Sunday, January 27, 2008

More on Joe Osterhaus

It was mentioned in an exchange about Joe Osterhaus's poem, discussed in a previous post, that he perhaps fails because there is an impure quality of the voices he puts forth, an imprecision in how exacting he conveys the details; these mixed dictions are the poem's strength, I think. They work in much the same way Robin Williams' comedy routines do, with his crazed careening of voices, accents, illusive references, the colloquial and the profane chumming it up with the serious, the stately. Some on the forum who objected to what Osterhaus had done protested that he wasn't doing something that a poet was supposed to do, ie, write with a fidelity to the world as it presents itself to the senses. This is where the difficulty comes in.

It’s a mistake to think that the default task of the poet is to get a scene exactly right, to offer up a snap shot of a situation under review. In most cases we discuss each Tuesday, the task we assign ourselves in how well , how effective a writer has offered up their view of a recognizable scene, in their voice, in their style. Ostehaus’s poem works for me because he knows how to create tension between the desire to dress up the ruthlessly ordinary in language that would elevate and transform , and to have it checked by a plainer , less varnished details signifying a world one is a part of and cannot transcend however sharp one’s descriptions happen to be. One of the things I thought attractive in the poem were the mixed dictions, the slightly arcane and obliquely filtered melded with the colloquial , the utterances less burden with literary weight. This anchors the scene making in time and place, and is , I think, a rather apt representation of the fluidity of one man’s thinking.

Recollection, in this case, as details considered are in the half-world characterized accurately by Bottomfish as similar to Edward Hopper’s paintings; a world of idealized objects in what seems like suspension, awaiting another set of events to lend them a narrative continuity , interspersed with the predictable ticks and spasmodic motions of the human form. I appreciated “the crawl forward” and that the cashier, contrasted against the somber tonality , “yanks her cash drawer”. We’ve all seen this in lines we’ve waited in on busy business days, and anyone who has worked a register knows the fast and brutal efficiency one applies to quickly remove their drawer from the till so they may count out, make their drop and go home at last.

Art and Fun

Last night over coffee, beer and election returns the conversation drifted to the subject of the internet and how such a thing has ruined the primacy of Real Art Making. Echoing a title of a recent book about blogging, my friend slurred his opinion that the "rise of Amateur Culture" turned matters of aesthetics and discerning taste into items to have fun with; "Everyone is having a grand old time" he said," everyone has a page and everyone is putting their two cents , their pictures, their poems, all the shit they've gathered and are putting it up on the net. It is not fair, this is serious work, I mean..." By that point MSNBC had projected Barak Obama the winner of the South Carolina primary, and I was left to stew for a night for an answer.

"Art" is massive set of aesthetic activities that accommodates a lot of agendas in its generalized practice, the practice of "having fun" not the least of them. "Fun" is that sense of something that engages and provokes in someway a facet of one's personality that makes up the personalized and skewed way that one understands how the world works in actual fact. Whether Cage piano recitals, James Carter solos, Fassbinder film festivals, or whatever gamier, tackier sounds cleave to ones' pleasured ganglia, the quality of fun, that fleeting, momentary state that defines an activity, is why we're attracted to some kinds of music , and not others. It's a legitimate definition for an aesthetic response, but the problem comes in the description of the response, the articulate delineation of what made a set of sounds "fun".

The point, of course, being that everything that is entertaining or distracting from the morbid sameness of daily life cannot be said to be exclusively in the domain of the willfully dumb, conceived in a massive expression of bad faith: what is entertaining, from whatever niche in the culture you're inspecting, is that activity that holds you attention and engages you the degree that you respond to it fully. "Fun", in fewer words.

Rush Hour--Joe Lovano

It’s early as I write this, and I'm listening to Rush Hour by Joe Lovano, composed and conducted by Gunther Schuller. This is as aesthetic a moment I've ever had, as Lovano's saxophone work operates in a variety of faint moods and dramatic sweeps; his phrasing is always choice, his cadences are full of surprise, his tone is a well trained voice of its own.A handy group of orchestrated compositions--"Prelude to a Kiss" (Ellington), "Kathline Gray" (Ornette Coleman). Lovano's tenor saxophone work is supreme against the sweeping textures of Schullers' orchestrations: ensemble and soloist work as choice extremes over the mood scapes. There's an ethereal steam brewing amid the extended blues choruses, bop cascades and serial investigations. This is the kind of pure musical work I wish Zappa had more time for. I am amazed at Lovanos' control over his technique and inspiration: he seems to draw a cool, fluctuating of bends and slurs from his horn: his ability to step inside the tradition and then step out of it again to entertain some grainier abstractions brings Wayne Shorter to mind. Not that one stops at the comparasion, only that Shorter comes closest to doing what's evident in Lovanos' inventions. Credit to Schuller: he project recovers nicely, I think, from his undiffereniated patchwork of "Epitath", a troubled labor of love.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Why stop at three?

