Tuesday, July 28, 2015

a poem for Jill Moon, 1952-2015

From the top of your head

Jill Moon, 1952-2015
  (Jill Moon, the woman I loved more than nearly anyone or anything else, has passed away. This is a love poem I wrote for her back in  1996. It says it all and has nothing close to how deep our friendship was and how deep the loss is and will remain. She was 63 years old, a painter, a set designer, a college professor, a loving mother,  a glass artist, a wit, a smart person who loved beautiful things and interesting people..
Jill Moon was a beautiful, brilliant, funny and passionate person who brought energy, humor,
and wit where ever she went in whatever she undertook. Her art in painting, set design, sculpture shared the qualities of innocence and play, mystery and just a hint of the ominous. Her canvases bristled with activity and color, small items and large that seemed to move about their terrain in some grand dance to keep this world balanced and ultimately serene. Jill was a loving person, gregarious, outgoing, a loving mother and a champion of the talent and virtues of her friends, a believer in social justice, and kindness toward others, someone who believed that harnessing the creativity in all of us makes the world a better place to live in. She was inspired to create and continued her art up to the end, adding glass art and doll making to her splendid body of work in painting, set design, and public sculpture. Being with Jill was one of the richest experiences of my life and her loss leaves a gap that cannot be easily filled, if at all. Jill was a beautifully singular human being. - See more at: http://www.legacy.com/guestbooks/sandiegouniontribune/jill-moon-deroos-condolences/175366955?cid=full&page=4#sthash.dSfay1v5.dpuf
Jill Moon was a beautiful, brilliant, funny and passionate person who brought energy, humor,
and wit where ever she went in whatever she undertook. Her art in painting, set design, sculpture shared the qualities of innocence and play, mystery and just a hint of the ominous. Her canvases bristled with activity and color, small items and large that seemed to move about their terrain in some grand dance to keep this world balanced and ultimately serene. Jill was a loving person, gregarious, outgoing, a loving mother and a champion of the talent and virtues of her friends, a believer in social justice, and kindness toward others, someone who believed that harnessing the creativity in all of us makes the world a better place to live in. She was inspired to create and continued her art up to the end, adding glass art and doll making to her splendid body of work in painting, set design, and public sculpture. Being with Jill was one of the richest experiences of my life and her loss leaves a gap that cannot be easily filled, if at all. Jill was a beautifully singular human being. - See more at: http://www.legacy.com/guestbooks/sandiegouniontribune/jill-moon-deroos-condolences/175366955?cid=full&page=4#sthash.dSfay1v5.dpuf
Jill Moon was a beautiful, brilliant, funny and passionate person who brought energy, humor,
and wit where ever she went in whatever she undertook. Her art in painting, set design, sculpture shared the qualities of innocence and play, mystery and just a hint of the ominous. Her canvases bristled with activity and color, small items and large that seemed to move about their terrain in some grand dance to keep this world balanced and ultimately serene. Jill was a loving person, gregarious, outgoing, a loving mother and a champion of the talent and virtues of her friends, a believer in social justice, and kindness toward others, someone who believed that harnessing the creativity in all of us makes the world a better place to live in. She was inspired to create and continued her art up to the end, adding glass art and doll making to her splendid body of work in painting, set design, and public sculpture. Being with Jill was one of the richest experiences of my life and her loss leaves a gap that cannot be easily filled, if at all. Jill was a beautifully singular human being. I will miss her terribly and will be forever grateful that she was part of my life. - See more at: http://www.legacy.com/guestbooks/sandiegouniontribune/jill-moon-deroos-condolences/175366955?cid=full&page=4#sthash.dSfay1v5.dpuf
I love you, dear Jill. --tb)

From the top of your head
flowers grow that I’ve never seen
in the nature of my asking
the meaning of this thing, so beautiful, the wind.

The wind in all uses highlights
the shift of your hips
leaning against rocks, the meaning of this,
the earth, the mother of the deals
that have us eating out
of  the hands that pick the roots of your hair
that goes on growing like flowers on hills
with all the houses we ‘ve  never lived in.

A clap of thunder is applause enough for pausing
to smell the turpentine that revives the hem and haw
of  the wood under our shoes,
rainy nights are ovations and the trance
of  still looking into your eyes
where I’ve always seen them,
on pyramids, in circles,
thirsty yearning.

