Friday, August 31, 2012

Morning Eastwood

Video of Clint Eastwood's RNC speech.:

    The saddest headline of the morning is what I just saw on the front page of for a news video;

    Sometimes you imagine an iconic film maker/actor getting out of their comfort zone and attempting something edgy and avant gard , something steeped in a High Modernist aesthetic.

     Eastwood might   be further around the curve than I might have imagined. Rather than do a Beckett play, he instead morphed into a one man Beckett production, a self contained diorama of babbling alienation. This is the imagination of bad results, testimony to life replaying conversations on broken tape machines. What this had to do with what President Obama has done right or wrong is besides the point; what this reveals about politics is non existent. What this has to do with is staring too long at the intersection thinking that there is a face in the easy chair across the room that is listening to your views and inserting their own remarks,

    Is this is a man walking backwards into genius?

      Monday, August 27, 2012

      Norman Mailer’s movies: Revisiting Maidstone, Wild 90, and Beyond the Law - Slate Magazine

      Norman Mailer’s movies: Revisiting Maidstone, Wild 90, and Beyond the Law - Slate Magazine:
      Norman Mailer's experimental narratives will remain intriguing curiousities , examples of what happens when a brilliant writer attempts to conquer another medium that he has no natural affinity with. Mailer could talk a good game, to be sure, and he demonstrated skill as a film critic--his essay on "Last Tango in Paris" is especially sharp and eloquant on the task of getting to an existential moment within a developing storyline--but his improvisational forays seemed stoned and foolish. "Tough Guys Don;t Dance", not a film I recommend looking for a satisfying murder mystery, does rise above the rest for having a budget and some professional polish. It is awkward, but it does have wierdness to it that Mailer might have developed, ala David Lynch.Lynch, though,has his own problems , with  dead camera tonality descending , with continued viewing, from strangeness  to mere tedium.  

      Friday, August 24, 2012

      History of prog: The Nice, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and other bands of the 1970s. - Slate Magazine

      History of prog: The Nice, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and other bands of the 1970s. - Slate Magazine:

      This was a genre that had so much instrumental activity for so little music that was genuinely pleasurable. The conceit had been that rock had advanced to the degree that it was indeed an art form, concert music, in both the instrumental and lyric sense. This yielded some nice and clever albums and individual tunes that still endure, but in all the mass result was bloat, pretentiousness, ersatz mysticism or bargain bin despair; it was not fun and it was work to listen to. What is amazing is how much work many of us did trying to convince ourselves that most of this material would last beyond our lifetimes. It hasn't. Slate does a nice series detailing the history of the rise and fall and the contents of the progressive rock we all used to love .

      I remember the conversations with Steve Esmedina and David Zielinski and George Varga about this stuff; only Esmo defended progressive rock as a genre, on its own terms. I always thought the style was hit or miss for the most part, with the misses, the extended, busy and aimless constructions that occupied the air more than made it sweeter, becoming the norm, rapidly. There were prog rock bands I liked, those being most of King Crimson's career in all their line ups, Yes up to the Fragile album, and smatterings of Jethro Tull, ELP, and so on. What is missing from the story is anything about the American equivalent of British progressive rock; not Kansas or other bands directly copying the Euro style, but rather the likes of Zappa, Captain Beeheart, Steely Dan, Little Feat--the list could go on, of course--but these personalities and bands had the usual devices going for them, like tricky time signatures, off the wall lyrics, impressive instrumental chops, longish and dense arrangements.

       The key distinction, though, was the American tradition of blues, jazz and rhythm and blues came to merge very heavily into a mixture that included classical music as a matter of course--what resulted, though, is something altogether different and, I think, a damn sight weirder and less same-sounding than what the Brits were, in time, manufacturing like so many widgets. Let us not forget our glory days of rock/fusion : MILES DAVIS, WEATHER REPORT, TONY WILLIAMS LIFETIME,GARY BURTON, MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA, RETURN TO FOREVER; love it or hate it, jazz musicians took up rock dynamics and created a sound that was a fleet, dissonant and complex response to the tinker toy music Europe sent to us. Sure enough, the American version   of  progressive rock became another version of slick commercialism ,  resembling  the dissonance and explosive virtuosity of the early days and evolving to ever more simple forms, resulting  at last in that horrid genre called smooth jazz.

      Wednesday, August 22, 2012

      'Justice League' #12: DC reveals Super Man's new Woman -- EXCLUSIVE | Shelf Life |

      'Justice League' #12: DC reveals Super Man's new Woman -- EXCLUSIVE | Shelf Life |

      This is a perfect development for the New 52 rebooting of the Superman universe--Lois Lane had been an imperiled paper doll for decades who was busy having her haplass presence rescued by Superman. She was an interesting character, used more as device to impede Superman's ongoing mission to fight for truth, justice and ...Now that she's free of Superman, DC writers can develop her character in ways they couldn't before. And since the new version of Superman emphasises his "otherness", his feeling of feeling apart from the human race he has sworn to protect, it is more realistic and dramatically compelling the he find attraction to some one likewise super-powered and sharing Superman;s alienation. It makes sense as well that he should have a partner who wouldn't be destroyed in the act of love making.

      Wednesday, August 15, 2012

      Ayn Rand on Johnny Carson: Watch the full Tonight Show interview. (VIDEO)

      Ayn Rand on Johnny Carson: Watch the full Tonight Show interview. (VIDEO):

      Ayn Rand is a one trick pony and an effective marketer of snake oil. The key is that her alleged philosophy has only one premise that things would be so much better had humanity not strayed from the Path it was intended to be on. Whether it lies in the cruder readings of Marx and Engels and the vulgar literalism that overtakes the Religious Right, these are variations on the Fall from Grace trope. It is a simple paradigm, simply presented, that presents a powerful and seductive reason for why things are not perfect. It is a fantastically reductionist movement that, although Rand protests that no one, not even the State, may initiate force against another to compel him or her to act against their own judgment, Rand's dogma isn't workable, even in the most botched and disastrous application, unless the absolutist policies favorable to her ends find implementation in a manner that brutishly and none so subtly exclude an opposing view.

