Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, July 31, 2005


Rob isn't leaving until tomorrow night or Tuesday morning, but Heather and the kids left yesterday morning. Linnea is 5 and Charlie will be 2 in a month and a half; they lived next door. The kids were crazy about Nat (our 2 year old) and he was crazy about them; we were in each other's houses all the time. Heather grew up in Long Island and Rob in Youngstown Ohio; like me they moved out here to Seattle more or less on a whim. But now that their kids are growing they want to be near family, a motivation I deeply understand but not enough to follow through on -- and it's not solely my decision anyway, obviously.

"Where's Charlie and Linnea moving to?" said Nat.


"Can we walk or can we drive there." Said as a statement, an inflection meaning, *do* we walk or or *do* we drive there, it must be one or the other.

"No, it's too far to walk or to drive."

"Can we go there by airplane?"

"Maybe some day." Unsaid: But it's really unlikely.

And another time, discussing it: "I want move to Boston too."

Our other next-door neighbors hosted a going-away dinner Friday night. Rob told a story. "We were at [some event or other I have forgotten] and they were giving away Krispie Kremes. Linnea had never had a donut, and at the end her face was smeared with sugar from cheek to cheek. She looked up and said, 'That's the best bagel I've ever had in my life!'"

Linnea was a little baby when they first moved in. It took a few years before we started to get to know each other. Heather had a paying job until the 2nd kid came, then she was home with them. My spouse and I work part-time (she 3 days a week, me 4) and stagger our days off. Nat's with a babysitter one day a week and we're all together one day a week. For the last year Heather has been the babysitter and taken Nat on Wednesdays, so he and Charlie and Linnea have become a gang. Like I said, they're crazy about each other.

Saturday morning Nat and I were playing in the alley. I was waiting for noises of their departure. Nat heard Charlie and ran over there and they started playing together like they always do -- *did*, not "do," now -- unconscious of what moving means. Linnea is old enough to know. Nat won't even remember them. I rousted my spouse out of the shower and Heather and my spouse and I cried and hugged and we gave the kids kisses and the kids hugged and kissed each other and a few minutes later they were gone.

[UPDATE: Corrective footnote at bottom, same day, 5:55 p.m.]

[UPDATE 2, 11:00 PM, same day: I *really* regret lumping Joshua's arguing style with that of Republicans. Joshua's not a freakazoid shameless brazen relentless liar who supports murderous regimes and policies. Not all Republicans are liars either, but the leaders are, and a bad, bad percentage of the members. My apologies.]

A reader writes regarding my exchange with Joshua Clover, that it was lame of me to complain of his snideness when I was being snide too. True. Lame.

More precisely the reader writes that I started out by telling Joshua he was wrong about a couple things, and it was BS of me to then complain about how he responded. The lamitude of my snideness I'll cop to, completely. The other part of my complaint is more complicated. If Joshua had agreed with any part of my criticisms, I had hoped for acknowledgment of such. Instead, he got in to what it might be unfair of me to call "throw down" mode, picking out what he perceived to be weak spots in what I had written and ignoring the rest. He eventually wrote and urged me not to worry about what I said, that if he disagreed he would say so. I was cool with that, but it's also very true that my preferred mode of back-and-forth is to acknowledge other people's points. Lots of people don't prefer that; by doing it "their way," they impose their way on everybody else. But I want them to do it my way! Friends with whom I have discussed this have pointed out that by claiming that my way is the more moral way, I am making a power move and attempting to move someone off their preferred footing. True. I also know from having witnessed it many times that the "throw down" method often succeeds in knocking "mutual acknowledgers" off their footing, even in intimidating them into silence. So either way, a struggle over mode of discourse is a struggle for power. I do think that honey attracts bees and vinegar attracts sourpusses. I know myself to be a sourpuss, but I prefer to imagine the mutual pollenation of consciousness through the good-will synthesis of mutual understanding. I fail to live my ideals, over and over. I regret if what I've written can be taken to imply that Joshua lacks good faith or good will. He's just a vinegar guy more than a honey guy.

