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

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Hugh & Drew are two of the charmingest and cutest people in the movies, and the script is very witty and its implausibilities fine to swallow; and the songs, for the most part, sweet and catchy and believable, even or maybe especially the '80s synth-pop pastiche, and the movie is often very funny and it's a warm-hearted fast-talking quick-witted romantic musical comedy and even if the alchemy of writing a song remains as opaque as ever that's as it should be and I recommend the movie very much.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Miguel Frasconi

I only met him briefly when I went to visit a college pal and he was living with her; coincidentally visiting him was his old friend the Plunderphonics king John Oswald, who had just been ordered to destroy all the copies of his recently released CD of all-sampled (and manipulated) music, because on the cover he had collaged the head of Michael Jackson from his album Bad onto the body of a naked woman, and Sony had objected and threatened to sue unto limitlessness. I had recently read about this in the Kyle Gann
’s late lamented new music column in the Village Voice, so I was all ears. Naturally, Oswald had not destroyed exactly all of his copies, and I heard a bunch of the album, which was terrific (and which has since been re-released under a different title with additional material, well worth checking out).

I only met Miguel those couple of days I stayed at the place he was sharing with my friend, and I doubt he would remember me, but he was super sweet, and a wonderful musician, and so I was happy to run across his name in the comments at Kyle Gann’s blog, and from there link to his own page, which has four lovely pieces of music, including some beautiful glass playing. Go! Listen!


Franklin Bruno emails to correct my false assertion that Hollywood would never do a bio-pic on the life of Lorenz Hart: Actually, they already have, Words and Music, which Franklin recommends. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How great is it that a secondary meaning of "air" is "a melody, a tune."

The melody we breathe.

Vancouver, B. C., last July, photo by my beloved spouse

Monday, March 26, 2007

Got the soundtrack to Cole Porter death-bio-pic De-Lovely (which I wrote about the other night) from the library and started listening to it. Diana Krall (whose stuff I don’t know) sounds even stronger on the record, like she’s channeling Peggy Lee playing a gun moll. Alanis is still terrific but the “period” arrangements -- of which Alanis’s “Let’s Do It” is one -- are corny and frenetic, if skillfully corny and frenetic.

The creepy decadence in which the film swims washes into and over the soundtrack, none of which sounds necessary in that artistic sense, that sense that the musician was burning to do it just this way. And I am reminded of what a drag it is that bio-pics of musicians, whether fictionalized or fiction, are almost always tragic. It just now occurs to me: Does our insistence on musicians’ tales being tragic signal a cultural hankering for Orpheus? Maybe so.

Regardless of our orphic desires, nothing in De-Lovely was as unforgettably vividly poignant as this scene from Alan Jay Lerner’s memoir, The Street Where I Live (which I recommend highly).

Let me set the scene. Lyricist/librettist Lerner and his composer partner Loewe have not yet hit it big. Lerner befriends one of his idols, the lyricist Lorenz (Larry) Hart “of Rodgers and.” Because Hart is lonely and Lerner is available for friendship, and because “I worshipped him so that I made myself available to him at any hour of the day or night, usually for gin rummy which I played badly because I was not interested, and he played badly because he was usually drunk. . . . ”

When Dick Rodgers turned to Oscar Hammerstein as a collaborator and their first effort became the greatest success Dick had ever had, namely Oklahoma, Larry’s pain must have been unbearable. One of the saddest moments I can remember happened a few months after the musical opened. We were in Fritz Loewe’s living room. There was a blackout and the room was pitch dark. The only light came from Larry’s cigar. Fritz turned on the radio and an orchestra was playing something from Oklahoma. The end of the cigar flashed brigher and brighter with accelerated puffs. Fritz immediately switched to another station. Again someone was playing a song from Oklahoma. And Larry’s cigar grew brighter and puffs became faster. It happened three times and then Fritz turned off the radio. The glow from the cigar subsided and the breathing so slow the cigar almost went out. The whole incident probably took less than two minutes and during it not a word was said, but I wept for him in the dark.

I’m not sure why the lights didn’t work while the radio did, but it’s a vivid, cinematic scene.

Hart’s death came the following year at the age of 48, of pneumonia which he contracted from being too drunk to get himself out of the rain.

Hollywood probably won’t make this movie. Tragic is good -- but not this grim. I am waiting for the Ira Gershwin bio-pic, of the guy who lived to be 87 and was married to the same person for almost 57 of them.

won’t make that movie either.

