In March 2006, I meet Patrick O’Dell and his then-girlfriend in line for a Morrissey concert in Oklahoma City. Like me, they both live in New York City, Patrick in the Lower East Side.
Patrick: ‘I want to take your picture. Also, everyone else’s.’
Math: ‘I am out of my head with want for your bikechain-thin, Scandinavian, Grove-Press-interning girlfriend.’
I return to Brooklyn with a mystic list that has mostly little to do with Patrick and whatever her name was
but when I get back, I start taking the F to 2 Ave, Patrick’s stop. I wander the LES for hours at a time. For a living, I write term papers and college admissions essays. I have little sense of purpose, but an incredible amount of free time.
Around Halloween, renovations begin on a café on the southeast corner of Houston and Allen. It sits under a billboard on which American Apparel has some really long-ass lease.
In October I start to draw. I’m not yet obsessed with titles, but will be soon.
In November a sign reading ‘Live Animal’ appears in the dusty café window. I don’t take a picture of it.
On December 12 I get hired on-the-spot at this American Apparel location, about 4 doors down from the café, which gets christened ‘Sugar’ and opens on my second day of work. It has cute employees and bland, expensive food. I work nonstop, the Christmas retail thing, til I fly to the west coast around December 22 for a long-planned trip.
In the song ‘The Killing Moon’ by Echo + the Bunnymen, the chorus begins, ‘Fate up against your will, through the thick and thin.’ While Echo+tB are not really one of my favorite bands [sorry D], that lyric is the best metaphor I have for describing how, ideally, I want a title to function. The fate is the title, and the will is the work it names. Ontologically the work and title are equal, and they are balanced against each other.
A work’s ideal title is, of course, not its fate, but it is like its fate. The title is ‘up against’ the work because it illuminates something not fully present in the work alone. The work resists this illumination- coyly, forcefully, winkingly, whatever- but it resists it, by nature, because it cannot fully include it.
The title is also ‘up against’ the work the way I’m up against my apartment door when I decide I want to hear my boyfriend fuck others; when I lean on the plywood, cupping my hand around my ear. The title is propped up against the work like I am propped up against the door. The title tries always to hear what is on the other side of the work. The title knows only the future, but trying to make itself relevant in the present, it gets a major hard-on.
In San Francisco around New Year’s, I hit my alltime fave museum, SFMOMA, and find a book in the gift shop called Beautiful People with Beautiful Feelings. It’s by an L.A. artist named Donny Miller, whose work I’ve never seen [it wasn’t/isn’t in SFMOMA outside the gift shop].
I’d call Donny basically a sloganist in the vein of Barbara Kruger. He also reminds me, to a degree, of Raymond Pettibon, Jenny Holzer, and Patrick O’Dell. His work is not as good as that of any of the artists I just named or am about to name, but I think it could be one day. Anyway, Donny’s work is not precisely ‘titled’, but the majority of his pieces consist of an image and a set of words. Art like this is important to me because I spend so much emotional, intellectual and sexual energy on thinking up titles. [Half the time when I am jerking off, I am trying to think up titles.] Donny’s works are really deliberately and literally worded. This is super meaningful for me because so many of my favorite visual artists were really lazy titlists. Mapplethorpe used mostly basic names of subjects, Warhol the same. Lichtenstein and Oldenberg [from whom Donny draws visually], same shit. Haring, almost all untitled, which I get frustrated trying to reconcile.
My closest referent for Donny’s style is magazine advertising from the 1950s forward. I guess that’s kind of a big duh. As I mentioned before, gallery-pop-art is another obvious part of its context, as is clip art.
So, I finish my holiday vacation in California; I come back to work. Surprise! Not only do we now sell Beautiful People with Beautiful Feelings at my American Apparel location, but while I’ve been away, Donny has come to the store for a reading and signing. Jeez, what are the chances? I talk to one of our many managers about it. ‘He’s an asshole,’ she tells me. ‘He was an asshole?’ I ask. ‘He IS an asshole. Just look at his book. It basically says women are really superficial and vapid.’ To my eye, the men in Donny’s book have approximately the same shortcomings, but she might have a point in the sorts of 50s-60s ad/clip-art images upon which Donny draws. The women do look kinda frivolous, I guess. Anyway, me and the manager never get to have a real conversation about the potential merits or problems of the book, but she tells me one detail which makes me blink forty-five times: ‘You know he built all the tables over at Sugar, right? He was there for months. He put up this sign that said LIVE ANIMAL.’
