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

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The city is gone. gone gone gone. people still left. god, i hope they get out. get out alive.

Mississippi coast is gone -- the human parts of it, the people stuff. gone, gone or wrecked, almost all of it.

i cruise around my left-liberal websites, read about That Man, and how he cut FEMA, and how he cut flood prevention funding, and how he was strumming somebody's guitar yesterday, when you know any Democratic president would have been on the case --

course, 'twasn't just the Prez who blew it -- the Mayor & the Gov rolled the dice. "do we do all we can to get people out? nah -- how'd we pay for it? where would we put 'em? we'll roll the dice -- it probably won't be THAT bad."

cuz, lots of people just didn't have the cash to get out.

nightmares of people starving to death as they await evacuation.

misdirection of resources, sure, the goddamned War For an Islamic Iraq, the insane tax cuts, but. But.

this is what That Man promised us. he promised he would be the president of photo ops, the ultra-rich, and the Medievalist Christian cultists. he has not been derelict in his duty. he has done his duty. on behalf of the 20% of the country who are Medievalist Christians and the 1% super-rich, the only people he ever said he'd do a blessed thing for. the rest of us? he's been clear about this since November 2000, when he sued to prevent the counting of votes: he's not our president.

ecchhh -- hell, bitch and moan, venting at SOMEBODY, screw it, screw me, whatev, stupid, flailing, can't imagine, can't comprehend, can't apprehend, can't get it -- the destruction, the destruction, the grief and the woe.

if you got coin to throw, the Red Cross could use our help.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

I had hoped that everyone who wanted to get out of the hurricane’s path, got out. Obviously, not everybody did.

So terrifying the destruction, so awful, so sad the aftermath. So mind-boggling the vastness of the problems.

Here is a link to the Red Cross.

* * *

Ange Mlinko, the Bachelardette, makes me want to re-read Plato, never a simple proposition. He’s generally entertaining and thought-provoking, but his main character, Socrates, is the least honest slicky boy in town, a slicky tricky trickster of rhetoric and disingenuousness. Sometimes I want to shout at his interlocuter, “Run away! These people want to kill you!” I don’t believe that Socrates literally wants to kill, say, Protagoras, but the con is so smooth, I feel for the mark.

* * *

Noticed that Ms. Mlinko’s book of poems (which I haven’t read) got a nice “brief note” in last week’s “New Yorker.” The anonymous reviewer cited Frank O’Hara as an influence, always a good omen for me.

My college poetry prof imparted a love for FO’H to me in 1982. FO’H died in 1966; born the same year as Coltrane, Chuck Berry, Miles, Allen Ginsberg, 1926; died the year before Coltrane; like Trane, still a contemporary.

But Blaise Cendrars is still a contemporary too, as near as I can tell from reading the po-blogs I like to read. (Cendrars a probable influence on O’Hara -- guessing here.)

* * *

Langpo might better be called Asyntactilism. With roots in Surrealism (Cendrars and Apollinaire more than Breton), Gertrude Stein, and Jack Spicer (who might be redundant on this list).

Just because your poem is disjunctive doesn’t mean it’s not lyric. Even if not a representation of a meditating consciousness, then both a product of one and an object presented for meditation.

Difference between oratory and oratorical poetry: Oratory seeks to rouse the listener to action; oratorical poetry seeks to rouse the listener to a beautiful experience.

In *my* book, it’s all School of Quietude, whether the School is Iowa or Black Mountain -- it’s all page-poetry meditative quiet stuff. Excepting Ginsberg, who’s of the oratorical tradition, and probably a few others -- Duncan at times.

The split isn’t Quietude v. Avant-Garde; the bigger split is meditative v. oratorical. Which is why Sandburg got dropped from the modernist all-star team -- too oratorical -- even though he’d been part of the modernist explosion of 1913 (American version, a couple years later than the French, and ignorant of Stein getting there ahead of them). Ginsberg made the cut somehow, probably due to his generosity of spirit and -- more important -- personal affiliations.

It was refreshing and illuminating to see Ron Silliman, a while back, admit that when he said “School,” he really meant clique. The clarification explains why Ginsberg is hip despite his oratory, and why Robert Bly is “quiet,” in Ron's estimation. Like or dislike Bly’s poetry, it’s silly to label a widely known public activist, cantankerous editor, noisy translator of surrealist poetry, and arranger of political public readings “quiet.” He’s “quietudinarian” simply because he doesn’t affiliate himself with the cliques Ron admires. (Bly and Jerome Rothenberg, who is firmly of at least one of the cliques that Ron approves, recognized each other as fellow spirits, 40 years ago, but they seem to have drifted apart.)

I’d guess that Silliman’s deep entrenchment in the meditative scene makes it impossible for him to see and/or hear the oratorical strand that’s been alive and kicking hard for almost 20 years now, following the trail of the Slam. That’s the more vivid division in poetry now, not avant v. “quiet,” but oratorical v. meditative.

Oh yeah? Yeah!

* * *

My friend the writer and pianist Emily Dietrich reports on taking her family to see a live touring show of American Idols:

“We went to American Idol Live last Tuesday. It was very, very American. By that I mean that the following sights were seen:

A primly dressed Asian lady in her 70s with her pinky and index finger in the air, rocking to Scotty the Body's "On Broadway"

A man wearing a yarmulke and sporting a bushy peppered beard

Two straightened-haired African American tweens smiling broadly and screaming

Two blondes in sparkling look-at-me tops waving a Greek flag for Constantine Maroulis, who sang "Funny Valentine"

My son, devastated to learn that his favorite, Bo Bice, would not be performing that night or again on the tour due to surgery

My daughter, cheering for Vonzell, her favorite, and moaning with boredom at the extended set for the Chosen American Idol, Carrie Underwood

Me, dancing like crazy and sing-yelling to every song I knew.

The whole diverse audience singing "R-O-C-K in the USA" at the top of our lungs.”

A while back I came across a reference in one of Robert Christgau's writings to Pete Seeger's folky urge to create "community" by inciting a sing-along.

Maybe it's because I've hung out with too many grumpy hippies, but that word "community" rings me wrong. Community exists through time; it's never instantaneous. People can strive to create it, but if you don't want certain disappointment, I'd advised going slow, slower than a slow version of dating. Sloooow. Sometimes things happen quickly, but not often.

That said, I get what Christgau was getting at, but I'd call it "communion," not "community." People might blanch at the sacral connotation, but I choose it deliberately. A concert is a "special event." It recurs with quasi-regularity. And it rearranges consciousness in ways similar to religion.

The Seeger style of bullied-singalong usually gets me to go along with it, and I usually enjoy it, but it usually provides a low level of communion. Not as "communal" as a spontaneous singalong (which are very gratifying to incite as a singer -- it's even happened to me with brand new songs), but communal. Not unlike white Protestant church, with the heavenly organ out of sight, and the acoustics of the sanctuary designed so that the only sound you hear distinctly is your own voice, all other voices and the organ muzzily wafting around, calling attention to the singularity of one's relationship to the deity, while creating a communal experience. Sing-alongs are self-conscious like that.

More deeply communal is what we old-timers used to call slam-dancing. (When did the name change to "moshing"?) Dancing in general is more deeply communal than the coerced singalong, and slam dancing in particular is intimate and ecstatic and simultaneously consciousness-raising and self-consciousness-destroying: one becomes conscious of one's relationship to the other careening bodies; one cares for them; and one's singular self loses its shame and shyness.

Do this in remembrance of whatever the heck you want to remember.

One punk rock show in college, I put down my guitar and led a friend onto the stage and gave him a chair to sit in because blood was streaming down his forehead. The band played on. Same show, another song, the lead singer invited "everybody" onstage to sing along. My housemate Jeff came up to me and said, "We need bread." Another friend deep-throated me. It didn't matter that I wasn't attracted; that was a fun show.

Monday, August 29, 2005


It's often happened to me. In the middle of some situation, I notice that the tune that's been playing in my head is a precise commentary on the scene.

A week ago Sunday, in the middle of a sweaty dirty home improvement project (I am not handy), I noticed the Kinks' great "Do You Remember Walter?" playing in my head. From '67 or so, "Village Green Preservation Society" album.

"Do you remember Walter how we said we'd fight the world so we'd be free?
We'd save up all our money and we'd buy a boat and sail away to see
But it was not to be
Oh Walter my old friend where are you now? . . .

"I bet you're fat and married and you're always home in bed by half past eight . . ."

Fat, check; married, check; home in bed, nope, home and blogging. But the song didn't taste bitter; it was sweet to be sweaty dirty home-improving Walter.


The photo icon recently appeared on my blog host home page. Cool!

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Only a dandy whose chief concern is maintaining a sense of originality in style disdains the obvious for-the-sake-of-disdaining-the-obvious. This gets at my problem with modernism in the arts.

A friend who had played all sorts of music, from rock and roll to Medieval lute music to 12-tone, reported this conversation to me 1991 or ‘92, with much laughter:

Enthusiastic Austin resident: “Austin is great. You can go to 21 different bars on 21 different nights and hear 21 different kinds of music.”

Graduate student in musical composition, sincerely looking down his nose: “Ah, but what would you do on the 22nd night?”

After typing out The White Man’s Shame the other night, copying it from a yellowed newspaper pasted in a 90-some-year-old family scrapbook that I found a few year's ago in the family cottage, I realized that I wanted to say some more about it.

