Thursday, July 28, 2011

1987



Behind a garage someone is sleeping with the candy wrappers and empty cans. I try and think of the earth finally giving up its secrets in moments when there's nothing on the mind except panic.
In a kitchen a girl drops the coffee pot while her father reaches for a belt, whether one to take or one to strap on she doesn't know. I have slept in a dumpster on a night when none of the coffee worked
and I was wearing the legacy  
of dirt that are any man's bed to make.

Any man's bed to sleep in when it's a house that's been burning because pet food is historically cheaper than grub shaped to your tastes and because 
 the price of laundry is the erasure of the past that's
looking over the back yard fence when you're looking at the contorted swing set 
 and its uneven lengths of chain, dreaming of a higher class of bad luck, rotten wood decks, sliding swimming pools, gardens that get baked under desert winds,  wife swapping in the Seventies.

I crack my knuckles in a rustle of joints and light another Camel in the dark of another August afternoon. There is only traffic going to bars and homes and somewhere a cat is yowling at an empty dish,
somewhere dog scratches at a screen door, some times instinct is all I know and that's not even thinking, it's hunger on the naked face. The culture of the beach buries itself in the foam caused by Asian Freighters.

There's a table full of  friends 
 every winter night who blow smoke rings at the moon that makes its hesitant escape.  There are days you can't give away in laundry mats when there's a homeless man leaning against the spin cycle who won't explain why there the cut across his forehead but does reveal hours of banter as he deconstructs the meanings of the lives he says he's been because there are no year books for the liars club.

All our agendas are face down in the dirt; we see the surface of the soil, ants carrying ten times their weight, too much free time~ on loose change in our lives. A young girl leaves her kitchen to talk to her brother in the living room where he watches literature curl up and die as the screen writhes in a spasm of images from all over the globe to seduce the vision of one pair of eyes that hasn't learned to imagine the face of God or blue coat  calvary and their horses in the banks of clouds that are over him every day of his life.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Amy Winehouse, RIP




This is too sad for words, all the talent that Amy Winehouse had  now silenced because she couldn't muster up the strength to confront what was killing her.  Her song "Rehab"  showed she had an ironic awareness of her drug use , but this demonstrates, again , that self-knowledge unaccompanied by action is inadequate . The insidious thing about being an addict is that the thought of stopping what you know will silence you forever abates quickly after the craving takes over and the first FIX of the day is taken. Self awareness vaporizes,you forget or ignore the truth of the matter and wallow in the nod and the eventual panic to get still more drugs. As talented and smart, even brilliant, as Winehouse was, she seemed more or less without a clue to the severity of her situation. Drugs make you stupid, they reduce your life to a banal statistic despite whatever genius potential you began life with, they kill you and make you another deceased cipher. The real tragedy is less that a brilliant artist is silenced too young in her career, but that we are bound to keep reading variations of this sad scenario for the rest of our natural collective lives.

The moral of this tale is simple: Save your own life.
This is a nicely written tribute by NY Times culture monger Guy Trebay on how the recently deceased Amy Winehouse will last, but it presents what I think will be the sort of article that will dominate the flux of Winewhouse postmortems to come: more concern with what she looked like rather than how she sounded. It's a paradox that on the one hand the host of articles that are yet to come will praise what were he conspicuous gifts, that unique voice (a combination of Billie Holiday and Diana Ross) and a surreal grit as a lyricist, and yet have the conversation drift, as if directed by gravity, to the matter of her appearance. I sympathize with Trebay, who was required to write so many snappy column inches with so little actual Amy Winehouse music to refer to. It's not as if there was something to surmount in her art as there was in Sinatra's when his voice deepened and grew coarser, darker; he changed the way he sang and selected different songwriters to write for him, to brilliant effect. It's not like she's had an evolution as a lyricist, like Joni Mitchell or Elvis Costello, both of whom started out as awesomely gifted who, with time, transcended their skills and became pretentious and pedantic. No, there is only a very slight bit of studio work in her brief stay with us, enjoyable , full of promise and , alas, she's dead.  This isn't unusual for an icon who didn't release many studio albums during her life time. It was a mere two for Winehouse, and basing a discussion of her work solely goes static before long. The valid conclusion is for us to ponder what might have been and then give a sigh, but since we're not yet finished wringing our hands over her passing, we have pundits applying a slipshod semiotics... to her sense of style , dealing in tortuously strained metaphors to wrench more cultural significance from her departed presence. It strains credulity and it insults her fans and it insults her.