Here are some of my more Donny-ish titles. I made some of them before I encountered his work, and some after.
It Was Beautiful I’m Done with It
We Had a Deal
Paper Is My Favorite Invention
What Else Would You Do
I Offend You Just By Being Myself
I Like All Kinds of Music
Fuck Me Like We’re from that Other City
Donny Miller’s website is donnymiller.com. He has a blog there. You can buy Beautiful People with Beautiful Feelings for $5-15 from from Amazon.com. It’s got 126 discrete works and 144 pages. Donny’s bio from the bookflap is, ‘Donny Miller is an artist who has been exhibited internationally and an art director who has designed many well-known logos and advertising campaigns. In addition to directing commercials and music videos, he also has a pet rabbit. He lives in Los Angeles, California.’
If you look around the internet you can also find a skateboard and a calendar with graphics from Beautiful People with Beautiful Feelings.
Download The Killing Moon.
p.s. Hey. ** David, Hi. Thank you. There’s an audio book of ‘I Wished’ but after hearing a sample of the guy reading it the last thing in the world I want to do is listen to it. First class, nice. I’ll go check your youtube. I used to quite like Orbital. Welcome home to the big L. ** Dominik, Hi!!!! The VMAs weren’t really depressing. It varied between being interesting and tedious. MTV has always pushed the shiniest, most vapid musical version of whatever’s trending, it’s just that what’s trending these days seems inordinately bland. Colorless, well-meaning pop/rap and the occasional gussied-up retro rock. If I had to pick the worst, I’d say Doja Cat and Twenty One Pilots, but there were a bunch of dreary acts/songs. I did manage to get new frames, but they don’t make the frames I had anymore, and my new ones are kind of ugly, urgh. But yeah. Yum = your anti-stomach ache love. This is kind of terrible but … Love hiring some thugs to corner Machine Gun Kelly somewhere and humiliate him until he cries like a baby, G. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, B. Yes, may your library be your surroundings again post-haste. ** David Ehrenstein, Yes, she is! And yes, and yes again. ** T, Drama club kids, right, that makes total sense. When I was growing up the Drama club kids always ended up getting summer jobs at Disneyland, which is not entirely an oppositional thing. I’ll offer my encouragement to you to redraft that piece if you can, seeing how the subject matter is my thang. Yes, Zac’s and my new film is about a family who turns their house into a home haunt, and my more immediate project is a video-game-like, 3D modelled walkthrough haunted house that my collaborators and I are premiering here in the big P in October. A subject close to my heart, let’s say. Ah, hope you like ‘IW’. I have working glasses, and they’re kind of ugly, but they work. I hope your today proves to be a key component in your future memories. xo. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I assume its current audience is the latest generation of its eternally mainstream with a slight edge loving audiences. Well, I’ll go find out what you’re listening to, won’t I? Everyone, Steve has made a Spotify playlist of recent music he’s into. ‘While it runs across genres, all the music has a floating, dreamlike quality,’ he says. And here it is. Oops, sorry to hear about the insurance mislead. Thank you very much for reading and keying so well into ‘I Wished’. I really appreciate it. ** Lynne Tillman, Lynne! I lured you into my humble abode! Wow, has it been that long since I saw you? This Covid thing has really messed up time. I miss you! I await your next Paris trip with the veritable bated breath, and hopefully there’ll be a reason for me to get to New York where I can hopefully see you before too long. Tons of love and respect, maestro! ** Bill, Hi. Oh, that’s very sad news about Lew Ellingham. I hadn’t heard that. I met him a few times through Kevin K, and he was a real sweetheart. Ugh, ugh. I hope your day is an extra-fine one. ** Okay. I’ve retrieved this very old and charming post made by the long lost d.l. Math T from the dead zone. I hope it works its charms on you. See you tomorrow.