Let us begin with a paragraph from Erick Lyle's book, On the Lower Frequencies: A Secret History of the City. In a section called "Christmas Day 1999," Lyle writes:
"Lately, my favorite thing has just been hanging out in the train yard. I like to go down there and walk around, spray painting messages on the trains for my friends in other cities. The thing is, they always get them, too. My graffiti somehow gets where it needs to go. I remember Brad and Mike telling me about sitting in the yard in Richmond, on their way down to Miami, watching car after car of my tags go by. Or the time I went on a date in the Alameda Tunnel and later the girl I'd been there with saw the boxcar in another city with "I left my heart in Alameda Tunnel" written on it. One time Anandi was hopping out of Portland, working on a letter to me, and an open boxcar that said "Scam Punks" went by. She should have just put the letter in it! I like going down there to the train yard to miss everybody in the other towns and my friends out there on the road, too. And to hear the ball rattle in the can in the quiet yard, and savor that 'End of the World,' no-one-else-around feeling."
What does this have to do with the late, great, captivatingly corduroy-blazered astronomer Carl Sagan, you ask?
You don't ask? Well, now you do. Good. What it has to do with Carl Sagan is plenty, once you contemplate the cosmic undertones.
First: Those eve-of-Y2K days seem so far away now, across the expanse of time, yet still in their way so very present. Lyle's mostly San Franciscan dispatches -- gathered into the book from his much-beloved zine, Scam, his street newspaper, the Turd-Filled Donut, and even NPR's This American Life, among other sources -- appear to our eyes now like twinkles in the night from long-dead stars.
Second: Lyle is back in town tonight for an evening at Other Cinema called Visible Histories, sharing the bill with Oscar-nominated local documentarian Sam Green, whose 15-minute film Golden Record recalls Sagan's effort to install recorded samplings of human culture on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977.
It was sort of like tagging those little ships with "Earth Punks" and sending them out into the lonely abyss -- waiting, meanwhile, for the world to end. Sort of.
With Oregon filmmaker and installation artist Vanessa Renwick also on hand, showing her own artful observations of space and time and cultural drift, tonight's event should be edifying. If, 40,000 years hence, the aliens do find that record and come to bust us for polluting the universe with interstellar graffiti, we will know how to handle them.
Visible Histories will appear on Saturday, October 17, 2009, at 8:30 p.m. at Artists Television Access Gallery, 992 Valencia Street in San Francisco. For more information, visit othercinema.com.