Showing posts with label miscellany. Show all posts
Showing posts with label miscellany. Show all posts

Saturday, October 21, 2023



There was a time when, halfway through my teen years with two years worth of blues harmonica wood- shedding behind me, I felt inferior for reasons maybe obvious, that I didn’t feel my chosen instrument was legitimate against whole orchestras of devices that could be performed without instrumentalist shame. But I got older, and I kept playing, obsessed with learning despite my minor case of self-loathing, and find myself in a position of being too old and actually too good a harmonica player to care what the rest of the universe thinks of the sounds I make. Worrying about the “relevance” of the harmonica in today's world is to miss the point entirely. The assumption behind the question--is it still relevant--implies that playing the harmonica is regarded more as a status symbol than as a tool for the legitimate and humanly necessary pursuit of making music that expresses, in music, the emotional life of the musicians playing. The question degrades the state of the instrument from being a tool to create some space for joy and wonder in the world, a thing that should be incorruptible, to that foul thing that only furthers neurotic obsessions with social standing. If one has survived the fads, concerns and the warring of stale ideologies over a long period of time, decades, say, if you've come to the point where what people think of your harmonica playing is meaningless and merely a reflection of their sense of irrelevance, then yes, harmonicas are relevant in today's world, your world, the only world that matters, finally, when you put the harmonica on the microphone and let loose with a timeless 1 1V V. Beyond that, worries about whether the instrument still matters seem a species of introspect that arises when there is nothing good on cable TV.

Some time ago, in the early internet days, I remarked on a music forum over in Salon’s old Table Talk readers comment section that I thought Mick Jagger was a horrible singer, but he was a vocalist of great genius. Stalwart Jaggernauts attacked me outright while I tried to make myself understood, but this was no use and really an event I should have seen coming. In fact, I wanted to stir up the conversation that was underway, which was a droning exchange of the usual accolades heaped on the Rolling Stones. The topic was sealed finally by forum moderators who tired of trying to control an angry mob of netizen Jagger fans poised to supply more poison posts. I should have clarified because my point is that there are white singers who have technically awful voices who brandish blues influences all the same and who have managed to fashion vocal styles that are instantly distinct, unique, recognizable. Mick Jagger is a vocalist who learned to work brilliantly with the little singing ability God deigned to give him: knowing that he didn't have the basic equipment to even come close to simulating Muddy Waters or Wilson Pickett, he did something else instead in trying to sing black and black informed music-- talk-singing, the whiny, mewling purr, the bull moose grunt, the roar, the grunts and groans, the slurs and little noises, all of which he could orchestrate into amazing, memorable performances. One Plus One (Sympathy for the Devil)Godard's film of the Stones writing, rehearsing and finally recording the song of the title, is especially good because it captures the irresolute tedium of studio existence (in between Godard's didactic absurdist sketches attempting to address the conundrum of leftist media figures being used by invisible powers to squelch true revolutionary change). More than that, we see Jagger piecing together his vocals, his mewling reading of the lyrics from the lyric sheet; his voice is awful, in its natural state. But we do witness Jagger getting bolder as the song progresses through the endless stoned jamming, a grunt added here, a raised syllable here, a wavering croon there. Finally, we are at the last take, and Jagger is seen with headphones on, isolated from the others, screaming his head off into a microphone while the instrumental playback pours forth, in what is presumably the final take. Jagger, all irony and self-awareness, created something riveting and for all time with the marginal instrument he was born with, and is part of what, I think, is a grand tradition of white performers who haven't a prayer of sounding actually black who nonetheless molded a style of black-nuanced singing that's perfectly credible: Mose Allison, Van Morrison, Felix Cavalari (Rascals), Eric Burdon (early Animals), Peter Wolf, late of the under appreciated J.Geils Band.We cannot underestimate Keith Richard's contribution to Jagger's success as a vocalist. Someone had to know how to write tunes Jagger could handle, and Keith was just the man to do it. Richard's guitar work, as well, riffs and attacks and staggers in ways that match Jagger's strutting and mincing. Writing is everything, as always.


 It's an inescapable fact that blues is an African American art form , as is jazz and, for that matter, rock and roll at its most vital, and that there are talented, brilliant and exciting black musicians who continue to play the music, innovate within its historical definitions and extend those definitions to keep the music contemporary, alive, and most important, relevant to the way people, players and listeners, live today. It's my belief, inscribed deeply in the most fundamental set of moral convictions I have, that to ignore the plenitude of black talent, whether they are young, middle-aged, or elderly, if you're a music editor, a record company executive, a promoter specializing in blues festivals, a club owner highlight blues and roots acts, is racism, clear and simple. Likewise, it's racism on a subtle level, but damaging all the same; a decision was made to exclude black musicians from this list. Compiling a list of the worthy is always problematic,fraught with all sorts of dangers because any number of readers can be offended for insular reasons no writer can predict. But what's offensive about this list is the laziness of the selection. I happen to like a number of the artists here and believe musicians like Black Keys, Joe Bonamassa, Susan Tedeschi and others are legitimate blues musicians.Skin color isn't their fault, and , to me,the quality of their chops and the authenticity of their feeling are "real". I will also give the writers credit for including a good number of women on the list.

Still, the lack of black musicians is inexcusable and reveals a conspicuous , egregious choice by the editors to remain loyal to their skin hue. Where was Sugar Blue? Lucky Peterson? The Eric Gale Band?Shemekia Copeland? Alvin Hart? Sapphire?Gary Clark Jr? Keb Mo? These players deserve wider recognition no less than the ones who made the list; I have a strong, strong suspicions that an inexcusable laziness directed the selection process, formed, no doubt, by a profound lack of curiosity for the "critics" who, by the definition of their job, are supposed to knowledgeable and curious about things that fall outside their comfort zone. I also suspect that those making the selection were entirely white; as such,they stuck with the skin color they are most comfortable with.

 Jefferson Airplane was a side of psychedelic rock I found most appealing, being in their short-lived prime a volatile and imaginative forced marriage of folk tradition, jazzy "mystery chords", Joyce/Eliot/Wallace Stevens influenced versifying, and piercing harmonies provided by the bulldozing Grace Slick and Balin's soaring, bittersweet tenor. Their albums were a fascinating, eclectic mess, indulgent and snotty and harsh; I would put them, along with the Stooges, MC5 and the Velvets, as stylistic forerunners of the punk rock anti-aesthetic. Balin was the ballast for the band, a balladeer, a genuine folk singer, a romantic who never abandoned his tendency for the oddly effective lyric that emphasized an actual relationship rather than a worldview. I liked this band up to Volunteers album.Afterward, the devolution set in, when Paul Kanter's sci-fi libertarian fantasizes turned JA into a plodding monstrosity of ego and half-measured music.