(left) The Head of Orpheus, Gustave Moreau, 1865
(right) Orpheus Taming the Beasts, Cima da Coneligano (1459-1518)

UPDATE the next morning. A correction, from the comments: Jay Sherman-Godfrey wrote: "
It was during WWII, yes? The blackout was to disuade potential German bombers, I believe." It was during WW2 in NYC, and I'm quite sure he's right. Thanks, Jay! I had a mental lapse.

Two religious musicians.
Whose frequent subject, explicitly, was God.

Both known for marathon virtuoso improvisations of matchless intensity.

Both possessors of an inimitable sound.

Devoting their lives to making manifest the fathomless knowably unknowable God-in-Sound.
Both died young.

John Coltrane (1926 - 1967)

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
(1948 - 1997)

* * *

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Clive James on Rilke gets things wrong.

[Update below.]

Who is Clive James? I don’t know. He writes for Slate; or, rather, Slate is paying him to adapt chapters from his book Cultural Amnesia, which I haven’t read; nor have I read the excerpts before, but I’m interested in Rilke and Brecht -- this week’s topic.

What James gets wrong may not be a big deal, but it’s so lazy, it’s embarrassing.

He says that Rilke wrote the Duino Elegies in Schloss Duino in 1923.


Rilke began the Duino Elegies in Schloss Duino in 1912. And he worked on them intermittently for 10 years and finished them elsewhere, in 1922. He calls 1923 Rilke’s “year of wonders” for having written the Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus in their entirety, but the truth is more amazing. In one month, February 1922 (not ’23), Rilke wrote the entirety of the Sonnets and he finished the Elegies -- and wrote about half of them -- after having worried over them for a decade. He considered the Elegies his life’s great work and finishing them one of his life’s great events, and the 55 Sonnets came as a bonus. In a month.

If you know Clive James, would you tell him, please?

He mentions owning a 5-foot shelf of Rilke books. I almost said he “boasts” of it, but it’s not a literary boast; he brags about how they look, not about their wonderfulness:

By now I have a 5-foot shelf of books just by Rilke himself, let alone of books about him; and still there is no end in sight. I could never throw the stuff away. It looks too good.

Culture as acquisition: bragging about the books he owns but doesn’t necessarily read. It seems to me that such a vision of culture is not unrelated to amnesia -- or maybe his title should be Cultural Sleepwalking.

This quote is straight out of the dumb-assiest American political blah blah blah circa Y2K:

Rilke had too much civilization, just as Brecht had too little: Their matching deviations from normality make both of them toxic company. Take the two together and you barely end up with one man you would want to have a drink with.

Now, I wouldn’t trust Brecht, and I’m not sure I would trust Rilke either, but the question isn’t whether I would choose them as friends, it is whether I would want to converse with them for an evening. They were both brilliant minds and extremely accomplished artists. But Clive James wouldn’t want to talk with them. Why? They’re too deviant. Conversation is not a site for intellectual challenge or play. Evidently it is a place to have one’s prejudices confirmed. Artists are valuable for marking the limits of the norm; they’re exotic, toxic specimens, to be kept at a distance.

His view of what he is obviously touting as “high culture” is: It’s that stuff they taught at college that you should know just well enough to banter condescendingly about over a drink; nothing to try to engage with on its own terms, nothing to pay the respect of trying to understand or remember, nothing to wrestle with, nothing to worry about.

Like the kids used to say, whatever, dude. As Rilke said . . .
You must change your life.

* * * *

UPDATE, next day. Via Kevin Cryan, I find that Clive James on Ellington and Coltrane is even worse than he is on Rilke and Brecht. I won't rehearse James's pabulum about how Ellington peaked in the '30s and early '40s, the standard cliche opinion (he did peak then, and he did again from the mid-'50s until about his death, with much longer compositions than James's fetishized 78-rpm record allowed); and I won't go into a defense of the manifold beauties and intensities of post-bop. If James doesn't like it, that's fine. But it's simply false to enlist Ellington in rhetorical war against free jazz. The fabulous albums Money Jungle, Piano in the Foreground, Afro-Eurasian Eclipse, and Duke Ellington & John Coltrane all show Ellington being influenced by free jazz, not to mention his composition from the 1940s, "The Clothed Woman," some of whose features anticipate free jazz.

