Sunday, April 20, 2014


I saw the late Lou Reed at the San Diego Civic Theater shortly after the release of his  1974 live album Rock and Roll Animal at a  moment in his career where he was trading on his reputation, getting himself a payday . It was an understandable situation, since a number of   host of other artists, notably David Bowie and Alice Cooper, had earned large audiences, critical praise and presumably fat bank accounts making music that owed nearly everything to the work did in the previous decade with the Velvet Underground. Rock and Roll Animal was a collection of concert of songs from different points in Reed's career, including several from his tenure with the Velvets, for whom he was the band's principle songwriter and singer.  The difference between the original versions of the Velvet Underground songs, which were spare and harshly  textured with the flickering light bulb quality that exemplified much art produced by East Coast weather conditions and critical amounts of meth-amphetamines( and which adroitly  framed the catatonic intensity of Reed's lyrics ), and those of  Rock and Roll Animal. which were rearranged into some of the most elegantly arranged double hard rock guitar this side of the early Allman Brothers, indicated that Reed was ready for his mainstream success. He arrived ready to give the audience what he thought they were expecting: a rock and roll show relying on superb guitar work from someone named Danny Weise (ably replacing Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter from the the RR Animal album), and Reed, amped up on ego or something more chemical camping it up mightily, singing his "hits", so to speak, in a voice that resembled the scrape of tail pipe dragged over Manhattan asphalt,  moving about in a twitchy cootchie dance that resembled every bathroom mirror rehearsal of Jagger dance moves you or I ever attempted. He was living  up to his perceived reputation as a decadent, near death bad boy that when it came time to perform his masterpiece "Heroin", he wrapped the microphone cord around his arm oh-so-coyly, slowly,  teasing out audience expectations. "He's gonna slam some geeze" someone shouted, I remember, and the band just tore into a ten minute bout of riff-mongering while Reed pranced , lit cigarettes and flicked them, one after another, to the  side stage after a drag or two. Reed was cashing in, I thought, and it took a while to take him seriously again through his stretch of subsequent solo albums. hat turned my mind around concerning Lou Reed was the 1991 publication of the book "Between Thought and Expression", a selection of  of his song lyrics up to that time. Yes, the title is as pretentious as anything you can think of--Reed , always an intuitive artist and poet, was not the autodidact (and bore) David Bowie turned out to be--but this collection shows you what a brilliant lyricist/poet he was . Hard life, slums, drug addiction, sexual escapades at the margin, the stretching of consciousness until it was ragged and rusty and ready to break , Reed was a vivid scenarist who wrote lovely images without grandstanding clutter. He was blunt as Herbert Selby, funny as  William Burroughs, succinct as Elmore Leonard; his stanzas got to an emotional center of situations and dealt with the narrator's ability or inability to cope, to hope or give into fatalism and silence. He was a major, major artist in rock and roll,  the latest loss among the diminishing ranks of Rock Musicians  Who Mattered.   There hasn't been an area of  what we lazily refer to as "alternative" rock that hasn't been predated by  the antics,  experiments and bad diets and odd, minimalist tunings that Reed attached himself too; noise rock, punk rock, new wave, grunge, confessional elaborationist. There is not a younger rock and roll musician of any serious intent or reputation who has not fallen under his influence, his long, wide and profound shadow.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Don't ya think?

Salon has in recent years become a shrill, humorless repository of articles by straight-lipped ninnies who try to impress us with how they've dealt with injustice and bad body image. The magazine, a pioneer in online journalism, used to have something on the ball .

 I do a recent article,  which credits the late David Foster Wallace with giving  us advance warning on how irony has evolved from being an effective literary effect in one's reading life to being an empty cultural gesture, less meaningful than a shrug, less committed than snore. Ut is an honest -to -god piece of thinking rather than a become a knee jerk response to situations that won't allowed themselves to be resolved with wishful thinking. It's now a means to distance ourselves from what needs to be addressed politically, socially, emotionally. We are emotionally neutered with all this "distancing" from problematic issues and entities and situations, and hence we become divorced form one another and ourselves. 