Those among the readership who followed the career arc of this band through the 60s and the 70s will recall, perhaps stifling a gag reflex, the slew of Jefferson Starship albums that evolved from the original band. It will suffice to say for this short note that the best thing the Starship ever did was recording and releasing Marty Balin's fabulous song "Miracles", a sensuous, radiant paen to making love with a partner. Alluring melody, a vocal aching with a combination of passion and a more primal lust, all of it buffeted by swirling guitar lyricism from the able-fingered Craig Chaquico. It was the best thing Jefferson Starship ever did, a masterpiece of pop-rock sexuality that rose to canonical heights over the increasing vapidity and knuckleheaded irrelevance. The band, or at least the management and record company, hung their heads in shame all the way to the bank, and it remains, I suppose, the supreme irony of things that a band beginning as Jefferson Airplane, counterculture revolutionaries singing of a society without pretense, class structure, false morality and , by implication, cash, evolved into the Jefferson Starship, a cash cow for corporate interests. So yes, money changes everything. That said, it should be mentioned that the guitar work of Jorma and Jack Cassidy's bass lines were among the best teams of the era. And Balin was a fine musician, singer, and songwriter who might have done better if he had a less dicey means to bring his music to the public.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023



Given the choice between listening to rock critics wax endlessly on garage-centric one-shot wonders who emerged from Decatur suburbs and wine critics swanning about a particular pour’s pretensions, bouquet, garish aftertaste, or the quality of the buzz it might give you, I would have to select the rock snobs, dreary as they might be or become after a duration.Rock and roll began as a legitimate grassroots alternative to the ossified white pop that had a stranglehold on post-forties pop music. Despite rock criticism’s sloven tendency toward self-fellatio, something honest, original, and artful might come through all that energy, anger, and quirkiness.Wine is merely a form of hooch. The sum of my aesthetic toward its qualitative states was whether it made me gag or went down the gullet without a fight. Art, subtlety, and self-expression had nothing to do with it. Wine was for getting a buzz, getting plastered, getting terrifically fucked up. In that sense, wine appreciation is democratic because alcoholism isn’t a respecter of race, class, gender, or sums of money one might have. The salient difference between the two is that rock and roll is something that sounds good when it is good, sober. Wine, after you quit drinking and stay sober, is just something you learn to live without and wonder how the fuck you spent so many years being wrong for so long about what a great thing spirits were to one’s quality of life.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023


 Irony isn't dead. In  fact, it's a living yet intangible part of the odd vibes that abound after the disasters of the worst human assumptions being acted upon. It very much feels like some smirking ghost at the side of the road laughing at us while we scratch our heads wondering what the hell happened to our best laid plans. Occasionally, it takes decades for some ironies to become revealed, noticed, observed, as in what, I think, was some of a barely noted reversal of mainstream attitudes about the right and wrong ways of making music. In the very  early Sixties, around the time of the British Invasion , I remember all sorts of cartoons and jokes about citizens and music fans attempting to commit suicide when they were exposed to the vocals styles of Jagger, Dylan, or a good number of gruff, nasally singers in the pop world. I remember the Rolling Stones appearance on the old Hollywood Palace variety show on ABC in 1964.

Hosted by Dean Martin, who was either entirely drunk and on his fourth sheet to the wind or doing a brilliant impersonation of a stumbling sot, The Stones performed their songs for the first time to an American tv audience , an historic event enhanced by Martin's slurred insults to the British band. There was a trampoline act at mid show, I remember, a circus act that had a leotard clad family doing impressive tricks of the bouncing variety. When they were done, Martin came on stage again and announced that the elder man in the troupe was the father of the Rolling Stones and had been trying to kill himself with this trampoline act for years. That was a real gasser. Why the hate, and the answer was obvious. The Stones were reintroducing America to a native art, black music, that it had all but forgotten about and found the renditions by the Rolling Stones of classic blues and soul songs alien, offensive, immoral and dangerous.  T'werent good singing and offensive to the idea of music! It wasn't even music. 

Somewhere along the line all the stoned hippies and rebellious teens grew up, got jobs, had families, and in effect became both their parents and THE MAN , and the same gag now substitutes MOR performers like Dion, Michael Bolton, Michael McDonald, and some others for the old guard. The folks can certainly sing , sing, but the kind of music they make is antithetical to the true liberating and expressive poetry of what REAL music is . Authenticity as the criteria for judgement (an ever vague and elusive concept) has advanced over technical competence and romantically "pretty" offerings. I have had this debate on both sides over the decades, first with my parents, aunts, and uncles and school teachers defending Dylan's music and especially his singing, and through the decades, arguing with young people that boy bands, pop tunesters like Dion, and slow jam funk were criminally commercial junk that was without conviction or soul .

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Typing lesson


Some years ago, that is, many years ago when I started this blog, I had the intention of writing an annual report on the state of my sobriety as each anniversary came and went. Something like a report card, a progress report, a mild and very generalized confession of mistakes, bad ideas, bad acts and the attempts to repair whatever damage I caused by making decisions on my wants (not needs) and try to extract a lesson that might be learned from the past year's rash action. That was the idea, but when it came down to it, even though I love to write, and I love to talk and that I love to refer to myself quite a bit in the paragraphs I construct, confession isn't my game, memoirs are not my jam. In the grand scheme of things, my self referencing needs to be anchored to topics that interest me or are the absolute center of my reason to push on another day--literature, films, movies, sex, the Good Fight against Bad People, poetry, always poetry. Maybe when I get to be 73 I'll be moved to spill the beans on a life that's been interfered with by an odd combination of bad self-esteem and arrogance of the first rank. I just turned 71 yesterday, and today I am supposedly celebrating 36 years of continuous sobriety, so that gives me a couple of turns around the sun to evolve into my next form, a humble narcissist, with the product being a long and adjective choked recollection of all the small incidents that leads us up to the current period, sometime in the future, when either everything or nothing is changed.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

SHORT NOTES ON OLD ALBUMS: Larry Coryell, Michael Urbaniak, Dave Holland , Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, The Who