The reader also wondered why it would have been "mean" of me to talk about Joshua being a professor, and if I weren't thereby betraying myself to be anti-intellectual. I didn't make myself clear. The admission of "meanness" should have been accompanied by one of "stupidity." The "meanness" came from relishing the irony that Joshua is a college professor at a state school in California, supported by Hollywood tax dollars, and he was inveighing against the Dems for buying into the image factory just like any old pro-capitalist. This relishing of someone else's contradictions and compromises is stupid because I am no less implicated and maybe moreso -- as a poverty pimp who earns a paycheck as a subcontractor from the ameliorative state -- in Uncle Sam's murderousness; this was the motivation for posting on my day job, which I had never before mentioned on this blog*. Uncle Sam, he takes care of most of his family; at least he has so far; I know that Bush's policies work toward the impoverishment of most of Uncle's nephews and nieces, and Bush may get his way. But anti-intellectual? Hell no. I like me some books, I'm psyched that me and my parents and their parents and their parents went to college (a great-great-great helped found a college); I'm psyched I grew up around the books that a great-grandparent had collected; I'm psyched about receiving all these privileges. I lament that not everybody is privy to such, and I do believe that the university system (at least in the US; can't say about elsewhere) is implicated in the perpetuation of class division; also, that university teaching can help people develop critical thinking. Ain't no thang wrong with directing some of that critical thinking at the university itself; and I doubt my correspondent intended to imply that all intellectual goods come from the university, or that only college kids (and former) can be intellectuals.

I'm hoping that this marks the end of "Joshua Clover Week" here at Utopian Turtletop, but as I like to quote Fats Waller saying, one never knows, do one?

*CLARIFICATION/CORRECTION: I had mentioned, once, that I worked at a shelter in the early '90s, but I hadn't mentioned my current job. I had thought about talking about having worked in the poverty biz during the Smooth Jazz discussion of some months ago, because it was in homeless programs that I first got hip to Smooth Jazz, hanging out with middle aged homeless African American men who listened to it. But for some reason I decided not to talk about it then.
Wind inn thick oars Sov ewe Minnie vent sit . . .

Saturday, July 30, 2005

When in the Course of human events, it . . .

"DeNiro sucks, he doesn't even write his own movies."

Friday, July 29, 2005

(note: updated a note below, Saturday at 3:16 pm)


Regarding post from earlier today, on Pop --

thinking about it, I haven't actually read that much on Top 40 before. But I have been witness to part of the shift in critical consensus, from unabashed rock-centrism to guilty, defensive, emotionally-conflicted, fashion-following, abashed rock-centrism that pays lip service to non-rock Pop but still *loves rock best of all*. (Sorry, not naming names today.) Not that there's anything wrong with loving rock best of all! What rings wrong, what rings untrue, is the anti-rock-centric pledge coming from people who really want nothing more than to rock rock rock!

Which is why it was so refreshing to read Joshua's piece on Top 40.

His take on Top 40 (and it comes in a lovely context of a discussion of medieval folk art):

"The World the Same Way Up, Only More So";

and, "a place of pleasure more than ethics; the pleasures of the world, the same but more so";

and, "a story shaped by relations that extend themselves to some all-too-near, all-too-human horizon of risk before returning to the security of the root form, a story in which moment after moment is rifted with yearning for change, dreams about transformative love and fame and transformation itself, yet the figures do not change much, must instead repeat the familiar joys and sorrows . . . "

In other words, Pop is at heart conformist, but with an excess of emotion or passion or excitement.

Since reading Robert Walser's Running with the Devil, I'd been coming at music in general with the questions, how is this working for people, what do people hear in this, why do people like this? Phil Collins stumped me, but this frame makes perfect sense for Phil -- conformist, but with a passion (the "passionate" texture of his voice).

The frame makes sense for Barry Manilow and Ferrante & Teicher too -- conventional song forms and timbres and an excess of (for example) screaming violins -- I love their excessiveness.

Rock-centrists love the Rocker as Rebel image; Nirvana fit it, which is why a lot of rock-centrists got so excited when Nirvana conquered the charts -- millions of people were choosing to conform to the Rebel! Producer Butch Vig worked hard and shrewdly to shape Nirvana's sound into something radio-friendly, and according to Chuck Klosterman in Fargo Rock City, when metal kids (he was one at the time) first heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit" they dug it and thought Nirvana must be some new pop metal band. They hadn't seen Nirvana's clothes yet. A telling story.

