By Tyondai Braxton, Stefano Giovannini, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Leah Singer, Matthew Wascovich.
This past August, 2003, parts of the U.S. and Canada experienced the biggest electrical blackout in history covering some 9,300 square miles. What follows are poems and recollections tied to this event.
Light Pitch Black
Light pitch black, I’m gonna start shining bright, I’m gonna pitch light at the white shine, hold it in an arch and shine till I’m blind, bright white till the light shines black, you’re gonna hold bright black light till it blinds the shine pitch white, I’m blind, shining bright light in an arch, bright black, pitch bright light at the arch till it starts blinding white pitch blind, Shining black light’s gonna hold bright till blind light starts pitching white shine blind, arched till it holds light, shining till it blinds black, blind light’s gonna blacken bright black till no light shines right, I’m white shining black in an arch, I’m black shining white in an arch, no blinds shine in light, right shine archs white in black, pitching bright shine till light holds blind light, till right holds no blinds, start right in a blind arch, hold shine till no light blinds bright, shine white, shine blind, shine black, start holding arched blind white, till all light blinds no bright light right, till no blind pitches start whitening light at no shine, all white light starts to arch till it’s pitch black, all black light shines bright till bright lights blinds it pitch white, blackening arches till blind bright shines no white, white black light blinds all archs, blinds all pitches, brightens all shines, shines all light till it pitches held light at shining bright blind arches, all black light in all bright arches light white shines in blind brightness, black whiteness, blind shining rightness, till no arch holds all blinds, you’re arches gonna shine it till no arches shine, till it blackens all black light in white pitches and held blind, Light Pitch Black, you’re right, I’m shining bright white in no white light AND pitch right at arched light arches AND shine bright black in a light blind white AND arch blind bright archs till it blinds AND black AND white shine right AND shine white AND shine blind AND shine black, start holding arched blind white till I’m holding you in blind light AND shine shine shine in a blind light blind, in a light arched black white till we’re so blind, we’re so white, we’re so pitch black all light blinds arches till the black blind is at it’s brightest light AND blind AND shine AND brighten all brightest blackest blind arches all pitched, hold it in an arch and shine we’re blind
on the night of the blackout i went to my ex – off and on ex -
i used to live with -
so the black out was the black out of love -
makin’ sure she was ok – she has some health problems -
and try to live a night far away from any external issue -
back to the bone of life -
i am in philly rite now -
some lover thing -
but i ain’t happy -
got an email from my ex -
still kinda hurts to read her name
it is hard to be alone -
just slept with someone – but i don’t feel things clicked -
they never click -
the fine faded boundary between escapism
and being trapped in the wrong situation.
i need communication -
healthy situations -
sex with laughter and lightness and communication.
i get hurt -
but people can’t really hurt me anymore -
it is just the time -
and time takes away your dreams – and takes love away from you.
i live month by month – or night by night.
took some cool pictures -
but fuck it.
i feel a bit overwhelmed by stuff -
GC / $$$ / singleness / rejection / loss –
that sometimes i can be happy
sometimes i really wake up worried
about wasting my
i wanna do a book – make more money – but i am low energy -
sex here in philly does not really cheer me up.
why did i not run away from frances in the beginning -
why did i stick with her? i ran away from women in the past –
women had ran away from me -
why did she stick with me and me with her?
was it just loneliness and desperation?
i am in a hurry
what worries me is not the blackout of electric power
but the blackout of emotional will
black hair patty waters 1966 patti smith 1974 black eye james chance 1978
black man schooly d 1985 black woman jeanne lee 1972 peace to be black free
to be black
Power to the people
A hot day with air conditioners working over time it is not unusual to think a power outage could happen. It happened on a small scale last summer in fact.
Lee and band flew out that morning to Detroit to play a big homecoming show for Iggy Pop and the Stooges.
When the lights went out here and people started flooding the streets and sidewalks outside my window I decided to call Lee and tell him what was happening. As we spoke the lights went out in Detroit.
Living close to the World Trade Center site and still having the 9/11 jitters I thought the worst. Lee was able to get online and find out that the outage was widespread. The first radio reports reassured everyone that it was not an act of terrorism.
From there on I experienced the whole thing from the viewpoint of my children. A small adventure was about to begin-my son delivered candles to the newsstand operators outside our building with my neighbor, we ate by candlelight, read by flashlight and slept in the same bed hugging plush animals. The next day was an ordinary day in the park. The cheap job lot stores did a brisk business in battery sales. We ate a lot of peanut butter. When the lights came back on after 23 hours we all screamed.
Iggy’s gig was cancelled. We threw out the smelly yogurt and went looking for fresh milk.
