Saturday, October 26, 2013

Hope for the Quentin guy?

On the subject of" the film Pulp Fiction", I will say again that I think that film is a masterpiece, sheer inspiration in ways of writing, editing, acting. Everything that Tarantino does in the film is      fresh and alive, a lively recasting of venerable Hollywood genre. The essential problem is that he uses the same tact over and over; directors are allowed to repeat certain things they do, since that is the essence of having a style. But the point of having an identifiable  style is being able to do different and unexpected things within the recognizable framework.
Howard Hawks, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and  auteurs too numerous to mention made movies which are praised for being individually stylish and avoiding being declining versions of earlier work. What attraction is how a director or an author's style is adapted toward the story at hand and the genre specifications that frame the narrative; if everything is working the way it ought to, a viewer or reader loses track of stylistics and suspends their proverbial disbelief.

A competently managed style eases the audience through the "fourth wall" and engages them in the story. Tarantino has it reversed, a condition not unlike what plagues a two generation of  able fingered rock guitarist, where the  structure is meant to serve the flashy pyrotechnics.   What Tarantino repeats himself, in a succession of films, that threaten to downgrade his method from "style" to mere shtick. Audaciousness quickly becomes an indulgent rut an artist can't climb out of.

 I would argue that virtually all of Tarantino's movies are reboots, in his case , the rebooting of a genre, be they crime stories, samurai tales, a war film, a western. Doubtless he'll resurrect the Hollywood musical, do a spy film and present us with super hero movie.  Those genre revivals, though, needn't be the over packed, eager to please student projects his last three films have been. As he did with his wonderful adaptation of Elmore Leonard's crime novel "Rum Punch" in the form of "Jackie Brown", Tarantino has the ability to let the tale advance without the worrying , hovering , obvious obsession to make the scene more clever than it needs to be. Many were disappointed when"JB " came out because it wasn't another "Reservoir Dogs" or  "Pulp Fiction"; I liked the way he scaled back his style, letting Leonard's plot unwind, allow the characters to have breathing room in the film space they inhabited,  letting the conversation ring stylish, idiomatic and true.

 What would be interesting is if Tarantino became bored with his established approach and challenged himself.  None of this means that QT needs to stop being the QT we were first attracted too--genre jumper, dark humorist, writer of quotable dialogue. What it means is that there is a wish that he soon acquires the most important trait any artist with serious ability can apply to a project he or she is working on, the sense of knowing when to stop, of knowing when enough is enough.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Teen Age Waste Land

I was a guitar obsessive for years over a slew of players--Larry Coryell, Leslie West, Ritchie Blackmore -- and there were parents, friends and the less friendly alike who thought that I would be better off with a more purposeful hobby. Building ships in bottles,say, or collecting bottle caps with cork linings.But I was in my teens and early twenties, after all, and matters of family, work, sobering up , and career change would eventually consume the time I would otherwise have spent waxing on , 24/7, about my favorite guitarists.

 In the meantime, I gloried in the fretwork of the string bending maniacs I called heroes, I read all their interviews, I bought whatever biographies were published, I owned each album these guitarists released in bands or as soloists, and my various apartments , through the years, were filled with the galvanic crash of frantic guitar music. Notes swarmed like bees over the lights. I was a fan, again, an obsessive, caught in the grip of having to have it all. I was also growing up and becoming slowly, faintly, conspicuously bored with my efforts to be definitive in my peculiar music world. I wanted something more. A life, perhaps. Some are not as lucky.

The sad part of the story is that I know some fellows, from a variety of circumstances, who are my age, late forties, and rattle on about their musical agendas at the drop of a beret. I did an interview with Ozzie Osborn in the early eighties for a weekly when Black Sabbath were coming through town, and an acquaintance named Roy couldn't get over the fact that I was the undeserving son-of-bitch among his associates who'd received an audience with his Ozziness.Roy complimented on this fact, saying that I must be something special to get the interview --"You met Ozzie, Man, that's doesnt jus happen, bro, you met Ozzie, I mean , The Oz, the god-damned Oz shook your hand , bro..."-- and then would kneel , valet style. Of course, being a young asshole myself, I got a kick out of that, but he kept it up for weeks, months, months turned into years, a decade passed, friends got married, had kids, other friends died of many different things, life became full and complicated, and close to twenty years later, around the time I turned forty, I was in the local market when Roy turns up in the aisle pushing a cart, thick around the middle, hair long, grey and thinning.

"Hey, how's the Oz man" was the first thing he said. I said I was okay, and after the expected pleasantries, he asked me what I thought of Randy Rhodes, Osborne's guitarist who was killed in a plane wreck. Not much, I said, I liked Van Halen better.