      The inevitable result of her views and the views of her followers is to establish an authoritarian regime, with rights and privileges restricted to those with money, land, industry at their full disposal. Rand as much argued this in her writings. Now is the time for all of us to imagine the sheer hell an America governed by Randroids would be like. Bear in mind that I am talking about Rand's ideas and her followers and not about the Libertarian Movement in general. Rand has spent a good amount of her writings arguing who should have power and who should not, and regardless of the finer points of her grating prose, it comes down to that those with the business genius, which is to say downright ruthlessness, are the only ones who have the natural right to shape the world in which they live. Others are no consequence; it is implicit that others in the culture, the majority of us, must be subservient to those who build corporate edifices to their self-defined greatness. This comes across as authoritarian and calling it something else or claiming that it isn’t so does not change the matter that life for the rest of us, under Rand regime, would be Hobbesian nightmare, nasty , brutish and short.

      It's fitting. Rand was nasty, brutish and short.

      Ayn Rand continues to infuriate the left, because she clearly identified the basic and crucial political issue of our age: capitalism versus socialism, or freedom versus statism. “

      Ayn Rand famously presented herself as an atheist in her desire to be branded an intellectual, and yet the diagnosis she presents as to what the defining and most crucial issue facing America as a country and culture,, "free vs. statism", is a trope she borrowed from the Bible and it's fables of end times, of the war between Heaven and Hell being fought here on earth through the human agents for God and Satan. This Manichean view demonstrates the laziness of her thinking. Not that this habit of borrowing particulars from the narrative template Christian orthodox places upon us is limited to rigidly Hard Right demagogues; erstwhile atheist philosopher Karl Marx foresaw the end of history as process where, after achieving through violent revolution the "dictatorship of the proletariat", the State would wither away and the world and the people within in would be restored to a pre-Capitalist state of naturalness. Among both their sets of codified ideas are a great many notions taken from other sources, and the presentation of their ideas into comprehensible arguments entails rummaging through the same stock of rhetorical devices and sleights of hand. The upshot of all this, of course, is that it feeds beautifully to a population that desires an answer to the over arching question that consists of When Did Things Go Wrong?

       You can find an answer for ever No one is arguing against property rights; rather one is arguing against a belief system that insists to the exclusion of all other evidence that it is morally wrong for property owners to be held accountable for what they do with their property, or that there should be enforceable standards and limits on what can be done with that property lest it seriously and dangerously conflict with --gasp!--the greater good. When the hack architect Keating in The Fountainhead breaks his promise to Roark and allows government bureaucrats to alter the design he (Roark) ghost-designed for him, Roark feels betrayed and personally violated by the forces he abhors and takes it upon himself, by reason of him being a self-motivated and self-contained creator, to ignore the Law and all shared sense of decency and avenge his hurt feelings by destroying the finished destruction of the public housing project. 

      The shelter and elevated standard of living it would have provided the poor and needful was of no consequence--the solipsistic principles Roark lived by needed to be enforced over all else. Roark's long and one-note speech at the end of The Fountainhead is a fairly good outline of the Objectivist point of view, and with it Roark defends his action. There was a disturbance in the balance of things, much as it goes in classical tragedy, and only an act of severe violence, unmindful of what death might occur as a result, could put the balance right again. Roark here is conspicuously Rand's mouthpiece, a sock puppet peddling her peculiar brand of inverted morality; the implication is clear, conspicuous, very plain indeed: should the work of genius creators like Roark be interfered or changed, the creator reserves the right to become to rise above the petty, slave morality laws of common society and commit an act of TERRORISM to keep his point clear. This is not merely a fictional spiel intended to tie up loose plot threads, it is a serious if deluded argument meant to be taken seriously by the reader. Roark is very much a fictional creation whose example we are meant to be inspired by. ...more

      Tuesday, August 14, 2012

      Books and their secrets

      Thinking that books should have secrets like people do implies that you think books are very much people in the first place; the further implication is that books have their own private agendas to execute upon the world by way their readership.

      Books, if they had personalities and whims and manifest duties independent of the men and women who wrote them, would have no duties other than to be an enthralling, pleasurable reading adventure, the preferred result for the reader being an experience that challenges and shakes their assumptions, perhaps even depresses them a little, but which leaves them resilient above all else.
      The writer is not obliged to make his fictions cohere with anyone's enforced standards of content and result; otherwise it would cease to be fiction, that is art, and become instead a lie, that is propaganda. The secrets books remain secrets until the pages are read. Quality control is impossible, though, and not all secrets are created equal. Many secrets are dull, tacky, tawdry, inane altogether. Not every sin is spectacular , not every indiscretion is evil, not every thought of mendacity is , in itself, worth of another world war, or even a disapproving slant of the head and  crosseyed frown.

      The more exciting secrets, the truly enthralling ones, even in the context of a novel, can make you wonder if you're any better off for knowing what indecent things a writer was purging in character garb.