Faulkner, Hemingway and Fitzgerald are considered in many an old-school clique to be the triumvirate of American Writers, to which I ask, reeling against the noxious habit of limiting “best of” lists to no more than three, why stop with three? The thinking is that writing in this country soured and became an insufferable murk of confessionalism and tone deaf experimentation in the last half of the twentieth century. Think what you may, but the second half of this century produced a lot of major talent who have produced or are producing respective bodies of work that require the passionate reading and argument our already named personal bests have received. Harold Bloom not withstanding, our canon is expanding with new and achingly good writers, and one would think that the male majority so far discussed will have relinquish room on their uppermost tier.

On the point, Fitzgerald will make the cut because so few writers, then or to the current time, have managed the breathless lyricism contained in the "The Great Gatsby" or "Tender Is the Night". Some have come close, and I'm thinking of the resonating sentences from Scott Spencer's "Endless Love" or some keenly rendered pages in Updike's "Rabbit" quartet, but Fitzgerald at best gave us small masterpieces that gave an sharp view of the time.

Hemingway, I thinks, merits a permanent place on any greatest list because his style, at best, was lean, and his sentences , constructed the way they are, convey pages of buried turmoil, lost hope, small idealism, bravery to pursue another day , to shoulder one's burden honorably. "In Our Time" and "The Sun Also Rises" accomplish this. At his worse, though, Hemingway was a boozing sentimentalist whose writing lapsed into repetitious self-parody, as we have in "Island in the Stream" or "A Movable Feast". But I am grateful for the good work he did.

London, I'm afraid, pales for me personally. He was a lot of fun for me when I was growing up, yearning for adventure in Catholic School. But later, in college, closer and more seasoned readings had him sounding rushed, awkward. The admixture of Marx and Darwin that seasoned his writings seem showed a straining idealism that was not redeemed by a modifying style. I’ve just re-read "John Barleycorn” and the book is ridiculous. It seemed like so much bluster and blarney toward the end , after vividly recalls his disastrous drinking career, that armed with this new self awareness, he would drink responsibly, that he was in fact only temporarily an alcoholic.

I doubt the record shows that London cured himself.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Joe Osterhaus has a sure tongue

Truth be told, I rather like most of "Food Lion, Winchester, Tennessee", andI find Joe Osterhouse's writing to be rich and evocative, not overwritten. Elegant is the word, I think, a balance of concrete specifics and artfully placed qualifiers, both elements which produce a vigorous and quietly urgent music of an ordinary set of observations considered from a larger view, larger just so. Over writing , for me, is the evidence of a bad idea, or an idea that hadn't been completely thought through in which the author tries to compensate with a muscled-up language inclined to bullying the reader to accept a premise instead of taking it apart, inspecting it closely. This trait, I think, is a central reason why so many political pundits sound like a cracked-out Greek Chorus of doomsayers; the smallest incident on the campaign trail or in Congress is riddled with every rhetorical gun in the arsenal .Osterhaus isn't over writing with this poem, as overwriting by default means a writer has an imprecise grasp of the qualities he's trying to join. The poet here offers up choice descriptions of credible scenes.
Night sways at the lit boundary of the lot.
Downroad, a Lotto billboard dances with flies,
whose reels card strands of glare, and epaulet
a gambler shaking the bias from two dice
and a drum sunk in the embankment, gouged with rust.
*******Inside, the clockwork mists
***track Raleigh's world: from a field
*********of broad leaves, twists
of cured tobacco; and, from harbors gigged with rest,
a waxwork queen wept on a waxwork shield. 