From my hands comes ruined meaning
about hammers and nails and the holes that made them,
I’ve stared at your face on the ceiling all night,
water flows where there is no resistance,
insistence makes me forget and remember your names,
every center has a heart
and every heart is broken.
Into your face    t
    all roads split down the middle,
    the wind is a whisper
and a rustle of notes
    coyotes cry
    in the wake
    of our progress,
    so beautiful, the wind,
    and water rolling
in circles, in circles, in peace.

Friday, July 24, 2015

This is just my opinion,

 Came across a great rant, of sorts in the Houston Press about the habit of many of the hair-trigger opinion mongers in the world to dash behind the phrase "this is just my opinion" as way of giving themselves permission to suck the air the air from whatever proximity they happen to be in and replace it with misrepresentations, unsubstantiated blather, corrosive gossip, dubious science , historical inaccuracy and the like. More than a rant , to be sure, as author Jef Rouner measures his obvious distate with  examples of the evasive practice is made, and demonstrates the fallacies in the reasoning ,  or exposes the lack there of. 

"This is just my opinion" is a cop out in truth, an addendum to a comment that is meant to inoculate both remark and remarker against a closer inspection of their views. It is a lazy swerve into a convenient and know-nothing relativism that maintains that opinions that put forth dubious criteria as immutable fact are , it seems to them, all the same. I get especially irritated by conversations where I have knowledge of and strong views about the subject--literature, poetry, politics, films, --where the person I'm disagreeing with responds with "that's just your opinion". 

It's a go-to strategy that works as an attempt to both diminish my view point to the babbling chorus that have already opined on whatever the subject might be, and to get the opponent off the hook and relinquish from offering a cogent response. I don't know why this is, but the person who opts out of conversation with "just your./just my opinion" segues are, in my experience, the ones who raised the subject and pressed me for an opinion. In essence, it's a irrational swerve for someone who first approaches a topic with a head full of factoids (Norman Mailer's original definition of factoid, those things that are false that are not sufficiently vetted and which get repeated so often that everyone, including responsible news media, take them as true , at face value) with it mind to set you set you straight and then retreat into the marsh of uncertainty when presented with a srong counter proposal. 

Not all opinions are equal. Some are more interesting than others, some are better stated, some are better supported. Mailer himself was wrong and offensive on a host of issues, and he was spot on and righteous on others. He was, though, never dull in his what he said, and even in pursing a line of thought that was contrary to conventional wisdom, he provoked a conversation, a debate among the readership that , I think, made people smarter for remaining intrigued by the details both sides presented, wanting more than snarky summaries or pathetic sarcasm . That seems to be a quality we are being robbed of; the internet, of course, has made it possible for millions to have heard of a great many things, from authors, obsure wars, theories of economics and the like, and to know exactly nothing about them in any socially or creatively useful way. That is a shame.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ant Man: yes, a small fete, but nicely done all the same

I always regarded Ant-Man as the least intriguing superhero from Marvel Comics 'Silver Age" offerings. The problem was that AM's power, the ability to shrink to the size of an ant yet maintain the strength of a full-sized male, and the ability to command ants to do his bidding had limited applications in stressful situations. There were, and remain, superheroes who have skills and gimmicks that are of curious necessity at face value; part of the joy of seeing what could be done with Batman, Green Arrow, and others was how the writers could come up with a convincing dilemma in which the odd skills would be precisely the element needed to rescue the day. Ant-Man didn't give that anticipation. One sensed that writer Stan Lee and whoever else helped him with the scripts was reaching issue-to-issue for a predicament where Ant-Man's limited skill set was what the contrived situation needed. I had low expectations for the movie and found myself pleasantly surprised. Director Peyton Reed's stewardship of this film reconfiguration of a one-dimensional comic book hero dredged up from Marvel's farm leagues is sure, swift, efficient. If not spectacular on a level with the first Captain America movie , Man of Steel, or the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, it does the work a good comic book is meant to do on the psyche, pleasantly distract you from worry, and want.

The plot was nothing to brag about, a standard mad scientist with daddy issues going rogue with a plot to rule the world (or at least ruin it all together for a vengeance-motivated profit). Still, it was well-paced, superbly edited, and the effects were smartly held in check and well-used when they were deployed. What was impressive especially is how Ant-Man's skill at shrinking can be handy in a fight, as in disappearing rapidly and just as quickly reappearing from another angle to sucker punch a hapless villain (or an expectedly sucker-punch prone henchman). Very cool stuff. And Paul Rudd was likable as the well-intentioned ex-con recruited by scientist Hank Pym (Kirk Douglas) to take on the mantel of being the Ant-Man. He seems a bit embarrassed telling people his silly superhero name is a winning touch. 

