Thursday, December 30, 2010
Monday, December 27, 2010
It's a habitual thought, a shudder of doubt when staking hands or crossing streets or visiting people who and which are so familiar,
so complete in intimate nuances and shared knowledge that they seem alien and strange, like specimens under glass in a museum I keep visiting for a lesson that just keeps turning the corner to the next gallery when my hard shoes hit the tile. Everything I look for is just out of focus, short of the designs I see and have drawn.
Believing the world is seeing beyond the box scores and trusting what it says on the certificate; the biography has already been started, a page of facts that have gotten absurdly complicated, in love their own inventory of details that are pressed now in their uniqueness, creased and pleated, ready for rough waters I imagine await at the end of the map, where boats fall off and drift with sails full of solar wind until I wake up and yawn and scan the items on the table, the newspaper, the dirty bowls, someone else's pack of Marlboro 100s. The universe is reassembled, seamless as death itself.
Years ago I wondered if there was life on other planets precisely at the time when she left me, or asked me to leave, I wondered who else in this darkness knows this hurt as well as I?, and I stared for hours at her apartment as if trying to make the walls fly away, to lift her off the sofa, away from her meal , and bring her into my arms where I stood in the dark, next to a payphone, with out change to call out far enough to the wilderness where there is only wind and tall grass, maybe houses at the bottom of canyons that you see from jets leaving your home town before you enter the clouds that will drag on the wingspan, I would stare and the walls would stay where the carpenters intended them to remain, there was nothing to see, but I stared harder, right through the building, to the stars I knew were there, receiving radio waves, TV shows, thoughts of strong desire translatable only by action, hear me, hear me, who else shivers in a dark corner in unique misery, genius of articulated regret, who else speaks when no language gets the purity of the idea right, just right, thus forcing one to live in craziness, at the end of the alley, drinking from bottles I've pealed the labels from?
As usual, the stars don't answer, they don't say a word.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Was I the only one who was overwhelmed with the feeling of someone who'd been sitting in the same room for hours suffering the unceasing prate of a handful of dull and dulling monologists who haven't a worthy anecdote for all their volumes of talk who had to resort to some sort of violent act in order to feel something again? Boredom is a major cause of revolutions and and riots; ennui is the ultimate social injustice, and mindless , jacked-up , effects-glutted spasms in other wise very talky, snail-paced , portentous narratives is a bad way to make a series of action thrillers.The old joke that Kenau Reeves was safely in his expressive range as his cast members, who were robots.
If nothing else, the viewer of TL gets to relish Jeff Bridges reprising his persona as Dude from Big Lebowski as he allows his computer program embedded hippie to emerge in the high contrast, glow in the dark worked that his Tron Legacy's terrain: "you're messing with my Zen thing, man."One appreciates as well the elegance that comes through what is an engaging if ultimately forgettable entertainment. It is refreshing when a competent entertainment is willing to let itself be forgotten
Monday, December 20, 2010
I turned on PBS the other night, discovered it was a fund raising night, and witnessed the creased likes of Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly performing truncated versions of their respective hits.The judgement of history is that the Vanilla Fudge's hit version of the Supremes standard "You Keep Me Hanging On", with it's slowed, grinding pace and well selected bits of bombast, holds up after the decades have rolled beyond the band's better days. Their arrangement , it seems, has become the standard, as seen with Rod Stewart's mastering of the song from his otherwise negligible Footloose and Fancy Free album. This was a case where the song found a singer, and hopes arose for a revitalization of Stewart's skills as a singer; a promise deferred. The verdict on Iron Butterfly's ironically iconic ditty "Inna Gadda Da Vidda" is harsher, a tragic rendition of a song that was tragic, awful, banal, grinding, monotonous, pretentious, stupid and obnoxious when it was first unveiled. Remember that attention grabbing egocentric in high school who dominated the social scene in class, assemblies, parties, dances and the like but sheer force of an overbearing and under talented personality? Remembering running into that guy in a store or a reunion and experiencing the shock of seeing the fool aged thirty or forty years and yet remaining the same grim slice of unjustified self-confidence? This song is that guy.