This, I think, is in a league with the best prose we take from the short stories of John Cheever or John Updike, or even Hemingway , in his tour-De-force description of the Cuban marina in the middle of his novel To Have and Have Not. This is a world where qualities of light matter, either brightness burning through the blackness as morning comes, or the darkness hovering over the lit patches of the earth as citizens scurry to complete their tasks and perform their duties. The sweep of this stanza is smooth, euphony, moving with the grace of a Hitchcock tracking shot from the line inside the store with it's details of cashiers switching shifts, to the edge of the parking lot as night moves in, revealing just beyond the edges of the lot as darkness gathers tobacco fields and military bases.

Osterhaus won me over with his apt language, his skill at describing the commonplace in interesting ways, such as when he writes Downroad, a Lotto billboard dances with flies, or in the next stanza where he writes of a shopping cart's Wheels corkscrewing. This, for me, is the work of a writer who has developed his ear and mastered the rules of writing to the extent that he knows when he can credibly and effectively break them; Wheels corkscrewing is an choice turning of a noun into an adjective. Osterhaus loves language enough to abuse it wisely.Or again in the first stanza, where there is the perfectly rendered description of the minor tedium of waiting in a supermarket checkout line

From here, the line seems not to move at all;
back beneath a clock that diamonds the hours
with blushing vents of coke.

James Cain couldn't have been more effective with an opening line; for him, one is tossed off a water truck in the first sentence, and here, one is in the afterlife waiting in a line that will not move no matter how many times one checks his watch. Osterhaus has that talent too few poets attempting this sort of broad sketch have, the knack for putting the reader inside the details.

The final lines spoil the effect,though, and the sudden evocation of soldiers, the Iraq War, and a bit of self doubt concerning the narrator's bravery compared against that the enlisted men is more pandering for ironic effect than anything else.The poet feels compelled to make it known that he is the sensetive sort who harbors a self-recriminating demon that informs that he is a spineless worm, even in a supermarket at night. It's a sudden intrusion of the narrator's issues , and fails for the reason that Osterhaus ought to have found a less obvious way of dealing with the soldiers other than gently flagellate himself.This is a Lifetime for Women movie moment when a sudden detail changes the tone and causes the participating heart to drop to the floor with the sudden gravity of cruel fate. The only thing missing here is the low toned, off key violin chords to signify that the good vibe is now soured;does the poet really need to Pavlov his readers? It rings false, a coda of self-criticism that neither convinces nor benefits the poem as a whole; had this been my poem, these would have been lines I would have highlighted and deleted and try instead for an ending that didn't seem a cardboard prop in a world of hard objects.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

There was a gasping blowhard on a blog who in the course of a debate as to which country , America or Britain, had produced the largest number of Great Rock Bands uttered these phrases that still have me gritting my teeth these seven years later, formulating a ready response: American bands with VERY few exceptions SUCK! The best I could come up was this: Do you mean all American bands, ever, from any time in rock and roll history? You don’t believe that since American bands and solo artists are the architects of rock and roll, and that without them, the British bands you love would not exist, at least not in the form that makes you go gaga and loopy, like and roll ought to do. I refuse to believe that any art that I love stems from, or was influenced, or made possible by anything that ‘sucks’. Since American bands influenced a good many great British bands, American bands, by and large, do not suck. Great musicians tend to be influenced by other great musicians. I think you understand that. For the track record in the post-British invasion phase, I insist that it’s about even, America ahead by a neck. But here, we can have a reasonable disagreement.

The fact of the matter is that the history of British rock and roll is a reworking of traditions that are not native to your shores. You've produced great music and extensions of established styles, but rock and rolls' bleeding edge comes from America, finally: that seems to be the only advantage to being as gummed-up as we are--there is a tension in the musical culture that remains constant and vital that you Brits, historically, have only refined into an aesthetically arguable style. Britain has gotten all the credit for punk rock, and even that’s not their own invention: The MC-5, Iggy and the Stooges, The Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls were playing years before Malcolm McLaren placed his want-ad for future Sex Pistols. But what of it all? It goes back and forth, and it’s unlikely that either shore would have made as interesting music had we not been exposed to the music the other was making. Every note that gets played comes back to us changed, modified, altered to suit another players' purpose relevant to his experience.