All of this fits in with something my pal Jake London said about stardom on this blog 17 months ago:

"I think stars are generally people who have a personal way of walking but not too personal. It's usually a very delicate balance of distinct and indistinct that allows for stardom, particularly on a mass scale. Stars tap into our inadequacies around both homogeneity (I wish I was closer to the norm like this beautiful star) and heterogeneity (I wish I was different from the pack like this star)."

The conformist norm changes over the years, of course, and there is always more than one norm on the Top 40 at any given time. How this process works, how music signifies social conformity -- a lot of musical and cultural richness in all of this.

3 things:

1. Got a nice email from Joshua denying that he is "Nick." OK -- I wasn't completely sure about that one, and I'm completely fine with being wrong. No offense intended to either Joshua or "Nick."

2. Didn't mean to imply that Joshua is the first critic I've read who has gotten past the rock-centric prejudices; his piece in "This Is Pop" is, though, the first I've read to build a framework for understanding pop music as a whole and as music.

3. Shouldn't have said in the previous post that Joshua's snideness motivated me to find out more about his stuff; it was more a combination of his snideness toward me along with mine toward him.

I see that Jane has pitched his tent with the capitalism-accepting ameliorists after all, to which I say, Hurrah!

Jane's "real" name is Joshua Clover, and he's an English professor at UC Davis. I'd been wanting to say something about this a couple days ago, but only out of meanness, so I didn't. But I've since come across clues that indicate that he wants to be revealed.

Joshua publishes a lot under the name "Joshua Clover." Last night I read a piece attributed to "Joshua Clover" in the collection This Is Pop. His piece is the best thing I can remember ever having read on Top 40. He makes the case that Pop is Everyday Life Except Moreso. It's the only account of Pop I've read that has room in it for two of my totemic musical acts, Barry Manilow and Ferrante & Teicher, both hugely popular record makers during the rock era whom I happen to like a lot, and which liking I like to trumpet because they're so reviled by the mainstream of rockcrit -- they're a wedge I've been using to try to pry open some understanding into how the consensus discourse works. I was psyched to read Joshua's piece.

In his brief end-book bio, Joshua claims to have published pieces in the Village Voice under at least 4 different names. I remembered that a couple weeks ago, Sasha had "scare-quoted" Voice writer "Nick Sylvester." I know that Sasha and Joshua are friends, and with his link to "Nick," Sasha was thanking him for kind words. I went and read some more of "Nick's" stuff, and noticed a link to "Joshua Clover," which led to Jane Dark's page. "Nick's" stuff reads something like an oddball version of "Jane's," but even if "Nick" is the pseudonym of some other writer, not Joshua, he's obviously in the same (perhaps mostly virtual) social scene, since both he and Joshua are connected to Sasha. So if Joshua didn't want "Jane" to be outed, presumably "Nick" would honor that.

Holy heteronyms, Batman! Paging Alberto Caeiro!

In retrospect, I'm glad Joshua was so snide in our exchange, because I probably wouldn't have read his piece in "This Is Pop" any time soon otherwise, and I'm glad I did.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Commies and Republicans in argument share a trait: they never, ever concede that anything you say could have any validity; they never seek a common ground of understanding, but only use rhetoric to dominate. When the facts stack against them, they change the subject, pronto. It's an anti-humanist mode of discourse, and it drives me mad, and I frequently succumb to the temptation to *Be Like Them* and *Respond In Kind*. Pointless, destructive, ugly, weak; a sort of nightmare it's always nice to wake up from.

Case in point, Jane continues to ride his beef with me on the subject of Gramsci, in cryptically snide allusion to this blog. Thing is, his stuff on Gramsci is good. His stuff on the relationship between hegemony and Clinton signing NAFTA is good too, though unnecessarily snide; yes, Jane, NAFTA, CAFTA, and the rest are indeed betrayals. I don't know why he thinks Lesser Evil-ists don't know this.