      Thursday, August 9, 2012

      Bleaky, batty and brilliant

      The Dark Knight Rises has inspired a dedicated coterie of nay sayers who complain that the film is a lugubrious  bore, muddled in plot and spectacularly pedestrian in superhuman feats; considering that the director is Christopher Nolan , an artist who chases bad ideas with the same meticulous ambition he pursues good ones, the charge might have credibility if one hadn't seen the film.
      Chris Nolan's last film "Inception" was a superb example of what this director does with an idea when he decides to worry the notion and overwork it to the extent that it becomes a slow, waddling crawl of a film bloated with intellectual pretensions that cease to be parts of an intricate premise and more a case of a screenwriters who have fallen in love with the sound of their own voice In other words, this auteur of bleak proves himself capable of being hung with the many strands of his own ideas--so many loose strings left untied. "Dark Knight Rises", though, benefits greatly for having comic books as its source material, a form that demands a leaner, straight forward narrative.
      Not that TDKR is a simple tale--it's a murky terrain of moral ambivalence, self doubt and ambivalent morality--but Nolan provides a masterful tone to all of this, a noirish brooding contained in this film's dark corners, and moves along the plot points at a relatively brisk pace, considering the length of the film. It is a murky film, but it is an epic murk, a series of catastrophes wherein in it appears that not just the characters fight for what it is good and decent in this world, but also the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, struggling to free itself of many foul diseases that have invaded its body politic. The Dark Knight Rises has a Gotham City that is a noble force battling every bit of foulness a malevolent universe can toss at it. It is an epic tale and to witness this is enthralling. Nolan, who can indeed be pretentious and vague in his work, did well, very well this time out.

      Tuesday, August 7, 2012

      Making a living

      Rock and roll is all about professionalism , which is to say that some one of the alienated and consequently alienating species trying to make their way in the world subsisting on the seeming authenticity of their anger, ire and anxiety has to make sure that they take care of their talent, respect their audiences expectations even as they try to make the curdled masses learn something new, and to makes sure that what they are writing about /singing about/yammering about is framed in choice riffs and frenzied backbeat. It is always about professionalism; the MC5 used to have manager John Sinclair, story goes, turn off the power in middle of one of their teen club gigs in Detroit to make it seem that the Man was trying to shut down their revolutionary oomph. The 5 would get the crowd into frenzy, making noise on the dark stage until the crowd was in a sufficient ranting lather. At that point Sinclair would switch the power back on and the band would continue, praising the crowd for sticking it to the Pigs.
      This was pure show business, not actual revolutionary fervor inspired by acne scars and blue balls; I would dare say that it had its own bizarre integrity, and was legitimate on terms we are too embarrassed to discuss. In a way, one needs to admire bands like the Stones or Aerosmith for remembering what it was that excited them when they were younger, and what kept their fan base loyal.  All I would say is that it's not a matter of rock and roll ceasing to be an authentic trumpet of the troubled young soul once it became a brand; rather, rock and roll has always been a brand once white producers, record company owners and music publishers got a hold of it early on and geared a greatly tamed version of it to a wide and profitable audience of white teenagers. In any event, whether most of the music being made by Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and others was a weaker version of what was done originally by Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters et al is beside the point. It coalesced, all the same, into a style that perfectly framed an attitude of restlessness among mostly middle class white teenagers who were excited by the sheer exotica, daring and the sense of the verboten the music radiated. It got named, it got classified, the conventions of its style were defined, and over time, through both record company hype and the endless stream of Consciousness that most white rock critics produced, rock and roll became a brand. It was always a brand once it was removed from the black communities and poor Southern white districts from which it originated. I have no doubt that the artist's intention , in the intervening years, was to produce a revolution in the conscious of their time with the music they wrote and performed, but the decision to be a musician was a career choice at the most rudimentary level, a means to make a living or, better yet , to get rich. It is that rare to non-existent musician who prefers to remain true to whatever vaporous sense of integrity and poor.
      Even Chuck Berry, in my opinion the most important singer-songwriter musician to work in rock and roll--Berry, I believe , created the template with which all other rock and rollers made their careers in music--has described his songwriting style as geared for young white audiences. Berry was a man raised on the music of Ellington and Louie Jardin, strictly old school stuff, and who considered himself a contemporary of Muddy Waters, but he was also an An entrepreneur as well as an artist. He was a working artist who rethought his brand and created a new one; he created something wholly new, a combination of rhythm and blues, country guitar phrasing and narratives that wittily, cleverly, indelibly spoke to a collective experience that had not been previously served.
       Critics and historians have been correct in callings this music Revolutionary, in that it changed the course of music, but it was also a Career changes. All this, though, does not make what the power of Berry's music--or the music of Dylan, Beatles , Stones, MC5, Bruce or The High Fiving White Guys --false , dishonest, sans value altogether. What I concern myself with is how well the musicians are writing, playing, singing on their albums, with whether they are inspired, being fair to middling', or seem out of ideas, out of breath; it is a useless and vain activity to judge musicians, or whole genres of music by how well they/it align themselves with a metaphysical standard of genuine, real, vital art making. That standard is unknowable and those putting themselves of pretending they know what it is are improvising at best. This is not a coherent way to enjoy music. One is assuming that one does, or at one time did, enjoy music. . What matters are the products--sorry, even art pieces, visual, musical, dramatic, poetic, are "product" in the strictest sense of the word--from the artists successful in what they set out to do. The results are subjective, of course, but art is nothing else than means to provoke a response, gentle or strongly and all grades in between, and critics are useful in that they can make the discussion of artistic efforts interesting. The only criticism that interests are responses from reviewers that are more than consumer guides--criticism , on its own terms in within its limits, can be as brilliant and enthralling as the art itself. And like the art itself, it can also be dull, boring, stupid, and pedestrian. The quality of critics varies; their function in relation to art, however, is valid. It is a legitimate enterprise. Otherwise we'd be treating artists like they were priests. God forbid.

      Monday, August 6, 2012

      Endorsement: Clint Eastwood makes Romney’s day | The Salt Lake Tribune

      Endorsement: Clint Eastwood makes Romney’s day | The Salt Lake Tribune:

      Eastwood is one of my favorite directors, and it's frustrating when a hero endorses a candidate who espouses policies that essentially embody a meanness of spirit. Eastwood is a well known Republican, of course, but I had thought that he would have no truck with Romney, who has turned into a sock puppet for Wall Street and the Tea Party. The irony of this match up shouldn’t be lost on anyone; Eastwood, who has had a long career in movies portraying characters of genuine integrity and honesty, has endorsed a politician who has shifted,waffled, and misrepresented his political positions during this campaign in a conspicuous effort to say anything in order to attain power.  In effect, Hollywood’s Last Rugged Hero has taken up the cause of of a candidate who is a wrenching combination of Thurston Howell 3rd and Walter Mitty.  Republicans have always been about rugged individualism, and it's not a surprise that he aligns himself, philosophical, with the GOP's legacy bootstrap philosophy. But lately these fellows have just been mean, creepy social Darwinists in general, heartless bastards.  