It was the best that Marvel has done, but it was superior to the over-rated and needlessly busy Guardians of the Universe. Reed and credited screenwriters  Rudd, Edgar Wright, Adam McKay, and Joe Cornish did the work of going to school on what is now recognizable as the Marvel Studios style of film, familiarized themselves with the formula, and produced something that was created in the same mold as the Marvel films that have popped up in the last decade. I hesitate to say they "created" something here. A good way to think of this is that Ant-Man might have been a decent car built by Ford, GM, or Chrysler, a nice ride in most respects, but nothing truly distinct from anything else on the competing showroom floors. Just a pleasant ride, a professional bit of more-of-the-same. Ant-Man is a film that accomplished its mission, to entertain and distract for a brief period and then recede from recent memory. That these folks managed to do that without the usual dinner theater mellow drama and scene-chewing that usually goes in Marvel's big-ticket films is something else that recommends the film.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Serious like a good crying jag

Inveterate television watchers have been extolling the worth of cable drama for some time now, honoring the programming as solid evidence that television has entered a new Golden Age. It's a view I share in large part. There has been and continues to be so much interesting and artfully convened fiction and comedy spread  out along the cable channels that participating in a TV show carries the sort of prestige that had been the exclusive claim of movie work. Small wonder for the tremendous ground swell in quality, as movie producers, directors and writers, finding it more difficult to get serious dramatic films produced for theatrical release, approached premium cable stations like HBO and Showtime, along with FX and AMC on the non--premium side, to see if they could get their projects done. The rest, of course, is a changed industry, with new technologies, more viewing options , and more demand for original content. Not everything that has emerged in the vein of serious cable drama has been compelling, which was to be expected by anyone who knows the basic dialectical precept that "quantity changes quality". (Consult your Hegel, Marx and Engels for more elaboration, or browse this handy cheat sheet on the issue). The upshot of that abstract dictum is that familiarity breeds contempt on the audience's part, who eventually become so saturated in the fundemental mechanisms of serialized drama that what was once fresh and refreshingly unexpected becomes cliched  and , further, lends itself to parody. Worse, the dramas parody themselves. That would be a sad state to find ourselves in, a sad state to return to, not much different than when the broadcast networks ruled the airwaves and ruined us with decades of shtick.

This is to put forward that the sort of drama introduced to cable television introduced with the 1997 HBO prison series OZ  has been around long enough to develop, inspire further plot innovations and variations to the extent that the quality fiction programs we've come to know have developed their own generic structural particulars and developed , as well, their own cliches. Part of that seems to be the draining of humor, even gallows humor, from a good amount of the newer dramas and the drastic draining of any ironic sense that might give the relentless pursuit of gloom a breathe space or at least a chance to laugh hysterically at some sudden funny quirk that would release tension before building it up again. 

The Atlantic Magazine has an article titled "Why Prestige TV is So Depressing" .This article is a pretty good overview of the current crop of prestige dramas that have filled the cable channels. I pretty much share the opinion that television has matured to the point that it can have splendidly plotted, directed and acted serial dramas that provide the grittier and compelling twists of the human heart at war with itself (a paraphrase of Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech quote), an audience desire that theatrical motion pictures have not been able to do in large part for at least the last 20 years. 

 Humor in these most recent series,, though, seems to be on vacation and matters are several shades too dire and too serious . Game of Thrones should have been conceived as a limited series with an end game in sight, different from Martin's unfinished novel series. This last season was a humorless trudge for the most part , and killing off the characters you're sympathetic with is no longer effective means of keeping interest.The end of this many -layered saga is open ended and the story arcs , given the shuffling pace of the last two seasons, appear that they'll require several more seasons before anything resembling a conclusion arrives at our doorstep.

