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Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com
Thursday, March 30, 2006
* * *
Carl Wilson “can't helped be tweaked by such claims as that the Situationists ‘have been transformed into “another amusement park for the overeducated,” who only managed to create “a how-to for compromise.” ’ ” Since David Letterman has recuperated the classic Situationist technique of detournement into Late Night entertainment, we all may have reason to feel tweaked.
* * *
My old friend Andrew Boyd has designed a legal U.S. stamp, which was launched at party with lots of celebrities. A few years ago he came to my wedding; now movie stars and rock stars and world historic rappers come out to see him. Andrew turned me on to Guy Debord and Situationism back in college; they inform his work; you can be sure that Andrew appreciates the ironies Carl points to. Irony or no irony, the stamp is a good thing; I am psyched he has made it happen.
* * *
Forgot to mention in last night's post on The Music Man: it's a trickster tale: the American hustler-con-man salesman as irritating, indispensable rejuvenator of culture.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
memo to a fellow Beatles-nut
Unformed thought: The critical silence around McCartney’s album of last year calls into question the Beatles’ achievement. If people don’t like it, then people must not like the Beatles. Because its best is as good as anything he’s ever done. If you don’t like McCartney, then you dislike 40% of the Beatles’ catalogue, and a 50 or 60% excellent band isn’t all that special. (Not YOU; generic “you”.)If someone doesn’t think it’s as good as anything he’s ever done, they should say why. I hear: great melodies unlike anybody else’s, energetic rhythms with a masterful personal style unlike anybody else’s, singing that’s as emotionally connected to the material as any singing he’s done, interesting & lively & well-colored arrangements up there with his all-time best including the Beatles, and some emotionally well-matched music-lyric constructions (in other words, SONGS). He even makes fun of his capacity for twee-ness.
Only downsides: occasionally the songs reflect an unattractively gigantic ego (but that was there in the Beatles too), and that Curtis Mayfield cop on the last song is a drag.
I’ve always thought that popsters like him & the rest of the Beatles have aged more gracefully than the bad-boy rockers like the Rolling Stones or the art-guys like David Byrne. (Folkies like Dylan, Neil, Richard Thompson can age gracefully too.) with popsters and folkies, the persona is less important, or maybe it's just not age-dependent as the bad boy's is. (Dylan is the all-time master of persona manipulation; maybe I just find his current persona attractive). With bad boys and art guys, false steps can undermine perceptions of previous work by undermining the persona associated with it.
Anyway, McCartney's "Chaos and Creation in the Backyard": Beatles-litmus test, or just not as good as his stuff with the Beatles? I say litmus test -- as good as his stuff with the Beatles.
Curious George. I took the 3-year-old to see it. It entertained him. A few observations:
* I noticed the shift in the object of the (white) Man With the Yellow Hat's acquisitiveness whilst in Africa. In the book, he captures George and brings him back. In the movie, George falls in love with him and follows him home; he's not there to bring a monkey (or ape) back to America to a zoo, but an African cultural treasure. Plundering art is still cool with the parental crowd; enclosing animals not.
* I missed the 4 elemental trials of the book: trial by water (George falls overboard and nearly drowns), trial by fire (the mix-up with the Fire Department), trial by earth (George's imprisonment), and trial by air (his helium balloon flight). The only one to stay in the movie is the balloon flight.
* Instead of being about George's trials, the movie enacts a myth of parenthood: George craves the Man with the Yellow Hat as a father; the movie is about the MwtYH's coming to terms with how much he craves George as a son.
* The lame father-son story between the MwtYH's boss and the boss's son emphasizes this.
* Movie adds a love story. Hot cartoon babes love bumbling nerd cartoon guys.
* Jack Johnson does the soundtrack. I vaguely remember a quietly joyful emotion emerging from an early scene-song between George and his animal friends while Johnson sings, but I don't remember anything about any of the songs.
The Aristocrats. A lot of the movie isn't funny. But it's sweet, the comradery between the comics. A couple of the routines made me laugh.
The Music Man. On the basis of having heard the songs "Till There Was You," "76 Trombones," and "Trouble," I recently picked up an out-of-print copy of Meredith Willson's memoir, "And There I Stood With My Piccolo," when I read on the jacket that he had played flute in Sousa's band and for the New York Philharmonic under Toscanini before making it as a Broadway songwriter. Turns out he wrote symphonies too. The book is witty and anecdotal, with no narrative at all, but a lot of nice anecdotes; I'm making my way slowly. While reading I realized I hadn't seen "The Music Man," at least not that I remember, so I rented the 1962 film.
I still haven't seen it. I fell asleep near the end. But not before loving a bunch of the songs.
"Trouble" -- proto-hip-hop in its rhythmic virtuosity, really great. The story takes place in small-town Iowa in the early 20th century (where & when Willson grew up); the "Trouble" song warns parents against ragtime, and slang such as "Swell," and, "so's your old man!"
"Rock Island," the opening number -- male a cappella rhythmic chanting, no melody -- virtuoso -- really great. "Whaddaya talk? Whaddaya talk? Whaddaya talk? Whaddaya talk?"
"Lida Rose" -- Classic barbershop quartet; I could've sworn Willson lifted it from the Public Domain but nope, he wrote it.
"76 Trombones" -- terrific Sousa pastiche. Watching the song with a musician friend, he asked, "You mean Sousa didn't write it?"
"Marian the Librarian" -- lust as stalking menace; still a good song (livelier than the Police's version of the genre, "Every Breath You Take"), with one of the all-time great rhymes (Willson wrote the words as well as the music),
If I stumbled and busted my what-you-may-call-it
I could lie on your floor
Till my body had turned to carrion,
"Gary Indiana" -- really catchy, and Little Ronnie Howard is So Cute singing it!
"Till There Was You" -- a year after the movie came out, the Beatles covered it on their second album. I like the Beatles' version better. Still, a nice love song.