"But Randy played with Ozzy, man" he said," and you met Ozzy. Where's that at? Randy Roades played behind Oz and he could..."


Sunday, October 6, 2013


 The Guardian continues to give Jonathan Franzen novelist room to vent; this week he opines at length that modern life is horrible, awful, far, far inferior to the good old days when he was young and the internet was only a dream fools had after a  tequila binge.

I was born in 1952, and 'though being somewhat older than Franzen, I think he's become a tiresome, humorless prig who views modern life through a filter that renders repetitive results. It's a natural instinct to resent and resist change, but truly smart and creative people cease with a protest that will not be heeded and adopt to the changes times and technology have brought us. 

Often enough, the writers, poets and playwrights and publishers and book retailers who embrace the means available to them find themselves doing more interesting work; it means that they are engaged with the world that swirls about them and are fearless enough to interrogate shifting assumptions and remain relevant to readers who, I think, like to read writers with stylish prose styles wax poetic on the doings of human contradiction and convulsion. 

Me, I love the internet, and I haven't had to give up the things I love, ie, literature, movies, poetry, jazz and blues, writing. The social sphere has been changing for the last 30 years, and I prefer being in on the conversation. Franzen continues to mumble about his fabled good old days, he continues to rue the dawning of the 60s and all the decades since. What a pathetic sight, a premature elder alone in a room with the shades drawn, the floor littered with crushed party hats and shriveled balloon skins. It was a great party, Jonathan, but it's over. Much fun and sadness has transpired since then. Did you miss all that.?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Holy Fucking Shit

 If you've been thinking that the satirical web site The Onion has been more strident and less funny in their lampooning of American mores, you're not alone.  Slate's Farhad Manjoo describes their busier, faster, louder, more extreme version in an article in Slate.  It's a good dissection of a funny magazine in the process of losing what makes it funny. For me, the Onion peaked shortly after the 9-11 attack, when the web site called their mock-coverage of the catastrophe "HOLY FUCKING SHIT!" It was a brilliant and angry poke in the eye at the media that tries to give a dramatic reading to events however inane or tragic they happen to be; there was no convenient narrative axiom like "America Under Attack" with which to make unfolding events barely comprehensible in an entirely false light. I pulled up the Onion , wondering how a site dedicated to the idea that there is nothing too cruel or horrible in human cruelty that cannot be made fun of, would react to what seemed like the end of the world. React they did, and I laughed, a hard, extended laugh, an hysterical series of gulping guffaws and belches that left me breathless, near tears. The Onion cut away a veneer and and gave us a headline that was hysterical , stupified and terrified with the revealed truth that suddenly, brutally, absolutely we thought we knew for certain mattered. The Onion took the whole shooting match.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Absent Lovers --King Crimson

Absent Lovers-- King Crimson

Double cd set of a 1984 concert in Montreal, during their Beat, Discipline, & Three of a Perfect Pair trilogy of releases. This grouping is one of Fripp's best lineups, with Adrian Belew, Tony Levin on bass and stick, and Bill Bruford on drums, and what we have is something sounding no less than a more muscular Talking Heads (check out "Man with an Open Heart"). One needn't choke on that if Heads aren't their idea of heaven, because the abrasive textures, the angular riffing, gamelan rhythms, and swarming-bees improvisations abound aplenty here. Tasty. Crankier, spookier, harder, this is the goth side of Crimson, though there is little in the alternately playful/deadpan visage of the band's characters that gives you any hint of just how serious you need to take them. Hint: just seriously enough. Below is one of the great rock guitarists, for sheer whammy bar genius-- no one does six-string torture bends like him, save the sainted and departed Jimi-and I admit, I'm a sucker for his Kerouacian lyrics. Kerouac has not been my idea of anything brilliant--in fact, I think he's an absolutely horrible novelist-- but Belew is someone who picked up on what was trying to be done and made art out of it. 

If a failed novelist who would rhapsodize in huge portions of his best-known fictions with a careless application of jacked up modifiers and agitated adjectives in conspicuous attempts to intensify the experience for the readers, Kerouac, all the same, had a talent for loose, open -form free verse poetry; although not as sharp as some of his contemporaries--Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure--Kerouac 's verse had a snap and rhythmic sizzle that was as jazzy as he tried to make his prose. Belew picks up on this vibe and writes in a way where the words bounce, race, and arrive on, after and before the morphing rhythms that Bruford and Levin put across. 