James uses Ellington to beat up on Coltrane, without ever mentioning that they recorded together. He claims that Ellington thought bop a fraud. Here's Ellington on both topics, from his wondrous autobiography, Music Is My Mistress, p. 244:

The only time I had the privilege of working John Coltrane was a record date. It was a very interesting session. We recorded some of his tunes with his rhythm section, and some of mine with my rhythm section. [Actually, they only recorded one Coltrane tune, and they mixed the rhythm sections on different numbers, to beautiful effect -- ed.] No hassle, no sweat -- John Coltrane was a beautiful cat. The date flowed so smoothly we did the whole album in one session, and that is rare. I loved every minute of it.

I always liked the bop, and I am proud to say that the fabulous, flamboyant John Birks Gillespie worked in our band once, for four weeks. . . . Of course, I'd known him for quite a while before that, because I was an avid visitor on Fifty-second Street.

Evidently James is staking out an anti-elitist position. But he's doing it falsely and dishonestly and lazily. There's really no argument about sensibility. He doesn't like Ornette Coleman -- fine. Some free jazzers don't like pop music -- fine. Some classical heads don't like anything else -- fine. You're even free to annoy everybody who doesn't agree with you by arguing why the stuff you happen to like is the only good stuff. But if you do it dishonestly or lazily . . . well, Cultural Amnesia really does appear to be a self-diagnosis, doesn't it?

I know, I know, this is excessive -- I wasn't even going to post on any of this, but just leave a quick comment on Slate's comment section, letting Mr. James know that he got his dates wrong on Rilke; but Slate requires commenters to register, and I'm sick of registering everywhere. So, here it is.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

just yesterday I was reminded that the band for a play I acted in a little more than 20 years ago called itself the Alice Notley Patrol. how could I have forgotten? I actually met Alice Notley on more than one occasion, heard her read three times, made a pilgrimage to her apartment as an ardent teen-age would-be poet, met her brilliant and completely charming husband a few months before he died, and she remains one of my favorite poets! what a great band name. (good band, too!)

not an introspective performer

My beloved spouse and I watched De-Lovely on DVD the other night. Interesting that they turned Cole Porter into an introspective, soul-baring, autobiographical singer-songwriter. There’s probably truth in that, but not as a performer.

The filmmakers hired an arranger and a bunch of rock and pop stars to sing the songs. Alanis Morissette easily outshone Sheryl Crow and Elvis Costello -- she didn’t sing like an introspective singer-songwriter! Everytime Elvis threw his head back and closed his eyes, I thought, nope. That ain’t the style. Alanis sounded more distinctive vocally as well -- she’s unique.

Diana Krall was even better on “Just One of Those Things,” sung with a gum-chewing tough-gal hard-edge stare. Not as distinctive vocally as Alanis, but a great acting job.

On the whole, though, the occasional modernizations that the arranger threw in didn’t hold a candle to just about anything on 1990’s mostly fabulous comp Red Hot & Blue.

Tellingly, my favorite singer of the bunch was the wrongest of all -- Kevin Kline as the introspective soul-baring singer-songwriter himself. He’s a wonderful actor, and Ashley Judd as his long-suffering wife was even better. Kline’s singing, though, made a lot of the songs dark and quiet in a way that makes me want to hear them again. I’ll have to track down the soundtrack.

A cheer for the filmmakers for having the honesty to own up to the wrongness of their conception, which they did by bringing out a recording of Cole himself singing “Anything Goes” for the closing credits. Porter’s voice, reedy in tone but brassy in presentation, with a maximum attention to the verbal wit & nuance, carries his songs in a way that never would have been popular then (though it might have worked on country radio, if he could have been persuaded to dress them that way, which never ever ever would have happened), but which works beautifully and un-introspectively. He’s singing to you, not musing to himself.

The film’s story is somewhat creepy and melancholic, but I was happy to hear the songs, even the weaker arrangements and performances.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

gang of four
(i realized i didn't know what they looked like
-- and i've dug them since teenagerdom)

post-punk encounters

1. with bubblegum

got a collection of "Bubblegum" hits from the library and noticed something I hadn't before: The opening to the Cars' first big hit, "Just What I Needed" (which my band covered when I was 15 or 16, I think), is almost identical to the opening to "Yummy Yummy Yummy."

then, today, I read that Talking Heads covered the 1910 Fruitgum Company before they made their first record.

I'd been aware of the influence of garage bands like ? and the Mysterians on, say, the B-52's, but I hadn't been known of the close bubbleum connection.

2. with yuppies

feeling sorry for myself at lunch the other day, I splurged to go to the yuppie tavern near where I work for a (delicious) twelve dollar salmon sandwich. sitting with the clean-cut white people in their 30s and 40s. on the sound system: Entertainment! by the Gang of Four. easy-listening background music for yuppies. we've arrived!

