Sunday, September 26, 2004

dreaming of a friend

B.E. is dancing in the bowling alley of the street at night, hopping back and forth in front of a row of beer bottles, daring his adversary to throw one at him. It is the showy prelude to a fight; he is making and breaking the rules at whim. He is stealing the show, as usual, from the other asshole. The other asshole who is, as always, a well-picked foil, perhaps just beginning to realize how far out of his league he has now wandered. In dreamland a strange conflation of college night and childhood playground, and in the way of some dreams, a jolting memory of an event so real that never took place.

Jolting because the banality of the Real intruded on an elaborate subconscious fantasy, and the fantasy could no longer support itself? Jolting because even rationalizing this does not make the will to tears obsolete? Was the show already the fight? Something in these moments (were they episodes?) - an allure to which I was never immune, despite the repulsion afterwords, when the fight became vicious and cruel, personal rather than spectator-driven. (But is there any separating the two - don't they ceaselessly condition each other?)

The other night - Bruce Weber's "Let's Get Lost," documentary paean to jazz and junky great Chet Baker. An archive trembling in a league of its own, of a period my country has yet to appreciate, and likely never will. Which is a shame, maybe, because we might do well to get beyond our superficial infatuation with its 1960's aftermath.

B.E. was accidently shot and killed by one of his best friends at a New Year's party several years ago. He was 20. The community was devastated. He had touched a lot of lives. He was beautiful. The adored youngest child. Doe-in-the-headlights small-town stare. Hat worn low, brim curled tight. We used to skate on the puddle of a pond in his backyard. One day his older brother mimed a trigger-finger at us from the roof. There is nothing picturesque in any of this. People said B.E. had changed a lot. Perhaps he had. He remains for me a constellation of childhood buddy scenes, mimetic rivalries and pairs. But also never far removed from certain themes and textures of father-hunger, nor from a growing skepticism regarding the use of the word, "friendship" for something so grounded in mutual - if different - dueling needs.

In the dream we are children again. "Playing guns" as it turns out, for although the life-and-death panic is tangible, when the moment of execution comes, when the other we are fighting is caught and lies prone on the kitchen floor, he becames a certain Gautemalan child and instead of pulling the trigger 'I' said "bang." The style of the enemy's gun - a Mexican pistol? - suddenly became a source of infinite fascination, but this is interrupted by B.E. suggesting, like a good dictator, that "first we do a ---- of this, and then we drink a gallon of this," and 'I' have of course already agreed, like a good sidekick (for apparently there is a strong desire both to get loaded and for the dream to continue.) There is nothing picaresque in any of this.

Is not the elusiveness of charisma fed on envy - an envy for a seeming forgetfulness, the inadequacy of which remains transparent, potent and...tragic?

Martyrdom achieves perfection in death, but such delusional ambition is not the same as the desire traversing a creative, resilient, im-possible will to purity. No bitterness, no envy now, but still an enigmatic presence. A sort of ruthless and nostalgic prescience. Part of one's past 'self' seen comically, pathetically, and yet the tapestry looked back on is already one founded in active forgetting. And what might this mean - that "memory is a function of forgetting?"

The other night - awaking from a dream to contemplate and cry, possessive tears (are they ever not?), as much for themselves - mourning for the knowledge that what is singularly (mine?) in memory will vanish, and has moreover vanished already - as for any projected imagination of loss, for anything "proper" to the other. Mourning for a loss of knowledge already beyond the reach of any longing for language, for gestures that are certain. If only just words could be "found" - again, the will to flood the caesura.

'You could see he was finished," said Holland of what would be Baker's last performance. 'But he played with so few notes, expressing so much. That was the magic of the man.'

-James Gavin, Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker, 363 (2002)

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