Focus is the key for series that want to dwell in the baser aspects of our nature. We would benefit from producers, writers and directors having very good outlines of where their proposed serial dramas begin and end, that the adventures in the middle area are interesting but don't wind up in a dead end or mired in the metaphorical swamp of distracted character chatter. We need more dramas with that have the element of irony , surprise and humor, dark humor of course, to make the complicating action of flawed characters seem more vivid--those moments of relief make the dramatic momentum have more power. Think Sopranos, think Six Feet Under, think Breaking Bad. All isn't lost, though, as we have Fargo, Better Call Saul at our disposal, shows that realize that dramatic power isn't limited to a cast of frowny faced psychopaths, rapists and killers who are working out their issues sans a punchline of any sort.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

"True Detective", Season 2: a beautifully rendered muddle

The second season of True Detective has taken some hard knocks from viewers who are steamed that creator and writer Nick Pzzolatto hasn't created a new series of the show that would better compliment the masterful first season. I nod, of course, acknowledging the lack of polish in some of the more ambitious bits of dialogue and agree, as well, that this investigation is far more ambiguous than the supernatural aspects of the serial murders that were the focus of the first set of episodes. Acknowledging that, I think Season 2 has its own style and embedded genius. This is classic noir material, worthy of Hammet, Chandler, Cornell Woolrich , Jim Thompson; it is a world of scummy characters and their soulless undertakings ,  darkly lit and dark-hearted. If the investigation is unclear at times, but not incoherent, and this is the tone and spirit of this kind of story telling, which involves very screwed up people trying to redeem themselves by trying to discover a hidden truth behind a fatal incident.

Whether the characters find redemption of any kind--a second chance in a job or relationship, a healed relationship, self-acceptance--is up in the air at this point, and that gives this show a Calvinist aspect that is simply irresistible: none of the nominal heroes have an idea whether the investigation they're conducting will benefit them in this life (or the next, for that matter), but their hard work in applying their professionalism toward an inevitable discovery of ugly facts can be construed as hints, clues, indications of their chances of achieving some relief from their existential dilemmas. And for all the awkward philosophizing? Fine with me: these are cops and creeps with an appreciation of nuance and distinctions that abound in the life, but when they try to articulate it, it comes out awkward, confused, lacking an over all clarity. For all the plans, explanations, justifications and action , these are cops and creeps who are stumbling over themselves looking their lost selves in the middle of a crime scene. It is a perfect, beautifully rendered muddle.

Untangling a good yarn

Commentary Magazine has a  provocative think piece on line that seeks to answer the question about Why College Kids are Avoiding the Study  of Literature.  My unfairly brief and brutal precis of the piece, which should be read for a a wealth of subtle discovers about the reason in the decline of interest in studying the canon of their  own and other cultures, is that there is a fantastic lack of will to do so. So much many novels , plays, poets over so many centuries, so many critical studies, abstracts, so many genres, so many opinions and torturous analysis to kill the joy of a good yarn. Are things really that different than when I was a literature major in the seventies and eighties?  I liked to drink a lot and I liked to think a lot at that time. I still think recreation-ally these days, and the joy was in finding out what I could make of something that might other wise have been merely a passing distraction.The abilities to both read for enjoyment and analyze the components of a story that make it art are not mutually exclusive. I majored in Literature both as undergrad and graduate student and found pleasure in discussing the finer points in narrative art. 

It is a fine method to learning to think critically as a matter of habit, and the habit of thinking about literature analytically most certainly helps a great many people make better decisions after an informed study of the cases made in front of them. Theory is fine, over all, if it provides a frame work for which to place a poem, novel, play within and to help a reader reap subtler, richer veins of intent operating under the surface of an attractive prose; theories are only useful if they are flexible to account for ideas or notions the theorist might not have counted on. Otherwise, literary theory becomes a marsh of deferred discovery: strong interpretation, the pleasurable part of writing criticism and reading it as well, ceases and the conversation becomes about the undecidability of a text, that the center of a story is not fixed, that literature is a foul process for indoctrination into ever-invisible powers that be that pull the string. 

The deconstructive, post- structuralist relativism that has prevailed for the last few decades--lately on the wane, I have read--is, in fact, a gutless, shallow, uncommitted liberalism that rolls over and plays dead when statements about the Human Condition need to be made; really, it just backs away from debate, ducks behind an opaque jargon, and frankly encourages you, the reader, to just accept that questioning authority is a waste of time. That won't do, of course. greed, and the point of any kind of criticism that is useful is in establishing why literature is distinct from other kinds of text. Reducing everything to "text" and subjecting them to a clever system of rationalized buck-passing in terms of developing an arguable point of view regarding the meaning and quality of a book is a cowardly . On the face of it, a proponent of this kind of hermetically sealed blather would insist that what's at stake is the coming to grips that narrative structure of any kind is a power play in which absolute and fixed cosmologies are positioned favorable , with storylines coming to inevitable conclusions and moral lessons, all done so under the guise of but with the more sinister purpose of basically maintaining a coercive influence over the reader, over the population. 