(I've loved that album since Jay & I read a review in high school, and went and bought the record together.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts." (Bertrand Russell, 1872 - 1970)

"Oh! You think so?"

(Apologies to Bob Thaves.)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The other day for the first time in a while I listened to the Bebel Gilberto album Tanto Tempo Remixes (I've never heard the original album) and the Suba album Tributo (I've never heard anything "else" by him [this one is remixes & rerecordings of his stuff put out after he died]) -- two gorgeous dreamy artifacts of '90s Brazilian dance music, with that international dance '90s reverb-y sound. Today I got a collection of recordings from Carl Sandburg's The American Songbag by kids' music star Dan Zanes from the library, and was struck by the '90s dance-music reverb applied judiciously to guitars in spots.

Zanes's singing reminds me of Jerry Garcia. Several months ago I offended my hipster neighbors when I said this -- well-dressed hipsters don't cotton to Jerry comparisons -- but it's true. I've had this reaction to Wilco too -- two times when I've heard them on the radio I thought at first it was the Dead -- Tweedy is another Jerry acolyte as a vocalist.

Zanes is a sharper dresser than Jerry. And his Songbag album has nice arrangements. The singing doesn't suit me for this stuff (and I like Jerry!) -- too laid-back for how I imagine the material in my mind's ear. But I'm happy to see Sandburg getting some love.

* * *

On the recommendation of Gavin Borchert in this terrific article about taking classical music to where people are, I took the kid to a free marathon performance of all 6 of Bach's Suites for Cello at a church yesterday, performed by 24 cellists taking turns. We caught about half of the E-flat suite and half of the C-minor suite -- people were coming and going throughout, though most people were there a lot longer than we were. We left before the end of the C-minor because the kid was hungry -- it was lunch time.

I asked him what he thought of the music.

"I liked it and I didn't like it. I didn't like that we couldn't talk and we couldn't walk around."

"What did you like?"

"I liked the music. Yeah, I liked the music."

The music was gorgeous -- beautiful reverberant church, beautiful cellos filling the sanctuary, beautiful Bach, on-the-whole beautiful playing. And -- it was almost totally contemporary. Some of the dance tunes are clearly not in today's dance style, but the casual dress of the performers said, "This is our music; these are our lives; they go together." Because Bach wrote for the church more than for court or dance hall, his music still makes it into contemporary movies for internal mood-setting, and it has dated very little if at all. This was music of emotion and meditation, that followed the trails of memories, passions, joys, longings, regrets, reconciliations.

Would have loved to have heard more of the marathon; was joyed to hear what I did.


Friday, March 16, 2007

GLIB is an anagram of BLIG which is almost BLOG

The equation of abstraction with bodilessness with Plato with the academy with dusty dead museumology in my most recent post -- it’s more clever, if it’s that, than true. Motivated by peevishness at Ron Silliman’s polemics -- and the funny thing is, I like polemics in general. But his are so peevish -- and, what’s odd, what’s strange, here’s this guy, interested in the abstract qualities of language, interested in exploring and critiquing language at systemic and abstract and theoretical levels, in his poetry, who on his blog frequently gets elementary grammatical terms and concepts wrong. Well yeah, so what, so what indeed, how pedantic of me. He’s just a guy -- AND, it’s worth mentioning -- more important than a coherent polemicist -- he’s an interesting poet (if, tonally, a monochromatically quiet one, which does derive from the focus on language-as-system rather than language-as-speech -- not that there's anything with quiet in itself -- but still, and so, I do not retract all of my peevishness).

My poetic goal (by which I mean songs, music, blogging, as I don’t write poems per se, at least not in public, at least not much) -- to bring as much as my life into the stuff -- life -- including sentimentality, politics, and abstract or theoretical questions regarding language, ontology, cosmology, whateverology, however shallow my understanding.

Note, however: The depiction of my family life in this blog tends toward the one-sidedly idealized, as I have a hunch that my relatives have not forfeited an interest in a dignified public life just because they happen to be related to a blabbermouth.

And more on the glibness front:

A friendly correspondent took issue with the glibness of my mentioning my shame at my country’s president.

My correspondent wrote:

Greek tragedy maybe not Euripides but give me Sophocles and Aeschylus consists of the dramatic consequences of the psychology of shame.

. . . [I]t is not a complete response to shame to articulate it and regard it as an example-of-meaning.


I also feel shame at Bush's presidency. I can't let it burn me up. I haven't acted on it though, and get depressed when I consider the available range of responses.

