Do You Know Who You Are? by Gerry Fialka Venice BeachHead April 2023 #478
Do You Know Who You Are? by Gerry Fialka Venice BeachHead April 2023 #478
A friend commented on my Venice film, The Brother Side of the Wake (aka BroSide), proclaiming it as “slightly mesmerizing self-indulgent hodgepodge.” I felt that would be a great pull quote for the poster. Funny!?! Whaa?!? Then a few weeks later, he wrote back again and really perked me up with this comment: “I must say I have been haunted by a brief, but powerful moment … the simple 2 second shot of you on the boardwalk when you ask an unseen passerby ‘Do you know who you are?’ I think this is one of the best moments in all the films I have seen this year! It stays with me !!”
“Do you know who you are?” is a question that indeed sticks with people. I saw it on a bumper sticker on a car in Venice recently. We live in a community of many people who are employed in the entertainment business. Their movies and TV shows delve knee deep in the swamp muck of identity searching. Consider Jean-Luc Godard’s quip: “Hollywood films are documentaries of people acting.” This town is filled with actors who play other people. Or do they?
Their industry rag, The Hollywood Reporter, recently glared a front cover headline story on Harrison Ford: “I Know Who the F*ck I Am.” The Mother Nature Goddesses exclaim: “It’s about being yourself on purpose.” — Raquel Welch. “No one can take me away from me. I’m always going to be OK.” — Pamela Anderson.
My mother called me years ago to announce that Joy Behar had dropped Marshall McLuhan’s name on the TV show, The View. Recently, Joy says, “My whole career has been me being me. So why would I change it? It’s the thing that works.” She may not know the McLuhanism: “If it works, it’s obsolete.” What does “work” mean? I like to commingle contradictions. How can we celebrate differences to enable insights, and invent new questions?
I recall Andy Warhol suggesting, “It’s not who you are, it’s who you think you are.” The actual quote is “It’s not what you are that counts, it’s what they think you are.” Does my mis-remembering reveal something about who I am?
Popeye, one of the first semioticians, yelps “I yam what I yam” which can incite more contemplation, for the young and old alike. YouTube superstar Emma Chamberlain explains, “I feel powerless about my own identity at times, because I feel like it’s in the control of the public.” What is “control”? Who is “the public”?
As Venetians, who are we? As individuals? As community? Contemplate these words from the Quarterly Review of Biology, 2012, A Symbiotic View of Life: We Have Never Been Individuals: “Death is an ending, a curtain closed, and yet a threshold where your decomposing corpse merges with the rest of the world. Truly, we have never been individuals.” Truly?
John Locke writes that personal identity is made up of “sameness of consciousness.” He holds that personal identity (or the self) is a matter of psychological continuity to be founded on consciousness (for example, memory), and not on the substance of either the soul or the body.
But how do we nurture confidence in our search for identity? With seriousness, wit or what? Who can help? Our community can help us define ourselves. Perhaps it can conjure a clue. We seek others to realize who we are. Alan Watts says that everyone is seeking to find out who they are. If you do find out, then you are in trouble. We are constantly in flux, forever changing.
Here Alan Watts elaborates: “Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth. When a man no longer confuses himself with the definition of himself that others have given him, he is at once universal and unique. He is universal by virtue of the inseparability of his organism from the cosmos. He is unique in that he is just this organism and not any stereotype of role, class, or identity assumed for the convenience of social communication. The hallucination of separateness prevents one from seeing that to cherish the ego is to cherish misery. We do not realize that our so-called love and concern for the individual is simply the other face of our own fear of death or rejection. In his exaggerated valuation of separate identity, the personal ego is sawing off the branch on which he is sitting, and then getting more and more anxious about the coming crash! Naturally, for a person who finds his identity in something other than his full organism is less than half a man. He is cut off from complete participation in nature. Instead of being a body, he ‘has’ a body. Instead of living and loving he ‘has’ instincts for survival and copulation.”
Deepak Chopra ventures: “A person’s identity is a socially induced hallucination. There’s no such thing as a person. There’s only a bundle of consciousness that’s constantly in flux.” How can we integrate personal identity with the collective consciousness as a unifying force?
Local poet Joseph Paulson probes further: “For me, ‘other’ began as we separated from ‘nature’. I can’t tell you what level of consciousness a wildebeest has. But as proto humans drifted higher in consciousness they began to see themselves as more distinctly apart from or other than their environments.” The word “nature” comes from natus, meaning “born” from “the forces of the material world; that which produces living things and maintains order.”
Picasso synergizes more ideas: “We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.”