The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks crushes one’s skull and destroys one’s notions of pop decorum just fine, but it does sound like Kick Out the Jams sixteen years later. The psychodramatic of marginal bands who are locked out of the star-making machinery is, like it or not, is a long and rich tradition in America with the likes of Alice Cooper, another Detroit boy who sold several million albums with the proto-grunge rock sometime before the Pistols had half a wit about themselves. One cannot take black music from the equation; to do so is racist and foul and evidence of bed wetting. Rock and roll is black music at its heart and base, and we'd be dishonest to exclude the matter. It does, after all, come from Chuck Berry. Ask Keith Richard. Chrissie Hynde still sounds American to me, and still sounds like Akron, Ohio. Iggy Pop and Ted Nugent hail from the Detroit/Ann Arbor area, and the geographic/temporal coincidences certainly didn't cause either to sound like the other. In turn, why should Hynde sound like Devo? Any hoot, she kicks it major ways, she is awesome, a goddess. And obnoxious? I only have to buy her records, not buy her dinner.

For BB King and other blues artists, its still another case of Brits admitting that the music they're making is based on someone else’s work. We cannot seem to get around that. Eldridge Cleaver is as fallible a cultural critic as anyone you can name, and his comment about the Beatles was intended to appeal to white radicals who were buying his books. It was a nice for him to assure his audience that he wasn't a complete monster: say something nice about something they love. Proper credit for a white man making black music acceptable to white teens, though, properly goes to Elvis Presley. Anyone of our blessed Brits would cite the El as their first exposure to black music, along with millions of white American teens, was through him. The Beatles essentially were needed links in an ongoing chain of influences. But Elvis was the groundbreaker. Period. Any other statement is not accurate, Eldridge Cleaver to the contrary.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Pushing Daisy

She Didn’t Mean to Do It
Poems by Daisy Fried (Pitt Poetry Series)
Daisy Fried wrote about on line poetry forums a while ago for Poetry Magazine, and had some dour remarks recording Poetry Fray, the board where I hang my hat and dangle my participles . She evidently wasn’t impressed by what she saw, or rather scanned, and wound up calling those of us who opine and poeticize there “extraordinarily lame.” Since Fried doesn't’t seem to have followed any of the more energetic discussions the forum produces, and seemed to lurk rather than engage, she gave me a resentment, the same kind of distaste one gets when listen to a fool prate about something they’ve scarcely investigated. So this is payback. Fried, I have to say, is one gummed up poet.

These are the kind of earnest and stridently hip posturing that shows up in abundance in college poetry writing classes, with the worked over details of grit and snippets of overheard chatter striking one not as any kind of expression that freshly re-frames the perceived world , but rather the results of one selecting items from a set menu. . One would do just as well with the poetry magnets one can arrange on the kitchen door; if the words themselves don't nourish, one is at least has a food close at hand. Daisy Fried serves up a plate of undercooked material.

That said, I can calm down and say that Daisy Fried is actually quite a good vernacular poet--she can whip up a storm of conflated chatter and have it all echo with a Greek chorus effectiveness of announcing an irony undetected or casting a skewering glance at a future that remains doubtful to other eyes. Of course , I contradict myself from the previous paragraph, but I did say that this was "payback", an activity that isn't, by default, honest, rational, or fair in any sense other than shoring the boundries of one's permeable ego. The truth is that while Fried has room for improvement in her performances as a cultural journalist, she is , all the same, a poet worthy of her publications. A tart and witty tongue lives in the that head of hers. The title poem, below, is a hook-laden thing. Enjoy.

She Didn't Mean to Do It
Daisy Fried
Oh, she was sad, oh, she was sad.
She didn't mean to do it.

Certain thrills stay tucked in your limbs,
go no further than your fingers, move your legs through their paces,
but no more. Certain thrills knock you flat
on your sheets on your bed in your room and you fade
and they fade. You falter and they're gone, gone, gone.
Certain thrills puff off you like smoke rings,
some like bell rings growing out, out, turning
brass, steel, gold, till the whole world's filled
with the gonging of your thrills.

But oh, she was sad, she was just sad, sad,
and she didn't mean to do it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Burn the Manuscript.