Before "76 Trombones" the Music Man makes a speech of how electrifying it was when the bands of Gilmore, the Great Creatore, W.C. Handy, and (dramatic pause) John Philip Sousa all came to his town on the same day. Nice that he included Handy, but anachronistic -- Handy wouldn't have been famous in small-town Iowa 100 years ago -- or now, for that matter.
Fiddler on the Roof. The only musical tragedy? It doesn't end in a blood bath, just the eviction of all the Jews from a Russian village for the crime of being Jewish. I saw this movie when it came out, when I was 9 or 10, and found I had remembered almost all of it by heart when I next saw it 20 years later. Now it's 12 years after that viewing, and I cried from beginning to end. Laughed too. So beautifully filmed, and such great songs, and such great performances.
The first half is all about leading up to the wedding of the eldest daughter, and the plot complications are comic and the wedding itself is tremendously joyous, as weddings should be. After that it's all downhill. During the wedding night the Christian Russians trash the homes of the Jews. The other daughters' marriages become increasingly disruptive to the family, and then they all get evicted. Feuding characters reconcile by the end, but the village is split up and it's heart-rending. It would be unbearable without the main character's vision of the Fiddler -- allegorical figure for the indomitable (and musical!) Jewish spirit, I suppose -- who watches over the village and leaves with them, still playing and dancing.
I'm a terrible cryer -- I cry during Gene Kelly's performance of the title song in "Singing in the Rain," at the fierceness of the joy. In "Fiddler," the joys are even fiercer, because they're communal, and not merely personal. And the performances convey that ferocity of feeling, even more poignantly than Kelly because the main characters are by no means virtuoso dancers, they're everyday people. Portrayed by brilliant actors (especially the men who play Tevya and Lazer-Wolf).
"Fiddler" must have had a deep impact on me because when I first heard klezmer, in college in the early '80s (a roommate had the 2nd album of the original band of the Klezmer Revival, The Klezmorim), the music was immediately familiar, and when I started digging into the music of Gershwin and Berlin, its stylistic debt to klezmir sang clear to me.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Great to have the beloved spouse and son back. They had a great time but they were ready to get home. I loved having my own schedule, but I missed them.
* * *
Something I did while they were gone: mixed my band's album. The engineer & I did rough mixes in October, then he moved, and the mixing we did on Saturday was the first thing he had done since rebuilding his studio in his new basement. I really want it to be done, but I haven't quite committed myself to these mixes, so we'll see if the Never Ending Tinker will go another round or finally actually end. Mixing was a blast.
I want to tell you all about it but then again I don't. So I'll just say that I'm in love with the alchemy of songwriting, the merging of words and music, and I'm in love with music itself.
* * *
The engineer's housemate is an aesthete. Saturday afternoon he was dressed in tweed jacket, V-neck sweater, and shirt and tie to smoke cigarettes and read Borges' Fictions in the backyard. We took a dinner break & he came along for pizza; I've known him all these months but didn't know what he did: he's a ballroom dance instructor.
At dinner the dance instructor confirmed something I had either guessed, or had read & forgotten & then thought up again as-if-on-my-own (which has happened to me): "couples dancing" didn't exist in the west until the waltz. When the waltz came along, it was dirty dancing.
After dinner the dance instructor joined us in the mixing room. He sat silently and read, just wanting to be around people. He never said one word about the music. But it was nice to have him there just the same.
* * *
Speaking of the alchemy of songwriting: That Irving Berlin lyric I quoted in the previous post: The music gives the words their wallop.
The words are expert, but on the page they could come off breezy. I love how there's only one declarative sentence in the whole thing: "I'll tell you no lie." He keeps his word too; the entire rest of the song consists of questions. There's a wit at work there that could have undermined the grandeur of the rhetorical questions, if the music weren't so convincing: not only is the singer serious (and the singer is genderless; my favorite version is by Peggy Lee), he or she has considered deeply the possibility of losing "you"; the music is aware of that possibility all the way through.
The song runs the same general pattern as another Berlin tune, "Blue Skies." Sung in minor, resolving to the relative major, but never losing the melancholy of main minor strain. "Blue Skies" is a great song too, but the formula works better for "How Deep Is the Ocean," maybe because Berlin defers the resolution to major until the very last phrase, whereas "Blue Skies" has resolved to the major twice already before the end. The words of "How Deep" are deeper too; "Blue Skies" is a jaunty play on the pun on "blues" and the cheeriness of a blue sky -- the words tell a story of relief at having found blues skies after unnumbered blue days. "How Deep" is awestruck -- awed and afraid -- at the depth of the singer's devotion. And to say it all in questions is so brilliant. Inspired.
I didn't realize until thinking about it today that "How Deep" also has a great suggestive sex image: "roses are sprinkled with dew." Fertile!
* * *
If you have favorite versions of Irving Berlin tunes, The Anachronist wants you to tell him about it. He has written a book about Berlin's "White Christmas," so this is no mere passing fancy. He's on the hunt!
* * *
Two friends -- one in Michigan whom I've known since I was an infant and one in California whom I've known since freshman year in college -- emailed me The Anachronist’s manifesto, which he recently published at the New York Times.
It's well worth a read. After making the case for the historical importance of pre-'20s pop in general and minstrelsy in particular, including blackface minstrelsy, Jody goes on to argue not only its importance, but also its quality. He asks, "Are we ready to admit that unequivocally racist songs, delivered by white singers in the thickest possible dialect, might not only be historically significant music, but great music?"
It's important to ask the question, though I find it mildly vexing. Songs are made of music and words; words, obviously, can be racist. Ethnic parody music could be racist in intent or effect (think a Warner's cartoon of American Indian war music), but most music cannot be definitively apprehended as denotatively political. One might think that blackface minstrel music is racist ethnic parody music, but Jody and other writers like David Wondrich (in his great book "Stomp and Swerve") have made a convincing case that minstrel music wasn't merely racist parody music: it was an amalgam of white American and black American influences and became something unlike anything in Europe or Africa. In short, the music of minstrelsy isn't racist, though the words often are, and the presentation definitely was.
