoir --church as banquet hall as ballroom as bedchamber
in a tour-de-chutzpah impersonation of heaven hungover. We tinkered with it as one might tinker
to optimize the contents of a dangerously-stuffed spiritual piñata. Did it fail?
In the intervening few centuries we've pretty much stopped springing (or pretending to spring) from opulence
to transcendence. Opulence now is simply and solely its own reward. And in tandem with that: poverty is
certainly understood now as a punishment, rather than a state-of-being, Godly in its own right. If I look
around for the home of Baroque today, I think architecture has been forgone. Sure there've been
park pavilions and state capitols that wear the lingerie, but a honeypot for the
Great Force? Hardly.
The most convincing gestures of late actually sneak by in the form of pop songs.
These songs are 3 or 4 minutes long, they assert themselves for a couple of months
and fade disbelieving in their own reverberating doppler dust. When the ample ambition
of the more imperious songs is deflated by transitory success, it seems to sting
the song. Yet the success of a couple of months perfectly matches the achievement in a 4 minute song.
We will not celebrate pop songs like we do Blake or Donne or Milton. When a song writer strives for that
level of horsepower and fails and understands the failure on some level, all in under 4 minutes,
that is in itself an interesting and worthy exercise. Next to a church that it took 30 years or 3
centuries to build these are miniaturized and immature. Yet next to a "fake" baroque park pavillion,
their honesty and failure is splendidly Baroque. Everywhere is the Baroque sense of "puffiness",
"spillover" and "explosion". Inner dialogues communicate anxiety, unworthiness. Yet these
are popular songs, as well-known, as fecund briefly in their day, as Baroque domes were.
So there is a successful communion of some sort. There is revealing depth in the superficiality;
and like so much bullshit,
it fertilizes. Undo a button. Prepare for the meeting of God and Creation,
regardless of respective chicken or egg status. I'll never
claim these songs are all good but a contact high is still a high,
and bad lyrics can be a good trip.
'Feelings'? Feelingful. 'Time in a Bottle'?
Love the Sinner (Dylan), Hate the Sin (everyone else).
'Hotel California'?, 'Gangsta's Paradise'? The low spark of absinthe
keg parties. 'Like a Prayer'? Hey I said bad lyrics!
'Purple Rain'? 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'? 'Theme from Mahogany'?
'Survivor'? 'My Sacrifice'? That's more
like it! And what about 'Total Eclipse of the Heart'?
Metaphoric bottles and bridges are grand, but the people these days
are convinced the treadmill is "better for ya", and so they seek the
type of mentally lean workout that artists like Alanis can provide.
Yet metaphor hangs pictures with heavier gauge wire.
For instance in 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' --a potent almost-cliché of
inside meeting outside, as in 'mind's eye'-- "the Heart" is a different sort of
heart than is found in more recent vulgar 'soft rock' filibusters
like "My Heart Will Go On", theme song from The Titanic. There clearly
the singer's "Heart" actually does "Go On": it jumps off the prow
of her tongue during another of her interminable wails and paddles
madly for the safety of the iceberg. That "Heart" has no
metaphoric legs at all.
And further down the timeline? Perhaps the Forties, Fifties and Sixties
were a more Gothic time for pop music. Music was an act of faith. Music made
linear progression within a fixed dimension
(yes especially The Beatles). People who were likely to hear
the music would be likely to believe the music. After
the 'Renaissance', perhaps the Velvets or Marvin Gaye for questionable example, this was no
longer true. People could tell "good" from "bad", rock criticism and
journalism spread the word, and most music, good or bad, was
formed under the self-conscious pressure that it couldn't please
everyone anymore; that of those who would hear it, many might be
only potential friends; and some, potential enemies. Audiences
learned to cultivate music, to change it and be part of its
evolution. There is a struggle with these new vertical dimensions
in much of the music to which I refer, good and bad -- it forms
the stuff of music now. There is no going back. Nostalgia is
absolutely impotent. Faith is still possible but it's different.
The jump from 'Magic Town' to 'Marquee Moon' can't be reversed.
What's that you say? The Sixties wasn't all "tra lah lah"? No it
wasn't. But there were believers, there were the devout. 'Helter
Skelter' inspired Manson. 'Marquee Moon' inspired squat. 'Invisible
Touch' inspired parody.
And what of 'Total Eclipse of the Heart'? An eclipse: massive, cosmic, cold, and silent;
and also dependent on the angle of view. If you are outside the cone of effect, elsewhere
in the solar system or on earth, it just doesn't register. The eclipse is transitory, yet
physical; not a trick of light or mind, not accidental, yet still a puzzle of position and
timing. There is the essential third body, there are the different subjective views of the
event: these things have possibilities, literary, scientific, whatever. A total eclipse of
the heart suggests the heart in two lights, being overridden in either case: The heart as
sun-like source is blocked out, or the heart as earthbound receiver falls into shadow. Or
both. These essentials do have interesting parallels in Renaissance then Mannerist, then
Baroque art and science, where perspective and multiple-perspectives were tangible
innovations of the age.
Which whooshes us to the early Eighties:'Total Eclipse of the Heart',
authored by Jim Steinman, is a number one song. Maybe you knew or
guessed that Jim Steinman has a great sense of humour. I had no idea.
Then last week I saw him talking about writing Meatloaf's 1978 'Bat Out
of Hell' album and I could start to put a face and moreover a mind to
all those songs. I'd always understood the romance-of-everything bombast
wherein the inhabitants of the Brill Building, Portuguese fortune tellers,
the burghers of fin-de-siècle Vienna, and the Norse Gods themselves
are all drafted in a war against teen celibacy. But in interview he proffered
the unexpected: it all was a joke! He didn't actually say
"it was a joke" but he clearly revealed for anyone one who knew the material:
"hey, it was a bit of a lark, some fun, a send-up".