I’m generally not a fan of posthumous books by great authors for the simple reason that most of what surfaces after a famed scribe’s death suffer in the goriest possible terms. After the fact manuscripts by Elizabeth Bishop, Truman Capote, Hunter Thompson and (most grotesquely) Ernest Hemingway are less than the respective genius enthralled in the reader. Rough drafts, juvenilia, awkward early writings where one was working toward a mature style, and copious late-career self-parodies are all things I‘d have preferred to remain in the drawer, or in the box; it’s embarrassing to have a book in your hand who’s publication wasn’t approved by the author in which there’s writing that falls below the superlative standards the author set for himself or herself. Ralph Ellison hasn't fared well with the editor-gathered publication of his incomplete second novel Juneteenth, a rambling and unshapely project he worked on for decades and never finished ; the selected publication of this mess sullies , I think, the reputation of a writer who one could read and at least be content with the knowledge that while he wasn't prolific the books published under his watch at least showed him at the top of his game. Juneteenth, great as it may have been and perhaps is in parts, dampens one's estimation. Modern Library has plans to publish the entire thing in 2008 under the title Three Days Before the Shooting, a task they might have considered before since it would be fairer to Ellison's reputation; instead of pretending to have released a finished novel, one can enter into this posthumous zone knowing that what they might behold was a work in progress, and as such bears every inconsistent quality such things inevitably contain.

The prospect of Vladimir Nabokov's final work, an unfinished tale he ordered his brother Dimitri to destroy after his death, finding it's way for public view makes me queasy, something like the extended final tour the body of the late James Brown was forced to take as he got funkier due to nature's way, not natural rhythm.

Hemingway’s reputation as a stylist diminished in the view of critics of critics and readers with the surfeit of previously unpublished manuscripts had the tendency to be mawkish and sentimental in his rawest form, and you wanted to avert your eyes from the page of a work he wanted to remain apocryphal. Mailer fanatic that I am, there’s no thirst on my part to read incomplete and unpolished prose from the late writer set between book covers; it seems immoral to let the less tidy writings be presented as “unpublished gems” , or “lost masterpieces”. It’s a dishonest cheat, a fraud laid upon the readership. Nabokov was painstaking in his craft, and it’s his judgment I trust if he deemed the manuscript unpublished. Burn it and allow us a genius unspoiled by erring scholars and eager publishers.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Picking Up Ed Dorn

(a repost)

There comes the occasional need to clear the poetry that becomes waxy sediment in one's ear by returning to an old standby, a dependable set of poems that fired an imagination decades ago that can still inspire one to think imaginative writing is indeed the method with which one can "break on through". This isn't a slight against anyone I've been reading, though there are hills and dales in the perpetual reading list I keep; it's just that I want the gravity and grit of sentences that distinguished themselves from the common expression. So I go back to Ed Dorn, introduced to me by poet Paul Dresman back in the late Seventies, particularly his epic poem "Gunslinger". Equal parts myth-making,satire, phenomenological investigation and an expansion on the Charles Olson projectivist project that twined style and diction, personality with the physicality and accumulated history of region, some of what Dorn was up to now reads psychedelic and out of sync, of its time, the Sixties, but there remains beyond the dated lingo the verve of a writer that understands the absurdity of all manner of defining rhetoric and which finds purpose in exposing what's under the cornerstones of dogma. The warning sounds again and again in Gunslinger against someone finding themselves described at all; set in a West of the imagination, where one can start over and start again potentially as many times as the imagination permits, being described imprisons one in another person's frameworks; you become what they think you are. The late Ed Dorn wrote a masterpiece with "Gunslinger", an anti-epic poem that prefigures many post-modern gestures from its 60s era starting point. Funny, cartoonish, erudite to the extreme, it also locates a tuned lyricism in the Western vernaculars that Dorn uses: the metaphysical aspect of our legends, the sheer questing for answers as Euro-Americans come treading closer to a West coast that will stop them and force them to settle and create lives from dust and ingenuity, comes alive in way that never escapes the zaniness of Dorn's narrating inquiry into the nature of the search.

A masterpiece

 Giddy stuff, this, but Dorn is brilliant at the stretch. He gets it done. One finds solace too in is shorter poems. Some are plain-spoken knockouts:


But now I pass
graveyards in a car.
The dead lie,
with their feet toward me--
please forgive me for
saying the tombstones would not
fancy their faces turned from the highway.

Oh perish the thought
I was thinking in that moment
Newman Illinois
the Saturday night dance--
what a life? Would I like it again?
No. Once I returned late summer
from California thin from journeying
and the girls were not the same.
You'll say that's natural
they had been dancing all the time.