I am mildly vexed by the question of whether great music can be married in song to awful words because I thought the Rolling Stones and Neil Young and Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan had settled it long ago: all those misogynist songs with such terrific music. Mick loves having her under his thumb, Jimi feels justified in having giving her the gun because he caught her messing 'round with another man, Neil for no particular reason shot her, Bob merely revels in cruelly dismissing her after he's bored with the affair and she's in love. In a masculinist terrorist culture where a woman is much more likely to be raped or murdered from walking home alone late at night (in my own life, one friend of mine was raped, and a friend of a friend of mine murdered, in these circumstances), having a bunch of rock stars represent masculine hate as having no negative consequence for the hater -- it's a bad scene. And it still hasn't lost its place as a dominant cultural form, though now it has to share the stage with hip hop, another pop form noted for its inclusion of violently misogynist lyrics.
Well, it's not so simple, is it. I'm glad our culture doesn't blandly accept blatantly racist imagery. I wish the same were true of blatantly misogynist imagery. And I'm not entirely convinced that drag shows aren't the equivalent of big-tit minstrelsy.
Enough ranting. Not all the old songs are racist, and Jody and UCSB and others have been doing us a great service, making available forgotten, odd, and often wonderful music.
i read the news today oh boy
mass shooting the other morning just up the road from our house. late night party early Saturday morning, a guy leaves the party, comes back with guns, kills six people and wounds some more then kills himself. no reason.
i bring it up because, well, for no reason. i was just doing a little singing before bedtime (way past my bedtime), singing Irving Berlin's "How Deep Is the Ocean" at the piano and I couldn't get through it, too many unexpected tears.
last summer i had gotten word: a former co-worker lost his 2-year-old son. i had worked with him in Chicago and a mutual friend still does. coincidentally my beloved spouse knew him in college in California. he wasn't a friend though i liked & respected him; we didn't work together long. when i heard the news i played "How Deep Is the Ocean" and started crying. my own then-2-year-old said, "stop Daddoo I don't like that song." i had to laugh at his rudeness, and the astonishing wonder of his aliveness. horribly cruel that anybody would ever have to lose a child. now 6 young people dead in my neighborhood, teen-agers to early 30s. unfathomable. can't measure the ocean floor of that grief.
how much do i love you?
i'll tell you no lie.
how deep is the ocean?
how high is the sky?
how many times a day
do i think of you?
how many roses
are sprinkled are sprinkled with dew?
how far would i travel
to be where you are?
how long is the journey
from here to a star?
and if i ever lost you
how much would i cry?
how deep is the ocean?
how high is the sky?
* * *
my family comes back in about 10 hours after a week visiting my spouse's sister & family in California. the cupboard is bare, because the neighborhood co-op has been closing early, in mourning. one of the store managers, a real nice woman, was a friend of one of the victims; there's no doubt that others who work there -- the sweetest bunch of hippie-punks you ever met -- know people who got killed too.
we seem so durable, but we're really such fragile weak creatures, so vulnerable. and you'd hope that a recognition of our mutual vulnerabilities would bring out some tenderness, but a lot of people don't see it that way and never have. i don't know why this is, and the only things i can think to say on the matter i'd rather not say right now.
pity the mourners.
Update, 9:20 pm: I didn't read the news very much. Two of the murder victims worked at my neighborhood food co-op. I recognized one of them. I didn't know his name, but I knew him enough to say hello. He was a sweet, quiet guy.
Friday, March 24, 2006
undermine / drum
The houses on my block were built in 1900. A few have been replaced. On Saturday we helped our neighbor remove a 300-gallon oil drum from his back yard. He and his sons dug the hole, and I helped get it out.
While we were pulling the drum out, my teen-age neighbor was in the hole, filling in the dirt below the drum to give it support from below. At one point he started making the hole wider from below, digging under where someone else was standing. The man whom my neighbor hired to dispose of the drum said, "Don't undermine too much."
Undermine! The word's original non-figurative meaning had never occurred to me. To dig out from under, so the ground upon which someone stands collapses beneath him.
When we got the drum out it proved a magnificent musical instrument. If it weren't for the hazardous waste problem and the general storage challenge it would have presented, I would have been glad to have kept it.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
"Hello, I seem to have lost my public. That is, my profession has. Do you know what happened to it?"
The public has limited interest in modernist disjunctive aesthetics. That doesn't mean anybody should go changing to try an' please them. They never want to work that hard, mm-mm mm-mm mm.
[Second thought: What's this hostility to the audience about? What's up with that? Sure, the Billy Joel quote is a joke, but jokes reveal truths about states of mind. Does such a joke reveal a resentment of the general public much like the poets'? Yes, no, maybe. I like the modernist disjunctivist mode, but it doesn't surprise me that outside of music video (including ads) it hasn't caught on as a pop mode, and it's televisual uses always feature a highly continuous soundtrack. People shouldn't be surprised not to have their shtick widely loved, and I'm highly doubtful that a strategy of changing one's shtick to meet a hypothetical, abstract "public" halfway somewhere would result in either aesthetic happiness for the maker or public success for the work. Counterexamples probably exist; I'd be curious to hear of them.]
The public likes stories.
The last time the public liked critically-approved poets, they liked dynamic characters, like Allen Ginsberg and Dylan Thomas.
The public likes the oratorical style, as in the poetry of Allen Ginsberg and Dylan Thomas -- and, as in the poetry of the Slammers.
Some of the anti-Slammin' anti-disjunctivists talk about bringing back rhyme. I love the old rhymes, pop and "high," but the public doesn't care about rhyme. Unless you have a drummer, electronic or body-activated. And once you start talking about drums, you're talking about music, and when you're talking about words and music, the words are generally lyrics, not poems, even though lyric is one of the ancient genres of what we call poetry, which reflects a split that started happening probably 400 years ago but didn't really get finalized until about 100 or 120 (some of Tennyson's poems became hit songs); the split isn't really defensible on aesthetic grounds, just social-practice grounds, and I stand on those grounds too and run on the grass. The runniness of my syntax flows like a nose -- yes, I'm snotty.
