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Ramblings

i’m working on a short ep titled yesteryear—older songs that i’ve finally finished, re-worked or are otherwise ready to be put into an actual production—and my 2020 spoken word & guitar piece, “how do we hope now,” will be on it. i had this as a single on bandcamp for a hot minute as it was published with reprise, reprise!, but took it down to put into an actual record. the poem is in three parts:

1. the state of the union

& how do we hope now
on this stolen land of shameless greed
where art is whatever you want it to be
but only money means one good goddamn thing
among the lovely, lonely masses
lost in screens to hide their sadness
in a world of thieves & schemes & fascists
screaming at the news broadcasts
& driving lucid men to madness

how do we hope now
that they took the word and branded it
with a politician’s face
in a piece of propaganda
as the state bailed out the banks
while the 99% were sent the sheriff

this is the united states
a land of wealth and terror

& how do we hope now
that we have been abandoned
left to wait out death itself
alone through a pandemic
as economists claim saving lives is, once again,
“just too expensive”
& then the pundits act surprised
as riots take the summer & the Senate
in the sordid forms of our
fractured proletariat
a schism of the zeitgeist which
rejects what it’s defined by
yet still conditioned from advertisements
online & in social media

an understanding we don’t have one
& that history goes to the victor

& how do we hope now
that war is endlessly repeating
with greed its only leader
war is endlessly repeating
& war is endlessly repeating
but it demands protest be peaceful
while pleas are met with police & beatings
war is endlessly repeating
a reality show of horror
seasons 1-19 now streaming, featuring:
drone strikes overseas
a domestic militarized police
institutionalized violence
& income inequality

“mission accomplished”
a reliable industry,
war is endlessly repeating
supported by a market, a profit motive
& a public relations machine
war is endlessly repeating
& now it’s coming home
to those who didn’t know
that it’s been here all along

how do we hope now
in this syndicated hell
how do we help one another out?
how can a person fight the devil
when the devil owns their house?

2. i can’t help myself

brand new pills for an age-old condition
whose side effects listed are remarkably specific
“know somebody profits from what you think is missing
& not even death is a legal alternative”

name-brand pharmaceuticals or it’s back to the bottle
i’m enduring freedom to cope with its options
in love with a ghost so i chose california
to sit in the sun with & watch the apocalypse

3. but hi how may i help you?”

close your eyes
breathe in slow this death-machine of time
as it wanders wild, sowing chaos with every stride
hear it roar across the prairie just before july
watch it soar electric, feel the pull of its tide
along the lengths of silent caves your heart
probes throughout your mind
& hold fast now to every glow of light you find
& call that incandescence by whatever it inspires
& carry it inside of you in spite of this empire
& feel that gleam of hope explode into a spark
a fire
a cavalcade of glorious flames
that burn all the prisons & every bank
every last dollar, quarter, dime, nickel & cent
wall street
the white house
records of personal debt
let them swallow los angeles & the whole internet
both political parties & the military-industrial complex
ignite each mega-church & every last television set

scorch them all from your soul
exhale & open your eyes
& see that fire live on
in the natural light

i first heard planes mistaken for stars my first year in college (2001) & words cannot express how much this band has meant to me in every year since—specifically the voice & songwriting of gared o’donnell. my first & all-time favorite singer, up there with songwriters, to create an unparalleled sound with planes, one of the last great rock bands of my generation.

he passed on yesterday & rarely do i feel a sense of anything personal with these sorts of things, but his potential to be a long-standing voice was incomparable. a crushing loss.

planes mistaken for stars at satyricon · portland, ore., 2007

we ride to fight

the stoop out front is nothing like the table i fell through last month while on the phone with an emergency few would understand. three armenian men in suits argue a building away, but their voices flood the street & i can’t stand how pop music has devolved into shit-talking about being rich. capitalism has made a commodity of the past so every generation to come will have no culture within its grasp.

the man smoking in the street has impeccable timing as his cigarette burns out right as his friend pulls up in something fancy. a page is turned by the wind like a wildfire. i’ve set myself up. i’ve come to terms with what i’ve lost but fear the losses still to come. i pay more attention to those pangs than the pain in my back. the soil here is all spoiled in this land of secret panic & public displays of perfection.

there are no stars out tonight over hollywood.