It reminded me why I've come to prefer straight ahead jazz in my later life.-tb
Let’s remember that
we’re strangers here ourselves
as we consider the years
we’ve had the same phone number,
the answering machine
is full of salesmen
stumbling over their scripts
and toll free exchanges,
get an extra room cleaned
for free and God, do I want a smoke.
None of us
who still have hair
believed our music would age as badly
as an ice cream flavor
involving spinach and Brussels sprouts,
all the guitar licks
leave an after taste
of hashish, a stench of love beads
doused in petuli oil,
what was sleek and smooth
is now grey and creased
like paper that’s been
folded and unfolded over many years,
yes, I tell my barber,
roll down my ears;
give me a buzz
the equal of a shot and a beer.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Three Months in the MirrorThree months in the mirror
- let's go to the kennel honey
and get one of those cute little moth pups
they flap their little wings
and fly around a light globe
and you can keep 'em in the closet
and feed 'em socks -
six months in the mirror
- honey let's go out naked tonight
with our moth puppy
don't forget the socks and the light bulbs
make sure it's not too warm
you don't want to burn his lttle wings -
the lights are soft, streets soft, skies soft,
the mirrors soft
It might be compared to Miles Davis when he was performing with his classic bands--John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock,Tony Williams, Ron Carter, et al-- with a long string of releases like Birth of the Cool and Kind of Blue (name your favorite here)and when he turned to the jazz rock fusion of Bitch's Brew and On the Corner, which featured the endeavors of Chick Corea, and John McLaughlin . The first mentioned releases are conspicuous examples of bands sensitive to each members nuances, strengths and weaknesses, quirks and signatures, combing with the material to offer adventurous improvisations as part of an ensemble effort, while with Bitch;s Brew Davis and his producers culled performances from hours of taped jam sessions where ideas and motifs were explored to produce albums that are, in effect, mosaics. The general tone of the later releases was less the sparks that occur between musicians confronting each other in performance but rather something more theatrical; thought the musicianship is rather magnificent and often times bracing on the later electric releases,they seem more in service to Davis' cantankerous muse , performing as directed. As much as I admire and respect the accomplishment of both the Beatles and Davis in their late work, studio craft and all, a larger part of me would have preferred if the musicians had found a way to expand their horizons without abandoning their identities as bands. The Rolling Stones sought to produce their own version of Sgt.Pepper with the releases of the bloated and wasted Satanic Requests, and it's a fine thing to appreciate the Stones self critical response to bad notices (and perhaps some sober listening to the record, after the fact); they abandoned their attempts to compete with the Beatles on their new turf and returned to riffy, R&B inflected rock and roll.
What hasn't been mentioned here is that Frank Zappa released his first Mothers of Invention album Freak Out on June 27, 1966, a full month before the Beatles released Revolver in August of that year. Zappa was an erratic, quizzical, quarrelsome presence, but he achieved things with that album that neither the Beatles nor the Stones came close to; both those bands were more influential in the pop music sphere, where their separate approaches to including cross genre and avant gard gestures made for pleasant and easily appreciated (and imitated)music for a large record buying public. Zappa, though, with his solid chops as composer, producer, guitarist, satirist and multi media maven, was miles further up the road and around the bend with respect to advancing the primitive ways of rock and roll into an art form. A good amount of Zappa's early music remains challenging to comprehend, which is another way of saying that it's hard to sit through and that it's downright ugly. The ugliness, though, wasn't merely my limited aesthetic; Zappa cultivated it, advanced it, gloried in it. Now that's integrity. But the stuff that sounded ugly decades ago still kills small animals today.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Saturday, December 11, 2010
"The Man Tree", a poem by Stanley Moss recently published at Slate, tackles the problem of human beings imagining themselves in Nature. That is , not as a part of Nature, but as Nature Itself. This an interesting premise, a philosophical trench war in the making, but Moss can't seem to step back far enough to see the essentials ; he cannot see the poem for the trees.
Stanley Moss is a man late for a train, grabbing a suitcase at random from a closet in disarray and then grabbing clothes and travel accessories at random, cramming them into each surviving crevice and cranny of the luggage piece's cramped capacity.
