Thursday, December 26, 2013

Song Cycle by Van Dyke Parks: Americana Sublime

Song Cycle -- Van Dyke Parks
Purchased for a buck at a garage sale, an over-busy if an often inspired bit of Sixties art-pop. The ambition is the attempted embrace of the width and breadth of American popular music, and though Parks fails to accomplish this, the disc is admirable, with the embrace of Gershwin, ragtime, and Charles Ives being nicely enveloped within a semi-scored album where the "concept" album achieves what other rock art music fails to get; the concept meets up with continuity. Always interesting, though Parks' voice is nasal and over-enunciated. His lyrics have been described as "esoteric Rod McKuen", which is fine if that's all you can think of when poetry comes to mind. It reads more like if James Merrill rhymed consistently in his elongated stanzas. Fantastic job on Randy Newman's "Vine Street". "...But, in truth, more often I just reach for Harry Nilsson...." is what critic Miles Milo said in an online forum when the chatter dwelled on this disc for a few postings. Point taken, in as much as Nilsson was as hooky as he was the musically brilliant; he was as much a wise guy as a whiz kid. That said, I am getting more into Song Cycle the third and second time I gave it spin today, and for all the obvious trappings of Sixties simulacra when it comes to replicating older regional styles, ala Sgt. Pepper (a curse a few survived when they tried the album-as-art business), this particular disc has integrity and some guts under the esoterica. Parks' version of this exotica is lusher, more loving, and akin to what E.L. Doctorow had done in his period novels Ragtime and World's Fair: the resplendent vision of a more elegant and simple time is made odd and unfamiliar as contemporary psychological crises emerge from the tasseled finery. His perversions, his dissonances are delightfully bracing, if such a thing can be; the smart move is that he goes after Ives and molds the orchestrated and grandiose Americanism into something large, a little insane but not evil by any means. The ideas work as a unified whole. His grasp of orchestration and classical composition exceeds what Frank Zappa brought to the public. Plus, "Vine Street" is simply one of the best covers of a Randy Newman tune I've come across in my years. An additional plus is his deconstruction of "Donovan's Colours"; the original melody is all but obscured and obliterated outright by Park's inspiring pile-ups of sound and overt virtuosity. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Shann Palmer

I never got to meet poet Shann Palmer , who passed away yesterday , but I did get to know  her at Slate's now defunct reader forum, Poems Fray. There was a loyal group of us who, as forums tend to be, were passionate  , insightful, sometimes angry and excitable to varying degrees, and we opined at length on matters of poetry, poets, poetics and ,yes , poetry again. Many of us were poets on the forum and a few of us were actually good. Shann, though, was not "actually good" at writing poetry; she was bloody superb and had a way with building a series of sentences that formed perfectly etched stanzas, the stanzas in turn following a thought through its permutations in the real world, remembered and current, and her conclusions were nearly always the perfect summations of  a poet, a person who , though perhaps cranky, tired, in love, angry or joyous, knew what she didn't know and looked forward to investigating the next incident, the next adventure. Her images were clear and uncluttered, beautifully spare, her voice was the plain speaking but literate combination of someone thinking out loud and telling you what there is in her world . She was one of the most intimate poets I have read--in my readings there nearly always seems to be a confidant, a husband, another person being spoken to, or rather , spoken with. Shann's gift, her gift to us, was that hers was not a poetry of conclusions, summaries or getting things nailed into place. It seemed more like a conversation she was having, in progress.  Her passing brings me sadness because there is not just one less friend, of a sort, in my life, but one less significant poet in the world to inspire me to write another poem, to fill another page. God speed, Shann.

Two poems by Shann Palmer, originally published by

fat-bottomed girls you make the rocking world go round
how much is too much?
how much cake and condiments
chocolate decadence crushed
nuts on whipped cream dreams
sugar wafers extra sugar salad
on the side hell on both sides
cointreau soaked fresh fruit
panne bread garlic butter spread
all the way to the edge of the toast
cinnamon and sugar coffee latte
mint cookie not to mention
entrees wellington well done
spanakopita shepherd's pie
en crustade layered lasagna
mozarella moshed ricotta
enough to make an angel weep
kate smith sing another song
liz let out another inch shelley bed
another star-struck boy rosie bite
a dog vanessa stop watching

a Boston ballerina dies
for want of bone Paris models
with sunken eyes shoot horses
in a world where children starve
there are no easy menus no
compassionate cuisine only
secrets in every house in every
kitchen in every heavy heart.