I was glib, thinking of the Dixie Chix. Shame? More like, disgust, anger, impotence, frustration. Shame at my impotence. Which means: I suffer from an inflated self-regard. Who am I to feel responsible for the actions of millions of other people? And yet, isn’t that the definition of citizenship? My country, right AND wrong.

The preposterous ugliness of the conceit: Elevating an unaccomplished, inarticulate, incurious, egomaniacal, short-tempered, thoughtless, visionless, foolish foolish man to the presidency; conning enough people and having enough cronies in positions of power to effect a bloodless coup when the circumstances preposterously convene to facilitate it; which president then goes on to murder tens -- or hundreds -- of thousands of people and ruin the country’s fiscal standing while undermining its internal liberties and laws, and by the way making outright acts of war against the (mostly poor, mostly black) citizens of New Orleans, not allowing them to leave and not allowing supplies in after the disastrous flood (that’s called a siege, my friends, and a siege is an act of war); and the Press nods its collective head and mocks his critics (Howard Dean’s yee-haw), and the political opposition is too wrapped up in what Kenneth Rexroth called the Social Lie to tell much truth about the matter.

Shame? Shame?

I shake my powerless fist at the gods.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

it started out as an email . . .

I love the malleability of blogs. Put it up, revise it, take it down, whatever -- it's YOURS.

Reading Robin Skelton's edition of Penguin Poetry of the Forties -- British only. Kathleen Raine is the shizzle. Want to read more Henry Treece -- someone new to me. What strikes me -- Skelton's frame is "how these poets reflect their times and vice versa," more-or-less; his intro is fine fine fine, if not as dazzly-witty as his intro to Penguin [British] Poetry of the Thirties. Also: He was putting the anthology together in 1968, a mere 20-ish years after the decade under discussion.

What would a "Poetry of the Eighties" anthology look like? And how would it be different than what we got going now? My sense is -- not a whole lot different, stylistically, unless there was a concerted effort to include the Slammers -- and even they got started by the late '80s. Given the political realities of poetryland, an anthology inclusive of both the Slammers and the new generation of the old-guard avant-garde would be really unlikely to happen -- "separate and not really equal" seems to be the unstated mutual doctrine of the Slammers and everybody else. As a rule, Slammer anthologies have slammed my joy buttons more consistently than any other post-Beat anthologies I've come across.

Just looked it up: The Slam movement started in '86 anyway. So I'm talking about '80s poetry here.

I'm not up-to-date.

I knew that.

* * *

Lately, irony has been feeling so Eighties, man -- maybe especially since the New Times bought Village Voice Media, owners of the Seattle Weekly; and the aesthetic of the de-politicized, sarcastic, presumed-hip post-takeover paper seems straight out of the de-politicized, sarcastic, presumed-hip Chicago Reader, where I worked for a couple of years starting in '89. It's not just the sarcasm of liberal despair as a response to Reagan and Bush 2. It's a sarcasm of middle class anxiety about cultural aspiration and economic uncertainty, tinged with the assumption of superiority in all directions. (Damn! Another unexpected self-portrait.)

Second thoughts, later: Both the Reader and the Weekly publish good criticism and excellent news stories, including stories with important political content. It's the combo of snarkiness with a studied refusal to take an editorial stance that seems so dated. The Weekly got rid of its political columnists and its endorsement committee. The Reader never had any.

* * *

Like in the '80s, rock is dead again. Except now we have museums to prove it. Patti Smith accepted her ascension into the Rock Hall of Fame with preposterous (though possibly sincere, and somewhat charming) humility.

* * *

Since the '80s, nearly everybody has gotten cell phones and internet access. I remember the first poem I wrote on a computer, in about 1985. I was fascinated by the drag-and-drop capabilities, and the page layout stuff.

Globalization has become a big deal culturally and a bigger deal economically. This has affected music -- hippies are better drummers now, for one thing -- and it has affected movies -- more people watch international film than before. Has it affected poetry? I have no idea.

* * *

The Slammers are Wordsworthians, in a sense -- they've brought the rhythms of speech back into poetry. "Performance poets" like John Giorno and Laurie Anderson (both of whom I love) had been doing that as well (David Antin too, maybe my favorite living poet), but the Slammers are more multi-registered than Giorno or Anderson (or Antin), have a broader palette for the timbres of speech. It always astonishes me to see accounts that tout John Ashbery's style for being so inclusive of different "levels" of speech -- "levels," for Ashbery, indicating a melange of argots coming from different socio-economic subcultures. BUT, with Ashbery, he flattens all these argots into his monochromatic deadpan murmur. Not to say he hasn't written lovely poems -- he has -- but for all his vaunted tonal eclecticism he always sounds the same to me.