And I had never seen it that way. I mean obviously it was a joke, it was
intentionally and absurdly over-overwrought. But to think that it was all
a droll deftly concocted gentlemen's sport --that was new.
Like any good joke, you can't just say: "this is a joke" any more than you can say
"I am a liar" to a computer. But great jokes don't need to be got anyway --
it's quite beside the point (think Johnson's Glass House). I now feel silly that
I took Steinman at face value, but mostly I feel relieved that he's not serious.
So when Steinman wrote 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' I now assume
it was as much in monumental jest as anything else he did. Call
it an "extreme black light song" to go along with "extreme car sex",
"extreme motorcycle crash" and "extreme sex-on-the-beach" songs
--a mini-multitude of amberized adolescent rites. It was an extreme
comeback vehicle (as everything is with Steinman) for Bonnie Tyler,
who gave voice and more to it in 1983.
Turnaround, Every now and then I get a little bit lonely and you're never
Turnaround, Every now and then I get a little bit tired of listening to
the sound of my tears
Turnaround, Every now and then I get a little bit nervous that the best
of all the years have gone by
Turnaround, Every now and then I get a little bit terrified and then I see
the look in your eyes
Turnaround bright eyes, Every now and then I fall apart
Turnaround bright eyes, Every now and then I fall apart
Bright eyes piques the interest: could this be about an expired or expiring pet? That would be
full-on Steinman. I mean don't we need a really good pet death song for the ages?
And I need you now tonight
And I need you more than ever
And if you'll only hold me tight
We'll be holding on forever
And we'll only be making it right
Cause we'll never be wrong together
We can take it to the end of the line
Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time
I don't know what to do and I'm always in the dark
We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
I really need you tonight
Forever's gonna start tonight
Forever's gonna start tonight
Flashback 1980: Steinman convenes his fact-checkers who read only Freud,
Greek tragedies and the Post. They resolve to get in touch with his feminine
(or should we say feminesque?) side --after all, it is the
eighties. He can wish the wish but
can he wash the wash? As you've noted, he has problems as a woman, choosing
in his sexual disorientation, to play it safe. The result is a sexual vacuum
of sorts (not half as much fun as it sounds), though he presciently casts the
Velcro®-lunged Bonnie Tyler to somehow redeem the mess. Tough gig: Steinman
burned-out two female vocalists (forgive the cringe-worthy term
but that's what we called 'em back then, rather than "Ellen Folley" and
"Karla Devito") on a little duet a couple of years before. So Bonnie has
really got to work it: this thing obviously ain't going to sing itself.
As farmyard jobs go this one is like trying to hang a big jangling ankh
on Phil Spector. Hell I'd prefer to geld the Tasmanian Devil.
1983: The year this song was inescapable is the year Johnson's triumphal
Baroque AT&T pediment was being scooped out and buffed up. Johnson came
from Cleveland, made it big in NYC. Steinman was born in NYC but had his
masterwork released by Cleveland entrepreneur Steve Popovich on Cleveland
International records. These mortals and their backstage passes...
Once upon a time I was falling in love
But now I'm only falling apart
Nothing I can do
A total eclipse of the heart
Once upon a time there was light in my life
But now there's only love in the dark
Nothing I can say
A total eclipse of the heart
And finally redemption. It took nerve for him to wait that long. Mind you it's the name
of the song too so no one's going to miss it are they? And sometimes a good title is
the main thing (I think Glass House again). And the music itself is good, it's practically tidal.
And Bonnie? She steps up like a yearbook editor with a lousy poem: she
she frames it, she gives it its moment, she delivers it to its people. In effect it's
a "total" victory for her and for her dignity. And then
--I'm not sure... was that the whole idea? Did she cast the preening Steinman
in her pantomime? Steinman/Tyler. God/Man. Chicken/Egg. Baroque ambivalence/ Baroque rapture.
O dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon,
Irrecoverably dark, total eclipse
Without all hope of day!
O first created Beam, and thou great Word,
"Let there be light, and light was over all,"
Why am I thus bereav'd thy prime decree?
The sun to me is dark
And silent as the moon,
When she deserts the night,
Hid in her vacant interlunar cave.
Since light so necessary is to life,
And almost life itself, if it be true
That light is in the soul,
She all in every part, why was the sight
To such a tender ball as th' eye confin'd?
So obvious and so easy to be quench'd,
And not as feeling through all parts diffus'd,
That she might look at will through every pore?
Then had I not been thus exil'd from light,
As in the land of darkness, yet in light,
To live a life half dead, a living death,
And buried; but O yet more miserable!
Myself my sepulchre, a moving grave;
In the words of Samson, from John Milton, 1671.
But then again I never thought twice about that song. Its self-conscious
solemnity laid claim to a "totalness" that I never saw as anything more
than "total" narcissism. Let alone the end of the world. Please.
Show me the way. Go your own way. Follow Me Follow You.
Sorry, I'm stalling. I'm lost of course. We have to backtrack because I'm leading, but I'm blind.
Sorry just shuffle backwards, because the edge is right here.
If you read more slowly maybe I've got a chance to figure out the end.
I'm trying to backtrack in order to mend things. So many things need mending.
Maybe you've noticed that I've told this story backwards?
The story of Jim Steinman and Bonnie Tyler and what they did. It seemed like the least
I could do. But it's the most I can do.
If you (heart) NY, you know the total eclipse.
Historic Heatwaves November 2001
Omni on the World Trade Center