      Eastwood never struck  me  a  mean guy, but rather  as a man with compassion for human suffering. Suffering may be inevitable in our lifetimes, but there are things we can do for each other to increase a sense of community, a sense of serving a greater goal.It is a revelation that a man who has demonstrated real genius as a film maker--Eastwood-- seems to be falling back more on Party loyalty rather than supporting a candidate with real principles.

      This makes the work of separating Eastwood's art from his politics problematic; it does, of course, introduce the notion that his best films have a political dimension, disguised under narrative diversions, that are not quite the Universal Truth of Human Experience liberal fans like me flock to when praising the director's films
       Eastwood's skill, honed over a long career, is that he has an instinct for a compelling human story and that he is especially adept at creating a framework where his direction is subtle, nearly invisible .           

      He is technically able , but not showy. A strong script and a strong cast is what makes this man an amazing director. He may not be the most nuanced political thinker, but he does appreciate the nuances of emotion and human frailty in times of struggle. We will just have to take what we like and disregard the rest for later reference, I suppose.

      Wednesday, August 1, 2012


      Gore Vidal will be missed because he was, perhaps, the last of the Great Public Intellectuals with the ability to discourse knowledgeably on an impressive variety of inter-related subjects. Let's say right here that Vidal isn't, of course, the last intellectual who will attempt to conquer all media and become on the few anointed by the Infotainment State to appear with bright elucidations on the variety of platforms available in a demonstration of Marcuseque tolerance that resists the codifications which allow corporate coffers to swell. There a number of others who can talk up a good contrarian view on a number of subjects, but none of them are as entertaining as Vidal had been, the cynic, the Wildean wit puncturing holes in the thin balloons of bullshit that his way. His presence on the talk shows throughout my childhood, admittedly, helped formed my progressive views and instructed me, more or less, to think harder on subjects, to be skeptical, to think critically, to be willing to change my mind based on new evidence; all that was good enough on the face of it, but that was essentially a side benefit of paying attention to what Vidal was, in fact, which was an entertainer, another distraction, a decent enough man to utter views half way critical of a racist/misogynist/ /homophobic status quo  who would not, all the same, dissuade viewers from purchasing the sponsor's products. It was a racket and Vidal knew it. But his performances on the talk shows did inspire me to read his books, which makes me thankful that the talk shows of the time--Carson, Cavett, Griffin, Mike Douglas--booked serious American writers as guests , a class of introverts who spoke of great things and ideas while the camera was on them and which, in turn, pushed me to the bookstore, the library sale, the library stacks to get their books. We can run down the list of items he had a nuanced opinion on literature, politics, antiquity, American history, film, particular and peculiar aspects, niches and submerged terrains of popular culture and the currents that ran under it. He was the man to read whenever a new essay appeared or a new novel appeared on the new release table in a local bookstore. He was a lively, challenging read.

      Still, there was something about Vidal that struck me as being a mile wide and an inch deep; there are points in both his essays and the many, many interviews he gave where he would cite the same facts, make the same sweeping declarations, offer the same crowd-pleasing diagnosis as to what exactly the matter with American at large happens to be and the same crowd soothing prognosis for the country, citizens and culture at large if his advice were heeded; Vidal would often sprinkle his views with scattered facts, but he rarely cited his sources, rarely delved into a matter and provided substantial, vetted analysis of many of things he spoke. As with many people I've met over the decades, Vidal seemed to be a brilliant writer who can make provocative and well-structured speculations to the origins of our lust for power and the cultural and institutional disguises we disguise our ambition with, but remaining, by and large, an intriguing conversationalist, the center of every cocktail party who offers things more quotable than useful as regards policy.

       That being said, allow me to insist that I agreed with most of what Vidal noted and recommended for the country. Vidal was a novelist, most of all, especially brilliant and grossly underrated by critics who were condescending even when they were giving his books favorable reviews. And I think his intellectual legacy will be less the political writings for which he most noted for and more for the large body of literary criticism and book reviews he wrote during his lifetime. He was a first-rate literary intelligence, powerful, insightful, able to detect fakes, fads, and balderdash in the work of other novelists who were trying too hard to be unique. I am grateful to him for a long essay he wrote reappraising the career of novelist Dawn Powell, author of "The Locusts Have No King" and other novels; she is, as Vidal wrote, the best American comic novelist of the 20th century. His essay helped bring her books back into print. I wound up being doubly blessed, being a man who had the honor of reading both Vidal and Powell in the same lifetime.

      Sunday, July 29, 2012

      Whattaya know?

       I was making one of my constant vain attempts to clean the apartment when I came across a dog-eared mass market of Danny Sugarman's Jim Morrison memoir No One Here Gets Out Alive. Sugarman passed away in January of 2005, and a little bit of a flash back was all I needed to drop the broom and delay the clean up. Sugarman had the fortune and infamy to have been hanging around with the Doors since he was a mid-teen, and spent a good part of his adult life cashing in on the fact. During the Seventies he was scheduled to do a college reading in San Diego, and the editor of a local music weekly I wrote for at the time gave my name to the events organizer to be  Sugarman's "local poet" opening act.  
      I didn't care for Sugarman's writing, but there was money in the deal, so I went and did the deal, and found old Danny to be a very nice guy indeed. Not a shred of detectable ego . It was the most enjoyable fifty bucks I've ever earned. I have to say that the least enjoyable fifty bucks I ever earned was having to read No One Here Gets Out Alive for a review for a local underground paper. Even as a young man who hadn't yet outgrown his obsession with the late Morrison's confused poetics and drunk posturing.I thought Sugarman's book was too much of a love letter, a mash note he couldn't stop writing. That said,  I will add that I remember Danny Sugarman being a  super guy, friendly, supportive in my own writing. He bought a copy of a chap book I brought to the reading. Alas. The apartment, you guess rightly, is still cramped with stuff and dusty as ghost town plates.