The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

Traffic's" Low Spark of High Heeled Boys", the title track of  what is arguably their best album, is one of those tracks that starts so evocatively, with mystery, hesitation, a  suggestion of paranoia as one progresses into an imagined unknown that goes sour quickly. I have long admired the songwriting and vocal skills of Traffic, Winwood especially, but cringed mightily when they attempted long improvisations. There was the idea in the Sixties that rock music had come into it's own as having an extensive enough technique to support extensive soloing, an idea that, save for the emblematic albums of a select few bands, was more conceit than fact. The hunt-and-peck soloing by Winwood on piano and the generally rasping attempts by saxophonist Chris Wood to emulate Wayne Shorter does a serious disfavor to this genuinely haunting melody and lyric (and Winwood's soulfully restrained vocal). 

The hesitant meandering makes you wish they had called in some guest stars for the solos, perhaps Keith Emerson for the piano and Dick Heckstall-Smith for the saxophone .

 What the lyrics suggest, sorrowful consequences resulting from a character entering into a  problematic relationship without an idea of  what he or she wants, is diffused along with the  sluggish improvisation; while the middle section scrapes along without a change in tempo, and the pace is reduced to foot dragging, you imagine what this melody and lyric would have sounded like had their been sensible virtuosos at the ready, musicians who could dig deeper into their technique and opened up tonal moods and create textures of conflicting harmony and counter rhythms that might could have created true feelings of the senses released, made transcendent from mere gravity. 

 Miles Davis , Phillip Glass tand  the never-dying Pink Floyd  (among many others)show us that how to use a minimal amount of notes and not sound empty. The band on this track, I think, is playing at their peak. I wish they'd done better with such an amazing tune.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tarantino

Quinten Tarantino, like Brian De Palma, likes to dress up in the old clothes of directors he admires; unlike De Palma, this cut and paste style has for Tarantino, resulted in occasional brilliance and one legitimate masterpiece, Pulp Fiction. The energy and playfulness, however, has become wearisome as this fellow repeats and reiterates his moves, stylistically and intellectually. "Death Proof", his contribution to the "Grind House" collaboration with Richard Rodriguez, was something of a "Pulp Fiction" knock off, overly stylized dialogues about not much in particular slowing down the narrative momentum like a big thumb on an old turntable, and "Inglorious Basterds" was this film maker at his most hollowed-out, glib, verbose, lazily constructed, scenes drawn out and shocks and surprises twists slipped in along the way as a means to distract us from the fact that Tarantino's bag of tricks was a small one to begin with. 

The irony about the matter of Tarantino is that while he maintains the loves, admires and discusses eloquently the elegant leanness and clean procedural logic of genre films, he cannot make films near their perfection because of his verbosity; as Duncan Shepherd wrote, he likes to hear himself write. It's not that action genre films cannot have compelling or intellectually compelling dialogue; the problem lies in Tarantino's deficiencies as a screen writer. What he thinks are layers of ironic misdirection,where absolute monsters or amoral reprobates are given reams of well -honed speeches to recite between spasms of bad-doings are, in fact, padding and time wasting.

 Even Elmore Leonard, the king of dialogue, knows to tailor his exchanges to advancing the action and the surprises.Leonard  has sage advice to those younger writers who desire to have readers finish the books they write or the movies they author:"
Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip."

