Thursday, January 31st, 2008...4:15 pm

todd moore | falling in love with danger

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Falling in love with danger. Falling in love with the passion of danger. Falling in love with the thrust and plunge of danger. Falling in love with rain painted pistols in PUBLIC ENEMY. Falling in love with the unmistakable sound of a switchblade knife when it clicks wide open in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Falling in love with Chandler’s THE BIG SLEEP, Bogart’s voice going rich with the possibility of assault when he talks about the casual syllables of desire and death. Falling in love with Cody Jarrett’s look and howl of the purest of crazy in WHITE HEAT. Cagney doesn’t know it but when he opens his mouth to yell, Top of the world, a slice of dark energy spills out and dances across one of the gas tank’s guardrails.

Falling in love with danger is what being an Outlaw Poet is all about. Falling in love with all of the danger that america can offer. The midnight promise of it. Falling in love with all of those dangerous black and white movies. Peter Lorre saying Adio Casablanca. When I was a kid, I remember the thrill of entering a movie theater, especially in the summer, and getting hit with that blast of refrigerated air which smelled of popcorn, perfume, restroom cleaning fluids, rancid candy and gum that had been stuck to the floors for years, and if dreams could smell, then an ocean of dreams packed with terrible longing.

Falling in love with that zip gun agonized longing because that is really where america dreams. The longing for fame and money and celebrity and love the suffocating longing for something. Dancing for something dancing for nothing in THEY SHOOT HORSES DON’T THEY. Brando telling Rod Steiger in ON THE WATERFRONT that he could have been somebody instead of a palooka. Gatsby showing Nick Carraway war medals and a drawer full of silk shirts. Gatsby has the strong after shave stink of money on him. The look Bogart gets in his eyes in THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE when he talks about gold. Just the way he says the word gold still sends a shiver along my spine. And, Bukowski in all of those interviews that he gave, especially the cracked and beaten up early look of him where he somehow knows he is on the verge of something big, even in his most out of control and boozed up moments like when he kicks his girl friend off the couch, kicks her to the floor the sheer rage of him then and the rage of what he somehow realized was happening that he was becoming famous and then more famous and more famous and that fame had somehow hinged on just how fucked up he looked how really trainwrecked he appeared on the screen. In those electric moments both Bukowski and Bogart became spiritual brothers. The dreamed in blood and they smelled of blood.

Falling in love with an engine cranked american frenzy. Falling in love with that pure american frenzy which is part of the outlaw part of the noir part of the renegade part of that thing in the early Jack Palance when he was speaking as soft and as low and as controlled as possible but you can practically see that danger and that rage well up in him and it’s in those moments he comes as close to a caged jaguar as anything, a caged black jaguar pacing back and forth through the intensity of its own shadow. And when he did finally explode something in me exploded as well. For one brief second, something short circuited and blew all to hell.

Falling in love with danger because danger is outlaw pure outlaw in this our forever lost midnight republic of america. Falling in love with Anton Chigurh the serial killer of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Falling in love with the look of Chigurh who is played by Javier Bardem. I have seen this film several times and each time I watch it I can’t take my eyes off the way Bardem plays it. He could almost be another Jack Palance in the way that he holds himself, the way that he talks, the self assured way that he conducts his ritual killings with a cattle stun gun. The performance is absolutely low key the rage held back in coiled back into a kind of bomb ticking silence. Bardem got it, Bardem reached down into the rich murderous soil of america and pulled it out the way a sorcerer might pull a demon out of his clothes.

Falling in love with Weegee’s photography. The quick snapshots of New York street hustlers, hookers, pimps, freaks, con artists, the down and out, people sleeping on fire escapes, corpses on the sidewalk. I can’t get the photo out of my mind, the one of a dead gunman lying face down on the cement, his one hand reaching out for a pistol that has slid several feet in front of him. Weegee understood the american danger I am talking about. Weegee understood all of that pent up longing for something anything give it to me one last go around for the money the fame baby and he got all of that revved up juice into his snapshots. Photos that he developed in the trunk of his car. The trunk of his car which became the origins for all of america’s dark photogenic dreams. That and the room where Jim Thompson typed his novels. And, fuck yeah, it is typing, typing so hard and fast for the fame and the glory and the money that the fingers ache with the energy and love of the story and the longing shoved back inside the story. And, the renovated chicken house where Kell Robertson lives and writes poetry about being fucked up and neglected and lost in the west. Those caves of american danger and american darkness and american outlaw dark essence of outlaw.