Tom Robbins' wrote a blurb for one of Dorn's books (Hello LaJolla), "Ed Dorn is a can opener in the supermarket of life." He was one of the great masters of the Western Voice in the 20th century, a voice maintaining rural accents and wanderlust that has been subdivided with Eastern conceits and European irony; his epic poem Gunslinger is something of a post-modern masterpiece after the pomp of Whitman and Charles Olson have worn away; the student has an expansive persona as well, but it is zany, frantic, engaged in constant conversation with the variant dictions he contains within himself. Moving on to the next thing, as you say, is what is always required in this personality; there's always something else to learn, emotions to feel anew, a new dance step to absorb, a new direction to take over all. I like this because Dorn has a way of interrupting himself and getting to what it was he really wanted to say without the initial lines being a waste; one appreciates the mastery of the bold strokes, the odd alignments. One appreciates, as well, his relative brevity. Ed Dorn could take you a journey in a poem and leave you at the side of the interstate in the middle of nowhere, wondering what just happened. I mean that as a compliment.

If anyone cares to read it, a poem I wrote for Ed Dorn can be seen here.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cop Shows

The Wire on HBO has come back for it's fifth and final season, and for one last time we get to witness the further doings and undoings in the city of Baltimore. There isn't a television drama, let alone a crime drama , that's done what this program has done, construct a narrative line with a novel's depth and complexity .Each class level is explored, characters of high, low and pragmatic motivations are given full back stories and who's personalities and motivations are subject to unexpected fluctuations of mood, tone. There are no cardboard characters in this drama.Created by author David Simon, who authored the book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, the drama began as an investigation by a rag tag Baltimore police unit into street drug trafficking, a covert activity informed by the phrase "follow the money". Follow the money this crew did, and what's unfolded in the four previous seasons is a textured, superbly layered of how all that unmarked cash has found it's way into the social,educational, religious and political institutions that nominally exist to improve the quality of civic life; corruption blatant and subtly seductive both undermines the best intentions of the virtuous and deludes those with power that there efforts in this corrosive mire is progress toward a brighter day. Hard truths triumph, though, and matters get worse. The heros , as it were, fight off the a bitter cynicism and apply their ideals to unforgiving circumstance. The Wire is a true tragedy,and nothing else is likely to be as compelling a television experience for many years to come.

I was an obsessive viewer of the genius television cop drama Homicide:Life on the Street, one of the faithful who stuck by the show during it's wobbly seven year run. The show never gained a huge audience, but it has had a huge influence on serialized drama to come; demon-plagued murder police trying to make up for shortcomings but speaking for the murdered dead, the grit and grease of dogged police investigation, tersely eloquent dialogue where the characters considered larger things in the universe other than themselves without a trace of writerly strain or artifice.Elmore Leonard meets Ed McBain. The writing and acting on the show was superior to what one would pay ten dollars for at the movie theater, and thanks to the release of the entire series on DVD and the insane convenience of Netflix, one can view the classics over and over, until they are well sick of the show and the actors. That has yet to happen with me, and a recent viewing of the last episode of the last season, gets me just a little choked up. I try to be a cynic and come across as hard, hard to impress, but somethings get me just a little weepy.

The sense of the show is that at anyone time a character thinks they've come to an understanding of how some universal principles operate in the world, some crisis, some kind of natural catastrophe or outbreak of meanness upsets their paradigm, leaving them confused, angry, demanding answers about the "why" of evil from a sheer surge of global energy that never bothers to answer. Frank with his arguments with his Catholic God come to mind, but also G with his Blue Brotherhood provincialism, and even Bayliss, with his Zen enlightenment being only another Totalizing paradigm that works only to shield him from the nagging notion that perhaps there is no "why" behind the random homicides he investigates, and that the only reason to track down and bring killers to justice is all show and tell, a flurry of activity that distracts the grieving and the frightened from what may be this worlds' scariest truth: there really is nothing behind any of these things, nothing to maintain, no "great' truths of moral virtue to be upheld. These detectives have been pounded relentlessly from the first day of the show, and since it , despite the strong vein of humor, is mostly in the Tragic form, we have displays of Hubris being smashed to bits, slowly, rapidly as the situation fits the action: expectations are constantly downsized, withered, dying from the sheer onslaught of raw phenomena that has no humor , or inkling of irony. Bayliss, at the end, displayed an air of listening to one view after another, realizing that from Munch to G to Lewis , the world views expressed are as valid as it makes the skin of the sayers fit better, yet the only thing he learned was that he had loved Frank, and that thing, that person, who had given his job meaning at all was gone, and with the departure, his reason to stay.We have Bayliss leaving through the door he came through seven years earlier, knowing at last that only love gives meaning to the world, and that the lack of love kills it.

