The Caretaker Everywhere at the end of time - Stage 2

[History Always Favours The Winners; 2017]

Styles: Random erratic surges, with sparrowlike childtrebling, orphans in identical and uniform blue denim in and out of remembering
Others: plaque tangles loop loose ends

It’s so beautiful I don’t want to talk about decay.

Beauty and decay weren’t separate, not at the start. They were born together, contracted in the same lifeline. We register our bodies in languages of beauty, this sensory aesthetic: we see the strength of muscles and the acumen of thought, and we call it grace. Wellness and wholeness feels beautiful.

Wellness isn’t opposed to illness, because bodies are getting worse and better in every instant. Cells die and cells are made, and that’s decay. That’s beautiful. The sun comes up about as often as the sun goes down. For every moment of flexed muscle’s triumph, there’s a strained tissue, the pinching of nerves, the breakage of body. Decay isn’t unbeautiful, really. Decay isn’t unnatural. Decay and beauty occur in every instant, were contracted in the same lifeline. Ashes and dust to ashes and dust: the march of it all, the progress process should feel comforting, natural.

It doesn’t.

It feels like our bodies betray us, and it feels like history as a one-way street. There’s beauty to the body’s ability to reconcile errors, its agility in correcting aberrations while keeping step with time. But the march of it all has to end somewhere: lifelines are timelines, and the beauty fades. Every sprained ankle might be the last sprained ankle, until it’s not the ligament that tears but the ability to repair that’s decayed. Bad back, bum knee, lost vision; decay means death. History is finite. Things are beautiful and transient, everywhere at the end of time.

We ameliorate history’s constant marshal with something we call memory. It’s the way our brains categorize lives and the way we insert our selves into our history. History is life in a line, and memory is every direction at once, misplaced in time. It’s how we get around breaking down, through categorizing sensation observation into places we can’t lose called memories. An act of remembering asserts an existence and a self reacting to it. The memory is our story, looking at a self and recognizing it. Even in breakdown and breakage, I am and I am myself, I still feel as though I am me.

The beauty of decay is how efficient it is. We think of memory as above time and history, an always-retreat for making sense of life. Memory is a muscle and a mechanism. It sprains and strains and it decays. And the way down to terminus is ruthless random. When my grandmother, strong back and full frame and pink cheeks, poured two half-and-half creamers on her Belgian waffle one day at lunch, it was watching the tibia snap, the shoulder jut out of socket, the glaucoma settle on the lids. Bodies malfunction. It’s not unbeautiful or unnatural, just quiet internal rebellions, quiet dusk coming early.

It’s so beautiful I don’t want to talk about decay.

Everywhere at the end of time isn’t decay or beauty. It isn’t my grandmother or me, and it isn’t diagnosis or cure. It’s James Leyland Kirby as The Caretaker, a project of collected loops and samples, pieces of pre-war histories captured on gramophone 78s. It’s a collage, a manipulation, a piece no more penetrating than an erudite sermon or a well-knead sonnet or the original gramophone 78s that backbone it. It’s an artifact.

Stage 1 felt like that scroll, the thing to be unfurled, the reminder that the only thing behind our bodies is us. By collating and colliding past remembrances, it’s thinking what memory loss sounds like: the songs cut and fold because transition is a choice to change and loops are an inability to change. You can’t not not remember.

The scrolls unfurled, the only things behind our bodies are pretty flowers from a rotten rock. Stage 2 is more wound-up samples, stopping and re-stopping, an ambient hauntology. It’s an endlessness, “the figure of the ghost as that which is neither present nor absent, neither dead nor alive, (Derrida, Spectres of Marx). If Stage 1 is the Gold Room irremembered, an imagined recall, Stage 2 is Grady in the bathroom wiping Jack’s coat, both spreading and dulling the stain. You know how this movie ends.

Everywhere at the end of time aches me. It sticks to me like plaque. I am at work, in the shower, on pavement, and I can’t shake its ballroom lines; I’m always humming “It’s just a burning memory,” that first lilt from Stage 1 rewilting here as “What does it matter how my heart breaks.” What gets stuck in our heads, and what can’t we lose? I remember walking into my grandmother’s house, seeing Skittles in the cat’s bowl, being asked how a dead uncle was. And I remember switching the Radio Shack stereo on and hearing her alto like a small voice in a big chamber coo every word and melody along with Bing Crosby. What gets stuck in our heads? What gets lost?

Everywhere at the end of time mines the sounds of a past to imagine a gradual apocalypse of a self. An art of memory/self loss means building an artifact in destruction. The Caretaker’s careful blocking stacks of unremembered 78s means we hear the needle scratch, as the vinyl shellac spins. It calls our attention to the medium that makes the sounds; I’m not sure what the medium is for memory loss, what it’s like to call attention to it. The Caretaker has crafted a thing made in the image of decay, always ever-worsening. The artist as caretaker mandates that the audience has to give attention, lend support, bend. This is brutal art, art by imposition and at its heart is a hopelessness that sticks.

And what does it matter how my heart breaks? It breaks in the last moments of Stage 2, the needle hitting no groove, the wanting “The way ahead feels lonely.” It breaks to remember my aunt relaying how my grandmother, brain full of dementia and stalling between increasingly-prolonged stretches of not/can’t knowing, told her, “it’s like I’m walking down the hallway and there’s an open door and then someone shuts the door.”

My heart breaks because I get to remember. Beauty and decay are part of that heart, the way it loves and the moves it makes. To imagine days of decay is beautiful, but we have to take care. Like my grandmother relied on my mother, like I’ll rely someday. We all need caregivers. We all become caretakers.

It’s so beautiful I don’t want to talk about decay.

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