This is a concert video of the late jazz guitar master Larry Coryell and the amazing Polish jazz-fusion violinist, originally released on VHS I believe, that hasn't been released as a stand-alone disc. I pray someone will secure the rights and make it available. Coryell was a member of the original Super Guitar Trio with John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia, and though his playing was frequently brilliant, he was often hobbled with flubs and miscues; it became obvious that LC's dependence on drugs and hooch lessened his skills, and he was replaced by the ever able Al diMeola. Coryell got clean and sober in 1981 and this effort, recorded in 1982, shows the difference. It's a remarkable performance, thanks in major portions to Urbaniak, whose skills as an improviser are second to none; his unstitched combining of styles ranging from Grapelli through Ponty and his mastery of idiom, technique and tonal nuance gives LC the colorful contrast. Urbaniak's impromptus are swift and melodic and, as with Coryell, seem without end in the configurations his long lines of notes form.  He has a bass player's instincts as well, and supports  Coryell's ultra-virtuoso fantasias. Coryell at this time seems like a man with something to prove, and here he demonstrates his point in spades.


By the 90s, I was listening to jazz almost exclusively, in addition to works by old rock heroes who were still recording at the time. It was a great decade for forward reaching jazz. A favorite was Dave Holland's album Extensions, 1990, highlighting the limitless improvisational talents of the assembled band, Steve Coleman (sax), Kevin Eubanks (guitar), Marvin Smith (drums) and Holland on bass. The compositions, two a piece by Coleman, Eubanks, and Holland, are vibrant and tonally rich launching points for extending forays and exchanges of ideas. Coleman is especially superb with his ability to offer packed choruses and place the lines in directions you don't expect. Eubanks is a revelation, as I had only known him until this record as the leader of Jay Leno's TV band, where he seemed a willing sort to be the sidekick. He is a fiery guitarist, however, and serves up an unexpectedly fierce and fusiony onslaught of well amped and distorted ideas. The work of Holland Smith throughout has a malleable and organic pulse that makes this session swing, rock, soar and sooth all at once. A remarkable record.


Trumpeter Miles Davis is known as a man with great taste to highlight the work of great sax players in his bands--Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Sonny Rollins. Add Sonny Stitt. Often derided as a knock-off of Charlie Parker, an grossly unfair charge, Stitt is shown here as lyrically expressive, technically sublime and engagingly melodic improviser for establishes his ideas of bebop chromaticism to the music's superb body of energy. Davis, in fine form here with his brief statements, quick , surgically inserted note clusters and his pure, nearly vibratoless tone --not to mention his genius use of space between his solos--has made it a working habit to pare his own minimalist expressiveness against busier second voices like Coltrane and later John McLaughlin. With his band, with peerless support from alto and tenor saxophones, Wynton Kelly, piano, Paul Chambers, bass, and Jimmy Cobb, drums--we have Stitt in that position. His choruses are choice, crowded but not crowding. Recorded sometime during the 1960s, according to some vague notes on the CD.


The Who's first two-record rock opera Tommy,1969, is a masterpiece of managing to tell a delicately elliptical story through multiple voices and still rock proudly. It's Pete Townshend at this peak as a songwriter, as he puts forth selections in a variety of deftly handled styles. The feeling that this work is for all time was cemented in 1992 when the LaJolla Playhouse debuted The Who's Tommy as a live action theater production. Imagined and directed by eccentric director Des McAnuff, the production was engagingly flashy , and effective, but the smartest decision was to not flesh out, to "fill in" the vaguer gaps on the album's narrative with yet more narrative in the form of voice over or in spoken, not sung dialogue. They essential produced the album everyone was familiar. The musical arrangements matched the instrumentation of the original release, which added to the excitement of the live experience. So what else for the genius of Pete Townshend to follow? Oddly, strangely, he and the Who brought us Quadrophrenia, a double disc that was everything Tommy wasn't, which was humorless, musically monotonous, self-serious, muddled in concept and story telling, grandiose, pretentious. I seem to be a chorus of one with this. Here's a longish rant about that album from a few years ago , also on this blog.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Birthdays are fatal

Last February, comedian Lauren Vinopal proposed in Slate that we lower the critical mass of stress and anxiety of our time by abolishing birthdays. You know the drill, I gather, that the ritualized marking of another year of life is a "trigger" for many, too many because it serves as a brutal reminder of how little we've accomplished in our time so far on the planet. And getting older and closer to your last birthday instead of your first one adds another burden to one's sense of the failure they think they've been in the time they've been allotted so far. Ah, triggers, nasty things to be avoided, lest our feelings get hurt, and psychic wounds drive us to further paranoid isolation. Avoiding stressful ideas, words, issues in daily affairs seems a dubious cure, though. Any one of a million things can be "triggers" for increased depression, anxiety and, yes, suicide. 

Obsessed avoidance of triggers just appears to create more triggers, an odd self-fulfilling prophecy. Existence can be said as one sustained trigger, a never-ending stimulant on the nerves that alerts you to the need that there are matters in the world around you that need to be contended with. However, banning birthdays to alleviate these wretched conditions won't help anyone who truly suffers; life is one massive trigger, as such, for creating situations the emotionally fragile will react poorly to. Holidays, movies, comic books, 24 hour news channels, porn, drugs, alcohol, New Age sophistry, white supremacists, featherbedding politicians, fashion models, tall buildings, improperly set tableware, smooth jazz, raging bebop, classical music, anything on Nickelodeon… 

Where do we start on this project to rid society of properties that make living inside our skins and inside our heads a riot of emotions, with all kinds of metaphorical chairs being thrown across the brain pan? Or better, when do we stop demanding that problematic elements within the consumer culture be banned, canceled or more severely chastised and repudiated and instead summon the political will to provide Americans with a substantially improved and easily accessible health care system that includes a range of mental health provisions that can help the psychologically troubled to live fuller lives?  You would assume that the obvious answer is an easy one, though a difficult one and ongoing, to help fellow citizens live in society, not shield them from it.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Who was on first?