Jane hasn't raised the specter of Lesser Evil-ism, but it haunts his slagging of the Democrats. I voted for Nader in '96 and campaigned vigorously against him in '00, thinking Bush worse than Dole and Bush's prospects for victory greater. I recall "Lesser Evil" as an epithet to describe the D's first coming around in the '96 campaign; it's probably much older. "I refuse to vote for the lesser of two evils" is the old slogan. I embrace my Lesser Evil-ism, given the actual material circumstances, as a necessary step to slowing what anti-Lesser-Evil-ists admit is the GREATER EVIL. After the election, it's back to pushing the D's to be more progressive. I did nothing to fight CAFTA. To my shame. I've worked the phones and letters on a bunch of other issues. Democracy, free speech -- I'll take 'em over the alternative. Weak and ineffectual? Too much of the time. Anybody got more effective methods, don't be such a wallflower. Show us the way.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Recent political yammering hereabouts has reminded me that, like Patricia Williams, I believe that a person's position in society influences how he or she will feel about it.

My name is John. I'm a white guy, born 1963 in a Navy town as my dad signed up after marrying my mom and graduating from college. I don't think of the Navy town as my hometown because we moved away from it when I was 2. I grew up in my mom's hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan -- my hometown. My dad grew up the next town over, Battle Creek, and my younger brother and sister, my parents, my grandparents, all 8 of my great-grandparents, and many great-greats were born in Michigan, Illinois, or Indiana. I was raised in a liberal, ecumenical Presbyterian Church -- culturally WASP.

When I was 10 years old a motorboat ran over me, the propeller cutting my face and under my chin, scarring me, knocking out 6 or 7 teeth, and cutting the nerves on the left side of my face, partially paralyzing my mouth. A few years ago I broke down crying talking about this with a friend, when I realized that the main lesson I learned from this event was how much my family loves me. I grew up thinking my scar and marred mouth made me ugly, but since marrying my beloved spouse 4 years ago, I've grown to realize I'm a handsome devil after all. Two and a half years ago our son was born. We play a lot of music.

I met my wife at a sit-in in a City Council member's office, protesting punitive anti-homeless laws the Council was considering (and went on to pass). My future wife got arrested; I left before the cops came. My future wife later hired me to work at the transitional housing program she managed. We fell in love and I slept my way out of a job. I've worked for low-income housing or homeless programs since 1991. My first job in "the field" was walking the floors of Seattle's roughest, largest shelter, on the original, historic Skid Row, which got its name from the loggers skidding the logs down the hill to the Bay. In my 2 years at that shelter, 4 different clients assaulted me. Only one was scarey or painful, a glancing blow to my head that I mostly ducked as I fell on my ass; the other three were slaps or shoves. Now I work for a non-profit agency that has home ownership programs for low-income households.

I've played a lot of music. Piano lessons as a kid, jazz and rock and classical fandom all my life, bluegrass and folk since high school. Bands since age 14, writing music since age 10, writing songs since age 15 (? maybe 16). Published poems in obscure journals in my early 20s (Beatniks from Space, Meat City). Acted in and wrote music for and wrote many plays, age 20 to 27. Only wrote one full-length play, a musical, 1987. I still play some of the songs from it. A cassette of music I wrote (1986) for lyrics in a Caryl Churchill play has passed from hand to hand and been produced at least twice by people I don't know.

I dropped out of college for 10 years, disgusted by the false privilege the college education confers upon its beneficiaries. Went back and graduated when I realized, first, that my middle-class upbringing, white skin, maleness, and heterosexuality give me access to many of those privileges anyway, and, second, that denying myself a diploma was helping nobody. My degree is in liberal arts blah blah blah, and I don't regret it; had a lot of fun; learned a lot.

Before moving to Seattle and stumbling into the housing/homeless/poverty biz, I worked as a proofreader for various publications, including the Chicago Reader. They published a few theater reviews I wrote, back in '89 or '90; I did not enjoy the experience of having my stuff edited. I mention it only to dispel any romantic notion that I'm a pure unsullied amateur.

I've been blogging for 18 months now. Thanks for reading.

Jane Dark responded to my criticisms of his thoughts on the notion of “pop disposability” and on the Democrats’ attempt to use Lakoffian “framing” for electoral victory. Response to the first came via email. Jane persuaded me that I misconstrued what he had been trying to say; not that the a listener can hear the disposable ways in which pop music is produced, as I had thought, but that music producers’ consciousness of the constraints of the marketplace and the possibility that the music they produce may be disposed of instantly "presumes a certain duration of ‘use’ by the consumer." Jane’s case is self-refuting, though elegantly put: By Jane’s own logic, music producers *have no idea* of “the duration of ‘use’ by the consumer” to which their music will be put: It may or may not get on the radio at all; it may last there for 2 weeks or 3 months; it may rival “Kind of Blue” for sales longevity.