You can't spit
around here without hitting
a poet or novelist these days
dime a dozen like my daddy's
cheap detective magazines
back in the fifties as if any of 'em
know what the hell I'm talking about.

we used to have integrity once
or twice a month shit I knew I would
never be left alone or without a drink
there was always something
jumpin' somebody laying low
someone to sleep with course
that had another set of problems
there was that woman in Tucson
used to say her crabs had the clap
she was telling the truth too.

we'd put on the Doors or the White album
smoke weed until we were comatose
watching the candle dance on the adobe
as if it meant something maybe Gilman
would have some sweet hash there was
that time Pfieffer jumped the train with
a couple of Black Panthers on the run
standing out on the porch watching
the stoplight change talking about the whole
goddamn universe being a celluloid
moebius strip slept on the floor
landlady came by the next morning
said we were all pigs but didn't throw
us out we were fine buncha crappa
always paid on time in spite of our
intense recreational illegal activities
we weren't dopers we were intellectuals.

reading poems with gravity Jim would blow
smoke in my face but I never cracked if Steve
wasn't there he'd try other things that sometimes
worked but that's better left unsaid my words
transcended thought he told me I'd tell him the future
none of it came true except we never
married and I'm still writing poetry
pulling lint out of my navel and calling it art.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Great American Novel

Greatest American novel is a subject that exists along side such topics YouTube topics who the fastest guitarist is , or the fan boy delights of slinging invective at each in the course of ruminating on the image of Superman v The Hulk. The fun in all that is that it inspires everyone to put on their Expert Pants and invent conditions, causes and criteria for their favorite --guitarist, Super Hero, novel--and use them as bludgeons against a legion of other equally engorged enthusiasts who, in turn, have their individual favorite and wield rhetoric devices no less bludgeoning.

 Even Norman Mailer, who was honest enough to admit that he actually wanted to write something called the Great American Novel admitted , after decades of brilliant books, that such a thing, a single entity,does not and cannot exist. The American Experience, or any historically collected National Experience, is too complex and changing too fast for one set of qualifications to set permanently. The greatest American novel, I think, will only be decided, finally ,when we are extinct and someone else , something else assumes the job of figuring out who we were, what we did, and what of that is worth a damn thing.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Beckett trashes the Supreme Fiction

"What is that unforgettable line?” 
Samuel Beckett

Existentialism is when I discover that I'm the private joke .I think Beckett would appreciate those who can pierce through that psychic prophylactic against comprehension and grasp the humor he observed and recorded. I have the idea that Beckett permeated the membrane that divides  this reality from the metaphysical one, in Plato's sense of the term (and Wallace Stevens as well with his theories about the Supreme Fiction) and instead of finding Ideal Types as promised, he found an empty room.This can be a comedy Kierkegaard and Bergman can also get behind, a God who is silent and likely engrossed in anything apart from what's going on in the human situation. People, his creations, are pretty much treated as laundry or broken toys or anything else he refuses to deal with, repair or restore. 

I always found it comic that the Idiot God we think is wise and all knowing is something human personalities entreat with prayer, mythology, art, poetry to give the world a sense of order, albeit an invisible one, and that there is meaning  and purpose to the mostly terrible and tedious events and fates that befall us; the punchline is that we modify the dynamics of the imagined , purpose-giving narrative we think we assign the world as a means of making it seem as if there is reason and a greater purpose served no matter how ugly, inane and repetitiously tragic like actually turns out to be.