Here artist R. Crumb talking about losing a sense of self while taking LSD: “I took some bad acid in November of 1965, and the after effect left me crazy and helpless for six months. My mind would drift into a place that was very electrical and crackly, filled with harsh, abrasive, low grade, cartoony, tawdry carnival visions. There was a nightmarish mechanical aspect to everyday life. My ego was so shattered, so fragmented that it didn’t get in the way during what was the most conscious period of my life. I was kind of on automatic pilot and was still constantly drawing. Most of my popular characters — Mr. Natural, Flaky Foont, Angelfood McSpade, Eggs Ackley, The Snoid, The Vulture Demonesses, Av’ n’ Gar, Shuman the Human, the Truckin’ guys, Devil Girl — all suddenly appeared in the drawings in my sketchbook in this period, early 1966. Amazing! I was relieved when it was finally over, but I also immediately missed the egoless state of that strange interlude. . . .To be fully alive is a stupendous struggle! We want the rewards without the struggle — a fatal error! … No such thing as an easy life! Everybody has a hard time … struggle or die! To find out what’s really going on it’s necessary to get around the ego … an art requiring persistent and determined effort … Me, me, me… myself & I … oh no!!! Trapped in my stupid self!”
On this journey to find out who we are, what about centers without margins? Carl Jung observes that “the ego has been seen as the center of consciousness, whereas the Self is defined as the center of the total personality, which includes consciousness, the unconscious, and the ego; the Self is both the whole and the center.”
McLuhan explores this yearning: “Quest for Privacy and Identity Turns Everybody into Nobody . . . When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself. Anybody moving into a new world loses identity. If you go to China, and you’ve never been there before, you’re a nobody. You can’t relate to anything there. So loss of identity is something that happens in rapid change. But everybody at the speed of light tends to become a nobody. This is what’s called the masked man. The masked man has no identity. . . Violence, whether spiritual or physical, is a quest for identity and the meaningful. The less identity, the more violence.”
Lenny Bruce exclaims: “Thank you, Masked Man.” He influenced many people’s search for self-identity. One of them was Frank Zappa, who asserts: “Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform. Don’t kid yourself” to the audience on his “Burnt Weeny Sandwich” 1970 album. This challenge “to be real” is forever facing us. Frank continues, “Who are the brain police?” He specifies the brain. Let’s think about what entails personal identity. How do we integrate this amalgamation of mind, soul, and language?
“Love thy label as thyself “- James Joyce, who is the epitome of being brave and bold.
So “Shake your ESP ear” with “This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.” — Shakespeare, Hamlet.
In fact, on page 248 of Finnegans Wake, we read, “My other is mouthfilled.” The birth of language? The birth of identity? Maybe we can continue our journey of not knowing what we don’t know about ourselves. And smile! Then laugh at our “subnesciousness.” (another invented word by Joyce in Finnegans Wake, page 224)
Dig it & Dance! Sing and Shout: “Who are we?” “Who am I?”
We can ruminate on rubbish, too. It is Godly to upcycle. Think about what we throw away, the tangible and nontangible. How does that reflect on who we are? I dumpster dive Venice history. I found a collage art piece recently with the words “the closer you are to normal, the further you are from yourself” signed “g. pizzle 05–17–18.” I searched for any hints of who wrote this, no luck. Anyone know?
I found a current issue of one of my favorite newspapers, Financial Times. In her latest column, entitled “Greater Expectations,” (2–18–23) Enuma Okoro writes: “Imagine if our deeper sense of identity came from how well we loved each other, and how much attention we paid to sustaining the well being of all creation. Maybe this might shift the often overburdened expectations we have for what constitutes a well-lived, successful and purposeful life.”
This is Venice. We are L-O-V-E!
VENICE BEATS ADDENDUM:
See you at The Venice West on April 2, 2023 for Venice Beats ll https://www.facebook.com/events/842381870350476/
Celebrate who we are, and where we came from, and where we are going — Music, Art, Poetry, Comedy, Community!
Venice BeachHead Beats article: https://thevenicebeachhead.com/2022/09/02/our-story-by-gerry-fialka/
THE VENICE WEST tour on YouTube — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9vsPk1iSts
“The 2022 Venice Beats event at The Venice West was phenomenal! The best show ever. I’m so thrilled to have experienced the evening with the most talented people — performing. . . the sax player Carol Chaikin, Kahlil Sabbagh, Brad Kay, Pegarty Long, and more. Eric Ahlberg knocked it out of the park! Producer/host Gerry Fialka and singer Suzy Williams outdid themselves. Wow wow wow! They MUST do it again. I was blown away.” — Venice Community activist Linda Lucks
“No Self, No Fear” — Joseph Ledoux.