                                                   Sometimes discussing who originators wereof a musical trend turns into a Who's On First. Someone asked me if Traffic created what is termed Jazz-rock or fusion or "fusion" that combustive melding of jazz and hard rock stylistics that informed much of the instrumental terrain in the mid to late Seventies. Not exactly, I responded, and when on with the following gush of condensed didactics:

Traffic were late comers to the jazz-rock movement, and their greatest strength was hardly their instrumental abilities. As improvisers, they were technically impoverished. Winwood on keyboards and Chris Wood on reeds and flute noodled limply for long passages. They wrote good songs and Winwood was a brilliant vocalist, but their attempts at jazz were weak. Larry Coryell seems to be the first out of the gate at the start of the jazz-rock trend with his efforts with Free Spirits in 1966, but that same year saw another major breakthrough with the release of “East West” by the Butterfield Blues Band. The album featured the man considered by many to be the first guitar hero, Mike Bloomfield. On this album he is showcased in two still-vibrant displays , “The Work Song”, which highlights him digging into an unexpected hard bop style solo complete with octaves, and on the title track, a Coltrane influenced improvisation with a long bit of raga-inspired extemporization from Bloomfield. The musicianship seems a bit rough considering how much more technically adept rock and fusion players have become over the decades, but these songs and indeed the entire album sounds fresh and ethereal all these years later. What Bloomfield was doing in 1966 was something no other 60s generation rock guitarist was doing. 

He was a trend setter who revolutionized the approach to guitar. Bloomfield , that his imagination exceeded his technical grasp . He had a very solid grounding in blues which he played with ferocity, fluidity and feeling, not to mention speed, and he did adapt jazz and raga ideas into his improvisations, but compared to who influenced him regarding —Coltrane, Ravi Shankar—his command of the chromatics was sometimes tentative .Miles Davis’ contributions to jazz fusion have been acknowledged and discussed widely for years; it’s more interesting at this point to revisit the very early experimenters who offered their ideas as to what jazz and rock styles combined might sound like. Coryell, Free Spirits, Butterfield Blues Band, the Blues Project—these pioneers have been overlooked and under acknowledged and now is the moment to examine their contributions at some depth.While we’re at it, lets give some props to Tjay Cantrelli for his splendid Coltranesque sax improv on the 19 plus minute jam “revelation” on Love’s 1966 album “DeCapo”.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023


There was a joke told by Rodney Dangerfield about trying to catch your profile as you walk by a store window, thinking that you could, you see yourself, if
only for a nanosecond, in a state of not being aware that you're being observed. All in vain, of course, as all you catch is a snapshot of you pouting somewhat, puckered like a lovesick fish, grimacing with downcast eyes, annoyance tempering the disappointment of not catching your reflection unaware.

Meanwhile, you bump into people you didn't see coming the other way. You mumble apologies, get off earshot of profanities, careful not walk into traffic when you come to the corner. On the other side of the window are the people who have already arrived to where they were going, seated at tables over glasses of water and wine, looking at menus; you imagine yourself already at the location you need to get to, safe in a seat with a wife, watching television, anonymous in the shadows of your making.

On the coffee table are the glasses you thought would aid you in seeing the pure profile of your perfect jawline, the certitude of the chin rising to like the prow of a ship cutting a path through aggravated waters, next to the iPod and the earpieces you wore to make the world sound less like a city at war with its mechanical parts and more like soundtrack for an under-lit porno. The clown shoes are off, the tie is undone, the television nags at you with sales pitches for shampoo and retirement accounts, prescription drug plans and limited edition gold coins and commemorative plates, your wife is already asleep, you cannot stop thinking of what it is you need to do, your fingers twitch, move in motions like warm up exercises, you want to write something that will put the light back into the day that get darker the longer you stay alive, you want clarity, you would rather not vanish as though turned off with a remote control, reduced to something less than the white do that used to dominate the television screen when the last credit scrolled by and bedtime was immediate, irrevocable.

You might miss something, you might miss lending your voice to the running stream of remarks that make up the news of the moment, you wanted to write history as it happened, the evidence of your senses keen enough to define the tone and temper of the good and bad things that make this existence such an exciting thing to stay awake for.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Poetry, of a sort

Someone I met found out that I've had some poems published in a few journals over the long and dreaded decades of trying to be clever, and asked how one goes about writing a good poem. That is, a poem others would want to read, not just your wife, mom or drinking buddies. Read poems by good poets and if you're able, take a poetry writing class in to learn the finer points and  techniques of the art. That was what I said, not inspired or inspiring, but practical. Here are a few more thoughts, offered here before the muse catches me unaware and transport me to a zone of poetic reverie and thus make me of no earthly use  until the poem is written and the mood again goes from miraculous to banal.

If you have any desire to write poems that are distinctive, fresh and are notable for having a language style that is interesting and able to “express the inexpressible in terms of the unforgettable “, you have to cleanse yourself of the vanity that everything you write as a poem is precious and must remain untouched. You have to read what you’ve written with a critical eye and find out what it is you’re trying to say, and then chip away everything that in the draft that does not add up to a convincing poetic sequence. Having favorite poets and being aware of the techniques that make up their style is a must; if you understand why particular poets appeal to you, have an effect on you, cause you think about your world in a more nuanced way, then you have the start in developing a good critical ear for your work. 

There are things that great poets like Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Eliot, Laux, Wanda Coleman, O’Hara  make their poems memorable and a proper and alluring expression of their personalities. It wouldn’t hurt   expression to get into the weeds a bit and study precisely HOW your favorite writers are achieving the resonance that comes from a well-considered poem. This will likely improve your habit of mind as you compose and will strengthen your creative flow while writing. Along that line, you have treated your first draft as a first draft and realize that half of what goes into a poem, more often than not, is rewriting, revision, correction, editing.I was told by a poet fifty years ago that to make something wonderful in the form of a poem, the “best writing has to be removed.” For me, this was getting rid of didactic language, lectures, pointless literary allusions, and concentrating on what is truly “poetic” in something I’d just written. This next point has an endless stream of variations, theories, styles, and the lot and each has a coherent aesthetic, but any poet worth reading over time realizes the difference between poetry and prose. 

They do different things. As a wise writer named Clyde Hadlock once said of the two, “Prose is the photograph, poetry is the x-ray.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2021


  A problem of being a self-appointed culture critic is that the longer you hang around the planet breathing the air, the faster it seems your heroes seem to die. That’s a generational thing, your elders and your peers start to pass on, and your tribe is just a little smaller every few weeks. Of course, the cure for that sort of minor depression is getting new heroes, reading new artists, listening to music by younger musicians, and, most obviously, making more friends.  Iggy Pop is over 69 years old, and it’s an irony upon an irony that he enters the last year of his 6th decade of life on the same day we find out that Prince has passed away at the age of 57. Iggy survived the morbid predictions that insisted that he would be the next major edgy rock star to go, joining Morrison, Joplin, Hendrix, Jones, and others as having a bad end to an edgy life lived in the spotlight. Nihilism was at the core of his act, both as Stooges frontman and as a solo artist. 