The point he seems to be driving away with this serial pictogram, that Humans have the conceit that they are Nature, that Nature's assets exist to make them healthier, stronger, happier, that Nature itself, divorced of Human vanity, is only an eternal process of birth and death that belongs to no single one of it's creatures--is obscured and , buried , smothered by an overdone analogy.
Moss loses clarity in this general scheme of associations; the shift from third person to first person voice is jarring rather than expansive.
This might have been an attempt to introduce another voice or subtly introduce another voice into this mixture, but without a cue , like italics or at least quotation marks to indicate that there another layer of significance is being introduce and that we're to read longer, deeper into the talk of trees, branches, mountains and conditions of ownership, this poem lapses not into obscurity (a curse as well as a compliment for a poet) but rather into incoherence.
The first person voice also works against the poem's initial quality, which is oracular, sage , an old teacher telling lessons in parable form.
Might the Sage suddenly be pointing a staff at a rapt listener while he raised his point, personalizing the lesson?
Could he suddenly be addressing himself in a third person fashion after Caesar, Henry Adams and Norman Mailer in order to address his own failings against the lessons he's trying to get across?
Perhaps, but given the busily poeticized incidentals we have--more special effects than writing that's especially effective --the interpretation becomes more interesting, more poetic than the poem itself. Returning to this poem after a moment to ponder what isn't provided makes this work's vacuity more obvious. It's an empty box, really, and it's not zen thing at all.
What Moss attempted was to isolate a fleeting perception, I think, but rather than convey in briefer, sharper images, he instead talks it too death by mounting an argument. So this poem suffers for the comprimise--to exclamatory to be a thing convincingly seen or felt, too brief to be compelling or even interesting as an philosophical insight.
Friday, December 10, 2010
There are smiles for days when the road just drags on in front of us, a continent framed by a steering wheel, there are tears in the landscape, every farm is selling soap. Turlock is rumored to be good money, Stockton a joke, and everyone in Berkeley was dropping money because the jokes of the night were between the legs of make believe boyfriends.
I long for the psychedelic dungeons when smoking was as much as ritual as a right hand over the heart for a flag while a brass band played a song with nothing but hard left turns, hands raised in stadiums, fists clenched in sports arenas, communities of guitars and baseball bats. Like, she was looking at me like I had something she wanted, I was looking at her amazed that I was seeing her again for the first time. Under the bridge we played rape, where we both lost, thinking that there was a bed room here once. All that there was left to do was make money.
At fifteen, I grew a beard and thought it would be cool to be on the side of a turn pike, next to the tollbooth on the worst winter Ohio could imagine, sticking my thumb out with no luggage whatsoever, going somewhere, a blank stare at the driver. At eleven, the 7-11 clerk goes to the bathroom with a titty mag. He said the Frankenstein mask was welded to his face, and the clerk laughed at this, knowing it was Halloween and most people had one joke they would tell all night about the costume they wore, and he laughed even harder when he tore the ID in half and told the asshole to get lost before he got his ass kicked.
She was an art student who spoke with lots of dots and silences when ever she came to a point, but her hand drove me mad, and I drove her insane, the crash of tidal basin waves like some continuous unwrapping of gifts while we exchanged submissions, legs over the balcony, ass grabbing on the museum fire escape, walls holding assemblages of attenuated thinking that would never as concrete as the slabs we wrestled on, rashes and red roses for the love of art and body parts. I grew up in a town where you could see the mayor of San Diego a block from his condo at a summer night in a pay phone next to a donut shop.
He complained that the planet was doing jumping jacks, but all I could sense was stillness that more than things not moving, it was as though we passed through membrane in a rent of our thinking and now breathed along side a world our blood no longer pulsed with, all I saw were work benches, tool boxes, different sized wrenches, disassembled engines, sun coming through windows painted black, "It was a dumb idea to do acid in winter in a garage so no one sees us," I said.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Today is December 8th, the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's assassination by that ignoble cipher Mark David Chapman, and as much as one wants to deny that they remain obsessed with the great glory of their fiery youth, a day of this kind makes me none the less want to meander around the old and overgrown ground of the past and wonder how things might have been different.