Babs Gonzales was fearless. As an amazing bebop vocalist, poet, and self-published author, he was highly regarded by the Venice beats. Jazz writer Jack Cooke explains that Gonzales “assumed the role of spokesman for the whole hipster world… [becoming] something more than just a good and original jazz entertainer: the incarnation of a whole social group.” To circumvent racial segregation, Gonzales wore a turban and used the pseudonym Ram Singh, passing as an Indian national. (Korla Pandit did the same.) Using this identity, Gonzales worked at the Los Angeles Country Club until becoming a private chauffeur to movie star Errol Flynn. Whilst hospitalized for appendicitis in 1944, he assumed the Spanish surname Gonzales as he “didn’t want to be treated as a Negro,” later explaining that “they were Jim Crowing me in ofay hotels and so I said if it’s just simple enough to change my last name, why not?” After the outbreak of World War ll, Gonzales was forced to return home to Newark to report for military duty, but was declared unfit for service after arriving to his inspection dressed as a woman.
Babs was one of the inventors of bebop language. Gonzales’ writing is included in the historical collection The Cool School: Writing from America’s Hip Underground, whose editor Glenn O’Brien defined Gonzales’ voice as one of many “outsider voices ignored or suppressed by the mainstream [that] would merge and recombine in unpredictable ways, and change American culture forever.” Babs was doing Finneganese, the language about language that James Joyce invented. Things don’t exist on their own, they exist in relationship.
Let’s flip the new metaphors and questions into empathy and endearment. Kind feelings and noble affection reign supreme. Celebrate our search for identity with our tribute to Babs, and many cultural icons — artists, poets, musicians — who echo the free spiritness of 7 Dudley Avenue, when it was The Venice West, and then Sponto Gallery, including Eden Ahbez, ruth weiss, Frank Zappa, Aya Tarlow, Ornette Coleman, Philomene Long, Dave Frisberg, Wallace (Semina Culture) Berman, Lenore Kandel and many more song and dance people. Join us at Venice West, 1717 Lincoln Ave for Venice Beats on April 2. We will be celebrating music and poetry that defines us. Kahlil Sabbagh will be singing the first jazz song in Arabic: Yep-Roc Heresay by Slim Gaillard, who is written about in Kerouac’s On the Road: “One night we went to see Slim Gaillard in a little Frisco nightclub. In Frisco great eager crowds of semi-intellectuals sat at his feet and listened to him on the piano, guitar and bongo drums… Now Dean approached him, he approached his God; he thought Slim Gaillard was God.” Eminent Venice legend Wallace Berman seconds that emotion with his mantra: “Art is Love is God.”
Check out Suzy doing Linda Abertano “All Night Long”
THANKS TO ALL WHO CAME TO the Venice Beats 2023
here is Leon Rubehold VENICE, ANYONE?
NOTE: The April 2, 2023 Venice Beats event happened on the same day that Royston Ellis obit appeared in the NY Times as “Bridge between the Beat Poets and the Beatles.” The British Beat poet Ellis did spoken word performances with The Beatles and Jimmy Page before they were famous. Note that our friend ruth weiss (who read at The Venice West Cafe -aka Sponto Gallery) was the first poet to read with jazz accompaniment, before Kenneth Rexroth, who claimed to be the first.
and here is Suzy Williams doing Tom Waits “Tango Till They’re Sore”
Congrats to Sunny War, who was featured recently on TV: CBS Saturday Morning, Jimmy Kimmel, and Stephen Colbert, and print: Rolling Stone, and The New Yorker.
Thanks to Jessica & Johan for their annual Fat Tuesday Parade (Feb 11, 2023) on the Venice Boardwalk. It was a joyous “Bon ton roula” (pronounced “bahn tahn roolay”), a phonetical approximation of “bons temps rouler”, that’s Louisiana Creole French for “good times roll.” Let’s rock’n’roll these best of times.
The 16th ANNUAL LIT SHOW with SUZY WILLIAMS & BRAD KAY at Beyond Baroque, 7pm https://www.facebook.com/ events/704607097580283/
*** Stormin Norman & Suzy — 50th anniversary concert
Friday July 28, 7pm at the Divine Theater at Gateway City Arts, 92 Race St. Holyoke MA 01040
https://www.gatewaycityarts.com/theater/ Grand piano & beautiful theatre, in the Berkshires.
I welcome your reactions Gerry Fialka firstname.lastname@example.org