(Re-reading the above, I realize that I referred to “Jane” as “he.” “Jane” is the blog-o-nym of a male poet who publishes poetry and criticism under his male name, but blogs under this female name.)

Jane responded to my criticisms of his blast against the Democrats for trying to use the work of George Lakoff in the comments to this post. His response is snarky but insubstantial; my response to his response is overstated in one respect -- he never made any actual ad hominem arguments, just a bunch of aggressive innuendo. I have two things to add:

First, isn’t it funny that a male poet who blogs under a female name -- one that alludes to the name of a nationalist hero/martyr and Catholic saint -- is blasting the Democrats for playing the image game?

Second, I need to reiterate that for the emphaticness of his rhetoric about material reality and actual conditions, Jane’s few concrete proposals in her/his original post display a not-uncommon ignorance and shocking ethnocentrism. He suggests: “a non-ideological removal of all military from the Middle East and an end of US support to Israel in the UN would, I suspect, bring a fairly swift end to terrorist recruiting.”

Is Jane suggesting that the US and Western military presence in Afghanistan has no recruitment value for terrorists? Or is he ignorantly lumping Afghanistan into the Middle East?

Is Jane suggesting that the terrorist bombings in the Sinai and Saudi Arabia don’t count and don’t matter?

Whatever, dude.
Jordan rightly questions whether the spin-free zone that Joshua/Jane appears to be positing could ever exist. The acknowledgment that language is always partial and contingent -- never the whole truth, but only, at best, a good faith outline-sketch.

Since Joshua/Jane’s frame is specifically anti-Capitalist, I’d be curious to know his/her take on Gramsci’s theory of hegemony -- how the dominant political force (in our case, the Republicans) control the terms of debate, the underlying assumptions in terms of which debate happens. In Lakoffian terms, the Republican “frame” is that R’s are strong on defense and the D’s are weak. In my view of material reality, this is nonsense, and one of the main goals of the D’s attempts to “reframe” the debate is to find the language that will persuade people of what we honestly believe reality to be -- more or less, in good faith sketch-outline terms. I haven’t read much Lakoff but my sense is that his project is consistent with Gramsci’s theory of hegemony.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005


A musician friend, talking about music critics who have never played an instrument: “Maybe there could be a good food critic who didn’t know anything about cooking . . . ”

* * *

Regarding last night’s post on Mike Seeger -- I didn’t mean to imply that my 10-day trip to Canada did not include my spouse -- she was there, but she missed Mike Seeger’s set -- it’s a busy folk festival.

After buying groceries last night, I found a BBC clip on Seeger’s mother, the composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, which includes snippets from her music. The BBC got one thing wrong (at least -- I didn’t listen that closely; I’m linking because I liked the music snippets): Ruth Seeger was Mike and Peggy’s mother, not step-mother; she was Pete’s step-mother.

Between groceries and finding a web clip on Ruth Crawford Seeger, I also found a used copy of Mike Seeger’s recent disc True Vine, and it’s gorgeous. A solo record with (I’m pretty sure) no overdubs, and I’d have to count the number of instruments he plays -- various guitars, Jew’s harp, several varieties of banjo, a couple different autoharps, various fiddles, harmonicas, dulcimer, quills, shakers, in various combinations. The duplicated fiddles and banjos etc. all sound different from one another. His fretless banjo playing absolutely sends me, as does his fiddle-harmonica duet. In the booklet Seeger confirms something I mentioned last night -- that he approaches these songs and instrumentals as if they were classical music.

* * *

The ultimate destination of our Canadian vacation was Alert Bay, off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island. An unforgettable destination, with the most gorgeous totem poles I’ve seen, some more than 100 years old, where they were originally put up, with new ones being put up by happening contemporary carvers in a happening cultural scene. Beautiful island, tremendous art, friendly people. Someone I met told me the population is about 770, about 60% living on a Native Reserve (which the U.S. would call a “reservation”) adjacent to the municipality. Still some fishing going on too.

* * *

Deep and many thanks to Matthew of Chicago for sending me a CD-R of a 1990 Chicago gig by my then-band Wild Onion Rhythm Babies. What a thrill to find this waiting for me when I got back home from a 10-day road trip! Deeply touched.