The question that is raised is how is art going to respond to this coarsening of our senses and collective personalty and provide a tangible sense that aesthetic thinking isn't just thinking of new ways of expressing how stupid things are and can be; art is also the means of constructing something worth staying alive for, for having purpose. It's a good piece of writing,this piece, and you wish Salon's editors would cease their grimacing and lay off the make believe outrage and publish some more longer-form  essays like this one.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

I own you, don't leave me.

Two sonnets in tribute to ladies the respective poets have taken a fancy two are the subject of Robert  Pinsky's current poetry discussion site. As usual, the discussion that follows Pinsky's remarks and recitations of the works (read in fine manner by Pinsky) is subtle, lively, cordial.  I rather like the wit and spare and adroit verbal sharpness that mark both of these poems; graceful, preening, softly boasting and flattering the women to whom they are addressed in terms that bestow qualities exceptional , unique, miraculous to behold, these are the testimonies of horn dogs working their way into a woman’s favor. And, perhaps, the respective beds they sleep in.
Rather classically, both these quick witted sonnets display less the feeling of spontaneity , of genuine play, than they do the feeling of a well constructed presentation, an argument mulled over, finessed and converted into a poeticized template intended for the means of endearing oneself to women by appealing to their perceived vanity. This makes you consider the old cartoon line when Olive Oyl says to Popeye and Bluto , as they try to woo her , “I bet you say that to all the girls.” The speakers, the wooers, the orators that profess the unqualified beauty , brilliance, charm, grace and sublimity of their objects of affection , deliver their testimonies with it in mind to present themselves in an exceptional light; the sonnets are, in essence, sales pitches, imbuing the speakers with qualities compatible with the ones they’ve ascribed to their ladies dearest without so much as one self-glorified personal pronoun being used in either of these artfully cantilevered proclamations. It’s a subtle argument to be made that requires the most skillful of tongues, that the qualities, the talents that are being attached to the would be betrothed have not been noticed by the rabble, the masses, those who live a penuric existence, and that only the men who have broached and spoke to the subject of the ladies beauty are intelligent, sensitive, caring, dynamic enough to speak these truths. It is artful indeed, requiring a fine a balance, of knowing when to let one’s voice trail off, to end on a soft syllable, awaiting a response. This is bragging through the flattering of another.
(Michael Drayton, 1563-1631)

