Last year, I published the video essay Lost Highway (after the David Lynch film) on Ryeberg.com
In the story, a song is playing in the car while me and my ex (W.) are driving in the middle of the night. We are driving to California from New York City, but our first stop is North Carolina.
Lost Highway is about the ontology of the road, but it’s also about the way that reading is like driving, so the text is a road too. That’s why the video clip is meant to play while you read.
The Bowie song, “I’m Deranged,” which narrates the textual road trip is from the movie Lost Highway. But “I’m Deranged” was not the song that me and my ex were listening to while we were driving that night. That song was “Fevered” by The Stills.
We were gliding, in the clear, when the song came on. If you read the piece, you’ll know what I mean by that. That the song is called “Fevered” makes sense, because we were. And the album is called “Logic Will Break Your Heart.” That makes sense too. What we were doing wasn’t exactly logical, but after ten years in the making, it was finally right and it was time. In the end, logic (his) did break my heart. Suddenly he became relentlessly logical, so nothing was ever the right time again. Sometimes logic not only breaks, it kills.
When “Fevered” came on, we reached for each other, and I think we both said we liked the song, though neither of us especially like the band. We were honestly happy to be alive. To have the road to ourselves, like a room to ourselves. We both had a lone wolf thing. That part of the drive—the last 45 minutes or so—were like end credits to a horror movie. We had survived the killer cars on the road.
Here is another road movie by my friend Elaine Castillo.
Elaine’s drive takes place during the day. While we were on our way to California, Elaine is already there, only I don’t know her yet. Won’t know her for years. My ex and I made this trip many times. Often at dawn, on the way back from an all-night date, when the misty hue of everything is dyed green and looks like the movie Vertigo, which is set in San Francisco. In October 2004, we went on drives and all-night adventures around the Northern California coastline. Less than five months later I moved to California to be with him. He did his field work in Santa Cruz and it almost always looked like this there.
Elaine shot this film on Highway 1, at various locations between Half Moon Bay, Monterey, and Carmel. She used the songs Ruben Tagalog’s “Ikaw ay Akin” and a version of Zazen Boys’ “Cold Summer,” which she edited herself.
When I asked Elaine about her song selections for Highway 1, she told me:
“The title of the film is Ang katunayan, sana’y pakinggan, which comes from the lyrics of Tagalog’s song; it means, ‘The proof, listen to it.’ It’s a love song, so he’s telling his beloved that the proof of his love is in the lyrics of the song he’s singing. It’s so cheesy.”
Elaine and I often send songs to each other as “proof”—shorthand—for what we’re talking about or feeling. In our emails to each other, we often include lyrics, or some part of them, to a song. The songs fill in the blanks, add, say everything. Say it to the point of over stating. I think we both like that though. The excess. The hyperbole, because honestly, if not in music, where else are we going to come that loose? What else is going to let you have it like that?
My ex and I had some of our first dates in Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay. We once we stayed in a lighthouse called Pigeon Point that we had all to ourselves. The lighthouse and its location looked like it belonged in Vertigo too. Instead of sleeping in the two wooden bunk beds we paid for, we pushed all the couches together in the common area and slept there. We also drank tea on the kitchen counter, half naked, after we had sex for the first time.
It was often foggy on our drives. Sometimes you couldn’t even see what was in front of you. Sometimes the fog was so thick you couldn’t see anything at all. The world disappeared. Softened up. In David Lynch’s Lost Highway, the male double Pete/Fred disappears, transmogrifies, splits—vaporizes on the road. Turns into fog. Something happens when you drive. Something happens on the road. When I was a kid driving around Europe for hours and hours with my parents, my favorite thing was to be in a car at night. And it still is. It’s like being a plug in an electrical socket. Few things are more thrilling, comforting, or sensual to me. Driving at night is as close as I can get to a power source. The long yellow band that stretches across a highway is like a vein or a life-line that runs through your whole body.
When did I exist? Then? Now? Not then, not now? Does love make you exist?
In Santa Cruz (from Spanish and Portuguese, Santa Cruz means “Holy Cross”), we parked the truck in the woods, by the beach, and slept there a few times. Smoked cigarettes and talked. Ate dinner. Had a lot of sex. Made up for lost time. Ten years worth. Never slept. We asked ourselves how we would ever be able to do anything but be together? Being together, we both agreed, was something you could spend a life doing, if life and love are one and the same for you. The way you can spend a life just reading or watching movies. But as Jean-Luc Nancy points out in God, Justice, Love, Beauty: Four Little Dialogues: “Even the truest love can be lost. It is never guaranteed. If a love were guaranteed, it would not be love.” Given that love cannot be guaranteed to last, you have to risk loving even more, which means you risk losing love even more. Derrida makes a similar argument about forgiveness, which is of course also tied to love and risk, as well as loss and grief. Derrida states that if forgiveness isn’t impossible (a form of insanity), it isn’t real forgiveness. I lost love even though it was guaranteed to me; even though I guaranteed it myself, and forgiveness is still impossible. Mostly, I don’t feel anything about my last relationship. In fact, I often compare it to a dead nerve or a lost tooth. The catheterized roots take you with them.
Looking up the lyrics for “Fevered” I am surprised to discover that the first few lines of the song are:
“Strange light skin that I believe in
It stretches over bone and smells like honey on the wind
Oh so strange I can’t remember
Where the heartache ends and the fever ache begins.”
I didn’t know the words to “Fevered” that night in the car, nor did I know them when I wrote Lost Highway. About the moon’s light on the road in front of us. About finding a face you can believe in. That can’t be replaced. What Elaine always refers to as, “the face that is for you” when we talk about the face I love now, which means, to quote Emmanuel Levinas, that the face that is for you is also the life you are responsible for.
A couple of weeks ago I kissed a man at the OWS Verso Books party, a week before Christmas. He was a good kisser. Yet afterwards, as I looked at him while he talked to me on the subway, I knew he didn’t have the kind of face I really wanted or needed to look at. His face just wasn’t for me.
But somehow faces are the first thing I forget once a person is gone. They become a blur—foggy—because they have to. Because it’s too painful and burdensome to carry a face (a life) you knew so well—a face that was for you—around once it’s gone. A face you took that seriously. It can drive you crazy. I’ve been driven crazy by things like this. Love and faces, and responsibility. To the other. In this way, writing is not only a substitute for love, it’s a substitute for the face (life) you’ve lost.