California, Will You Take Me As I Am?

stacy elaine dacheux . june 2012

I want to talk about Southern California and what it promised us, historically, and culturally. Off the top of my head, there is the gold rush. Then, there is cinema, moving pictures. Fiction. Art. Music. Our own soundtracks.

“California I’m coming home / Oh will you take me as I am / Strung out on another man / California I’m coming home.” – Joni Mitchell

I don’t know much about Northern California, but I do know that Southern California is a liar. It’s almost too gorgeous to really know. This is the heartache. You are never living inside Southern California the way you want to be. You feel it’s necessary at times to take a knife and gut open the state. You want to cut through to the bone. But, its skin is thick, surprisingly thick. Oh, Southern California. No one wants to feel alone here, and playing around with knives takes a certain amount of courage.

So, there is an isolating preference to pretend.

“You could write a song about some kind of emotional problem you are having, but it would not be a good song, in my eyes, until it went through a period of sensitivity to a moment of clarity. Without that moment of clarity to contribute to the song, it’s just complaining.” – Joni Mitchell

There is too much complaining in Southern California and not enough songs.

Or, maybe that’s not true.

This is just me complaining. Oh, well. I am trying to find clarity.

So, here is what I think about you Southern California: art is different than the dream. The dream is ephemeral. It has no responsibility. It floats and leans and hangs on t-shirts. It changes jobs, names, outfits, etc. Art is our responsibility– it is difficult and embarrassing, a response to personal failure or personal grief, and in order for it to resonate, it has to get ugly, meaning we need to get ugly, like be who we are, grow into who we are. Find distinction. Age gives distinction.

“My name had gone stale, and no matter how progressive I got, it was my time to die.” – Joni Mitchell

Oh, Joni. This makes me feel sad– to have cultural meaning tied to your face or voice– to be emblematic of Southern California. To die. A summer blonde earthy siren turning grey. Dying. But, Joni Mitchell is not just a musician, she is a million more things, for instance, she is also a painter.

”The main trouble with showing my [art] work is that people have a hard time, knowing that I am a musician. They say I am a folkie, a rocker, whatever. This is not a renaissance culture. This is a culture of specialists.” – Joni Mitchell

Let’s be honest, Joni Mitchell is sort of a complainer too. But, in a way, she makes a strong point– we are all these little renaissance cultures trapped in a specialist culture. Just like Joni, you and I are also emblematic of  Southern California, no matter where we choose to live.

“We are always in the space in-between… all the spaces where you are not actually at home. You haven’t arrived yet…. This is where our mind is the most open. We are alert, we are sensitive, and destiny can happen. We do not have any barriers and we are vulnerable. Vulnerability is important. It means we are completely alive and this is an extremely important space. This is for me the space from which my work generates.” – Marina Abramovic

We are in a constant state of confusion about art and the dream. Getting older.

“And the bloody changes / Oh will you take me as I am? / Will you take me as I am? / Will you?” – Joni Mitchell


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