It can be diverting, this constant fussing between the disjunctivists & the anti-disjunctivists, and this perennial worry about the lack of a public; meanwhile, none of the fussers pays attention one way or another to the Slammers, who do have something of a public. Which is fine, and makes sense: the poetry is conceived of publicly, specifically for a public voice, to be recited in public, in everyday open public spaces, and with a public sense of rhythm and voice. Not the only way to go, by no means, but definitely a legitimate one.
But in general, the fretting about a public? For poetry?
I'm nobody, who are you?
This blog is my ribbit to the world.
[Another second thought: The Dickinson allusion equates the public with a bog, and not just any old bog, an admiring bog. Dear reader, I apologize. You are not a bog, though you are fertile and as squishy as you wanna be, when you wanna be. When you feel like being a bog, you are a beautiful bog.]
* * * * * * * *
My beloved spouse and son left today for a week in California visiting my wife's sister's family. Mr. Jumping Chocolate Pudding has been exicted: he has 3 cousins there, 2 a little bit older and one a little younger.
The other evening at dinner I said to them, "I'm going to be sad, I'm going to miss you!"
My son looked sympathetic and said, "That's OK, Daddoo, we'll come back again."
And they will! But I miss them.
While strolling down the street one eve upon mere pleasure bent,
'Twas after business worries of the day.
I saw a girl who shrank from me in whom I recognzied,
My schoolmate in a village far away.
"Is that you Madge," I said to her, she quickly turned away,
"Don't turn away Madge, I am still your friend,
Next week I'm going back to see the old folks and I thought
Perhaps some message you would like to send."
"Just tell them that you saw me,"
She said, "they'll know the rest,
Just tell them I was looking well you know,
Just whisper if you get a chance to mother dear, and say,
I love her as I did long, long ago."
"Your cheeks are pale, your face is thin, come tell me were you ill,
When last we met your eye shone clear and bright.
Come home with me when I go Madge, the change will do you good,
Your mother wonders where you are tonight."
"I long to see them all again, but not just yet," she said,
" ' Tis pride alone that's keeping me away.
Just tell them not to worry, for I'm all-right don't you know,
Tell mother I am coming home some day."
"Just tell them that you saw me,"
She said, "they'll know the rest,
Just tell them I was looking well you know,
Just whisper if you get a chance to mother dear, and say,
I love her as I did long, long ago."
Monday, March 20, 2006
My beloved spouse and son made the sign. It was Mr. Jumping Chocolate Pudding's idea to use cut-out stars to make the peace sign, and adding a heart was his idea too. "Peace for love!" he said.
The black thing in this guy's shopping cart is an amp; it's hooked up to a car battery in the lower part of the cart. An iPod is plugged into the amp. New technology and old technology bringing us the tunes.
It's good to stand up and be counted, to show the world that not every American supports this grotesquerie. How many more American dead, and how many even more Iraqi? And for what?
Sunday, March 19, 2006
Lots to say tonight, no time to say much, must sleep. Two things, quickly:
1) The anti-war march in Tacoma today drew a decent crowd and was splendidly organized. Details and pics to come.
2) While paging through a collection of old popular verse today, I found a poem describing full-body tone clusters by an organist. The source is an old paperback called "Popular Recitations"; Regan Publications of Chicago put it out; no date appears anywhere in the book. My guess was that the book came out in the 1920s; a Google search for Regan Publications turns up a handful of books, all published in the '20s -- hey, good guess!
According to this page, the poem first appeared in 1894. It became a song, a bunch of postcards, and eventually in 1913 a silent movie. It's in a rough American dialect, and I highlighted the pertinent passage.
THE VOLUNTEER ORGANIST
| ||The gret big church wuz crowded full uv broadcloth and uv silk, |
An' satins rich as cream thet grows on our ol' brindle's milk;
Shined boots, biled shirts, stiff dickeys, and stove-pipe hats were there,
An' doods 'ith trouserloons so tight they couldn't kneel down in prayer.
|The elder in his poolpit high, said, as he slowly riz: |
"Our organist is kep' to hum, laid up 'ith roomatiz,
An' as we hev no substitoot, as Brother Moore ain't here,
Will some 'un in the congregation be so kind's to volunteer?"
|An' then a red-nosed, drunken tramp, of low-toned, rowdy style, |
Give an introductory hiccup, an' then staggered up the aisle.
Then thro' thet holy atmosphere there crep' a sense er sin,
An' thro' thet air of sanctity the odor uv ol' gin.
|Then Deacon Purington, he yelled, his teeth all sot on edge: |
"This man purfanes the House er God! W'y this is sacrilege!"
The tramp didn't hear a word he said, but slouched 'ith stumblin' feet,
An' sprawled an' staggered up the steps, an' gained the organ seat.
|He then went pawrin' thro' the keys, an' soon there rose a strain |
Thet seemed to jest bulge out the heart, an' 'lectrify the brain;
An' then he slapped down on the thing 'ith hands an' head an' knees,
He slam-dashed his hull body down kerflop upon the keys.
|The organ roared, the music flood went sweepin' high an' dry, |
It swelled into the rafters, and bulged out into the sky;
The ol' church shook an' staggered, an' seemed to reel an' sway,
An' the elder shouted "Glory!" an' I yelled out "Hooray!"
|An' then he tried a tender strain thet melted in our ears, |
Thet brought up blessed memories, an' drenched 'em down 'ith tears;
An' we dreamed uv ol'-time kitchens, 'ith Tabby on the mat,
Uv home an' luv an' baby-days, an' mother, an' all that!
|An' then he struck a streak uv hope - a song from souls forgiven - |
Thet burst from prison-bars uv sin, an' stormed the gates uv heaven;
The mornin' stars they sung together - no soul was left alone -
We felt the universe wuz safe, an' God wuz on his throne!
|An' then a wail uv deep despair an' darkness come again, |
An' long, black crape hung on the door uv all the homes uv men;
No luv, no light, no joy, no hope, no songs of glad delight,
An' then - the tramp he staggered down an' reeled into the night!
|But we knew he'd tol' his story, tho' he never spoke a word,|
An' it wuz the saddest story thet our ears hed ever heard;
He hed tol' his own life history, and no eye was dry thet day,
W'en the elder rose an' simply said: "My brethren, let us pray!"