* * *

Peli hit the nail for me when he said,

What makes Langpo amazingly important and different than futurism or any earlier innovative literature [except for Stein?] is not any formal innovation or technique [except for The New Sentence? the rest was already there since the beginning of the century] but being more interested in langue than parole [both literally and metaphorically], for nearly the first time in all literary history.
And what's interesting here -- langue without parole means, there is no body. Langue without parole erases the body. And without the body, there is no changing of register -- again: monochromaticism. (Which -- and this is just a personal whine -- is why Ron’s obsessively insulting equation of "quietude" with "prose-like syntax and paragraphing" drives me nuts -- because what could be quieter than bodilessness?!?!?!? I'm not crazy about prose-like organization in my poetry either ["Who put prosaicisms in my poeticisms?"] -- my own prose often avoids prose-like syntax -- give me a run-on sentence any day of the week, and give me a cliche or two too, [tutu] -- but gee whiz!)

Bodilessness is Platonic.

Plato founded the Academy.

Bodilessness is academic -- in the dry, dusty, Rock Hall Museum sort of way.

I love museums. Even Rock Museums (if I'm in tha mood).

Patti Smith -- I don't like her poetry away from her singing -- but I loooove her singing.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Colm O'Reilly as Jim Lehrer and Guy Massey as George W. Bush in The Strangerer

Congratulations to my old friends Mickle Maher and Theater Oobleck on the reviews of their current play The Strangerer.

Wish I could be there.

The premise knocks my socks off.

It's the first debate between Bush and Kerry (played by Mickle) for the 2004 election. Melding Bush with the character of Mersault in Camus' The Stranger (which Bush claimed to have read recently), Mickle's script has him attempting to murder Lehrer over and over throughout the play. Lehrer and Kerry respond calmly.

The allegory is too close; and, knowing Mickle's writing and acting, and knowing Colm's acting (another old comrade I greatly esteem), I'm sure the play is hilarious as well. (I don't know Mr. Massey or his work.) Wish I could get to Chicago to see the play.

"Reason has no chance in a street-fight with madness. Madness knows no rules."

"That bit of madness which is poetry."

The past is fated -- or at least it seems so. With the press rigged to shoot down any politician who fought back against Bush, it's hard to imagine a different outcome in 2004. The past is fated. On the horizons of my imagination I can vaguely see a magesterial Limbaugh-ean mockery from the left over-riding the intensely stacked deck of the press and Bush's own crazy . . . charisma. But that time is past now. Here's hoping the D's do what they can to prevent further damage.

I'm glad Mickle wrote his play.

I'm ashamed that Bush is our President. Ashamed for my country.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Holland - Dozier - Holland

Their catalogue is amazing.

I realized I didn't know what they look like, so I looked them up.

The backstage songwriters are the folk musicians of industrialism, the anonymous artisans making masterworks away from the public eye, similar to Medieval sculptors in their relative anonymity. 12 or 15 years ago, before Tin Pan Alley got nostalgically semi-hip again, I realized I didn't know what Harold Arlen looked like -- I've since found out -- while I did know what Woody Guthrie and Willie Dixon looked like. Rock romanticism lionized the folk. Backstage professionals, until fairly recently, lacked cachet -- though not cash! Standing in the shadows . . .

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

a hermetic language -- language of Hermes, messenger of the gods, god of thieves and secrets, inventor of the lyre, a harp, a guitar's fretless forebear, no frets no worries, open strings plucked un-fingered --

and the flute, instrument of Krishna and Pan and Blake, tootling flute, language of birds, language of Dolphy & Messiaen, music lives in air and needs not wings; words, droplets, clumps, clods, clumsy manna, the distension of the mouth as it wraps around a chew, tongue in slow-mo, a SNAP a SHOT, a CAPture of flickering motion's light and freezing it flat --

do you want to be starting something? how nice! do you want to take it outside? how pleasant!


There's so much I want to tell you, and mostly the feeling of wanting to tell you, the feeling of words rushing up to the tips of the teeth, eager to be spoken.

At the playground at dusk, the kid running around, I'm the scary monster chasing him, and he invites other kids to be chased by me, and two join in, and we're running around as it's getting dark, and I remember running around as a kid, when it was getting dark, and the feeling that time is boundless, there will always be enough time, the finitude of time is inconceivable; and now as a man I know how brief anybody's allotment is, and how sweet it is to run and run and run, and eventually scoop the kid up and throw him over my shoulder and pretend to eat his shoulder or his belly like the scary monster I am.

