Illustration by Mike Lee
EVERY TIME WE GOT TOGETHER, LENTZ AND I had the same conversation about repetition. Repetition vs. style; style as fallout from repetition; style as repetition as seductive marketing tool that stifles artistic evolution. “Philip Glass . . .” “ . . . just stopped trying. Now he’s . . .” “. . . Rephil Glass. Phil Glassner. Phillippe Glassé . . .”
EVERY TIME WE TALKED ABOUT REPETITION, LENTZ and I got hungry and walked to a restaurant, and every time we arrived at the restaurant, we found ourselves faced with a Muzakian lounge act. The Wayne Baltimore Experience. Sea Jam. Trent Barnhart and Mist (featuring Tammy Cordell). Sabrina Nixon and Sage. Coasting With Barry Michael Sheinfeld Every Sunday. Mimsy Soma and the Infinite Craig.
EVERY TIME THE ACT PLAYED, IT PLAYED CLASSIC Muzakian medleys: “The Girl From Ipanema,” then straight into “Brazil,” then straight into “Don’t Sleep in the Subway,” then straight into “To Sir, With Love,” then straight into
EVERY TIME THE MEDLEYS ATTACKED, LENTZ AND I sighed, muttered and moaned, and looked at (though not quite on) the bright side. “Hm. Can you see it?” “Yep. That’s definitely a wallet on the drum machine.” “So you think that’s intentional?”
ALTHOUGH WE'RE EVERY BIT AS ARROGANT and repetitive with our art-whinings as fundamentalists are with their God-whinings, we art-whiners have the decency not to think we deserve tax-exempt status. (Just federal grants.) During the McCarthy era, we art-whiners did not lobby to stamp “In Art We Trust” on our sacred implements of exchange, nor do we expect schoolchildren to pledge us any allegiance. We just want to worship our food, our wine and our coffee without being suffocated by “entertainment.” (We’re trying to eat, you see.)
So rather than spend the Saturday between Good Friday the 13th and Easter Sunday helping friends teach their children the story of the 13th Apostle, a foil-wrapped bunny who laid chocolate chicken eggs, I drove up to Santa Barbara to have lunch with my friend Daniel Lentz, who’d driven up to Santa Barbara from Phoenix because . . . there aren’t any restaurants in Phoenix.
We walked along State Street and to the back of a thin, deep restaurant packed with healthy, frondlike white folks of all colors swaying to the specially programmed Eastertime lunch-o-matic drum-machine stylings of the Wayne Baltimore Experience, Sea Jam, Trent Barnhart and Mist (featuring Tammy Cordell), Mimsy Soma and the Infinite Craig, Coasting With Barry Michael Sheinfeld Every Sunday, or Sabrina Nixon and Sage. (Can’t remember which.)
But even far, far at the back of the restaurant, way, way at the end of the long, long, spotless bar, we could hear the music very, very well. The effect was that of being attacked — albeit affectionately — with audio tranquilizer darts across the entire sonic spectrum. Nothing terrible, not quite threatening or even necessarily uncomfortable. Just . . . there. We were being tranquilized, but with tranquilizers that had been used on us so many many times before that now they no longer calmed but irked. And our reaction was to modify our conversation — subconsciously? — to make the best of the situation, to assume the role of contrapuntal libretto:
THE WHAT WASN'T TOO BAD/THE OLIVE OIL THE GUITAR SOLO/THE OLIVE OIL NOT VERY GREEN/FOR EXTRA VIRGIN SOMEONE MUST/WANT TO HEAR IT EXTRA VIRGINS/I HAVEN'T MET ANY HUH-HUH-HUH-HUH-HUH
(CHORUS:) FUCKING GREAT COFFEE FUCKING GREAT WINE FUCKING GREAT COFFEE FUCKING GREAT WINE
Then we stopped talking, ending the song, and listened as the family of purebred blond Santa Barbara news-anchor spawn at the next table took over:
IT'S REALLY NICE OUT/ THE NICEST DAY SO FAR THIS YEAR WELL, I DON'T KNOW ABOUT THAT/ BUT IT'S DEFINITELY NICE YOU GUYS GOING TO THE GAME?/ ONE OF THE TEAMS WON LAST TIME
(CHORUS:) SEVEN O'CLOCK, OVER AT GREG'S FOUR MILLION DOLLARS A MONTH SEVEN O'CLOCK, OVER AT GREG'S FOUR MILLION DOLLARS A MONTH
Shit — these people were good. Their conversation blended into the music without discernible distortion, while the sounds that had come out of Lentz’s and my desultory, grumpy and sexist exchange were antagonizing, fluttering, noise. We fought with the music. It was always there, always something. But it just wasn’t music, not by itself. Couldn’t ignore it, because to ignore it was to admit that there was an it to ignore. But these news-anchor people were tight. As if they’d been rehearsing with the band. You could tell that if they kept at it, they were gonna make some big money.
A FEW MONTHS AGO I MADE AN ABBREVIATED reference (“the world’s most beautiful thesaurus”) to the Plumb Design Visual Thesaurus (www.visualthesaurus.com), and since it deserves more than that, I thought I should repeat the reference here, inside a stylistically unrelated story, and set off with its very own paragraph. Since the PDVT is, foremost, a thesaurus, I’ll honor the work of its creators by not attempting to paraphrase their definition: “The Plumb Design Visual Thesaurus is an exploration of sense relationships within the English language. By clicking on words, you follow a thread of meaning, creating a spatial map of linguistic associations. The Visual Thesaurus was built using Thinkmap™, a data-animation technology developed by Plumb Design.” By presenting an animated arena of words in an efficiently and sensitively programmed visual network-structure (navigable in your choice of two or three fabulous dimensions), where relationships are forged before your eyes, the PDVT transforms a tool for creation into a sort of portable sculpture, offering not merely synonymic suggestions but profound directions: Keep going — there’s more.