People describe Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden as racist and pro-imperialist; I agree with the former but not with the latter. The poem seems to argue that imperialism has no end except the profit of the owning classes. The people doing the labor get exploited and the natives get exploited. Kipling’s racism is repugnant, but the poem isn’t pro-empire; it’s sarcastic and cynical.

The Shame satire is much more directly anti-imperialist and without taint of racism. The satire’s looser prosody marks it as a “pop” or “folk” poem: added syllables in some lines break the strict formalist mode of Kipling’s professional job and, in my view, improve the poem’s rhythm by adding well-handled variety. In line seven of the first stanza, 3-syllable beats perk up the general 2-syllable beat of the poem.

The original printing was from the Chicago Times-Herald, which, according to this web site, only existed from 1895 to 1901. Since Kipling’s poem was originally published in 1899, the satire came out between 1899 and 1901, and the Kalamazoo reprinting probably shortly after. We know that the copy in my family’s scrapbook is a reprint, because the credit wouldn’t have said “in Chicago Times-Herald” otherwise. The web has no information about the author, “C. H. G.,” in connection with the newspaper that printed her or his poem. It’s unlikely I’ll make it to a reference library with copies of the old Chicago paper any time soon.

[Note, much later. I revised this post because part of it was based on a literal misreading of a word in the poem; I deleted the relevant paragraphs. Also, I had originally posted the whole poem here. I took it down because I decided I should like to post it somewhere accurately, and I am not able to indent lines in this computer program. Hopefully I will have it up somewhere again.]

Friday, August 26, 2005


Carl makes some interesting points and hosts a good discussion about the critical environment for Pop Lit that I asked about the other night.

I've mentioned before my curiosity about a species of Pop Lit that has fallen by the wayside of history: periodical light verse. For most of the 19th century and well into the 20th century, newspapers and magazines regularly published verse. archy and mehitabel started in a newspaper column. Famous song lyricists W. S. Gilbert, Ira Gershwin, and Yip Harburg all published light verse before hitting it big in song -- Gilbert was already famous for his Bab Ballads before he hooked up with Sullivan.

Nowadays A Visit From Saint Nicholas and Casey at the Bat are the most famous of the old newspaper poems. They started their public lives with anonymous and pseudonymous authorship, respectively; controversy over authorship swirled around the latter and still swirls around the former. (For what it's worth, I side with those who say that Livingston, not Moore gave us the defining version of St. Nick, for reasons laid out by Don Foster in his terrific book of studies into literary provenance, Author Unknown.) The only reason anybody cared who wrote A Visit and Casey is that so many people loved the poems and they got reprinted so often and so widely. (Widely reprinted, to no remuneration to the authors, actual or putative: Ernest Thayer, a college pal of Hearst's, wrote Casey for one of his papers and got paid for the original publication but not for the reprints. Moore included A Visit in his late collection of poems, but he never got paid for the many reprints, and nobody got paid for the initial publication in 1823.)

The rhymes immortalizing Santa and Casey still swing today, with their adept and lively rhythms, their humor and wit, their piquant details, their miniature portraiture, and their emotionally resonant drama. Very little of the 19th century Pop Verse that I've seen comes close.

I first got hip to periodical light verse when I stumbled across the charming anthology Famous Poems from Bygone Days in a used book store. Editor Martin Gardner says that he found some of the poems in old scrapbooks that people collected, in which they pasted newspaper clippings and family memorabilia. I had previously come across one of my favorite poems in the book, Hellbound Train, when I heard a punkabilly band sing it in a bar in my neighborhood.

You can imagine how excited I was to find such an old family scrapbook a few years ago in the cottage my great-grandparents built. It's packed with newspaper poems and articles, as well as some hand-written family history. Most of the poems are of the sentimental religious variety, not really my thing. But I did want to show you [the first stanza of] a scathing parody of a Rudyard Kipling chestnut, called The White Man's Shame:

"Take up the white man's burden" --
And do as he has done,
In the far-off southern desert,
Under the desert sun.
Rob and murder and pillage,
For the love of the bloodshed slay;
Fight for the itch of an ancient wound,
For the shame of a distant day! . . .

--C. H. G. in Chicago Times-Herald


I'd like to talk to whichever ancestor of mine cut this poem out of the paper and glued it in this book. And I wonder about old C. H. G.

[Note, much later: I originally posted all 6 stanzas, but decided to take it down as it was not quite accurate: I had misread one word in the copy in the family scrapbook; and, which I don't know how to fix in this computer program, the original indents every other line. I hope to post an accurate version somewhere before too long.]

Thursday, August 25, 2005


The kid: "Why is someone not nice?"

Me: "No one really knows. It's one of the great mysteries of life."

The kid: "Why is it not two of the mysteries?"

My post the other night about wondering what an aesthetic defense of pop fiction might be like was timely: In comments, Jon Hastings of The Forager Blog pointed me to this post from the day before mine, where Michael Blowhard praises Jackie Collins. Mr. B. makes me want to read Jackie Collins: according to him her stuff has zip, intrigue, drama, oomph, sharp characters, wit -- sounds like Pop!

Mr. B. also aptly wonders how come the only pop genre to get critical respect is the most macho of genres, the mystery.


And I can’t help but be continually reminded: To Reagan’s deliberately incompetent strategy of Bankrupt Government Now, the Bush team has added the incomparably worse strategy of Let’s Piss Off Every Country On Earth while we’re at it.

Meanwhile, George Will complains about the shrillness of Democrats.

As if!

The hypocrisy continually astonishes. Literally breath-taking. Like the kids (used to?) say, Wilde!

I was happy to see a piece by an acquaintance of mine on yesterday’s op-ed page. The Rev. Rich Gamble takes on his imperialistic co-religionists. Amen, brother.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3: I’ve been a fan of Vol. 1 since it came out, but I’d never heard more than bits and pieces of Vol. 3 until the other day, when I learned that good friends who live kitty-corner across the alley had a copy, and I asked and they let me borrow it. Roy Orbison’s death was a terrible loss, but I really like almost all the songs and actively dislike none of them (yet); the band might even be peppier than on Vol. 1; Jeff Lynn’s high-gloss deep-carpeting production (co-credited to Harrison, but it sounds like Lynne) remains my favorite setting for Dylan since Bob Johnston’s mid-’60s rock freak-outs; the lush Beatles-ELO background vocals & the thick layer of strummy acoustics sound fab; Dylan’s vocals are hot & committed; I’ve never liked any singing by Tom Petty as well; and it features more hot George Harrison guitar than any other album I know (I don’t know all his solo albs), with widely varied tones, his typical tasty licks, occasional wilder abandon than I’ve ever heard from him elsewhere, and some circa 1964 licks a la Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry -- a guitar feast.

My Way, Elvis Presley: I’ve heard it on the radio a couple times recently, on the “great songs, great memories” AM station. A typically eclectic, eccentric, terrific late Elvis arrangement, with semi-funky ‘70s white-guy beat (that Elvis had helped pioneer, “From Elvis In Memphis”) and pedal steel guitar, it didn’t grab me on the first listen. But on the 2nd, it touched me more than Sinatra’s standard. Elvis a more emotionally complex, less macho singer than Sinatra. Elvis ain’t bragging, he got nothing to prove, he remembers the blows less resentfully than does Sinatra. And still -- he did it his way. (By the way, here’s a poignant story of the Canadian singer to whom the song was originally offered before Paul Anka wrote his lyrics to the original French tune. I hadn’t known that the words of the French version had a very different intent.)

John’s Book of Alleged Dances, composed by John Adams and performed by Kronos Quartet: A wild headphone experience (I don’t use headphones except at record store listening stations, and when overdubbing in the recording studio) with “trippy” stereo effects and (I’m pretty sure) a rock-style fade-out, this suite of 10 pieces rocks with bluesy riffs and jagged beats and a rhythmic complexity native to 20th century classical that still rocks. A complex and comprehensive and communicative musical consciousness pervades this exciting stuff.

Dyna-Soar, Quincy Jones Orchestra featuring Roland Kirk (who wrote it, I’m pretty sure): 1962, an exuberant hip-movie-dance-party big-band rock-riff tune featuring Kirk’s flute and Charlie McCoy’s bass harmonica playing the tune 2 octaves apart, with patented Jones funky dramatic jazz arrangement -- a favorite kitchen dishes dance tune for me. From the same era as Jones’s most famous composition (probably even more famous than the “Sanford and Son” theme), Soul Bossa Nova, which also features Kirk’s flute and which has become the theme for Austin Powers. It makes me happy that a tune that features such a great and unjustly neglected musician as Roland Kirk has become part of pop culture.

Foggy Mountain Jamboree, Flatt & Scruggs: A recent re-release of a 1950s collection. Scruggs’s gorgeous banjo playing defined the bluegrass style more than anything else; he was the Charlie Parker of country, turning a popular dance music into a virtuoso music for listening, and at about the same time, making his first records in 1946, just a year after Parker’s first true “be-bop” records. Flatt was a gorgeous singer, with a sound like a sweeter Hank Williams and a style like a country Nat King Cole, light, buoyant, and shrugging off sorrows with the friendly, un-self-pitying wisdom that sorrow is unavoidable. This album brilliantly alternates style-setting instrumentals with lovely vocal tunes, though the re-release adds 3 tunes, throwing the pattern off slightly by adding one vocal tune too many, a historically interesting and philosophically noxious and unfortunately timely tune about praying for “our boys” at war.