This, of course, is a rather tepid reiteration of Marcuse's idea of "repressive tolerance" and Guy deBord's notion of the carnivalization of our fears in popular media in his book "Society of the Spectacle"; although the intent that is claimed is the final and permanent liberation of populations from the Capitalist master narrative and , as if awakening from some kind of mass bi-cameral slumber, are able to see the world on terms unsullied by a concentrated and well money center of power. This, I remember , was the goal of Modernists in and around the turn of the century and through the first and second World Wars, a good amount of that energy , both intellectually powerful and seductive, came from right wing extremes, Nazis and Italian fascists both , who wanted to preserve the pure and actual as they defined it, to rid the world of the false gods in art, religion and commerce, and restore an Eden that existed only in their fever dreams. 

Millions paid for such reductionist folly with their lives. The task of criticism is to inspect, take apart, under stand moving parts in a work of art and the relationship and influence it has on the world around it. Even Marcuse would have argued that criticism and the use of theory was to discern what was worth noting under the surface of things like poems,novels, paintings, movies that gave us pleasure and how they made our existence better, fuller, more thoughtful. It was a means of allowing the reader to talk back to the writer who might have been making an arguement that would other wise be contrary to a reader's sphere of reference or taste. Criticism was about assessing quality and establishing conditions for praise and damnation, but it was also a means of keeping the conversation from settling into tired exchanges of manifesto ultimatums


Donald Trump, a rich man by any means but  one who cannot (and will not) give a factual accounting of how much money he actually has, has been the sort of news gift that comedians like Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, David Letterman love. That is, he is  the embodiment of lumbering, bullying  Bluto who's every interview, tweet, quip and crack is the stuff of satire gold. Again, this cartoon figure wants to be President of the United States, a situation that makes for hilarious responses from the better-read electorate . What chance might this buffoon have? We are in denial , perhaps, thinking to ourselves that such a conspicuous example of  unchained, publicity-prone Id would talk himself into a early demise, but I do have a sinking feeling that many of those who choose to excerise their right to vote really as gullible as he'd like them to be. Trump likely has fantastically less money than he claims, but this man has , all the same, made a decent living being the gauche, gross and grimy goon the news media and public cannot ignore. 

He has the talent of keeping his name in the papers, so to speak, and there little doubt he has made a tidy profit in doing so. Millions rather billions, let us guess. but still, that's not chump change. He has the capacity to say anything , no matter how moronic, sophomoric or shameless, and lately he claims that John McCain, decorated war hero and U.S. Senator from Arizona, is not a real war hero because he was shot down captured by the North Vietnamese. That McCain was a prisoner of war and subjected to torture between 1967 to 1973 doesn't count in the blurting Trump's estimation. Trump is running as Republican and one wonders how good a President he might be if he makes political enemies with important players in his own party. And it's awful to think that this blustering oaf would, more or less, be the one ultimately responsible for the economy, given that he has filed for bankruptcy several times and cannot give a straight answer as regards his own wealth. He was a rich kid , born into money, who is little more than a glorified carnival huckster, a one man freak show.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"Kiss Me Deadly": Crisp and Cruelly Stylish

I had the good fortune to stumble across Kiss Me Deadly while channel surfing last night, director Robert Aldrich's crisp and cruelly stylish film black and white 1955 film adaptation of novelist Micky Spillane's brutish detective novel . Spillane's antagonist (as opposed to hero) is a lug named Mike Hammer, a thuggish sociopath with a private investigator's license.  Hammer was a decisive and deliberate break from the fictional private eyes that preceded him in American pulp culture; unlike the creations of Dashiel Hammet and Raymond Chandler, who created characters who had wit, instinct in search of a slim set of facts, Hammer was pretty much an early version of the Hulk, someone who would smash first and then try to figure out what it was he destroyed. The glory of the Mike Hammer novels, though, was Spillane's style which was, despite what misgivings and protests one has against the lack of an articulate moral center, swift and stinging and paced at a tempo that made it easy to forget how venal and ludicrous the plots might happen to me. The prose was blunt and to the point, but it made you abandon your reservations and give yourself over to the sequence of rage and revenge that was to follow.

