This is the story of the universe:
A man walks up to the world. The man, as many of his kind are, is a trickster. Dressed in clothing of a dead punk rocker, his hair is a series of spires that conduct an electric charge across the world. He has four eyes, one seen through glasses, the other covered by pitch green lenses. He is armed with a machine that kills fascists and proceeds to play it. The song is a discordant piece, mixing Van Halen and Merzbow into a cacophony of rebellion and bravado. Above him, in darkness, stands God, the only lasting God. The Spider-God. It is a god made of neon and circuitry. A man made god, who in turn made man. And god sayeth unto the trickster, “SHUT UP!” The trickster pauses for a moment, not knowing God would care. He looks up at the Spider-God, thunder crashing into his very flesh. There is a small hint of awe in his eyes. He returns to the guitar, bobbing his head like he just don’t care. More strained, perhaps even broken, the Spider-God once more requests the trickster to shut up. Instead, the trickster continues playing, harder, more discordant. With his last breath, the Spider-God pleads for the trickster to shut up. When the killing blow is laid, allies of the trickster climb down from God’s entrails. They're teenagers, fellow tricksters, rebels, those made of the wrong stuff. This is the way the world ends. Not with a whimper. But with a rock and roll show.
The vacuum created by the arrival of freedom.
God is a Concept…
But god isn’t dead. For the Spider takes many forms, and we have witnessed it’s rebirth. Form out of its corpse, as a child comes out its mother’s mouth, sits a man on a golden chair. The man shaped form God takes at this moment. His name is David Bowie, and he is speaking on the telephone. Given this, we should perhaps look at what noted philosopher Avital Ronell has to say of the telephone. She writes:
The Nazis voted-their only “vote”-against television and for radio, because at a certain point they had to choose their weapons, that is, choose the technology for the Volk that would secure a reliable and controllable form of transference; thus they chose telephone and radio. The Germans were simultaneously hooked on Hitler’s voice alternating with Wagner’s music, and they developed, we could say, a dependency on the radio.
Ten years ago, Bowie was the Thin White Duke, a Nazi by another name. Is this a sign of the times? Is this army of the young and dispossessed bending the knee to fascism in the name of their New God? Has the Spider embraced the leather grasp of cruelty and darkness? No, for midway through the reformative chant the Spider God sings, he discards the phone. (It should be noted that there are no songs from Station to Station featured in this performance) In this form, God is a being of visuals, the opposite end of the radio binary. Then again, so it was in the last form. For a giant Glass Spider just doesn’t work unless you can see the bloody thing.
So then, what is God’s view of things? To see this, we must look at the mask the Spider currently wears: mainly David Bowie’s. Bowie is notable for several reasons: he is one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, reinventing countless genres of the years (successfully or otherwise), and being the first rock star to make his own death a publicity stunt (as opposed to most rock star deaths, which don’t have their own tie in albums and musicals). But perhaps most notable of all is the way Bowie dealt with the theme of performativity.
Now, being performative isn’t a rarity within the music genre. Indeed, a large part of the show is going on stage and put on some sort of character. This ranges from eating a bat while it tries to wriggle out of your hands to going off stage while a prerecorded skit that ties into your Disney Channel TV series plays on the monitors. But Bowie was different. See, while the others would typically stick to one mask to express their artifice, Bowie would change his masks like we would change pants.
This is a rarity of any artistic endeavor: to have an ever changing and willfully contradictory vision of what your story is about is unheard of (Peter Ackroyd claim’s Blake identified heavily with the antagonist of his mythos Urizen… Blake, notably, was not a pop star and is only brought up here for thematic cohesion). He has worn several masks in his time, ranging from space age messiah to washed out hack trying to be hip with the kids these days to cosplaying as a corpse from Coraline. He wore costumes of the old guard, like Pagliacci, and danced in the fashion of the new, like his tour with the Nine Inch Nails. Despite what many rock and roll supremacists might say, Bowie was about more than just one thing.
And now we see what the Spider represents for 1987. In many ways, it’s the antithesis of The Thin White Duke’s fascism. Fascism, in its purest form, wishes to push the world in a uniquely dull form of obedience and suffering. And while the Spider’s current form doesn’t reject suffering, it instead shapes it into something more productive. Something that can, in its own way, soothe those afflicted while still having enough bite to attack those who wish to afflict others. In many ways, you could say that the Spider has turned into the only lasting truth. In none too many words: God is change.
Earth keeps on rolling – witnesses falling.
When you’re under the USA,
Oh Girl, my problems can’t follow me.
But if my love is your love,
(Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)
I could escape this feeling, with my China girl.
Turn, and face the strange!