Choppy rhythms and jerky pops and beeps; truly a band of great surprise. Fripp is the great Bringer of Chaos, and what's impressive is that he's been able to provide an art-context for his unique music and idiosyncratic aesthetics apart of the usual lockstep spheres and institutions that crush true innovation with the same avant gard template. Note: this is a 1998 release that Fripp and his DMG company have been sitting on for years. Somethings are worth waiting for.  Another note: disc one is a cd-rom that is clunky and hard to navigate. There is a video, apparently, that comes among its features, but I've skipped it after trying too long to access it, and landed straight on the audio portion of the show, which, I hope I've made clear, is wonderful and wild.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Rooster King

Jay  Hopler's poem The Rooster King seems at first like a paean to the good sport of chicken righting, but one detects an increasing exaggeration of the terms until a certain falseness of claim is exposed. In the early lines, one is attracted to the cocksure bravado of Hopler's language and quickly appreciates the parody of athletic boasting and promotion that has long made professional sports just a much a matter of running one's mouth as it is with the combined assets of agility, speed, instinct, and determination. One might imagine this as an old forties Warner Brothers barnyard cartoon featuring a caricature of Muhammad Ali strutting around in the background amid the rain barrels and the hens while a Don King lookalike flaps his wings (if not his gums) about the legend and good graces of his man rooster, The Rooster King.Hopler seems to have absorbed his Ring Lardner and Damon Runyon, as well as the more recent waxing about boxers by the late Norman Mailer and Joyce Carole Oates, as his writing has a high, cultivated lift to it's boasting, the myth-making that wants to convert something that is merely a few suppressed coughs from being mere thuggery and criminal enterprise into a tale of heroism, reaching the implied conclusion that some poor, hapless soul--or rooster--has had their character in the fires of tribulation and has made their brute aggression and ability to ignore pain into an art.

Like a cut throat and doesn't

………………………………….............Bleed. And when he bleeds,
He bleeds whiskey—Fighting Cock: 103-proof Kentucky Straight
Bourbon—the light of the world.
The light of the world:

Ruined. Magnificent; ferocious, gorgeous—
So what? You think he's afraid of fire? He wasn't born; he was forged.
He's the napalm love letter, the sweetheart
Carpet bomb, the 1967 Pontiac

With a straight-6, single-barrel
Boot in the face. No ram unto
The shackle, this bantam assassin, his death-red hackles flaring like a funeral pyre.

He's the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Wound 'round with barbed wire, the crucified
Christ tattooed on the back of a contract killer.
It's argued that the poem is a play on the sufferings of Jesus, but Hopler's intentions are grittier, I think. The pain and suffering of Christ on the cross is a plausible scenario, but Hopler intended a narrower reference, I think. The gospel accounts of his death are not all that reliable as an accurate historical record, with the elaborations of his story purposefully elevating the tale to sanctified mythology that demands that we regard Christ as a man of destiny fated with enacting an absurdly convoluted Plan to make humankind worthy of God's love. All things considered, I suspect the actual Jesus had as much choice as anyone else had when confronted with a situation as to flee from danger or face his accusers. The boxing analogy is apter, I think, and even a gladiator comparison is a closer fit to the level of metaphor Hopler is successfully attempting. Roosters, being animals with only instinct to push their actions, have no choice but to battle; boxers, the poor men who try to make a living with their fists in some vague hope of achieving, have no choice but to battle because brawn was their only resource. What I read Hopler as doing is deconstructing the layers of heroic mythic association on the idea of brutal spectacle being somehow honorable and necessary for the social and political cohesion of the populace by applying the meme to an absurd example, a battling rooster. For all the fanfare the pitchman can muster, it never eludes us, not for a second, that what he's extolling is a bloody, awful event. The attempt to graft a grand narrative to the cockfighting exposes the lie of battling skill and that more often than not the results are determined not with skill or guile or flashes of pugnacious brilliance, but rather with raw, unforgiving, unyielding. He who is bigger, stronger, faster wins the fracas.