It seemed that the fabled mixtures of teenage impulse and fantastic amounts of methamphetamines and heroin were willful tools he was using to describe life not just at the edge of existence but also, if he were lucky, a will to narrate the passage through the thick shroud of unbeing. It’s a classic conceit in modern arts that an artist’s demise confirms their greatness/genius/cutie-pie factor; what have you. It’s a species of pornographic thinking, and shame on us for egging it onward in the culture. However, something intervened in that cliche, and Pop has been one of the more interesting elder statesmen for some time, always worth a listen. We benefit from his persistence to remain creative, not to be too terribly sentimental about it. Still, Pop’s longevity improves the quality of my life by his example that you can continue to respond creatively, with imagination, to the short existence we’re allowed to have. Like Bowie, Prince was one of those people you assumed would be around for the final mile of the long haul, a genuinely gifted polymath who would make music into his dimmest twilight. From this fan’s view, what hurts the most is that we won’t get to hear the grander, more experimental adventures Prince would have had as a musician. A straight-ahead jazz album. A record of guitar blitzing? Serious classical endeavors? Movie soundtracks? Big Band Music? A blues thing? Reggae? A stage turn as Othello?

His androgyny/sex fiend persona aside, I marveled at the chameleon nature of his music, the jumping around from style to style. Unlike Bowie, equally eclectic in taste and output, there was a substantial musical virtuosity to Prince’s switching up and mashing up and fusing the elements of rock, fusion, Philly/Motown/Memphis/ soul, jazz, and the occasional bits of classical allusion. Though he never spoke much of his training, self-taught or schooled, he had as solid a grasp of the mechanics of music and controlled his virtuosity like it were a tool to be used judiciously, in service to the music. 

There was little that was excessive in his music, and I rather liked his singing, which was far from your traditional rock or soul voice; thin, reedy, nasal, limited in range and color, he still molded it convincingly over his melodies and lyrics, sounding wise, insinuating, dangerous, alluring, nearly any persona he wanted to get across. Anything seemed possible for him because he was spectacularly good at the varied projects he’d already finished and released.Alas, but no. This makes you want to pause a few moments and consider the breath you are taking at that instant and recognize that life is a gift we are given but don’t own. Embrace the days we have and do something with the hours while we have them.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

YOU IS ANOTHER (walking through the old neighborhoods)


It's all anyone can do, walking the street, balancing yourself on the sidewalk, resisting the urge to fall over because not so suddenly gravity has made you more ungainly and the earth feels as though it had shifted, just ever so little. Not much by the degrees we apply to objects we can hold in our hands and study and move and bounce off a curb or a bedroom wall, but with the earth , so massive, smothered in atmosphere and the burdening force of personal weight, the effect sends the city into a vibrant panic, tall buildings do a shimmer, power lines dance and spark.

 On a fine day where you start out not giving a high fiving fuck about personal health and the state of the arts in the writerly communities that only invited you to a sequence of heartaches, heartbreaks and drinking into and past stages of ill health, on a day when your desire is grasp the intangible and abuse in terms of the intractable, your knees quake , you knees ache, a pain shoots from the knee cap upward to the spine  and to the jaw, the mouth closes and the teeth clench as if clamping down on a leather strap during an awkward shave, molars sinking into a tart, chewy leather, and it is then when the best arrogant notions and arrangements for making to midnight as a perfect asshole and king of the city dump go awry.

The meals come off the wagon, you realize there is nothing in the cupboard  for spare wit and ingenuity, you,    brilliant one and all that , are another victim of circumstances in a life you didn’t vote to be in. But the good news in all this worry is that you did not fall to the sidewalk, bust your jaw, and crack your teeth. Through sheer force of will you shift your weight , project a Kirby hand, arm stretched out, fingers splayed like the tines of bamboo rake, somehow all these halts your descent, matters of mathematics and their freaky equations formulated at the split second of stretch and the theory rushed up the spine to a brain otherwise asleep with its camouflaged ego for an effective counter force to be indicated and enforced by powers too awful to dwell on beyond a teasing mention.

You regain your center of being, the property rights to a kingdom to shake anything off and reduce the conflicts of personality clashes and enemy gravities to a compact pile of pressed tin, and as you rise from stumble, as your vision takes in front porches made of baked red brick and mail boxes marked with the graffiti of traveling men, there he stands, your sweetie pie, the one in a  million, your very own kryptonite, a blonde beauty with eyes that could flood the darkest theatre with light enough for lectures , readings and concerts on the uptake. She stands there, head tilted to the side. You feel like a specimen swimming about on a smooth glass slide. You cannot, you will not win.

It's all anyone can do, walking the street, balancing yourself on the sidewalk, resisting the urge to fall over because not so suddenly gravity has made you more ungainly and the earth feels as though it had shifted, just ever so little. Not much by the degrees we apply to objects we can hold in our hands and study and move and bounce off a curb or a bedroom wall, but with the earth , so massive, smothered in atmosphere and the burdening force of personal weight, the effect sends the city into a vibrant panic, tall buildings do a shimmer, power lines dance and spark.

 On a fine day where you start out not giving a high fiving fuck about personal health and the state of the arts in the writerly communities that only invited you to a sequence of heartaches, heartbreaks and drinking into and past stages of ill health, on a day when your desire is grasp the intangible and abuse in terms of the intractable, your knees quake , you knees ache, a pain shoots from the knee cap upward to the spine  and to the jaw, the mouth closes and the teeth clench as if clamping down on a leather strap during an awkward shave, molars sinking into a tart, chewy leather, and it is then when the best arrogant notions and arrangements for making to midnight as a perfect asshole and king of the city dump go awry.

The meals come off the wagon, you realize there is nothing in the cupboard  for spare wit and ingenuity, you,    brilliant one and all that , are another victim of circumstances in a life you didn’t vote to be in. But the good news in all this worry is that you did not fall to the sidewalk, bust your jaw, and crack your teeth. Through sheer force of will you shift your weight , project a Kirby hand, arm stretched out, fingers splayed like the tines of bamboo rake, somehow all these halts your descent, matters of mathematics and their freaky equations formulated at the split second of stretch and the theory rushed up the spine to a brain otherwise asleep with its camouflaged ego for an effective counter force to be indicated and enforced by powers too awful to dwell on beyond a teasing mention.