Look out Henry Cowell, move over Jerry Lee Lewis!
My beloved spouse said, "Let's get him below freezing."
Saturday, March 18, 2006
Is Mingus's tune "Eat That Chicken" an old minstrel song? Hearing Uncle Dave Macon's "Bake that Chicken Pie" made me wonder; the songs don't sound that much alike, but they could well share minstrel roots.
Friday, March 17, 2006
"Who is it singing, Daddoo?"
"Is Frank still singing?"
"It's still him."
"Is he still singing?"
"Yes, that's Frank."
"Is he still singing?"
"No, now it's Ed. Now it's Jimmy. Now it's Ron. Now it's Bill. Now it's George."
The kid's face lights up. "George the Monkey?"
(Laughing.) "Of course it's still Frank!"
"Why are you laughing?"
"Because you're a kook!"
"No I'm not! I'm not pooping!"
"I didn't say you're pooping, I said you're a kook."
"I don't like that word. That word belongs in the bathroom."
"OK, I won't use that word for you any more."
Objective v. subjective a false polarity. Understanding happens in between. The perceiving subject perceives qualities existing in the object. "Johnny Cash frequently sings with an eccentric relationship to standard Western intonation." An objective statement. But some judgments reside in the subject, based on frequently incommensurable personal criteria, experiences, and memories. "But Cash's timbre and phrasing are so powerful that I love his singing despite its frequently being out of tune." That's a subjective judgment.
This thought impressed me more before I wrote it down. Now I'm not even sure it makes sense.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Chagrined that I forgot International Ornette Coleman Day. Consoled myself by reading Devin’s beautiful post on the great Ornette’s music.
Simon has a lovely post on the spiritual ambition of ‘50s & ‘60s pre-minimalist classical composition, and how that is reflected in the stark modernist-art record jackets that sold the music, with lots of links to the beautiful old jackets. (He doesn't mention ‘50s & ‘60s modern jazz record covers, which are equally, beautifully modernist.)
Still writing poems, and thinking about how poems work. This terrific post on poetic sonics by Ange, and these observations on the poetic sublime by Josh Corey have been helpful.
Daphne is looking for some snarkiness about how much better things were 10/20/30/40 years ago. (No, really, she’s editing next year’s Da Capo “Best Music Writing” collection, a rockin’ honor -- I’m hopeful for her culling.)
Mr. Jumping Chocolate Pudding “read” one of his books to me this evening, which he had memorized. Then he read it again, getting everything exactly wrong. I laughed hard.
Slightly earlier, he got us going on a shouted punk medley of “The Alphabet Song,” “Twinkle Twinkle,” and “Bah Bah Black Sheep” (which all share the same melody), shouting hoarsely and beating the bed in hard, even quarter notes. I dug his beat and his approach, and he didn’t mind me jumping in and duetting.
Via mister bijou, providing yet another wrinkle on my old fave injunction to “keep on rockin’,” Sisyphus’ Geology Website.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
A Hill-Billie is a free and untrammelled white citizen of Alabama, who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he pleases, drinks whiskey when he gets it, and fires off his revolver as the fancy takes him.-- The New York Journal, April 23, 1900, quoted in "The Nashville Sound: Bright Lights and Country Music" by Paul Hemphill, 1970
Bought a cheap, wonderful Carter Family comp (8 bucks Canadian) in Victoria. Hadn't listened to them much in many years. Amazing. Mother Maybelle a genius, but had never realized that so is Sara, what a great singer. And A.P. is great too -- brilliant how he sits out for several songs in a row, and then comes in to contribute a great vocal. And, if he really did write those songs -- well, I'm curious to know more about that. What an amazing bunch of songs.
Sara and A.P. basically inventing -- or at least codifying -- the stoic dignity of much country and folk and bluegrass. Uncle Dave Macon, by contrast, coming out of minstrelsy, a wildman, a rocker, an over-the-top excessive entertainer. Carter Family: deep feeling through restraint; one of the main country and bluegrass and folk recipes, not found elsewhere, unless maybe British folk music pre-dating the Carters. Macon a proto-rockabilly-ist who sounds nothing like them, a subterranean spiritual ancestor playing like 60 and whooping and hollering.
Woody Guthrie brilliant for adopting the Carters’ style wholesale for his political songs. Deep feeling through restraint, strength and stoicism, urgency in the beat-pushing rhythm guitar in both the Carters & Guthrie, the urgent rhythm guitar belying the restrained vocal -- brilliant. Beautiful. Deeply moving.
Contrast the Carters' "Jimmy Brown the Newsboy" with Flatt & Scruggs's. F & S more polished, more serene, more removed-from-the-scene of poverty, but still gorgeous: Flatt's restrained, sweet, ineffably sad and sympathetic vocal; Scruggs’s lead guitar needlessly more elaborate than Mother Maybelle’s the only flaw on the record. Interesting that Flatt sings 2 quatrains each time through, while Sara Carter sings only one -- the single quatrain at a time giving a starker effect. Sara Carter's vocal hard as bedrock, the voice of deprivation itself. Strong, strong stuff. Similar approaches through different personalities.