      'via Blog this'

      Saturday, July 28, 2012

      Loose Fitting

      (A slight expansion of a previous post.-TB)
      I thought this small verse I wrote  was a decent attempt at the loose-fitting sonnet form, as practiced by Ted Berrigan and featured in Gerald Stern’s engagingly gangly book American Sonnets. The distinction between these efforts and the Elizabethan sonnets one parses in college courses is that the “loose-fitting” form (my phrase) is an attempt to bring the particularly American instinct to confess and promote one’s idealized personality in free verse, ala Whitman and Charles Olson , with the limits a more formal structure. The results satisfy nearly no one but those who appreciate perversions of form, with the hope something new emerges. Sometimes something does.  A side comment, the phrase “loose fitting” comes from  the last time I bought a near pair of jeans, forty bucks  worth for one pair, a cut of denim termed as such, looser than what you  would normally purchase I suppose. It maybe a euphemism  for sizes intended for those recently widened in the     waist line and who tip the scale more than they had. None of this, though, ads gravity y to the sonnet, which is precisely what it is, nearly weightless, but nice all the same.

      Sonnet 16

      A sign of the cross and a sign on the door or just sign
      yourself out if it’s a weekend pass you’re dealing with,

      sign yourself up for a moment in the sun when you
      have your tax refund check in hand, give us some cash for

      the diversions that approach the distraction level
      of morons who get their exercise reading the labels

      on records as they go ‘round and ‘round on the
      phonograph, signs of life in a living room, your parents

      house and sofa, I am hiding behind a chair before the light
      switch is flipped and a panic like business plans that come

      undone where you signed a dotted line that ends up
      being a perforations around your wrists, like you see

      on butcher’s charts, you know, under the sign that reads

       Interesting, and as often happens on the forums, the first response to the poem brought something else in the poem to think about other than how well it works as an amateurs attempt at  more structured verse.  It’s a relevant to ask   how many people understand what’s  meant by an oblique reference  to phonograph record labels spinning around as they play. Good question. Who would have thought that LP's would be something that reveals your generation? I remember years ago talking to a young man , twenty years younger than I at least, about various matters. When it came time to say goodbye, I said "I'll see you on the flip side".

       He looked puzzled as we shook hands as asked me what I meant by "flip side". In an instant I realized that he was too young to remember long playing albums, vinyl, and briefly explained that before CDs records had two sides, side A and side B, and that the phrase meant the other side of the record. The long and short of his wasn’t crucial to anything at hand, nor was it that interesting to anyone, but it was informative that I was now old enough that some of the cultural references I'd been using for decades were now potentially incomprehensible to younger adults. Existentialism   returns to toss another bowling ball down that long empty hall called a mind: life is incomprehensible outside the meaning you create for it, and the terms of that meaning , subtle though  they maybe, are quickly made obsolete by perversions of old definitions, and changes in technology. "Flip Side"  has no slang currency. It has precisely the same resonance as that of an old man on a bus trying to tell a college student about his glory days of seeing the MC5 and the Stooges in a Church basement on Detroit's 6 Mile Road. The student's eyes are off in a stare, his head plugged into his telephone, pizza joints, barber shops and tattoo parlors stream by the passenger windows. So we should remember this : wear the moments like it were a loose fitting garment, and bring a change of clothes.

      Friday, July 20, 2012


      There events in our lives that are so stunningly horrible and unexpected that the only response, it would seem, is silence, the ghostly quiet that follows a bloody battle, the closed mouth response that takes over after all expectations and assumptions about decency, order and general goodwill have been pulverized.  "The Dark Knight Rises" had  premier midnight showing in Denver this morning and a man shows up, wearing a mask, heavily armed; he releases a gas bomb and begins to open fire on the crowd; twelve are dead, scads injured. Nothing makes sense. 

      But we do have yammering media reiterating the same    spare facts, repetitions occasionally seasoned with one talking head's glittering generality . It's not that we can't stand not knowing, it seems to me, it's that we can't stand the silence . We need to talk. And critics, it seems, need to seem serious about their jobs no matter how tangentially a bit of horror  touches their area of expertise. Salon's film reviewer Andrew O’Hehir just couldn't pass up the chance to opine on something where opinions are useless.

      The shootings in Denver are awful, evil in their intent and effect, an act of a deranged man, a "lone nut", that has , so far, left twelve people. It makes all of us heartsick to think of twelve gone from this world due to one person's delusions ; it makes me even sicker that a professional stress monger like Andrew O’Hehir is already wringing his hands with this inane, vapid column attempting to establish who is responsible for letting this massacre happen.When confronted with the horrible, the ugly, the unthinkable, the truly tragic, the likes of O’Hehir respond with copious amounts of scapegoating, finger pointing, general pouting. I venture this a way for writers who make a living interrogating the ebb and flow of pop culture make themselves feel relevant when events makes everyone's interests and passions seem absolutely trivial. This sort of writing appears to be an attempt to moralize, but the tone, uncentered and lacking any real point, seems less like an argument or more like someone talking to themselves after an accident. It is babbling of the first order, disguised as commentary. Shame on O’Hehir for feeling compelled to add his two cents. Two cents buys you nothing.