Hopler does a sweet balancing act here between heaping on the hyperbole and maintaining a straight face as he ramps the praise and the qualifications meant to soften the audience's perception of the frenzied, gouging agony before them. Each stab, peck, talon rip and snap is valorized, connected by association to great battles, hero's funerals, the spirit of invention that forges raw steel into classic automobiles; the declarations become precarious and unsustainable if questioned an iota. One only turns up the volume of the pitchman's incantation and seeks to enter into the illusion that the banal bit of fatal sport betting is a History in the Making. Hopler understands it seems, the vanity the pitchman is speaking to. The rhetoric, though, isn't for the nominally honored Rooster King, nor does it have anything to do with the skills or extraordinary qualities the toastmaster makes claim for; rather, the tale-telling and accumulating myth-making are for the audience's sake, a sales pitch voiced in such a way that it dually obscures the meanness of the activity and creates the illusion that the creature is there, prepared for combat, by some manner of free choice. It's a rhetorical zone that is impermeable to logic, and it is banter that is kept up without pause, to concoct a dramatic narrative over the bare facts of the situation--that these birds, and the analogous boxers they're standing in for, have no choice in whether they fight or not. Whether through the repetitive causation of murderous behavior modification, or the grim forces of economic survival, the fighting, the killing has nothing to do with glory, legend or principles: the goal is for one of the combatants to not ring the arena alive.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The sky is falling again!

Mary Beth Williams of Salon is fretting about fashions based on gangsta rap imagery are being marketed to white people. People at Salon like to  sweat the chump change that comes our way.

At this late date I doubt that it's required that a soft-boiled culture critic inform white people that they are not "straight outta Compton." It seems that the issue of wiggerism , the appropriation  of hip hop style by white teens in an effort to gather unto themselves a vestige of an elusive and ephemeral "hipness" and unearned street cred has been made discussed and mocked incessantly; it is a dead issue, I think.

There is a long, long, long history of  white America stealing the art and culture of black America, a problematic dynamic that reveals the underlying disorder of racism that the diminishing ruling class cannot let go of , but as well has energized and continues to energize popular culture to the degree that a certain kind of bi-cultural transcendence happens, in the art that results if not in the righteous reconciliation of the races. 

This issue, though, has less to do with racism than it does with the exploitation of a marketable style;  surely no one who has witnessed hip hop/rap/rhythm and blues venture from the margins of alternative culture, the street level experimentalist of urban life and enter the mainstream in full embrace of the corporations and consumes cannot b be shocked or offended, really, by the fact that the symbols of black  art wind up on fashion designs aimed for a privileged white audience, a demographic with money to spend on the latest pricy artifact of what used to be provocative.

 It's not about race or racism , it's about buying into an image that is manufactured and arranged to attract the naive, the gullible, the young, the willfully stupid. It's about getting paid. That's all.

Proud of being a hipster: One bearded, indie-rock-loving, contrarian-article-writing man’s story.

Proud of being a hipster: One bearded, indie-rock-loving, contrarian-article-writing man’s story.:

Writer Luke O'Neill  has authored a thoroughly pointless patch of self-regard for Slate declaring himself a hipster and defending the word and the stance against the general derision it gets from a mass-culture that has reached the saturation point with all things hip, whether  people, places or things. Norman Mailer's essay on Hip. "The White Negro", had the benefit of being stylishly lugubrious ; it was an essay written enough that intellectuals and pop-culture junkies are still debating , in some fashion, ideas that would have been dismissed in  heartbeat had they been presented by a lesser talent.

 Mailer brought gravitas to the concept of hip,  linked it to existentialism and zen, defined the zeitgeist which gave birth to it, started a conversation that remains vital. Mailer might have been a jerk and wrong headed, but he could argue his foolishness brilliantly. O'Neill , in effect, is defending his right to be a consumer, a customer at what is left of the Counter Culture, and he defends his right to take on the attitude his material preferences suggest they have. While I do believe there are genuinely hip folks in the world--the reader is left to define what they're idea of Hip needs to be, and what set of habits are  required to be a hipster--those I regard in that vague category seem unaware that they , in fact, the embodiment of something genuine , whether it's talent or personality. O'Neill's selling point attempts to make an irritating manner into a presence that suggests authority, a perverse sense of being superior:

" The single most defining trait of hipsters is our allegiance to irony, we're told. And it's true, because I don't even know if I believe any of the stuff I just wrote. It seemed like it might sound cool at the time and I thought by sharing it people would notice me and I'd end up feeling, albeit briefly, less lonely. If that's not hipster, then I don't know what is."
This underscores my contempt for the faux-hip running amuck and aimless , without purpose or intent in the culture, no intent other than to consume and indulge.  The "allegiance to irony"  is a further debasement of a venerable modernist literary device and is usurped to justify a  generation's inability to commit to solid principles and ethical conduct, or even create coherent values by which their doings do more for the community than earn a profit for the corporations  and they banks  earning  interest plus on purchases consumer hipsters make so they may  decorate their flimsy, contrived alternative.  O'Neill is not yet aware of the chain that shackles to the wall of the cave he lives in.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Franzen is right about Twitter