  Our conversations and our actions become bizarre and baroque, symbolic of nothing in particular. Man continues to entreat God for wisdom, and God keeps playing with the remote control for something else to distract Him. Meanwhile , some of us would insist that there is indeed something arguably in place and permanent in a universe that that adheres to the 20th century paradigm of expanding attention-deficit randomness, love, and music. Those two items are permanent items in the storage closet of words and the things they represent that have been dedicated to tripping us up and making us step on the rake yet again. But permanent in what sense? Like everything else already touched on in this compacted rant, it depends on who you talk to and whose theoretical alibi you're willing to suspend disbelief for. Yet let's cut to the quick, slowly:
Love and music are not perfections of any sort, but rather, at their best, a brilliant crafting, or blend, of imperfect motives and tenuously played sounds. They are processes, albeit enjoyable ones. Perfect things are "done" and advance no further, and are dead. 
Perhaps we should not settle for the cover letter that comes with our world and choose rather to live as long as we can do so, creatively, fruitfully, happy as we can make ourselves.

a belated blurb for a great Norman Mailer novel

Ancient Evenings
a nove
l  by Norman Mailer

Mailer once remarked that his intention with writing Ancient Evenings was to compose a long sequence of novels telling the history of the Jewish people through the experience of one family, beginning in Ancient Egypt before the arrival of Christ, onward through time past various diasporas , persecutions, genocides, successes and setbacks, with the concluding edition of this fictional saga being somewhere in the future , in outer space, with the eyes of the protagonist trained outwards still. As it happens, Mailer was so engrossed in the profound mysteries of Egyptian religious ritual, culture and mythology that he never made past the river Nile. All the same, this is a breathtaking read, generations of magic, politics, reincarnations and aggressively ambiguous sexual engorgement roiling through centuries of particularized vanity. This is ,as others have correctly asserted, an overlong book , and one suspects that had Mailer been less known and an good editor had applied the blue pencil on those passages that were merely lugubrious , we would have had a tighter, punchier novel. But Ancient Evenings is one of those exotic expressions of unexpected genius that the passages that threaten to sink under the weight of all that sexual energy being put forth don't become tedium, but rather the texture of a fantastically realized fever dream; there are fantastic battles, eroticism beyond gender, magic in the ancient ways as men and women seek power and dominion over their own soles against mysterious and powerful forces that have placed them in impossible states of yearning.  This is a brilliant novel by a writer who , I believed, is one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century. That last assertion is a debate that won't be resolved here, but I do encourage anyone with a taste for ambitious historical fiction with a  skewed sense of the supernatural to read this book.


I always thought Dionne  Warwick was a vocal original. The going tradition for black pop and soul singers had been a very gospel, shout to the rafters approach that required range and training. Warwick had the training, obviously, but not the vocal range, and managed to work spectacularly well within her limits. She had an interesting, offbeat sense of when to sing a lyric, a subtle tone of sadness in the lower register; there was a magical sense of her speaking to you directly, softly, after a good cry. This is shown in the video of  Walk on By, a song that begins with the pacing of someone trying to hurry down a street, trying to avoid eye contact with a former lover they can't bring themselves to see, a perfect mood, at the edge of the frantic, as Warwick movingly, slowly sings the opening words of her imagined speech to her ex-paramour :

If you see me walkin' down the street
And I start to cry each time we meet
Walk on by, walk on by
Make believe that you don't see the tears
Just let me grieve in private 'cause each time I see
I break down and cry, I cry
Walk on by, don't stop
Walk on by, don't stop
Walk on by

This is one of the great heartbreak songs of the era, and it shows Warwick's particular genius for softly dramatizing a lyric by underplaying the emotion. Leslie Gore, Patty Duke, and a myriad other pop proto-divas would have raised the roof beams with this song, but Ms. Dionne finds the right pitch. The sorrow, self-pity, and resignation are all there, but the quality of Warwick's singing places her not in a sort of hysterical moment of solipsistic self-pity. Still, someone, actually, is more the Hemingway stoic, shouldering the pain and the grief and dealing with what everyday life demands. Of course, there is that sweetly sad piano figure in the chorus that presents an effective change in tempo and mood, a circling keyboard figure that halts the forward motion of the narrative and stops the narrator, our singer Dionne, dead in her tracks, briefly and sharply remembering the pain of breaking up.