Indoor Fireworks




This fan video of Elvis Costello's beautiful song "Indoor Fireworks"  was posted on Facebook the other day, and there came along a dissenting voice in the comment stream that Costello was anti-women. Not an atypical response to Costello's work, his early albums especially, and none too subtle either. The conversation got to the point where the Costello critic remarked that the intensity and persistence of songs about anger, rage and hatred revealed a homoerotic tension.

Indoor Fireworks

We play these parlour games
We play at make believe
When we get to the part where I say that I'm going to leave
Everybody loves a happy ending but we don't even try
We go straight past pretending
To the part where everybody loves to cry

(chorus)
Indoor fireworks
Can still burn your fingers
Indoor fireworks
We swore we were safe as houses
They're not so spectacular
They don't burn up in the sky
But they can dazzle or delight
Or bring a tear
When the smoke gets in your eyes

You were the spice of life
The gin in my vermouth
And though the sparks would fly
I thought our love was fireproof
Sometimes we'd fight in public darling
With very little cause
But different kinds of sparks would fly
When we got on our own behind closed doors

(chorus)
It's time to tell the truth
These things have to be faced
My fuse is burning out
And all that powder's gone to waste
Don't think for a moment dear that we'll ever be through
I'll build a bonfire of my dreams
And burn a broken effigy of me and you


Elvis Costello is not anti-woman, as any number of love ballads from his prolific pen attest; one might as well say that Dylan is anti woman, or John Lennon  (for "Run for Your Life") for that matter. People seem to have a hard time when a lyricist goes beyond the usual ABC's of love songs and explore the darker issues, the sources of anger, the true sting of friction between two people. The point is not to make the listener comfortable with some warmed over platitudes about true love and the heartbreak of it all, but to have the listener recognizes the conflicting passions in themselves and to grapple with their own demons. His aim is true. You are ignoring huge swaths of Costello's work which, although noted for its anger and recrimination of failed relationships, has also shown a plentitude of emotional perspectives. I don't know about homoerotic tensions as it applies to his work--it is a reach (and not a reach around) to say that his aggressively male viewpoint in his early tunes hints at a gross case of denial and submersion. It is more accurate and more coherent and less obfuscating to say that his anger is the product of a young man who nursed his hurts , as young males are won't to do.

I would offer up that Costello doesn't sugar coat the emotions that most of us are prey to with the contrived resolutions that make discussing this things acceptable in mixed company. This is not Ricky Nelson's neighborhood; Costello, following no less an example than Dylan (and Lennon) creates another metaphorical system over the ache and anger, something closer to the truth. Art is meant to create catharsis, to raise the first thing we garner from an introductory aesthetics lecture, and catharsis is something that Costello creates more often than not.

But we have to examine the work further in light of an accusation that Costello is a misogynist by default. He, or his narrators, indicts himself/ themselves in a good many of the songs from the period, and as his career progressed and he got older, his lyric stances in terms of relationships became broader, more nuanced. The song in question, "Indoor Fireworks", shows this, as he speaks in terms of "we", "us", et al. Costello's narrative concept of problematic relationships became much more subtle, centering on the notion that relationships/unions/marri​ages work out or fail on the energies, talents, expectations and willingness (or lack of willingness) on the part of two people.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

De Palma

Brian De Palma is a film maker who obviously covets the genius of other film makers, so much so that he reflexively duplicates their trade mark signature gestures as his own. This does occasionally result in some exciting film work, such as the staircase scene from "Battleship Potemkin" artfully crafted into De Palma's "The Untouchables". 
More often, though, the unending of one homage after another homage, tributes, plagiarisms is not unlike a three year old's version of a a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; they are virtually unwatchable, dripping with references, abrupt and illogical in their construction. De Palma, in fact, seems far too often to contrive a story just to insert his neurotic virtuoso camera tricks.