The Treachery of Images by René Magritte, 1929

I got to see The Treachery of Images in person for the first time in my life on a recent trip to LACMA. I just stared in awe for a few minutes. There are few works I find as significant as this. Plenty is already written regarding the famous painting, but it leaves me wondering what he would have painted about the world as it exists today, as nothing really is anything at all in a digital world. Moreso, aesthetics rule this age, while ignoring the idea that any result should have some underlying communicative concept—some sense of humanity.

A recent example of this is in the various responses regarding the tragedy during Travis Scott’s set at Astroworld, resulting in the deaths of ten audience members aged 9-27. From Demar Grant at The Globe and Mail:

Scott’s concerts are often electric, buzzing with energy, but they’ve never escalated to this level, and unfortunately this tragedy is a symptom of rap’s adoption of punk sensibilities.

Their music is visceral in the same way punk was. The lyrics get fans charged up, and the instrumentals do the rest. Instead of the mesmerizing lyrics, beautiful melodies or rhythm that were once preferred by rap fans, they now rage on energy alone.

Even as the source is trash media, I’ve seen this sentiment echoed around social media as well. That somehow this is about punk rock & the aesthetics of ‘rage.’ While I know a thing or two about going to punk shows to let out some energy, there has been a decades-long rule of punk: we take care of one another. (For example: here is an clip compilation of Green Day stopping shows to make sure people are OK—including Billie Joe drop-kicking a dude who was assaulting a girl in the crowd.)

Something important has been lost in time as tech/media culture & their prioritization of face-value content have taken hold of our collective attention to the point of diminishing that people & their ideas are still meaningful. The profit-based structures of entertainment—from hip-hop to television to art museums—rarely will risk potential earnings to make any sort of statement about the world they represent. LACMA may display this wonderful work by John T Riddle, Jr or Chris Burden’s outsized LAPD uniforms, but the museum itself would never make any sort of statements, much less take action, about our societal issues regarding race or policing. (Not that I’d accuse them, but I’d assume this has to do with big-money donors.)

During the Vietnam War, artists responded in dramatic fashion to the injustice. Now, after decades of war in the Middle East, there’s just Art Basel and other absent-minded trade shows for the wealthy regarding ‘theory’ & ‘meaning,’ but never ‘challenging.’ Never ‘change.’

So I think of Magritte & his pipe, how it wasn’t snobbish or high-brow, but still high-minded. How anybody could see it and think about it. How we’ve lost the drive, in art and broader culture alike, to reach for that impact. How abstraction & American modern art—essentially & ironically bankrolled by the CIA—helped pave the way for subjective aesthetics that seem more appropriate for an Instagram feed than serious consideration as commentary. How museums have just now begun to respond to centuries of racism by featuring a few more black artists in the wake of George Floyd. How driving down Sunset on a Saturday night to see people judge one another’s outfit is basically a microcosm for the extent of American culture at large now.

This is not an aspiration, but it is treachery.

they say i’ll be able to dream again now that i can’t take a drink, but the nights end in the same terror that news broadcasters begin the day with. what hope was had is now pressed increasingly under the boot of capital. dreams can’t exist in the united states without human sacrifice. what an age for sobriety, or to maintain any sense of hope. the windows can’t break because they’ve been boarded up. the storm is coming soon.

new shoes arrived in the mail today—shoestrings & all. no more zip-ties, no more eyes-on. only the landscape of los angeles—as beautiful as it is brutal, as uncaring as it is obsessive. no longer crazy as i take the right pills every day. i’m not that ignorant of time or the mind, but now old songs have all sorts of new meanings.

we’ve reached a place where all that is debated are spotify playlists & sports teams. nobody can agree on all of the important things. grown adults acting like children, children terrified of a future on fire. the night is darker, earlier, and none of the weather makes any sense.

Colin Smith (b. 1982, based in Los Angeles) works in a form of assembly within and across disciplines, both in digital and analogue formats. Following in the ideas of media theorist Marshall McLuhan, the medium of his work is often dictated by its message—the diversity of projects that result are each an attempt to represent a particular thesis, a certain context.

Educated in graphic design and photojournalism, and self-taught in the visual arts, Smith has additionally worked as an art director, freelance designer or creative consultant for a variety of small businesses and independent clients around the world.

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