It is strange to ponder the vicissitudes of the obsessions that we abandon and to ask why? of those obsessions which remain. I’ve been thinking about it this week for more than a few reasons as obsessions new and old wage war in this head of mine.
It started when, for some reason, I decided to listen to the complete works for solo piano by Russian modernist composer Sergei Prokofiev. Somehow, mid-week, I found myself suffocating in the electric ether of Robert Pete Williams’ singular country blues. And on Friday morning, not a little lost as I waited for an Amazon package to arrive bearing a book by Jean Baudrillard, I was leafing through the pages of Hemingway’s In Our Time.
Now that you are suitably wowed with my erudition, let me outline the articles of clothing I fantasized about buying this week: Alpha Industries Extreme Cold Weather Parka, saddle shoes, Army boots for desert combat, British desert camo jacket, LL Bean Norwegian sweater, Nigel Cabourn Everest Parka, Timex Weekender.
So it shouldn’t surprise you that when I sat down to pick a single article of clothing to write to you about, I struggled. My mind is particularly jumbled and uniquely unfocused; it is a stew brimming with unrelated ingredients and simmering in a disordered broth of pseudo-intellectual slop seasoned with a healthy dose of irrational consumerism.
I thought I could write to you about an army-inspired shirt I bought recently, about the American berserk, about how I had spent half an hour this week streaming clips from the movie Falling Down on youtube while playing late-era John Fahey records.
I thought I could write to you about looking at pictures of Yukio Mishima’s body on the internet, Kris Kristofferson, turtle neck sweaters and stories about violent children written for adults.
But finally I decided to write to you about this bandana, one that my partner bought for me as a gift because I had been talking about wanting to get a bandana in the pattern of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. I know, I know: it’s not a proper Rough Rider bandana. I must have show her pictures and her take away was a polkadot bandana. We can’t expect everyone to embrace the minutiae of our absurd desires.
I guess if we were to be a little ‘structuralist’ about my obsessions as a broad concept, we could note that regardless the object of the obsession, there are features that recur across the spectrum and manifestations that repeat across genre.
So if we were to index them with cross-references we could find Teddy, or TR, filed under ‘M’ for: masculinity, impossible examples of. He would be home here next to Yukio Mishima, where certain modes of renunciation jangle with archaic ideas about military manliness.
TR could also be classed as a subspecies of that greatest of fascinations: American, self-created. Here, his embrace of violence and sheer strength as a force that allows you to overcome the divide between the self-you-want and the self-you-know-you-are allows him to communicate with everyone from the Michael Douglas’ character in Falling Down (the American berserk writ large) to Ernest Hemingway (the American sublime in all of its unfathomable glory).
But TR is singular, American sui generis as only the most American of Americans can be. His speech, it is rumoured, was so excited and ferocious that the champing of his teeth rang through convention halls like a thunderclap. He is, of course, best known for his bravado; the soldier leading his Rough Riders on a suicide charge; the big game hunter in Africa posing next to the corpse of a fallen elephant; war monger; agitator of American greatness. It is, to say the least, difficult to enjoy him today.
There is another TR, a man whose interest in conservation and the redemptive power of nature led him to do more for the American landscape than any single person in history. There is the man of letters, amateur anthropologist, patron of the arts, grieving husband and father. When it is convenient we tend to think the past was simple and that the present is complicated. When it suits us we flip the formula, regarding the madness of our times in two dimensions while super-imposing the preoccupations of our age on the past.
Sometimes a bandana can provide succor, allowing us to imagine we have access to the wonders of the past; but these things appear wondrous to us precisely because they are rendered impossible by being of the past. Sometimes a bandana mocks us for the ease with which we translate inchoate spiritual needs into commercial actions.
So when I sat down to write to you about this bandana I started my letter:
It is one of life’s great injustices that only golden labs and Steve McQueen look great wearing a neckerchief.
I then google image searched “Steve McQueen neckerchief” to find the picture I would send to you to prove my point and a picture of me appeared in the results. It turns out I had said the exact same thing to my food blogging partner over two years ago.
Sometimes a bandana exists to remind us that despite their power, our obsessions are useless: I still haven’t figured out how to wear a neckerchief!