But the motives are selfish, as they always have been with me, and I am less concerned with the winsome utopia Lennon wanted to bring us to had Chapman not found his gun and his target, but rather with the decline of Lennon's music, post-Beatles. My position is simple and probably simple minded; Lennon was a pop music genius during his time with the Beatles, collaborating or competing with Paul McCartney, definitely at the top of his songwriting and performer game, and with the introduction of Yoko Ono into his life, we see a lapse into the banal, the trivial, the pretentiously bone-headed.
Yoko Ono did much to make Lennon the worst example of wasted genius imaginable. Though he did make some great rock and roll during his post-Beatle time, and wrote and recorded a handful of decent ballads, his artistry took a nose dive he never had a chance to pull out of. He was monumentally pretentious, head-line hungry, and cursed with an ego mania that over rode is talent. He stopped being an artist, and a rock and roller, and became the dread species of creature called celebrity; the great work that made is reputation was behind him, and there was nothing in front of him except brittle rock music with soft headed lyrics, empty art stunts, and drugs, drugs, drugs. A sad legacy for a great man. The fact of the matter is that Lennon's greatness was possible in large part because of his collaborations, full or partial, with Paul McCartney. Both had native musical instincts that balanced each other: the proximity of one to the other kept them on their best game.
The genius of the Beatle body of work versus the sketchy efforts from both Lennon and McCartney under their own steam bears this out. Lennon never found anyone to replace McCartney, and certainly never had anyone who challenged to do better, smarter work. Yoko certainly didn't give him anything that improved his music, and her lasting contribution to his career is to give him the errant idea that performing under your ability equals sincerity. It equaled excruciatingly inadequate music.
What's amazing for an anniversary as seemingly monumental as this is the paucity of new insights, previously unavailable information, or especially interesting critical estimations of their estimable body of work. It is a topic that has been exhausted, it seems, since scrutiny on all matters and personalities pertaining to the Beatles has been unceasing since their demise. We have, essentially, is reruns of our own memories, repackaged, remodeled, sold to us again, and endless of things we already know intimately and yet consume compulsively because we cannot help ourselves.
It cheapens the term, but "addiction" comes to mind.
There is nothing to add to the Beatles legacy except perhaps add our anecdotes to the ceaseless stream of words that seek to define their existence and importance even today. It's no longer about what the Beatles meant and accomplished in altering the course of history or manipulating the fragile metaphysical assumptions we harbor, for good or ill;we've exhausted our best and largest generalities in that regard, and the task will fall to historians, philosophers and marketers after most of us are dead as to what The Beatles and their songs are worth as art and commercially exploitable assets. For us there remains only a further dive into autobiography, where we might yet find some clue and excitement as to how these guys became an informing influence on our individual personalities.John Lennon and the Beatles changed my life in a major and unalterable way during their existence, and this was something I came aware of only after watching two hours of CNN wall-to-wall coverage of the assassination. I broke down, tears came, I was a senseless, doom-stricken mess, even though at the time I loudly bad-mouthed the pasty, hippie-flake dilettantism of his later work.
None of what I thought I mattered mattered in that instance.John Lennon was dead and it was like losing some essential part of myself whose loss would never be filled with anything even half as good or worthy.He still mattered to me in my life quite despite the fact that I'd had what amounted to an argument with him over is politics and his music during the length of his solo career, but despite my best efforts to break off into new sounds and ideas and leave Lennon and the Beatles behind, his death hit as would the death of a family member. For good or ill, his work and the crude course of his ideas helped in the formation of values and attitudes that still inform my response to celebrity and events, no less than Dylan, and no less than reading Faulkner, Joyce , or viewing Godard films. The deification that he's had since the killing is the kind of sick, fetish culture nostalgia that illustrates the evils of unalloyed hero worship, a need to have a God who once walked in our midst.
This bad habit turns dead artists who were marginally interesting into Brand Name , icons whose mention confers the acquisition of class and culture without the nuisance of having to practice credible discernment: every weak and ego centric manuscript Kerouac and Hemingway, among others , has been published, and the initial reason for their reputations, graspable works you can point to, read and parse, become obscured as a result.