* * *

Sasha defers too much to Joshua/Jane on the non-disposability of the concept of the disposability of pop music. Sasha had it right when he originally said, “Thinking, while watching ESPN (sort of) of the uselessness of “disposability” as a critical concept: your Sudafed is my crystal meth. How do you know when my song’s run dry? How does any type of music signal disposability?” And Joshua/Jane was wrong when he analogized pop music to the disposability of pop bottles, “This is true of pop music too. The way it's made presumes a certain duration of ‘use’ by the consumer, and that remains a force shaping the music.” No. I can think of no way that any music I’ve ever heard has ever signaled disposability. Music sellers love it when any piece of music is popular forever. Capitol milks the Beatles and Atlantic milks Zep. The most successful jingles are the ones that you never, ever, ever, ever forget. If Sasha or Joshua/Jane have examples as to how musicians and/or music sellers have ever specifically designed music with the specific intent that it not remain popular, I’m all ears.

* * *

Jordan is finding Joshua/Jane “fairly persuasive” today too, on a different topic. Again, I’m unpersuaded.

Joshua/Jane is taking on the lefties who think we need more persuasive methods of framing political topics, falsely imputing said leftists with equating this tactical decision with an ideological belief that spinning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. It’s a nonsensical equation, and no lefty I know of believes it. The lefties presently pursuing more effective rhetoric for the purposes of democratic victory are doing so in harmony with what they (me included) consider to be material reality and humane policy.

Joshua/Jane asserts that Lakoff’s tactic of framing is the equivalent of believing that “the basic goal of communication is to cause people to believe things that serve particular interests.” He/she continues, “There is no freedom, no autonomy, and no broad community in that direction.”

2 big problems with this. First, agitating for freedom, autonomy and broad community is, in material fact, believing something that serves particular interests -- and that's fine. Second, Joshua/Jane hasn’t begun to make the case that Lakoffian framing is inimical to “reality-based” communication (not J/J’s phrase). The lefties’ main point in all of this is: The R’s policies are out of touch with reality, but, the R’s themselves are in touch with reality enough to realize this, and they use rhetoric to disinform and elide the differences; therefore, we need a counter-rhetoric to bring people back to reality. How that effort “digs one's own grave” is beyond me, and that J/J is drawn to such melodramatic, violent, negative rhetoric to make his case, frankly, disturbs me.

Monday, July 25, 2005


. . . will be 72 some time next month. My son and I saw him at the Vancouver Folk Music Fest 8 days ago. The man can play -- lots of things. Lovely quills (a/k/a panpipes, a traditional pre-blues African American instrument to which the flute solo on Canned Heat's "Goin' Up the Country" pays homage) while playing fine guitar; fine blues harmonica; beautiful banjo, including a fretless gut-stringed gourd banjo possibly very like the instrument that African slaves would have played upon first arriving in America 300 or 400 years ago -- he played a blues on it and it sounded like a guimbri; and a lovely autoharp on which he picked melodies. Nice singer too. Very scholarly approach, as if trying to play the songs just as he first heard them, similar in approach to a set I once saw 20 years ago or so by the pianist and Jelly Roll Morton scholar James Dapogny, who played beautiful versions of Morton tunes as close to note-for-note as he could get them. He comes by his scholarliness honestly: His father Charles was one of the founders of ethnomusicology, and many new music enthusiasts consider it a tragedy that his mother Ruth gave up a career as a composer to join her husband's work as a folklorist. (I've never heard her music, and now, since I mentioned it, I must.)

My son is a fan of Woody Guthrie and Mike's half-brother Pete Seeger, and his ears pricked up when Mike Seeger said, "I first got the idea to learn this song when I heard a home recording of it my brother Pete made with Woody Guthrie in 1940."

My son said, "He said Pete! He said Woody!"

After the Folk Music Fest we took a day cruising the Vancouver museums, then took a ferry to the Island for 5 days of car camping. The 2-year-old did better than I expected with the road trippin', and we had a great time. I'd love to say more about it, but just right now we need groceries.

Friday, July 15, 2005


Leaving town again, this time for 10 days, to Canada, for the 3-day Vancouver Folk Music Fest, then a week of camping and touristing on Vancouver Isle & the Gulf Isles.

