Seek and Ye Shall Find, by Jim Walsh

Categories: Pop Culture

We have a new "jump the shark," folks. Call it "the Partridge Family scene." It happens midway through the wretched Must Love Dogs, when the cast inexplicably breaks into the Partridge Family theme. I saw it Tuesday night. I turned to my wife and said there are no words for how bad this is, how insulting it is. We left shortly thereafter, and I'd been trying to work out why ever since. I got my answer last night.

I've walked out on movies and concerts before, and felt the empowerment of hearing, say, Simon & Garfunkel doing "Kodachrome" from the parking lot, or the knowledge that Bo Derek (Ten) or Bloc Party (after being killed by openers the Kills) would have to soldier on without me. Oh, there have been a few times when I"ve regretted bailing early--most recently at a Walker Art Center-sponsored anti-performance that people I trust were transformed by.

Like I said, I've been thinking about why we bailed. It's not enough to say it was a bad movie. That's been said, and it's been said well recently--first by Rob Nelson in City Pages, then a special issue in Entertainment Weekly and seemingly everywhere else: There is a tsunami of crap out there, and the theater-going experience is getting annoying. We didn't listen. We The Duped sat there for 20 minutes as commercial after commercial for pure shit bludgeoned us in digital sound, which was followed by a major motion picture with two likeable stars (Lane and Jon Cusack, shame on you) that was, from the get-go, soul-sucking.

Last night, a friend and I got together to watch In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger. We'd both had it in our Netflix queues and decided to make a movie night of it. It's the story of cult outsider artist Darger, a reclusive Chicago janitor who died at the age of 80 in 1972. Three days before his death, a neighbor discovered Darger's collected works in his apartment: a 15,000 page novel, paintings, poems.

It is stunning, prophetic, wildly original, philosophical, and all the more so because Darger was the best blogger who wasn't a blogger. That is, he didn't need an audience. He created stories about superhero children and war and religion and art for himself, not for recognition, or feedback. He expressed himself to himself, which is what any artist does first and foremost. The question--was he happy?--hangs over the documentary for all 82 minutes, including while the end credits role to Tom Waits' "Innocent When You Dream."

And, while his pure self-expression suggests his happiness was derived through his creations and the act of creating, we get a sense of the veil being drawn back when his neighbor talks about visiting Darger in the nursing home a few days before his death. He told Darger that he'd found his words and paintings and deemed them "beautiful." He said it looked as if Darger had been hit in the gut. He gasped and said, "Well, it's too late now."

This film is brilliant. It is the essence of a tough mind and spirit; a Chicago kid who survived a horrible childhood and created a world for/unto himself. So inspiring was it last night that We The Privileged talked over it and traversed many topics, including the new obesity statistics in America, the miracle of technology, the fight to maintain optimism in the face of war and death of friends and lovers, and the fact that we could watch this story in the comfort of our homes, while two generations ago big American families were fighting like dogs, just for a place to sleep and eat.

In The Realms of the Unreal came out under the radar last year. The critics on www.rottentomatoes.com are divided on it. Some say it's haunting, some say it's hackery, one guy yearns for "critique and analysis" of the artist's work. To me, it's one more reminder that we create our own reality, and that there's a ton of cool stuff out there, stuff that has nothing to do with American Idol or reality TV. Namely, at the moment:

*Eliza Gilkyson's latest Paradise Hotel (Red House), the female counterpart to John Prine's Fair & Square, whose songs about war and love and the virgin Mary come from a voice so wizened, I"d follow it anywhere. The title track recalls Patty Griffin's "The Rowing Song," in that it is about simple fleeting peace and comes from a white girl who has considered suicide when the world isn't enough but who has decided to stick around and keep hoping.

*The works of the great writer and thinker Joseph Campbell, whom Garrison Keillor, the great writer and huckster of all things "Midwestern" so sloppily dissed in the Star Tribune a couple weeks ago.

*Oasis, led by two brothers who were beaten to an inch of their lives by their father and who hate each other's guts, yet whose tremendous new one insists, "love one another."

*The New York Times" Jon Pareles' "The Case Against Coldplay" (June 4)--a succinct argument for why we should have little patience for navel-gazing self-pity and wanton dourness in rock these days.

*Mark Wheat playing John Vanderslice's "Exodus Damage" in the middle of a dark night. Eels' Blinking Lights, the Capricorns' "New Sound," Modest Mouse's "Float On," Clem Snide's "Moment In The Sun," Zolof the Rock and Roll Destroyer's "Plays Pretty For Baby" and "There's That One Person You'll Never Get Over No Matter How Long It's Been," and Mary Gauthier's "Mercy Now," which no-duhs, "Every living thing could use a little mercy now/Only the hand of grace/Can end the race/Towards another mushroom cloud."

*March Of The Penguins, this kid generation's Bambi and Ol' Yeller weeper, but which can show the rest of us how to huddle together against insurmountable odds in the name of love and kids. The characters in Me and You and Everyone We Know, who navigate their way through complex lives and end up living happily ever after with what Gilda Radner called "delicious ambiguity." The beauty-whipped old witch in Howl's Moving Castle, who tells a bored and puzzled youngster, "As you get older, you just like to look at the scenery."

* Father Jim De Bruycker, pastor at tiny St. Leonard of Port Maurice, whom those lucky fucking liberals at St. Joan Of Arc church will get to know at the end of the year, when he brings his wise words of love and looking out for each other to their big groovy standing-room only place of worship in South Minneapolis.

Parabola, Tricycle, and Spirituality & Health, three periodicals that, every time out, go deeper than this week's Newsweek cover story "Spirituality In America." Parabola (www.parabola.org) is the bible of them all, a quarterly journal that celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and which goes by the subhead "The Search For Meaning." Uncanny in its timeliness and topicality, it rarely acknowledges news events or the outside world, but regularly explores all things inner through essays, features, interviews, poetry, and theme-issues such as "Eros," "Language and Meaning," "Evil," "Solitude & Community," "Peace," "Restraint," and "Conscience & Consciousness."

The writings of G.K. Chesterton, who could have been talking about Darger when he said "a saint is one who exaggerates what the world neglects," and who wrote this about the nature-worshipping St. Francis of Assisi: "There is only one reason an intelligent person doesn't believe in miracles. He or she believes in materialism."

Craig Wright's brilliant bird episode on the late, great Six Feet Under. Paul Westerberg, working on a soundtrack for an animated film in his basement, like Darger and his drawings. Joe Henry, recording back-to-old-school recordings of Mavis Staples, Booker T., and others, for a fall release through (!) Starbucks. The Hold Steady's Separation Sunday pumping out of seemingly everywhere these days, and The Ike Reilly Assassination's Junkie Faithful, pumping out of everywhere starting Sept. 27, both of which, all of which, recall the words of 19th-century monk and seer Swami Vivekannanda:

"Do not depend on doctrines, do not depend on dogmas, or sects, or churches, or temples; they count for little compared with the essence of existence in man, which is divine; and the more this divinity is developed in a man, the more powerful he is for good. Earn that spirituality first; acquire that, and criticize no one, for all doctrines and creeds have some good in them. Show by your lives that religion does not mean words, or names, or sects, but that it means spiritual realization."

In The Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger. The story of one man, and all humankind, and the best damn date movie of the year. --Jim Walsh

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