Lennon, in turn, becomes less the musician he was and becomes, in death, just another snap-shot to be re-marketed at various times, complete with booklets containing hyperbole-glutted prose that , in essence, attempts to instruct me that my own response through a period I lived in is meaningless.
The hype utterly refuses to let newer listeners come to their own terms with the body of work. It is no longer about Lennon's music, it's about the promotion machine that keeps selling him. This is evil. Lennon, honest as he was most of the time when he had sufficient distance from his antics, would have told us to get honest as well and admit that much of his later music was half-baked and was released solely because of the power of his celebrity. This may well be the time for an honest appraisal of his work, from the Beatles forward, so that his strongest work can stand separate from things that have a lesser claim to posterity. Many magazines and other media have used Lennon and the Beatles for no than their value as nostalgia icons in an attempt pathetic glimpses of their own history. It's only business, nothing personal, and that is exactly the problem. Risky to assume what Lennon might ultimately have sounded like had he not been killed, since he had the ability to switch games suddenly and quickly so far as his musical thinking went. This was a constant quality that kept him interesting, if not always inspiring: there as always a real hope that he would recover inspiration, as Dylan had after some weak work, or as Elvis Costello had after the soggy offerings of Trust or Goodbye Cruel World. Even the weaker efforts of Lennon's' late period were marked by his idiosyncratic restlessness, and the songs on Double Fantasy, domesticated that they are, might well have been transitional work, a faltering start, toward new territory.
It's laughable that Lennon might ever have become as lugubriously solemn as Don Henley, but there's merit in saying that Lennon's work might become par with Paul Simon's: Simon's work is certainly more than screeds praising the domesticated life, and he is one of the few songwriters from the Sixties whose work has substantially improved over the forty years or so. If Lennon's work had become that good, on his own terms, it would have been a good thing, though it'd be more realistic to say that a make believe Lennon rebirth of great work would be closer in attitude and grit to Lou Reed and Neil Young, two other geezers whose work remains cranky and unsatisfied at heart. Since his death, it'd been my thinking that Lennon would have transcended his cliches as some of contemporaries had
Monday, December 6, 2010
The power resides in the not knowing when the effect takes place: the point is that you're not supposed to see the irony approaching, best shown in The Recognitions by William Gaddis, or The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Carey. The effects here are worked for artfully. Eggers stops just short of announcing that he's being ironic.
A magician who shows how their tricks are done perhaps ought not to be a magician: maybe an editor. Or a literary critic. Now that would be ironic. For editors, it is precisely the job of an editor to make manuscripts into books, to eliminate the fat, to blue pencil digressions and areas of receding interest and, believe, send pages back for rewrite. The tendency is to let manuscripts, "experimental" or otherwise, get sent to the press without editorial oversight. It's a waste of perfectly good forest.
Wisdom needn't be the censor that kicks in after a certain age, but it can have the effect of giving one a sense of how an interesting life can be told in an interesting way, ironic or otherwise. Best of all, though, an acquired wisdom ought to avail one with a self-editing instinct and to realize the difference telling a story and committing coffee talk to paper.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
This is a good selection from the cogent Robert Penn Warren, who was always leagues ahead of his rhyming peers in having the disciplining techniques work under his lines; with many a twentieth century poet unwilling to give up the ghost of rhyme, the effect was more special effects than expression. It sounded unnatural, at odds with a contemporary sensibility who's collective idea of poetic value wasn't in the martial law organization of words and their sound alike twins, but instead found the music in a vernacular , looser limbed speech. This is the sensibility I developed since I swapped out Bob Dylan for TS Eliot decades ago.
Warren, though, has a verbal since,a "flow", that wants to deliver the idea from murky origin somewhere in the rapidly firing imagination and the final , crystalized expression. There is no padding in this poem; it has a lean quality that brings out the emotional quality, the weariness of the speaker who is dually giving warning of one's idea of what one may accomplish in the world and the the bemoaning of a personal history of lessons learned the hard way.
....That shore of your decision
Awaits beyond this street where in the crowd
Your face is blown, an apparition, past.
Renounce the night as I, and we must meet
As weary nomads in this desert at last,
Borne in the lost procession of these feet.