Elsewhere in Blogville, Jane Dark says, beautifully, I want to be music, and wonders how, with music in the world, she can even drag herself to the office. I say “she” out of deference to the author’s wishes; I have it on good authority that Jane Dark is the pseudonym of a male poet who publishes poems under his male name.

Brief history of male poets publishing pseudonymously as women:

Pierre Louys, late 19th century France, publishes “Songs of Bilitis,” purporting to be translations of poems by a female contemporary of Sappho’s. Louys starts the tradition of male poets pretending to be women when they write, and then writing about their vaginas. Sings “Bilitis,” about nymphs: About their separated thighs, slow circles spread. . . (Ellipsis in original.)

After Louys, the most famous male poet to pose as female was Kenneth Rexroth, who midway through the 20th century presented short original poems of his own as translations by a contemporary Japanese woman named Marichiko. Like Louys’s, Rexroth’s inner woman likes to write about parting “her” thighs too:

You wake me,
Part my thighs, and kiss me.
I give you the dew
Of the first morning of the world,

I don’t have an example at hand, but a recent book of poems by Clayton Eshleman includes a batch of poems he published in magazines under guise of being a woman; if memory serves, Eshleman’s inner woman wrote about “her” privates much more often than Eshleman’s public man wrote about his.

Some time between Rexroth in the ‘50s or ‘60s and Eshleman in the ‘80s or ‘90s, Andrei Cordrescu published poems pseudonymously as a woman, but the sense I got from the handful of poems I read was that his inner woman was not genital obsessed.

I’m happy to say that “Jane Dark” hasn’t to my knowledge written about “her” vagina and that the male author seems to be in the Cordrescu tradition more than the Louys/Rexroth/Eshleman tradition. Not that I have anything against females’ privates! It just feels presumptuous for a dude to pretend to be a woman and then to be all into her own genitals. “If I were a woman, I could have sex with myself whenever I wanted! Cool!” Maybe more Beavis & Butthead than presumptuous, really.

I’m guessing that “Ms.” Dark took “her” name in hommage to the Maid of Orleans, Jeanne d’Arc, who’s usually Anglicized as Joan of Arc. Like “Joan,” “Jane” is an English feminization of the name “John.”

Like the old song says, “Joan of Arc with the Lord to guide her -- she was a sister who really cooked.” As a stance for a poet, it calls to mind Artaud’s vision of the actor burning at the stake, signalling through the flames.

To use the vernacular, “Jane Dark” is often On Fire! Seriously. The passage, to which I linked to start THIS post, about wanting to BE music -- beautiful.

Have a good 10 days -- see you on the flipside.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


My friend Jay had touted Ringo's drumming on "Come Together" recently, and so the other day I pulled it out, and -- no surprise -- he was right about the beautiful, glowing *rightness* of Ringo's move to the ride cymbal in the instrumental sections and his never-repeating, always tasty fills. I listened to most of the album, skipping "Maxwell," which I always do. "Octopus's Garden" was totally charming. The 2-year-old dug it & we listened to it several times in a row -- such a detailed recording! Again, great drum fills, super-tasty country leads from George, and so masterfully melodic backing vocals (led by Lennon?) throughout. And Ringo's fine vocal on a sweet song. "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" reminded me again of how much I love the way Lennon could whip himself into a frenzy.

The Side 2 suite charmed as well, in a different way. Not so much for the words or the emotions, but for the -- how to say? -- formalist mastery of it all. The hype excitement of the rhythm guitar & percussion on "Polythene Pam"; the exuberant shout "oh look out!" at the end of that song leading into the silly, charming, "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window" -- it was all quite pleasant and charming and so beautifully put together, like a Faberge egg, until "Golden Slumbers," and the ferocious tenderness of the loving lullabye, McCartney roaring the title phrase after entreating his listener to sleep pretty darling do not cry -- so utterly wrong for a lullabye, so utterly right for capturing the emotional tidal waves of parenthood -- I cried. Which was funny -- I knew that song affected me like that, but in the moment of enjoying the Beatles' record-and-song-making virtuosity-for-its-own-sake, I forgot the emotional punch to come.

