Sober existence

At one point in Norm's 'Me Doing Standup' he says, "I don't know if you've ever had a one night stand, dead clean sober, but I have, and it's not a lot of fun". I thought about this while watching Euphoria. There are so many shows that deal with substance abuse in great detail (by various age/class groups); I can barely relate to any of them but I also get it. As in, "of course, why wouldn't you?" And simultaneously this counter/adjoining thought occurs: I don't know if you've experienced all of existence dead clean sober, but I have, and it's not a lot of fun.

Ra(d̷i̷c̷a̷)cialized people

Understandings and reflections one would encounter on race, caste, aesthetics etc., in the subcontinent is likely to be more diverse than reality itself. But some instances are poetic in their pithiness, presenting a truth that is complex and layered even if unintended. One such is the video below, especially the part where he mentions "Kashmiri brahman".

Grief (induced by the abstract)

    I saw the movie Man on the Moon in 2002, I had not even turned 20 then. It introduced me to the idea of self-effacement (self-erasure, self-caricature etc., apply too) in service of a craft that might not be considered respectable by many. Or in artistic terms, high art. One could, perhaps, think of people like Charlie Chaplin and 'clown acts' as a whole that might fit this category, but Andy Kaufman is of a unique breed. For Kaufman blended the performative with the 'real' and dared to explore its boundaries, apparently heedless to the consequences [1]. The ultimate act being his death itself, shrouded in manufactured (false) mystery.

I first got to watch Norm MacDonald in the 'Norm Show' around the same time. It was sharp and witty like some of the other sitcoms I liked but it was considerably more mischievous, in a dark, and perhaps, deviant sense. Oh, he was also very likeable because he could barely keep a straight face. Over the next several years I sought after and consumed every bit of Norm I could find [2]. It wasn't long before I started quoting and paraphrasing him in real life conversations, mostly to 'nonplussed' faces.

Many of Norm's semi-serious pronouncements did not sit well with me but I could not help but admire his fearlessness and commitment to a certain idea of his craft and the integrity it required. This idea, I thought, was constantly trying to resolve a paradox: humour exists in a context within a mind but it also seeks validation from an audience, even if only one, that might not be on board. True, there is humour in the unacknowledgement of it too, but to proceed with no regard for this paradox is where one declares their allegiance. And Norm did it more often and more successfully than others.

Condescension and even misanthropy are second nature to most standups (the good ones). It is a professional hazard. But Norm was able to mask it more successfully than others. Norm might have been inspired by Kaufman at some level, if not by his methods, by his chutzpah (which, ironically, is often projected as ignorance or gaucherie in their acts). His performance was driven by a semiotic sensibility that drew liberally from irony and farce. Norm saying "wait till you hear me do it" is one of the rare occasions he acknowledged his prowess. His profession did not get in the way of being genuine and earnest, nevertheless.

My everyday time-waste routine involved watching at least one or two of Norm's videos. They were always in my recommended list on YouTube and I never got annoyed by its ubiquity. It's been over a month since he passed away and my routine has been hit with melancholic disruption. I am now recommended videos of various comedians expressing their shock and sorrow at his passing; especially that he kept his nine year 'battle' with cancer a secret. Kaufman seems to have inspired him in at least one other aspect.

Norm had not put out any specials in a long time; even so the occasional word here and there in the plethora of podcasts had been reassuring, that there's flow still. Not anymore. But unlike most of his contemporaries we are not left just with a static composition but an iconic syntax. It's as if he used hours and hours of material that spans over decades to distill a predictable yet unique language structure that held his audience in wilful thrall. So much that his fans seem compelled to speak citationally wherever possible [3]. This is a rare form of adoration that few artists, let alone comics, have achieved.

A palpable grief has crept in the last few days and has caused some dissonance. I have often wondered whether a favourite writer/artist who stopped producing anything for a long time being dead or alive makes a difference. Especially if there was no realistic chance of meeting them in person, for what its worth. In a strictly rational sense they are only an abstract entity whose real existence should not matter. We all get a periodic reminder that our rational self is always playing catch up, and Norm's death is one for me.


[1] - The film The Prestige comes to mind. 

[2] - Some self praise: it turned out that I was among the few in the 'audience' to get his act on The Roast of Bob Saget and was howling the entire set.

[3] - This essay is no exception.

Parts and the whole

An analogical thought experiment.

Person A lives in the main level of a house with all the modern first world comforts. Personal B lives on the roof of the same house with none of the aforementioned comforts and exposed to the elements year around. In fact, person A is able to enjoy those comforts because person B has been deprived of the same. The house may or may not have been designed to be so but that is how it is now. Person A and B are aware of each other's existence and their corresponding quality of life. Both occasionally wonder if their living arrangements are deliberate.

Given the above:

Person A says, "I live in one of the best houses out there. Sure the inequality needs to be addressed but it's still great".

Person B says, "I live in one of the best houses out there. Sure the inequality needs to be addressed but it's still great".

If one were to assign the attribute 'problematic' to only one of the two statements whose should it be?

Songs about stuff

Thank goodness for American music (and those from other English speaking countries), for songs about cats, dogs, trains, buses, paper, pens and all kinds of inanimate objects, and abstract and absurd thoughts.

End of Daft Punk

    Daft Punk announced their cessation today. 20 years ago their song 'Aerodynamic' sucked me into the world of electronic music and I have not cared much about other genres since then. The poetics of electronic music is not trapped in any abstruse movement but a primordial rhythm. This very accessibility has often been derided as being devoid of any substance but artists like Daft Punk have laid bare the emptiness of that argument and even their 'epilogue' does it.

I'll mark this moment (too) with a few words for now: of the many regrets in my life, missing out their concert in Toronto in 2007 will always rank high. So much so that I had mentioned to my friends several times that I'd spend a significant portion of my savings to watch them live when they tour again, no matter which part of the world it happens to be. A sentiment like that is atypical if not antithetical for me but once in a while our ideology, convictions and ethics give way to our cravings and indulgences, where we embrace the eternally flawed being within us. Only that this one would have easily survived the self-effacement and conscientious scrutiny that follow such 'lapses'.

For someone who's obsessed about 'punctuating memories' (putting in quotes here because it might appear again in another format, in the future) it's the absence of one that will stay with me.

Edit, Feb 25:

This is the epic tour  

More people in the same boat.


Learning To Die: Episode 3 - Socratic Method and Plato's Dialogues

This episode is a primer to Plato's Dialogues.

Edit, Feb 22:  Had a bad fall and re-injured my back again a couple of weeks ago. Not sure when I'll be able to continue this.

©2009 english-tamil