Hush up, Franzen! Don’t blame Twitter for shallowness -

 The article goes on at length to make an obvious point that should only take a paragraph or two to explain, that nearly every communication technology has had harsh critics who concocted various scenarios of the end of all that is decent and civil. It does not, though, offer up credible suggestions how Twitter has improved anything; the evidence, anecdotal, perhaps, it it has allowed more people to indulge in their worst behaviors. The social sphere, such as it is, has become a more crowded, more vulgar, ruder place for introducing cell phones and texting. Franzen, hardly one of my favorite writers--he is an incessant worrywart whose prose is elongated neuroses with pretensions to elegance--but on this matter, he and other critics are right. The comedian Louis CK by referring to a credible, recent past, before cell phones and instant messaging when civilized people learned to how to be alone--millions of us made our way through the day is, at various times, along with our thoughts, sans distractions. We may not have liked the alone time, but there was a sense of being able to talk to people directly when you needed to, using social skills that reflected a social personality, or lack of it. We are pulverized by the fear of being alone for even a few minutes--we have to check our status updates; we have to make some kind of noise that others can hear, we have to rattle the proverbial tin cup against the bars of our own under interior prisons. You could handily shift from a silent, interior existence to one that was fully engaged in the public eye without worrying if you will cause a car wreck in the transition. The pathetic fact of our urban existence is that none of us can escape the sense that the real world has been turned into a voicemail --talking to people is frustrating because everyone is on the phone and we must wait our turn and , when our turn arrives at last, we rush our sentences; we compress our points; we speak in semi-literate half thoughts because we sense the dread phone will ring again and cut off the conversation before anything useful, either socially or psychically, gets said at all.  True, true, the technology isn't going away, and that it is a matter of getting used to a new way for the culture to communicate its collective expression, sublime, middle brow or moronic, but that is not a good thing and yes, future devices, codes, and technology will make these protests seem shrill and silly. That does not undermine the criticism, though; the coarsening of how we treat one another continues. What we do is what any person would do who is too lazy to fix a hole in their living room wall--after a while, you get used to it being there and after a while longer to convince yourself it was an ethical, aesthetical, philosophical choice you made. It's a mind fuck, is what it is. It's merely settling for a degraded quality of life.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 was a clogged up, fidgety, ejaculating bit of huffing that more or less reflects director Shane Black's film work so far, the principle examples being the homicidal idiocy that was (and remains) Lethal Weapon, as we the  painfully self-aware, winking-at-the-audience faux noir effort Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Black seems to content on being a hip Michael Bay, or an idiot's version of Quentin Tarantino. 
Tellingly, lead actor Robert Downey Jr seems distracted through out the affair, listless even; fitting for a movie about a super hero who depends on what is essentially a robot suit to fight improbable villains and moronically conceived threats to the world (or at least New York City, given that this is a Marvel property), Downey clicks into default selection of mannerisms, vocal inflections and registers and spastic body language. To be sure, the action sequences and the special effects are nicely rendered and deployed, but this leads us into the realm of "so what", by which I mean that it is harder to admire films for technical competence in genre required scenes--in this case, further destruction of urban landscape. All the sequences look good , the way motel room "looks good" or elevator music "sounds pretty". 
For the rest, Iron Man 3 managed to be nerve-rattling erratic and tedious at the same time, as in someone suggested, it seems, that they try for some of that Chris Nolan "darkness" the worked effectively in his Dark Knight trilogy; we have a Tony Stark who appears beset by Billionaire's Angst, the worst kind you can get, where in he seems to realize that nothing he can build or spend money on will give him peace of mind or happiness. Interestingly, one of Iron Man's most problematic villains, The Mandarin, is the looming threat in this movie as Stark/ Iron Man tries to quip his way out of his encroaching depression; created in the early Sixties, the Mandarin is a villain that collects all the stereotypes of nasty, slant-eyed Asian geniuses who have plans to enslave the West. 
In the film he is portrayed by Ben Kingsly, the Asian characteristics are smoothed out of his appearance--you really cannot tell what nationality, religion or culture the movie Mandarin represents--and align him vaguely with Bin Ladin and other terrorists who have historically complicated death wishes for The West. At this point we might have had an interesting, complicated villain to contend with, an evil man who's nastiness has a nuanced rationale. This didn't happen. In keeping with a movie that keeps your attention jerking from action scenes that are as senseless as Battle Bots being played with by meth heads in steel storage container and scenes that are dime store pathos, lugubrious and reeking like a man who's waited to long to take a bathroom break, the true nature and meaning of the Mandarin is revealed in a way that tells you that time and money were getting tight as a carnie's lips wrapped around a Marlboro 100.