You regain your center of being, the property rights to a kingdom to shake anything off and reduce the conflicts of personality clashes and enemy gravities to a compact pile of pressed tin, and as you rise from stumble, as your vision takes in front porches made of baked red brick and mail boxes marked with the graffiti of traveling men, there he stands, your sweetie pie, the one in a  million, your very own kryptonite, a blonde beauty with eyes that could flood the darkest theatre with light enough for lectures , readings and concerts on the uptake. She stands there, head tilted to the side. You feel like a specimen swimming about on a smooth glass slide. You cannot, you will not win.

Saturday, September 5, 2020


Someone on Quora asked if Jim Morrison is considered a genius. This is how I answered:
"The Doors were a mixed bag for me; the first two albums are among the most important rock albums of all time, with the remainder alternating between the proverbial poles of brilliance and balderdash. As a band, they were simply sublime and unique, with the odd combination of blues, flamenco, classical, jazz, Artaud and epic theater being crafted in their hands to create a sound and feel that was singular and instantly identifiable. As a vocalist, Jim Morrison was often as evocative as the greatest fans proclaim, and it fit the half-awake twilight that seemed to be his constant state of consciousness. As a poet, though, I thought he was simply awful, fragmented, crypto-mystic surrealism that, save for some striking and memorable lines, collapsed from its flimsy elisions and obtuse vagaries. In his posthumous collections,, the pieces read too often like the notebook jottings of an introspective 17-year-old. I say that as one who was an introspective 17 year and is now an introspective 65-year-old. Morrison might have become the poet he wanted to be had he been able to write, edit, and finesse his work as he desired when he left for Paris. What I will say, though, is that being the vocalist in the Doors gave him the opportunity to go through his writings, his poems, and select many of the stronger passages for the band's more theatrical songs. The Doors, ironically seemed to be an institutional editor for Morrison's words, forcing the bard to decide which of his jottings was actually the most powerful, concise, emphatic."

A question posed to me on the Quora website asked "Why isn't literature considered art?". I had a few minutes to kill and offered this response. The benefit of writing a response was that it gave me something to think about besides the apocalyptic geist that makes staying awake such a burden. Here it is:
....Who ever said that literature was not art is either very dumb or is someone who is looking for attention . There is the assumption , sadly held by many, that art is only visual, as in paintings, drawings, sculpture. This is incorrect, an alarmingly false attitude. Art is a broader expressive activity involving all manner of mediums. But rather than go into a long piece of writing defining art as something that transcends a narrow conceptualization, I’ll just quote the definition of the word provided by Google Search:

“ (1)…the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
“(2)…the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance.”
This concise definition of the word “art” correctly broadens the horizons of the things can be considered “art” in the fullest sense: novels, poems, plays, operas, classical music, pop songs, dance and choreography , design, architecture, jazz improvisation, acting, film making…it goes on and is nearly unlimited. The far more interesting discussion , instead of whether non visual mediums can be art in the fullest sense, is exactly how productions like novels, films, dance, poetry, and so on, are “artful”. It’s an actual kind of discussion and discipline that distinguishes the great, the good, the mediocre and the awful, and it considers how history, changing social conditions , influences and attitudes, and new technologies, factor into the quality or the failure of particular works of art in all mediums. None of those matters are ever settled, of course, but it’s an intriguing dialogue where art lovers can share with one another their interpretations of art objects they consider worth making note of.
Asked on Quora: Was Norman Mailer a mysoginist?
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.
_________________________________________________________________________________________Some one Quora asked whether Chet Baker , a fine trumpeter, was a good poet. I answered this way:

Metaphorically, perhaps. He was a melodic improvisor, embellishing the melody with short, pleasing phrases, building his solos to a well modulated crescendo where there would some subtle and stately expression of his technical facility, and then he would bring the mood down again, easing back into the ensemble . At his best, Baker’s best solos, with their hushed tone, use of space between phrases, and his superb note choices from the many available to him, made his solos memorable. That could be said to be “poetic” and that he , as the creator, was the author of that expression, more specifically, a “poet”. All that, though, stretches the term too much, I think, and does no justice to either Baker or to actual writer poets. Baker was a musician, a jazz improviser, and he created in a great art form. Comparing him to another art form, poetry, degrades his impressive accomplishment.

Sunday, September 8, 2019


TB:Seeing Joe Biden on Steve Colbert's program has me concerned about this man, an honorable man , becoming out next President. I thought he was in bad form.Biden really does seem like a senior citizen who is experiencing worsening memory problems. He has always been burdened with misspeaking and getting things wrong, if unintentionally, or confusing audiences and journalists with statements where his point was ambiguous or some such thing. But now he's running for President again, and his gaffes are piling very quickly, with increasing frequency. He too often , for my comfort, seemed to be searching for the right words when asked some surprisingly spot questions by Colbert; he couldn't seem to explain why Medicare for All (universal health care/single payer) and why we'd be better off maintaining and extending Obamacare instead. He rather obviously wants to keep private insurers in the equation when it comes to providing funding for medical care. In brief , he did not make a convincing case for why it's a good idea to keep the corporations involved; he rather ignores that other democratic countries have successful, very successful government driven health care systems that exist to virtually no one's detriment in the respective countries. What disturbs me is that he has a pronounced tendency to drift away from a direct question he started to answer . When Colbert pressed him about hiss fundamentally incorrect recent recounting of the Medal of Honor he was awarding--incorrect date, rank, branch of the service, etc, etc,etc--I thought his answer was a bit cavalier, saying that the small details don't matter as long as the main point is true. In his defense, we can say yes, his main statements about the soldiers, vets, public service are correct (who wants to come out against go old fashioned patriotism), but facts do matter, even the details he think might be insignificant stacked against A Greater Truth.His response as dismissive and vaguely Trumpian.I rather imagine that Biden at that moment related this awarding of the medal on the spur of the moment, off the cuff, unplanned, but even so his getting so many crucial details wrong--a recollection of something he was involved in!--goes beyond casual tsk-tsking and burying your in your hand in embarrassment. This is the man who wants to make the crucial decisions that will direct the country. I fear this man is losing his grip. I would like him to reveal his full medical records, including results from tests that might on encroaching onset of dementia. We do not need another man in the White House with an increasing inability to make decisions based on information and intelligence brought to him. Biden worries me.