But then, change has always been a constant with the Spider. Since the dawn of its existence, it has embodied change. From when it was a young idea, before it was a God, the Spider brought change. For it was trickster, akin to Hershel of Ostropol or Anansi. The Spider would change faces again and again before and after this point: Charlie Chaplin, Spyral no. 37, Mattie Franklin; all masks and emanations of the Spider. So then, if change is essential to the nature of God, what makes one who embodies the concept so special (it’s like saying a Superhero is about With great power, there must also come -- great responsibility, there’s something more going on)?
The key to understanding this era’s Spider comes in the form of a line from later in the show: She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl. The song, Rebel Rebel, comes from the album, Diamond Dogs, made up of various songs mostly pertaining to a failed attempt by Bowie to make a musical out of 1984 (the other song from that album included in the tour is Big Brother, about looking for the right fascist to lead us before descending into a chaotic chant about how we love big brother). It tells of transitions, from the swinging glam of the 70’s to the more punkish style of the 80’s.
The line in question refers to the blurring of gender norms within the punk scene, with female presenting members dressing in more male coded clothing, having their hair cut extremely short, and embracing ultraviolence as an aesthetic pleasure akin to psychedelia of the previous generation. Much like that generation, the punks ended up going to crap and voting for rather shitty people (Thatcher and Regan for the hippies, Blair and Bush for the punks) due to a misbegotten belief that rebelling against the cruel and unjust system is something that kids do and whereas voting for a Conservative, no mater how bugnutterly terrible they are, is the adult move to make. But at the time, the punks were rather the go to source of youthful rebellion.
Equally, this line points towards a group of people mostly ignored in the context of the narrative of the 80’s: queer people and specifically people in the Transgender part of the LGBT acronym. Much like the B, Trans people tend to be overlooked in favor of stories like “Sexy Lesbians” and “Sad Gay Men Die”. Indeed, it was a little under 10 years since the infamous “Transsexual Empire” was released (though the concert came out the exact same year as Sandy Stone’s rebuttal “The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto.” And while it did come out in late 1987 (giving it as much weight to be included in this psychochronography as some of the other subjects I’ll talk about), I probably won’t talk about it. I am quite frankly feeling extremely anxious talking about the subject of trans people in the context of this essay alone, as I have put my foot in my mouth when talking about it outside of Internet contexts. If it does get included in the blog, it’ll probably be in either a guest post or a bonus essay in a book version when I feel more confident talking about this subject [if either of those things ever happen]), and thus the rise of TERFs (about as close to the Alt-Left as is plausible).
Indeed the two major (and good) pieces of trans culture within the pop culture scene (that I’m aware of, please tell me what I missed) were a movie about a transvestite rapist reinterpretation of Frankenstien with Meat Loaf… and David Bowie. While not transgender himself, Bowie (a fellow bisexual) had an androgynous form that didn’t quite fit into a gender binary, even when playing explicitly gendered roles like Phillip Jeffries or The Thin White Duke. He was in the middle of roles by the time Glass Spider was being played, not sure where to go next after a major shock.
And so we see what “God is Change” refers to in this context: it’s a transition between different states of being, different ideologies and personal expressions. A rejection of the static change provided by the fascist Thin White Duke in favor of more fluid change.
Turn to the left!
“F” is for how fucked you are!
It’s August 12, 2017. It’s 4:41 PM. I don’t know when this’ll be uploaded (I assume late November/early December), but this is when I’m writing it. I’m supposed to be writing the bit on Rebel Rebel, but I feel I need to write this one first. Nazis have descended upon the streets of Charlottesville to protest the tearing down of a Confederate statue. (While I was writing the Glass Spider bit late last night, they were marching with burning swastikas and torches, to make it more clear which side the sodding baddies are. A video was up on twitter of one of them beating up counterprotesters. I didn’t go to bed for a long time.) In response, leftists marched down the streets in broad daylight to show that the Nazi opinion is a minor one. One Nazi, decided to get his vengeance upon the leftists by driving a car in the middle of the crowd, killing at least one of them. The police’s response was to tell the leftists to go back home and keep the peace (i.e. leave the Nazis alone so they can do what Nazis always do). The President responded by saying that this was a terrible thing to happen, of how both sides of the conflict are at fault. He never names which sides they were. On the bright side, Dick Spencer got arrested.
(I should say, before some asshole who isn’t even reading this sentence writes a spiel about how “The Alt-Right aren’t real Nazis” or “This name calling is why we are allowed to kill leftists” or something involving the word Cuck, I should note that no, the group that marched carrying burning swastikas and doing the Hitler salute aren’t technically Nazis. This technicality is based solely off the fact that, rather than advocating the rise of the Aryan Race, the Alt-Right simply wishes to instead bring about an evolutionary shift in humanity that would force us to evolve face tentacles via white nationalism and placing a CEO as King of America. Completely different, however by virtue of aesthetic similarities, I find it more useful to put aside this rather minor difference and keep things simple. But if you want to have some more connective tissue between the two, recall that Phase I was about Nazi Lovecraftian horrors, and you’re good to go. If you wish to read more about the Alt-Right and their need for Steve Jobs [back when he was alive] to be king, I’d recommend Neoreaction a Basilisk by Dr. Philip Sandifer, which I assume will be out by the time this post is up, if not by January.)
