If Only Art Could Save Us

By Nathan Payne | pablosmoglives | 27 Aug 2023

End of Summer Poem

It has been cool and rainy
because of all the hurricanes,
up the street.

It reminds me of home,
like fall in
except the lemon tree
is blooming,
instead of shedding

I also think of Watertown,
and the cold
with cozy

But this isn't
and they don't have lemon
trees in
and no one in this
town speaks

Which is,
why I'm here.

©2023 Nathan Payne

I'm in the middle of watching Paterson by Jim Jarmusch for the 2nd time, and it makes me want to write.  The film depicts a sort of calm, heavenly banality, a vision of an afterlife that resembles a pleasant afternoon nap.  People of all races interact with a sort of calm understanding and mutual respect.

A quaint vision of a humanist paradise, indeed.

To be clear, the movie isn't "meta" or self-conscious in any way.  It doesn't actually depict a vision of an afterlife.  But that's the way it comes across to me.  A sort of calm, literate heaven in which people appreciate poetry, and each other.  Like all Jarmusch films, the world it depicts is not quite real.  I like it very much.

People misunderstand the reason and/or purpose of art.  Most people think of art as yet another vehicle for transporting various kinds of content from one mind to another.  They believe that art is the city bus, and ideas and ideologies are the passengers.  They will tell you, to the point of insisting, that it is the job of the artist to promote an idea, or an agenda.  Fake artists do it all the time.  But it isn't true.  Even if Adam Driver portrays a poet who happens to be a bus driver in Paterson, it isn't art that he is transporting.  It's people.  As an artist, he filters what he hears and sees, and turns it into verse.  Or sound, or shapes on paper and canvas.  Bubbles in the mist.  He reflects what he sees.  Effortlessly, because he is a filter and a mirror, and that's what filters and mirrors do.  Unlike ideologues, artists don't try to force a square peg into a round hole.  There is no forced, misshapen intent.  There is intent, but it is natural, effortless, like a hurricane lifts a city bus and drags it out to sea.  The waves don't plan to flood the city; they just do it.  In like manner, there is no COMMAND, no mandate to understand, like, or even remotely appreciate the reflection created by the artist.  Nothing is being transported (at least not consciously).  The poet is a mirror of his world, not a chauffeur.  Being a chauffeur is merely his day job.  What the artist really is,

Is a mirror.

Even if his name is "Driver."  An amusing coincidence.

Like many people, Jim Jarmusch has been on my radar since I became aware of myself as someone who appreciates film, art, and music.  Sometime in my 20s.  His early stuff is great, his later stuff is at least that good, and Dead Man is a masterpiece.  If you'll indulge me in a tangent, I wrote an article about how the New World Health Organization mandated Blanket Passports for the famous Blanket-19 outbreak that occurred in the Old West around the time that the documentary Dead Man was made.  Aside from Ghost Dogs in a Clown World, it's the only article I've written that mentions Jarmusch in any way.  You can read it by clicking on this image of William Blake standing outside a Blanket-19 clinic in the wild, untamed American frontier.


A brutal, genocidal place, the Old West.  So glad we've evolved beyond all that.


This shot is from the latest Jarmusch film to-date, The Dead Don't Die.  The scene in which Steve Buscemi wears a "Keep America White Again" hat occurs early in the film, and was an instant deal-breaker for me the first time I tried to watch it, sometime not long after the 2020 election.  I was almost as perplexed as I was disgusted and disappointed.  I couldn't believe it.  What are you, Jarmusch, an idiot?  Didn't I read something you said recently about how NYC has lost its soul, and you were happier these days in upstate NY?  Indicating that, perhaps, the attitude of the newer generation of glib spiritual transplants that have over-run NYC like an outbreak of Blanket-19 was not only transparent to you (hopefully/presumably), but entirely anathema?

Keep America white again?

Are you an idiot?


I got through The Dead Don't Die eventually, a couple years later.  I was braced against the unbelievably shallow, idiotic caricature portrayed by Steve Buscemi, and fully prepared to look the other way so I could watch the whole film, and I was still disappointed beyond belief.   The Dead Don't Die is the worst Jarmusch film by a wide margin.  The kind of margin that has to be measured in light years.  It's a bad, stupid movie in spite of every obvious reason it shouldn't be.  The cast, writing, and Jarmuschian slow-motion tone and pace of jaded hipster amusement don't salvage it.

I couldn't believe it.  While I'm certainly not in love with every single one of his films, and definitely have my favorites, I don't think any of them are bad.  In fact, I actually think... all of them are good.  So for him to put out not only the worst movie of his career, but one of the worst movies ever made, at the height of the Trump administration (it came out in 2019), tells me one thing:

No one is immune, and...

Art won't save us.

Maybe it's been zombified.  Who knows.


Is it true?  Have the zombies finally over-run the entire cultural landscape?  What's happening in the undoctored photograph above?  Is the artist holding his Tele aloft in victory, or trying to keep it from being dragged underneath the mire alongside him?  Is the zombie clinging to the implement of artful noise like a disembodied branch, attached to nothing, and therefore incapable of providing a sufficient anchor by which the zombie may drag himself to safety?  Is he drowning in the wormy muck?  Or is he singing "Rock on" in a brainless, brambled hell?  Is there an invisible layer of music lovers, just beneath the surface of the earth, we've somehow never been able to find?

I've had worse daydreams while napping pleasantly through a humanistic vision of some unknown, calm, poetic heaven.

(There are some amusing scenes in The Dead Don't Die, including one in which Jarmusch makes fun of phone zombies.  But it isn't enough.)

Whatever the case, gone, apparently, are the days when Jarmusch sends an assassin in to kill a George W. Bush-style politician with a guitar string, answering "I used my imagination," when asked how he got in the place.

An amusing, interesting way of saying that we can overcome the bastards with art, if only we believe.  Believe, and try.  If we can just stop letting the suits push us around, we can metaphorically (and therefore truly?) strangle our enemies with beauty.  In self-defense, presumably.  Assassinate the deadly bastards with art, and love, and even "imagination."

Not anymore, apparently.  Now, the caricature of "the enemy" has extended from the easy, and let's admit it, obvious W.-style politician to the grassroots white American farmer.  Two archetypes that couldn't have anything LESS in common with each other.

I wonder what this guy thinks about it.  Why is Steve Buscemi in blackface?


Weird.  Maybe Jarmusch should join up with the Hustle & Flow guy, and make a movie about pimps, wimps, simps, niggas, and the street.  I'd buy that for a dollar.

Whatever the case, I'm'a start mining for that invisible layer of music lovers, just beneath the surface of the earth, just as soon as I finish this inspiring film about a society based on mutual respect.  A working-class, small-city world in which blacks, whites, Jews, and presumably anybody else, can live together in zombie-proof peace.  Riding the bus to the Literature Appreciation Society meeting, or Oliver Anthony show.  Talking about anarchy and words, wearing work boots and birds.  Barbeque parties, beers, and peaceful blondes standing around.  Corners full of smiling bulldogs.  Bubbles in the mist.

If only art could save us.  Too bad it's been reduced to reflecting hateful caricatures.  It's hard out here for a purveyor of illicit feminine accompaniment. 

Ain't no picnic for poets and bus drivers either.

Thanks for listening.

How do you rate this article?


Nathan Payne
Nathan Payne

I am a songwriter and bandleader who travels the world in search of the golden ticket.


Replacing my blog at

Send a $0.01 microtip in crypto to the author, and earn yourself as you read!

20% to author / 80% to me.
We pay the tips from our rewards pool.