Hammer is a duncey baboon in the film, portrayed with a detached, tightly wrapped asshole elan by Ralph Meeker. That's the appeal. He knows a gun in the gut, and a good back of the hand gets results faster than reasoned discussion. Notable, too, is that the fact that Hammer's character seems to particularly relish the opportunity decidedly non-masculine men, like the piggy, squealing fellow who gets his hand slammed hard in a drawer or the priggish, likely closeted clerk at the athletic club who gets slapped around by Hammer in a humiliating fashion. In any case, this bullying gets a few things straight: he is in command. I laughed when Hammer, who is not a cop and didn't identify himself as a private eye, barks orders at the clerk, who sheepishly acquiesces. This film is beautiful not just stylistically, but because Aldrich plays it straight with how he presents the whole thing. The paranoia here, cutting to the bone and radiating like so many of the garish lights from the angular, heavily contrasted black and white frames, acts as an x-ray. Everyone's business is exposed, everyone's agenda, or lack of one, is revealed, no matter how much they assert their innocence or intentions.

Friday, July 10, 2015

"Harmless Poem"
By Stuart Dischell

Forgive the web without its spider

The houseplant with few or many flowers

And the stars for hiding in the daytime,

Forgive astronauts for distance

And surgeons for proximity,

Forgive the heart for the way it looks

Like something a dog eats from a pan,

Forgive goat-gods and wine-gods

And the goddess bathing in her pond,

Forgive the sea for being moody,

The air for its turbulence, the stomach

For its vomit, forgive the insistence

Of sperm, the greeting of the ovum,

Forgive orgasms for their intensity

And the faces they make in people's faces,

Forgive the music of liars, forgive autumn

And winter and the departure of lovers.

And the young dead and the persistence

Of the old, forgive the last tooth and hair.

There are days that start that with a bad mood, a sour disposition, a curse on the breath as you leave the house to make your living, and most of us are lucky, most of the time, that these bad starts abate and a lighter view comes over us as we interact and engage our encounters on their own terms, not how we wished they were.

There are those days that start bad and stay bad, when each and every small thing that hits a sour note on what we demand be a perfectly tuned keyboard just  grates at us, sends a falling current down the spine. The day becomes a down escalator down a bottomless shaft for the rest of the day and into the night , and the litany of those who have sinned against us, the material things that impeded our path, slowed our advance toward a short sighted goal-- the stop lights , the traffic signs, the intruding phone calls of people who need help, the cigarette smoke and the barking dogs-- all become a conspiracy to lower our spirit, to distract us from grasping whatever it is that is just beyond our reach.

It's a bad situation and I am glad they don't haunt me as long as they did when my certainty about how the planet ought really to spin caused me nothing but arrogant exasperation.  In my experience, the especially dispiriting part of these bad-mood binges, these black holes of being, was that there was nothing tangible I could name , no incident nor reciept of bad news, that would have triggered a unified field of gloomy perception; the senses that a mysterious God had given me to learn about and get by and be creative in the world were now the source of an unlimited number of soul-killing annoyances. How things, looked,sounded, felt, smelled were my sources of torment.

My mood was such that each person and thing by simply and dutifully existing as they were, unmindful of my presence (and certainly unaware of my unease). You guessed it, I was full of my own presumptions, nothing seemed worth doing, there was no point in going on. This was nothing to laugh at because I had no sense of humor. To those in the know, these were the symptoms of forgetting Rule 62.

What appeals to me about Stuart Dischell's poems is that it contains the sort of rolling,  incantational serve of a powerful prayer that beseeches something greater than the speaker's wits can muster on their own for a relief the bondage of self to have a sense of  humility and the attending sense of humor restored.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

a note on why I never liked Janis Joplin's singing.