One wonders how we can rebel against these forces. Some have suggested that those who publicly walk the streets as Nazis be reported on to their bosses and promptly fired from their white collar jobs. Others have offered the more moderate position of punching Nazis in the face (and before some MY FREE SPEECH jackass comes along and doesn’t read this sentence, I would like to point out that being an active Nazi, unlike being an active Black Lives Matter protester, is the verbal equivalent of punching someone in the face. A mob of people marching down the streets with fucking torches is terrifying, and keeps more people from using their first amendment right than punching one Nazi would. A universally free and open marker of language will always support those with power, regardless of what Trickle Down Linguists will tell you. And that’s not even accounting for the fact that they literally ran over people, killing at least one of them). I’m sympathetic towards this option, and it’s very hard to see a superhero, especially a Jewish one like Spider-Man (noted Spider-Man scholar Andrew Rilstone on the first Amazing Spider-Man annual: Page 33: “You know your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is always available for weddings, barmitzvahs, and all sorts of fun things”… Confirmation, if confirmation were needed, of Peter Parker’s heritage: someone with a Christian background would have said “weddings, Christenings…”), being against this moderate stance.
Day after day,
I called her name,
“Tell me I’m rapidly yours!”
“It couldn’t be done.”
We are alone together.
We seem to be trapped in the past. Not just Bowie, who is literally tied up in the Spider-God’s webs while an old clip from a silent movie plays in on the Spider-God’s, as if he’s using the old fiction to hold onto a life that was over long ago. Nor even the main thesis of this blog, of looking back 30 years to see what the world was like when a Spider-Man died. No, I’m talking about the fact that even though the thesis hinges on it being about October-November, 1987, we’re 5 entries in and this is the second one to talk about something that happened in that time frame. The rest of the stuff was either from before that era or talked about something from before that era. In fact, this is the last entry in this section to talk about something from October-November, 1987 (the first two for reasons necessitated by the subject matter of the blog, and the third is arguably a remake of the subject matter in the sense that Mulholland Drive is a remake of Species).
Even the two works we have talked about from that time period aren’t confined to that era. Phase I was initially serialized in 2000AD beginning in August of ’87 and ended in November. Whereas the Glass Spider Tour started in May of that year and, interestingly enough, ended on the exact same day as Phase I: November 28th, 1987. It’s not that this was intentional, indeed the structure of this project wasn’t supposed to have parts for it to be broken up into. The story I’m telling with this blog (which I only have a vague idea what it’s about) just shaped itself out this way.
I feel like I’m less someone who writes up a plan and follows it to the letter, and more akin to an improve artist who has a vague idea what they’re doing with their lives. Sure, sometimes I’ll have an idea of what I’m going to write, but sometimes those ideas go out the window in favor of new ones when my fingers reach the keyboard (for example, I wasn’t going to do the “OH GOD, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING HERE, PLEASE HELP!” theme of this mini essay for another entry). I just go through the work I’m reading or watching or whatever, and I try to create a response that feels right for the material. That is, both the subject of the blog post and the work the blog is tangentially about. That’s the hard part: getting it all to fit together in a nice bow. Sure, I have that for this one already, but I have another three songs to talk about (Initially, I wanted to do the whole concert, but it just felt like way too much). And so I got stuck in tangents about the past. Don’t worry though, once we’re out of this, we’ll stick to the era for the rest of the blog (save for one entry near the end, for reasons I might get to when we get there).
So how do we get out? Well, I suppose the same way Bowie does: by asking for help from someone outside of himself. In his case, help came in the form of a sharp haired woman in a flowery pink and blue dress. So who can I ask for help? You. You’re good people, naturally I’m sure. Though I don’t know who you are, and will only get the briefest glimpse of your face (as is the case of all close friends), I’m sure we can work together to get out of this past, in favor of other ones. Ones actually set in October-November of 1987 perhaps?
‘Til the 21st century lose.
God is Angst.
One thing predominantly unspoken of in regards to fluid change is that it tends to hurt. Sure, this is true of all change, but unlike more static changes where even the most extreme and radical collapse could still be healed from, fluid change keeps happening every so often, pushing in all sorts of different directions. You can never stop and be the new thing you are for long. You have to be something else entirely the first moment a new direction presents itself.
It’s not just the performativity of Bowie that this refers to. We are all in a state of fluid change. We get five years of elementary school, three of middle, four of High School and college, and then various jobs until you’re retired/dead. Few people have their first job be their only job. Even jobs with “security” also have promotions that push people into new and different environments. And that’s not even dealing with the other people surrounding you who are also changing, whose changes in turn change you.