BARRY ALFONSO: I do think your concerns are real and serious, Ted. In an earlier era, Biden's age and longevity of public service would have eliminated him as a serious contender. The weird circumstances of this coming election have made him attractive as a figure of continuity, moderation and normalcy. Judging by what I have seen of his recent appearances, I think issues of his memory and general cognitive ability are ambiguous -- some of the gaffes he is being called out on are not important, while some of them are. The whole issue of "gaffes" troubles me somewhat -- it harkens back in my mind to Ed Muskie's famous "crying" episode in New Hampshire and the overblown importance given to a stumble or (to quote Lene Lovich) a momentary breakdown. Biden's clumsiness in stating what was valuable in his working relationship with racist Southern Democratic Senators is more troubling to me that his conflation of details about awarding a combat medal. That doesn't have to affect his decision making ability if he is the leader of a capable team. His dismissal of the details (if that's what he did) isn't remotely Trumpian in my mind. It is a stretch to compare Biden's blurring of memories with Trump's obviously lazy and probably addled mind and, worse, his unwillingness to take in information. Yes, Biden should release his medal records, as all the candidates should. Speaking of medicine, this current debate among Democrats about expanding Medicare vs. Single Payer vs. expanding the ACA IS troubling to me and in fact seems rather stupid. I watched Elizabeth Warren spar with various opponents in one of the first debates and I recalled that the ACA was the result of a slow, grinding, rather ugly process and series of compromises (pushed by such famous public tribunes as Bart Stupak) that disappointed many on the left, just as the next round of health care extension will. Whatever hyper-detailed plan Warren, Sanders, Harris etc. advocate in this campaign will almost certainly NOT become law if he/she is elected. It is a stupid ideological fight that just helps create divisions and re-elect Trump.

TB:I wish I could be assured by your cogent response, but I've watched him closely for years and it appears to me that his habits of mind are less than the absent-mindedness they used to be and more signs of an encroaching fragility. It's not the blurring of details so much that I thought seemed Trump like--Trump just lies, period--but rather Biden's reflection on the details being correct or not as unimportant when your conveying what you think is a Bigger Truth. The details do matter, and I'd been happier if he were more forthright about his verbal errors of statement and promise fervently to do better.He relied far too much on the you-guys-know-who-I-am defense , that he's been around along time, that he has a record and that you know what he stands for, to side step the question as to whether he's fit to be president on his third try. Actually, we know who he used to be, but now he wants to be president, which is very different from his other offices, including that of VP. He is not making a very compelling case for himself, his centrist-progressive policy statements are comfortably piecemeal for those with heart conditions. For me, he has that Ted Kennedy thing happening , a man who could not fluidly and with conviction tell us why he wants to be president. What disturbs me about the MFA v ACA debate is that it's framed in terms of the absolutely apocalyptic--millions will lose their health care!!! That wouldn't happen, but I think the bickering about it among our own takes the focus on why we need to change presidents and the senate.

God is or he isn't, and it doesn't matter anyway

In AA circles, one -on-one chats between members with some amount of  consecutive accumulated time turns to one's idea of God. That is, as the organization's basic materials inform,  a  God our individual  understanding; I remain grateful that AA does not require belief in a specific deity. So the question, when posed, makes me do a little dance of rhetoric, or it used to, in that I would shy away from theological particulars and the like because it results in dissension and division with those who have no real idea of who I am as an individual. It's been different lately, and my answer is slightly more direct. I tell most who ask me about my Higher Power that I remain an agnostic, which many mistake as the same thing as being an atheist.I give them the dictionary definition, which is that the existence of God is unknown and unknowable.This satisfies few of those who ask the question.Personally, I find it a more honest response than telling folks I'm a zen Buddhist.Although, I have taken an interest in Deism , an American spiritual notion observed by several founding fathers that God, such as he is, is responsible for the whole universe, and that his machinations are revealed according what natural law--scientific inquiry in other words--reveals to us constantly. And I am attracted to the to the idea that God does not intervene in the course of naturally -occurring human events; prayers are for a clarity of mind to make the best possible choice out of many to be made. God, though, does not act as a dating service or a loan officer.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Stuff and stuff

It does no one any good to pretend that Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" is a poem; it is, in fact, a badly aged piece of propaganda that these days radiates the grim nostalgia of an audience that has gone beyond mourning their lost youth and instead wonders who will mourn for them. I was one who took up the cause of rock and pops lyrics being "the new poetry" in the late sixties and early seventies, but I didn't know much about poetry at the time and had no real basis for any claims I made. Poems and lyrics are different crafts, the difference being that song lyrics are not usually interesting, arresting, or effective as language unless joined with the music they're meant to work in concert with. One can't recite "Desolation Row" or "Hey Sixteen" without recalling and missing the original Dylan and Steely Dan melodies. Generally speaking, perhaps too general, a real poem, though musical through various means to achieve euphonious, ringing and hooky results, read very well aloud, off the page, without the music to bolster the effect the worlds would have on the reader's/ listener's pleasure center. Realizing, of course, that poetry and songs are linked throughout history, let us fast-forward to the current situation and realize that poetry is stand alone, by itself, a medium of words, not musical notes. Poems as we regard them, though, do just fine, sans melody, provided the poet does the work of doing interesting things with the sounds of their word selection. That said, Mitchell has a genius of a strong variety, and her lyrics achieve a poetic shading that rises above the host of self-serious tunesmiths who consciously strive for a literary feel; where others sound for the most part as though they're trying in earnest, Mitchell shows no strain at all. There is ease of expression, unusual turns of phrase, remarkable associative leaps. The difference needn't be mysterious. Mitchell is simply a better lyricist than most of her contemporaries, and better than the artist who claims her as an influence.