He desperately wants to be taken seriously, to be considered an artist .and yet the best he can do is occasionally approximate the contours of another film maker's inspiration. No can really watch "Blow Out" and not think of the two superior films that inspired it, "Blow Up" and Francis Coppola's ingenious Americanization of the film, "The Conversation"; both those film makers had an idea of what the trying to do. The Untouchables and Casualties of War succeed as film narratives because De Palma had good scripts he hadn't the chance to alter, "improve" on , nor had the liberty to ignore. He is a director who's body of work would be more impressive if could reign in his desire to short-cut his way to genius.

 De Palma seems to select what scenes he would like to plagiarize and then fashion a movie around them; that would be an interesting technique if it had better results, but it doesn't. Saying that De Palma's style is "post- modern pastiche” is a nice way of saying that this director hasn't an interesting idea of his own. The tradition has been , and stubbornly remains, that younger artists are influenced and inspired by older artists ; the younger artists, those few who will rise as being notable on their own terms, will imitate and then mold their influences with their own experience and sensibility. It's a compelling dialectic. De Palma's work is a good example of what is fatally wrong with the post modern method: take various scenes from other film makers and then do a puppet show .

 Carrie, Casualties of War, The Untouchables and Carlito's Way a few are indeed fine movies, but one can say that they are the least "De Palma like" in the body of work. He does good work when he sticks works in service to a good script; he had the potential of being a very good "Hollywood hack", an under appreciated designation to those directors who take assignments and produce powerful movies that resists fashion and politics. Perhaps he should have aspired to be Robert Aldrich rather than Alfred Hitchcock. De Palma revealed technical virtuosity, yes, but unlike those he admires, he could translate his personal quirks and issues into a compelling art. Scarface is a classic merely because it is glutted burrito of excess; true to a post modern nature, one cannot decide if it is intended as parody or critique. I doubt De Palma knew either, as the increasing extremes of debauched sex, violence and vulgarity achieves not catharsis but rather the opposite, apathy. The last few minutes, the climatic shoot out with Sonny's invitation to "say hello to his little friend", is wonderful, of course, but it is the only thing in the film worth talking about these decades later. It is simply bad movie made memorable solely because it was so expensive and garnish .

Friday, July 15, 2011


"You are not your circumstances" is how a twelve step adage goes, in response to someone who might have shared that their life is out of control, seeming to be determined by external forces and events of the past. You are not your circumstances if you've come to this moment of dissatisfaction with the way things have turned out so far; now is the time to learn what can be of use in one's upbringing and background, now is the time to discard what only stalls, stymies and stultifies. Now is the time to come fully into one's own.


Jeff Skinner, gets that struggle with his poem Self-Made; the endless struggle of any awake citizen to rise above the chains of biologically inscribed instinct and habits formed as a consequence of a succession of cross-generation decisions. The urge he gets to address is the memory from before birth--to borrow Poe's phrase--to suss through the particular instances that have formed key elements of one's profile. There are so many things that have made up the essentials of where we come from--the question after the analysis, the inventory of origins and likely expressions in current time is where one goes when they've exhausted the examination. The inspection, one hopes, is a preparation for the next level , the next set of results and consequences that are truly one's own, not the outcome of forces outside one's grasp. It's the classic existential dilemma--the goal of one's life being not to live successfully , but rather to live authentically, solely responsible for the content of one's life.


Before puberty I knew the I: Mowgli, Maris,
Boy shadowing Tarzan; Ethnographer of dirt kingdoms;
Scientist of worm and dandelion blow;
Impresario of The Ant & Beetle Circus; witness to twisting deaths
of caterpillar and moth (placed gently in the web
by hand). After puberty I no longer knew who came
and went within this I but knew a woman
was somehow implicated; somehow a woman carried,
beneath her clothes, a major clue.
Everything I had I gave to seeing through that fabric.
I never believed in the social me—loath to speak,
to intrude—though he did what he could.
On clear nights, frost entered my definition, as did
the language I learned at work with men.
When my father died, his self exploded
invisibly.

