Friday, March 5, 2010

Unanticipated Renaissance

"I don't know where it came from, it certainly wasn't in the forecast," he told her. "I only feel blessed to be here at this time, in this place."

There were atmospheric disturbances through the summer of 2009, to be sure, little fronts with meta-tags such as Beth Ditto, Lee Upton, Jay Farrar & Ben Gibbard, Florence Welch. But with the jet stream in such a ragged disarray, it was hard to know if these were summer showers or harbingers of things to come.

Somewhere around Thanksgiving, the torrent of prose got serious. Richard Powers' dazzling tribute to ecstatic daily living, Generosity. Jeanette Walls' deliciously tragic Half-Broke Horses. David Byrne's trips with his bicycle. Barbara Kingsolver's best novel yet, The Lacuna. Patti Smith's beautiful memoir of life with Robert Mapplethorpe. Spring book lists show no signs of slackening.

In late January, the musicians joined in. Xiu Xiu's Dear God I Hate Myself. Joanna Newsom's triple-disc, two-hour tribute to Victorian courtesan Lola Montez. Quasi's chaotic American Gong. Shearwater's memorial to the refugees from the Bikini Atoll. Local Natives' high harmonies. Tindersticks' turn to cowboy living. Vampire Weekend's turn to covert-agent living. The triumphant return of Gil Scott-Heron to the spoken word. Vibracathedral Orchestra's massive two-hour raga dances in six parts. Robert Pollard. Magnetic Fields. Laura Veirs. Retribution Gospel Choir. Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra. The last Jack Rose before his untimely death. The farewell kisses from Yellow Swans. And plenty of clouds on the horizon bearing names like Liars and Flobots.

The media hasn't paid much attention to a flowering of unprecedented proportions under the spring rain, maybe because it's difficult to discern any particular theme like punk, grunge, Latin American surrealism, whatever. The one unifying theme I see is the integrity and uncompromising position of the artist. This is not a renaissance designed for the benefit and convenience of consumer or patron. The books are complex packages not well-suited to either ADHD attention spans or electronic e-readers. The musical compositions are often an hour long or better, demanding a return to the old concept-album format, and ruthlessly denying being compressed into digital file formats. Gauntlets have been thrown down, and I will be eagerly awaiting to see if visual arts, film, dance, etc. follow the lead of prose and sound.

We can argue endlessly as to why this happened now - ongoing economic crisis? A move from below against digital homogenization? Not important. What is important is that you are present at the creation, watching one hundred flowers bloom at this moment, in this place.


Ruth said...

Oh this is terrific. Do you know how grateful I am that you do this? You pay attention and have the breadth of self to absorb and report it here?

I may have told you about the day last year we had a faculty meeting, and I left sobered as I hadn't yet been after the economic downturn. Almost a full 24 hours of nearly debilitating hopelessness ensued. Universities would never been the same, nothing would be the same.

Then in just a couple of appointments with students, our conversations turned to why writers have to write. Especially when all around becomes dire, artists find expression, explode, fill us with longing, yank out the beauty.

Ruth said...

And that song is haunting and gorgeous.

John G said...

Richard Powers just plain intimidates me but I'm sure I'd absolutely adore him if I took it up. He was a programmer after all.

Loring Wirbel said...

And Ruth, sometimes I feel like I'm just shouting "Pay attention!" in an empty theater. But maybe that's why the renaissance of 2010 is so uncompromising - "No, I won't write for the trade paperbacks! No, I won't make my music easily digestible for iTunes!" And if that limits them to an audience of 50, that's OK.

(At least I know someone like Ruth will pay heed.)

Loring Wirbel said...

John - Hint: start with Powers' less geeky stuff - "Gain" is short but very depressing, about a woman's fatal cancer and the rise of the corporation; "The Time of Our Singing" is a very long but straightforward and wonderful book about American race relations. Then you'll become a Powers junkie.