For some reason I put on Sheryl Crow's first 2 albums tonight, and man, those records had that Beatles glow. First song, first album, "Run Baby Run," those Beatles guitar arpeggios. Lyrical allusions on the second album: "Love love love" a la "All you need is . . . " on the tune "Love is a good thing." (Reminding me of something someone I knew said once: "In rock, love is a THING.") The last song, "Ordinary Morning," totally Lennonesque, and yup, allusions to Lennon's lyrics from "Revolver" -- "I'm only sleeping, John" (she actually addresses him!) and a nod to "And your bird can sing." Crow had the glow on those first 2 albums. Lots of great stuff, and such a great singer. Electric drums on the first album don't always work for me, but other than that, gorgeous arrangement/recordings too throughout on both.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


I just saw her down at the swank Triple Door dinner theater (that's what it is, though I don't know if they call it that). I'd seen her in Oct. 2002 open for Elvis Costello in Newark. She's singing more powerfully and flexibly now, and her band was hot -- 2 hot pickers from the Blood Oranges on guitar & mandolin and Jeremy Chatzky, who played on her first 2 CDs (and maybe her third), on electric and stand-up bass -- he's a great quirky melodic player who sometimes leaves 6 beats open until he plays another note. Laura's solid strumming held it all together. Nice 3-part harmonies from the pickers. As the beer started coursing through me the music seeped in deep. Nice to be in a sit-down joint. I should have taken notes.

Monday, July 11, 2005


Got back last night from a glorious week at Gull Lake Michigan, whence I did not want to return so soon; the 2-year-old loved the water and his cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles, as do I; everybody seems more-or-less well; I got sunburned and tan and wrinkled like a prune.

One music-related story from the week, out of several:

I went to church on the 3rd of July to hear my friend the youth minister, who's been in that position at the church for 35 years, preach. Hadn't been to church myself for a few years. My friend rocked the sermon, in that low-key meditative Presbyterian way. The offertory hymn was Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." After the sermon I told my friend the preacher that I had never liked that song until they started singing it at ballgames after the mass murder of September 2001, whereupon I noticed that it's a prayer for guidance -- "stand beside her / and guide her." My friend, a left lefty left liberal from way back, said, "Well, they [the church music director and organist] do their thing, and I do mine." I knew he hated that patriotic stuff being in church.

When this topic first came up several years ago when the Congregation voted to bring the flag into the sanctuary for services near national holidays -- Memorial Day, Veterans' Day, Independence Day -- my friend had found no solace or humor in my lighthearted-on-the-surface but perhaps aggressive joke, "Christianity has always succeeded by absorbing the local paganisms" -- nationalism being an idolatrous paganism in this context.

About Berlin's "hymn" my friend said, "It's a little parochial."

"America is our parish," I said.

"The world is our parish. What does the flag have to do with Christian worship? I have a flag in my office, but this is a sanctuary."

I can't disagree with him, but I still like the song. Even though Irving Berlin was right to shelve it for 20 years after writing it during the First World War and deciding it was too mawkish, too sentimental, and only showing it to people in the late '30s, when mawkishness and sentimentality were more popular. I like mawkish, sometimes.

I remembered how unconscious I was growing up of the good fortune that Kalamazoo is a college town. The postlude of the worship service was Charles Ives's "Variations on America," which I'd never heard. It was great -- rambunctious, dissonant variations on that old tune "God Save the Queen," which Americans wrote new words for, rather grammatically awkward words at that: "My country, 'tis OF THEE, sweet land of liberty, OF THEE I sing," and the tremendous, hallucinatory, visionary non-sequiter concluding line, "From every mountainside, let freedom ring." Half the congregation waited to listen to the whole, several minute long piece, and applauded enthusiastically after it was over, and the organist -- a thin woman who'd been working hard up there in the choir loft behind the Congregation -- beamed.

"Ives is a good composer," said my friend, "but I don't want songs about America's birthday or the Queen's birthday or any of that in church."

He was right, but I was still really happy to hear that music.

Friday, July 01, 2005

HAPPY 4th!

Off to Michigan to see family and old friends for a week.

What I love about America.
My family.
My friends.
It’s a gorgeous country.
The music.
Freedom of speech.
The whole Bill of Rights.

This fuzzes over some detail, but I need to get to bed. Night night, my lovelies, be good, be seeing you --

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