These are rare and beautiful attributes in a singer, the capacity to emote on such a small scale; she was the exact opposite of the late Gene Pitney, who turned every sad song into an aria of teen heartache. Both singers, incidentally, were blessed to have sung many songs by the Bacharach/David team, two men who knew how to write songs for a singer's vocal strengths.

Bear in mind, I was a big fan of Pitney's. For comparison, above is Pitney singing "I'm Gonna Be Strong," written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil (later covered by Cyndi Lauper in her early band Blue Ash). An extreme bit of heartache here, with the perfect singer for the sad tale. The tempo is the same throughout, but as it progresses, subtly but quickly, Pitney's voice is stronger, filled with more self-aggrandizing emotion, a man turning in his sleep and trying to burn his way through his loss with nothing but stoicism, but who, in the final hour, alone, will just weep as hard and as loud as he is able. The way Pitney's voice climbs to his highest register is chilling, equaling the grandiose swell of the orchestration. 

Tortured high notes were precisely what Pitney's music was about, observable in the operatic, compressed, grandiose, and florid teen angst songs he sang with a voice that could start out low, smooth, slightly scratchy with restraint, and then in the sudden turn in tempo and a light flourish of horns or sweeping, storm-bringing violins, slide up the banister to the next landing and again defy gravity to the yet the next level as he his voice climbed in register, piercing the heart with melodrama and perfect pitch as the banalest love stories became the raging of simultaneous tempests. It was corny on the face of it, but Pitney had the voice, and he had the songs to pull it off and make records that still have that stirring hard-hitting effect; "Town Without Pity," "It Hurts To Be In Love," "Twenty Four Hours to Tulsa," "I'm Gonna Be Strong." A substantial string of other hits ( 16 top twenty hits between 1961 and 1968) took the tearjerker to the next level. As mentioned by someone the other day in the British press commemorating his music, his tunes weren't loved songs; they were suicide notes. Pitney's multi-octave sobbing qualified as Johnny Ray turning into the Hulk, wherein the sadder he was made, the stronger his voice became. All this was enough for me to buy his records in the early Sixties when I was just making my way to developing my own tastes in musicians and their sounds.
Most of the early stuff I liked--The Four Seasons, Peter Paul, and Mary--I dismiss as charming indulgences of a young boy who hadn't yet become a snob, but Pitney? I kept a soft spot for his recordings in my heart and defended him in recent years when those verbal battles about musical tastes found his name impugned in my presence. The Prince of Perfect Pitch deserves respect for turning the roiling moodiness of teenage love into sublime expressions of virtuoso emotionalism.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

No love for the 5

To this day , the MC5 are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame despite the impressive argument that they have been one of the most influential and, ergo, most important rock and roll bands in history. In any event, here is a choice cut not discussed many even my 5 aficionados, James Brown's "It's a Man's World".  Agreed, the song is more than patronizing and winds up placing women on the damnable pedestal and back in the kitchen at the same time, but you have to hand to these guys for their odd choice. They loved black music and their choice of a song only JB could pull off is a classic punk gesture: "Fuck you guys, we're gonna play this goddamned song because WE WANT TO."  Vocalist Rob Tyner did not, as has been remarked around a trash can full of burning rubber, give a FLAT FUCK if he sang worse than a horse thief gagging at the end of a dirty rope of justice. Rob Tyner sang like a man who had his head wrapped in a thick sheet of bubble wrap and then had his noggin stuffed into a burlap bag that reeked of diesel stained wagon timber and mildewed hemp. He sounded like he'd swallowed his fist in a freak accident that might have occurred when he was chewing on his knuckles in macho mechanical panic while watching an astroid streak a fiery, smoky path to Cobo Hall. When he sang It's A Man's World, satellites stopped broadcasting and Gabriel drove over his trumpet in a huff of overriding despair. His was the voice of percolating whiteness, personified grieving love handles with a microphone. There was a time when an attitude like that would inspire otherwise stoned and clueless teens, all of them too late for the absurd counter-culture vanities of Haight Ashbery and Greenwich Village, to yell "fuck yeah" and babble their rendition of dumb cliches about offing the pigs and serving the people. So yeah, the MC5 were really punks, macho black bad boy wannabes and crazy mofos in their right who were willing to stick it in your eye. Hah. Hit me again.