      Thursday, July 19, 2012

      Dating in the '90s

      Dating is one of our interaction rituals where we test our theories of what will happen to us in circumstances that  have yet to occur. Getting older is the tempered good fortune of realizing how funny your initial notions were in the first place. As usual, we are the last ones to get the joke.-tb

      DATING IN THE 90’s

      Little slivers under the nails
       are what I thought about last night,
      wood splints and the corroded pinch
      of tongue tip to battery acid
      when there was no other way
      to find out what something felt or tasted like.

      I was throwing a pass
       as clumsy as downs
      directing traffic.

      I complimented
       her on the way
      the lights
      of the ATM blended
      with the blonde depth
      of her avalanche of mane.
      She was finished
       pressing buttons
       for the night.
      She took her cash, transaction receipt
       and card and tucked them all
      into her wallet.

       “Ready?” she asked.
       My hands searched
      the bottoms of my pockets
       which now weren’t deep enough.
       I told her
       that I was tired and
      was going home to sleep
      unless she wanted
       to come over and watch TV,”
      or “something.”

      She said thanks,
       but after months of
       trying to get tickets,
       tonight was a matter
      of uncompromised agendas.
      But no where as pristine
      as the terms of
      the gut feeling that
       addresses me in first person
       and babbles headlong into a perfect night
      for a long
      drink of water
      to go with
      the bitter pills that were
      found  near evening’s end,


      Tuesday, July 17, 2012


      I am not against difficulty, I am not in favor of dumbing down poems in order to attract larger readerships, and I don't think the non-specialist reader insist, as a class, that poets have their wear as unadorned as sports writing. The gripe is against the poet who cannot get away from making Poetry their principle subject matter, by name. Not that each poem about poetry is, by default, wretched; there are bright and amazing reflexive verses indeed, but they are the exception to the rule, the rule being that a medium that ponders it's own form and techniques and ideological nuances too long becomes tediously generic.

       The problem, it seems to me, is that some writers who haven't the experiences or materials to bring to draw from will wax on poetry and its slippery tones as a way of coming to an instant complexity. It isn’t complexity, though, since  something that is complex can , with effort and expertise, be unpacked, bit by bit.  What is achieved, though, is something we call a muddle, a confluence of ideas that lacked salient clarity to begin with and which are not fitted together in terms of making a working relationship toward a more developed structure but instead piled one on the other, like half read magazines in a waiting room. Connections between what is superimposed over the other are ironic, at best, and always unintentional. One could manufacture a theory about the clutter, make it it conform to the particulars of some nested set of buzz phrases that produce more clouds than sunshine, but then the theory becomes more important that what it was supposed to bring to conversational exchange.   Rather than process a subject through whatever filters and tropes they choose to use and arrive at a complexity that embraces the tangible and the insoluble, one instead decides to study the sidewalk they're walking on rather on where it is they were going in the first place.

       I rather love ambiguity, the indefinite, the oblique, the elusive, and  poetry can be ruthlessly extended in it's rhetorical configuration to encompass each poet's voice and unique experience; the complexity I like, though, has to be earned, which is to say that I would prefer poets engage the ambivalences and incongruities in a sphere recognizable as the world they live in. First there was the word, we might agree. But those words helped us construct a reality that has a reality of it’s own, and I  am more attracted to the writer who has tired of  spinning their self-reflexing tires and goes into that already-strange world and field test their language skills.

      Saturday, July 14, 2012

      The hiss in history

      "Desert Sounds" By Howard Altmann. - Slate Magazine:

      It's the desert and it's too damn hot and things about are still, motionless to the extent that you swear you can hear their atoms expand and produce a muted groan . There is a crackle to the things that move, an irritating grate when the rustle of clothes rubs against perspiring skin and seem to slather the salt of sweat deep into the pores. Everything is cast under a light you can't keep your eyes open for. It is the punishment for merely being alive . Howard Altmann creates this precise sense of the desert with his poem "Desert Sounds", a meditation, of a sort, on the inflamed emptiness that is the desert stretches where the imagination starts to notice the induced surrealism of what is close, torched and motionless.

      The iguana is still under the rock.
      Blossoms unfurl scents over coiled snakes.
      Saguaros arm their shadows
      With the long legs of daylight.
      And whose limbs got buried where
      The grand inquisitor unearths deeply.

      So it goes in the Sonoran desert.
      Sky shows its teeth with cacti.
      The mouth of civilization spits out sand.
      Who are we, who are we?The heart of the blue-throated hummingbird beats
      Up to twelve hundred times a minute.
       There is the lingering feeling that you're waiting for something to emerge, for some dramatic event to take over this scorching endurance contest and provide a relief to both the heat and the tedium. Yet it remains, ruthlessly itself and defying the metaphors a literate poet might want to transform the surroundings with. Altmann is skillful in his use of straight-forward language and in the spare, delicate construction of appropriate metaphors that work in a tight, sense-filling manner with closely observed images:  the sight of blossoms unfurling their scents over coiled snakes is doubly suggestive, sensuous and deadly , and works perfectly well without a literary trick to make them more compelling-- this reveals an subtle Imagist influence that considered extensive use of metaphor and simile wrong and even injurious to poetry's ability to offer a new way of viewing what is actually in the world about us.

      Altmann is wise enough to realize the two things he has joined in a sentence are extraordinary on their own terms. When he does  offer a metaphor, it is  quick, neat, fast as the eye that perceives the image and the mind that is its witness, " Sky show its teeth with cacti". Not a profound image, that is, nothing that ransacks  author and reader memories of vaguely recollected disquisitions on metaphysics, but it has the mark of elegant simplicity. It is apt, it is direct, it enhances a perfect expression.

      Friday, July 13, 2012

      what poets dream about

      Poets dream about writing poems about moonlight , still waters , vapor escaping from a yawning mouth on a cold night , love that will not reciprocate no matter the intensity or rigidity of your yearning and, I wager, writing poems about poems besides said still waters, under said moonlight. You write about what you know about, so goes the advice, and it often seems that all the poet knows about is his medium and the  mewling, drooling, soft headed language required to filll pages and eventually books with the kind of poetry that is steadfastly unsure in what it wants to say, or at least get at.

