karma row: vintage cults and clothes

Ohmygoodness, I’ve been so very neglectful of this blog, sorry townsfolk:) Between my workshop, which is always so appreciated, and therefore gratifying, a couple of commissioned essays and artist statement consultations, I’ve been pretty distracted/busy. I’ve also officially opened my Etsy shop, romanlovesgigi, which gives me an inexplicable giddy joy. Maybe because I’ve always been a collector, just this side of hoarding, lol, so there’s a satisfaction in archiving these things as well as enticing others to want to possess them for the very reasons I did. I’ve always wanted to have a store, and while I’ve sold things in the past on the street (Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg), this is sort of a dream-goal realized. That there’s already been activity/interest only makes it more exciting!

Since I’ve worn “vintage” clothing since the early, mid-1980s, from high school on (mostly late 1960s to early-mid 1970s), I’ve got things that old I’ve hung on to. I’ve also always decorated/outfitted my apartments with period furniture, linens, dish ware, etc. first with Deco, then mid-century, then space-age Panton era stuff, too, so this stuff will find its way into the shop too. Hopefully, the recent passion for all things “vintage” – Gap adverts acknowledge its lure, promoting their “technologically advanced” fabrics as a way to counter the competition – has created enough of a competitive market for it that I’ll make some money:)            

People are certainly willing to pay a lot more than I ever did or do. Time will tell, and romanlovesgigi is still in its infancy, the process being quite tedious (I will never look at an online auction/individually owned business the same again), so vintage lovers check back often as I’ll be uploading new items every day.        

On a totally different note, I just finished reading John Edgar Wideman’s 1990 novel, Philadelphia Fire, a poetic, meta-narrative about the infamous MOVE organization, whose West Philly headquarters were infamously fire-bombed by the city in 1985, killing 10 people, and decimating many houses around them.
Its a rather elliptical rendering, with very minimal attention to the facts told through tertiary narratives that take the form of the narrator’s recollections of growing up in Philadelphia as an African-American, working-class kid who became a creative-class/academic. These quasi-biographical discursions nonetheless evoke the guts and heart of the people moving in and out of the shadows of this historic catastrophe, and Wideman writes them right after it happens, so it’s both very vivid and yet removed from linear time (not enough facts/reflection to draw from so soon?).

If you want to better understand the tensions leading up to the fire-bombing (imagine your city block suddenly attacked like that as a means of routing out the inhabitants of one house), and the cult nature of MOVE, they are very compellingly conveyed in this great 2013 documentary, Let the Fire Burn, which you can watch for free! Its comprised mostly of found footage, and is just as entrancing as Wideman’s book, which is its poetic corollary. tumblr_m7s8x6kpQC1qducpxo1_1280
You really get a sense of how much John Africa, the very intelligent founder of MOVE, was able to marshall this rag-tag army of followers, and turn their refusal to live by social norms into a revolution of sorts. And the way the state responds. tumblr_lvlvq8fvnx1qe6nze It got me thinking about Jim Baker, another guru/leader whose philosophy over time became distorted by power, evolving into its own incendiary form of anarchy, if not literally. There’s a 2013 doc on his cult (I use that word, btw, in its most neutral sense) , The Source Family, also free online.     thesource 10source1.r Along with the renewed interest in vintage stuff, it seems the fascination for all things cult has also re-emerged, perhaps in relation to the populist trend for going off the grid, and forming self-sufficient communities anathema to corporate-consumer existence.

The whole 1970s cult phenomena, a time when there were over 3,000 such self-identified orgs, its link to spiritual, civil rights, and sexual revolutions of the time, is of course, perpetually fascinating to me. I did, after all, in a moment of naive embrace, consider joining the Hari Krishnas in college when they came recruiting on campus, and joined a coven for a brief time after grad school with a boyfriend.

Of course, I could never submit to an individual’s authority, esp. a man (I got enough of that growing up Catholic), but the desire for spiritual growth has and will always appeal, and not just to me. Thinking, as atheists do, that any such pursuit is simply fantasy-inducing escapism, a willing of your power away to some non-existent force, is a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater imho. Though the dangers of leaders gone awry, of the inevitable corruption that comes with power, etc. are of course, inescapably real.

Probably why when I participated in a summer solstice ritual this weekend, which brought me back to my “new age” moment of the 1980s, I experienced pleasure/nostalgia with a smidgen of cynical doubt, the same irony from which this blog’s name derived. How to be authentic without the foundation and legacy of tradition, historical, cultural, and biographical? Does donning the clothes of another era beg the same question? Certainly when I watch 20-somethings parade around in their long hair and beards, shirtless in their birkenstocks, I do wonder. Food for thought….