And then it's dark, and it's time to go, and on to other things.

(Elihu Vedder: The Fates Gathering in the Stars)

Monday, March 05, 2007

The form/content conceptual divide has never rung true because the "form" of a piece has always had a huge impact on a how its content -- or meaning -- has been experienced. Form is bound up with tone, and tone can be more important than semantic content.

The substitute formulation I stumbled upon -- prosody/vocabulary -- isn't much better, but it avoids equating "content" with paraphrasable verbiage.

* * *

I'm looking forward to seeing Music & Lyrics, the new movie musical with Hugh Grant & Drew Barrymore -- two charming screen presences -- and songs by Adam Schlesinger, who wrote the title song to That Thing You Do, which I love. Jody Rosen sent me a link to the movie’s big ballad, and it's totally sweet and catchy. Several months ago I got obsessed with the soundtrack to That Thing You Do, that Beatles pastiche. Very smart that the filmmakers didn't try to imitate the Beatles exactly, and modernized the sound, with much louder drums and contemporary mixes -- and nobody tried to sing like any of the Beatles. Also it interested me that the licks lifted from Beatles records were from Beatles covers -- a little guitar lick from "Mr. Moonlight," another figure from another cover that's slipping my mind right now. But listen to the stuff back-to-back with With the Beatles, and there's no comparison, obviously. Tom Hanks wrote or co-wrote most of the non-Beatle-esque songs, and they're jokier and less skillfully managed (though my son really likes the New Christy Minstrels-esque "Lovin' You Lots and Lots" and it's become a catch phrase for him). The subject of imitation in music is endlessly interesting. McCartney early in his career was a talented mimic whose gift obscured his own personality, to his detriment as a vocal presence; for the most part I'd rather hear George's relatively weaker but more distinctive voice than Paul's Little Richard (or, on the BBC Sessions, Elvis) imitations.

* * *

Thinking more about Mr. Clover's talk on politics that I posted on last night, and another slick rhetorical trick he slipped in there: Positing the completely truth-valueless notion that only "a jot" separates the D's from the R's. Mr. Corey found Clover's talk "unimpeachable," but Seth in Corey's comments section nailed the truth-valuelessness of the "jot" idea -- really, it's not reality-based, and it's designed to depress inattentive liberal-leaning voters, to persuade them not to vote; Clover's calls to activism are half-hearted and uninspired, and even if he personally is an activist, that's not where his rhetorical heart is, his rhetorical heart is in obfuscating and denying differences between the two major American parties. I'm sick of listing the myriad significant material differences, but I will say that I'm glad to see that Senator Jim Webb has introduced legislation forbidding Bush from taking military action against Iran without express Congressional approval.

* * *

My beloved spouse's sister sent this to us: William Shatner live with Joe Jackson. Rockin'!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Joshua Clover gave two talks at a poetry conference Saturday, and Sunday he posted links to PDFs of them. One pissed me off; the other was OK but got something interesting wrong.

He’s a skilled rhetorician. I enjoy reading him in precisely the same way I enjoy reading George F. Will: They’re both very smart, they’re both very skilled, they’re both very mean, and they’re both very wrong; and apparently I love that adrenalized pissed-off feeling that comes from reading their slick bile. To Joshua’s credit, he can be funnier than Will, and his second talk, on the Paris-Hilton-ization of poetry as proposed by a poet named John Barr, is witty and clever.

It’s his talk on politics that is full of historical horse-hockey, where he vehemently gets things so half-right that he’s substantively wrong. I must give him credit for stick-to-it-iveness, as he’s still trying to make the case for not voting. Here’s his main point and his major error:

Civil rights and the 40-hour work-week, to choose two obvious examples -- these things did not come out of formal voting. Historical change has happened over and over, in all kinds of places and times including the modern United States, through refusing the ballot box.

This is precisely half right. Taking it to the streets (as the Doobie Brothers would say) has been an indispensible component of social change. But without a nominally sympathetic governing party, neither the 40-hour-work week nor the Civil Rights Act would have come to be; and as a historical fact, the Republican Party (in the first instance) and the historical ancestor of the modern Republican Party, a coalition of conservative Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats (in the 2nd instance), vigorously opposed both laws.