       It is, however, not a situation isolated to the New Yorker, as it is a habit of mind that filters through the versifying consciousness regardless of politics, preference, or where the poet thinks they are in the relative standards of quality. Save for the few instances where the habit results in a brilliant gem of cadenced self-reflection, it is the worst sort of navel gazing, to employ a cliché.

       To employ a fresher simile, it's the drone of a specialist of who cannot talk about anything else. Poets are supposed to have mastered their craft and then enter the world. Too many of the writers that find sanctuary in the journals have reversed the process. I am not against difficulty, I am not in favor of dumbing- down poems in order to attract larger readerships, and I don't think the non-specialist reader insist, as a class, that poets have their wear as unadorned as sports writing. The gripe is against the poet who cannot get away from making Poetry their principal subject matter, by name.  

      Not that each poem about poetry is, by default, wretched; there are bright and amazing reflexive verses indeed, but they are the exception to the rule, the rule being that a medium that ponders it's own form and techniques and ideological nuances too long becomes tediously generic. The problem, it seems to me, is that some writers who haven't the experiences or materials to bring to draw from will wax on poetry and its slippery tones as a way of coming to an instant complexity. Rather than process a subject through whatever filters and tropes they choose to use and arrive at a complexity that embraces the tangible and the insoluble, one instead decides to study the sidewalk they're walking on rather on where it is they were going in the first place.  
      I rather love ambiguity, the indefinite, the oblique, the elusive, and I do think poetry can be ruthlessly extended in it's rhetorical configuration to encompass each poet's voice and unique experience; the complexity I like, though, has to be earned, which is to say that I would prefer poets engage the ambivalence and incongruities in a sphere recognizable as the world they live in. First there was the word, we might agree. But those words helped us construct a reality that has a reality of its own, and I am more attracted to the writer who has tired of spinning their self-reflectivity tires and goes into that already-strange world and field test their language skills. 

      Wallace Stevens, perhaps the most beautifully oblique poet America has produced, can be said to have written poems about poems, but I think that misses the point. Our latter day mainstream reflexivists  are enamored  of the their own broad readings and wind up standing outside of poetry  thinking they have a better idea to what a poem should be. 

      The concern isn’t the poem, but the abstraction, an inversion that has the erudition outsmarting the inspiration. Stevens was smart enough to familiarize himself with the philosophical propositions regarding the problems associated with the world we see and the world as-is; his genius was that he created a metaphorical systems that could deal with poetics-as-subject and still give us something beautiful and wholly musical.

       I am beginning to suspect that the problem might not be that poets are writing too many poems about poetry--the tradition for the bard to reflect on his craft and his relevance is very long established in world literary history--but that of the tendency of editors to select or solicit these sorts of works. If one looks further into the works of the New Yorker poets cited in the story, one would notice that they respectively manage to engage life outside their craft ; the body of work is not always as suffocatingly one-idea as it may seem here. Editors, I am tending to think, need to be more open ended as to the subject matter they consider suitable for the magazines or journals they write for.

      Lester Bangs is Still Dead

      The Weeklings -

      There is nothing more pleasurable than getting hot and nasty and railing against the elements of pop culture that have, over the decades, made you a miserable, prickly son of a bitch. This makes for the endless lists you find on the internet informing us of what are the worst movies, who are the worst poets, who are the biggest phonies in the arts; it is culture of complaint where the bad tidings never cease and the invective, borrowed, retooled and hastily installed for the next rant against someone's string of bubble gum rock hit singles,  flows, splinters, shreds and generally assaults what is assumed to be the pervasive valley of lowbrow gruel that makes up the symbolic substance of our inner lives. I  have an aversion to the worst , simplistic grue the popular arts clobbers us with and appreciate distinctions made by the likes of a Mencken, a Dwight McDonald, a Robert Hughes who passionately delineate the morbidly sentimental from the fresh, the expressive, the honest and the truly original in the panoply of artist's work available to us. But I generally look askance at lists like this one  Salon has published that highlights the foaming contempt of  Sean Beaudoin. I don't know where else Beaudoin has written and will admit that this man knows when to use a comma, where to place a modifier, but the sort of controversial hate he tries to generate  borders on self-induced hysteria, the sort of volume you hear from a three-year-old who is obviously  attempting to sustain a  loud crying jag in an effort to manipulate his or her parents.

       Our disgruntled pundit here keeps it loud in order to keep our attention; there was a collection of rock and roll reviews, edited by veteran review Jim DeRogatis entitled Kill Your Idols where a selection of younger critics reviewed a representative sample of classic albums. What might have been an interesting collection of essays by smart  writers with no generational vested interest in the albums --actual criticism, in others words, a discussion  of what works and what is less sustainable in the music of the Beatles, Dylan, The Stones, The Band--turns instead into a dumping ground of bile and contempt for older rock and roll and pop. It was a grueling, monotonous set of performances, leading one to the idea that there is nothing more boring than a bored cynic. 

      Another task of criticism of is, plainly, to remain interested in the milieu they choose to cover. Duncan Shepard, the brilliant longtime film critic for the San Diego Reader, left his post when his enjoyment diminished. I respect that. Beaudoin does something remarkable in that he succeeds in creating torpor in a much briefer space:  his column, if read top to bottom, has the dulling effect of having to work next to loud machinery.  What is remarkable about this article isn't what Beaudoin has to say about overexposed, passe and otherwise dulling pop artists, but rather his manner of expression; his prose is the perfect expression of what Harold Bloom meant by his idea of the Anxiety of Influence, that every writer alive is competing with and trying to show up their influences. You can imagine Sean as an earnest kid himself imagining the shimmering presence of Lester Bangs, Mencken and others looking over his shoulder while he types in a fit of convoluted fury, nodding to one another that young has got it. Beaudoin hasn't got it--these paragraphs are overstuffed with metaphors, similes and colliding qualifiers that serve up more noise than clarity. The writing tries to be funny and winds up instead as merely out of breath. This is the perfect example of someone not writing an essay but trotting out their shtick.