Written by Melanie Safka

Record people ain't like others
They give bullets to their lovers
They get T-shirts and they get buttons
They go from having to having nothing

Movie people make the moves
Record men live in the grooves
They're always flying to better weather
They go swimming in the middle of the winter

Ma, I'm on the move again
You see, I married me a record man
We gotta move to California
Oh Ma, I guess this is goodbye
You see record folks live very high
To shake the hills of California
Wanna shake the hills of California

I was shot down right in the middle of the fog
Shot down, poor thing
She was shot down, oh she was, poor thing mmm
Was shot down right in the middle of the thought
In the middle of. . .
Shot down, oh, I was shot down, shot down, shot down

Oh Ma, I'm on the road again
You see, I married me a music man
We gotta move to California
Oh Ma, I guess this is goodbye
You see record folks live very high
To shake the hills of California
I'm gonna shake the hills of California

Lawyers who become producers
They schuk and jive the golden goose
Movers and comers who write and publish
Chicken parts, rhubarb, hot ones and rubbish

Ma, I'm on the move again
You see, I married me a session man
We're gonna move to California
Oh Ma, I guess this is goodbye
You see record folks live very high
To shake the hills of California
I wanna shake the hills of California

Record people ain't like others
They give bullets to their lovers
They get T-shirts and they get buttons
They go from having to
Go from having to
Go from having toGo

Melanie is an underrated lyricist, I think, who has cursed her hits Top  "Candles In the Rain" and "Brand New Key"; having pop hits for some songwriters diminishes stature, some critics assume. How could anyone presume to write a song that many listeners wanted to hear more than once? Gauche and gross.  This lyric, though, does yield meaning when merely reads it on the page,  her rhymes are interesting. Her colloquial language fits the narrator's persona well; chatty, catty, just a tad sardonic, someone addressing the myths of Hollywood success through a thinly disguised refusal to suspend disbelief. What the lines cry for, though, is the absent melody. Unlike formal poetry, which would require the writer to make these lines come alive as page poems through a mastery of rhythmic and euphoric techniques that would make the piece a literary object, the lyrics get their push but the lift, lilt and folded nuances of a melody that , in turn, is anchored in place by chord structure. Though the lyrics here, in themselves, communicate the author's intent, the punch, the sweet spot, as it were, is missing. The melody is required for full effect.


Barry Afonso comments: Glad to see someone is showing Ms. Safka some respect, finally. But to your main point … I think the rigid distinction you draw between song lyrics and poetry is just a tad arbitrary. What do you make of someone like Edgar Allan Poe, for instance? By today’s standards, “The Bells” is practically a song lyric; in fact, it has been set to music as recently as the 1960s. Poems published in American popular magazines were often turned into commercially successful songs during the 19th Century. Best-selling poets like Edgar Guest and James Whitcomb Riley likewise wrote the sort of rhymed, sentimental-to-clever verse that is very close to old-fashioned songwriting. As far as I can tell, the modern distinction comes from the loss of rhyme in poetry and the increasing separation of “serious” verse from pop culture. These are developments that did not have to happen. Yes, it is true that pop song lyrics frequently rely upon melody to round out their ability to express themselves. But this is certainly not always true, no more than every mouthful of words spewed out at a poetry slam qualifies as“poetry” according to your definition. There IS a difference between a lyric and a poem, but the line between them can be ambiguous and porous. Art is like that sometimes.

TED: Art is art because it's an expressive mission in constant flux, which means that the definitions are of what a lyric or a poem happen to be are slippery suckers indeed. Fact is, though, is that Poe was a mediocre poet, an arch-romantic rhymester given to obsessive surface effects because, I believe, he realized the vacuity of his content. One never responds emotionally to Poe's cadences; rather we appreciate them for their scansion, which is a distinction as banal as his best rhyming work. For all the talk of poems and lyrics being arbitrary distinctions at best, one needs to admit that the aesthetic of poetry has changed dramatically since the days of yore; reciting rhymed verse is more likely to seem affected and goonishly cute than stirring; there is always the genius who will rhyme brilliantly and with emotional power, but said poets are rare things. The upshot is that rhymes sound stilted, mannered, over thought to the contemporary ear. Recited sans music, one is greeted with the feeling of a peg-legged man pacing a creeky wood floor. As awful as so much free poetry can be, the poets do not, by default, sound ridiculous reading their work. Theirs is a different kind of banality altogether, starting with the waste of their parent's money to send them to a writing program.

Barry: These changes you cite in poetry are not marks of progress, only shifts in fashion. Rhyming seems anachronistic and even goofy in the modern era, but hell, a toga looked pretty good on Caesar Augustus. The times favor the sort of artistic expression that suits them best; the new innovations are not necessarily better, only more appropriate. Eddie Poe (and Eddie Guest, for that matter) may be stilted and corny, but they are still poets. And the likes of Dylan and Mitchell (and Lady Gaga) may well be their inheritors. 

Ted: All the same, the criteria of what makes for credible poems has evolved along with the style in which poems have written; although one may take from the past and revolutionize it to some degree, it's a new set of idioms that make up the current sensibility. Dylan and others may also be the inheritors of what Poe, Crane and still others have done, but they do so in the practice in another art, related to but distinct from poetry, which is songwriting. Dylan is a songwriter, not a poet.

Absorbine Jr: Jack, I must dip my toe into the warm broth of this discussion to bring up the case of Leonard Cohen. Did he cease to be a poet when he began writing songs? Don't his song lyrics echo the same themes and techniques as his work for the printed page? I think these questions need to be faced frankly and squarely, lest we give birth to firing squads.

Man Tied to a Chair: The lyrics to the song "Sisters of Mercy", written as lyrics, remain lyrics. In that case, Mr.Cohen is a lyricist, a songwriter. As the author of the haunting poetry sequence "Flowers for Hitler", he is a poet. He is a poet and a songwriter, and we appreciate what he does in either in both fields by related, but finely distinct standards. Poetry, written for the page, in a tone closer to vernacular speech, has greater range and may make use of more literary devices and is, as a result, capable of greater depth of feeling, allusion, association. Given the skill of the page poet, the poems have a life, a musicality when they are read aloud. Song lyrics, no matter how "poetic" they sound (or indeed, how actually brilliant they may be), are confined to the contours of the melody they accompany. Cohen songs, Costello Songs, Dylan Songs, Mitchell songs, Hendrix songs sound stiff, silly and vaguely pretentious when read aloud, as speech, sans melody. Ours is not an age of great rhymed poetry.

Grelb: Do not forget, my red-combed comrade, that many song lyrics are written first, with melody applied afterward. The confines of the rhyming form are restrictive, but so are many other literary conventions. It may well be true that the lyrics by the songwriters you cite sound silly or pretentious when they are read aloud. This is not, I submit because they rhyme. Rhyming does not damn all of the verse of the pre-modernist era to the realm of non-poetry. The very fact that most critically-accepted poetry does not rhyme today probably means that rhyming will eventually return as a revolutionary gesture. For better or worse/You read it here first.