Tuesday 2 June 2020

Two Skeptics

During the course of my work duties today, I learned about two people about whom I had heard only a little before: the South African engineer Elon Musk and the Canadian artist Claire Boucher, known best for her pop persona "Grimes". The couple have recently had a baby together, and even more recently a rocket ship designed by Musk's company SpaceX made a successful trip. Thus, they are both in the news.

Studying two such talented and successful people was a humbling experience. Musk designed and sold a video game when he was only twelve and turned a profit at pay-for-entrance parties he hosted at university, without leaving his desk. He dropped out mere days into a PhD program so as not to be left out of the internet revolution. He co-founded Tesla, designing electric cars, batteries and solar energy generators, and he founded SpaceX, designing recyclable rocket ships and other space gear. He also cofounded OpenAI, apparently because he is worried that Artificial Intelligence will ultimately be bad for humanity.

Musk is not at all religious. Even when he was very sick with malaria, he did not pray. He believes only in the laws of physics and the value of human civilisation. Interestingly, he is very concerned about the human race going extinct, and this is what drives his interest in space exploration and colonisation. Because fossil fuels are finite, he is also interested in conserving their use and switching to solar. 

According to Aeon magazine, in 500 million years the sun will start scorching the food chain. I suppose at this point the human race (if it is still around) had better have found a younger sun. Reading Aeon's interview with Musk reminded me of the issues of Scientific American that came to my childhood home and also science fiction novels. Classic science fiction novels remind me of my father for some reason; possibly because I was not allowed to read ones written after 1960. I read that Musk read a lot of science fiction and many comic books growing up, and I think it is delightful that he can now make science fiction into science fact. 

Musk was married to a Canadian writer, and then to a British actress. Divorced from both, he is now dating Claire Boucher, or "Grimes." Boucher should be interesting to Catholics because she is one, albeit a lapsed one. I read many, many articles about Boucher, and watched a number of Grimes videos, today in order to establish her religious practises. In short, she doesn't have religious practises although she retains an interest in religion.  

Boucher was "brought up" Catholic and went to Catholic school in Vancouver, but both she and her schoolteachers seem to have been very badly catechised. Apparently when, as a skeptical six or seven year old, she asked teachers for proof the Gospels were true, they told her not to ask questions. That was intensely stupid of them. In seventh grade she had a Wiccan period, which she thinks was a phase, and I think was pretty early for that particular phase. I didn't have any Wiccan friends until university. However, I'm almost a generation older than she is, and I suspect I was better catechised. Also, my parents made sure the Mists of Avalon never fell into my innocent hands. 

After high school, Boucher hightailed it off to McGill University in Montreal, where she studied philosophy, neuroscience, electroacoustics and apparently Russian before dropping out to begin her Grimes project. And what is cool about that, besides Boucher drawing upon the first three things in her musical projects, is that I know someone who did electroacoustics at McGill around that time. However, I consulted one of the musicians in my family, and he advised me it would be kinder not to mine our old pal for information. 

Watching Grimes videos was rather interesting. She told a German interviewer that "Genesis" is about her nostalgia about believing in God. As a Catholic child, she was impressed by stories of God's anger and hell and thought of what she was told like action films. So I watched "Genesis" and found it rather astonishing and bewildering. There's a scary figure with sometimes pink and sometimes snaky braids, who is presumably the devil. Then there's a blonde girl out of a Japanese cartoon with an enormous snake, who is presumably evil. Then there's a young woman in a black outfit, including high-soled boots, with a sword, and then a mace, and then a flaming sword. Presumably she's the angel guarding the way to Paradise. Finally, there's a car full of Grimes and her friends zooming hither and thither as in a video game. 

It was suggested I watch "Kill V. Maim" if I could stand it, and the sad thing is that I thought it was great, except for bare chested male clubbers licking fake blood off each other, which is not something I remember from my nights at Savage Garden, Sanctuary the Vampire Sex Bar or Velvet Underground. The video is clearly inspired by video games again, and it's mostly set in a battered looking Toronto subway station. Grimes and her Gothed-up pals dance about or drive around a green screen in a pink convertible to rhythms that would not disgraced the black lit walls of west Queen Street West. I would not, however, have worn pink boxing gloves, at least not outside of a gym. The black feathery wings would have cost a gazillion dollars at Siren, but I had a friend who could make the fangs. Drag queens, especially not of the ugly yellow wig variety, were not part of the scene in my day.

This video, Grimes explains to interviewers, is supposed to be from the point of view of Al Pacino in Godfather II, only being able to change sex, is a vampire, and can travel through space. Well, that makes total sense to me. At least, it makes more sense than 99% of the Rammstein hits Volker II thanked heaven I couldn't understand. 

At this point, my gentle reader is wondering what I was doing in Goth clubs in the 1990s, and it's a long, complicated story involving Bram Stoker's Dracula, the Toronto Poetry Scene, a former child star and a 6'5" Polish-Canadian. I was looking for the Belle Epoque, Cynara, in my fashion. I liked the rot-gut wine (I could only afford one glass), the candles, and the roaring. Thanks to some deficiency in my hearing, I couldn't understand the lyrics.  

But to get back to Boucher, she revealed what she currently thinks about religion in this interesting interview.  Her erstwhile Catholic mother divorced her dad, by the way, and married a Hindu, which may be one reason why Boucher was, last year, so interested in polytheism. But she also felt that religion is "the best science fiction" and "incredible art." 

"It's incredible storytelling, incredible character design, incredible visual art," Boucher said. 

"Mysticism is an evolutionary byproduct," she continued, risking scandalising her grandparents. 

"I think we’re inherently religious, even if we’re not explicitly religious. We get emotional about things that feel religious. Even the way people feel about you, it’s a form of idol worship. I don’t know what else you would call it. If there’s an artist I love, I see them live and I cry, and I’m like, 'Man, I’m acting like some 14th-century farmer right now.' I feel like some pilgrim seeing a holy relic or something."

Okay, well, that's not anti-religious, exactly. And now I should stop listening to The Killers and Skype my mother. 

Update: The point I wanted to make about Boucher/Grimes is that I think its cool that she is so in tune with pop culture that she can recycle it into something new,  but all the while nodding to her inspirations. She's a culture creator, not just a  culture consumer. That's what an artist is. 

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