It's a heady task, and Skinner's dizzying litany of the powerful influences that dog his heels and define each gesture , turn of phrase and slumping posture makes it seem that there is nothing one can do to upset the lineage and emerge as a stand alone sort of guy. He never believed in the "social me"--given the circumstances of the company he kept, he could take on numerous voices, tones, expressions, talk fluently on many different subjects while having interest in none of them--there is a only the urge to get through the hour and return to some private space where one isn't obliged to maintain to maintain a presentation of self to the social world that cannot be avoided.


But I felt particles streak through my body.
I am accumulation, lust, barrels of Seagram's,
memory, a few grains only of selflessness. My children
were made, not begotten. They carry my letter
of recommendation in and beneath the skin–proteins, enzymes,
electrolytes. I have offered it all up for renovation
many times with a smirk and crossed fingers, once in earnest.
Every day I am forgotten, a new man.

The tragedy , the irony is that Skinner's narrator, a Prufrock for the 21st century, is precisely the circumstances he passes through, past and present; the only thing to do is change the definitions of a situation that haven't changed , even with the benefit of education and experience. He is an accumulation of traits, a pastiche of attitudes, a juke box of poses and personalities that can be drawn up and modified and fitted to the situations he finds himself in. Repetitive that these situations are, as intimately as his boredom with the contents have become, it becomes a matter of play, of finding a nuanced way to play the role he finds himself in, a new way to read the script.


I have offered it all up for renovation
many times with a smirk and crossed fingers, once in earnest.
Every day I am forgotten, a new man
.


He resembles a jazz master looking over the sheet music of an old chestnut--"Autumn Leaves", "Misty", "You Stepped Out of a Dream"-- and considers how he might yet revive the same old notes of the melody , where to build tension, where to release it, when to rush the improvisation ahead of the tempo and when to slow it down. It's about creating a performance that is singular , unique, using familiar material to create and sustain a coherent stream of mood and emotion. Skinner's character finds different ways and motivations to make his paces more inspired and spontaneous, and declares in doing so that he is a new man each day, a self-invented voyager constructed from borrowed parts. It's an intriguing compromise--the desire to be the Ayn Randian superman raising above the petty and false moral structure and instead become an artist, of sorts, working splendidly, proudly with the materials at hand.

Sheetrock


Sheetrock
Sophie Cabot Black
As if almost too late we ripped into each other
With whatever we had: mouth, feet, fingers,
Teeth. The resolute tools of two
Lowly carpenters who wandered
In and decided to change what they saw
As longing. The contract was full
Of how we were not to look up as we tore down
To the impossible. To begin again
Is to have no idea where this will go
As we climb around each other
Raising dust. Whole sections in our hands.
To dismantle is not about surrender; the way
In is the way out. As long as
We are here, to do something. Everything.
We give into things all the time, like age, taxes, obnoxious passengers we share our bus seats with:  a life sometimes seems like a series of proclamations announcing a sequence of lines-of-death , principles one will not betray, only to surrender willingly, without a fight. It's less interesting to consider why one abandoned non negotiable positions --firm moral standards in contemporary discussions are fictions we cling to and gauge our success at adhering to them as if we were coaches judging their team's point averages through the season--than the intensity of the abandonment.
Exposing posing is the key here; there is a mania in the groping and tearing, the fingering and gripping, there is the urgent thrust of lust in the rather primal need to remove any pretense of ordering particulars and to make everything and everyone in the room at that moment supine, compliant, equal in a tangle of parts , wires and segments of hard surfaces.  Black works the metaphor with exceptional grace and punch; she does not belabor the image, nor does she make as if this a sort  of dialectic that will offer up a newer, fresher,  wiser synthesis of older ideas after they come into violent conflation; 
 Black here gives us a poem where , rather suddenly, intensely, convincingly the lovers are carpenters, tradesman of a sort digging into the structure that housed the prohibitions against their coming together. Some new will be built, no doubt, something will take the place of the rickety construction that had been there before, but nothing can be built until something else is removed, bluntly, abruptly; the rules of attraction are a plan of action  that denies the grip of the past and ignores the consequences that may come to visit in the future. What matters is the desire to transgress the boundaries, tear out what was useless and explore with each limb and digit what was hidden by the layers of wire, sheet-rock, plaster and nail studs.
to dismantle is not about surrender; the way .In is the way out. As long as
We are here, to do something. Everything.
The prospect of making love, of making something new, both relationship and the likelihood of creating new life, goes only after one becomes willing, in the allure of a desired end, to rid his or her self of things , ideas,  friends and family that they've outgrown. One is in a place to do something, anything, to give themselves to the natural habit of wrecking what was in place, scratching their head sabout what to do now, and then to build frantically. 