How many paltry foolish painted things, That now in coaches trouble every street, Shall be forgotten, whom no poet sings, Ere they be well wrapped in their winding-sheet! Where I to thee eternity shall give, When nothing else remaineth of these days, And queens hereafter shall be glad to live Upon the alms of thy superfluous praise. Virgins and matrons, reading these my rhymes, Shall be so much delighted with thy story That they shall grieve they lived not in these times, To have seen thee, their sex’s only glory: So shalt thou fly above the vulgar throng, Still to survive in my immortal song.
Michael Drayton’s ode speaks to posterity, speaking to what he believes is the likelihood that this fair woman will be remembered, gloried and virtually worshipped as womanly perfection in ages yet to come by virtue of his poem. The ladies who now clutter the streets “shall be forgotten” by poets and this miss will be the envy of women of future elegant pretense because Drayton’s directly addressed ideal is “their sex’s only glory”. A harsh judgement, but it plays to vanity and a person’s feeling of being unjustly ignored. There is resentment here to be exploited and Drayton’s technique, effective or not, is a masterful piece of exploitation. It takes a man, after all, to make the world aware of the genius of the woman who has taken his arm in companionship, in romance, in matrimony. The woman is anonymous, a cipher without the right man to make the powers that are innate in her bosom radiate fiercely, proudly, for the world to praise and to cater to. “So shalt thou fly above the vulgar throng,/Still to survive in my immortal song.” This is to cleverly say that the woman will be remembered forever because of the man’s immortal song, which is also to say that only a man, this man, could have written. Without the man’s words, his voice, the woman being seduced is unknown, without the power he extols in the lyric, which is to say that she is without her own voice, bereft of even a language to command.
The intended audience, I’m sure, is for an audience that considers itself literate and therefore possessed of an elevated sensibility regarding what I think both these verses are about, really, seduction. But we do have the experience, as readers, of getting a vicarious thrill and find ourselves imagining being the speaker in either poem, no less than small boys imagine themselves to be a super hero with great powers in the fight against immediate evil. The works seduction both ways, upon the women who are listening and to the readers who are literate and, we might assume, a tad shy and less quicksilver in their effusions of love, honor, and grace. It is a way of being that readers, male overall, can fancy themselves as possessing their object of desire (“object” being the operative term) taking ownership of a would-be lover’s (sexual or courtly) self esteem because the virtues outlined in these cleanly articulated metaphors and allusions would not have come to mind and, further, would not have existed had not been for the innately superior senses of the male. Even the women in the poems, the ones who stand apart from others of their own gender, are chattel nonetheless. While I think the function of the sonnets are morally insidious–this is a world where women are lesser beings and have no selfhood, no definition in the absence of men who control them–it is a kick to realize that it is the male of the readership who is also being played with the sweetness of these words, in the words of internet, “owned”.
By chattel, I mean to say that the women of this historical period, even the ones singled out for plain-though-generous praise in verse, are considered property. From Merriam Webster’s On Line dictionary” something (such as a slave, piece of furniture, tool, etc.) that a person owns other than land or buildings.” While I do believe that the real world sensibilities were a saner as regards the treatment of women, but there is the tendency in cultures dominated by the will, wishes, wiles and whining of men to treat women as if they were accessories, an extension of a man’s personality and little else. In the grander rhetoric of love poems and protestations of virtues bordering on sheer virtuosity, we realize that that the man who seeks to woo may as well be talking to a car salesman as he describes the vehicle he’d like to drive off the lot and bring home where he keeps his other stuff. On occasion I am of the mind that love poems of the period were, in essence, projections of fragile egos confronting a Hobbesian universe where life was nasty, brutish and short. Again, this is a seduction that works in two different directions, to an audience that wishes to think well of itself and the ability of their cultivated readings and wit to make disruptive realities remain at bay, or at least out of mind, and, of course, for the women addressed directly, bluntly and yet with a spare poetry that resembles a truth the subject has denied.

Monday, March 31, 2014

National Poetry Month MUST BE DESTROYED so we can love reading and writing poetry again

Well, yeah, I'm grumpy some of the time, and I've been accused of being a curmudgeon in regards to National Poetry Month, the annual  dedication to an elusive art with a small audience that itself is divided among several hundred-seeming schools of thought as to what is genuinely worth reading or promoting. The reservations come chiefly from the attitude that poetry is something pathetic in itself, with Special Needs, and that there is a collective delusion in the publishing world that poetry can be made more popular by hyping the form with the cliched hokum that sounds culled from New Age screeds. It's a little infuriating to witness an art that you believe, at it's best, sparks the unusual idea or the unforeseen connection within a reader be reduced as something that marketers promise to deliver a consumer to an even deeper vat of circumscribed thinking.

I wouldn't say my remarks about National Poetry Month are grumpy, just realistic. On the face of it I welcome a month dedicated to the art , craft and diversity of poets and their work , and even think that the month might well bring new readers to poetry as something they'd read in their leisure time. The problem is that once we give someone or some thing a special day, week, or month for the nominal purpose of increasing awareness, most of the population bothering to observe what the calendar day commemorates will nod their head, bow their head, read a few poems, maybe buy a single volume that will likely wind up half way finished and atop a coffee table, a page bent down to mark a page,not be picked up again, and then be done with it for the year. It certainly gives major publishers significant favorable publicity so they can present themselves as more than bottom-line obsessed subsidiaries of malignant media corporations: look at what we're doing to support the arts, look at our love of poetry!!

There are poets who benefit, many of them I count my favorites, but the fact that poetry in general has a month dedicated to it's supposed welfare seems more to me that the rest of the literary world considers the form a poor, sickly relative; April as poetry month is the metaphorical gulag, a ghetto, a hospice, that space where this art, which no publisher seems to know how to market so it contributes usefully to their bottom line, is allowed to make it's noise, indulge their rhetoric for a short period in the spot light before being ushered from the stage and back to the margins.