Blue Ridge Rangers, John Fogerty: A solo tour-de-force featuring the former Creedence Clearwater leader on all the vocals and instuments -- including guitars, pedal steel guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, banjo, fiddle, clarinet, saxophone, and trombone -- on classic country and gospel tunes. The point isn’t the stuntmanship of the production, the point is the terrific arrangements and performance. And the great songs. Fogerty never sounded more relaxed or more committed than on this record. His CCR stuff was into a deep persona scene; having grown up on the East Bay, he invented a bayou persona and sang with a Louisiana accent (“I hoid it through the grapevine,” pure Satchmo); he sounds happier simply playing different roles on this record where, not having written the songs, he doesn’t have to worry about creating the role as well. Featuring on the cover a silhouetted photo of “the band”: Fogerty on bass, guitar, banjo, fiddle, and vocals. (Personal aside: I once saw at my grandparents’ house a photo of a great-grandfather, 1895, age 19, in a formal portrait studio, sitting on an elegant couch, wearing a suit and tie, playing a guitar, and seated next to another image of himself playing mandolin. I have his mandolin, and I’ve never seen that photo since.)

Johnny B. Goode, the Beach Boys’ cover of the Chuck Berry tune on their mid-’60s “Concert” album: Early Beach Boys demos reveal: They didn’t start out as a band. They were a vocal group. That became a band AFTER they started recording. Contrast this to the Beatles, who had years and years of professional gigging before recording, making their ensemble playing untoppable. The Beach Boys became a good band and an untoppable vocal group. Their version of Chuck Berry’s anthem rocks and adds a tasty bluesy vocal lick that sounds like something the Beatles might have done.

The Bird of Ill Omen Lingers On from “On the Overgrown Path” by Leos Janacek, played by Ivan Klansky. Great late night solo piano haunting melancholy spooky dissonant bird-flittings alternating with a somber march tune. Makes me want to hear more Janacek. I’ve also seen the tune’s title translated “The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away.”

The Long Day Closes, an instrumental version of an Arthur Sullivan song arranged for the “Topsy Turvy” movie. Tender, melancholy, gentle, longing. Gilbert did not write the words, which I see are about death, and which I’ve never heard sung. I’d like to. Some other night. Night night.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


Such a great word.

Fizzy sugar water! Drink it with ice!

That startling sound when something punctures a balloon!

A try ("give it a . . . "); an assault by striking (" . . . on the nose"); with "up," to appear unexpectedly (" . . . up everywhere"); also with "up," a baseball hit high in the air but a only short length ("the catcher caught the . . . up"), sometimes "pop fly" instead of "pop up."

Applied to music, it means fizzy, sweet, startling, gung-ho, aggressive, unexpected, and easy to catch.

Oh yeah, it's also an affectionate, casual synonym for "father." So add "insouciantly patriarchal" to the list.

Pop is fizzy, sweet, startling, gung-ho, aggressive, unexpected, easy to catch, and insouciantly patriarchal.

That sounds about right.

Monday, August 22, 2005


Listening to a Broadway compilation from the library. Al Jolson, Ethel Merman, Streisand -- intense individualists. The only current Broadway singing star I can name right now is Michael Crawford from "Phantom of the Opera"; from the little bit I've heard of him, he doesn't strike me as particularly intense or individualistic.

Zero Mostel as Tevya on "If I Were a Rich Man" is slightly funnier than Topol, who played the role in the movie, but neither as sweet toward his wife nor as passionate on that tremendous line, which Topol sings with such ferocity: "I WOULDn't HAVE to WORK HARD." Topol's life force, affirming his life by joyously roaring his anger.


Listening to Bob Wills the other day, that wonderfully sexy image in "San Antonio Rose":

"Lips so sweet and tender, like petals falling apart."

Ooo-wee. A sexual allusion worthy of Shakespeare or Robert Johnson.

Great song; one of that genre of songs-about-themselves:
San Antonio Rose
Elmer's Tune

Stardust & San Antonio Rose haunting and melancholy; Elmer's Tune giddy and cosmic:

Why are the stars always winkin'
and blinkin'
What makes a fella start thinkin'
of falling in love?
It's not the season,
the reason
is plain as the moon,

The hurdy-gurdy,
the birdie,
the cop on the beat,
the candy-maker,
the baker,
the man-on-the-street,
the city charmer,
the farmer,
the man on the moon


Globalization assumes that people are resources, not people.

“Labor” is a resource that is either expensive or cheap, depending on the country “producing” the “labor.”

The globalizers say, “Let capital go freely to where it can use itself most efficiently. If labor is cheaper in Mexico than Texas, let the capital go there.”

The job of a government is to control people, to keep people within well-regulated borders, so that capital can go use itself as efficiently as possible.

If we were to embrace a globalization that would see people as free agents and not as resources, we would have to allow laborers to “go freely where they can sell their labor most efficiently.” Worldwide unlimited immigration and emigration.

Does anybody in America want this? The idea makes me nervous! I like my middle class comforts! Wouldn't the end of borders and the nation-state make my middle-class existence impossible? I don't know! But it sure feels that way! And yet – people should be free to come and go as they please.

The globalizers don’t tell you that the job of government is to keep laborers confined so wealthy people can be free to do whatever they can get away with. We can do better than that -- but what that "better" might be feels complicated.

But it does seem that government has done enough to help rich people get richer.

Sometimes I fantasize about an anthropological economics. How do allocate resources? An anthropological approach assumes that resources are held in common, and distribution patterns are made my group choice. This feels real to me, sort of. An interesting angle, at least.

I have no idea what I'm talking about.


Sunday, August 21, 2005


The pop crit explosion of the last 20 or so years -- is there an equivalent for romance novels? Pop music critics posit that pop music is as worthy of study as classical or jazz or any other music. Some pin that worthiness on sociological grounds, some on aesthetic. Some say that pop is *more* worthy of study than music of the past, on grounds of contemporaneity and anti-elitism (assuming that classical is elitist; some classical people say, yes, of course classical is elitist; other classical types say Get Thee Behind Me Satan when they sniff elitism in the room; me, I think elitism is a silly state of mind, which is a very silly and elitist thing for me to think [*see footnote]).

My question is, do the pop partisans (and I'm one) believe the same of literature? Are romance novels as worthy (or more worthy) of study than Keats or Virginia Woolf? (I know there are intellectual defenses of mystery novels, but I haven't seen one for romance novels.)

Sociologically, I say yes, sure, worthy of study (not *more* worthy; same with pop music). Aesthetically, I'm not there, but I'd be open to reading an argument in favor.

I mention it after noticing that most pop-music-partisan writers have "high art" sensibilities in literature, including me. I read a lot more poetry than fiction; if I read, say, three novels a year, one may be a mystery or thriller which I immediately forget and two may be something from the mainstream literature courses, Austen or Wharton or Woolf or Forster, say.

* [footnote] Elitism-shmelitism. The public classical-listening ritual presents itself as middle-to-upper-class even though anybody can catch some for free on PBS and the tickets for a live show aren't any higher than a football game. The middle-to-upper-class vibe of the classical show echoes the milieu of the original patrons of most of the classical repertoire, starting with the sons of Bach. (The Great Bach wrote primarily for the church.)

Any listening experience takes an act of imagination. To relate to a piece of music, one imagines oneself in the milieu where the music makes social sense. Rhythms have a lot to do with body carriage; the beat of a song indicates how one should stand, walk, move. Just as a lot of people can't imagine themselves into a classical vibe, so a lot of people can't imagine themselves into a hip hop vibe. The beats don't speak to them. (I have limited reggae vibe-ability.)

Being able to imagine myself into a Haydn vibe doesn't make me an 18th century royalist in any meaningful sense, just as being able to imagine myself into a blues vibe does not make me a humanistic egalitarian. For most of his life Haydn was a domestic servant in the house of a hereditary nobleman; in that house the composer had less status than the cook.

It's silly and elitist for me to think that elitism is silly because: 1) it's an attempt to opt out of the question; and 2) by calling elitism silly, I'm putting on airs, implying that I think I'm better than those silly old elitists. Guilty as self-charged: I think elitism is silly, and I'm a silly elitist.

Bush couldn't meet with Cindy Sheehan because his political strategy requires him to demonize the enemy. His political critics are the enemy. Had he met with her, he would have recognized her humanity.


Look at the letters in any newspaper. Maybe half support Sheehan. Of the half or so that oppose her request to have the Iraq mission explained (!), only a few will attempt to answer her question: The only defense of the war is that we are "freeing Iraq" [to become an Islamic Republic where women will have no rights]. Most of the letters dehumanize Sheehan, either demonizing her directly because she criticizes the president, or calling her a "puppet" of the "demon left" for allowing herself to be "used" in their (our) campaign to hold the president accountable for his actions. (They don't call it "holding the president accountable.")


Had Bush met with Sheehan he would have had nothing to say, because the truth is the other enemy of his political strategy.


Did you hear the one about the Navy wife who wanted her health insurance to pay for the abortion of her fetus because the baby would have born without a brain or a skull? And how a law named after an adulterer named Henry Hyde prevents the military from paying for abortions except when the mother's life is in danger and not even when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest?