      Thursday, July 12, 2012


      I wrote this poem years ago, during the first Bush administration, when things were tougher than a microwaved steak and the country and culture collectively seemed ready to go insane with an cumulative anxiety that was then ready to turn us to undifferentiated lemmings running toward the cliff. A considerable time , in the time of Obama and the Tea Party, the trivial pursuits that have become the things we draw swords over is no less visible than it was back then; I think the shit stinks even worse because we all know it's shit and yet no one can is brave enough to cease the insanity and do something nice, kind, caring, you know, Christian.  -tb


      The white people
      have gone crazy
      in the back seats
      of All American cars
      looking for the sex life
      that fell between the cracks,
      meanwhile screaming the rudeness
      of Romantic love
      that finds them
      hung-over in court
      too early in the morning
      of a business day
      where they'll tell the Judge
      that it's only rock and roll
      and that there was something in the way
      the singer dropped his "g's
      and a manner
      worth noting when the guitarist
      grabbed his whammy bar
      and that all they did was taking
      Creeley freely and pile into
      the four-wheeled remains of a rumored prosperity
      and drove into
      the running gag reflex of the night, down a blvd.
      filled brand names and bored cops,
      cruising to get "some", to find "it"
      and where "it" lived,
      a slobbering example
      of failed bonding
      locked into habits
      where even as their language of outrage
      is bought
      and shredded
      in magazines
      whose pages stick together
      just as they did
      in the parking lot after last call,
      harassing the cocktail staff
      that's going home,
      they'll stick to principals
      familiar and vague,
      like that song whose words you never memorized
      but tried to sing anyway, with a hushed secret at the core of the chorus
      Saying that love is somewhere
      just around one of these thousands
      of and that it'll shake your hand
      if you drive long and far and often enough,
      if you've the gas
      to complete the journey, the journey
      Celine dreamed of while lying in bed,
      staring at ceilings, concluding
      that his language of outrage could only
      describe the surface details of wrong turns,
      that it had been bought and sold in a tradition
      of literature that speculates about how wonderful
      our lives might have been
      if only the dream hadn't ended
      when we opened our eyes,

      Our eyes are constantly
      getting used to the dark
      absorbs every inch of brick
      in parking lots
      behind buildings and under bedrooms
      of others who've made
      their peace with
      the sameness of the night,
      the radio blares
      more guitar solos
      emerging from the
      static of stadium
      drums and strumming,
      crazed cadenzas
      whose neurotic notes scurry
      and cleave to a neuron receptor
      and keys a change
      in the brains chemical balance that changes
      the language of what the nights' really been about,

      But we remain where we are,
      white heterosexual males bond
      by nothing more than
      the chain sawing motion
      of jaws lifting and falling
      on the pillows and
      sofa cushions in
      desert motels
      in time to the pans of a camera
      on the silent television
      where it's nothing but a wall full
      of clocks telling
      the time in
      three separate
      time zones while
      temperatures are mentioned where
      anger and rain mix in the fields
      and valleys of economies
      based on pride,
      some abstract grip on selflessness that
      needs no sleep
      as do the bodies in this room,
      dead to the world when the
      engine blew, when the gas ran out, when
      the last drop in whatever bottle of
      cartoon labeled beer vanished on the
      buds of a tongue
      whose thirst could not be slaked by?
      promise of fortune or even
      water, pure and free of lies,

      We sleep in shifts until
      our time here runs
      out on us,
      until the phone that rings
      everyday for twenty minutes on end
      stops finally and leaves
      the house quiet
      from stairway to attic to porch,
      with only the whir of the
      refrigerator engine
      starting up
      and filling the stale,
      stale air that
      used to carry
      mean jazz, drum boogie,
      scratched riffs of declarative guitars,
      the frets of God announcing
      a life worth inventing in the notes
      that passed through the room,
      the boredom,
      we realize in frozen moments
      that any excuse for getting
      out of the house
      is a magic trick
      that's performed after
      they've shown you
      where they've hidden the mirror,
      "language is the house
      where man lives",
      let us say
      that this life is
      like being a fish
      that cannot describe the water it swims in,
      endlessly at 3AM
      when only the coffee at
      the 7-11 has the
      aroma of anything
      real enough to make
      us think of getting
      out of town
      with one suitcase
      and a bus fare,
      next to a god-damned big car,
      five shoulders
      to the wheel
      and no one able to drive
      between towns , from carnival to still spot
      where ever we could
      pitch tents and trailers
      and set up Ferris wheels that
      would rattle against a
      large scowling moon
      hovering over
      Modesto and Turlock
      on dry August nights
      when dollars are
      grimy with mung from
      many a farmer's and mechanic's hand,
      power chords slice through
      the speakers, destroy the cracked dashboard,
      your face is slapped
      with a power
      not your own,
      it comes down to something
      that's a secret
      that even The Judge won't cop to it
      before he lowers his voice,

      "The beat goes on,
      the beat goes on,
      the beat goes on,
      the beat goes on…"

      We can do better
      this far away
      from our past,
      we have something
      we've turned toward,
      a light in eyes, a sun
      that shines a light
      those blades of
      grass and long
      stemmed flowers lean toward
      even when clouds
      and the stammer of fire eating transistors
      sizzling from car windows distort the
      image in the minds' eye,
      I see a city where we come
      and plant our feet on lawns
      where we can sit
      and plant in turn
      new seeds, ideas
      of a future worth having,

      let's lean into the sun,
      into the sun,
      ride bicycles into the sun
      on the road that becomes
      a ribbon around the
      heart of the world