“Art is a socially acceptable compulsion. It's a place I can never be wrong.” -Jim Smith
A gratifying aspect of the Tonight! project is getting to know you. It’s part of the “work”. Like Thanksgiving dinner, a week in the kitchen and an hour to eat it. We get to sit at the same table but cooking together is where we really get to know each other. Hosting the show is the gift at the end. The last few weeks we’ve been cooking in various kitchens around town. The joy of this work is driven by the compelling creatives in this community and recently at the studio of Jim Smith.
As mentioned in a previous entry, every show is like a concept album, the underlying theme loosely ties the pieces together and provides a guiding principal for me as a writer. (Click here to read about it) In crafting an episode I’m looking for guests, performances and art that are in someway attached to what I’ve attached myself too conceptually. Sometimes I don’t have to look. It’s just there, a serendipitous pop while listening to a favorite tune. I could spill a few words about how much music influences my work, here, there and everywhere but perhaps in a future post.
“And for once in his life, it was quiet
As he learned how to turn in the tide
And the sky was aflare when he came up for air
In his homemade, fan blade, one-man submarine ride”
This is a verse from John Mayer’s "Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967" on the Born and Raised album. I love this song because it touches me in so many ways and I’m sure many can relate to the metaphors just beneath the waves. When hearing this song it instantly takes me to the work of Jim Smith. The feel, the sound, the visuals. If I were Smith, Alabiso or Mayer, and was to build a machine what would it be? It would be a “homemade, fan blade, one-man submarine ride”. You might want to google the lyrics. Have you been there?
So while I keep episode two’s concept close until show time I don’t mind giving up some ideas beforehand as we watch it find its way. We’re making it up as we go along. As guests and ideas form for an episode it finds its cohesiveness quite naturally. So if I give it out ahead of time then we’re just labeling something that hasn’t found its true form yet. That may also be true for those of us that label ourselves this way or that.
When I was a boy I used to build machines. Credit goes to my Dad’s machine gene, a committed tinkerer. My machines didn’t really do anything in the outside world but sure churned this curious mind like ice cream. My favorite was the telekinesis machine. I would buy the wires, switches and blinking lights from Edmund Scientific Company with lawn mowing money then arrange the parts in punched holes in a shoebox. I would get my brother to come and watch as I flipped the throw switch, lights would flash and a pencil would magically fly across the table. He would laugh his way out of the room after he saw the barely visible fishing line connecting the pencil to my foot underneath. In retrospect I was building a “hope my brother loves me” machine. John Mayer’s homemade, fan blade, one-man submarine is the “I need to get my shit together” machine. A place to get quiet and regroup.
Walking through the aisles of Jim Smith’s studio I’m looking at the machine that Edgar Allen Poe built. He built it to relieve depression says Jim. Jim has machines built by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Elvis and many more. Naturally I’m looking for the thin, fragile, invisible string. And there it was, beneath the cogs, the gears and wires built from the scraps of others lives.
If you followed the last episode or read the blog you might have learned how getting bullied seeded my creative self. Hiding “beneath the wings of a bluebird as she sings” as it goes. For a while I’m thinking the bullied gets the gift. That I can cop an attitude and think “I showed you”. Not so my friends. It turns out that the bullied meets the bully when Jim reveals to me that he was the consummate bully. Hard core at that. He provides evidence of the wrongs he says he’s done with a school suspension notice dated June 6th, 1966.
So here we are, surrounded by historical fiction machines, I’m entranced by his work, and how it moves me while all along it is “Bullied Meets Bully” time. Yet we find each other endearing, talking and connecting on many levels. I imagine we are always in the process of judging ourselves, our rights and our wrongs and building our own machines around them. I say “we” because I’m hoping I’m not alone here. That is why soon you will be meeting Jim Smith on a future episode of Tonight!. We’ll be talking about steampunk, the machines that he builds, the machines that we build and what the bullied and the bully have to say to each other, in front of everybody, thoughts full Monty.
“And his wife told his kids he was crazy
And his friends said he'd fail if he tried
But with the will to work hard and a library card
He took a homemade, fan blade, one-man submarine ride” – John Mayer
Ultimately Jim was clear about his machine, the one he built for himself and that inspires so many of us to recognize how wonderful we really are. “Art is a place I can never be wrong.” he says.
Tonight! is a community event. If you have something to say, feel free to write. Your words or yourself may end up on the show unless you request otherwise. In either case tell me about your art or your heart. You’re part of this machine. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
John Mayer’s "Walt Grace's Submarine Test, January 1967" Video Directed by Virgilio Villores, Florence.
From his bio... "he learned how to make art of garbage from Jack Smith". Go figure.