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The ’hood made for what the hell happens

BY BILL TALEN | Something is happening with the Earth and we don’t know what it is.

We can’t capture the horror of a 3-mile-wide tornado. When a person who has lost everything is asked by some news yahoo with a haircut, “Describe what you are feeling now,” these wrong words hang in the air. The victim stands there expressionless, in silence.

At the Earth Church, we have a song, “Beautiful Earth,” and when we sing it we are asking the Earth for a way to understand what is happening with this disastrous crisis.

“Beautiful Earth what do you have to say? / Fire and Flood, Virus and Death / Earth won’t you please translate?”

Now when I think of the East Village, and ask who are the translators of the Death and Life of Great Earth Disasters, I think right away of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, Charlie Parker, Bimbo Rivas, and then the translators of complete mystery just pour out of my mind: Alecia Torres, Adam Purple, Dana Beal, Abbie Hoffman, Lucy Sante, Ellen Stewart, Helen Levitt, Liz Christy, B&H Dairy, Yoko Ono, W. H. Auden, Jack Terricloth, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Tuli Kupferberg, James Waring, Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver and Holly Hughes, Nico, Peter Cramer, Jack Waters, Kate Millett, Remy Charlit, Deborah Harry, Richard Foreman, Lou Reed, Joey Ramone, the staff at Lucky Cheng’s, Penny Arcade, Jim Power, Keith Haring, Yoshiko Chuma, Eileen Myles, Miguel Pinero…

…all the lives that we remember, practically everyone who carries messages that mean something that you take through the years with you… lived around here or came through these streets.

Back to this question. The Earth’s crisis is overwhelming us with its glorious convulsions. And we need the extreme consciousnesses like Lady Pink or JM Basquiat or X Pitts or Grant James Varjas to be able to understand this physical revolution. To explain it, at least to run parallel to it. It’s like the Earth is the most avant garde artist of all, killing simultaneously the old garde and the future garde with disorienting confections of new DNA.

You couldn’t make this up. On the other hand, we can’t describe it even when it actually happens. Waterfalls straight out of the sky in California from jetstreams tossing and turning… the 5,000-mile-wide, flesh-eating seaweed blob floating into 50 million tourists in Florida… the glaciers around Mount Everest melting and a third of Pakistan disappears. And what about that smoky day two Wednesdays ago? You could do a Fran Benitez-style rubbing in the air in the middle of Second Avenue.

I think of the East Village as a 12-runway intersection that collides many imaginations over decades and decades, which leaves archaeology in the dirty air. Striations of whimsy mixed with rocket science mixed with unexpected sex mixed with a thousand little synagogues… Something is happening here but we don’t know what it is, but if it makes sense anywhere, it’s got to be here… .

Lots of us arrived in the Village with the idea that “I can be myself here” or “I can be as strange as I actually am — here — and I might be somebody someday even just keeping up my native strangeness as I am because that’s what this place wants… .” And I still believe that, do you? So let’s welcome Gaia, the arriviste extraordinaire.

We have the sensation that so much is happening and we don’t know what it is. The Earth is acting like an unrepentant artist. Like Reza Abdoh or Samuel R. Delany or Kathy Acker. We’re in the Apocalypse’s growth spurt, where scores of tipping points are tipping scores of tipping points. Well, does anyone understand what I’m trying to say? This is my deadline. Let me conclude by saying… To be continued. Until it isn’t.

Talen a.k.a. Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Choir perform Sundays at 3 p.m. at the Earth Church, at 36 Avenue C, at E. Third Street, in the East Village.

One Comment

  1. Karen Karen July 2, 2023

    Thanks for this Gaia perspective from the East Village, Reverend Billy. I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the changes that humans have inadvertently (or knowingly) wrought on the planet, but your article helps to step outside of my emotional reaction and see that it is an enormous evolution and we just happen to be floating along in it and doing our small parts, throwing out a few words to vanish into the vastness of space.

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