I don't deny Janis Joplin's real emotion and the pulverizing power of her performances, but I have almost always found nearly  unlistenable."Piece of My Heart" with Brother and the Holding Company was at the time (and remains) an explosive declaration of a person willing to degrade themselves to satisfy the man (or woman) she loves, a gargoyle's grate of yearning, and "Move Over", with the Full Tilt Boogie Band, was a classic riff rock that matched an intemperate vocalist to an one dimensional expression of need. On too many other of her recordings, her singing, at best, makes me think of an abused chew toy nearing the last squeaks and squeals that could be squeezed from it. Granted, her singing was explosive, but that does not suffice as an aesthetic, nor does it provide context that makes what Joplin was doing more comprehensible. It was clear enough: she never truly learned how to sing. Explosions do better than evoke emotions, they create them, and crying two years olds past their nap time are giving those around them a demonstration of powerful tsunami lie tantrums can be, but neither is art, nor are the experiences one cares to have again if they can help it. Joplin mode of operation was the 60s counterculture anti-aesthetic to "let it all hang out", because, after all, refinement, style, a knowledge of technique was for squares.

First thought, best thought, no restraint, it is forbidden to forbid, all the convenient bromides that made the dismissal of forms and structure a revolutionary act, something much more than a gesture that would have some sweeping Butterfly Effect and transform the culture and steer history towards a Higher Synthesis of meaning. Underlying that thinking was a larger critique against the post-war culture of 50s America, with brilliant, poetic, not so brilliant and less poetic arguments made by Marcuse, Theodore Roszak, Allen Ginsberg among other notables in favor of abandoning the enslaving tonnage of dead culture that had brought to the precipice of the Sixties. But with regards to Joplin and her approach to the blues, a musical form that is, in my view, the foundation of every note of musical genius America has produced, hers is a misconception that the melismatic, gospel-informed style of black American singers was about being primal, loud, raspy, unrestrained.

She let it all go in emulation of the singers she loved and became, in her eagerness to express her need to find love and be strong, came perilously close to being an outright parody of the real thing. Her vocals do nothing for me except to remind me that a singer constantly pitched at the edge of hysteria stops being exciting very quickly and becomes monotonous. As a vocal artist, a would be blues singer, she existed in a state of streaming melodrama, seeming impervious to vocal nuance , incapable, I imagine, of realizing that Bessie Smith , Big Mama Thorton , Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Billie Holiday , Otis Redding , even the every dramatic and hyperactive geniuses of Little Walter and James Brown took time to learn their craft, to take lessons and understand through an acquisition of techniques that they could sing longer, find meanings in words and the spaces between the notes of the songs they sang, that they could tell stories that drew from the entire range of human experience. I remember the youthful rush to be a genius when I was first learning to play the harmonica--lessons, patience and the practicing of scales and the songs they belonged to be damned, I was going off on improvisational sojourns like Butterfield and John Coltrane. I was lucky enough to survive my own foolishness and became teachable to a greater degree, discovering that those big moments I wanted to create, either in my writing or in my playing, were made up smaller things, technical ideas and brief instances in daily life. What I learned was that small things matter.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The past refuses to forget who I was

(My mood hasn't been the best lately, downright awful in fact, bordering on outright depression. Oh, alright, I've been depressed over my current state of mind, no pun intended, that state, ironically, being that my performance has suffered at work due to errors, the same damn errors, occurring over a period of time. It's the old Steve Martin routine in the flesh, the one where he screams "I FORGOT" as an acceptable explanation to the IRS as to why he hadn't filed income tax returns for several years. At work , at least, I am forgetting thing constantly, making mistakes, creating more work for those I work with as they mend the ruin I brought those cash register  cash register disasters.   I had to be given a written warning earlier this week. Not fun, let me say. So I might be having memory problems, it may have an organic origin, I am making doctor's appointments after the holiday to have myself assessed by professionals what my state of mind is, present and future, and then weigh options, medically and professionally. It sucks. But I did get a poem out of it. It's about the contrast to what I was like and what I am like now and the creeping sense that talking about one's past becomes a greater fiction each time one opens his or her mouth. --tb)

 The past 
refuses to
forget who I was

when I  lingered
and lounged

in bars, sleeves rolled up,
awaiting a free drink

a ride home ,
anyone's home but my own.

I don't own a car
and driving's for queers
said I, thirst unslaked
and pants 
angular with lust
and sins
of the father
and his father's great aunt.

Ain't it shame
this hooterville
is all feathers and felonies,
i could show
Jeezers a time
to make time
to where you thought
the night was going.

I am in dress shirts now,
ties, pants pressed
and full of old knees
that make velcro noises
when I reach
for something I dropped
to the floor.

You look at me askance
as I speak
and sip your coffee,
you want to ask me a question,
i quit my speech
and take a breath,

"Ted" you ask me,
"why do you
always speak
with your hands?