Falling in love with Steve Buscemi’s lurking menace in RESERVOIR DOGS and Harvey Keitel’s corpse and blood knowledge in PULP FICTION and Joe Pesci’s mercurially dangerous killer in GOODFELLAS and Robert DeNiro’s self righteous gunman in TAXI DRIVER. And, knowing way beyond everyday knowing that these archetypes are all variations of the primal american outlaw. And, somehow, secretly, subversively we love them truly and deeply, one and all. We couldn’t do without them.

At the end of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN while the screen credits were rolling, a friend leaned over in his seat and said, They didn’t catch the bad guy. My only reply was, There is no redress for evil in america. But, I think the problem is much more complex than that. I think the reason that the Coen brothers and Cormac McCarthy who wrote the novel let Chigurh escape whatever passes for justice in this country is because on some malevolently transcendental level, Chigurh is us. We love it when Bruce Willis shoots down helicopters and blows up buildings in the movies. We grant those kinds of action heroes a certain violent immunity. The only difference between a Bruce Willis character and an Anton Chigurh is that Chigurh just simply kills for the purity of killing. His presence has something to do with the definition of an america that is almost too dark too demonic to comprehend. You can only get it viscerally. Through the eyes through the skin.

When NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN concludes, Tommy Lee Jones who plays the aging sheriff retires and when he is asked why, he says that he is overmatched. However I think maybe on some deeper psychological level he didn’t completely understand, he began to realize that in another incarnation, he might have become an Anton Chigurh and that thought scared him even more than Chigurh ever could.

Falling in love with the danger that lives in outlaw poetry. Falling in love with outlaw poetry because it is the only poetry in america now that resonates with that terrible pentup longing that america is famous for. A longing that the first paragraph of RED WIND is saturated with. A longing beyond longing in THE KILLER INSIDE ME and BODY HEAT and THE SUN ALSO RISES and THE MALTESE FALCON. The kind of longing always brings danger and the promise of murder.

Falling in love with danger because it is the only thing in america that resonates with energy. Just as in america, the dangerous man is the only one who is truly alive. And, danger is the life blood of everything that passes for poetry anywhere on the face of the earth. Meursault is dangerous. Strelnikov is dangerous. M is dangerous. Doctor Benway is dangerous. Dillinger will always be dangerous. Guernica remains tremendously fascinating not because of its politics but because of its explosive depiction of danger and death. Guernica is a constellation of continuing danger. Outlaw Poetry is dangerous because it goes to the deepest part of our cultural dreams. And it is doubly dangerous because it is also a weapon. The poem is the fastest gun any poet can know.

Todd Moore books are available via the Metropolis Shop Page here…

2 Comments

  • a really really amazing essay that sums up falling in love with danger in a stunning mini-history of the american outlaw. the graphics are superb and interact with the text to form a word/image collage. “falling in love with danger” acts as a hypnotic mantra throughout. And what a gorgeous last line: “The poem is the fastest gun any poet can know.”

  • Todd was really on fire those days, those days
    towards the end of his life I think he wrote 4 or
    5 essays a week. I’m a housepainter and just
    last month I was painting the eaves of his and
    Barbara’s house on San Pedro here in Albuquerque,
    up on a ladder above the window to his writing
    room, it’s funny now that I think about it, but as
    I went around the house, moving my ladder, it was
    only at Todd’s window that I had to stake the
    ladder (knock a stake in the ground to keep it
    from slipping) — my love of danger is not as
    strong as Todd’s nor is my love of having a ladder
    slip out from under me for being on rocks. Todd
    could dig it.

    =========mark weber

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