There were some middlebrow revisionism in the TV columns that have made the case that NYPD Blue, an cop show that ran on ABC for year seasons, was a sexy TV show. Scratch that. Not sexy,but erotic.Hardly. Even in the early days when this program was supposedly "pushing the envelope" regarding what they could get away with on a broadcast network drama, there was an aggravating smugness to all the pressed-ham glimpses of butts and sliding side views of women's breasts.

Nudity and sex had long been accepted in commercial films , and the response that Steven Bocho and David Milch came up with , a timid glance of nudity, became distracting set pieces in the story lines; in the interest of perpetuating the "drama" of the program, everyone who had sex in this show never seemed to enjoy themselves leading up to, during, or after the fact. NYPD Blue were cops in a perpetual post-coital funk. Intercourse wasn't an expression of love but rather something that resembled sporadic acts of desperation.A good part of the meanness and bad faith that inhabited the characters simply continued beyond the stumbling awkwardness of the act. One can, of course, make the case that this is a storyline in which intimacy is well-nigh impossible for cops whose job requires them to observe the endless insults foisted on human dignity and decency, but there are limits to the dramatic plausibility as it played out each week.

Between furtive sex scenes,NYPD Blue became rudderless over the seasons, reduced to a few plot moves to justify another three-five episode story arc; let's kill Andy's partner, let's make Andy drink, let's kill Andy's son, let's make Andy get sober, let's kill Andy's wife, let's make Andy drink, let's get Andy sober again, let's kill Andy's new partner, let's make Andy stay sober this time. This set of variations of deaths and relapses got old over the last five seasons, and all you could wonder is why any Detective would partner with Sipowicz given the trail of bodies he left behind. One wonders, also, why it was this battered soul remained a cop considering it didn't seem Fate would cut him any slack.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Miles Davis Tribute Worth Keeping

A Tribute to Miles Davis--
Wallace Roney(trumpet), 
Herbie Hancock(keyboards), 
Tony Williams(drums), 
Wayne Shorter(reeds), 
Ron Carter(bass)
You need to bear in mind that this isn't a dusty museum exhibition where the music of the late trumpeter and bandleader is dutifully eviscerated and mounted on a pedestal. Quite the opposite, as Davis alum Hancock, Shorter, Carter and Williams, along with firebrand trumpeter Wallace Roney perform a number of familiar tunes with vigor and intensity. Mere reverence is replaced with passion and a willingness to stir things up. Roney, in particular, is a wonder and an inspired choice to fill the trumpet position; he has a hard-core virtuosity that rivals Freddie Hubbard, and yet retains a sublimely modulated, vibrato-less tone, clean and pristine. His register-jumping flurries on the live version of "So What" or the delicately etched readings are remarkable examples of pace and phrasing. For an instrument known for its uniformly declarative, sound, with the notes, as executed by the most superlative of players, sounding sharp, full, hard bits of color sculpting whole structures of sound from the metaphorical block of granite. Roney,though, had something else, the rarest of thing in jazz trumpet, the ability to make his extemporaneous statements fluid,one note flowing out of the one before it and into the one that follows in a deceptively easy legato that made you think of the accelerated fluidity of saxophonist John Coltrane. Roney, I'd wager , is the obverse of Hubbard; in my life I've witnessed the glory of two of the most compelling jazz trumpet players, one the skyrocketing lyricist, Hubbard, for whom precision and speed were in the mastery of musical ideas that sped by in breath taking forays, and the other and no lesser , Roney, whose virtuosity was in the service of seemingly unlimited ideas of restatement, reconfiguration, and reimagining of a composer's written score. 

And, square as it may sound, it's always great to have Hancock et al return from their wanderings in the fusion wilderness and apply their singular skills on material that requires the best of their improvisational genius. Shorter, for my money, remains the best saxophonist of the post-Coltrane generation, assembling his solos in abstracted sections and deliciously snaky tangents. Williams is, to say nothing else, an astonishing drummer, a continuous rumble of polyrhythms, rising and falling with the many sly turns of this music. Bop, ballads and casually asserted samba rhythms are highlighted with William's strong, graceful stickwork.