Flatt's style comes out of Sara Carter. Interesting that F & S owe nothing to Macon (that I can hear), even though the banjo is central to both.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
just wasted i'm not sure how many calories going round and round with a couple of proud, angry Nader-voters in the comments section of another blog. not sure why i bother; obviously, part of me loves this sick feeling i get from arguing. whatever.
thing is, i agree with the critique of the D's. i just see the R's as being orders-of-magnitude worse on just about everything.
try as i might, i rarely persuade others, who don't already, to see it that way.
up in Victoria i heard Paul Young's '85 hit "Every Time You Go Away" on the radio. summer of '85, college drop-out, living with my parents, playing in a band, practicing 4 afternoons a week with my unemployed bandmates, delivering pizza at night, driving between my parents' house and the 40-minute-away family cottage, driving driving driving, no cassette player in car, before CDs -- i listened to a lot of radio. the Paul Young hit and Roseann Cash's "I don't know why you don't want me" were 2 of my favorites.
hearing the Paul Young hit again swept me up in its smooth soul-pop pastiche, those Beatle-y guitars, that Tony Levin-esque almost Jaco-esque bass, his smooth Daryl Hall-esque vocal (did Daryl Hall write the song?), hints of Japonoiserie in the guitar, the delicious melancholy of it all -- loved it.
heard the song AGAIN the next day in Victoria and thought, once was enough for a while.
radio last night, another soul-pop pastiche, this time on contemporary hit radio, "I'm sick of love songs but i can't stop listening to the radio" -- smooth R&B male vocal, '70s-esque light pop synthesizer in the background, classic Tin-Pan-Alley-Nashville song construction with the obvious, wonderful, heart-tugging verbal contradictions -- loved it. i'll have to look up who that singer is.
beloved spouse at work; child wants me to read and/or play with him. 'bye for now!
Monday, March 13, 2006
The parchment describes the scene and prints the words of a song that the females of Trenton sang to Washington. According to C. E. Godfrey, writing in the Trenton [New Jersey] Sunday Advertiser on Dec. 29, 1912, the lyrics, by Richard Howell, were sung to the music of Handel’s “See the Conquering Hero Comes” from his “Judas Maccabeus.”
My last trip home I transcribed the parchment. The song lyric is a trifle, but Washington’s elaborately courteous reply is a gem. Here’s the whole thing:
* * * * *
Sung by a Number of young Girls, dressed in white and decked with Wreaths and Chaplets of Flowers, holding Baskets of Flowers in their hands, as General Washington passed under the Triumphal Arch raised on the Bridge at Trenton, April 21, 1789
Welcome! mighty Chief! once more,
Welcome to this grateful Shore:
Now no mercenary Foe
Aims again the fatal Blow --
Aims at thee the fatal Blow.
Virgins fair, and Matrons grave,
Those thy conquering Arms did save,
Build for thee triumphal Bowers.
Strew, ye Fair, his Way with Flowers --*
Strew your Hero’s Way with Flowers.
* As they sung thse Lines they strewed the Flowers before the General who halted until the Sonata was finished.
The General being presented with a Copy of the Sonata, was pleased to address the following Card to the Ladies.
To the Ladies of Trenton, who were assembled on the twenty-first Day of April 1789, at the Triumphal Arch erected by them on the Bridge, which extends across the Assanpinck Creek.
General Washington cannot leave this place without expressing his Acknwledgments to the Matrons and Young Ladies, who received him in so novel and grateful a Manner at the Triumphal Arch in Trenton, for the exquisite Sensations he experienced in that affecting Moment. -- The astonishing Contrast between his former and actual Situation at the same Spot -- the elegant Taste with which it was adorned for the present Occasion -- and the innocent appearance of the White-Robed Choir with the gratulatory Song -- have made such an Impression on his Remembrance, as, he assures them, will never be effaced.
Trenton, April 21, 1789
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Picnicking in Beacon Hill Park
Just got back from a very nice week-end in Victoria, BC, with the fam. Town of 74,000 (according to our B.C. guidebook), smaller than Kalamazoo, my hometown, roughly 80,000.
Something I learned when I went to be with my parents when my dad had surgery a few weeks ago: Best Buy is the only record store in Kalamazoo now. When I was growing up there were two independent hipster rock-punk-jazz stores and a classical-only store. One of the hipster joints was near campus and doubled as a head shop, which held no interest for me (though I did shop for records there). The other became a hang-out. One of the regulars who worked there played sax in a free jazz outfit; he and the owner steered me toward which Mingus and Dolphy records to check out. One of my fondest memories of high school was going to see my record-store friend play free jazz in my black polyester prom suit, with my date, in her white dress, after we ditched the prom. My date hated the music and fell asleep. We were total out-of-place squeaky cleancut kids in the 1981 Kalamazoo beret-and-goattee free jazz nightlife. The music bleated and blatted delicately and roughly and beautifully, and I was so pleased to cut such an absurd figure, I felt like a prince, I was so happy. (My date was a longtime friend who forgave me dragging her to that restaurant.)
My favorite used store in Seattle recently closed. It wasn't the best used store, but the people who worked there were the nicest, and I'd jammed with one of the employees, a hot free jazz drummer and Berklee School composition grad. Whenever I needed to go talk modernist music with someone I'd drop by. We started becoming friendly one day in the store when a friend (and bandmate, it turned out) of his started singing along with Ornette's solo on "Lonely Woman," note for note, and I paid a compliment. My drummer friend later talked me out of selling a Kronos Quartet CD when he noticed that it was autographed -- I had assumed that the autographs were part of the packaging. "Man, you can't sell this." A couple months ago I went to say hello and the store was out of business.
Seattle will hold out for a while, but in the not-too-distant future there won't be any record stores left. I love browsing. Oh well.
Victoria has a tremendous collection of totem poles and a great downtown bookstore, Munro's. I bought a couple books that I hadn't seen in the States. We walked a lot.
Lunchtime conversation today in Victoria's lovely Beacon Hill Park:
"Let's have our picnic here."
The 3-year-old: "But you said we would have a picnic in a very nice park!"
"Look at all the trees, the grass, the pond, the ducks, the rocks -- this IS a very nice park!"
"But it doesn't have a play structure!"
The park did indeed have a play structure, which we enjoyed immediately following the picnic.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
My beloved spouse woke up our son this morning. Usually I get up with him, but he slept so late that I was at work before he got up, and in the end my spouse (who fortunately laughed when I told her that I could never refer to her nom du blog -- "beloved spouse" -- in abbreviated form) had to wake him in order to get out of the house in time. Here is her account:
"I kissed him lightly on his little lips, and he stirred a bit. I kissed him again, and he opened up his eyes, and said, sleepily, '... the salad. The salad that you made me eat last night.' He sat up and smiled, and said, 'I dweamed the salad kissed me.' "
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Still musing on the aesthetic of exuberant liberatory nonsense in some of the songs of 19th century blackface minstrel Daniel Emmett. At least one other of his songs evinces an aggressive, almost Pistols-esque "no future for you" stance. He wrote "Dixie" and at least 3 minstrel songs that have survived, bizarrely, as children's songs. I'm wanting to know more about him.