Poets, the work they do, the theories they develop regarding their art has been the most rarefied and most diffuse of the arts as it developed since the encroachment of Modernism over turned the conventional thinking about poetry's form and purpose. It's been to poetry's advantage, I think, that the audience has been small, very small, compared to the other genres that help publishers make their payrolls and their dividends, since the relative obscurity has allowed poets of many different styles and concerns, politics and agendas to advance their art and arguments , both Quietist and Post-Avant Gard, unconcerned with a commercial aspect that wasn't theirs to begin with. National Poetry Month is something like a zoo the city folk may visit on their days off , and the poets are the exotic creatures who will perform their tricks, do their dances, take their bows for the smattering of applause and loose coin that might come their way. Generally speaking, poets and their work would be better off, and saner as well, if the illusion that a dedicated month will increase the readership and increase book sales as well.

It would be better for poets to stop behaving like their in need of rehabilitation and went about their business, doing what we're supposed to do to the best our individual and collective abilities. If the work is good, interesting, of quality on it's own terms, the audience , whatever the size, will come.

We are here in April again, and those of us concerned a little about poetry as art need again accommodate the ludicrous thing called National Poetry Month. The hope is to get folks to change their reading habits to include poetry volumes along with their steady diets of mysteries, romances, celebrity cookbooks and memoirs written by people who will soon to be exposed as liars and cheats. Is there hope for the General Audience? The divisions in the Poetry War are drawn, both sides will wage battle for the soul of the book buyer , but the pathetic truth is that vast promotion and arguments as to the worth of verse are to no avail. Literally, no one is buying it. Or buying too little of it for the fuss and bother of having a month out of the year dedicated to poets and their obscurities.

The General Audience I speak of is vague, purposefully so, as it speaks to anyone who has an amorphous notion of how to generalize about poetry readers share in common. The war between various schools, groups and the like strikes me as more bickering between the professionals, poets, critics and academics (some of whom happen to practice all three occupations) who have status and power on the line as they advance their agenda and create an enemy camp in the interests of bolstering whatever claims can be made for a particular group's alleged superior aesthetics. Some of this ongoing disagreement is fascinating and useful, since the distinctions as they’re clarified can be informative and the criticisms each has of the other’s perceived shortcomings can potentially yield insight on issues a writer might be otherwise be too close to.

I have my preferences, sure, and I subscribe to a particular set of principles, but these rules of poetry are worn like a loose suit, not a straight jacket. Most readers who a general interests in poetry , contemporary and older, will like or dislike a variety of different approaches to verse for an equally varied set of reasons, most of which, if asked, our hypothetical General Reader would be able to explain if asked. The basic question of a poem, whether written for the lyric voice, the vernacular rant, or the experimental rigorist, is whether it works or not, both on its own terms and in terms of whether it gives pleasure or joy. Someone might suggest that teachers could increase the audience for poems if they taught the material better, but this is a straw man.We can't lay this at the teacher's feet because it's my firm conviction that most poetry, ambitious or otherwise, isn't going be the thing the large majority of their students will take after in adulthood, regardless of how good or bad a job the instructor might be. We're talking about adult readers here, those who have reading habits formed and in place for a lifetime; some are more curious about more ambitious forms, most who read poetry prefer the greatest hits of Whitman, Plath or Dickens, if they read poetry at all, and the General Audience, as we've been calling them, has not interest in poetry what so ever, except when they need a quote for a funeral or a wedding.

