Paying for Love
By Andrew Fort
Once, a long time ago, I made an artifact. I’ve made a few in my time, but this one is special, because it’s on now-obsolete 3/4” videotape which is currently deteriorating in my dank basement and is unlikely to ever be seen again. It features the medieval anatomical drawings of Andreas Vesalius, manipulated digitally by a primitive computer, several quotations from 17th century poet Edward Young, and this piece of music, Paying for Love. Oh yeah: it also features a spinning, gravity-defying loofah, hovering above a pyramid as the sun rises in the distance.
Our assignment was to make a “music video” and as usual I was unable to accept the prompt at face value. Didn’t that just mean a video with music? I could do whatever I wanted! I remember our professor losing patience with me as I tried to get the effects I needed by suspending a loofah in the studio and then painstakingly instructing other students on how fast to spin it, whether to spin it clockwise or counter-clockwise, whether to let it swing from side to side. I specifically remember him trying to cut my allotted studio time short because he felt I was wasting it. Granted, he was not the type of guy to have much faith in my brand of pseudo-intellectual absurdism. He was the type of guy who lip-synced Sinatra songs in his spare time, a practice which we got ample demonstration of during in another studio-based assignment on the Three-Camera Setup, when he donned a fedora and sat under a prop lamppost.
He was trying to teach us Industry Standards, which was his job. And most video production jobs ultimately consisted of shooting music videos, infomercials, live T.V. events and possibly, if you’re lucky, sitcoms. But I had no use for these. And I also had no use for Industry Standards. A paying job? No use for that either.
Enter Wim Mertens. I found his cassette Motives for Writing in a Tower Records store and instantly fell in love with it. This piece in particular begins by sounding like a random accumulation of notes played by a small chamber ensemble, which eventually coalesce into something approximating a melody. Every instrumental motif which appears to be improvisational reveals itself in the course of the larger work to be a carefully considered part of the whole. Mertens sings nonsense syllables in a strangled countertenor. The music shares much in common with jazz and is yet as unlike jazz as anything you’ve ever heard.
Essentially, the complete opposite of Sinatra.
So, what was this “music video?” It begins with a dead body on the floor, and a voice-over relating the evidence found at the scene. The narrator eventually grows bored with the murder which, while puzzling, is not nearly sensational or occult enough for his tastes, and ends up fixating instead on a piece of paper (a clue?) found at the scene, which contains a poem, which he then analyzes, breaking it down first into phrases, then words, and finally letters, which he rearranges according to a logic of his own, finally ending up with the word “loofah.” Enter the spinning loofah, keyed in over the opening of the T.V. show “Mysterious Universe,” traveling through space and coming to rest atop a pyramid as the sun rises behind it. The meaning of life.
The finished project was a great success. Somehow, even the Sinatra-worshiping professor liked it. Another student, whom I greatly admired, took to calling me the “Dalai Loofah.” The video was screened at a number of festivals around the country.
And that was it. I was soon to discover that the wider world had different tastes than that of the academic one. When I eventually showed the video to the head of the music video production company I later worked for, his one-sentence response was, “I didn’t get it.” Apparently Industry Standards had no more use for me than I had for them.
I abandoned filmmaking not long after I graduated from film school, and the video now sits unwatched in my dank basement, but radiating a dense magnetic pull every time I go down there, as if to continually remind me that there are other ways of being: Sinatra is fine, if you like that sort of thing. Industry Standards are fine, if you like that sort of thing. But I’m here too, and I always have been.
I imagine someone from the future coming upon this image of the spinning loofah and asking What does this mean? What does any of this mean? But laughing delightedly, nonetheless.
It is this thought, more than anything else, which keeps me plumbing the depths of absurdity.
Wim Mertens website