Art of Darkness Live
the fire in me now: a retrospect
I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to write one of thosescene reports. Now I know. Please enjoy!
Along with my erstwhile Grand Podcast Abyss co-host Sam Worthington, I was happy to attend the Art of Darkness podcast’s live show this Monday in St. Paul, MN (video above). Sam and I sat about two feet behind the camera in a tight, creaky room upstairs of a brewery whose stone walls were standing, as our hosts point out, before Fitzgerald was born. I didn’t drink beer, though; in a purely visual extension of the matcha habit that has fueled Major Arcana, I drank something bright and green, what I’m not quite sure—“a liquor never brewed,” I guess. I’m glad they posted video because Sam and I touched the proverbial grass so much at this internet-in-real-life event that we both completely forgot to pull out our phones and take pictures.
I came in knowling too little about Fitzgerald. I’d read that perfectly perfect Deco objet d’art Gatsby three times—the first in a single sunshot Sunday spring afternoon in my junior year of high school, the white curtains in my grandmother’s City-of-Pittsburgh sash windows flying like the white curtains in the French fenêtres of Tom Buchanan’s East Egg mansion—and a short story or two, but nothing else.
Listening to the Bad Mouth Theatre Company’s rendition of “Winter Dreams,” which I’d somehow never read before despite my long dalliance with the Norton Anthology, I understood as I had not previously the reach of Fitzgerald’s elegiac and Keatsian tone—the tone of a youth prematurely aged by its own irrevocable loss—into so much subsequent American fiction: from Salinger and Cheever to Roth and Updike to Tartt and Franzen.
Inspired by this event, I’m currently reading Tender Is the Night—a novel about psychoanalysis, among other things. (Like Martin Amis’s London Fields but for completely different reasons, it puts an old Blur song in my head.) It reads as if early James, the James of Daisy Miller, had lived to read Freud—except that in the portrayal of the etiology of his heroine’s madness, Fitzgerald does not abandon “the seduction hypothesis.”
After the live show, we moved on to a rather less storied bar in St. Paul. Sam and I arrived ahead of the Art of Darkness crew to find an altercation in progress. It took five or so bouncers and bartenders to shove and haul a belligerent old man out into the street. He was clutching the door-posts and kicking back behind him, his gray bowl-cut and trembly jowls swaying over the sidewalk, the kind of thing you only see in the movies. Accidentally or on purpose, the slurring and obscene old man caught one of the bartenders in the face amid the scuffle—the prettiest one, as it happened, and the tallest, a woman about six foot three, with long brown hair and a tank-top green as matcha, green as Jimmy Gatz’s parvenu dream.
For his transgression of a chivalric code sometimes still enforced outside professional-class spaces, this crude sot, this poor creature, found himself beaten in the middle of the street, his sallow fish-pale corpulence briefly cruciform on the double yellow line. Sam and I tensed ourselves in all the violence, ready to leap into action, whether to help subdue the drunkard or to defend him against his righteous assailants we weren’t sure. Playing Joyce to his Hemingway, I told Sam, “If it comes to it, you can go out there,” I said, gesturing to the melee on the asphalt, “and I can help comfort the tall girl.” Someone brought the tall girl a plastic white grocery bag full of ice; everyone who worked at the bar, and seemingly all the regulars, too, lined up to give her a hug.
I summarized the event to Art of Darkness co-host, novelist, and Tarotphant Brad Kelly when he and his co-host Kevin Kautzman arrived. We agreed that some such event must have happened more than once to Fitzgerald. I drank gin, Brad smoked a cigar, and we had a nice conversation on the sultry summer sidewalk about the art of the novel, the apolitics of the novelist, and what else but Tarot. We found out that we’re both internet friends with; when she says “Default Friend,” she really does mean it.
I’m thrilled to see cities between New York and L.A. hosting events like this one, where the energy of independent artists online takes to the sometimes tumultuous streets. Fitzgerald ends “Winter Dreams” with this:
“Long ago,” he said, “long ago, there was something in me, but now that thing is gone. Now that thing is gone, that thing is gone. I cannot cry. I cannot care. That thing will come back no more.”
To this I counterpose the end of a drama by another Irishman, one known for being far more morose than Fitzgerald. I give you Beckett, I give you Krapp’s Last Tape:
Perhaps my best years are gone. When there was a chance of happiness. But I wouldn’t want them back. Not with the fire in me now. No, I wouldn’t want them back.
Despite or because of this decade’s apocalyptic ambience—despite or because of the darkness—our ’20s, no less than Fitzgerald’s ’20s, are glorious years in which to be an American artist.