In other words, people who might buy a book of poems do so for reasons that are the same as they always have been, word of mouth, display, book review, and so on. Things like National Poetry Month do so very little to increase the fraction of the book buying public to have even a casual appreciation of poetry; they simply don't care for those things that are not measurable by generic conventions. Charles Bernstein wrote a cogent, if slightly smug essay in 1999 called "Against National

Poetry Month As Such" in which he derides the notion that publishers and a clatch of state and federal arts czars can increase interest in and sales of poetry collections by reducing to the level of the contrived New Age/faux mediation group think that would have us read the literature with the hope that stress and pain will go away.(I am thinking myself of Roger Housden's odious collection "Ten Poems To Change Your Life",which abuses the work of good poets by presenting them as accessories one buys on impulse at the cash register).Bernstein's main point is well taken with me, that poetry is being sold as something it isn't, like the volumes poets publish are good for you in the way that pop psych and New Age literature claim to be. What is being sold are the specious promises of poetry, not the poetry itself which, of all the literary arts, should stand alone , unencumbered by political or therapeutic contrivance. National Poetry Month is a hypocritical waste of time, I think, a commercial venture born of the kind of cynicism that enables corporations to manipulate buyers into purchasing things they haven't an honest need for.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

In the Seventies , Carroll O'Connor created the character Archie Bunker for the situation comedy All in the Family, a role that was a caricature of working class conservatism; pro-war, pro-gun, anti-civil rights, conspicuously  bigoted, the point of the show each week was to have this cartoon neatndrothal confront an issue that raised his hackles and provoked him to say some offensive, outlandish things. The point of all this was to make what the producers thought was their mostly liberal audience to laugh. Someonewhere in this mess real blue collar conservatives, rock ribbed Republicans, took on Archie Bunker as a hero. O'Connor played role a bit too convincingly. Likewise, Stephen Colbert, who has made a brillant career portraying a conservative pundit  modeled after the amazingly thick-skulled Bill  O'Reilly, has , it seems, convinced a few folks that he , Colbert, in fact, an insensitive, self-seeking conversative mouth piece. Christ.

This whole issue is so inane that the only I can think of is that the woman behind #cancelcolbert was looking to be offended by Colbert's satiric (though admittedly lame) stab at racism. Is Mick Jagger the only one who can get away with saying "fuck 'em if they can't take a joke"? This begs the question though: could Jagger get away with saying that in our current climate, which is as irritated as an allergic rash?  Not likely, as the Internets propensity for Twitterizing the language into something that sputters , stammers and grinds with the sparking impatience of a dying Disney animtron,  and which seems to be seducing  people to speak and  think in incomplete sentences, makes the formally expecited comprehension of context , irony and nuance too much for one fretting mind to handle. It's a problem that's been with us since we've had something we could call "media", mass or social; more of us are in too much oa hurry to know it all to take the time to understand something.Colbert misses the mark a good amount of the time, but really, lets do as he suggests and get rid of the torches and pitchforks. There are real things to debate and act on.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

No Fun: the vacant genius of the Stooges

Iggy Pop was a drummer in blues bands before he and his fellows formed the Stooges in the 60s, and as this song demonstrates , the experience wasn't wasted. Iggy and his mates understood, that is to say felt the vaguely described but conspicuous force that blues had , simple, sonic, repetitive  and impolite to any standard measure of tempo. 

This was the kind of music that was the blend of instinct and wits, a boxer's set of reflexes to things that get in your way. Guitar, drums and are distorted grind and the tempo of nails hammered. The Ashtons smashed mightily. 

Iggy, of course, was the man alone, a three semester course of unreconstructed Id that inhabiting  the center of every ganglia of nerves the brain tried to lay claim to;  the super ego to twitch and become more reptilian by the second. He was that kid in drain pipe jeans who carried a sharp stick with a brown, mung encrusted nail through it, waiting on the corner for someone as yet unknown to walk by and get poked with it. There was no fun, so you made your own, just to see what happens. 