tT















Saturday, July 9, 2011

Betty Ford

Betty Ford:a nice lady.
 I went to a desert town called Rancho Mirage to dry out.

Only July 16, 1987 I was led by the arm, literally, into the admission offices of the Betty Ford Center in the dry flat lands of Rancho Mirage, California, a community in the Palm Springs area. The center was famous for treating celebrity alcoholics and drug addicts and had , from appearances, a reasonable success rates for helping their famed clientele achieve a better existence. And sometimes they didn't. I didn't care much about that at the time, though, as I was a trembling, shot-out drunk who hadn't a coherent thought in his head who knew only one thing, that I couldn't stop drinking on my own and that  my life was a gruesome plate of self-designed misery as a result. A sympathetic manager at the company I worked at the time found a drug-treatment clause in the company insurance plan and, the day after my natal birthday, my sister drove me in my brother's BMW over the mountains and far away into the  egrigious heat of the desert, to that town called Rancho Mirage, to dry out. All  I wanted was to stop hurting and to stop causing hurt.

My prayer was answered. I have been sober since that nervous day.

Ten days into my 28 day stay at the facility, Betty Ford herself came to speak to the current crop of patients, something she did regularly. She was a small woman, surprisingly so, almost frail looking, but she had a sparkle in her eye indeed--I remember at the time that her cheeriness seemed chronic and irritated me to no end--and she had a way of lifting her head , chin up, as she spoke, as if rising from some bad news and tragic consequences to surmount , in large and small bounds and steps, what set backs befell her.  She told us her story, her drunkalogue, as it were, telling us how bad it became for her and then related the redemption and recovery, the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous that supported her when her sobriety was tested.  She related to the varied assembly that she had found a plan for living, something that I was in the market for.  She wished us well and godspeed on our respective paths to sobriety, signed our institution -assigned Big Books, and then left .

After my 28 days at the Ford Center I returned home and went straight back to the meetings I attended before ; as I've said , I have not had a drink since that time and now am mere days away from celebrating 24 years of continuous sobriety. I credit what I've learned and practiced in the already mentioned 12 step group for the relatively easy time I've had of it avoiding mischief, but the Betty Ford Center was something that was available to me at that precise moment in time; the only thing I did was to stop saying no to whatever  good opportunities presented themselves and went into the Center with my ears open and my mouth closed. I thank Betty Ford for the good work she did in establishing the facility. I thank her for helping me get the break I needed to discover something greater than myself.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

an obtuse 4th of July

Photo by Ted Burke (C) 2011
An
Barry Goldensohn istests our patience with his new poem on slate, Old Home Week, an attempt to undermine the kind of Norman Rockwell America of quaint small towns united on simple and compelling virtues that withstand the faddishness that is promiscuously described as the tide of history. We have imagery taken from greeting cards, brochures and old Colliers magazine covers and photo essays, small business people, farmers, you people old gathered together pay tribute to the native sons who have fallen in war and those who have returned to the homes they protected. It's a wobbly construction with too many loose parts piled atop each other--there is a surfeit of detail and characterization that places this poem squarely in that phantom zone between poetry and prose, which is to say that it is an amorphous blob that neither satisfies nor convinces as poetry or prose. A mixture of the two, poetry and prose, can potentially be an exhilerating and daunting experience, of course, but it success depends on the completing the third part of the dialectic, the synthesis that is wholly and entirely new where elements of both the thesis (poetry) and antithesis (prose) are vlolently combined and the results are a means of expression that extend the senses and add to our perceptions. Goldensohn, though, plays it straight and attempts to enliven this antiquated diorama with an oh wow turn, a visit from the world unseen

Two brothers dead in one campaign
mosey over, AWOL as usual, for beer
and to read their names on the brass plaque again
fixed to an obelisk in the square..