If you take Bush as emblematic, apparently his Judeo-Christian supporters believe that "bearing false witness against thy neighbor" is an instruction, not a prohibition.


Apparently the other so-called commandments are strictly optional too, but the 10 Commandments crowd wants to shove them down everybody's throats, just so they can gloat about how they have the power to do it as they break most of them.


"Let's make a graven image of the prohibition against graven images!"


(I extrapolated the last quote from a letter on another blog -- I think it was Eric Alterman's -- from an Orthodox Jew who asked whether Antonin Scalia kept the Sabbath Day Holy and who blasted the "10 Commandments" crowd as idolaters of graven images.)


Now we're going to hear from Turtletop correspondent Nattie Bobo (a/k/a the 2 and a half year old):

n...n.nn.n.n . n. n. n,n.n.n.n.bn.n.n.n.n.nnb.n..n.n.n.n... n. n.n ..n n.n.n .n.n.n.n.n.n.n.n..n.n.n.n...n..n.n..n...n.n.n..n ...n.. n.n.b.n.nbv,n.nvbnm..n/,n/,.bnnb /,. n/bbmmn .

Thursday, August 18, 2005


What is underwriting?



"Go in fear of abstractions," he said.

I'd consider it, if that sentence weren't so scarey.

"No ideas but in things," he said.

Is that a thing?



What is the thing of it?



Heard that song on the radio tonight, some sultry sounding woman I don't know. Music by the great Michel Legrand, words by the Bergmans. The summer knows my doubts and fears. My fears that summer won't last forever. The deliciously sultry heat, the ripeness and ease. I want it to last and last. It won't.

The pained consciousness of change's inexorability -- you can hear it in the crickets' chirping, in this song, in Brian Wilson's sweetbitter falsetto. The summer knows.

Michel Legrand isn't as famous as Burt Bacharach or Antonio Jobim but he should be. Fewer hit songs than Bacharach; hits not as big as either of the others. Many parallels with Bacharach: Educated as classical composers, lovers of bebop; Legrand an accomplished jazz pianist who has played with many of the greatest names, such as Miles Davis. Bacharach an expert small-band colorist as arranger; Legrand as arranger comparable to Gil Evans, Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, Les Baxter, and wider ranging with a richer harmonic palette than any of them. Legrand wrote fewer hit songs but a lot of great ones. "Windmills of your mind" and "If it takes forever I will wait for you" probably the most famous. More famous for his soundtracks: "Summer of '42," "Thomas Crown Affair," "Brian's Song," that movie famous for making little boys secretly cry as they pretend not to -- that's what I did (a relief to grow up and not be ashamed of crying) -- many other movies.

The summer knows. The livin' is easy. Your mama's rich and your dad is good looking. Nothing lasts forever. The summer KNOWS.



Cindy Sheehan struck a nerve. She asks Why, Why did my son die, Why did we go to war? The Republicans lose their poop, because there is no good answer -- they don't even try to answer.

Here is the answer.

They thought it would be easy and that it would bring them glory.

They thought the Iraqis would turn out secular, humanistic, unified, friendly with their oil, and friendly to Israel.

They thought the democracy would inspire democratic movements throughout the Middle East and North Africa and Central Asia.

Wrong on every count.

The WMD thing and the purported connection to Al Qaeda were conscious, bald-faced lies; all evidence points to this being the case.

These might not be the real reasons, but they are the most creditable I could consider. The other possibility is that they just wanted to run the thing as a way to loot the treasury, spread money around to their friends, and destroy America's military and standing in the world. Certainly the evidence would support that supposition. But I really think they thought it would easily turn out well and bring them glory.

Because they are more interested in projecting an air of mastery than in dealing with the truth, they will never admit wrong. Interesting parallel: In this week's New York Review of Books, liberal columnist Michael Kinsley writes to complain of the criticism he has received for downplaying the importance of the Downing Street Memos. His complaints just discredit him; the more he complains, the wronger he gets. He says they aren't important because they won't convince the not-yet-convinced that Bush lied. Unfortunately for Kinsley, and fortunately for the country, they have convinced a lot of thitherto unconvinced that Bush lied. I can't know whether Kinsley digs his hole deeper out of a pathological fight instinct, or because it's all showbiz, and a showman doesn't admit he's wrong. I hope it's the former.

Delusional Republicans running the country; AND owning the absurdly credulous press; AND cowing the eminently cowable Democrats into going along with monstrousness. Feb 15, 2003, millions of people in the street, vainly protesting the impending catastrophe. The press and the Vichy Dems can join the Republicans in hell.

What a mess.

Here's hoping the Democrats don't blow it in 2006.

Oh, and by the way -- filibuster Roberts. Don't let that criminal seat one single Medievalist freak on the Supreme Court.

Thank you very much.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


I’ve often been hard on Rolling Stone Magazine, calling them all sorts of unkind names, like “rockist.” They have defied my stereotyping. They called Barry Manilow:

"a giant among entertainers ... the showman of our generation."

Rock on!


My beloved spouse tells a story; it happened last Thursday:

“I was putting pants on Nat with him lying on my bed, ‘like a baby,’ I told him. I leaned over and told him that even though he is a big boy now, and even when he will be a big man, he will still be my baby in my heart. ‘I will keep you as my baby in my heart,’ and I touched my chest. He was smiling through this conversation. He said, ‘Will I break it?’ I thought, yes, you surely will break my heart one day, but how could you know this? I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Will I break it? Will I break your belly when I go back inside?’”


Sure, last night’s post about House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi becoming Speaker of the House after the 2006 elections and then President after the convictions of Bush and Cheney for high crimes and misdemeanors against the United States (not to mention, humanity in general) was a fantasy -- but why the heck not? If anybody ever deserved impeachment in this country, it’s George W. Bush and Dick “Dick” Cheney for lying about national security in order to begin a needless, illegal, immoral, wicked, ruinous, pointless, murderous, disastrous, unwinnable, unjustifiable war.

And after them, whoever’s left standing of the Supreme Court 5 for violating their oaths of office and destroying their integrity and appointing the disaster in the first place.

And since these criminals deserve conviction -- why not say it? Meme it, beam it, doubleteam it, write and theme it, plan and scheme it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


The Iraq debacle, the treason of outing a CIA agent, and the high crime and misdemeanor of selling an unnecessary, ruinous war on false pretenses combine to give the Democrats solid majorities in both Houses of Congress.

Prosecutor Fitzgerald sends Rove and Cheney up the river for treason.

The House impeaches and the Senate convicts Bush for the high crime and misdemeanor of lying to American public about national security threats in order to launch a ruinous, audaciously incompetent war.

Supreme Court swears in Speaker Pelosi as President.

You read it here first.

Willie Nelson with the Beach Boys, "Warmth of the Sun," from that mostly un-pleasing "Beach Boys meet the Stars of Country" collection. Beautiful song. Mickey Raphael's harmonica -- beautiful. Willie's diction clearer than the Boys' original -- very country, that. 2nd verse, surprise, it made me misty today:

The girl that I loved
She left me one day
I cried when she said
I don't feel the same way

That last line, so idiomatic -- *that's just how people talk*. But this time it was Willie's performance, the very slight bearing down on the key 3rd line, moving closer to the mic, singing softer and more intensely -- it hit me.

Scientific pagans that they are, Willie and the Beach Boys have the warmth of the sun within them tonight -- nothing could be truer, and that they find consolation in that truth is nothing short of religious.


Jazz singer Andy Bey's cover of Nick Drake's "River Man" -- his gorgeous bass voice caressing the mysterious, lovely song. Listened to it many, many times before realizing -- it's in 5/4! Haven't heard N Drake's original more than a couple times, and it's been a while, and I'm (perhaps mis-) remembering it in 6/8. A Bey's cover beautiful.


Don't hit me . . . but did and do the timbre and vocal approach of Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder owe something to those of classic Partridge Family-era David Cassidy? I think they do -- the grainy melodic baritones taking it up in pitch and intensity for the choruses. Kurt and Eddie would have been the right age to have watched the show as kids. I know I did.

"I think I love you!"


Likewise, the superfast electric boogie of the Brothers Van Halen -- the superfast electric boogie of jazz fusion drummer Billy Cobham and (uncredited!) electric guitarists on a tune called "Quadrant 4" prefigure it. Cobham -- wow -- those relentless 8th-note triplets on the bass drum(s?) in prestissimo tempo. All Cobham needed was a handsome witty hammy melodic shrieker to front his band, he would have sold millions!

Monday, August 15, 2005


The problem with auteurism is that it discounts aural evidence in favor of process; the question becomes, “How was the record made?”, not, “How does the record sound?”

The problem with this critique of auteurism is that it assumes that we listen with our ears only, or with our booties when the music calls us to Dance! Dance! But we listen with our imaginations as well. As we listen -- maybe not everyone, but some of us anyway -- we identify with the singer.

“Identify” is a funny word. We imagine ourselves to Be the singer, or we imagine ourselves in the singer’s situation.

Apparently many people don’t want to “identify” with singers who don’t write their own songs. It’s a bit of a stretch, but I can imagine such an approach: the wish to identify with a “creator” who is also a charismatic performer. And when the object of identification is a big rich juicy rock star, even better -- a sort of upside-down Eugene Debs sentiment: “As long as Mick Jagger is rocking and getting laid at will and without consequence, I am too, symbolically.” Rock on!