Free v Robin Trower

Rock and roll makes you stupid

Like many another clueless air guitar rebel, I sang in a band during the Seventies, a strange assortment of druggies, layabouts, alkies and genius geeks who all loved hard rock. I was the singer, and the songs I sang ranged from Trower to Led Zep to Deep Purple to Mountain--I had a miserable voice but I was the one who could get a raspy tone and volume, so sing I did. No one seemed to mind, most likely because they were usually as drunk as I was. In any case, Dewar and Trower were the perfect combination of singer and guitarist--there likely hasn't been a collaboration this good since Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck or Paul Rodgers and Paul Kossoff (in the late, great band Free). Trower, additionally, is about my favorite British blues guitarist--he broke the Clapton mold his fellows got snared by and developed his own sound; I think he's quite distinct from Hendrix, even with the similarities. I've seen him pass through town in the last few years, and the man plays better than he ever has. Yeah. Great stuff.

The saddest day of my life , though, was when someone who'd recorded one of my band's kegger gigs played the the gig--we sounded awful. Even the time-honored honored rock and roll aesthetic the favors attitude over expertise, we we sucked,in turn, long, deep and hard. A bag full of agitated electric razors would have sounded better than the clamor we were producing, out of tune, atonal,thumping, with a guitarist who was fried on cocaine and rum who managed to make his guitar sounded worse than car alarms screaming in a West Virginia mall. I , in turn, had the timbre that sounded, to be kind to myself, like someone who was clearing his throat over the loudest microphone on the stage. A crazed dog would have told me to shut the fuck up. I didn't stay quiet, though. That night we had a gig and what I did was to drink more and scream harder. My voice was gone the following morning and I could talk or eat shell fish for a month.
  1. From where I sit, it is a tad profane to lump the likes of Free in with Robin Trower's work as a bandleader. Free was a pack of lean, mean cocks o' the walk, never portentious or pretentious, just intent on delivering innuendostic blues-rock with the kiss of a well-stropped razor. Paul Kossoff sliced his riffage as clean as possible and Paul Rodgers was credible enough to make you believe he had a real live throbbing libido, as opposed to a messiah complex. "All Right Now" and "The Stealer" testify to this. On the other hand, Trower and his bloated mouthpiece Jim Dewar were purveyors of pseudo-profundities, Procol Harum minus the weirdness and wit, wielding piledrivers upon the skulls of downer-gobbling teens. Really, there's no excuse for this, even if you can play guitar pretty well and have lots of effects toys. If you don't believe me, READ the mythology-ridden, gibberish-laden lyrics to Bridge of Sighs and see if they don't fill your head with something akin to suet pudding. Rock and roll CAN make you stupid if you ingest too much of this sort of thing. Kossoff, Rodgers and company did their business with a wink and a strut, while Trower and Dewar pushed the faces of their fans into clutching mudpits of moist Wagnerian goo. Other than that, I can't tell them apart...

  2. Well, we're on the same page regarding Free, the best example of blues-rock we've seen come our way. Their album "Heartbreaker" in particular is a masterpiece, I think--Rodgers never sang with more expression and grit, and the combination of Kossof's cranky guitar sanguinations with the chilling organ oscillations made for a rock album that could take me deeper into my own brooding than most of my other albums could. I do have to defend Trower and Dewar, though; the trio were a simple, tough slice of the blues tradition who managed to borrow something of Hendrix's rhythm and blues mojo and harden it just so. There are a good number of ram-charging songs on the first two albums--"Fool and Me", "Day of the Eagle", "Too Rolling Stoned"--give us an excellent idea of what Hendrix's guitar work might have sounded like if he had a steady rhythm section. Trower is a rather smooth and fluid blues stylist, not a speed demon, and there is very little in his band's oeuvre that sounds anything like Procul Harum who were, in any case, a frequently terrific band during Trower's tenure. "A Salty Dog" and "Broken Barricades" are collections I'll stand by. As for Trower's lyrics, I don't hear the myth mongering you mention-- you seem to be stuck on the lyrics to "Bridge of Sighs", which might tap into a common set of racial archetypes, but even then it isn't the ostentatiouisly repulsive drivel Yes foisted on us. Dewar's vocal is over wrought, yes, but the lyrics, the lyrics well , the lyrics are no grandiose or pretentius or gibberish than what one can pluck from Blake. Or Yeats. For the other lyrics, they aren't that bad--not great, mind you, but not offensive to one's trained ear or personal canon. And Jim Dewar was one hell of blues belter--I love man's voice.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