These were Mailer's White Negros for a fact, except they shivved me man who was tailing them and talking too much in the other muse mute streets of two story burn pads and deserted store fronts that had their front windows sealed with concrete and layers of old concert posters and spray paint exclaiming gang signs and Jesus. Anyone daring to talk past this kid deserved to be wacked with the rusty nail. It was cruel and pointless until something genuine happened to change everything; the bit that everyone knows in the world of the Stooges is that transcendence is not on the agenda, ever.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Donovan was good, Donovan was great

 To a large extent, I think Donovan's work needs an honest reappraisal. He did, at one point, go off the rails and became such a hippie and an apparent adherent all things transcendental that he was ruthlessly mocked. Consideration of his good work suffered, sadly, and like Melanie, a good songwriter with an interesting ear for poetic and nuanced lyrics, a developed sense of melody and an expressive singing voice is unfairly set aside. Three  songs bear out the more problematic, less anthemic quality of Donovan's writing."Sunny Goodge Street", "Epistle to Dippy" and "Young Girl Blues" are quite a bit more cynical and knowing than his subsequent reputation suggests.

 "Sunny Goodge Street" is a panorama, obviously, of a particular urban hip scene so commonly portrayed in flashy and groovy terms in the 60s, but Donovan's version of it makes it seem unpredictable, violent, utterly paranoid and incoherent. It is closer to Burroughs than to Scott McKenzie's saccharine rendering of John Phillip's saccharine to hippiedom "San Francisco (Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair"). Donovan seemed to understand that the counter culture was as much as a creep scene as it was a gathering moment of truth seekers, poets and sincere sensualists who desire both sex and innocence. While the cost of attaining the sorts of forbidden knowledge drugs and the attending hype was unknown, Donovan, last named Leitch by the way, had a foreboding that was    rarely expressed by a generation of musicians that was fatally self-infatuated.
 "Epistle to Dippy" is nothing less than a direct address of a try-anything scene maker who dashes from drug to scene to fad in an irrational attempt to oust run their own vacuity, their utter lack of soul or genuine sensibility. This is as acidic a portrayal of the poseur as has been written, more potent than the Beatles' politely poo-poohing tune along the same theme, "Nowhere Man". The difference is that D.Leitch is in the trenches, an intrepid reporter perhaps,a Norman Mailer who dared to take the same drugs as those he observed and had enough wits afterwards to recall the excruicating banality of a prismatic perspective.


"Young Girl Blues", in turn, is marvelously turned by Marianne Faithful into a bitter sweet recollection of an ingenue who had gotten tired of her own hipness and the chronic scene-making; the lyrics are an acute portrait the raging banality of such an ostentatiously noisy and hip scene. Donovan senses, I think, the isolation none of the scene makers can break away from or cure with brand names, loud music and chemicals. A fair amount of his songwriting holds up, I think, and it holds up for the same reason Norman Mailer's "Armies of the Night" or Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test" hold up; they are all , in their own respective ways, exquisitely etched portraits of the Sixties that bypassed the mass-mediated brain washing fostered by Time and Life magazines and presented the whole notion of Youth Culture and revolution as something that was no less problematic than the  Establishment that the ragtag gaggle of miscreants, socialists, opportunistic gurus, draft dodgers, ersatz feminists and the usual assortment of authentic bums and layabouts claimed needed to be changed. Details, blisters, resentment, a sharpened sense for sensing out the fake, the harmful, the mendacious.

Music Criticism Has Degenerated Into Lifestyle Reporting - The Daily Beast

Music Criticism Has Degenerated Into Lifestyle Reporting - The Daily Beast:
Ted Goia is a jazz critic and is, I believe, in such a snit that his particular occupational niche, music criticism, seems to be in danger of vanishing all together that he over reads the tea leaves. In actual fact, it's not that music criticism has devolved  into lifestyle reporting, it is merely being replaced by  editors and publishers by a species of celebrity journalism.  Musicians  replaced Hollywood movie stars in large part as famous and rich folks that fans of popular culture obsess about and, as it goes,  in a world where media is now a  24 hour concern, filling up those column inches on line and online and , for the love of god, all over those cable shows, the fastest and most ready  bit of material for reporters to bring to a drooling public's attention are the trivial doings of what these people do in their daily lives. 