Warren speaks of , I think, along the lines of a cliche often attributed to John Lennon, as in "Life is what happens while you're making other plans." This is the theme I find in much poetry that appeals to me, the major or minor revelation that the author's scheme of things, his abstractions as to how the world functions and how he or she was going to navigate the currents they thought predictable and manageable, are themselves a comfortable fiction imposed on a phenomenon that is hard, unyielding to individual expenditures of will power. Warren says here that at the end of it all we all meet not as brothers and sisters victorious in transforming history (in significant but more often trivial matters) but rather as veterans of the daily grind who have endured and survived daily rigors for no reason other than they had to. At this point, speaking to the moment of waking up from one's dream, one might finally make use of their imagination as it engages the world as it reveals itself, moment to moment. This is the point when life gets interesting.
Though I sloshed inside the machine
of her body, as our whites swam in a soft boil,
were wrung, hung,
or tried to,into the pain and ultimate
forgiveness of pines. …
I realize that one can't really depend on a poem to make sense in ways those in supermarket lines might mean the term, but there is a logic, an intuitive sense that we demand; these opening lines are less organic than they might be, seeming instead to be the result of an edit that rid this sentence of a qualifying phrase in the center of the expression, conflating washing machines, wombs and clotheslines in one gamy sequence. Not that the clause would have fared better with an explication, short or expansive; it was bad writing to begin with, a clumsy entrance into a badly decored room.
Paula Bohince, in fact, seems the voice of the workshop, with the sort of inarticulate , choppy cadences that are intended to duplicate the moment of realization, the epiphany,
The Y branch hoisting the heaving line,
spiders who'd snooze
in undershirts. Shook awake,
would climb air.
who was there
in every crevice.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Skyline had an impressive trailer, but once you pay for you ticket, you realize that every bit of impressive imagery and special effect was in the ad. The movie , a bone bare variation of The War of the Worlds, has the most flat-line scripts of the year; the dialogue lacks even the campy elan of a choice Roger Corman picture.
Corman , King of the B Movies when he was the lead exploitation director and producer for American International Pictures, at least winked to the audience about how silly his horror and science fiction plots were; one need only remember the serial coffee house bus buy / Beat artist wanna be /serial killer in the director's goony masterpiece Bucket of Blood as he keeps uttering "Art is a hitchhiker catching a ride on the omnibus of art". This is said by the schlep several times, adding a comic jargon to the bizarre series of murders that occur through the movie. Corman's signature in his minimalist absurdities was his willingness to dive without flinching straight into the grungy strands and strains of pop culture without flinching, concieve a rickety plot device concerning Aliens, Alienated Teens, marginalized personalities a mere nervous laugh away from a kitchen knife homicide, a monster in a hairy mask going crazy in the halls of an unmonitored girl's dormiotory--and make a fast bit of oddness that both amused amd distrubed; I always had the feeling that I was both the sophisticated viewer laughing at what was conspicuously idiotic, and that I was additionally the one with the abbrevidated interests that made exploitaters like Corman a success.
This is to say that his movies remain compelling after the shock value has worn off; Corman may well have been the premiere American Film Expressionist. After a time YOU get the feeling of what phrases and rationalizations might be cycling through the mind of a psychopath as he or she attempts to complete their obsessed missions in the world. The special effects, of course, are impressive to a degree, but you realize before long that that was the film maker's highest priority. "Skyline" has an an attractive veneer and can boasts some artfully composed images, but it is a sober minded, without a relief laugh, a monotonous series of sudden stops and starts meant to startle. We are merely annoyed.
The most glaring consequence in emphasising a few well tweaked effects is that the characters remain in a static situation--trapped in a pricey high rise condominium by convincingly repulsive aliens-- and that characters remain static as well. There are some attempts to bring some complexity to the character lives, with issues of infidelity and love vs individual survival filtered lightly through the inane banter , but none of this adds dramatic tension; all there is left to do is observe one character after another get gobbled up by alien creatures, watch the population of Los Angeles get lifted , Rapture like, to a serrated edged alien vessel, to wait for a surprise ending that's more dead end than brutal revelation.