Despite references to recent and current wars and some details that place contemporary things in the company of older generation's legacy, Goldensohn is remarkably obtuse here, first with the Norman Rockwell set up he attempts to expand upon: with decades of well publicized bad news coming from small towns , revealing small towns as places of moral certainty and stable relationships is itself unconvincing. This is a tableau that might have been convincing fifty or sixty years ago, before the dismantling of the middle class was a common discussion topic. Now it is just quaint and false to the aware reader. Goldensohn means well, of course, and there is a logic here that is appealing as a consideration, if not as poetry.?I would say that Goldensohn, though an inconsistent poet, is still a patriot for daring to challenge the conventional wisdom about great wars America has been fortunate enough to win. It is not the poet's task to co-sign bullshit, patriotic or otherwise; while one can be grateful for the sacrifice of those who fought to preserve our freedoms, one must be clear that such celebrations produce an unquestioning group think that will use the rhetoric of the 4th of July and of World War 2 as a moral obligation that justifies bad wars, like Vietnam, and Iraq. The praise we shower on the brave men who died in the first two mentioned wars becomes propaganda when applied to more current, questionable adventures. Goldensohn's point, blunted by poor execution, is that we have to remember the history of the wars we commerate; the causes, the stakes, the righteous reason why we fought. And that any war, good or bad, is involves untold amounts of tragedy,grief, bitterness.

The dead brothers, soldiers both, appearing at the get together and reading their names on the honoring plaque is cornball on the face of any already reliably predictable motif. This would have been fine, I suppose, as an idea for a Twilight Zone episode, but I think even Rod Serling would have rejected it because it's such a thick slice of audience-baiting hokum. It's the same thing as the Surprise Twist Ending  You Know is Coming in Every M. Knight Shyamalan Movie. This poem, in fact, reads like a hurried precis, a pitch for what turns out to be an under imagined fantasy. It's untidy, hackneyed and string pulling. It is not a good poem.

July madness

Yes, San Diego is hot in July, beastly sometimes, that insects chew your collar kind of heat that feels like a combination of itches and small bites as you tough out the day in a smelly t-shirt and a bottle of tap water that has the chill of room temperature coffee. Tell anyone who lives elsewhere in the contiguous United States that you're unhappy with the way the July climate of San Diego has taken to expressing itself on your particular day off and you're likely to be laughed at, slapped, spit upon, mocked with sock puppets questioning the legitimacy of your family line. Worst, someone you care for dearly, or at least took to be someone somewhat sane and not given to hasty reactions, would slam the phone down on you make you disappear from her Facebook simulacra. Horrible things to ponder while you stand over a retail sales counter in that smelly t shirt ringing up sales of nicks and nacks and varied  punk bric an brac made in China, but alas,  cooler climes.

"My testicles  are in a twist, bitch" is what my ex girl friend in Detroit told me.  She's now fifty seven years old and now works in the Cass Corridor where she manages a Swedish Black Metal Cafe called Bub's.

"All my studs are rusted and no ointment cools the irritation, motherfucker". I said it was good to hear her voice and wondered aloud if her Swedish  Black Metal Cafe was making any money. Money was the reason I called, as I lent her train fare to Amtrack her way back to the D after she visited me in Pacific Beach five years ago, both of us staying in my walk in studio apartment; it was the same thing as locking two hungry baders in a dark , empty sardine tank.  "Jesus , Ted, your tunes are lame" she said at one point, "I mean, where are your Skull Drag discs, where's the killer Fist Taco Grope Technique jams? No one cools a hot day like Slit Tongue Manicure, fuckin A, Jack..." It went on like that, ugliness and snarls. Even the garbage complained about our noise.