In an atmosphere where everything is up to the minute, the second, the nano second, music criticism only takes you so far. I was a music editor for a number of years and I know the dread of having holes in your section layout--that is , no stories,no reviews, no ads to fill up a gaping white space on the page your trying to ready for publication. As much as I wanted to maintain my integrity and reserve my editorial  copy to matters of considered cultural criticism and the arguing  for the greater good of all, as a practical matter my standards had to be modified when I decided to run a substandard, gossipy,  trivial bit of celebrity worship on my pages. Nature abhors a vacuum  and so do editors. 

The Village Voice, Down Beat, Rolling Stone, Filter, Pitch Fork, Jazz Is, all present straight forward criticism of musicians and their work, and the quality varies publication to publication, of course. A basic consideration,though, is that back in the day, when  music, basically rock and roll, was considered a force for change by the media that tried to understand it, we saw a rise in earnest young intellectuals--Paul Williams, Griel Marcus, Robert Christgau, Jon Landau, later Lester Bangs--who took the music seriously and attempted to essay forth the underlying movement of history in the notes being played and the rhymes being sung. This gave us a particularly potent kind of literary commentary; there was a lot of good writing that came out of that. Also, though, much more nonsense was written in the name of music criticism and  it seems that readerships no longer believe that music, as such, represents a Hegelian transformation of History; it meant a good time, period.  The basic message is that cultural commentary of the highest regard will dominate the arts pages of general interest publications, on line and off, only when the zeitgeist has us believe that music and art in general have a meaning and direction that is more, much more than the technical achievements .

 It makes for a dull time generally , I suppose, and limits nuanced discussions and general intellection on guitar solos and the genius of lyrics to a smaller, shriller, more adenoidal crowd of folks, but that is the spirit of the time we live in.Truthfully, the element of discovery is out of the equation, since no one has to look neither long nor far for music that  might interests them, the new sounds, the new vibe. Critics are no longer the explorers or explainers of new sounds . Everything is already found, and the smaller circles of pundits , it seems, find themselves aggressively agreeing with one  another, give or take an instance of ritual snark.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Why Alain de Botton is a moron » Spectator Blogs

Why Alain de Botton is a moron » Spectator Blogs:
Mde Botton as an "egghead", the sort of person who can "beat you in a pub quiz" with their eidetic propensity of remembering every detail they've ever read, but who has a personality that is all but lacking in true intellectual force.That is to say that for all the lifetime of reading across a wide swath of literature, art, philosophy, history, the savant doesn't seem to have synthesized anything resembling an interesting interpretation of what they've gorged themselves on. The knowledge seems only to have made the dull even duller, made their inanities even more colossally vapid. The aggravation among readers who have both read much of  the primary sources that a professional smarty pants like de Botton uses and who obsessively, even excessively aerobicise their grey matter by presenting their store of knowledge through an Olympic-quality regimen of speculation, elaboration and just good old fashioned bullshitting, is that the career labors of poets, philosophers , novelists and seers of all sorts is reduced to the trite, the tired, the tragically dopey. Their is an industry in all this reductionist activity; it provides a means for the lazy and the hurried and harried browser to believe that they've been exposed to Proust, to Sartre, to Homer, to Joyce, to Thomas Pynchon without having to actually read them. Roger Housden's poetry collection Ten Poems to Change Your Life .  is a gross vulgarization of an otherwise sweet set of poets whose authors were going for effects more nuanced than a reassurances that takinga  sick day when you're not actually ailing is okay. Literatureseems to have come under the sway of Stuart Swalley. Alain de Botton is a business man who has found out that there are larger paychecks for dispensing bumper sticker adages and homilies than there are in reams of abstraction. Which is fine, I suppose, he has the right to make the best living he can from the materials he chose to master.Funny thing is that this article reminds me of the notorious critic John Simon, a polymath of a nasty-assed reviewer who has an enviable erudition that has, none the less, failed to inspire him to a higher level of negative reviewing; his put downs are cheap, vulgar, sarcastic , mean for reasons that are more venal than they are descriptive of art that fails to measure up. Another "egghead", a large  set of references to underscore a resolutely  idiotic set of responses.
y favorite line in this piece describes

Monday, March 17, 2014

Snakes on a plain

I wrote this back in  2009 and it merits reprinting again, since it is St.Patrick's Day and my sour  views on the occasion haven't changed. Nor are they less valid. --tb

It's March 17th again, and it's time to say again that I don't like being Irish on St.Patrick's Day. Being of Irish descent those who know my last name and aware as well that some consider me a poet, a lover of words used fully, have started to ask me what my plans were. Who’s party are you going to, what Irish Pub will you be drinking at, what Irish poet will you recite at the Open Reading of Irish Poetry?