(and even if “Galang” has denotative meaning in Tamil, it plays as nonsense to the Anglophonic listeners for whom it was intended), with a backwards nod to Shakespeare -- yeah yeah yeah, a wop bop a loo bop, baby baby baby, a wocka pooka tecka hoy hoy!
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Often these leftist '90s-nostalgia writers conflate Clinton and liberalism, when Clinton himself admitted that he governed from the right of Nixon on most issues. Europeans recognize that America has no liberal party. The Democrats are the equivalent of a center-right party, and the Republicans are the equivalent of a extreme-right, at times fascist, party. Not all Republicans are fascists, but the leadership is friendly with explicitly white-supremacist groups, and they habitually line up with the most extremely misogynist regimes in the world in their policies against birth control, an issue of life and death for millions of 3rd World women.
I wish it were needless to say, but unfortunately it is not: there's a huge difference between a center-right party and a white-supremacist-friendly, explicitly misogynist, extreme rightist party. I miss '90s lefty Clinton-bashing too, I miss it like crazy, but history has moved on. Playing that old song as if it were the latest hit single is severely out of touch.
Monday, March 06, 2006
Without the whacked-out puritanical '50s-'60s so-called folk revival, we wouldn't have these wonderful recordings. But the ideology is so messed up. Keep the genres separate! The blues must not be diluted with gospel or country!
Rockist ideology descends directly from folk-revival ideology (as Robert Christgau has written about). The ideology has badly distorted the general image of how music and musicians work.
What a loss! What other songs did Hurt want to record? What did his versions of gospel and country sound like?
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Speaking of . . . yesterday in a record store I heard Johnny Cash singing “Cocaine Blues” at the Fulsom Prison concert, a performance featured in his biopic. The movie edited out his singing about shooting that “bad bitch” down and the crowd of inmates cheering wildly.
When I heard it yesterday, my first thought was, gee, Hollywood wouldn’t do a biopic about a woman who celebrated murdering men to a crowd of cheering women. Then I remembered the movie from 10 years ago about Valerie Solanas, the ‘60s playwright who wrote the manifesto for her one-woman organization, Society for Cutting Up Men, and who in real life shot Andy Warhol.
Johnny Cash was a culture hero; Valerie Solanas was a deranged menace; and that’s how their movies depict them. Can’t help but marvel at how our culture takes images of the murdering and maiming and torturing of women as entertainment. The blindfolded woman running in terror around in circles, futilely trying to escape men who in a few moments will murder her and desecrate her body, gets laughs in the Cohn Brothers’ “Fargo.” Murdering women is the narrative norm. If Patsy Cline or Wanda Jackson had gleefully sung about murdering men, they would have been seen as extremists, and a movie where female villains comically murder cowering, terrified, helpless men is unthinkable. Johnny Cash gleefully singing about murdering women -- he’s a rebel.
And he was a rebel -- to sing for prisoners, to sympathize with prisoners. I have serious qualms about sympathizing with murderers so enthusiastically, but perhaps the catharsis of naming the reality is healthful. Perhaps. Making manifest the violent misogyny of the cultural ideology of male supremacy would be more healthful if it were made in a spirit of critique -- horror, regret, sorrow. Wouldn’t be any fun for the prisoners though.
Women do murder men, in far fewer numbers than vice versa. If Michelle Shocked were to sing about murdering men to a crowd of female prisoners whooping it up, would it be a sign of progress?
Not being nice is not rebellious, it’s totally mainstream, it’s the dominant ideology.
Mick Jagger and George Bush and Jack Nicholson share the same rock and roll smirk of pampered superioristic domination. They’re bad boys, they’re rebels.
Friday, March 03, 2006
Thursday, March 02, 2006
Ken Mikolowski was my poetry teacher for a few semesters and an informal advisor for a year or so after that. I had surprised him a few years ago by showing up at his reading at Bumbershoot, back in 2000. He remembered me then, which didn't surprise me; he's a great guy.
He told me about his recent reading with Alice Notley from Ted Berrigan's new collection. Alice and Ken are both warm, subtle, nuanced, emotional, witty readers; fans of their poetry don't need to be told that Alice & Ted were married; Ken & Ted were friends -- so it doesn't surprise me that the reading apparently went very well. Ken seemed pleased to have seen Alice, and to have been involved in Ted's poetry, again. Ken and his late wife Ann had published a lot of Ted's poetry.
When I was 19 and 20 and maybe 21 (memory gets fuzzy these 20-plus years later) I wrote poetry like a fiend and absorbed what I could. Ken brought Alice in to teach a week-long workshop in late '82 or early '83. Alice told me that if I ever came to New York that I should look her and Ted up. I went to New York that spring break and did just that; Ted was bedridden, witty and warm and welcoming; he inscribed my copy of "So Going Around Cities," his since-superceded large selected edition, with an off-the-cuff poem encapsulating bits of our conversation; the graciousness and generosity to a teen-age wannabe poet like myself still dazzles my memory; Ted was dying and he and Alice knew it, and a few months later he was dead.
I was into a performance-poetry bag, out of John Giorno and Ginsberg, with Cage's multi-media collages mixed in sometimes. I wrote two or three few-page-long performance poems -- I called them "Rock and Roll Monologues" -- in an oratorical style, with music accompanying, sometimes collaged music. I wrote a 3-voice poem and performed it with my poet-friends Terry Cunningham and Todd Rose (ne Wise); that one had written unison sections and sections for each of us to improvise while the other two of us chanted verbal riffs. I made visual collage poems. A group of friends and I wrote a lengthy political exorcism-in-verse for a public political action; a year or so ago I found that poem and liked it a lot more than I thought I would. And I wrote a lot of regular Frank O'Hara-influenced anecdotal, sometimes slightly surreal, stuff. I got a couple poems published in an obscure Michigan journal I liked; I sent people poems and they printed them -- hey!