"You ain't seeing no goddamned money til you say something clever about the weather" she declared, and then she yelled to someone "Gapper, make me a Psychotic Break,  extra lemon".

I had another call coming in just then. I told my ex to hang on while I got the call. "Hold on just a second. But remember, I can really use the money."
"Eat a crab apple: she said, " hurry up". I answered the other line. It was Mike from Detroit calling.

"BURKE YOU FUCK FACED TRAITOR!! DETROIT IS THE ROCKING  CAPITAL OF THE WORLD, MAN IT'S HOTTER THAN A SPENT CAP O JAVA GRUNION, ACE. FLIES AND SKEETERS AND BIRDS THAT LOOK LIKE WINGED FITS OF HARD TAR ARE FALLING OUT OF THE SKY, ALL OVER LIVERNOISE, ALL OVER EIGHT MILE, COVERING JOY ROAD, FUCKIN' A. I am coming out there in couple of days and I need you to know one thing; WHERE'S MY  MONEY...!@!@#!"

Great.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Doom Patrol

The super hero movies of summer have been awful so far, X Men First Class feeling as rote as a instructions on how to  use make noise with a doggie chew toy, Thor turning Jack Kirby's peerless, dynamic design from the original comic book  into designs rejected from The Little Mermaid, and Green Lantern looking like a bad compromise amongst a handful of mediocre fan boys. I honestly don't hold much hope for the pending release of Captain America. I am afraid the unthinkable has happened to  Fan Boy Nation: WE ARE SICK TO DEATH OF SUPER HERO MOVIES, or rather, we are tired of discovering that the super hero adaptations are substantially sub-stellar, ie, not super . The irony of it all, it seems, is that as a teen reading my big fat share of DC, Marvel , Charleton comics, with occasional excursions into Gold Key and Dell titles, I read my comics as though they were movies and I was sitting ina theatre  during a Saturday matinee watching them; the artwork, the paneling, the crashes and destroyed cities were all perfectly fluid and dynamic, all the bombastic dialogue and simplistic exposition was perfectly plausible. The thrill of seeing "live" depictions of these tales comes down to little else than that the novelty has worn out, that there are not enough Sam Rami out the with the genius to make a comic book come alive on the screen with all the elements being seamless, balanced, without a worried conceit . We are perhaps simply tired of seeing directors try to shoe horn actors into fantastic bits of computer generated animation:  we wind up nagging about the surface details and miss everything of those old matinee adventures when the tale carried the rest of the afternoon. I wonder : why not just make a Superman reboot using nothing but computer animation? The technology is good enough.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Hip hopping to the punch line

Vanilla Ice.
In 2009, Slate's Jody Rosen had finally  gotten tired of the joke that 'White people can't rap", and good for him. I wrote and slim rant a couple of years ago that whites are the last minority group one can make safely make fun of, free of the fear of being condemned outright and en masse. Rosen's  blog entry is  here  .On this matter, it would seem an effort on the part of purists to more or less undermine the idea that anyone of   pale countenance'  can have  hip hop street cred; not an organized conspiracy, just a habit of ridiculing the possibility . This , thought, constitutes the proverbial that has left the barn years ago.


Rap has been around for decades, it has saturated the mainstream culture it was trying to undermine and has, in fact, become the common expression of impatient self-gratification. Rap is no longer a black thing exclusively; while it remains an created by black musicians and whose architects and innovators remain predominately black, the style has been absorbed by young white people who've taken it as their own. White people can rap, some of them can do it brilliantly, many others succeed to lesser degrees. This is something black-centric exclusivists need to get over; music evolves, music changes, music is taken up by others who hear and adapt to their experience and sense of what makes musical and emotional sense; this is how musical forms remain viable, that is to day, dynamic. This has been the case for jazz, for blues, for soul, for rock; change or become an oldies act.