Wednesday, May 28, 2008

the 1927 Victrola 2-60 Portable Phonograph

"In distinction of appearance, in completeness of equipment, and in musical performance, the new portable Victrola Number Two-Sixty is the most remarkable portable instrument ever offered to the public," so read Victor's add copy for the VV 2-60.

Victor had introduced electrical recording only two year prior, in 1925. While the older acoustically recorded records could be played on the new Orthophonic Victrolas, the newer electrical recordings had serious acoustic shortcomings when played on the older acoustic equipment. As a crossover solution, Victor introduced the Vtla # 4 soundbox, which is essentially an acoustic soundbox with a much larger diaphragm, 2 inches in diameter compared to 1 1/2 inches for the previous #2 soundbox, which played both acoustic and electric recordings remarkably well.

Unfortunately, like many Victor products of this period, the diaphragm was made from pot metal which becomes compromised as it ages, tending to crack and crumble. Not many have survived. The Victrola 2-60 had a production run of only two years with Victor records showing total shipments of 59,239 units.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Gay Marriage

I was at the LGBT Center last evening and saw the congratulatory celebration of the CA Supreme Court's historic decision (I was there to attend my San Francisco City College "AIDS in America" class). While there I too was infected with the sense of accomplishment, hope, and joy the crowd was feeling. At the same time, I asked myself the same questions I have been asking for the last number of years, Who decided that Gay Marriage was the "community's" main priority? Who decided that marriage equity is what everyone in the community wants? And most importantly, WHY DON'T WE HAVE A CURE FOR AIDS?

By seeking to be included in marriage we are buying into the a structure which elevates a specific group of people over others and gives them special rights not given to everyone. It boggles my mind that we as Queer people can not see this. Why are we not fighting for universal health care, open borders, the right to form a family anyway one chooses, guaranteed housing for everyone, guaranteed food for everyone. What ever happened to our VISION?

Too much money has been made for too long by AIDS Inc in perpetuating this pandemic. There is no profit in finding a cure or a vaccine while so much money is still being made by the AIDS industry. We who are lucky enough to have insurance or live here in "the bubble" can take our cocktails, be concerned, but basically are in denial and are living in a pseudo post-AIDS world.

Where is our ANGER?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

California Marriage

California supremes just overturned the ban on same-sex marriages. Now we shall see what happens with the marriage amendment proposal up for the November ballot which would change the state constitution declaring marriage is only between a man and a woman.

I guess there is NO hope of getting marriage itself ruled unconstitutional?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Letter to the dead

Dear Mom & Dad,

When I was a child, first becoming conscious of the world around me, it seems you did your best to shelter me from the worst of its horrors. I remember my first childhood terrors: fear of the dark, of the horrible monster which lived in my bedroom closet, of the unseen and unspeakable creatures which lived just on the other side of my bedroom windows at night. As I became older, the terrors came not from my imagination, but rather from the nightly news broadcasts you and I watched each evening: political assassinations, the growing, unceasing, daily count of the dead in Vietnam, protests in the U.S., more political assassinations, riots in the streets, shootings on college campuses, the burning of cities. It seemed like the entire world was exploding in fury and coming apart at the seams. Of course, you knew the answers to these problems. It was those people who questioned authority, those who were different, or dared to be different who were causing the problems. It was the “outside instigators” who were coming in to convince the blacks that they shouldn’t be complacent and be thankful for what they had, the Jews and Communists who were stirring up the problems. You sat in the comfort of your living room chairs and diagnosed the country’s problems each night as David and Chet told us what in the world had gone on that day. And you sheltered me from fears that these things could touch us (me). It only happened to those people, those people who didn’t follow the rules.

As each day turned into a month, each month turned into a year, seasons passed, worries, no, terrors grew within me. The war was going on and on, the death toll each night was growing. As we watched the evening news, you seemed to become angrier and angrier. Angry at those anti-war protestors, those who were burning their draft cards, those who were escaping to Canada, those who were burning the flag. I knew my day was approaching. What would I do? What could I do? Each passing year, each passing month, each passing day became a sentence of sorts, I felt I was living in a prison awaiting the final sentence to be delivered, death in a foreign jungle of which I knew little about and even less about why I would be there fighting –– except it was the “right” thing to do. Why was I so certain that death would be my fate? Because I was marked. I was different. I was one of those people you cursed about each night while watching the nightly news. I was the sissy, the boy who couldn’t throw or catch a ball in gym class, who couldn’t climb a rope, who couldn’t wrestle. It was my destiny.