Indie rock is an auteurist genre, and the identification process is more specialized: people identify with the social alienation, however mild, inherent in the indie pose.

I’m so sartorially clueless that it took me years -- many years -- of going to indie shows before I noticed that I was supposed to untuck my shirt before going out. Now that I’ve noticed, I never forget to do it, just like I wear a nice (tucked-in) shirt and sportcoat to the symphony, and a suit and tie to the opera. (I was mildly surprised to see men at the symphony wearing sportcoats with untucked shirts.)

Untuck the shirts from the pants! Untuck the pants themselves from their waists! (A hip hop look, which I've never tried.)

Sunday, August 14, 2005


In a sidebar comment on his blog to
this post on Sheryl Crow's breakout smash "All I Wanna Do," M. C- of The Standing Room says, “My problem w/ that song is the prosody: “Santa MoniCA Boul...’”

I have no argument to make -- one's reaction to subtle details of that nature feels so deeply personal and subjective -- and that subjective relationship to the noises that language makes reminds me of a story.

George has been posting on works of Bertolt Brecht, bringing back memories of acting with the Brecht Company at the University of Michigan, back in the '80s when I was a student. A professor and a non-tenure-track teacher led the group. I acted in 4 plays -- "A Man's a Man," "St. Joan of the Stockyards," "Don Juan," and "Caucasian Chalk Circle," generally playing naive young men in medium-to-small roles.

The professor, Martin Walsh, was the company's principal actor. I loved his acting; nuanced and wide-ranging; and I remember listening to him and noticing how, when he chose to, he could chew the consonants of his speeches like nobody I've ever heard. A slightly exaggerated diction that he wouldn't pull out always, but only when a dramatic or thematic situation warranted it. Hard to describe, maybe even moreso 18 or 20 years after the fact. I've never noticed anything else quite like Martin's diction. Only one thing I've ever seen has ever reminded me of it, even though it was on the surface not much like it: Muddy Waters's singing in the movie "The Last Waltz," the way he sings each note with his whole body, with every bone and muscle and sinew. Martin's diction was like that when he turned it on. Full-body diction.

A soft-spoken, shy man, he lit it up on onstage. Heckuva nice guy too; haven't seen him in years.

There's a reason we call it our "Mother Tongue": our relationship to it is intimate and complicated. I can understand why "Santa MoniCA" might feel wrong to someone.
Another privilege-disproportionate-to-sales that indie rock enjoys, attributable to the race/class privileges of the bulk of its practitioners: college radio.

That disliked, not-inaccurate term: college rock.
Blogville . . . the city that never sleeps.

* * *

On a walk last night, a couple blocks from home I heard North African (or maybe Middle Eastern) style singing coming from a house. Peaked through the window and saw 4 college-age men from that part of the world, singing along to a record, one of them bouncing up and down.

In 1999 I swam in the Dead Sea on the Jordanian side. The water is so salty that anybody can float effortlessly; what takes effort is getting most of your body underwater. One of my party opened her eyes underwater and the salt hurt them so much that she cried out.

Floating near us were 5 young Jordanian men, maybe teen-agers, maybe in their 20s. They were floating on their backs with their ankles crossed, so they formed a 5-pointed star, with their heads as the points, and they were singing a song, so happy.

Not the stereotypical image of Middle Eastern men.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

(Updated with 2nd thoughts at the end.)
Indie Rock and Normative Privilege: I’m with Franklin.

In some respects flowing from the normative privileges of white, straight, middle class, northern, urban, male -- which most indie rockers are. One benefit: press attention disproportionate to sales. By contrast, a folk singer-songwriter like Bob Franke, who as I understand it makes a middle class living from his music, isn’t going to get written up in the “Voice.” Or even Greg Brown, who probably makes an upper-middle class living. They’re both straight white middle-class males, but from the hipster urban perspective, the singer-songwriter folk thing looks suburban. And that’s not cool.

Or gospel. A Black church in my neighborhood plays an almost death-metal variety of traditional gospel -- intense heavy minor chords, heavy beats, and traditional Black gospel singing with a serious edge. Where does that come from? Is it this congregation’s unique style? Or are there gospel acts out there selling in the range of my friend’s friend Jesse Sykes? I wouldn’t know, but I also wouldn’t be surprised.

That ‘94 article on the Seattle Indie Rock scene that I wrote about last week: Calling one particular scene “the music community” is all about normative privilege. (To be fair, the author only used the phrase once, but still.)

Of course, the easier access to mainstream press that flows from Indie’s normative comfort is as nothing compared to the privileges of race and class and sex that most of its practitioners already enjoy. To name just one: studies prove, every year, in almost every town in America: a white person with a credit profile identical to that of a black person has a good chance of getting a better interest rate on a loan than the black person, just because of skin color.

That’s why I was puzzled by Jordan’s response to Franklin’s post, when he argued against the presumption of normative privilege and said, “You get the frame of reference you set for yourself.” Even in the aesthetic realm, I don’t think things are that simple, and I’ve read numerous accounts of black, or female, or gay artists saying, “I don’t want to be thought of as a black, or a female, or a gay artist; that’s not the frame of reference I choose for myself.” I don’t know of much evidence that the Normative urge to box the Other into a category of Difference has been lessening. I’m glad “Will and Grace” is a hit TV show -- seriously -- and Samuel Jackson has gotten some great roles, but he’s not getting the Sean Connery-type aging Lothario roles. Lots of white actors are, and they’re not all particularly pretty men.

I did appreciate Jordan’s exhortation to by all means DIY, “But D as much of I as Y can imagine.” Yeah!

2nd thought: It does seem that we as a society are making progress in broadening the definition of "the norm," especially in subcultural and "high arts" scenes, and even somewhat in the mass culture "pop" world. Long way still to go, but I shouldn't pooh-pooh.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

SIGN ON THE CHURCH MARQUEE said, "Unless God makes the people well, the work of the nurses shall be vain."

Oh, sure. Take all the credit when something goes well, but when things go kerplooey --

* * *

Went to a park to hear Foghorn String Band, a 5-piece with fiddle, banjo, mandolin, guitar, and bass, the traditional instrumentation of bluegrass, not old-time fiddle music, which traditionally featured . . . fiddle! Solo. Guitar came up from South America; banjo got adopted from minstrels who adopted/adapted it from African American slaves; bass occasionally made it onto early white country records but didn't get institutionalized in until the '30s when Western Swing bands and then bluegrass bands borrowed it from jazz. I'm not sure when mandolin became prominent. My northern great-grandfather played mandolin (I have it; it's a beater now, with a beautiful round-back body), so it was popular in the northern "sentimental" pop style 100+ years ago.

When I saw Mike Seeger a few weeks ago, he said, "Yes, this is old-time music. We used to call it 'folk music,' but then in the '60s people started calling all sorts of other things 'folk music,' so we started calling what we do 'old-time music.' Now all sorts of other things are starting to be called 'old-time music' too, so we may have to find another name, but for now this one will do."

It took me a while to figure out what distinguished this non-old-timey bluegrass line-up calling itself "not bluegrass, but old-time music" from actual bluegrass. First, the banjo player doesn't wear finger picks, which bluegrass players do, giving them a brighter, less mellow attack. Then I realized, the instrumental sections with Foghorn were all unison, not spots for virtuoso improvising.

Hot band. Nice 2-part and occasional 3-part harmonies. Their web site bills them as Ass Kickin’ Redneck Stringband Music. I'm sick of rampant redneckism, but I liked the music, and I'm impressed that they drove from Madison to Seattle, leaving Wednesday morning and making it for the 6:30 PM gig.

* * *

"She Came In Through the Bathroom Window" as answer song to Dylan's "Can't You Please Crawl Out Your Window"? Out her window and into Paul's . . .

Unscrew the locks from the doors -- !

* * *

Attention Wagnerians: Seattle's "Classical Choice," KING-FM, will broadcast Seattle Opera's "Rheingold" at 7 PM Pacific Time Saturday night. The link takes you to the webcast.

* * *

There was something I wanted to tell you, but I got distracted. Hopefully, it was a pleasant distraction.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A few months ago I traced the source of rock and roll handclaps to gospel, a social music of celebration and praise.

Tonight I noticed that the "handclaps" on Sheryl Crow's break-out hit "All I Wanna Do" are either sampled or synthetic -- each one is identical to the rest.

What does an automated celebration-sound portend? I have nothing against electronic music and listen to a fair amount of it. But when I hear the artifice in electronically-homogenized human-body sounds, uneasiness creeps over me. Images of robots clapping. And the thinking of the record maker, wanting the human sound, but wanting it to be exactly replicated throughout, the slightly-off double-hit exactly the same every time -- it's a foreign way of thinking. Probably just expeditious -- just enough humanity for to conjure up the purport of the words -- "have some fun" -- but tightly controlled so as not to call attention to itself -- I've heard the song dozens of times, love the song, and never noticed.

"I've got a feeling I'm not the only one" -- so sings Sheryl, but the robot hand-clappers suggest that maybe she is. (I've never seen "The Matrix.")