Blacked Out August 2003
Sonic Youth fly early Thursday to Detroit/sonic youth to open for Iggy & the Stooges. The news reports on my way out the door promise it to be one of the very hottest days yet this summer. We pull up to amphitheatre/they are doing soundcheck-Mike Watt is singin as Iggy doesn’t show for s.c. Shortly after they finish we’re sitting with watt in our dressing room and he is regaling us with stories-we’re talking Macintosh operating systems then American history then linguistics and always punkrock. Power flickers n goes out but we sit there and keep talking. It’s out for awhile, 20 or 30 minutes. No big deal. My cel rings-it’s Leah. Power is out in NYC. Funny, I tell her, it is here too. She says everyone is out on the street in New York and wondering what the fuck is happening—things are ‘back to normal’ but everyone’s still a little jumpy at anything out of the ordinary. Ready to be jumping. Wow this is weird the power is out there and here? Stories begin to filter in. Leah is concerned. Then celphone lines are jammed/what is happening?? Guys on the crew gather listening around car radios, doors and windows open in the summer sun—reports come in. ‘power down from new york to detroit, up into Ontario too. Radio announcers voices filter into the heated air. No-one on air willing to utter the word ‘terrorist’ although it is everyones first question. Thurston tries to tune in the news on his little cassette recorder. All crackly and weak then static. We spend hours at the venue as the afternoon fades, all the seats empty, parking lot empty, people walking around not sure what to do. The show is canceled at 6 pm. Some friends who’ve driven and flown here to see this show hang out/make small talk. SY have another show in Chicago tomorrow. We are going to drive there in the large van we had rented for the day. At the hotel in Detroit they are handing out free ice cream bars as all the freezers are off and everything’s melting. This goes on all across the blackout region. The grid is down. The power grid is down. It happened up by Niagara. It happened in New York City substation on 14th street. It happened out in ohio. Explosion. Fire. Nobody really knows. The grid is down. We’re off the grid now. Candlelit. There’s power 3 hours west of us. We have to drive back onto the grid. For hours we drive and the landscape is eerie, no lights on, people creeping across intersections without the benefit of traffic lights. Everyone is on best behavior which is odd for America. No reports of looting or anything like that. Post-9/11 there is a different consciousness about. Maybe that event will prove a singular catalyst in altering the way we city dwellers interact? Affect social change? We drive back onto the grid. We listen to the radio for news and watch DVDs on laptops in the van. It’s dark out. They say Mars is at it’s closest vantage point to the earth in 60,000 years but we fail to find it in the dark skies. A few days later our friend Stefano will email pictures of the darkened NY skyline from the Brooklyn bridge. Eerie. Leah says the children have fun eating dinner by candlelight/sleeping in one big bed in the dark. Chris said he went to Times Square just to lie down in the street and stare up at the dark skies—amongst the businessmen and stranded tourists who were sleeping out that night—either because they were far from home or because the modern hotel rooms (w no windows that open!) were stifling hot. To lie down on 42nd Street and actually see the stars, not a haze of city-lights. He saw the stars from the center of the city of light. The stars are out. The lights are off. We drive back onto the grid. Slowly the northeast grid powers up again. The next night in Chicago I find Mars high and red in the southeastern skies.
tonight is an unstooge
like a dumb detroit on clampdown
call out the search lights
john’s talking about chickens
larissa’s in from florida
blasting five-year hugs
as the electric grid pops
and fizzles in new york
big north america blown
pass the bottled water
burn candle dressing room style
valerie is a ghetto kid
on 7 mile road
bombed out michigan
depravity before ann arbor subdivide
lick the sweat and like it
cops in the dark
throw food rot in the can
the money is lost
tomorrow in chicago
next to playboys
and cig fronts
death vibe goose fest
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Tyondai Braxton lives in Brooklyn, New York, USA. He records as a solo musician and with Battles. He is the author of Wide (Slow Toe).
Stefano Giovannini‘s photographs have appeared in many publications. An Italian living in New York, his camera always by his side, Stefano captures the essence of life.
Thurston Moore lives in Northampton, Massechusetts and plays music with Sonic Youth, He edits the Ecstatic Peace Poetry Journal. He is the author of Fuck a Hippy, but be a Punk (Glass Eye) and Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture.
Leah Singer is a visual artist and writer. Her fiction has been published in Purple and Soft Skull Press and her journalistic work about the arts has aired on CBC radio.
Lee Ranaldo plays music with Sonic Youth and Text of Light, among others projects. Recent solo recordings include Music for Stage and Screen (DSA) and Oasis of Whispers, with Glen Hall and William Hooker (Alien8). His most recent book is Lengths & Breaths (Water Row Books).
Matthew Wascovich lives in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. He plays music with Thee Scarcity of Tanks and A Real Knife Head. Wascovich runs Slow Toe Publications & Records and edits Thee Flat Bike poetry journal.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, October 10th, 2003.