Attending the idea that you would want to celebrate a culture rich in the greatest ringing glories of the English language comes the question about how drunk you intend to get, and will you remember the way back to your bedroom at your mother's house if you become unable to utter a comprehensible sentence. There are times I hate being Irish; the jokes at the expense of this culture make it obvious that White European Americans are the only ethnic group one can offend with impunity. The Holiday is a match to conspicuously open can of gasoline.

On The Day itself, many will inquire “Where’s your green?” All these questions on the single topic becomes nagging of a kind, the persistent inquiry into what someone else takes as an imperfection. My imperfection seemed to be that I didn't feel Irish enough. I don’t wear green on any day, it’s not my favorite color, and there’s a deep resentment at others who expect me and any other Irish American to play the shaleighlei -stroking trick monkey with green paper hats, green beads and affecting brogues as bogus as paper forks.

There’s a scene in Woody Allen’s movie “Annie Hall” when his character Alvy Singer berates a woman’s Jewishness with a number of wisecracks at the expense of the ethnic heritage he imagines her identifying with. The woman says nothing and Singer, feeling he’d crossed the line, gives a half-hearted apology for his jokes, to which she replies (and I paraphrase here) “No, it’s alright, I don’t mind being reduced to a cultural stereotype”

This was a “eureka” moment , since it articulated a foul mood I’d been in for years each time St.Patrick’s Day rolled around and Americans, of Irish Lineage and otherwise, rolled out their boxes of stereotypes: green beer, whiskey, green beads, glittered cardboard shamrocks, the whole disgusting offensive lot.St.Patrick's is a day on which those of us with family connections to the Emerald Isle are to relish the contributions of Ireland to the world by way of it;s poets and dramatists and novelists, whether Joyce, Yeats, John Millington Synge or Roddy Doyle and Seamus Heaney, an activity of worth if the proceedings were low key and attentive to what Irish writing sounded like and what cluster of emotions and experience it collectively expressed; it's a literature at war with itself and, as such, conflicts and tensions such as that results in a major poetry. Bombast, bottles and bullshit about all things Irish follow the lip service to the Literature, and St.Patrick's Day becomes no more than respectful of it's cultural name sake than does Cinco de Mayo or Halloween. It's an excuse to drink to excess and behave badly and be a lout. It was assumed that because of my last name and that I made a living both writing and selling books that I would be all over the Holiday and partake in the lugubrious, drunken wallow. I remember yelling at some partying moron with an Italian last name who was doing a miserable Barry Fitzgerald impersonation that I had it in mind to come to his house late at night and do some patently offensive immigrant through a bullhorn if he kept up with what I thought was a cultural slander. Of course he didn’t get what I was getting at, and I never showed up in his driveway to deliver on my promise, but the upshot is that he's never forced his face into mine after that with that wavering brogue.

I resisted the temptation to ask if he did Minstrel Show impersonations for black people on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, as the point was both overkill and would be lost on him.Say what you might about me, but I pride myself on the quality of issues I waste my breath on, a perverse pleasure that might reaffirm the cliche of the Irish being masters of futile eloquence. Doubtful; I just love the sound of my own voice and don't compelled to credit cultural determinism for what is either a gift or a curse( depending on circumstance, inspiration, and the quality of the coffee I might have been drinking when inspired to place a few words on the page, in rhythmic order, declaring war on a latest peeve or pestering pustule of aggravation). It must be said that despite that small country’s amazing contributions to World Literature, I’ve never felt much kinship with Ireland, nor with the native Irish I’ve met. What I've felt like through my life is a middle class white guy, Irish American, emphasis on the American. Irish-American.It's a different tribe.