Yesterday morning driving to work I heard "The Shoop Shoop Song" by Betty Everett and "I'm Hennery the 8th I Am" by Herman's Hermits, 2 '60s hits in the teen idiom of the day. And I thought of Joshua Clover's excellent piece in the collection from the first Pop Conference sponsored by Seattle's Experience Music Project, which I cited here a week or 2 ago. Joshua talks about various pop songs through the piece and near the conclusion says that he loves each and every one of the songs he's mentioned, "even," he adds, "The Name Game."

I'm glad Joshua loves "The Name Game," and it's not just because I particularly love the song too that the word "even" struck me. Ebullient joyous welcoming nonsense -- baby that is rock and roll! (Memory lane: A long time ago I proposed to a band I led that we learn this song and use it to introduce ourselves at shows. The bass player vetoed. Which is fine.)

Here was a rock critic addressing an audience of rock critics, pop music academics, and a scattered handful of musicians and maybe even some interested "lay" listeners. It was a convocation billing itself as a "pop music" conference. And yet this critic felt constrained to apologize for loving a particular pop song. I don't blame Joshua too much for this -- I think his judgment was astute, that the group he was addressing would feel more comfortable with his presentation if he apologized for loving something goofy.

This exchange raises up an underlying discomfort, which springs from rockcrit's hope for intellectual seriousness and moral gravity from rock, which many critics apparently can't help but transfer onto their hopes for any pop music. To run this blog through the Name Game mill, "Turtle turtle bo-burtle banana-fana-fo-furtle me-my-mo-murtle -- turtle!" is hardly the stuff of heavy thinkitude or moralism, or of social critique, or of the implied social critique of inchoate rebellion (another rock hope), or of even the implied social critique of quiet alienation (a pale and wan version of the hope for rebellion). Turtle-turtle-bo-burtle is the stuff of child-like socializing; it is inclusiveness itself, if only on its own terms; yet those terms exclude nobody who wants to be included.

Though Joshua was astute for apologizing, by assimilating his talk to the expectations of the so-called "pop" music discourse arbiters, he affirmed and therefore helped to perpetuate those expectations.

It's always a shame when somebody feels compelled to apologize for love.

Why can't we instead have a criticism where people feel compelled to apologize for hating something? Where even though I think most of Eric Clapton's records reside in uptight dullsville (for example), I shouldn't go around sneering about it, out of recognition that lots and lots of people LOVE his records. I shouldn't go dissing anybody's LOVE.

If you must express hate for something (and apparently I must), why not transfer that energy away from musicians and towards the people in this country (or your country, if you're not American) who want to bankrupt the polity, destroy the canons of science, allow industrialists to do whatever they want to the environment, and/or illegally invade non-threatening countries, kill tens of thousands of civilians, and strew chaos and mayhem?

Much more than "Wonderful Tonight," Bush's policies SUCK. I hate them.

And I love "The Shoop Shoop Song" and "I'm Hennery the 8th I Am" and, for the most part, Joshua's piece. And I love "The Name Game."

Peace now peace now bo-beace-now banana-fana-fo-feace-now me-my-mo-meace-now -- Peace Now!
at the point in the project where the heavy questions set in . . . WTF do i think i'm doing here anyway? and so on . . .

* * *

late night distractions:

indie rock -- Lois, sometimes known as Lois Maffeo, shambling propulsive strumming guitar & sweet moody melodies -- lovely melodies.

virtuoso rhyming: in the Tin Pan tradition, virtuoso rhyming is almost always in the surface of comedy or satire, only occasionally in service of pathos. this tradition pre-dates Tin Pan's late 19th century birth by many decades: Byron's comic poems "Don Juan" and "The Vision of Judgment" abound in virtuoso comic rhymes. Problem with late Dylan and much Elvis Costello -- the virtuoso rhyming often makes me say Hey, Cool Rhyme, Delightful, in the middle of a song that's supposed to be bitter; rhyming working at cross-purposes to the song's strengths.

Elvis Costello, great singer -- when he usurped both the Dionne Warwick and the Hal David roles in his collaboration with Burt Bacharach, he didn't embarrass himself as a singer, not at all -- and that's saying something. Wordswise, though, I missed Hal David's concision and focus.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Been meaning to do this for weeks; finally getting to it --

Devin Hurd recently wrote some nice stuff on one of my all-time fave albums, Sacred Common Ground by titanic pianist and Mingus alum Don Pullen in collaboration with the Chief Cliff Singers, traditional native American singers from Montana. Thanks for the reminder!

George Hunka has been posting on the B & B boys, Brecht & Beckett. Go George!

Not a blog, but occasional Turtletop correspondent Emily Dietrich (my friend since 5th grade) has a nice piece in the current issue of “Ms.” magazine, about her trip to Mexico City in 1975, age 11, with her mom, to an international women’s conference. Not available on the web, but here’s the magazine’s table of contents.

And I’ve been meaning to add these links to my links page; they’re going on soon:

M. C- blogs wittily and smartly on “Singing and Parking in San Francisco” at The Standing Room. He sings classical and loves a bunch of other too.

Jane Dark blogs his sugarhigh! and writes criticism on music, poetry, politics & culture under that name; he also writes poetry and more criticism on ditto under the name Joshua Clover.

Daphne Carr is an elegant rock-and-other-music writer with a friendlier tone than most rockwriters; she blogs The Music Issue.

Since this is a mostly-music blog that got its name from poet Marianne Moore, it only seems right to link to a poetry blog that got its name from a Thelonious Monk tune. Jonathan Mayhew, poet, blogs Bemsha Swing.

Monday, August 08, 2005

(being 2 excerpts from an abandoned reminiscent lazy un-prosed ramble)

. . . loving musicians wildly
and loving them even more if they’re ambivalent about our love
and loving them even more if they wish there weren’t so many of us loving them
and loving them even more if they suffer on the horns of the dilemma
of wanting to be wildly loved -- but not by too many people
as we fan the flames of that love by cheering them on in their crazy ambivalence

“we love you for not wanting to be so widely wildly loved!

“it shows you have integrity

“it shows you have a proper ambivalence about selling out”

whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean in a commodity system
where the purpose of the radio program is to deliver consumers to advertisers
and the purpose of the rock magazine is to deliver consumers to advertisers
and the purpose of the club gig is to deliver drinkers to bars

. . .

years ago this guy i met
he was the good friend of a good friend of mine
he was in a band that got offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to be in a Michelob commercial
and this band wasn’t making big bucks by any means
they could have really used the money
but they said No
and that’s cool
i don’t blame them
i admire them in a way

but then this saying No became their calling card
their slogan
and when they came to my town -- this was back in the late ‘80s --
when they came to my town one of the alternative rock critics said
Go See Them They Said No To Michelob
that’s what it said in the paper, in the alternative weekly, that was the selling point

They Said No to Michelob

and the guy in the band i’d met, he seemed like a nice guy, and a good musician
so i went
and the middle of the set the main singer, who was not the guy i’d met,
introduced one song by bellowing in an arena rock HELLO YOUR TOWN kind of voice --


which, if you don’t remember, is a play on Michelob’s slogan back then which went
The Night Belongs to Michelob
so this guy said, maybe with fist in air i don’t remember


and the guitars and drums raged into a new song
and most of the club crowd roared its approval
as they drank -- as we drank -- our beers -- i wasn’t roaring --
i thought it was pretty sad --
if you’re going to let Michelob define your thing
you might as well take the money

if you define yourself by your relationship to Michelob anyway --

i shouldn’t be so harsh on the guys
thinking about it now i’d guess that they were conflicted about saying No to the money
and i can hardly blame them for that
i would have had a lot of doubts too
and i know they could have used the money, none of them was rich
and so staking their reputation on the fact that they had said No was a way of compensating
for the lost compensation, i guess
which is too bad

and it’s true
a lot of people
probably including me
would have thought they were lame for taking the money
because taking money from Michelob and being in a TV ad isn’t cool
even though they -- like all musicians, even a hemi-demi-semi-pro recreational-leaguer like me --
were already getting paid for bringing people into the bar
to drink Michelob and other beers
and if your thing is happening enough to get on the radio
you’re getting paid for bringing people to the radio station
to listen to ads for lots of other stuff

by a coincidence, by a funny coincidence,
something like the week after the alternative rock critic said THESE GUYS ARE SO COOL THEY SAID NO TO MICHELOB --
the same alternative weekly paper ran an ad from another beer company, a print ad -- Special Export, I think the beer was --
and Special Export asked the arts people in the paper to list cool upcoming shows on the ad,
cool rock shows and cool theater shows and whatever

and this theater group that i had worked with, that i had been a member of,
though i think i had quit it at this point, temporarily --
it was an anarchist theater group, so membership boundaries were fluid --
my old friends were getting critical raves -- they still do, when they put on shows,
which isn’t as frequently as in the old days
when they would put on something like 6 or 7 original shows a year
which is roughly the equivalent of putting out 6 or 7 albums a year,
maybe 6 or 7 double albums

and they had a hot show on then, when Special Export asked
and so the weekly paper put them in the ad without telling them
and then the weekly paper got really offended that my friends got really pissed and offended

and this was ironic because the same arts section of the same paper had just applauded this rock band for refusing to TAKE A LOT OF MONEY to be in a beer ad
and then couldn’t understand why an ANARCHIST THEATER GROUP that DIDN’T CHARGE ADMISSION but would only take donations would get offended that they’d been SLAPPED IN A BEER AD WITHOUT THEIR KNOWLEDGE AND NOT EVEN GOTTEN PAID

and the newspaper people were disdainful and defensive, saying
why are you pissed this ad just gave you more free publicity

they really didn’t get it

pretty funny when you think about it

i mean, humans, right? contradictions, blind spots, silly pride -- i know i got ‘em!