think not, feel more

'Having literary genres and various sub categories is a fine thing to have at your disposal when your pressed with putting a label on a book that baffles you after you finish it; more than once I’ve looked at a book in my lap seeming to stare back at me after I’ve finished it. The book seems to ask “now what? What do you make of me, and how have I aided in enhancing your experience of the life youfind yourself within”. But one needs to proceed cautiously in their attempt to name that tune. Categories themselves are as slippery as the narratives they claim to explain and contextualize; the further one steps away from a book for the wider perspective might cause the reader to lose sight of the original text and witness instead nothing but vast horizon. That’s not bad for a Grand Canyon vacation, but many readers would find it infuriating.Or frustrating .Contextualizing everything according to a variety of theories and generic definitions becomes an unpaid task and dilutes the book’s main purpose, to divert. We need to remember that dispite theoretical promises of unlocking the secret messages novelists might have, the essence of these books is making stuff up for our entertainment.

Writing and literature is all veils, I would think: if anyone could get "IT" with a piece of work, we would have to assume the writer, and his audience are satisfied, sated, and are disinclined to hear the story again. But there is always another wrinkle to relate, another nuance to discover, another veil to be taken away. This echoes Roland Barthes’ idea of writing / writing as being an erotic function, that the end that one gets to at the end of the tale is not the point of the quest, but the quest itself, the unveiling of the language, the constant re-assimilation that names for things are made to under go as the nature of the material world defies literary form; it is the imagination that needs to work within the waking sphere, not the world that needs to fit within it's contours.

Working writers dutifully engaged in their projects don't seem concerned as to the catagories their novels might eventually be placed within, and most would, it seems, be amused or annoyed with the intrusion of a specious jargon that's been developed to explain what it is texts cannot do in the social world, beyond the assembled signifiers. Is Gravity's Rainbow any less a work of "Magical Realism" than what we've seen in Garcia Marquez or Borges? Is Pale Fire less post modern than, say, Mulligan Stew? Critics have fled the storyline and the narrative technique and have foresaken the task in discussing how writing comes to make sense; it becomes the definitively moot point, irresolvable and subjects to an unending detour the circles around the precise meaning of finally inconsequential terms. Imagination is trait that will use anything manner or style that is suitable to a writer's project at hand and it ought not be surprising, or upsetting that many writers, assigned to roles by career-making PhD candidates, simply do what they need to do in order to get the work done. We witness fascinating paradoxes: Norman Mailer, by temperament a romantic existentialist who might have been in the late 19th century, is one who took to post-modern strategies to render is work: the range of his assumed styles and experimentation creates specific problems with literary historians who might be eager to be done with his books and his name.

The sectarian insistence on the differences between styles is pointless, I think; it's more fruitful and more interesting to have a more fluid approach to the study of literature and writing, particularly in how writers will take cues from one another and molds those influences into something that's very much theirs alone. Garcia Marquez (nee Lopez) has spoken of the great influence Southern Fiction had on his emerging style, particularly Faulkner, and Pynchon gives credit to William Gaddis and his Joycean The Recognitions as a major motivator for him to write with the denseness he has. Criticism tends to be like guys who talk about cars with all their specs yet who never drive one, never really comprehend the feel of the tires on the road. A criticism that takes into account how style , whatever it's source or use, produces it's effects, it's tactile quality , seems much more inviting. But "truth", large or small t, is something we arrive at after the fact, up the road, after we're over the hill. The point of personal experience is something we assign later, when memory arranges the particulars in some fine fashion that makes the data resonate like some kind of grand or sad music that needs its expression in talk, a phone call, poem, novel, blues guitar. Since experience is the hardest thing to convey --it is not an argument I'm making, it's a tightly knotted cluster of feelings and emotions linked to a sequence of events that I have need to relate to you, to bring you into (in a manner of seduction, dropping the suspenders of disbelief) -- I generally favor any writer to use any and all materials available and appropriate.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Dick Dodd, Lead Singer of the Standells, Dies at 68 -