I’m bitterly disappointed in the Democrats’ continued culpability in the continuing war in Iraq, and their refusal to begin impeachment hearings for lying to Congress, but the fact remains that a Democratic President would not have invaded Iraq in the first place. On any of a host of issues, from birth control to voting rights to wages -- what Joshua calls “content” -- the Democrats are substantively, materially, institutionally better. Putting all one’s eggs in the activism basket will get you nothing if you don’t have an “inside” game going on as well. This is not to criticize the activist life, not at all -- it is necessary.

Joshua’s blunder in his talk on poetics is comparatively minor. He’s a professor of English specializing in poetry and poetics, and he got a brief mention of a 20th-century poetic milestone wrong.

From 1928 to 1968 Louis Zukofsky wrote his magnum opus -- “A” -- in 24 sections. He based the intricately patterned stanzas of “A”-9 on the famous Canzone “Donna mi pregga” by Dante’s friend Guido Cavalcanti. Zukofsky wrote the first half of his poem between 1938 to 1940, basing it mostly on Capital by Marx. He wrote the second half between 1948 and 1950, basing it mostly on the writings of Spinoza, on the topic of love.

Of “A”-9 Joshua says that it “is formed entirely from the political-economic language of Das Kapital.” It is only an aside, so we can’t expect that Joshua, the professor of poetics, would have mentioned that Zukofsky borrowed the poem’s prosodic form from a 13th century Italian poem. But leaving prosody aside, only half of the vocabulary of “A”-9 is formed from Marx; Joshuas formulation “entirely” violates the facts. (With unintentional self-reflexive irony, the sentence following the one I just quoted from contains the putatively sarcastic phrase “poseur, a mere academic, the most debased of the professions.” And copy-editors note: When styling Zukofsky’s poem, the quotation marks go around “A” only, not around the numbered section.)

I don’t expect you -- even if you’re a poet with allegiances to the modernist tradition of Zukofsky -- to have known this about “A”-9. Nor is it surprising that a poetry professor would only half-remember a detail from a lifetime of reading. But it is disappointing that after delivering the paper to a presumed room full of poets and literature professors, nobody caught it, and he posted the error the next day. (I haven’t read all of “A” but I’ve read “A”-9.)

A few Zukofsky tidbits:

* Zukofsky the Communist had a Fascist friend named Ezra Pound, who translated “Donna mi pregga” twice. Zukofsky made a more prosodically rigorous translation than Pound ever attempted, apparently at about the time he was writing the Marx section of “A”-9, and he did it in Brooklynese slang. “Donna” -- a beautiful woman, or Lady, as in “Prima Donna” -- “mi pregga” -- asks me a question. Zukofsky’s version opens like this: “A foin lass bodders me.”

* “A”-15 is, among other things, an elegy for John F. Kennedy, written in the year after his assassination.

* This is a stanza from the “Love” section of “A”-9.

Love acts beyond the phase day wills it into --
Hate is obscure, errs, is pain, furor, torn -- a
Lust to adorn aversion, hope -- love eying
Its object joined to its cause, sees path into
Things the future or now, that poorer bourne, a
Past, a step, a worn, a voiced look, gone -- eying
These, each in itself is saying, “Behoove us,
Disprove us least as things of love appearing
In a wish gearing to light’s infinite locus,
Balm or jewelweed is according to focus.
No one really knows us who does not love us,
Time does not move us, we are and love, searing
Remembrance -- veering from guises which cloak us,
So defined as eternal, men invoke us.”

* * *

I thank Joshua for sending me back to Zukofsky. It is more than George Will ever did for me.

* * *

FURTHER THOUGHTS, later: In his posted paper on politics, which blasts people for voting for Democrats, Joshua pulls the rhetorician's trick of assigning his opponents a false and absurd position that they do not actually hold; in this case, the position that one votes for Democrats for purely "formal" reasons -- because they are not Republicans -- and that these formal reasons are devoid of political content as politics drifts rightward and the line distinguishing the parties keeps sliding. Joshua's characterization is absurd, and, if anything, the positions of the parties have rarely been more distinguishable than they are now. To start at the top, one party believes in a multi-lateral world in which the goal is to maintain cooperative international relationships; the other bases its foreign policy on the idea that if everybody in the world is angry at you, you're on the right track.

Joshua also calls for Instant-Run-Off voting and a multi-party system. If he's working on these issues I'm curious to hear more. I support IRV.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Wednesday night in the bath tub the kid said, "I wish that poop came flaming out of my head up to the ceiling then floated down into the toilet making galaxies and comets on a nice warm summer afternoon. In August."

"Yeah, that's what you wish?" I somewhat dumbfoundedly replied.

"Yeah," he said complacently, "I have lots of wishes. That's good."

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