that night of the day the paper came out my friends had a show
and even though i had quit the group and was temporarily on the outs with one or two of the people
including the man who wrote the play
they were still my people
my friends
and i asked if i could give the curtain speech
and my friends said Yes

i had recently seen a stage production of Beaumarchais’ play The Marriage of Figaro
without Mozart’s music, which came later,
and it was really good, really sharp and really funny
a really good production

if you don’t know the story, Figaro is a servant of a Count
in pre-Revolutionary France
and Figaro is about to marry another servant
a real cutie
and in those days and those places
when servants were getting married
the Lord of the estate had something called Droit du Seigneur
which means Right of the Lord
which was the right to sleep with a servant’s bride on the wedding night

so the play is all about the Count wanting invoke this right
and Figaro and his fiancee and the Count’s wife all conspiring to trick him out of it
and because it’s a comedy they succeed and all ends well
and it’s really funny

so the speech i made
the speech i made likened the weekly alternative paper
which didn’t charge any money to its readers
it was a free weekly
this weekly paper that had slapped my friends in a beer ad without telling them or paying them
i likened them to a servant on a medieval estate
and the advertisers were the lords of the estate
because they paid for everything, they paid all the bills
the paper wouldn’t exist without them

and this particular lord of the estate
Special Export beer
they would say to the vassal
who’s your sweetheart
who’s your honey
and my friends’ theater company was definitely one of the paper’s sweethearts
every show got a smashing review

so i said a lot of this in my speech and i said

so Special Export beer said to the Reader -- that was the name of the paper --

Special Export beer said to the Reader
who’s your sweetheart who’s your honey
i want to sleep with them

and that’s how we woke up this morning and found ourselves in bed with Special Export beer

and i paused and mustered my best deadpan comic timing and said

didn’t even get paid

and people laughed and i felt happy
because i hadn’t known what i was going to say when i got up to speak
just that i was going to talk about Figaro
and then i said Enjoy the Show
and i sat down and Enjoyed the Show

. . . .

(end un-prosed ramble)

At the time of this kerfuffle between my friends in Theater Oobleck and the Chicago Reader, I was working as a proofreader for the Reader. My friends had a couple tense meetings with some of my bosses, who printed a letter from someone in the group disavowing any affiliation with Special Export beer.

That particular play, which my friend Jeff Dorchen wrote, has been produced since then. I shouldn’t be surprised to remember -- it’s on the theme of celebrity artists. It’s called “The Slow and Painful Death of Sam Shepard,” and here’s a review of the most recent production of it I can find, from 2001 in LA.

Probably wrong/off to lump Beck in with Indie Rock. But he's got the hipster look and the hipster interest in the hip alternative papers, right?

I frequently surf through the local college indie-rock station. So many times, I tune into some gorgeous distorted electric guitar texture over a rock beat, and it goes along for a while, and then the singing starts, and I think, "Why? Why sing? You got this gorgeous textural thing over a decent beat going on, and you have no gift for melody."

If I hear these bands' names, I don't remember them.

But talking about such vaguely-defined genres as "indie" in such generalized terms -- I should stop now.

When I heard Garth Brooks's hit of a few years ago, "Wrapped Up In You," I loved it -- great light sexy tune & light sexy singing, catchy as a pop-up, and that sweet, imaginative arrangement with the jammin' hot fiddle & blues harmonica. The fiddle/harmonica juxtaposition reminded me of Beck slapping a banjo into some soul tune -- but the Brooks song was so much catchier, and Brooks's juxtaposition didn't call attention to itself, sounded completely natural, even though I couldn't remember having heard anything quite like it before.

OK, I'm stopping.

Sunday, August 07, 2005


(Edited for specificity. Title added afterwards. [I've often sent emails with the title "a drop of golden sun," because I love getting replies titled as this post is.])

Nice discussion by Jordan yesterday and today (say, that wouldn’t be a bad name for an album) on Indie Rock.

Yesterday’s note begins:

“So, the Battle of Indie Rock comes down to this:

1) Musicianship, and
2) Intensity.

I’m paraphrasing. It actually was stated like so:

‘Mofos can’t sing!’ and ‘Iggy Pop!...’”

I would characterize the contested terrain of Indie musicianship not in terms of poor singing, but in terms of tunelessness and monochromaticism. Tunelessness: Whenever I see Beck on TV, I think, "Cute, charismatic, 'knowing,' cool arrangements, fine band, good dancing, where's the tune?" Monochromaticism: So many times in the last 10 years, I go see a band, first song in I'm digging, 2nd & 3rd are cool, 4th & 5th I'm fading, by song 6, I'm done -- each song is too much like the others! Not true of every band. Mekons struck me exactly this way, and they even had 2 different lead singers!

Monochromaticism could be obviated by killer tunes, but they're hard to come by.

(Sorry to pick on Beck and the Mekons. Beck has had some catchy tunes, and what I've seen on TV maybe has been anomalously un-hooky. Mekons have some nice stuff -- I have no interest in talking anybody out of liking any music.)

Today’s note from Jordan begins, “So, indie, punk as folk.” Yes. Xgau has written about this; I’ve blogged about it too; the “Popularity is uncool” dictum I wrote about as helping kill Kurt Cobain (if you take his word for it, and yes, of course it’s more complex than that -- can’t discount the influence of depression, or of drugs) -- that dictum got birthed, more or less, by that song-thieving gang that worked under the innocuous-sounding pseudonym “Paul Campbell”. The “Paul Campbell” collective, under the “sales” division of its corporation, “The Weavers,” had number one hits. They also got paid a lot of royalties on songs they didn’t write, some of which were written by destitute songwriters who were alive at the time. Ironic, and fitting, that they more or less gave birth to the “Popularity is uncool” banana peel of history. Perfect “populist” snob cover for what they were doing. (I like the Weavers; I love Pete Seeger as a musician and a proser, and for many years he has included things like “Somewhere over the rainbow” in his definition of “folk music,” which opens things up rather hugely and nicely. I also would Not be surprised if “Wimoweh” were the only song they thieved from a living, find-able songwriter, and that they didn’t thieve it purposely, but simply out of habit; in which case, it was a lucky “mistake,” as the song has earned millions of dollars in royalties, of which the original songwriter got maybe a thousand, and only got that because Pete sent it to him when he didn’t even have to. Story linked above. I still hold Pete accountable for inventing anti-pop as marketing. But heck, maybe it goes back to Baudelaire.)

So . . . so . . . ain’t so-so. I note that both Jordan’s indie posts from Yesterday and Today begin with the word “So.” In the lingo of solfege, also known as the lingo of “Do, a deer . . . Re, a drop of golden sun . . . ,” So is the fifth note of the scale, which, when it forms the root of a chord in that key, is called the Dominant. Funny that Jordan should begin two posts on Indie Rock with an allusion to “the Dominant.” (I’m teasing about Jordan making allusions here, but I do have a point.) I recently re-read a piece on Indie Rock that originally appeared in 1994, a report on the Seattle Indie scene that got some big stuff right and a few minor things wrong and evaded or glossed over a whole bunch of other. Written by an Indie-friendly writer, someone who knew and knows a whole bunch of the people as a peer. Really bugged, though, that the writer kept referring to the Indie scene as “the music community.” But it was illuminating. Only Dominant solipsists think their deal is the only deal in town; the only other scene I’ve ever seen refer to itself as “the music community” is the classical scene at its most elitist and ostrich-like. Jazz scenesters talk about “the jazz community,” folkies talk about “the folk community.” Annoying, but telling, that Indie echoes classical in this form of solipsistic cultural Dominance.

(2nd thought: maybe R&B or hip hop people call their scenes “the music community”; maybe C&W people in Nashville do; I don’t know.)

Joshua Clover has been reminding me of the Marxist shading of the word "ideology," which is: That Which Is So Accepted That Nobody Mentions It.

In rock criticism, an unspoken axiom -- a fragment of Ideology -- which happens to be completely, absolutely false -- is that rock criticism has no influence on the music it covers.

Indie-rock happens to be the most ideologically messed up genre in music.

1. Popularity is uncool.

2. We're going to trumpet our belief in such, either in interviews, songs, or both.

3. This trumpeting is going to help us become popular, because . . .

4. Rock critics, and lots of fans, are flattered by the implied elitism in the stance, and . . .

5. Rock critics will push our story, because they dig it, all the while denying that they're pushing anything, or if they are, that their pushing has any consequence.

It's all a very cool set up, unless you happen to believe it. Apparently Kurt Cobain did, because when he shot his head off, he left behind a note full of self-loathing for ignoring the lessons of what he called "Punk Rock 101," which, unstated, states, 1. Popularity is uncool; and Kurt knew he'd ridden that bull to the toppermost of the poppermost charts.

I'm still waiting for some frank self-assessment from rock critics about this. Some admission that, hey, maybe what we write DOES influence how musicians think and act and, 2, hey, maybe this Popularity Is Uncool thing is nothing more than a shrewd little marketing thing in the guise of anti-marketing, which, if we valued our integrity as journalists and thinkers, we wouldn't be pushing.