Dick Dodd, Lead Singer of the Standells, Dies at 68 - NY Times

Dick Dodd, lead singer for the proto-punk garage band The Standells , has passed away. Dodd had a nasal, snotty, irritating way of singing , or rather vocalizing , perfect for a band that was composed of hammering backbeats and barbed wire guitar riffs, and it was a choice component of the band's one big hit, "Dirty Water", a left-handed salute to Boston . Talking about grime and filth of the River Charles and hanging out with "lovers, muggers and thieves", the song was a telling bit of self reflection of a town that was on edge with the collective trauma set upon by The Boston Strangler. Boston at the time was not a happy town , like any number of American cities experiencing the full wrath of the 60s, and Dodd's obnoxious refrain at the chorus "I love that dirty water....ooooooh Boston YOU'RE MY HOME..." was the kind of defensive, fist in the face move a local gives to a hand wringing out of towner too busy tsk-tsking over the sad plight of a city to actually understand what was happening in Bean Town. The punk genius of the song, though, was that the Standells weren't from Boston, but from Los Angeles, inveighing on a song written by their manager. Now that's punk.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Unhinged Melody

"There Was A man of Double Deed" isn't great poetry, but it is worth remarking upon for how effectively it creates the mindset of someone for whom the world is great chain of secret connections that are mysterious, foreboding and headed, inevitably , toward a terrible end. The rhyme scheme, tick-tock, back and forth, a child's jump rope tempo, suggests a mind setting everything in sets in a convoluted task to understand a heartless exterior life through some ordering protocols, but this is in vain since the view here attempts to be global , beyond the limits of what this narrator sees and encounters daily. The banal things that get mentioned are paired with things that they have no functional relation to; seeds give way to snow banks, ships are without belts (meaning rudders, I suppose) and are likened to tailless birds who in turn fly in a roaring sky that brings a sounding lion to the narrator's front door.

There was a man of double deed,
Who sowed his garden full of seed;
When the seed began to grow,
'Twas like a garden full of snow;

Something crucial is missing in the descriptions , and the lack of a logical, connecting tissue results in violence on the imagination that might otherwise conceive a simple day as orderly and diverse in the purpose others besides oneself have in their daily routines. Save for the man of double deed (a shadowy figure we might think, a figure of divided agendas) there are no others in this poem, just he and the suffering narrator reeling as matters unfold, reeling as it all comes in, cause and effect seemingly obvious , but all without reason.

When the snow began to melt, 'Twas like a ship without a belt; When the ship began to sail, 'Twas like a bird without a tail; When the bird began to fly, 'Twas like an eagle in the sky;

It's a pile up of circumstances, and the speech is just this side of hebephrenia, the behavior and language habits of the paranoid, the schiznophrenic who lacks the psychological infrastructure to sort through incoming stimuli and create categories, context and relationship to the passage of time; everything happens simultaneously, at once, and everything that does happen does not end, but rather keeps occurring, repetitive, violent, without reason to the suffering. Items are conflated, images become strange, unfamiliar, and the mind that must deal with this chaos feels permanently tormented, put upon.

When the bird began to fly,
'Twas like an eagle in the sky;
When the sky began to roar,
'Twas like a lion at my door;
When my door began to crack,
'Twas like a stick across my back;
When my back began to smart,
'Twas like a penknife in my heart;
And when my heart began to bleed,
'Twas death, and death, and death indeed
The conclusion of all these connections, which the mind attempts to bring meaning to by relentless speculation as to how unlike things actually purposeful and conspiratorial relationships, is that all things , all deeds lead to death. In such a state, death is the only thing that makes sense, since even to the most marginalized of personalities death is seen as an end from which there is both no recovery and no more torment. The poem's rhyme scheme, 'though too slack and lacking muscle for my tastes, still gives you the chills for the unvarnished and clear mindset it gives you. I cannot shake the feeling of these odd enounters I've had over the years, listening to someone speak slowly, deliberately, with purpose as they told me about their poor circumstances, only to pick up the pace, quicken the rhythm as more detail came forth, until finally sentence structure had collapsed and the speaker was overwhelmed by attempting to talk about everything that came to their mind at the same time.