We can’t stop changing, no matter what the political devils murdering people tell us. We can’t go back to the way things were, we aren’t Batman or Iron Man where our stories have a base status quo that remains the same forever and always amen. When we bounce back, we don’t always return to form. Sometimes we end up dead, where our corpses slowly change more and more until we are one with the ever-changing Earth we live on.
There is no Golden Age, where everything was wonderful and peaceful before the bastards came and ruined it. History is a rudderless series of events where the only constant is that everything changes. To suggest a return to the past as a preference to the present is ludicrous at best. We need change, to embrace new and fantastical ideas. For without them, we wouldn’t be us.
We fight against this oncoming swarm of change, wierdos, and newness because change hurts (said hurt comes in the form of losing a form of power. As Jed Blue once put it The Apocalypse is a Revolution from the perspective of those who have something to lose). It’s necessary, but it still hurts. Some of us would rather appeal to an imagined version of a past that was, if we’re being kind, not as good as it is right now for a large majority of people (people of color, queer people, women, children, men…). A past that can’t quite fit with the way the world works and itself must be changed to work as a reaction to the ethics and logics of the modern day. It’s a rejection of being critical of the past in favor of taking the “bugs” of history as features that should be embraced as the pinnacle of humanity. Alternatively, people have used the cruelties and destructive tendencies to point out what needs to change in our society (reminder: Slavery is still being brought up because the system of slavery isn’t so much dead as reorganized towards prison labor, foreign countries, and white supremacy).
I suppose that’s what people, and especially young people, ought to do at one point or another: reexamine the past and imagine a better future.
“Wrong-negative fades-never the twain, reckless and tame;
Rise for a year or two then make a war
For making up underwear-”
“What’s that sound? What’s that sound!”
“Let’s dance for fear!”
“…Feeling so gay, feeling gay?”
A dirty angel with a lovely pair.
I was going to talk about Let’s Dance initially, but thematic reasons push me into talking about Time. This is mainly because David Bowie decided to wear fucking wings for this number and fly in the face of the old Spider-God. Now, the obvious image to go with for a story of Time, Angels, and Change would be Walter Benjamin’s interpretation of Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus:
His eyes are opened wide, his mouth stands open and his wings are outstretched. The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment so fair [verweilen: a reference to Goethe’s Faust], to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm.
Indeed, the song itself seems to be sympathetic to the Angel’s plight. Time is a discordant song about the inevitability of the end of dreams with images like The sniper in the brain and I look at my watch, it says 9:25. And I think, “Oh God, I’m still alive!” that imply a desire to just end it all. To just go back to the dirt rather than deal with this constant day in, day out bullshit.
The problem is, no matter how much we want to, we can never go back. To go back to the old paradise would be as much of a wreckage as going forward to a new one. Time consumes everything in the end. But we can choose what ideas get consumed, which get reclaimed, and which evolve into something stranger. As Bowie puts it in his song, descending to the stage with the grace a wingless angel, Breaking up is hard, but keeping dark is hateful. I had so many dreams, I had so many breakthroughs. But you, my love, were kind, but love has left you dreamless. The door to dreams is closed. Your park was real dreamless. Perhaps you’re smiling now, smiling through this darkness. Before belting out with glee of acceptance: But all I had to give was the guilt of dreaming!
It’s not that looking back is the problem. Far from it, it’s what I’m literally doing right now. The problem is looking back merely to look back to a Golden Age, to use the past as an opiate that must be kept “pure” from the “filth” of the future who dare question it’s supremacy over the future and all alternative pasts. But we are all of us ruins. Flawed, mixed up beings who try our best to make things better, only to screw up royally. In the end, all we have… is each other.
Sometimes I feel like (oh, the whole human race)…
So messed up, I want you here.
Futari kiri de hajimete atta hoshikuzu no terasu.
Love can be used for anything. A father, who loves his daughter, would send her to conversion therapy out of love for who she once was. A man who loves his country, will murder countless citizens in the name of his vision of it. An abuser will stalk his love so she’ll be his forever. Just saying, “love conquers all” means nothing when the all is left undefined. Love requires the acceptance of change of those you love, less it be twisted into something cruel and terrible. You have to accept that you don’t have power over the things you love, and can’t stop them from changing. Your little princess will fall in love with people you don’t approve of; your country will embrace those hurt by your love; and no means no. Change is inevitable, though not always shapeable. Cruel love believes that if you can dominate it enough, it will love you back. As Jung put it, Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.
The lights go out. The players take their bow. The Old God’s corpse is taken down. The New God leaves to come up with a new role. Angels sing songs of remixing the world. And we fade to black…
(Next Time: Kraven in His Element.)
[Photos: Batman #680 by Grant Morrison and Tony Daniel]