And then I stopped. By that time I was writing and acting in plays, and I had lost the thread of poetry; stopped understanding its Whatness, stopped understanding line breaks, stopped understanding how it differed from comedy or philosophy or anecdote. I kept reading and reading and reading it, trying to understand. Occasionally I wrote something, usually for a visual presentation, or an oratorical thing for a performance. The slam movement started a few years after I had quit, but I wasn't interested in joining. Most of my mid and late 20s and early 30s were a soul's wilderness.
In recent years I've come to an understanding of poetry that works for me, but I didn't start writing.
But while I was home at my parents' after my dad's surgery a funny thing happened. I didn't have good internet access, I couldn't listen to my music, I didn't miss blogging, I didn't miss reading blogs, I was away from my son & spouse, and I started writing poems. I've been writing a little bit every night for almost a week now. Don't know whether it's any good. Don't much care. I'm enjoying.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Pop and rock practices that originate in gospel:
* Most forms of group singing, including:
- call and response;
- co-lead singing;
- switching lead singers for other-than-narrative purposes;
- doo-wop harmonies.
* The gravelly vocal timbre signifying intensity, from Little Richard to heavy metal (much more gospelly than bluesy).
* Incantatory repetitions of catch phrases.
* Melismatic improvisation.
* The electric guitar-bass-drums-piano-organ line-up.
* Chuck Berry's double-stop electric lead guitar style (originated by Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1941).
Gospel is so cental, so under-acknowledged, and so little understood in pop music history, I hang my jaw and shake my head in awe.
Struck by how many songs are about experiencing the presence of Jesus, like Hindu devotional poetry and song to Krishna. (Krishna and Christ are cognates.)
Struck by the primal existentialism of the genre: all about how to prepare for death.
Having experienced gospel music in its sacred setting a few times, I'm also struck by how inadequate the commercial recorded medium is for capturing it: records really do shrink the style, which is huge. A church service can last three-and-a-half hours, with music playing the whole time; the congregants can join the band whenever, so most of the music is coming from the front of the church while someone behind you beats tambourine; I've never heard the shrieking of congregants being possessed by the Holy Spirit on record, and it makes a spectacular musical effect. Records I've heard capture none of this. Some Roland Kirk and Mingus records have captured the gospel style's ability to go into overdriven super-fast tempos better than any gospel records I've heard; watching a band make that improvised, un-notated leap into the prestissimo tempo is even more exicting.
Dad got through his surgery in flying colors. I'll spare you the details, but he is an iron man.
Hard to be away from Mr. Jumping Chocolate Pudding and my beloved spouse for a week, but it was good to help my parents and give some relief to my brother and sister, who live closer to them and have been doing a lot.
Got back yesterday, delayed by a night by missed flight connection. In a hotel room Monday night I saw Roseann Cash on Leno singing a new-agey thing about her dead parents. Hope it helped her; it didn't really do much for me. Coincidentally, the 8:00 AM in-flight movie showing yesterday morning was the Johnny Cash flick. Suffering, sin, and redemption, hike! I haven't seen the Ray Charles flick; do I need to? The Johnny flick was OK. Good performances etcetera; hackneyed soundtrack emoting from T-Bone Burnette; mainly, it made me want to see a pic about Mother Maybelle Carter, a far more historically significant musician than her son-in-law, and apparently a nice person to boot. Also, disappointed that Dylan didn't get a cameo; not sure of the dates -- the story may have stopped before Johnny & Bob sang together. At one point Cash is listening to a Dylan record, which comes as a shock after all the "as-performed-by-the-actors" versions the movie gives us till then.
I got the Hollywood issue of "Vanity Fair" (for the articles, honest). Seeing pictures of Jack Reed & Eugene O'Neill & their shared lover (whose name is eluding me now) in that article about "Reds" made me think -- real people are better looking than actors, even actors as pretty as Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Pretty as Reese Witherspoon is, I'd rather see June Carter Cash play June Carter Cash. An actor's job is to be stared at. It's a profoundly outer-directed craft; the inner fires & quirks & particularities are what make people beautiful. Don't get me wrong, I love looking at pretty actresses and actors too. But biopics are inherently weak; any actor lacks the particular fire & spirit that makes the movie's subject worthy of a movie in the first place.
Anyway, glad to be back; glad my dad was well enough to do the surgery & strong enough to fly through it.
Update, March 1, 9:14 PM: Thinking more about that Johnny Cash movie on a drive through a molasses thick traffic jam this evening:
1. The movie makes Cash basically unlikeable. That's interesting.
2. Phoenix powerfully brings out the anger in some of Cash's songs.
3. The movie provides a context for Cash's cover of Dylan's mean song "It Ain't Me Babe." Never liked that song, Dylan's gleeful meanness toward a lover who wants him to make a singular commitment and toward whom he has no interest in committing; never got why Cash covered it. The movie explicitly makes it about mean Johnny Cash being mean to his first wife; I have no idea whether that's what was really going on in Johnny Cash's life.
4. The Mother Maybelle scenes confirm a belief of mine: in drama, the good person is the worried person, the one worried about other people's welfare and working to improve it. Examples: the protagonists in Oscar Wilde's romantic comedies; Judy Garland and Alan Hale's characters in the wonderful '30s flick "Listen, Darling"; Lon Chaney Junior as the Wolfman in "Abbott and Costello Meet the Frankenstein Monster," in which Chaney's face is furrowed with worry about what he might do when transformed into the werewolf; and now Mother Maybelle, urging her daughter June to help Johnny in his time of trouble, because Mother Maybelle knows June really wants to. Worry worry worry.
* * *
Forgot to mention: Thanks to everybody who sent me good wishes for my dad's recovery. I have very much appreciated it.