"The man of double deed" seems to be one who is not what he seems, someone superficially in our presence who seems friendly enough but who has an undisclosed purpose and reasoning in his dealings. Because the man is viewed suspiciously, the tint of treachery seeps into all he does. He is the proverbial tipping point from which the poisin spreads; perhaps in a perfect world each person and place and thing contribute only to greater happiness and prosperity, but there is something wrong with the world of our narrator, who describes events where activities end in some manner of demise; this is a cruel world of distraction and summary dismissal. The man of double deed, whatever name a listener might give him, appears to be doing nothing less than sowing the seeds of our destruction.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Ezra Pound the Mountebank

Onan the Librarian
Ezra Pound is a traitorous, spunk-stained groin polisher with at least two ideas that have traveled well through the decades. Otherwise, he is a ball of congealed grease, dust, and hair you pull out of your brush, an utterly unusable poet. Pound was a lousy writer besides. Reading him is like taking a bullet in the bidness. Eliot, however, was a terrific poet quite apart from his grouchy affectations of upper-class Royalism. The writing remains evocative, ironic, with a tangible melancholy and despair that makes one want to live life fuller than they had been. He might have gained much by having a hard one crease his private channel, but then we will never know; all I know is that Eliot's poems still get the heat to the meat.

One hears arguments in support of imperfect heroes that genius will carry their reputations above and over and far, far away from the corrosive and unforgivable aspects and deeds of their lives, a notion I take under advisement for this reason:  it depends on the art they create. Pound fails this simplistic criterion for reasons more subjective than they are objectively sustainable, those being that his motivation really wasn't to create things of beauty that even the boob, the numskull, and the drooling poltroon could relate to, but instead power. Bob Perelman, poet and an incredibly astute critic of modernism, pointed out the difficulty of Pound, Gertrude Stein. These writers operated under the assumption that their icon-smashing,perspective-dashing, syntax relaxing experiments were going to be the death of the old filters and provide populations with new ways of seeing. Pound, I am sure, wanted the world to see things his way, complexly, nuanced, infinitely connected to the real roiling subject of humanity, which was godless and unguided by nothing else other the critical desire to kick a homeless man in the throat, steal the pennies off a dead uncle's eyes and, most loathsome of all, desire to rule the world for reasons no more significant than what a meal at the cornet spittoon saloon will give you.

 But this was something of a bad bet--the more original his vision, the harder it was for him to make people see. So it became more about power, power embedded in a charismatic man who could transform the landscape, in the world, and the psyche through major feats of willpower. Readers, viewers, butchers, wives, teachers, witless dregs no longer had a choice to vote with their feet or let their tastes guide their selection; great historical forces were at play. Or at least Pound was running his mouth and sucking up to fascist powers on whom he sought common cause and a significant stipend. His poetry seemed odious and thick as bales of mildewed hay, bloodless examples of what his theories were elaborating on. He was a Rush Limbaugh for those intellectuals who fancied themselves better than the rest of the population, who existed solely to annoy them, slow them down.

Eliot, though, is a more slippery sort to grasp. He is the brooding,sad-sack Methuselah of the generation that lacked the patience to wait the years it usually took to be jaded, aristocratically bored, permanently and fashionably melancholic, and on the other hand, a closeted racist, homophobic, Jew-baiting ass hole.  Anti Semite he was, but he could make you feel his weariness, loneliness, and sadness that the world was ending badly, becoming a fetid stew of mediocre thinking and piecemeal achievement.  He was a great poet and a natural pill as a human being. He is someone you would compliment for the stunning brilliance of his language and then try to slam into your truck as he left work. He was a man you wanted to admire and then spit on. That is greatness.