Cobain died for somebody's sins but not mine.

Not every rock critic buys into the anti-Popularity biz, but has anybody indicted the role of critics in promoting it? The ideology promotes either insane self-loathing or bad public faith or both; no real human good can come of it. And no, this is not to say that only popularity obsessives are worthy. This is saying -- popularity is a sociological fact. Sociological distinction and aesthetic distinction have little correlation, positive or negative. Just ask the wildly popular Shakespeare; just ask the scorned and obscure William Blake.

RIP Kurt. You rocked hard with killer tunes and riffs and a voice as pained and feral as your crazy blue eyes; you wrote songs worthy of that voice.

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Well, pretty arrogant of me to talk about David Byrne's work last night as if it were just a pile of potato chips, and he were some potato chip potentate who started leaving the chip cauldron untended after the 4th or 5th batch (some would say, after the 6th), and he didn't really give a lick. Obviously, not true. So I didn't like albums number 6 through 8 (not counting live and compilations) -- whatever; that doesn't justify out-of-hand dismissive callousness. It *is* interesting that I remembered feeling an arrogance in the work, and that he corroborated it on his blog last week -- But! -- here's the thing -- it IS unusually generous of him to speak so candidly of his emotional unpleasantness and contempt for the audience, and how it was rooted in contempt for himself.

The thing is -- nobody would care if lots of people didn't love David Byrne's stuff, as do I. 25 years ago my high school band covered "Psycho Killer," and to this day "Remain In Light" dazzles and amazes me.

* The Wednesday morning DJ on the local college "world of music and ideas" station, and her show 20th Century Jazz the First Half: Her name is Joanie, and she's from Australia but sounds like she's from some passionate Victorian place -- "Welcome to my soul!" she exclaimed as she spun her first disc the other morning.

* Heard Plummet's version of "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" again the other day on the high-school-student run nonprofit dance music station, C89.5 FM, Seattle's Hottest Music. Noticed that the singer wisely omits the chorus. Struck by the homosocial kiss the female narrator receives from her friend -- "she kissed me, and I realized she probably was right, there must be 50 ways to leave your lover." Pretty dense: it had never occurred to me how flirty that gesture was when dry-as-toast Paul Simon sang it -- "duh! He can leave his lover by sleeping with this woman!" A man kissing a man in that scene would be socially unacceptable in America, unless they're gay; the women in the same scene may or may not be lesbian.

The restriction on straight male behavior is too bad. A male friend of mine -- a musician and a political radical and a connoisseur of conspiracies who's in his 50s -- kisses his male friends. And flirts like hell with his female friends. I was out drinking with a bunch of "the guys" after some political get-together or other -- 5 or 6 of these white radicals in their 50s who have known each other for 25 or 30 years, and 2 of us 35 or 40-ish who'd only known everybody for 10 years. When Joe got up to leave, he gave each of us a kiss on the forehead, until he came to the most awkward of the group, a 50-something City bureaucrat and club-hopper with friends in the music industry -- a sweet guy -- and Joe wouldn't kiss him, but instead bellowed, very friendly, "Give me your hand, you goddamn Maoist." It felt like something out of a '40s film of my dreams, where all the main characters are hedonistic socialists or commies. I hadn't known the bureaucrat was a Maoist, but I believe it.

When I traveled in Egypt in '99, I delighted to see men holding hands walking down the street. I delight to see it in the neighborhood adjacent to mine too (traditionally Seattle's gay neighborhood), but it means something different.



(“Errata” sounds classier than “bloopers,” no? Or “mistakes,” “flubs,” “screw-ups,” or even “errors.” “Errata,” as a word, sounds so . . . impersonal. Institutional. As if no one is responsible for the mistakes, but they appear, gremlin-like, of their own accord. This connotation is congenial to me. Nope, no sir, uh-uh, no screw-ups in these parts -- they’re *errata*, and *nobody knows how they happen*.)

1. The other night I mentioned some covers I used to play, naming Disney and Woody Guthrie as the sources. I learned what I thought of as the Guthrie tune off one of those old records that didn’t give songwriting credits. When I later got it on CD, same deal -- no credits. It sounded like one of those old “traditional” songs; no specific, local, political, or even narrative content to speak of; basically a bluesy lament -- “Lonesome Day.” Today I got the bright idea to Google it. Woody got the song from the Carter Family (scroll down), that wonderful group from whom he got maybe 80 percent of his guitar style and a fair amount of his vocal approach, as well as a hearty healthy helping of his repertoire.

2. A few months ago an old college buddy and former bandmate who now works as a sportswriter came through town covering the Knicks. We got together for dinner one night and drinks the next. He mentioned he was on a Beatles jag, and so we talked about the Beatles, and I gave him my copy of a really good Beatles book, which I had decided to get rid of when I realized that I knew the chronology of the Beatles’ songs better than i knew my own. Case in point: I’ve recently compiled a playlist of recordings of old bands and demos and friends covering my songs, and burned some CD-Rs for friends and e-acquaintances. I typed up credits and started giving it away; then I realized that I got the dates of one of the recordings wrong. The solo acoustic demos happened winter ‘96 - ‘97, not ‘97 - ‘98. If I were the Beatles, I wouldn’t have made that mistake; whoops, I mean, that *erratum* would not have occurred.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Via a link from Carl we learn that after David Byrne found out that record-company payola helped make “Burning Down the House” a hit, he got really cynical about his own love of particular popular songs through his life and questioned the validity of his responses; fatally, he transferred that self-contempt: “I began to think a whole lot less of our audience. When people would come up to me and say ‘boy is that a great song, I LOVE that song!’ I would be tempted to tell them, ‘no you don’t, you’ve just been saturated with it and manipulated like the rest of us. You like it because your soul, your likes and dislikes, are up for sale to the highest bidder.’” (Scroll down to the July 30 entry.)

As a teen-ager I had loved the Talking Heads albums. “Speaking in Tongues” came out when I was in college; my enthusiasm waned slightly but I still dug it. “Stop Making Sense” bugged me -- as a title it sounded like Reagan. (You know how Reagan and his sloganistic descendents say, “I’m going to balance the budget by cutting taxes and increasing military spending”? -- Start Making Sense!) And the arty stage & costume stuff of the film (I didn’t see the tour from which the film was made) seemed like warmed-over Laurie Anderson, leftovers that had gotten stale in the fridge. (I had seen Anderson on tour about that time, and she was wonderful.)

And then came “Little Creatures,” and I checked out, but not completely -- I did go to see “Renaissance Man” Byrne’s feature fiction film, “True Stories,” and hated it, feeling it contemptuous toward its audience and its subjects.

Little did I know that Byrne would later publicly corroborate my impression of his feelings for us.

About payola, I have to quote the 2-year-old, who overheard a conversation between his mom and me about some revelation or other of political nefariousness, and went around for weeks quoting my beloved spouse: “Uh-oh, corruption!” I’m lucky, living in a big city college town. I enjoy the payola-fueled Top 40 and the college-rock indie stuff and the jazz shows on 2 other college stations and the non-profit, blessedly unaffiliated classical station and the different varieties of Oldies and the adult-oriented “quality” rock. (Would that be high quality, or low? They don’t specify!) And sometimes the Smooth Jazz and the Country Hit radio too. It’s a shame that busting past the gate-keepers to get on the commercial stations requires extra money-money. I wonder what Top 40 would sound like without it.

It’s hard for me to relate to D. Byrne questioning whether he still liked the songs, or who “he” was that was doing the liking. We’re all little boats buffeted about on the great sea of circumstances; why malign winds would make one question one’s identity more than indifferent or benign winds, I don’t understand. I like classical and jazz and pre-rock pop because my parents do and grandparents did, and I like the Beatles because Jay’s parents do, and the Beach Boys because Jay's older next-door neighbors did, and I like bluegrass because Steve’s parents do, and country and ‘60s pop and punk because John D.’s parents and older brother do, and Jay and Steve and John D were three of my best friends growing up. (All of them really good musicians.) I think about Mozart a certain way because my friend Emily was playing Mozart in high school and talked about the emotional effect of his music. (“Such nervous energy!” she said 25 years ago -- nothing like the serene classical master of the stereotype, and she was right!) I dig funk and hip hop because my younger brother got into them because his friend Brian (who later turned into a weird-ass “husband is the master of the house”-type Christian) and Brian’s older siblings were into them. These are all benign winds, and payola is malign; the point is, we have little control over the winds of our times and places.

A NEW WIND in my life is -- I’m cool! While I was in Canada a couple weeks ago I got an email from a book publicist asking if I would like copies of new books coming out by Chuck Klosterman, because I had written (not all that positively) about his first book, “Fargo Rock City,” on this blog. The books arrived today; I started reading the new edition of the older one at lunch. I googled the name of the company that sent the books -- it’s a “Viral Marketing” company -- “Viral” is the hip (and evocative!) word for “word-of-mouth.” (Yes, as a matter of epidemiological fact, viruses do “communicate” via mouths.) The idea is, I’m alternative, volunteer journalism! And we all know, “alternative” is “cool” -- it’s so cool, it’s “viral”! (Does this company know how many readers Utopian Turtletop has? I love you all dearly and have no complaints; it’s just curious to me, because your aggregation does not a mighty number make.)

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