In spite of this growing terror, this sense of impending doom, we were isolated from the violence we were witnessing. It was all happening on the other side of our television screen, not really effecting or touching us directly. Yes, we knew cousins who did not return home from Vietnam, or returned home missing limbs –– but they still weren’t “us.” And even when block after block of public housing and slums were burnt in Lancaster following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., it was on the other side of town, that place were we need not go. The terror in the night, the monster in my closet, outside my bedroom window was revealed as real; that shelter you tried to create to shield me was splitting at the edges from the violence, terror, and horror of the world which could not be denied. However it remained in the closet, outside the window, on the other side of the television screen; it didn’t touch us, we could no longer deny its existence.

As the terrors increased around us, I became cognizant of future terror. I was trained well for this. From my first moments in institutional life, sitting on the floor in the basement of the elementary school with my back against the wall and my head lowered and covered with my arms for air raid drills in kindergarten to the duck and cover drills which would follow I learned that the world was inherently a dangerous place. Not dangerous in a way that you could prepare yourself for, or see coming – this danger, this terror would just fall from the sky and in an instant turn our bright sunny world into dark fire and brimstone. I was also becoming aware of a growing threat to the environment, mostly from the media. I wasn’t yet aware of Silent Spring, or able to connect the dots – you dismissed those concerns as foolish fantasy, harmless, na├»ve.

The real terror, the persistent daily concrete threat I faced each and every day paled in comparison to the imagined future and unseen threats which only touched me in my imagination; those threats and terrors which hid behind the door, outside the window, on the other side of the television screen where much more horrific than the daily constant abuse I suffered from my peers at school for being different and the constant berating and belittling I received at home from you. The terrors, the threats in my imagination could become as large or as horrific as my imagination would let them, they were unknown and would always multiply; the daily terrors, it seemed, at least had some semblance of boundaries, I was conversant with them.

The days went on, turning into months, the sixties ended, Nixon resigned, Saigon fell, I was becoming an adult. I began the process of realizing how wrong you were about so many many things. The threats, I now realized, weren’t from outside of the country, weren’t from the communists, or the Jews, or the blacks, they weren’t from the “other,’ they were from those who were supposed to be our guardians, those who were supposed to help us, to protect us, who lied to us, betrayed us, our leaders, they were from you.

The eighties ushered in new terrors, new horrors; horrors and terrors I now face as an adult. Horrors and terrors which touch me, which I could never discuss with you – it would have taken just too much effort to make you understand. Reagan, mo[u]rning in amerika, trickle down = homelessness, greed, AIDS – these terrors, these horrors can compare to the daily abuse I experienced as a child, they where/are concrete, not imagined. The real terror, the true horror is the apathy of amerika, of Reagan, of Bush, of Clinton, of Bush, of __________, of you, of the middle class, of the upper class, of the gays, of myself; all of us who wallow in the shit of our privilege. Yes, I am HIV positive. Yes, I have an AIDS diagnosis. I never told you this while you lived. Telling you was one more thing I didn’t need to deal with, I was dealing with enough already. I moved to San Francisco, to find a family, to get away from you. I found my family here. Most of my family who I found, who I loved, who loved me, are dead now. I remember how my family would come to my aid when I had nothing, showing up on our doorstep with groceries when we first moved here, Joe and I, and hadn’t yet found work. They fed us. They loved us. We loved them. They died the most horrible sudden deaths, brave men who even in death wiped our tears and told us everything would be alright. They cared for us and we cared for them. No one else would.

You, Mother, died in the eighties, The very day you died I was on a plane back home to help Dad. That was the best day of my life, I was free, finally free. You could no longer touch me, hurt me. No more was there the off chance that the phone would ring, and your voice would be on the other end to push my buttons you knew so well how to push, to belittle me; even as a man you could do that to me. For the first time in my life I truly felt, completely, like a man. Dad and I actually had a conversation. We had never done that before. He was free too, although he worshipped you in death, you who I know tormented him in life as you tormented me. He couldn’t wait to die after you left, he wanted to die, he told me. I helped him do as he wished.

I don’t know what happens after death. I know that Dad would stare at the clouds and imagine you, Mother, were up there and you could see all and know all now that you were dead. I have seen much death in my life, I have held lovers as they died, comforted them, stroked them during their last breaths, I have gotten the news over the phone, in the mail – oh, so many I have seem die. I think they are just gone. I think you are just gone. They, and you, only exist in our memories. That is our legacy, how the future remembers us. That is why I am so profoundly sad now. Our greed, our privilege, our uncaring, our judgements, our indifference, our shit is coming down on us. It is worse than communism, worse that black uprisings, worse that Vietnam, worse than greedy politicians, worse than AIDS, worse than 9-11, the worse blowback we have ever seen –there will be no more more now. Everything that humans have done, the good, the bad, everything will soon be gone. We have destroyed the only place we have to live, Mom and Dad. It is beautiful, fragile, our Mother and Father, wrapped up in one but we didn’t care. We only cared about ourselves. Now it is too late. I know this. I think everyone knows this to some degree or another, they must. It is over, done, we have gone beyond reparations. The world will go on without us humans, we will soon cease to exist.

