Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Fearless is a fine word, but a bit melodramatic. Blues musicians and musicians in general , I suppose, can be expected to engage in a little bit of high-rent hyperbole when discussing matters musical. It's a trait I engage in. In any case, I look less for "fearlessness" and all it's Saturday matinee associations and seek instead musicians who have confidence in what they're doing.
There is that threshold we must all cross, built of self-doubt, stage fright, anxiety, when we're about to step onto the stage, but the one who is going to be the professional, the one who is going to turn in stellar performances more often than not, is the one with the instinct, the knack, the desire to entertain , delight and amaze others to convert fear, bad nerves, doubt , the shakes into energy that fires the brain and the limbs and makes all the synapses fire; the training, the practice, the woodshedding stops being experimental and preparation and transforms itself into confident, self assured professionalism. It's a quality of being that allows the musician to pretty much do anything he or she has their mind on doing.
Concepts do not exist of themselves, self-contained. The idea of courage is meaningless until one grasps fears, embraces it and walks through that wall of uncertainty that would otherwise prevent the person, musician or not, from doing great and original things. It's walking through your fears and getting to the other side, stronger, tempered, with greater confidence in one's abilities. Fear I believe is a great motivator toward acts of personal courage. It should be turned around, I think. One cannot be "fearless", but one can live with less fear by taking risks, advancing toward goals one might not otherwise have attempted. Less fear.
That seems closer to the real human condition, something that is achievable.Doing away fear is a nice goal in an abstract world, but eliminating this element from the range of human emotion threatens to turn musicians into automatons, machines. If one does not know fear by experience, consequentially one cannot know courage, that is, one cannot be brave.
These are polarities that depend on one another in order to be useful in any discussion using either of the terms. Neither fear nor courage make sense with out the presence of the other. Sans fear, an element I believe is always present in every human being (unless one is a sociopath), courage is not possible. That is why I thinking reversing the term to that of having "less fearing" is more useful and presents a more coherent picture of what you're trying to get at, as it describes how fear, always present, can be mastered to an extent and turned to one's advantage as the hero, a musician in this case, advances toward that quality called courage. Like it or not, fear cannot be gotten rid of. It can, though, be eliminated , and people can be taught/trained to perform wonderfully inspite of the fears they have.
Thursday, October 8, 2020
Eddie Van Halen, the Last Guitar Hero, has died, age 65, from a long battle with cancer. I will say now that EVH is the man most responsible for saving hard rock from withering away . His guitar innovations changed the way other guitarists approached the instrument. Although I had more or less graduated from rock and considered myself a jazz fan and amateur historian of same such music, and restricted my rock reviewing activities mostly to poets, auteurs with deep seated issues, Van Halen's albums were ones I didn't sell off or give away.
Sunday, October 4, 2020
A query came my way recently which asked a perennial question from the crowd that doesn't "get" poetry: why do people bother to write boring poetry? The question had a tangible snorting contempt to it. For him, I'd wager that he finds all poetry dull, crushingly so. But my answer was this:
Why does anyone make boring art, since you’re asking. The poets who write boring verse are most of the people who fancy themselves word slingers of that sort—quantity diminishes quality. It seems that most of the poems one comes across from new poets in whatever forum—magazine, open reading, workshop, high school newspaper, university press— are pretty much eccentric minds with pedestrian sense of language application who want to capture big ideas, big emotions and big spiritual concepts in pathetically clunky sentences , often choking their best ideas to death with overworked metaphors , unmusical similes and a fatal lack of self awareness as to whether what they spend so much time writing is something an actual reader beyond their circle of friends might want to read. We also suffer from the tone deaf experimenters who want to be abstract, avant garde and boldly innovative who haven’t the slightest idea of how to be interesting in an opaque way. John Ashbery, Bob Perleman, Leslie Scalapino, Gertrude Stein—they were hard to understand as poets go, but they were lively , innovative and striking in their styles and and habits of phrase making, and they are the exceptions to the idea that most avant gard poetry, as such, is abstract for its own sake and therefore useless and a grind. Consider also that there are bored and there fore boring readers of poetry who render judgements that typically amount to “meh”. These folks are a species of glum Gusses and Gussies who might as well be flipping the TV channels .
Some else asked me a not unreasonable question, was Norman Mailer a misogynists? Mailer was obsessed with a notion of heterosexual masculinity, culled from his idealization of Hemingway and especially D. H. Lawrence. His writings on the subject are fascinating , and his assertions and literary criticism in his polemic “The Prisoner of Sex” are often brilliant and on point as he takes on feminist theories, but with all the force and grace the prose provides, Mailer insisted women take a secondary position in society and in all social relations, secondary to men. He would recount that his nay saying and the insults and violent fantasies were expressions of respect rather than contempt, and perhaps that is what he honestly thought, consciously, he was doing.
All said, though, Mailer seemed rather to be trying to work some matters out in both his social and philosophical ideas, and in his fiction. His attitude regarding the role women play in is a conception of a reality where every player is on an existential path of self-definition constantly prefers the experience and success of the male over the female, with accompanying rationalizations that the advance of women toward an equal social and political status upsets the spiritual ecology . The only thing I can take away from that attitude, expressed and refined for decades, is an active contempt for women, misogyny when all is said.Joyce Carol Oates has some wonderful essays on Mailer that are worth seeking out on this man and his relationship to womankind. Mailer was a writer of large gifts and frequent genius who had issues that make appreciating his best work forever problematic.
Someone was curious enough to ask me who I thought would win in a debate, right wing pundit Ben Shapiro, or linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky. I sought a responsible tone when I responded like so: We will have to be fair in this theoretical context and add we are imagining a younger Chomsky against Shapiro. Shapiro is bright and quick, of course, but he is an inch deep on most issues and tries to distract opponents with a bunch of hypotheticals that are often effective against less skilled debaters. The master of this technique, the presenter of the gratuitous supposition and linguistic trickery was William F. Buckley, godfather of the New Right and longtime host of the debate program firing line. There is an episode of Firing Line on YouTube where Chomsky is the guest, the subject of discussion being US foreign policy in South East Asia.
Buckley had seriously under estimated Chomsky and his arsenal of techniques to undermine the famed linguist were to no avail; Chomsky is a scholar of the first rank and had thoroughly studied the subject at hand from historical, economic and cultural perspectives, and blended the data in cogent analysis. Chomsky at several points had to correct Buckley as to the facts of the matter at hand. If this were a prize fight, Chomsky would have knocked Buckley out in the first round. Buckley was visibly pissed at having been bested on his own show and for the cameras invited Chomsky back for another discussion. But that invitation was never sent. Sharpiro, remember, is no where near Buckley’s weight division nor skill (to extend the boxing metaphor) . Shapiro going up against Chomsky in a battle of the minds wouldn’t be debate; it would be a human sacrifice.
The Buckley-Chomsky debate can be seen it its entirety on You Tube.