26 July 2009

My life under glass, 40 years later

Going to the poster art exhibit at the Denver Art Museum gave me the odd sensation of seeing the stuff I stared at every day in shop windows and tacked onto phone poles hermetically sealed and mounted on stark white expanses of wall. I both wanted to say something about having been there then, and I also wanted not to, as I wandered through the crowds and peered at the barely scrutable poster art.

I enjoyed seeing the kids, including my own, so thrilled with the "animations" -- different images were printed in different colors on the same print so that when three different colors of light were shone on the one poster, it appeared to move, like a holographic image.

I also liked making a poster as a keepsake at the museum exhibit. I had laughed and rolled my eyes at myself when I saw how many posters advertised Big Brother and the Holding Company shows. I knew I would never be able to pinpoint the show I had seen from my perch on the piano on the same stage as Janis Joplin, where in a fringed orange dress she belted out her raspy tunes and totally surprised me by being white, not black. I think we saw that show not at the Avalon Ballroom but at the Straight Theater, because I am pretty sure we came into the theater from Haight. But my memory may be misleading me; I was only four or five and quite overwhelmed by the company we were in -- all those scary looking Hells Angels.

This exhibit seemed to display an amazingly comprehensive collection of the bills advertising the explosion of music that would come to be known as part of "the San Francisco Sound." There must have been twenty or thirty for Big Brother and the Holding Company; there were probably double that for Quicksilver Messenger Service. (Someone with time on his or her hands and a nice database could make a sweet graphic displaying the frequency with which the bands appear on the posters from that era. That would be fun to see.)

We saw more than a few bizarre sounding lineups, but one thing I noticed was how the blues still provided the primary idiom, the musical lingua franca that everyone spoke and some people more than others were able to subvert to their own voices and messages. I was often uncomfortable with the blues -- especially the songs with the "I'm-your-daddy" lyrics. Ick. I loved the lazy sweetness of Taj Mahal's music, but disliked him for his cover of that horrid "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" song. Quicksilver's "Suzy Q" made me equally queasy. Some things you just know are wrong from the get-go, and I was sure about all that.

I had a nice moment of familiarity with myself when I looked at the Zap Comix books the DAM had on display and felt a sense impatience with the abstraction of the particular comic strip shown. I didn't particularly enjoy trying to decipher all that crazily drawn, difficult-to-read text back then; that graphic opacity impaired my enjoyment of the artwork and storytelling, if there was a story at all. I still feel that way. Give me a bold and clear design that supports its message, or at the very least a good story. I am still not likely to spend too much time on something unless I find it extremely beautiful or illuminating.

But goodness, I'm still feeling whomped upside the head by my recent revelation that no, my baby sister was no longer with us when we saw the televised moon landing on July 21, 1969, at the house of some rare friends who had a set (Pam and someone, Jewish friends). That must have been where we were staying when I went to that preschool for a few days. I wonder: Was driving my parents crazy then, asking whether my sister was coming back or would we meet her somewhere later, even though I'm sure I'd been told what had happened. I never saw her after she died, but I did see her unconscious, which felt like it was nearly the same thing. I think I went once to where she is buried.

And there's more to hope for and think good thoughts for than ever these days: my body, my family's and friends' bodies. Yet there's only so much I can think or say or do in a day, and again it's time to rest and recharge.

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