The polar caps are melting at ever increasing rates, the faster they melt the more blue ocean is exposed which absorbs more heat which melts the ice faster, the seas are rising, the oceans are dying, seafood will soon it seems be only a luxury or a memory, gas prices are rising – meaning we are beginning to run out of oil for our sprawling society, we turn to corn for fuel (and packaging) and wheat prices go through the roof precipitating food riots around the world,. The weather is worsening, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 385 parts per million (scientific evidence suggests for life to be preserved on a planet similar to the one on which life developed we will need to reduce CO2 to at most 350 ppm), we’ve managed to melt enough portions of permafrost in the north to send huge quantities of methane pouring forth into the atmosphere, warming temperatures have introduced a foreign beetle into Canadian forests which have destroyed unprecedented areas of forestation; and the thing is, we are only stepping harder on the gas, pouring on more coal. When the system which is destroying us provides us with water from a tap and food from a grocery store there exists little incentive to change the system or to bring the system down.

I remember thinking, back during the mid-eighties, when the obituaries in the Bay Area Reporter were filling more and more pages each week, when more and more of my friends and family were dying every day, when the pain of all those deaths seemed more than I was able to bare, that maybe, just maybe, those men were the lucky ones. It is us who survive and live through the coming collapse who are the ones we should be crying for. And yet, here we are. Who is to blame? Who is in denial? Are the ones who yell for change in denial as much as those who bury their heads in the sand? All I know is I hate what I see. Nothing you tried to protect me from, nothing I could have imagined equals this. No one is guilty for we are all guilty. No one is innocent for we are all innocent. Soon it will be over, all of it, everything, civilization, art, architecture, war, death, AIDS, nothing matters. I fear the days to come.

Your loving son,

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Silverlake Life; the View From Here

Silverlake Life: The View From Here is a documentary concerning the body, its physical metamorphosis over time from complications stemming from AIDS, and the larger discourse of the ways in which society views and treats the body. It is an unflinching record of the day to day lives of two men, Tom Joslin and Mark Massi, partners of 26 years, who both are dying from AIDS. Unlike most films on AIDS, these men are not actors, these men are real, their disease is real, their lesions are real, the wasting we see is real, and the reactions of those they love and who love them are real, and those they come in contact with are real.

What strikes me most about this film is the graphic depiction of the way in which society treats bodies. There exists a strange dichotomy. The medical technicians who care for these men touch their bodies, touch their lesions; there is no sensationalism here, it is just factual; the state of things. The men themselves touch each others bodies, showing us painful eyelids encrusted with lesions. It is all matter of fact. As a much younger and healthy Mark Massi proclaims from a rooftop, “blatant is beautiful.” Contrast that physicalist sensibility, that extension of philosophical thought being the idea that it is our physical bodies which make us human for which we should not be ashamed, with the woman who runs the resort where these two go to relax. She wants to be accepting, she wants to do the right thing, but asks Mark to keep his shirt on in the pool so the other guests won’t have to see his karposi’s lesions. She is similar to John’s mother, who Mark describes as the typical liberal, she can say homosexual but feels sorry for us all the same.

The most amazing moment of this testament happens on 1 July in the film when, holding the camera on Tom lying in his bed with a shaky hand and sobbing, Mark tells us that Tom has just died. We have all witnessed death so often in the media that we have pretty much become immune to it. But this is the real thing, I don’t think I have ever seen on film a real corpse – the reality of it is powerful. This is where the film asks the question which we all face, asks it not only of us the viewers but of Mark as well. Which is what ultimately makes this film transcendent. We, along with Mark, having been a witness to Tom’s physical decline, must now grapple, along with Mark, what the meanings are surrounding his physical death.

The coroner comes and we see Tom’s body looking so frail, like those photos of corpses from Dachau, being handled like just another object as it is placed into the body bag. The coroner loads the bagged body unceremoniously into the back of the wagon, and even though he wears latex gloves, announces he needs to go wash his hands. We sense societies increased discomfort with the body in death. The essence of Tom is gone. What animated and made Tom Tom has left his body, leaving not only his body but hard questions: where did Tom go? is the mind separate from the body? is our logical belief in physicalism so easily destroyed with the death of one whom we care for and love? Mark addresses this question, even as he speaks to Tom’s ashes when he spills them on the floor, telling Tom he’s all over the place, telling us that Tom is dead, he is gone, that’s it, he doesn’t exist anymore – at least that is how he felt until Tom comes back to visit him.

So even Mark can not escape the discourse of dualistic thought which is that from which our discomfort with the corporeal arises. Which is why this film is powerful, it forces us to face Tom’s and Mark’s bodies, and in doing so forces us to face our own, stripping us of our cultural clothing to confront our physicality and wonder what it is which makes us who we are and why is it that we seem unable to embrace our physical being.